Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Neighborhood Tale

No Recipes.  No Recommendations. No Rants.  Just a little story to share.

People often ask us why we are “urban homesteaders” instead of rural homesteaders (the latter of course being the more traditional).
They say things like, “You like to grow so much; you’d have so much more room”.  Or “you could have chickens and goats and a barn, you know a real little farm”.  Or, “Oh, It’s so much quieter in the county”. “Less people to put up with”.   

And yes - yes that’s all true and we could have all of that and I am sure it would be divine.  Sometimes I think that this life is preparing me for something fabulous just like that in the next.  But, that said, we have made a very conscious choice to stay in the city AND to grow and conserve and become as self sufficient as possible.  In other words it is our goal to become very good urban homesteaders.

There are a lot of reasons why we prefer our urban life.  I have discussed many of those reasons through this Blog.  We are both aware of how much we appreciate having things close by; we like how if we want we can choose to walk places.  We enjoy the restaurants and pubs that are near to us and the various events that take place in our city  - which is, by the way, steeped in “events”.  And we are lucky to live in an area that has been a real thriving, generational neighborhood for hundreds of years!  The history is a big part of our love for the place.  But perhaps the biggest aspect of loving urban life is right here on our own two block area where so many of us have gotten to know each other and have been there for each other through thick and thin (fires, deaths, celebrations, and life in general).  

One of the first thing we realized when we bought our home was that there were a lot of folks around us, some of whom even then fell into the “elderly” category, who had lived their whole lives on these blocks. They had seen hard times in the neighborhood.  Falling housing values, petty crime, and folks moving away.  But they stayed.  And as we moved in - during a housing boom and some needed gentrification - they were again seeing positive changes happening.  We started to call these long time residents, “The Originals”.   We came to that title not just by virtue of their having been here a long time, but also paying homage to their very distinct characters and ways of being.  For the first few years we would stand at one or another neighbor’s stoop (front steps to the uniformed) and listen to tale after tale of things that happened back in the day - always with a bit of gossip thrown in too!

In the past few years one of the Originals has been on a steady decline.  Her advancing age and her serious health issues have taken a toll and she has started to slip into dementia.  In the beginning it sort of came and went.  Some days as she sat in her folding chair catching some sun, the conversation would be clear and current; other days not so much.  Then she stopped sitting outside in her folding chair.

A few nights ago, we noticed flashing red lights on the block.  This particular woman was home alone for a bit (her son lives with her) and in her mind she needed to “break out” and couldn’t get the door unlocked.  So she called 911 numerous times and got everyone to her front door.  But she wouldn’t let anyone in.  As I tried to talk to her through her big living room window (old Philly row houses have windows on the street - something I have always loved) she tried to break the window with a flowerpot.  She wasn’t recognizing me. She was angry and confused and scared.  Our Fire Department was wonderful.  They got in through a side window and then let myself and another neighbor in so that we could sit and wait with her for her son to get home.  Even when our neighbor let one of the fire fighters have it in the butt with a solid baseball like swing of an umbrella (she was telling him to have some respect!) he was as nice and calm as could be. It took about an hour for our neighbor’s son to get back and when he did the decision was made that she needed to go to the hospital.  She had not been taking her medications and she needed help.  She still was putting up a fight so another EMT unit came and she left on a stretcher, still giving everyone a verbal hard time, still not recognizing any of us.  

I walked back to our house and felt tired and sad knowing that this neighbor, this Original,  will probably be spending most of the rest of her days in a facility getting the care she surely needs.  I do hope she gets home for the Christmas Holidays.  She always decorated, and sent us a card and a box of chocolates.  We would buy her a poinsettia. The house looks very lonely now and may for some time depending on what her son’s plans are for it.

I found myself musing over the situation most of the next day as I did weekend chores.  The sadness of not being able to stay “where you were planted”.  The sadness of being taken away for the remaining days of your life, when clearly you were so rooted somewhere.  The sadness lingered as I reminded myself of the Circle of Life.  We get to know people and we reach out and interact with our neighbors with no actual guarantee of how long we will see and chat with them.  Frankly, for awhile there I was just finding it hard to see the good things.

That next evening, our doorbell rang and it was another one of our “Original” neighbors.  She was at the door holding two huge shopping bags.  Of course, our dogs were howling and jumping around and fussing (I find it a miracle anyone actually comes in our front door!).  As she tentatively entered she put the bags down in front of her.  “Do you like Nutcrackers?” she asked.  Without even waiting for Pat to have a chance to reply, I said, “Oh yes.  I had one once and I lost it.  They are great”.  She then proceeded to tell us that for years she collected Nutcrackers and displayed them at the holidays in her front window and in her home.  She said that she hadn’t done that in a long time now. It was just getting to be too much for her.  She relayed that for many years now her Nutcrackers had remained packed up and stored in a closet (in their original boxes I might add).  

Then she asked if we would like to have her collection!  Her words were something to the effect of, “I see that you enjoy your home and take good care of it and you have people over, and I know you decorate for the holidays.  They should be out so people can see them and enjoy them.  I want you to have them.”

I am not sure if it was the way in which she was honoring us, the events of the night before, or just the season, but I was speechless.  We both were.  That’s not something that happens very often. I could feel tears welling up and I know that I stammered more than I spoke clearly.  I kept thanking her and assuring her that they would have places of honor for the holidays and would be taken great care of when they weren’t displayed.

Now, as those who know us well know, we tend to decorate for the holidays slowly and start a bit later than a lot of folks.  We do not get our decorations out and our tree up right after Thanksgiving.  We like to wait a bit, until we are really in the spirit of the season.  But that next evening, we did some window washing and three of our new Nutcrackers were placed in our front window; the others were placed at various spots around our home.  I am thinking I may rotate them so that folks who walk by get to see all of them.  As I write, an Old Time Santa Claus is flanked by Marie Antoinette and King Louis in all of their finery.  I occasionally catch people who are walking by, look up and see the trio and smile.  Yes.  They do need to be where people can enjoy them.  And they shall be as long as we are around.

Could all of the above have taken place in a rural setting?  Of course.  But I am never going to find out.  Cities of neighborhoods, like Philadelphia, are treasures to be carefully nurtured and maintained and loved.  They are, in some areas of our country, gone forever.  We can’t imagine that happening here.  And so we remain very lucky to have known our “Originals” and  to have this opportunity to be urban homesteaders.  Sometimes “self sustaining” is doing what you can on your own to sustain your home;  sometimes it’s doing for each other to sustain your neighborhood.

Love this place.  Love these people.  Happy Holidays Everyone!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gypsy Stew: A Story and a Delicious Main Dish

                                                      A Bowl of Gypsy Stew

We got an idea at the end of last week to make a recipe we hadn't made in quite some time. Don't you love when you remember an old favorite and then set out to make it? 

I thought it would be fun to ask folks on The Philly Foodist Facebook page if they had made this great old recipe - or at least if they had eaten it.  No one had! So here it is.  At this time of year it is perfect. The recipe makes a lot; it's soothing and delicious for these hectic days getting ready for and celebrating Holidays; and it is really cost effective. 

The backstory, by the way, involves tales of folks moving from place to place, living on the road, needing to feed many hungry mouths and not having a whole lot of money. Thus, they decided to create a communal feast, a and would ask each diner to contribute an ingredient.  

I give you Gypsy Stew

Note:  this recipe requires a little bit of work, but it is so worth it!  


1 Whole Stewing Chicken (preferably range raised/drug free)
2 quarts of low salt chicken stock
6 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
6 whole tomatoes (we've always used canned - a 16 oz can' minus the liquid - save that for something else - is perfect), halved or quartered depending on size
1 bottle of dry sherry - cheap dry sherry. Definitely cheap! Don't go all high end, the flavor will not be the same.  We use Christian Brothers Dry Sherry
3/4 pound block of sharp, white cheddar cheese, cut into thick slices
6-8 pepperocini peppers (the whole ones in the jar are perfect), stems removed, cut in half
Good crusty bread


Put the chicken and the onions in a very large pot - make sure you have plenty of room to add all of the stock. (Voice of experience speaking here) - leave plenty or space
Add all of the chicken stock
Add half of the bottle of dry sherry
Put a lid on the pot, bring the contents to a boil over medium high heat
Reduce to a simmer and simmer for an hour - check occasionally to be sure it does not start to boil
After the hour, remove the chicken to a bowl (so you can be sure to collect all of the juices) and let it cool
While the chicken is cooling, add the tomatoes, the other half of the bottle of sherry, and the peppers to the broth - put the lid on the pot and turn the heat off
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut the wings off, cut the thigh and leg pieces off - separate the legs from the thigh, cut the thigh in half
Remove the breasts from the bones and cut each breast in thirds
Pick any other visible chicken from the bones
Put all of the chicken back into the pot with any juices that have collected in the bowl

Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for at least an hour (this is a very flexible recipe, cooking time wise; at least an hour on the simmer but if you need to, just leave it on simmer for two hours) 

Check it occasionally - do not allow it to boil!

To serve: if you have them, use wide pasta bowls or soup bowls (see above); lay slices of bread with slices of cheddar cheese on top of the bread and layer the hot stew over the bread slices. Have more bread and cheddar available. Enjoy. And you will. This recipe makes a lot of Gypsy Stew (see below). Believe me, You will find yourself craving it. There is no way to accurately explain here the aroma and the flavor of the broth and the chicken and then the melting cheddar.  It's truly heavenly. 


For Bill - wherever you are. Thank you for this. 

Cherish Real Food!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Left Overs are The Best Part! And, More Soup!

By now, I know that all of you cooks out there have long lists of things to do, ingredients to pick up, and cooking planned for the big feast on Thursday.  Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for me. It's all about being grateful, eating good food, and enjoying each other - no gift buying required.   I love cooking for it - and I really love the left overs!  I always like to hear what other cooks are doing with their leftovers - if they have them.  We shop and cook deliberately to have left overs!  Over the years it has not mattered if it is the two of us or a big group around the table. Not having left overs from Thanksgiving dinner is unthinkable to me. Obviously, I cook the feast at home a great deal!

Some of our favorite things to do with all of that great left over food:

1.  Turkey sandwiches of course!  In our home, it's a matter of dinner on a sandwich.  Turkey, cole slaw, cranberry sauce, a bit of stuffing (yes I know it's on bread!), mayo and whatever else there's room to fit in between two slices of soft white bread.

2.  Turkey Tetrazinni.  An old favorite.  My recipe comes from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, circa 1968.  There are lots of recipes for this dish - just don't forget the mushrooms! I usually use linguine.

3.  Thanksgiving Strata.  A fabulous casserole.  Butter a casserole dish. Add layers of left over roasted vegetables, stuffing, and chopped turkey covered by a whipped egg and cream mixture and baked until the top is brown and crunchy.

4.  Turkey Stock.  All those roasted bones are going to make a delicious stock.  Toss in some halved onions, a few sticks of celery, some peppercorns, . . . whatever you like to add to your stock, and let it cook all day.  The aroma alone will get you back to the table for more turkey!

5.  Turkey Noodle Soup.  Use some of your roasted turkey bone stock and add some fresh vegetables - whatever you like such as carrots, onions, garlic, kale or other greens and add cooked noodles (I like Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles).  If you cook the noodles almost to al dente' before you add them, they won't soak up all of your soup liquid.

6.  Turkey Salad.  Just like chicken salad.  Chop up some turkey meat, add chopped celery, a bit of chopped red onion, mayo and salt and pepper.  Mix and serve on toast, bread or endive or romaine spears.

7.  Stuffing (Dressing to some) Croquettes.  Make golf sized balls from left over stuffing.  Roll the balls in a couple of beaten eggs and some seasoned flour.  Fry.  Pop in your mouth deliciousness!

8.  Hot Turkey Sandwiches. A good use for the gravy!

These are some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes.  What are yours?

Recipe:  Spicy Pumpkin Soup

I am still on a Soup Kick - and may be until oh, April or May.  Here's one we recently made that was so delicious, versatile and satisfying.  I highly recommend getting yourself a Sugar Pumpkin - as opposed to the canned stuff.  It makes a lot of difference.

                                             Pumpkin Halves Ready to Roast at 350 for 45 minutes
 Pumpkin Purée after a quick pulse in the food processor 


31/2 cups roasted pumpkin purée (after scooping roasted pumpkin out, pulse it a few times in a food processor) Note:  You can use canned pumpkin but do not use pumpkin pie mix!

7 cups of low salt or no salt chicken stock
1 Tblspoon unsalted butter
11/2 cups diced onion
1 Tblspoon finely minced garlic
11/2 teaspoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 - 4 Tblspoons heavy cream 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Yogurt or Sour Cream to garnish
Toasted pumpkin seeds to garnish


In a Dutch oven or similar pot, melt the butter
Add the onions over medium heat and stir frequently until softened
Add the minced garlic and stir for one minute
Add the curry, cumin, paprika, and coriander and stir for one minute until spices give off a good aroma
Add the pumpkin purée and stir to incorporate (one minute or so)
Pour the stock into the mixture and stir
Bring the soup to a boil, lower and simmer for 20 minutes, stir often
Add the salt
Stir in the heavy cream and the ground pepper

Garnish with a dollop of thick yogurt or sour cream
If you toasted the seeds from the pumpkin sprinkle those over the top too.


     Creamy, Spicy & Delicious Pumpkin Soup

Cherish Real Food!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

An Easy Rich Soup; An Amazing Stock

Happy Fall at last!  How are your preparations for cold weather going?  For you growers out there, have you taken good care of your growing areas before the first frost arrives?  Along with all of the other chores related to winter prep,  as soon as I feel the slightest nip in the air, I start looking at everything I have on hand as potential Soup!

I love soup and I don't mind eating hot soup in warmer weather either.  There is just something about a hot bowl of delicious soup and a piece of warm bread - along with the wonderful aromas wafting up into your nose - that is so comforting.

We have been eating a lot of cauliflower lately because our Farmers are bringing them to market and they are beautiful and good for you and versatile and all of that.  However, I am not a fan of cauliflower "steaks" or cauliflower "pizza crust" (that really frightens me), and some of the other "creative" uses of the vegetable that I have seen lately.  Usually we just tend to do a saute' or a bake, sometimes with cheeses and lots of herbs; we even do a mash and whip now and then.  But I just decided that the next head of cauliflower that we brought home was destined for soup.  This soup is so rich it can rightfully be called a chowder.

Rich & Delicious Cauliflower Soup
Cream of Cauliflower Soup


1 stick of unsalted butter, halved
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced (use the leaves too)
1 small clove of garlic, mashed
1 head of cauliflower, core removed and rough chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
1 quart unsalted or low salt chicken stock
3 tablespoons of regular flour
1 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of half and half
salt to taste - about two teaspoons used at different levels of cooking
1/2 cup of good sour cream


Melt the 1/2 of the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat,  (a Dutch Oven works well)
Add the onion, cook, stirring occasionally just until it starts to get a light brown color
Add the carrots and the celery and sauté, stirring occasionally for a couple of minutes - until they soften
Add the cauliflower, the garlic, and the parsley and stir to combine; this would be a good time to salt a bit
Cover the pot and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes
Note:  At this point if you are going after a smoother soup, you can do a bit of mashing of the cauliflower and other veg.

At the end of 15 minutes, stir in your chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil
Reduce heat and simmer
While the mixture is simmering, melt the rest of the butter, mix the flour with the milk - give it a good whisk to incorporate - and then slowly add the milk mixture to the melted butter, whisking the entire time.
Remove the butter, milk and flour mixture from the heat and stir in the half and half
Add the mixture to the simmering soup.

Simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste

Note:  At this point I used my immersion blender to create an even smoother soup.  I left a few small chunks of cauliflower.  You don't have to do this.  If you don't have an immersion blender, add by batches into a blender.
Just before service, add the sour cream into the hot soup and stir well to combine.

Serve immediately and enjoy!
(recipe adapted from the Pioneer Woman, 2009)

Parmesan Rind Stock just getting started

This next recipe makes a rich and delicious stock that brings an incredible depth of flavor to soups, sauces and risotto.

Parmesan Rind Stock


4 - 5 saved rinds of good Parmesan Cheese (if you wrap the rinds well in wax paper and keep them in a storage bag, they will keep for a couple of months in your refrigerator; when you have accumulated enough rinds, it's time to make the broth!)

2-3 celery stalks, with leaves, coarse chopped
A large onion, halved
Two or three whole garlic cloves (smash them a bit if you want more garlic flavor)
1 Tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
 Cold water


Cover everything in the pot with the cold water (to about 2 inches above)
Bring the mixture to a Boil; lower to a simmer, cover and let it simmer for up to 4 hours.  Stir occasionally. Add a bit of water if needed.

Strain the broth very well.  You want it very clear.  It will be a caramel like color.

Note:  If you make your own stocks feel free to add in whatever aromatics and veg you use in other stocks.  I had onion grass from the garden so I chopped up some of that as well.  I also do not salt stock.  It is up to you.  You can add a small pinch of salt at the end after you strain the stock, but the stock will be more versatile if you add salt and pepper when using it.

Cherish Real Food!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Food in the News, Farmers Market Finds, and The Comfort of Cooking

Food in the News

Food issues are definitely popping up all over lately in the popular media and national news.  First, we get the news from the World Health Association (WHO) that too much processed meat is not good for you and, indeed, in some folks might be a causal factor in cancer.  Of course, some of us immediately said, "Who does not know this?", because at this point we feel that everyone has heard all of the warnings and studies.  Given the discussion on every news program and talk show, apparently everyone does not know this.  Time Magazine even put bacon on its cover last week. Many chefs, cooks, food writers and teachers spoke out pretty soon after the WHO report emerged to remind those that have "forgotten" that chemically laden (hormones, antibiotics, etc.), horribly treated animals -  those that end up blister wrapped in supermarkets displays - are bad for you. Yep.  Many of us have been saying the same for years.  And it's probably not a good idea to eat 1/2 pound of bacon daily - even the best kind.  Nor is it wise to live totally on smoked meats.  It is as always a question of moderation.  Using meat as an ingredient often is much better than eating big cuts of meat.  For example, instead of frying up a bunch of Italian Sausages to go with pasta, take one or two, remove them from their casings and make a meat sauce with them.  Delicious and just enough meat. And, of course, not eating anything at fast food and chain restaurants is a good practice.  Lastly, following Michael Pollan's edict is probably the best thing you can do:  "Eat Food.  Mostly Plants.  Not too Much".  And I would add, "Cook real food.  From scratch. With ingredients that you can identify".  Which brings me to the next piece of news.

This week we learned of the departure from the New York Times of one of my favorite food writers and cooks, Mark Bitman.  It seems that Mark is now a principle in another one of those "dinner in a box" concerns.  The ones that deliver all of the ingredients with cooking instructions to your front door. The company he's joining is all vegan. Now, I don't pretend to understand - since I am the one advocating that we all, "know where our food comes from", but I have to trust that he sees this as a good thing for people who can't or won't shop for their food.  I imagine eating totally vegan is very time consuming.  Despite that fact that I like Bitman a lot, and have learned a lot from him, there will be no boxes - with cooking instructions - delivered to this house.  I do hope to see him back at the Times some day real soon.

The last, and for me somewhat shocking, slice of Food News is the whole mess with the Chipotle Chain and an e coli outbreak.  I really am surprised.  This is the one of the only chains of any kind that we will use in a pinch - Panerra being the other.  I have always under the impression that Chipotle sources very well given their commitment to real farms and real food.  I guess that we will have to wait for more information on this one.  It does make me wonder.

Ingredients to be Using Right Now!

Pumpkin, butternut squash,  broccoli, rutabaga, wonderful onions and potatoes and little squashes are all appearing in the Farmers Markets right now.  As are great radishes, kale, pears & apples.  All of these offer such wonderful opportunities for soups, stews, and even composed salads.  And, if you can, either freeze or can what you an for those mid winter weeks.

The Comfort of Cooking

Recently I have been reading Ruth Reichl's new book, "My Kitchen Year"(published by Random House).  It is a wonderful read, with great stories and recipes and takes us through her life in the months after Gourmet magazine (of which she was editor) suddenly folded.

She writes about the shock factor; the magazine was planning the next issue and a new TV show one day and the staff was told the next day to pack up and go.  She shares first the incredible sorrow of leaving a great group of co-workers, who immediately scatter far and wide.  And she tells the story of her very real fears about the future and what she will do next with her own life.

It is a very thought provoking  read.  How do we react when the rug has literally been pulled out from under us?  When we are sad, grieving, frightened - what comforts us?

Reichl and I are are kindred spirits in that she and I both turn to the kitchen for solace. It's not so much the eating - that is part of it, of course -  but it is really rather the list  making, the shopping, the preparation, and the cooking. That glorious alone time moving between cutting boards and stove top; larder and oven.  Chopping, sautéing, tasting, stirring, a pinch of this, a pinch of that -  all are so calming and relaxing and soothing to me.  And before I go on, I know that is not true for many folks.  I know, and even count among friends, members of the "I hate to cook" crowd.  And of course when using cooking for comfort, I tend towards comfort foods!  Examples:  Big casseroles of cheesy macaroni; Vegetable packed stews; Short ribs simmering for hours; and a big roast chicken with lots of garlic stuffed inside. And, of course, as we call it here in South Philly:  "Red Gravy".  And Pasta.  Always Pasta.  A little over a year ago when one of our pups needed emergency/dangerous surgery that came out of the blue, I literally ran out of room for storing food and was asking the neighbors if I could borrow refrigerator space!

And so, I'd love to know.  Those of you who enjoy cooking, share with us:  do you cook for comfort when times are sad or upsetting?  What are your favorite things to make in these situations?

Late Summer Harvest from Our Garden  and a Pear
Treasure Real Food!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Winter Prep, Hunger Facts & an Easy Crumble Recipe

Well, it seems that Fall has decided to back off for awhile.  As I write here in Philly, it's going to be in the '70s for the next few days.  With lots of rain.  Like Spring showers!  I know - I shouldn't be fooled.  We'll be getting out the sweaters and the heavy sox - and wearing them - very soon.  It will be nice for the Trick or Treaters though and that's a good thing for our neighborhood - we get lots of kids going door to door, the old fashioned way.  I love South Philly.

Have you done any prepping for the cold weather?  It's always worthwhile to check all of your windows for proper insulation.  An awful lot of cold air can come in - and warm air can go out - from poorly insulated windows.  We have some windows that literally "lock up" wonderfully, insulated against cold and sound.  But then we have others that are not so efficient.  When I think this weather is going to finally be consistent we are going to be insulating those windows with old sox.  Sox? Yes - stuffed down into the space between windows, they do a great job of blocking cold air and when it's time to remover them in the Spring, you don't have to deal with that sticky insulation - which takes years to totally come off!  Just be sure to get a good layer stuffed down into any areas cold air can enter.  It's very effective and if you get them well situated, you won't even see them.

Also, remember to get yourself used to checking the "sun" forecast.  If you have south facing windows, and you know it is going to be a sunny day, raise those shades and blinds in the morning and let passive solar add some heat to your rooms.  Of course, it is important to close them up when the sun is gone.

On another note, I came across some sad and scary facts about a week ago.  In a piece by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Mike Newall, I learned the definition of "deep poverty".  I also learned that this level of poverty effects more than 186,000 people in Philadelphia, 62,000 of whom are children.  I can't get my arms around the fact that in my city this is fact.    With that sort of poverty comes hunger and that speaks to me directly.  Two out of four families with children do not always have money for food!  These folks aren't necessarily homeless.  They may be working at minimum wage jobs as well.  The schools are identifying what is known as "Food Anxiety" in many children.  The anxiety that comes when you don't know when you are going to be able to eat again.  Imagine.  We talk a good game about children and nutrition and the effects of poor nutrition.  It seems to me we  need more action.  Be aware of any politician cutting food programs to children.  Speak up when you see those attempted cuts.  Help support the programs, like Philabundance, that are providing food for families and individuals.  And please, respond to those who demonize the poor with such statements as, "People on Food Stamps are always buying steak and lobster".  First of all, that's not true and secondly, it helps to create an atmosphere of disregard for those people who need a helping hand the most.  Those of us who love food:  growing it, cooking it, writing about it, reading about it, and eating it are the ones who need to respond - in whatever way each of us can - to insure that children, and adults, are not going hungry in this food happy city.

What are your thoughts on what each of us can do?  I have some ideas, but would like to hear from you all first.

Recipe:  Asian Pear Crumble for Two

Sometimes a big dessert is just too much to have hanging around.  We share with neighbors of course, but once in awhile a small, delicious dessert that is just enough for the two of us is the best way to go.  Avoiding waste is so important, as well.  Believe me, you won't have to worry about that with this delicious crumble.


One large Asian Pear, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of good vanilla extract
A pinch of kosher salt
1/2 - 3/4  cup of granola (I am partial to all flavors of Bob's Red Mill granola; for this I used the blueberry/apple which was perfect with pears)
1/2 cup of water
2 teaspoons of unsalted butter, plus butter to coat the pan


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Coat your baking pan generously with a teaspoon or so of butter - use a small pan or oven proof pot.  I used a five inch All Clad stainless steel pot; it is 3 inches deep.  You can use larger, it will just not be as "deep".

Toss the pear chunks, the cinnamon, the vanilla and salt together and pour into the greased pan
Top the mixture with the granola
Pour over the water
Dot with the two teaspoons of butter

Bake for 30 - 35 minutes. When you see bubbling it is done.
Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving.
This is wonderful topped with good vanilla ice cream!


Treasure Real Food!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Busy Time of Year; Eating Fall

The Larder at Il Moya 2015

The past weeks have been crazy busy at our Homestead.  I know that it is the same thing at many homesteads - urban or rural.  The change from Summer's growing scene to the harvest and cold weather preparation is probably the busiest time of year for us.

What takes up a great deal of that prep time for us is what our grandparents referred to as,  "Putting Food By":  canning, freezing, drying and pickling.

If you eat whole, real, local food,  you almost have to figure out a system for yourself of preserving  some of that good food for the winter months.   Unless you want to eat well sprayed,  well traveled, flavorless produce from a supermarket  - how will you have any fruit and vegetables if you don't save some during their prime growing seasons?

There are some things that we've learned over these recent years about drying, freezing and canning.  A big challenge is keeping track of what you have; keeping an inventory,  if you will.  Now, obviously the larder shelves are visible - we can see everything stored there.  The challenge with the larder is just knowing how much of each item we have left.  That is pretty easy to do.

The freezer, of course, is another story.  We have a big chest freezer; the kind of appliance that can easily "disappear"your carefully packaged food - and lead to waste. One suggestion for keeping track is to either paint a square on the wall near the freezer with "blackboard paint" OR buy a blackboard and mount it near the freezer.  Get some freezer friendly boxes that will fit in to various parts of the freezer and will hold specific food items.  In our big freezer, we have two hanging bins for frozen berries and vegetable, and a lidded box that holds smaller cuts of meat such as hot dogs, sausages, breakfast meats, and smaller packages like ground meat.  We then have various sections dedicated to stocks, sauces, etc.  In other words, when we lift that lid, we at least have an idea of what sections to search in when we are prepping. The final step for freezer management is to take the time to sit and list the contents of your freezer on the blackboard.  When something is removed from the freezer for use, it gets crossed off of the list on the blackboard.  This little system is worth the time it will take you  to set it up, and will avoid waste and buying something that you already have stored.

So, whether you are freezing or drying or canning, I do hope that you did - or are in the process of - doing something so that you can feed yourself well when the temperatures drop.

Note:  As the weather changes and we get into the Winter for real, I will be posting recipes from our larder and freezers. But right now, as we are in the Fall transition period, I have been asked by a number of folks what we like to cook at this time of year.    Here are some dishes that we find ourselves always returning to in the Fall.

Early Fall Recipe Ideas

I am not posting "recipes" here.  I am offering ideas & techniques for you to develop your own recipes from the bounty of the harvest season.

Fresh Tomato Sauce - there are still tomatoes in the Farmers Markets.  Don't miss the opportunity to chop them and put them into a hot skillet with olive oil and garlic and let them cook down.  Add some chopped onion, basil or oregano and a bit of tomato paste if you wish.  Add partially cooked pasta, stir and let it finish in the sauce.  Nothing like fresh tomato sauce!

Ratatouille - Although any dish with such a French label might be scary this is merely vegetable stew.  There are basic recipes all over the place for ratatouille. The method is merely layering onions and tomatoes and eggplant, peppers and zucchini, along with aromatics such as garlic and fresh herbs.  The "stew" makes its own gravy as it cooks.  It is amazing with crusty bread for dipping.  It is delicious over rice or noodles and left over ratatouille baked in the oven with fresh eggs poaching on the top of the casserole is an addictive brunch dish.

Composed Salads - There are also great greens still in the Farmers Markets.  Arugula, Spinach, Salad Greens and hearty greens like Kale, along with radishes, apples, pears, good cheeses, peppers - you get the idea.  Don't limit yourself! Add good Italian Tuna or some strips of salami or left over sliced beef to really take it past the "salad" level. A good salad with lots of seasonal ingredients makes a delicious meal, with a tangy dressing of your choice and some good bread, it is dinner.

Fried Green Tomatoes - Some of those "non ripe" tomatoes, whether growing in your own garden or available at the markets, are available now!  Every good Southern cook has her/his own recipe for fried green tomatoes.  Do some research.  See what recipe appeals to you.  Basically, dipping slices of green tomato in an egg wash, flour, and cornmeal dredge and frying them up in oil or lard or bacon grease will be delicious.  You can also add a dipping sauce, like remoulade or aioli.  Crunch on the outside, tart and soft and juicy on the inside - don't miss making some fried green tomatoes.

Let's hear from you all.  What are your favorite things to make in the Fall?  Did you put any  foods by?

Treasure Real Food!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughts from the Urban Homestead and Summer Recipes

Some of our Piquillo peppers

It has been a very, very busy summer so far around the homestead!  We've had a number of opportunities to test our growing "self sufficiency" skills.  It seemed for awhile like  something major needed fixing every day! It's an old house and some of the systems are old and every once in awhile it needs to remind of us of that. And this along with, of course, the everyday, non-negotiable work of tending the growing things:  watering, weeding, checking, harvesting and preserving. All this and five very spoiled fur kids to keep healthy and happy. The work is hard and the days are full, that's for sure.

We are now nearing the end of yet another long heat wave.  We've seen temperatures above 90 each day with very high humidity. Even the occasional downpour doesn't do much to cool things down.  As we made a commitment four years ago to eliminate air conditioning (along with the microwave and a few other energy sapping things), this summer has certainly helped make us even more "heat adapted".   But, nobody is suffering. We both feel great, our home has been open to summer breezes and the occasional rain blowing in, and, yes, we hear the sounds of the city we live in from time to time.  And we have the cool water of the spa/pool to cool off in from time to time.   Some things we have noticed:  neither one of us has that creaky bone feeling in the morning; we enjoy the changes in the air from daytime to dusk and into night time and we spend a great deal of our time outside.  As we roll into August, (and I won't discuss our diminishing energy bills) the plan again this summer seems to be working very well.

I must say that our garden continues to amaze me; nearly every morning there is something unexpected, surprising or just lovely - this is the addiction side of being a grower.  In a way, I am trying to live by returning to some old ways of doing things and it's rewarding but it is a whole lot of work!  But, after five years of planning, learning, asking, listening, screwing up and effort, this year we will have the biggest yield from our garden so far!  Combine that with all of the wonderful food we have been able to purchase at our local Farmers Markets and our freezers and larder shelves are filling up quickly.  Along with making me feel proud, this also makes me feel a lot better about what we are going to be eating over the winter months - even if I didn't grow it, I know who did, where it came from, how it was raised and what's in it.  And please remember, when you go to a Farmer's Market you are buying goods from the producers of those goods almost all of the time. Those producers are not a chain, they are a small business. Because of them, you have access to real food!  How many folks consider doing some freezing and canning - even when they don't grow anything themselves?  If you have great Farmers Markets and producers available to you, there's no reason not to do it.

Lastly, a request.   Please, whenever the opportunity arises, encourage others to make the change from processed, tortured and traveled to real food. When you watch a co-worker pop one of those over-processed, cardboard box, "lean" whatevers into a microwave for lunch, you are witnessing them hurting themselves. And if they consistently come back to the office with a fast food bag, the situation is even more dire!  Time is of the essence in these matters.  It takes a long time for the human body to get all of the junk, chemicals, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and who knows what else, out of the system.  Our systems literally have to detox, and our tastebuds have to learn to enjoy authentic flavors again - or maybe, sadly, for the first time.  Do whatever you can to educate and encourage.  Lead by example and take the opportunity, when it presents itself, to say something.

Some of Our Cucumbers ready for pickling

At this time of year many of us have surpluses of tomatoes and zucchini - and that happens whether we grew it ourselves or just could not pass up the beauties at the farm stand.  Here are a couple easy ways to make good use of some of that bounty.

1.  Marinated Zucchini  (adapted from Canal House "Pronto")

Five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound of small zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 clove of garlic minced
One tablespoon red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Sliced fresh basil leaves

Brown the zucchini, cut side down in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium/high heat
Turn then over and cook until just soft - about 2 minutes more
Put the cooked zucchini on a plate, sprinkle with good salt
Put the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a jar and shake it
Season the dressing with salt and pepper
Pour the dressing over the cooked zucchini
Add the basil leaves
Toss it all together
Marinate the zucchini at room temperature for at least an hour.
This will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week in covered container.

Alternate:  Melt butter and anchovies in a skillet, stirring constantly until blended and pour that over the zucchini instead of the vinaigrette. 

2.  Easy Skillet Cherry Tomato Sauce

Three tablespoons (divided) of extra virgin olive oil
Three tablespoons (divided) of unsalted butter
One small onion, sliced thinly
Two garlic cloves, sliced thinly
One cup or more of cherry tomatoes of your choice
1/8 cup of rinsed, chopped capers
1/2 cup of white wine or dry vermouth
Fresh Basil
Salt and Pepper
Hot pepper flakes
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Pasta of your choice, cooked al dente

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of the butter - melt and stir the oil and butter
Add the sliced onions and the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft - not brown
Add the cherry tomatoes, whole, stir well to blend with the onions and garlic and cover
Keep an eye on the pan - after a few minutes the cherry tomatoes should start to burst and you'll see their juices in the mix
Remove the cover from the pan and stir in the chopped capers
Add the white wine or dry vermouth - let the mixture simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the mixture reduces
Add one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter and stir well
Let the mixture cook down for about two minutes and add the remaining butter and oil
Stir and add fresh torn basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes to taste

Add cooked pasta to the skillet, toss, add some pasta water to thicken the sauce a bit

Lastly, sprinkle with the grated cheese
Serve with extra grated cheese for diners to use to taste.

Beverage Tip:  It's a wonderful time of year for "Pickle Martinis"! (see the Foodist blog post of September 2, 2010)

Cherish Real Food!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Philly Made Limoncello!

Pollyood's Storefront Window on 1908 East Passyunk Avenue
This is such a fun time of year for Food Lovers, it's hard to pin down what is floating my boat the most from day to day.

But as you know,  sometimes I come across a discovery that I just have to share.  Such is the case with my discovery that we have our own, home made Limoncello here in Philly!  Yes, you read right.  Home grown Limoncello!  Read on - and then make your way to Passyunk Avenue.  You need to get to Pollyodd!

A few weeks ago, my wife and I met a good friend of ours in order to participate in one of the first "Passyunk Passeggiata" events - that lovely Italian tradition of taking a stroll, having an apertivo or two and some snacks before dinner.  As we sipped and strolled, I remember that a fellow Philly food blogger (www.imphillyfoodgirl.com) mentioned to me that I had to check out Pollyodd on Passyunk Avenue for some amazing, locally made Limoncello.

Note:  If you are not familiar with Limoncello, it is generally believed to have originated along the Amalfi Coast - the home of the world's most delicious lemons.  It is thought of as an appertivo, a digestivo, or just a lovely way to sip away an afternoon.  Limoncello should always be served chilled.  In Pennsylvania state stores we have generally had two choices of the liqueur  - both imported from Italy.

So, following the good advice that I had received, we made our way to the Pollyodd store at 1908 East Passyunk Avenue.  The owner, Joan Verratti, welcomed us like we were old friends and immediately started us on a taste testing of her wonderful liqueurs. Within minutes, bags were put down on the floor and we were happily sipping the wide array of 5 cream based and 5 water based cello flavors.  Joan of course, makes the traditional lemon - and trust me on this, if you sort of, kind of, like Limoncello but find some brands a bit harsh - you will adore Pollyodd's traditional lemon Lemoncello.  She also produces a lime based liqueur, Limecello, which we all three declared heavenly, especially given the very warm evening.

We then veered from the more traditional and tasted the cream based 'cellos.  Joan makes Lemoncreamcello, Orangecreamcello, Strawberrycreamcello, Bananacreamcello, and Chocolatecreamcello.  Wow!   The flavors are just delicious. And along with what going through my mind, while looking at Joan's collection of cocktail recipe cards, the possibilities for some pretty amazing drinks seemed endless.

Then, we moved on to the water  based cellos.  We had tried the traditional lemon and the aforementioned lime, so we moved on to Orangecello, Chocolatecello, and Mangocello.  Of course we listened intently as Joan described the various cocktails that could be crafted from mixing some of the flavors and/or adding other ingredients.  The water based cellos were also delicious.  I could see that it would all depend on your mood - cream based one day, water based and a bit lighter another.  And again, the potential for lots of invention abound.

Joan and I with some 'cellos
In front of a portrait of her late son
I think I speak for us all when I say that one of the best parts of the whole experience at Pollyodd was getting to know Joan and the story behind the cellos and the shop.  Joan liked to make Italian - American liqueurs at home; her base organization, Naoj & Mot distillery, and the Pollyodd Shop grew from that home based production experience. Each bottle of Joan's cello is made by hand in small batches, and each flavor contains no more than five locally sourced ingredients (water, sugar, grain alcohol, fruits and chocolates).  You should also know that a portion of Pollyodd's proceeds go to fund a scholarship for underprivileged children.  The scholarship is named in memory of Joan's late son, Thomas Joseph.  The Thomas J. Verratti III Memorial Scholarship provides tuition and support for students to be able to attend Bishop Neumann High School.

I am so pleased to urge you to visit  Pollyodd, to meet Joan, to try some of the wonderful cellos and to get into the habit of taking a few home.   It is no secret to readers of this Blog that "Local" is my mantra.  Well, here we have a truly local business, offering wonderful products, and giving something back to the community, as well. In my opinion, Joan's story represents a lot of what the Philly food scene is all about.

And, hey, let's make this home grown business even busier!  Next time you are out to dinner - especially along the Passyunk Avenue corridor - ask for a "Pollyodd" cello before or after your meal.  Rumor has it that the store is not getting as much support as it could from the local eateries and as far as I am concerned that is just crazy!

Let me close with Joan's philosophy of doing business.  I think that says it all:

"dalle mie mani al tuo cuore".  "From my hands to your heart".

And, believe me, she means it.

Happy 4th of July!

Treasure Real Food

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preserving the Early Season Bounty

Home Grown and Delicious
What a time of year this is!  What bounty surrounds us from our farmers, our producers and for many of us I hope, our own gardens!

Have you all worked through the early Spring treats, like Fiddlehead Ferns, Morel Mushrooms, Nettles, and Patience Dock, and are you now wallowing big time in Asparagus, Strawberries, Snap Peas, Lettuces, Arugula, Green Beans, Carrots, Radishes and Greens?  Are you running out of ideas, but do you still find yourself compelled to pick up that beautiful bunch of radishes at the Farmers Market?  Or do you hear yourself say, "just one more pint" of those gorgeous strawberries in their contrasting blue cardboard boxes?  I know the feeling.

Now, it is important to remember that some of the wonderful things we are seeing at the markets or growing ourselves just might be around for awhile - it all depends somewhat on the weather.  But as temperatures rise, we know that some goodies will be gone - at least until the Fall.  So - how do we capture these seasonal wonders in ways that highlight their essence but are maybe a bit different than our traditional uses of them?  Well, we do it by Preserving.  And we are lucky.  Our grandparents didn't have anywhere near the capabilities we have today when it comes to keeping the harvest.

1.  Pickling

       Raw Radishes, Carrots and Turnips are wonderful with just some seasoned sea salt to dip into; and radishes with a good sweet butter and sea salt are an amazing snack.  But did you know that Radishes, Turnips, Green Beans, Carrots and Asparagus are all delicious when pickled?  They all really wake up a cheese board.  And pickled asparagus and carrots are great with sandwiches and pickled asparagus or green beans are wonderful in a Bloody Mary.  Use your favorite simple pickling recipe.  You can then decide to make "refrigerator" pickles, which will last quite awhile in the 'fridge, or "canned" pickles, which will last for a very long time on your larder shelves.  The advantage of the latter method is that, come the holiday season, you will have some lovely gifts for the food lovers in your life.

2.  Jams and Relishes

     Strawberry Jam made with in season, local, recently picked strawberries is just about the best thing going.  And it can be very easy to make!  If you don't want to "put up" jam by canning it, make freezer jam.  Just use a basic jam recipe - usually berries, water, and sugar cooked down to the desired thickness.  Put your jam into small freezer safe containers and you will have the best jam ever all year long.  If you enjoy great relishes, there are many recipes out there using carrots, green beans, asparagus, garlic scapes and lots of other summer goodies that will make wonderful relishes.  These relish mixtures are another great addition to a cheese board or spread on a sandwich.  It is best to can relishes if you are making them in any volume.  Again, not only will you have them for yourself later, but they make great gifts. I make a zucchini relish from Ian Knauer's wonderful cookbook, The Farm, that is a huge hit with everyone.  So when the zucchini starts coming in heavily, guess what I'll be making and canning!

A lot of work but so worth it!

3.  Freezing

     If you have been following this Blog, you know that at this homestead there is a lot of freezing going on during the growing season.  When something we really love is in season locally, we buy it up both to enjoy immediately and to preserve it for the winter months.  The asparagus that we buy this week - as local asparagus is still available - when blanched slightly, vacuum packed and put into our freezer, will taste 100 times better in January than any "5,000" mile sprayed and fooled around with asparagus at a supermarket in January!  If it is something that we are growing, we try to preserve  as much as we are eating - at least that's the working rule!
     Strawberries need only  be hulled - and halved if you prefer - and popped into freezer bags to preserve.  Very "liquid" items like berries do not do well with vacuum packing, so those just get stored by weight and put into freezer bags.
     Hearty Greens - if slightly blanched - freeze very well.  And sweet peas can be trimmed and frozen as is, no need for blanching.  Carrots also freeze very well.  They can also be canned. Actually carrots are very versatile as far as preserving is concerned.  If you do some research you will see that there are lots and lots of methods and recipes for carrots.  If you do pressure canning, think of the wonder of a fresh carrot soup that you pull off of the larder shelf, pour into a sauce pan, heat and finish with a splash of cream!  Imagine a soup made with fresh, in season carrots (maybe your own) and some fresh herbs. On a cold winter's day, that will be a treasure.
     We grow a lot of green beans and the early varieties are starting to come out in full force now.  We treat ourselves to a few meals including those beans picked only minutes before, but we also try to vacuum pack and freeze or pickle a like amount to insure we are holding on to that goodness for the months to come.

4.  Pestos

     Unfortunately, those wonderful lettuces, salad greens and arugula just can't be held on to by the above methods - but, for arugula, Italian parsley, and radish and carrot tops - try making Pesto!  Don't think of pesto as just Basil, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.  Many delicious greens can go into the food processor - or mortar and pestle - and be made into a delicious pesto mix for pasta, to dollop over meats and seafood, in chicken and tuna salads and absolutely over hot potatoes. Try using different types of oils and vinegars and switch the cheese or use no cheese at all.  I think you will be very pleasantly surprised. You can preserve your pesto by just putting it in freezer bags, but an even better method is to measure it into ice cube trays.  When the "cubes" are frozen, empty them into a freezer bag.  That way you will have just enough for your recipe.

This is hardly an extensive presentation at all of the ways that foods can be preserved.  But it is a start to what I hope will become a habit. I hope that I have started you thinking about preserving some of the bounty of the season for yourself.  Yes, you may be able to purchase some of the above foods all year around, but they will not be local, they will be very expensive and they will not taste as good and/or be as good for you.

And, please, share your experiences in preserving! I'd love to hear from you.

Treasure Real Food.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Breaking the Supermarket Habit - Part 2

Happy Spring Everyone!

I am hoping that as the Farmers Markets are opening and the planting and growing  season has begun, that you all took some time to consider what you are buying at chain supermarkets that you could be buying fresh and locally - and in season.

I'm also hoping to hear from some of you around this topic and these points.  I think we can all benefit from sharing.  This should be an open discussion of what works for you.  Don't be shy! Remember - what works for you might be just the thing another reader needs to hear!  I do believe that, regardless of the demands on your life, you can reach a point where what you eat is at the top of your list of what's important in your life.

Remember at the end of the last post on this topic, I asked you to ask yourselves these questions:

1.  What are your goals in changing your food purchasing and preparing practices?
2.  Do you meal plan?  Do you make a weekly menu?  Do you shop with a shopping list?
3.  Do you have a good idea of what produce is in season at various times of the year?
4.  How often to you cook?  And when you cook, what do you make?  Be tough on yourself.  Reheating a roast chicken purchased from a chain restaurant does not count!

These questions are designed to help you build an actual Profile - for yourself - as to how you feel about, get, and prepare food.  Knowing yourself around these issues will help you in making changes and/or deciding that you don't want or need to make changes.

Question #1 asks you to consider a wide array of your individual attitudes.  People often say to me, "Oh, I really wish that I could be like you.  But I just don't have the time".  I believe that you DO have the time, but you must restructure how you spend your time just a bit.  Or, I hear, "I just am not very good in the kitchen.  I usually ruin whatever recipe I am trying to follow".  See, I think you can learn; I think you take it all too seriously and maybe are afraid to really get started.  Certainly, in this day and age, you have so many resources available to you.  Television, the internet, great cookbooks, other people - these are all learning tools, you have to learn to use them.  Only you can answer the first question for yourself.  I will say that, for me, it is all about delicious, healthy and non- fooled around with food which I can prepare, eat, or at the very least preserve and put up at its peak. It's also about how what I eat is raised.  So for me, anything that comes from big ag/factory farming is out.  You may have other motivations.  Also, I have been cooking almost all of my life.  I like to cook; I like to feed people.  I am most relaxed in the kitchen - even for big meals and special occasions - I like the process.  I think if you are reading this, you are among a group of folks who likes to eat and likes to cook!

Questions #2 and #3 get at some basic practices and some knowledge gathering,  and both are things that I have found to be most practical.  Many of us find ourselves shopping when we are hungry.  Or, we get to the Farmer's Market and we are overwhelmed by all the wonderful things we see - and sometimes, we buy it all up!  And what happens?  Much of what we bought ends up going to waste.  Americans are the biggest food wasters in the world - which is something we should be truly ashamed of, in my opinion  We can avoid a great deal of waste by planning - and this doesn't mean you have to be inflexible. It just means that you are giving yourself an outline, some parameters if you will, to guide your shopping. Take 30 minutes or so before you set out on a food shopping excursion, pour yourself a glass of wine, and consider first each weeknight dinner, the potential for brown bag lunches from each of those dinners, and what will work for something quick on busy weekday mornings.  Then consider what kinds of things (and it's always a good time for treats)  you want to have for weekend breakfasts, lunches and dinners.    And a big note here:  You do not have to buy everything for every meal at once!  If you can get yourself in the habit of food shopping more than once a week, you will also reduce waste.  Many seasonal Farmers Markets pop up more than one day a week at different locations - find out where they are. And, if you have a year 'round market selling local products, you have that benefit as well. 

Realize that chain supermarkets are physically designed to make you buy things you didn't plan to buy; don't actually want or won't end up using.  It is shopping solely from supermarkets, NOT buying most of our food locally and seasonally, that makes us the world's biggest wasters! So do your menus and then your shopping lists for those menus.  If you enjoy using your electronics for such things you can get free applications that will allow you to do menus and develop shopping lists as you go.  Or you can just make yourself a form that works for you, print out copies and use that each week.  And as you do your menus and shopping lists, keep your eyes on the season.  For example, here in Philly local asparagus has been around for a couple of weeks - so I know it won't be too much longer.  Now, along with making all kinds of delicious dishes with asparagus, and eating as much of it as we can,  I know that it's time to start buying some big bunches of asparagus and blanching it, vacuum packing it and freezing it.  Local Strawberries made their first appearance here mid week last week, so we'll be eating lots of delicious fresh strawberries but for every basket we buy to use now, we'll be canning some jam, as well as hulling and freezing the berries.  I think you get the idea.  Be aware of what is truly in season.  In a chain supermarket it looks like everything is in season all of the time.  Break free from that. It's false. And, just to be clear, I am pretty much referring only to produce and meats, poultry and seafood here.  I don't buy "food in boxes".  By this I mean those products that are combinations of multiple 'food' products, often with several of them being dehydrated, meant to make a perfect side dish, or dinner just by adding water, with ingredient lists that are high in sodium and high fructose corn syrup - because your noodles or rice need to be sweetened - and a couple of lines of unpronounceable ingredients at the end of the list.  And I don't buy blister wrapped poultry or meat.  And, lucky me, I live somewhere where I can easily get fresh fish and seafood. Support your local growers and producers and say no to flavorless, sprayed, often GMO laden, "year 'round" produce.  Besides, once you realize what a wonderful treat it is to have something that actually tastes good - like it is supposed to - and was grown well and is at the peak of its flavor, you'll be hooked.

Question #4 the last question that I asked you to consider really gets to the heart of making time for meals - both preparing them and eating and enjoying them.  Nobody has a perfect record here.  I have found myself with a refrigerator and larder and freezer full of all sorts of great stuff, and still dialed the local Chinese takeout.  Stuff happens.  What I want to share is that I do it less and less - it is a big "treat" and that's a good thing.  In our house brown bag lunches from left overs are pretty much the only way to go.  But still one of us may just have a day that needs some gooey cheese fries from the local sandwich shop.  The bottom line is that most of what we eat we prepare ourselves or we grow ourselves or we purchase it from growers, producers and ranchers who  know - either directly or by doing some research. For us, it is most enjoyable to get to know the folks from whom we buy our food.  Chain supermarkets just do not offer that level of personal relationship.  It is generally not part of their marketing strategy and often, they do not even have folks on staff who can answer specific questions.  The way of shopping, selecting and preparing food that I am describing does take us back to an older time and another way.  So does growing some of your own food. But most of all, so does preparing meals at home from fresh, seasonal, safe ingredients.  The act of actually cooking and sharing good meals with those in your life on a regular, ideally daily basis, is something we all need.    We need - not just to escape the tyranny of the supermarket's mass produced "food in a box" -  we also need to stop, relax, enjoy and share.  I honestly believe that our good health as well as our enjoyment of our lives will benefit from both.  Remember how good Grandmom's food was?  

Let's hear from You.

"Know where your food comes from"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Breaking the Supermarket Habit: Getting Started

As we enter the growing season and the arrival of fabulous fresh foods to our farmers markets, and hopefully arriving in some of our gardens as well,  I am planning over the next few posts to discuss ways in which the average person can break free of what I call the "Supermarket Food Habit".

I am often challenged by readers and others as to how they are supposed to "start" eating more locally, seasonally and humanely.  How much more will it cost me?  How much time will it take?  How do I begin actually cooking real food at home?  It is my hope that I will be able to answer all of these questions, along with providing some guidelines for getting started.  And remember, everything does not have to happen at once.  Actually, these kinds of changes are best carried out in small steps/in increments.  The practice of going to one enormous store and filling up one or two shopping carts with everything we could possibly need for at least a week - often supplemented by fast food - is ingrained in our DNA.  So this is not an overnight fix. It's not a fad. We want the changes to be permanent.  So, one step/one day at a time is definitely the way to go.

First, a little bit of history and discussion about where things used to be and about how we got into the situation we are in with Food.  It"s important to think about how this all unfolded.  What led us to where we are today?

In the beginning, industrialization and urbanization cut deeply into the agrarian lifestyle of earlier generations.  Many people stopped keeping a garden and "putting up" food for the winter.  After World War II, "Victory Gardens" all but disappeared. New conveniences like electric refrigerators and freezers became common place in every home.  This begat a corner grocery store, which then begat a supermarket, which then begat a superstore.

Our foremothers shopped the way many of us on the fringes of the Fair Food movement shop today - making 2, 3, even 4 stops.  My Gran would go to the small farmers' market where she liked the chicken and she'd take me regularly to the Reading Terminal Market (when there was sawdust on the floor and poultry hanging) because she liked a number of things from the Amish folks. And always while we there, she got herself a buttermilk from the "Drink Buttermilk and Live Longer" stand and me a Bassett's ice cream in a cardboard cup with a steel holder.  She knew lots of people by name.  And of course she had a real relationship with that corner store owner.  It was a tiny store and Saul stocked it to the ceiling.  He was also a trained butcher, so Gran got her fresh meat from him.  His son played with my sister and I and the other neighborhood kids. There was a personal connection.

Well folks, that was then, this is now.  A time, as Michael Pollen calls it, of "needless complication" about food. My grandmother would not recognize much of what's on the shelves - and especially what's in the freezers - in a typical supermarket.  "Dinners" that you can put in a drawer or a cabinet; fifteen versions of everything; and ingredients lists that boggle the mind.  Our insatiable need for mega stores; our inability to eat seasonally - forget locally - and our insane demand for "perfect looking" produce has nearly destroyed real independent farms and replaced them with horrible institutions of manufacturing food - factory farming/big Ag - whatever you want to call it.  That worm hole led us to tasteless hybrids that shipped well, and then later, GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

So, like many of us, if you at the point where you are considering eating real food, food that comes from the region in which you reside, food that is free from lots of additives and chemicals, and food that is raised the right way - humanely - the supermarket is not going to be your main source.  As a matter of fact, probably no "store" will do everything for you.  A lot of this effort comes from your own kitchen - by cooking more of your own food yourselves, you take the first giant leap toward real food, healthier food, and fair food.

Let's Get Started!

First we should get the obvious issues out of the way.

1.  Cooking most of your own food takes time. Doing a weekly menu takes time.  Preserving your own food takes more time.  You will come to know that it is time well spent.
2.  Shopping selectively (having a butcher, a cheese monger, a bakery,  and going to the Farmers Markets) is more complicated and time consuming than walking into a supermarket.
3.  Consider whether you are really willing to go "all in".  For example, if you are going to take more time in food selection and in cooking for yourself, and then eat fast food lunches or those over processed meals that have a shelf life of forever, you are defeating your efforts.  Learn to Brown Bag it!
4.  YES!  Let's get it out of the way. Some things will cost more.  This is a direct attempt to keep you hooked on the supermarket by the national mega food factories!  I have very little else to say on the subject of costs.  You are putting food into your body! And the bodies of those for whom you are preparing food.  What is that worth to you?  Your call - would you rather pay the farmer or the doctor?

OK - As we begin this process there are a couple of questions for you to take some time to consider  and to answer for yourself  - honestly.

1.  What are your goals in changing your food purchasing and preparing practices?
2.  Do you meal plan?  Do you make a weekly menu?  Do you shop with a shopping list?
3.  Do you have a good idea of what produce is in season at various times of the year?
4.  How often to you cook?  And when you cook, what do you make?  Be tough on yourself.  Reheating a roast chicken purchased from a chain restaurant does not count!

For the next installment of "Breaking the Supermarket Habit", I will provide some guidelines around the above four practices.  If you answer these questions for yourself, the next post will be more useful for you. My guidelines will help you shop for, make, and eat great, fresh, healthy food and be much less supermarket dependent!

Do the Homework! Have Fun!