Sunday, October 9, 2011

Relishing the end of tomato season

Ingredients for green tomato relish are gathered on the countertop.

It's officially the end of tomato season in Mama Bear's House. It's been a good week since the last ripe tomato from my garden.

A bit sad, really. No more fresh, sweet juicy tomatoes for roughly nine months. On the other hand, I'm a bit sick of tomatoes. And, I was most definitely sick of looking at the drooping, brown plants outside my kitchen window.

That's why I pulled them up. Oh, they were still full of green tomatoes. Even some orange ones. But, every time a fruit started blushing, a squirrel, chipmunk or slug starting munching. Or the rot set in. Plus, there really weren't any green leaves left. Clearly, it was time. Up they came.

Now, I had no trouble chucking those withered plants into the compost bin. Do you think I could throw away the fruit, though? Nope. I had a whole stock pot full of green tomatoes of all sizes. So, on a recipe hunt I went.

I settled on Sweet Green Tomato Relish from my Pickles and Relish book. The yield was far greater than expected, but it will be tasty with a burger. Maybe a taste of summer along with a winter meatloaf?

If you have a bunch of green tomatoes, and your not quite sure what to do with them, you might give this relish a try.

Relish cooking in the new blue pot that was my birthday present.

Green Tomato Relish with Honey
from "Pickles & Relishes: From apples to zucchini, 150 recipes for preserving the harvest" by Andrea Chesman
12 green tomatoes
4 large sweet onions
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup dark honey
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon celery seed

Chop the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 20 minutes. Put into clean, hot pint (or smaller) jars leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Seal. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. 
(Adjust processing time for altitude bove 1,000 feet: 20 minutes; above 6,000 feet: 25 minutes)

Anyone have any other suggestions for using up the season's end unripe tomatoes?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Backyard carrots: Joy rooted in the simple things

About 20 minutes before leaving for work today, I pulled carrots from my garden.

I washed the dirt off, cut off the ends and popped them in a pot with some potatoes that had been hanging out in my fridge for a few weeks. Covered all with water. They barely boiled for a few minutes before I decided I HAD to leave, so I scooped some out of the pot, leaving the rest to fully cook for the rest of the family.

On the way to work, I realized I should have at least topped the roots with some butter, and worried that I would have a really bland dinner.

Well, here's the joy of eating from your own garden -- The plain carrots, while a bit crunchy, taste amazing! (Yes, I'm writing as I eat my dinner.)

I was, to be honest, feeling a little down the last few days. As simple as those carrots were, along with the roasted chicken they accompanied, that meal was a real pick me up. That meal was tasty, 100 percent local (aside from the spices on the chicken), and part of it came from my backyard.

It really is about the simply things.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If you're going to make sauce ...

Jars of sauce sit in their hot water bath.

If you're going to make tomato sauce invite friends. Flatter them. Get excited about it. Sound enthusiastic. Organize a pot luck. Let them think it's going to be the most fun they could possibly have on a Saturday.

Joleyn, left, had never canned or made tomato sauce, and my mom had
made sauce and canned jam, but neither on this scale. Just before I brought
the camera out, Beth went home to put her kids to bed, but she came back.
None of them had any idea what they were getting in to.
Don't they look like they are having fun?

This was the first season I got serious about canning tomatoes. I learned a few things in the process and inviting friends was definitely something I did right.

What else did I learn?

Making sauce is a good idea. I wanted to make sauce and I wanted it to last all winter. We eat homemade pizza about once a week and it's definitely better with homemade sauce than with the stuff from a can. Out of all the canning projects I wanted to do this season, this is the one that is the most practical. This is the one that is going to help me keep eating local even during the dark days. Even after the following, I'm still glad I made my sauce.

 A bushel of tomatoes ready
for processing.
Unless you live on a farm or have a huge garden, don't depend on the tomatoes you grow yourself. I've been planning on making sauce since I planted my tomato plants this spring. It became clear pretty early, that my 10 plants, while giving me lots of yummy tomatoes, were not going to produce enough for sauce -- at least not all at once.

Because I got about a half-dozen tomatoes ripe at any one time -- too many to eat, barely a small fraction of enough for sauce -- I froze them as I went along. The frozen tomatoes I will use this winter in recipes that call for whole, dice or crushed tomatoes.

For my sauce, I bought a 20-pound box from KFF and picked another bushel at Hand Melon Farm. Together with what my friends brought, we ended up with a bit more than two bushels of tomatoes.

This leads me to my next lesson ...

Don't even consider picking tomatoes and canning sauce on the same day. Seriously, what was I thinking? Someone out there may have tips on getting the job done faster, but in my experience, four women cannot tackle two bushels of tomatoes in half a day. In the end, I ended up taking the last batch of sauce out of the canner at 10:30 p.m. of the second day -- alone.

Be forgiving.  When your friends call it a night, while you still have sauce simmering on the stove, remember they weren't expecting the project to last for two days. Consider youself lucky that you're still friends after the "party" turned into a form of mild torture.
Sauce simmers in one pot, while tomatoes are blanched for peeling in another and the
canner starts heating up to process the first batch of sauce in jars.

Sauce takes a long time to cook. Even with all the time we put in, we still ended up canning some pretty thin sauce. The stuff we made the second day got on the stove earlier and ended up thicker, but on day one we (my mom stuck it out) had to call it quits around midnight and just can what we had, regardless of how thin it was. I'm not going to say precisely how long a pot of tomatoes needs to simmer to become thick sauce, but the one batch that came out kind of thick probably cooked for about 8 hours.

Yup, the clock says 1:06 a.m. That was the first night (uh, morning), and there
was still nearly a full bushel of tomatoes sitting in my kitchen

Clear your agenda. Choosing the weekend of my anniversary and hoping to go on the cheese tour the second day, were mistakes. I did try to make some food ahead of time to cut down on meal prep, but I could have done more. It also wasn't ideal to have my sauce weekend crammed in between two six-day weeks. It couldn't have been helped, but next year, I'm going to try to take a couple of extra days off in September specifically for canning.

Although this year's sauce-making experience was far from perfect and produced far-from-perfect sauce, I don't regret a bit of it (well, maybe picking and canning on the same day). I learned my lessons, and will remember them next year. I will have to cook my sauce down further when I open my jars in January, but at least I'll have homemade sauce to eat in January -- if I have enough to last that long.

Hopefully, this post doesn't scare you all away from making sauce, because I'll need friends to join me for next year's sauce party.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Starting to roll

Eating five servings of local fruits and veggies was easy, peasy yesterday. That's the way it should be.

I started out the day with a big bowl of sliced peaches and raspberries.

The peaches were purchased at my neighborhood farm stand, but originally came from Klein's Kill Fruit Farm in Germantown. I honestly don't know about their growing practices, so I can't be certain they are organic, but I'm happy that they are local - and delicious. I'm hoping to find out more, as I sent an email inquiring.
The raspberries came from Kilpatrick Family Farm, so I know they are Certified Naturally Grow - and super yummy. Too bad that was the last of what I have - at least until next week.

My next meal of the day was a harukei turnip salad (recipe below). The harukei turnip, which I discovered while I had my first CSA, living in Maine, is one of my favorite vegetables. Who knew you could eat, and enjoy, turnips raw? They normally appear at the farmer's market very early in the season, and then come back around when the weather begins to cool again.

I was super excited when I saw that Quincy Farm had my beloved turnips on their table Saturday morning. I regularly buy som of my veggies from them. I frequent their table at the farmers market, partly because I know they use organic practices. They are also a first-year farm and I like the idea of supporting organic farmers who are just getting started.

After those two meals, who wouldn't indulge in local, in-season food?

I actually counted those two meals as three servings combined. They were pretty generous. This evening, I had some pasta alfredo with a combination of leftover vegetables, which were mostly local. I followed that up with some more of the spinach and chickpea salad from yesterday, and another peach.

Now that I feel like I'm starting to roll with the five servings deal, I feel like I can put some thought into some of my other locavore goals.

Harukei Turnip Salad
(adapted from this recipe at From Scratch Club)
  • 1 bunch harukei turnips, including greens
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped.
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 T. dijon mustard
  • 1 T. olive oil
Wash turnips and greens well, then remove the turnips from greens. Trim the stem part that doesn't have any leaf. You can discard that, compost it or save it for vegetable stock.
Chop the greens and slice the turnips. Toss in a bowl with the nuts.
In a separate bowl or measuing cup whisk together the last four ingredients to make a dressing. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss together and serve.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two hurdles (and a recipe of Sesame Spinach and Chickpea Salad)

I wasn't planning on a Locavore Challenge for September. In fact, I didn't even know about it until September 1.

This shouldn't have been a big deal. As I said in my last post, I've wanted to try to local eating challenge. For most of the summer it would have been pretty easy to jump into. In fact, I've been shopping for so much local food at the farmers market that my weekly supermarket bill has been as little as $20 to $30.

But, two things happened ...

First, my refrigerator got filled up with supermarket vegetables. No, I did not do that. I'm not going to point fingers either, but it happened. And, I can't waste food.

Around the same time, I got on a terrible junk food kick. I was being really good, but I guess I got a little stressed and started eating crap.

When I saw the challenge, I thought it would be a great way to get off the junk food kick. Unfortunately, those horrible habits are hard to break.

Now, in order to not waste the vegetables from far-flung corners, satisfy my junk food craving and still get in my five helpings of local, organic fruits and veggies each day, I'm finding myself overeating.

That's it. TODAY I turn things around. I'll let you know tomorrow morning how it went.

In the meantime, a yummy recipe using some local ingredients, which I give credit to my hubby for whipping up yesterday afternoon:

Sesame Spinach and Chickpea Salad*

  • One bag spinach, finely chopped (from Kilpatrick Family Farm)
  • 3 small carrots, finely diced (from my garden)
  • 1 large red onion (from Kilpatrick Family Farm)
  • 3/4 cup peanuts
  • 1/2 cup craisins
  • 1 15-ounce can chick peas
  • 1 cup edamame
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 T. sesame oil
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • oregano
  • cilantro
Chop the carrots, onion, peanuts and craisins finely in a food processor. Chop the spinach as fine as you can by hand. Whisk oils, vinegar and spices together. Mix everything together in a large bowl.

* Measurements are guesstimations. Adjust to suit your tastes.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Locavore Challenge

                  Cabbage in my garden that was turned into coleslaw last month

I wanted to launch this blog a month ago, but I've agonized over having the perfect first post, complete with photos and a recipe. It's not going to happen. I'm on the run far too much to be able to make this perfect. So, it's time to just write.

And, I have a reason that I need to. I've signed up for NOFA-NY's Locavore Challenge.

According to their website, NOFA-NY  (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York) "is an organization of consumers, gardeners, and farmers working together to create a sustainable regional food system which is ecologically sound and economically viable."

For the month of September, they've launch the NY Locavore Challenge. I've thought many times about challenging myself to a certain period of local eating, so when I saw the challenge on one of my favorite blogs, From Scratch Club, I signed up right away.

For anyone who is interested in eating more local, organic food, but isn't sure how much they can commit to, this looks like a great challenge to try. But, because you can choose a bite-sized, meal-sized or feast-sized challenged, even someone who's been eating local, can push themselves to do more.

Looking at the "menu," I saw many things I'm already doing - shop at the farmers market, make ice cream, try canning - so, I decided to take on the feast-sized challenge.

But, as easy as I thought it might be, I'm on day 3 and already not doing that great.

One of the things that I committed to doing was blogging about the challenge. (Can I kill two personal goals with one stone here?) Hopefully by writing, anyone who is reading can help me stay on track.

What else will I do for my personal challenge?

I'm going to take the 250 mile day challenge. So, there will be one day this month I will eat only food grown within 250 miles. I can decide on a handful of exceptions, one of which will definitely be tea.

Every other day during the month, I will eat 5 servings of local, organic fruits and veggies. I thought this would be easy, but I had gotten on a bit of a junk food kick lately, and it's turning out to be more challenging that I expected. Today, I've had one serving so far - berries with a bowl of yogurt - and, it's already nearly 5 p.m.

For the rest of the Grow, Cook, Eat part of the challenge I already do many of the things on the list, but I'm going to try to do something new.

Accomplishing three things for the Take Action part of the challenge is going to be the toughest for me, so I haven't quite decided, aside from the blog, what they will be. It's not that I don't think it's important, but I'm not sure what direction to go in. If anyone wants to push me in one direction or another or help me out, the extra motivation would be welcome.

In all, I'm very excited about the month of local eating that lies ahead. I know that I'll meet the challenge and I hope to learn a few things along the way.

Who's in?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Welcome to Mama Bear's House

Welcome to Mama Bear's House, a humble home where I'm stretching my resources -- both time and money -- to keep a my family happy and healthy with a low impact on earth and our wallets.

Do we need another blog about food, or parenting, or DIY projects, or living on a shoestring? It's doubtful. But, it's what I care about it, so here it goes.
I can't tell you what will be different than the rest. But, if you read along, maybe we'll discover it together.