Adventures in cooking sustainably, healthfully, and locally

Until Dave puts the kybosh on it anyway.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dilemma? How Sweet It Is

I find myself constantly furrowing my brow at some of my purchases, wondering how strict I should be in my definition of "home grown." Sure, the homemade BBQ sauce given to us is homemade... but not home grown. If anything, the brown sugar most often used in such sauces is made of plain ol' white sugar and molasses.



Before today, I always assumed that sugar was absolutely impossible to buy locally, and for the most part I am right. No sugar cane here. However, the U.S. is a major player in the sugar market and not just as a consumer. We produce sugar cane derived sugar out of Florida. During my bits of research I also discovered the existence of sugar beets and how it is also a source of sugar. Texas happens to be a producer of the stuff too. Huh.



According to Google:


  • 799 miles = distance between Dallas, TX and Denver, CO.


  • 1867 miles = distance between Orlando, FL and Denver, CO.


That's a difference of 1068 miles. On a car that gets 30 miles to the gallon (and I know I'm being generous here), that is 35.6 gallons of gas. If we go by $2.75 per gallon, that's $97.90. For as much sugar as you can stuff into a 2009 Subaru Outback.



What about molasses? Comes from cane sugar and sugar beets, for the most part. But I think I can get around the whole molasses thing by substituting in maple syrup or honey. Not sure if that's the same though.

What is a gingerbread cookie without that unmistakable molasses hint?


Why does it even matter to me?


This is the crux of it all, and I'm glad I'm sharing this with all of you because maybe some of you can offer up something I just can't think of right now. Maybe my gingerbread cookie are your flour tortillas or bananas or figs or -insert food here that isn't grown anywhere near you but you can't imagine living without- .



So I ask again: What is enough? What is enough for me to look at my practices and say, "Yes, this is practical and economical and it isn't taking a toll on what I consider a great quality of life."

Or maybe I should stop thinking so much about the particulars of the thing and just sit back and enjoy the adventure of it all, the sense of discovery in my own backyard. Then, before I know it, I'll stand up amidst the sustainable chaos in my culinary life and go, "Oh. So *that's* enough."




Hrm. Now I want a gingerbread cookie. Curses!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Farmer's Markets!

Now with the future of our garden uncertain, it became more important than ever to get my tush down to a farmer's market. So I went to two.

This is the Littleton Market, a great big circle of vendors hawking their wares.

Sure there were a few restaurant/non-farm entities there but that's ok. This time the farmer's outnumbered the others, and you got a couple of people who were just there to sell their home baked/cooked creations. Like the woman from Tasmania who sold me a jar of this salsa eggplant awesomeness. I even got her business card too. In fact, I started gathering a ton of business cards because I wasn't ready to commit to buying everything. Here's a rundown from the Littleton market:
  • Unique Pastry, Inc: salsa eggplant awesomeness, plus mini stollen-eqsue breads. Made me homesick for Christmas and my mom and sister, and grandma. :)
  • Royal Crest Dairy: Didn't buy anything this time around, but they deliver and make a ton of stuff from Colorado dairy cows. Definitely keeping it on the list.
  • Snow Creek Ranch Steaks: Pro is that they are family owned. Con is that the cows are in Kansas. Shoot.
  • Pappardelle's Pasta: Pro is that it's all handmade in Colorado. Con is that the semolina is produced in the Dakota's. Since wheat is a tricky thing, I bought a pack anyway.
  • Rocky Mountain Rice Co: This is the only guy in two market's that seemed to loathe that he needed to answer questions. Sure, Colorado isn't a water mecca but the watery Mesa County has plenty of lakes; how was I supposed to be sure Colorado makes ZERO rice? Especially with a company name of ROCKY MOUNTAIN RICE CO.? Sheesh. I include the link because I know some peeps from MN and they do have wild rice patties there. But why you would buy from a company headquartered in CO I have no idea. Moving on!
  • Styria Bakery II: Bought an asiago loaf. Dave and I had some last night and will again tonight. Yeasty, but good stuff. Very friendly. Product is made in Colorado, but again the flour comes from elsewhere.
  • Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy, LLC: Sampled a bit of their feta. What I wanted was some of the plain chevre to try, but I didn't see any. I did take one of their nifty flyers and want to order some. All goats are home grown!

Today I took Hailey for a walk to the downtown area of Parker for their farmer's market. HOLY MOLY it was huge! We had a good time.

Many of the same vendors were there (walked right past snooty Rocky Mountain Rice guy) and a bit more non-food vendors. I stopped to talk to this sweet woman who puts together care packages for dogs (K9 Care Package). She (and other vendors) had out dog biscuits and water bowls, which was nice cuz Hails was a bit thirsty. After the anticipated discussion about Hailey's allergies (because she tried to give her some treats), she was happy that I shared my pup's ailments because she wants to cater to all doggie lifestyles. I thought she was very nice.

Three places caught my eye enough to nab business cards:

  1. KIM's Gourmet Sauces and Marinades: Just tasty. They claimed the only stuff that isn't local is the soy in some of their sauces. Didn't buy any this time, but maybe in the future (we've got plenty of sauces at home at the moment). Website doesn't seem to be working at the moment.
  2. Sweet Pea Creations: We bonded over lab talk. Everything they make is Colorado home made, but as you can see when you look at their ingredient list much of it is pretty exotic. Wasn't ready to buy, but will certainly be excited to try. ... Hey, that rhymed.
  3. Bookcliff Vineyards: Shockingly, I was certainly ready to buy. ;) A winery that is clear across the state in Palisade, the lady convinced me to try a couple of their cheaper wines (a table red and a table white). I'll report when I actually crack them open, but now they are all nestled in our wine rack waiting for the opportune moment. She was a great seller: kind, interested in the customer, willing to talk shop but also tone it down a bit when she saw that I was a true amateur (i.e. I know some, but I really don't know anything). It was the only money I spent at this farmer's market, but I'm really glad I did.

Now it is time for confessions: I'm finding that fruit that I like is hard to come by. I like grapes. I am obsessive over strawberries. I crave bananas. But they are either getting out of season or aren't available period here. I mean, bananas! Can I give up bananas? Only time will tell.

I fully intend to put grapes and strawberries on the garden menu for next season. In the previous post, I put up a picture of our garden. That whole area is dedicated to our future garden endeavors, so I'm hoping to fill it up with as much as possible.

In the meantime I just have to depend on these farmer's markets and maybe a CSA throughout the winter. So far, that doesn't sound half bad!

Garden in Turmoil

Let's get the bad news out of the way straight up. I've got psyllids. They're multiplyin'. And they are killing my tomatoes and starting on my peppers. Plus, I've got powdery fungus on my squash leaves, dangnabit.

Garden from afar:
But here you can see the damage:


*sigh* Our neighbors were having the same symptoms (without the telltale signs, which are these green oval sacs on the leaves - I didn't even know I had a problem. Dave told me I should get the leaves looked at) but the neighbors were simply overwatering. I thought I was too until I noticed teenie tiny eggs on leaves.


Ew.


So I cut off a couple of samples of leaves and one of my squash leaves b/c those had the powdery residue on them. Right out of the bag, the experts at Tagawa Gardens knew what we were dealing with. She had two suggestions: Rose Defense or Sevin. The first is a more environmentally friendly option that kills only "pests"; Sevin kills 'em all. I asked her what she would use on her own garden and she responded with the Rose Defense. I figure if that was good enough for her garden, then it was good enough for me. With the instructions to simply rigorously wash my veggies prior to consumption and probably get the ripened veggies off the vine before spraying, I brought home my $10 cure.


I used the whole bottle. EVERYTHING was infested, even the cucumbers were starting to show the signs. So I doused it all. I managed to get the two nice cucumbers off the vine and 3 cherry tomatoes before spraying.


We'll see if they are salvagable. The mold already is vanishing off of the squash leaves. Besides, the squash are fine; the mold doesn't really get to the fruit. The spaghetti squash are just about ready... Baked another 3 breads this weekend with the zucchini. :) A first year lesson for me; now I know what to look for so I can catch it earlier.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Inventory or Not to Inventory...

That has been the question for the last couple of days. Do I go through every last item in the cupboards and see what is from Colorado?

Ah, homemade BBQ from one of Dave's co-workers. We'll count that. Oooh! And some bottles of Coors. I mean, seriously, it has the Rocky Mountains on the bottle and the brewery is about 45 minutes from our front door. We're up to two!

Moving to the pantry...Hmmm...

  • dried figs from California
  • quinoa from Ecuador (although claiming fair trade
  • kombu from China
  • honey co-made by the U.S. and Brazil (not sure how that works, but moving on...)
  • huckleberry jelly beans from Montana
...then I got bored. So I came up with another idea: inventory en route.

So I'm about to describe what what we had for dinner. Keep in mind that Dave's review is after the ingredient list, so if you are inspired look at our comments afterwards to ensure we actually liked the dish.

Beef Quesadillas and Zucchini/Onion Quesadillas

Ingredients:
  1. 1 lbs beef - origin unknown
  2. 1/2 zucchini, juillianed (or just into thin strips... or whatever) - from my garden
  3. 1/2 onion, same as zucchini - origin unknown
  4. Packet of taco seasonings, or your own mix - California? Bah, I forgot to look specifically. I'm sure it isn't from 'round these parts.
  5. Taco sized flour tortillas - distributed by ... Texas. What does that mean?
  6. Shredded cheese of choice - distributed by Illinois*.

Instruction:

  1. Brown beef in pan. Drain. Add taco seasonings and water, simmer as per direction.
  2. Move taco beef to bowl. Add onions and a bit of oil to the pan.
  3. Saute onions for a minute or two; add zucchini strips/chunks. Add more seasoning. Saute until all soft.
  4. Heat large pan like you are going to make some grilled cheese.
  5. Put two tortillas in. Fill half of each with ~1/4 cup of beef and a generous sprinkle of cheese. Fold in half.
  6. Don't burn the tortillas. It can happen, so watch 'em close.
  7. Using TWO spatulas (the key to not having them spill all over the place!), flip quesadillas.
  8. Toast some more.
  9. Remove from pan.
  10. Repeat starting at #5, only use the zucchini/onion mixture with the cheese instead of the beef.
  11. Make as much as needed.
  12. Serve with dollop of sour cream and a good spoonful of your favorite salsa or taco sauce.

Sounds good, right?

Dave Stars for beef, "3/5, edible, uninspired, but it had meat so it gets a point for trying. Guacamole, some freshly chopped cilantro, and a mojito would have given this a four...if not a five."

Dave Stars for zucchini version, "1/5 stars. Only because he loves his wife."

Ahem. Well then. 3/5 stars is not bad for Dave. I liked the beef version, but it was a tad salty. I did like the zucchini version, but it was too oniony. I'd have to give 3/5 for both.

Now then. How do we improve the localness of this dish?

  1. 1 lbs beef: I've already started asking around about home grown beef. This will be easy to rectify once we have all our frozen beef used up.
  2. 1/2 zucchini: got it covered!
  3. 1/2 onion: Farmer's market should have some from local farms, and maybe next year I can plant my own.
  4. Packet of taco seasonings: Tough call. I'd say that I could get away from using prepackaged stuff and make my own seasonings. This one I'm going to hold off on, mainly because we have a Costco-sized container that we'll have for years. I have time to ponder.
  5. Taco sized flour tortillas: I think it is possible that I could make my own. Issue being is that I need to find locally produced flour, something I haven't really considered yet.
  6. Shredded cheese of choice: I wonder if we have any local dairies around here. I bet I could get some cheddar. But to be honest, it'd be hard to compete with my home state, California, and Vermont. But it can't hurt to look.

Saturday, I go to the Littleton farmer's market and a friend of mine is bringing me some home grown eggs to boot. I'll have to see what is available. I haven't gone to the more local farmer's market in Parker, which is pathetic because it literally is a mile from my front door. I think it's time I go and stretch my legs at least for research if anything else.

*"Distributed" by Illinois? What the hell does that mean? So I went to Kraft's food page to find out the mystery of where their shredded cheddar comes from.

The result?

Fail. It led me to a FAQ site that only answers preset questions. Unless I missed something.

Google?

Sent me here. Interesting about the link suggesting that Kraft uses a milk protein concentrate from New Zealand, Argentina, Poland, India, China and the Ukraine. But I'm not about to raise holy heck with Kraft because: (1) I still need to do more research (can't base it all on one biased website) and (2) a good family friend was a lifetime employee that gave him the opportunity to support his wife and three boys**. But I'm sure it isn't from Colorado, regardless.

**See, one has to consider the big picture. Taking down one of the Big Boys in one foul swoop will not just hurt the CEO's, but all the hard working Americans that rely on the Big Boys for employment. I haven't figured that one out yet.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Starting the process: First recipe!

It makes complete sense to me that the key to start eating locally is to attempt to grow some of your own food. I can't keep an indoor plant alive to save my life (with the exception of an orchid; not sure how I'm pulling that off) but, after years of seeing Amy and my mom grow much of their own food for years and desperately wanting to give it an honest go myself, I had to give it a try.

This picture is from earlier in the season; I'll post more recent ones later.And the garden produced this....
Which, in turn, transformed into this...



This is what I aspire to. The light seasonings are store bought from who knows where and I'm pretty sure the olive oil made a transatlantic flight in order to dress my zuccas. BUT the bulk of this little side dish was home grown. Right beside my house, in raised beds built by my father and my husband, and planted by my mother and me.




I know where this zucchini came from. There is a nice bit of satisfaction in that. And even Dave gave the thumbs up to:


Broiled Zucchini (adapted from Better Homes and Garden's)
Slice a zucchini, ~1/4 inch thick. Toss with olive oil, garlic powder, and onion salt. Throw in some Italian seasoning if you are feeling sassy. Broil until soft and browned, turning 1x.


Easy peasy pie.

Newest Blog from the Proprietors of Chateau del Mulsoff

We are pleased to announce the launch of our sister blog dedicated to our cute little trendy attempt to eat well and local.

Inspired by my (Lori) sister Amy's lifestyle and fueled by my insatiable appetite (heh, pun) for books on the subject of eating, I thought I'd share some of the trials and tribulations of this little adventure.

Why? Because it seriously doesn't seem to take all that much effort, really, especially when I love to cook, am getting a kick out of growing my own food, and it seems like a simple way to get closer to Momma Earth.

Also, when we really look at our grocery bill, I have to admit: Chateau del Mulsoff cannot guarantee knowledge of where 95% of our food comes from (unless "from the grocery store" suffices inquiring minds).

As someone who thoroughly enjoys the awesomeness of the modern lifestyle, I'm not out to chuck my beloved computer nor force our dogs into veganism. But if my little experiment can up the nutritional value of some of our meals, decrease the good ol' U.S.'s dependence on oil just a schmidge, and inspire other suspicious palates into trying something Lori Tested, Dave approved...

Well then. I think it's worth it.