Good food locally – CSA’s

Tuesday, 7. December 2010

Evansville Produce (Flickr / JaseMan)

Or in long.. Community Supported Agriculture.  This is one of those oddball topics that fits into my “What interests me” categories on this blog, so bear with me here.  It fits neatly into my “gaming as entertaining niche” however, since it’s hard to entertain with crappy food.  If you’re aware of what I’m talking about - great.  If not and you enjoy cooking, supporting local businesses and/or fresh organic food for a good to low rate then keep reading.

The entire organic eating movement developed because people are/were sick of eating pesticides, GMO food and generally unhealthy food that was mass produced and outsourced from halfway across the planet.  Some food we need to get that way.. but obviously not all of it.  The USA is geographically diverse enough to produce pretty much anything you can think of with a few exceptions.  As everyone knows though.. “Organic” food is boutique and mostly freakin expensive as a result.

Alongside this, the locavore movement was getting established at the same time.  If you are too lazy to click, it basically means eating locally.. foods that are in-season.  They taste way better and if you pick them up from a smaller producer..  are mostly organic and potentially very cheap.  Farmers markets are a good example of this, and forutuately the number of them have exploded in the last 10 years.

Now, CSA’s are essentially eating local food, mostly organically produced with a bit of a twist on it however.  The food is paid for in advance, as a “share” of the crop - for a season. For those of you unfamiliar with farming… farmers get screwed particularly in 2 situations.  When there is a poor harvest (there isn’t enough food to sell even though the prices are high are a result) and when there is a great harvest (prices plummet even though there is a lot to sell.)  So, by getting a fixed price at the beginning of the year the farmer is assured and income… regardless of the harvest.  If they want to keep their shareholders happy, they will of course do their best to ensure the best harvest possible. 

Anycase, your next thoughts are probably “Why now, it’s winter and nothing grows in winter.”  You are of course right, however the shares for these have to be purchased in advance, so now is a good time to start looking.  Shares vary from CSA to CSA to the number of available, but most have half shares available if you don’t cook as much or happen to be flying solo.  There are also working and non-working shares depending on the CSA… working shares involve you getting your hands dirty from time to time with weeding, planting, harvesting and the like.  The costs for such case are typically lower and it is a great way to get local expert advice and experience on local growing and gardening if such things interest you.

With a share purchased, you will typically get food weekly throughout the growing season.  This is either picked up from the farm itself or a local distribution point in the city if the farm has enough shareholders.  Anything that can be locally grown is in the harvest.. and if your CSA doesn’t offer a given item.. say milk, eggs, honey or some of the more esoteric food.. they often partner up with another CSA that does giving you some of the best in local fresh food.

Now.. last question is probably “Great, but how do I find one?”   There is a site for that as well.. Local Harvest.  Assuming you’re not living someplace really arid, you probably have a lot more of these around you than might imagine… Like any other business not all of these are created equal, but they are definitely worth investigating if you’re into fresh and/or local food.  It’s also a good opportunity to build community.. and actually meet the person that provides your food which is pretty great in the era of big box anonymity.

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Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

Saturday, 30. October 2010

I haven’t always enjoyed either mushrooms or spinach, however then they’re properly prepared they’re quite tasty in concert. In this case, all of the components listed below are nice and fresh. Button mushrooms will work as well although I prefer portabellas because they have a meatier taste to them. A standard small package or baby portabellas will contain maybe 6-7 that are usable, you’ll have to use the remainder for soup or another dish.

There are also certainly lighter calorie ways to do this – however I’ll let someone else do that!

6 Small Portabella Mushrooms
2 Cloves Garlic
2-1/2 Cups Shredded Spinach
2-3 Tablespoons Colby Jack Cheese

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2) Mince garlic, shred or slice spinach into small strips. You should have around a cup and a half shredded, which will in turn cook down to about 6 tablespoons.
3) Saute garlic and spinach briefly in butter, just enough to get the garlic to wilt. No more, or you’ll cook the spinach into oblivion and end up with texture less goo. This step takes less than a minute. Stir mixture, set aside off heat.
4) Break off stems of mushrooms, and stuff with spinach garlic mixture from above. In my case, it was around 1 tablespoon or less of mixture per mushroom. The stems aren’t used in this recipe, but they make for a nice mushroom stock for soup or stews.
5) I used shredded colby over my stuffed mushrooms and it worked well because of its relatively mild taste. Approximately 2-3 tablespoons in total for all of the mushrooms.
6) Grease baking sheet (Butter in my case.) Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, remover when cheese is melted and mushrooms appear to start drying.
7) Enjoy!

In the case that you prefer a dryer mushroom, cooking them for 20 will have a good result. In that case, you will want to add the cheese perhaps 10-15 minutes into the baking.

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Window farms – Hydroponics

Friday, 3. September 2010

I like many other people enjoy cooking. Cooking that is of course is further improved by eating fresh, locally produced vegetables. Farmers markets are a huge boon here, but food is obviously not available all year unless they have a nice heated greenhouse to work from. The work around is to grow food yourself (which I do) even as just a boutique garden. But what if live in a small place or don’t have turf to call your own, such as an apartment?

Hydroponics has always been a good solution but there has always been some capitol investment towards getting involved and again; useable space to work with. Some geniuses over at WindowFarmshave come up with a good solution to both. Windowfarms are a hanging hydroponic solution that is open source and as such is conservative in both cost and the amount of real estate needed in your house to work properly. There is a small testbed model that uses a few bottles and an air pump just to check out the technology and see if it’s for you. If it is – there is a well designed breakout of their normal design which fits into a window frame and how to customize as needed. Both just use a simple airlift design for movement of the water.. the power source is an air pump used for aquariums.

Needless to say you assemble all of this yourself from their parts list. I think the hardest part for me would be to get the 1.5 liter water bottles (recycled) simply because I don’t drink much bottled water. In case assembling the kit is too much work or time for you, they are also offering proper kits. The pricing for labor is a bit premium if you want something that simply hooks together, but otherwise you’ll be doing a fair amount of work yourself. As I had mentioned before, this is an open source project so they want as much feedback as they can possibly get to improve the design in terms of cost, availability and simplicity.

I like the concept simply because store bought vegetables trade taste for long term storage, and a part of nutrition as well. In addition, there is an extensive use of pesticides on most of them; something that I would prefer not to eat if possible. Even if you don’t want to grow food, you can at least do Herbs. They are probably among the most expensive components of our food, and often taste poorly if they’re been sitting too long.

I’m sort of working on one myself, but there is a few things I’d like to change, something I’ll put in a later post. Go let me know what you think! I like it just for the availibility of fresh food, even if you’re not an environmental hippie sort.

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Tomato and Basil Flatbread Pizza

Sunday, 27. June 2010

There is a number of things that I look for if I’m cooking something to entertain. I want something that’s has quick prep time, cooks quickly and is delicious. For role playing, it’s also a bonus if it doesn’t make a huge mess: Enter the flat bread pizza.

For this, you will need
2 Tomatoes (I chose vine ripened, in this case.)
1 6oz can of Tomato paste
1 Clove Garlic (Good at warding anything, vampires included for you forward thinkers.)
1 Package Pita bread
Shredded Mozzarella cheese
Fresh Basil

I am a fan of garden grown produce, or organics failing that. Fresher ingredients make a better meal that’s friendlier to you.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

1 6oz can of Tomato paste
1 Clove Chopped Garlic
1/2 Tsp oregano
1/2 Tsp black pepper
Pinch of Salt

The tomato paste is a bit thick for the sauce. Thin it out until it just beings to run off the spoon. In this case, it took me about 1/3 cup of water, although I suppose you could thin with tomato sauce just as easily. Add 1/2tsp Oregano, 1/2tsp black pepper, 1 clove chopped or pressed garlic. Combine and mix liberally. Add salt as needed, being careful as tomato paste is pre salted. This should make nearly a half cup of sauce, which is enough for quite few pizzas.

Pizza Sauce from Above
Thinly sliced Tomatoes
Mozzarella Cheese
Pita Bread
Fresh snipped Basil

Spread a thin later of pizza sauce on top of on the pitas you are cooking, cover lightly with mozzarella cheese, and place  your thinly sliced tomatoes as desired.  I did one per piece.

Place pitas in the oven for 5-7 minutes. If you want a softer crust, put them on a baking sheet of some sort. For a crispy crust, place them directly on the rack.

After the cheese is melted and slightly brown, remove and apply your sliced basil.  Cut the pizza in whatever fashion you prefer, and enjoy!

Completed Pizza

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