A Cost Comparison- Spinach

March 31, 2010 Comments Off on A Cost Comparison- Spinach

I don’t think it is any big secret that one of the many reasons people   choose not to eat  local/sustainable/organic is because it can be cost prohibitive and it is pretty bad that we as a  society don’t really make it possible for everyone at any socioeconomic level to eat  healthy foods. That said I think that for many other people cost is just a really big excuse, at least it was for me. So I now introduce the sexy and intriguing cost comparison series. I hope to explore the cost and “cost” of foods and share what I find, hopefully proving that eating better doesn’t have to come  with brutal violence to you pocket book. This week I will take a look at spinach, it’s in season in Virginia, even though my spinach on my roof is not doing so hot, and it is tasty. A lot of these links are local to Charlottesville , but if you look around you area you will  similar resources.

feast! Baby Spinach 1/2 lb(8 oz) : $4.25

Earthbound Farm Spinach – Organic Baby from Harris Teeter(5 oz): $3.99

Sno Pac Organic Cut Spinach, 10 oz from Foods of All Nations

Fresh Express Ready to Eat Spinach(9 oz.) from Harris Teeter: $2.99

Meadow Run Local Fresh Spinach,fresh  baby and large leaf mixed, 1/2 lb(8 oz) from Retail Relay: $1.99

Fresh Spinach(1 Bunch) from Harris Teeter: $1.99

Birds Eye Spinach -Frozen  Chopped(10 oz.) from Harris Teeter: $1.75

Winner for fresh spinach is: Meadow Run,  there isn’t a cost different between eating a local spinach and a one from the traditional grocery store.

Winner for frozen spinach: Birds Eye

Food For Thought:

In 2006 there was a pretty bad outbreak of E.coli in fresh spinach and it was determined that this was contamination from animal feces, now to be fair this can pretty much happen to any size farmer. However the benefit of buying spinach locally is that you can easily track in back to the source quickly, if you get sick from spinach from one farm, then you know it is that farm, and there is no need to do things like a preventative recall of ALL the spinach. Plus as with all local food you support a farmer. You can also grow your own, its a great thing to plant to get on the gardening wagon early in the seaon.


What To Do With Spring Green Overload.

March 28, 2010 Comments Off on What To Do With Spring Green Overload.

So I went to that local food workshop where I was reminded  that one the key ingredients to eating sustainably is to eat locally AND seasonally, this means that  sometimes some vegetables or fruits might be hard to source locally. If  you want to find out what is actually considered in season where you are, a good resource is this epicurious map. Although  it is definitely not super comprehensive, it says spinach is the only thing in season in Virginia, but you can probably get any leafy green in season in Virginia, oh and F*** you California and your all year around growing weather.

On that note I now have an entire grocery bag full of Kale in fridge that is getting ready to go bad, maybe you are a bad planner and also compulsively buy lots of vegetables because you are on a mission and are finding yourself ask the question, what do I do with all this Kale in the fridge?  Unless you are super inventive or don’t like variety or have a brood of children you probably can’t eat the same thing every day. Oh but have no fear because you can save all this seasonal green leaf bounty for a time of the year when it is not in season, and as luck would have it it is easy to save by blanching and freezing it. All you have to do is  clean, throw in hot water, and then throw it in  icy water, then dry of then freeze. Although I have it on good athority that you can also just throw them in the freezer sans preservation and things will be fine., but that is not the point because we are learning to preserve natures bounty here.

The  thing you need to do is cut the stem out of the kale and chop into pieces. I got a slightly  bad batch of kale and had to cut some yellow parts off as well.

Then make sure to wash it thoroughly to get all the grit off.

Then throw it in boiling water for two minutes.

After two minutes are up throw them into an ice water bath.

Take the kale out of the water bath and dry it off, you can throw it it a bag in the freezer, but if you want to keep the pieces piecey and not in block form, put spread out on a cookie sheet put them in the freezer, when they are icey put them in a back put the date on and your done.

If you are not overzealous  in your kale purchase  and only have a small amount to deal with try this deliscious soup from Mark Gresgy at L’Etoile in Charlottesville, as with most spring green recipes you can exchange  the green with any other type if green, like kolrabi,spinach, collards, or mustard greens.

Early Greens Soup

1T olive oil

1 T sweet butter

1 cup onion peeled and chopped

6 C vegetable stock

1/2 C carrots diced

1/2 cup celery chopped

2 cloves chopped

1 cup white wine

5C Spring Greens

1/2 t salt

1/2 t nutmeg

1/2 t cinnamon

1 t  fresh ground ginger

1/2 t white pepper

2 granny smith apples chopped

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter. Add the onion, carrots, and celery saute 5 minutes over medium low heat.

2.Add garlic, apple, and ginger. Then add  wine and spices. Saute for 3 minutes.

3. Add greens and stock. Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before the puree in blender. Use a hand blender as hot soup and blenders can make a nasty combo.

5. Reheat but do not boil the coup before serving.

Now if you are in C’ville go eat at L’etoile because Mark is a super nice guy, the food is delicious, and they use local ingredients as much as possible.

Hours of Operation:
Lunch: Tuesday – Friday, 11am-2:30pm
Dinner: Wednesday – Saturday, 5:30pm-9:30pm
Brunch: Sunday, 11am-2:30pm

They also have a rocking deal of a 3 course prix fix menu  for $27 on Wednesday and Thursday (call them to confirm that)

Shaking the Rainy Day Blues

March 26, 2010 Comments Off on Shaking the Rainy Day Blues

The east coast has gotten a little bit of a slap in the face  as most of the  area is experiencing  a drop in temperature and rain. Now I’m under the impression that rain is really a gardener’s best friend, because water makes things grow  and is particularly awesome for those of us that hate lugging water out to our rooftop pots. However it’s still a day that can be a little depressing if it hits the right way , like say if you are having a 12 hour work  day. Never fear though because the season is right around the corner with all the green grass and cute dog lounging time(even if they aren’t yours) you could possibly  ever need. Here’s a preview.

If that didn’t cheer you up then you might not have a soul.

But here’s some other things you can try to be less rainy day depresso-ed

* Since the advent of the interwebs rainy days are a great days to go out and find out what other people are doing and find a little inspiration. There are a  lot of people out there with a lot of gardening mojo, and the great things is a lot of them write about it, like The folks at Far Out Flora live on the West Coast and take plenty of pictures of all the awesome things that can happen when it is warm and sunny.

* Just google or wiki Botanical Garden and drool over all the super awesome and sometimes exotic plant life and design. As a bonus you can be an uber dork and plan a road trip to go see a few in your area.

* Order lots of seed or gardening catalogs, so next time it rains you can plot out your next plant purchase, and hey if you planned by seeing it in a catalog   then it doesn’t count as impulsive, right? Anyway here’s cool local  seed catalog from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Louisa County, they have lots of vegetables and flowers and they are all non GMO and lots of them are heirlooms.

Step Two: The Low Down on Eating Sustainable Meat

March 23, 2010 Comments Off on Step Two: The Low Down on Eating Sustainable Meat

Step two of going local was  changing the way  that I eat meat, and boy do I love some meat, so it wasn’t and still isn’t easy making the switch. There is so much information out there, and the internet I am convinced was essentially made by marketers so it can be hard to get through it all with out losing your mind or buying weight loss pills. I have included some of the information below that I have managed to sort through as well as some of the steps I am taking to get my local meat feet wet… or whatever.

How I am Making the switch:

*The hardest part was just finding the  meat .  I  just got really lucky because I live in an area with a lot of farmers and the recentish advent of Charlottesville’s  Retail  Relay.  Retail Relay  is really what allowed me to start buying local meat. They are a service that basically  allows you to shop online and then deliver (or you pick up) the food. The great part is that relay  also sort of acts as a coop in which it sells a lot of  products directly  from local farmers. This allows me to try lots of different farms and different cuts, with out having to commit to a whole animal of meat. I may buy a share of an animal later, but I still can barely identify  what different cuts of meat are what, and I have no idea what is tasty. Right now I want to shop around and buying sleected cuts does that, but if you have a large family buying a couple shares of different animals may be the most economically viable.

*Even though I could now get the meat I had  the tiny problem of meat grown sustainably is a  lot more expensive than regular meat from the factory. So I made the hard decision to reduce the amount of meat I eat in favor  of eating less but better quality meat. It’s not really that hard because I need to diet anyway and a serving size of meat is really about  4 ounces which is a similar size to a pack of cards. So far it has been great, I have also been able to add meats that I don’t usually eat like lamb back into my diet.

So  what’s the big deal with eating sustainable meat? I’ll tell you why I am doing it.

* I believe it to be healthier than other meat, makes sense right? What we eat and how we live has an effect on how healthy we are so why shouldn’t it be the same for the tasty animals we eat.

* I believe it is more humane, and I like animals.

* I really like farmers, and by buying local you are supporting farmers, and not a giant corporation, and trust me that farmer needs his or her job.

What the hell is hippie grown organic sustainable local natural meat?

Well to be honest it is all different stuff, and not all of it is necessarily connected, here a simple definition of a lot of the terms used when buying meat. They are roughly placed good to better as buying options.

Natural: This is the most vague of the terms and pretty much just means not man made, aren’t you glad that  that meat is an actual animal and not plastic, yay what an accomplishment!

Organic: This mean that the meat was raised without any pesticides  or inorganic food. There are some rules  that stipulate humane treatment of animals in USDA organic classification, but this doesn’t necessarily coordinate with happy  or pasture fed animals, but is better than regular meat.

Local: There is some  discussion about what this means, and it is really dependent on the person. I have a rough definition of anything within 100 miles preferably less.  What do you think qualifies as local food?

Sustainable: This means that the animals were raised in a way that is healthy and humane for them and the land that they graze on.

How do I find out more about sustainable meat?

Well there are some great resources out, but first I have to warn you that many of them are hyper about going sustainable, and some of them will try to scare you. The important part of  process is you being an informed consumer and drawing your own lines in the sand  and to what extent you want to take this, for example right now I am almost(at least 90%) solely eating local and sustainable meat in my home but I haven’t committed to eating that way while I’m out. Everyone is different, and I mention below sharing is key. So now a couple of links.

*Sustainable Table has a nice overview of what some of the problems with factory farming are.

* Another good site is www.eatwild.com it gives an overview, but also has a directory for farms in your area.

I’m having a hard time keeping the faith, what can I do?

Well you can eat a lot of late night drive in food and drink all your pay, or you can just talk to people. I  can’t rave enough on finding other people who are into doing the same things you do, especially when the change is hard and there are all kinds of issues that make it harder to follow through . There are opporunities everywhere to network with people, this blog isn’t a bad place to start, ask some questions people! I am lucky to be in an area where the Local Food movement is really picking up  and that really helps me stay motivated, like this past weekend I got to go to an  excellent workshop where I heard  some really cool people speak about their part in the local food push here in Charlottesville.John Whiteside, owner of Wolf Creek Farm was one of those speakers and he is is just awesome and super smart, like Harvard smart, so its easy to listen to him.  He is a good example of what sustainable farming looks like, I  was able to talk about what farming meant for him and how he does what he does. The workshop really helped me make a complete picture, John also answered some questions that I hadn’t been able to find an answer to anywhere else. You can see a video  of him telling you a little  about his farm here.  So talk to your farmers,go to farmers markets, go get the meat  from the farm(call them first though,) see the cows, and ask questions. It really makes eating sustainable worth while , especially when there is a human element involved.

Potted Potatoes!

March 21, 2010 Comments Off on Potted Potatoes!

Believe or not you can grow just about anything in a pot. Somethings even work better in pots because you can control conditions like moisture and soil type, and have plants that normally couldn’t just get along right next to each. There’s a great book called “Garden Anywhere” that gives you a nice overview of all the places and things you can garden in, it also has some great general gardening advice.  I garden in pots out of necessity, I’m also a little crazy, so this year I am not only trying to grow food potatoes for the first time, but I am trying to grow them in pots. I selected Red pontiac  potatoes because I read they did better in pots, I can’t remember from where so this may not even be true. So maybe  we should just call this an experiment.

First you start with whole potatoes, you should probably buy yours from a garden center, as the ones from the store have often been fucked with by pesticides and genetics and aren’t supposed to do very well for home harvesting.

Then  you cut them up, they are suppose to be about two inches, I think, but I am halves so this is as close as it is going to get.

You takes the cut up pieces , put about 6 inches  of soil in the bottom of your pot and stick them down in there. Ideally there should be  2 inches of soil on top of the wedges, but my pot is a little small and I am improvising, so  I guess I’ll just see what happens.Some people also recommend sprouting your potatoes first, again I am lazy so I just stuck mine in the soil.

ONce they are underground, you just need to water them. Keep them kind of moist until they sprout , and then you can lay off of the water. Once you have  about  6 inches leaves you can add more dirt. You can keep doing this until you reach the top of your pot and the plants start to die. I got a good tip that you can use old tires and just keep stacking them on top of each other. I haven’t actually gotten to this point, so I am just hoping they don’t rot. So here’s to the future potatoes  that will be delicious  in mouth.

Oh and the dog  helped:

So now my garden has grown to include potatoes , some yet to sprout carrot seedlings, and  an elephant ear plant named Raul(he’s in the big pot with his head sticking out on the right.)

Sometimes You Trip Over a Chinese Restaurant

March 19, 2010 Comments Off on Sometimes You Trip Over a Chinese Restaurant

Today I failed miserably at eating sustainably AND local, I don’t think there was a single thing I  put in my mouth today that I made or probably even came from around  the area. But you know what  that’s ok, part of  changing any part of a routine is working it in to your life.  I have only been on the path to sustainable eating for about three weeks, so at this point I am far from perfect. In part of the step by step approach you sometimes have to fail miserably , if only so you realize what moves you away from your goal. The easiest thing to do is just ignore it, in this case anyway in general life ignorance is not so good. When I decided to start eating like this I  promised myself that I wouldn’t feel guilty for the things I was not doing, I would be happy and proud to make the progress I was making. This works for me because I am a worrier, so in order to  not worry about things that are out of my control, I just have to have a fuck it mentality. There are so many parts of the  current food system, that it is expansive. If you go to  restaurant,most of your food probably has a hidden past.  Cutting everything out can be drastic and overwhelming, like  going from  not working out to running 5 miles, its hard and you hurt really bad and don’t want to do it anymore. For example, I love dairy products, but  there are not a ton of resources around my area  to eat sustainable dairy , so right I am ignoring anything beyond organic.In order for you to sustain sustaining you just have to keep on trucking, keep on making little changes. I think it also helps to have other people excited about what you are into.  I am fortunate to have family and friends listen to me rant about gardening or food(they are just happy to not hear my ranting about other social issues) and the great part about being into food, is everyone eats, its the biggest common ground besides taxes and death. So when you feel overwhelmed step away from the computer that you just googled sustainable fish on and just buy your groceries. In fact I’m pretty sure this advice works  in any situation, just replace the word food with your current life crisis.

Starting a Garden without Ground

March 18, 2010 Comments Off on Starting a Garden without Ground

One of the most important things you can do to eat sustainably is eat locally, and what’s more local than stuff that comes from you backyard. I grew up gardening with my mom and  we pretty much always grew something to eat in our garden. But alas I am a big now and have been trying to garden on my own and  failed at growing my own food for the last I don’t know, 6 years. This year the timing and motivation were  right(fingers crossed), but of course there was  a catch. I have no yard this year, not only do  I rent but I live in a condo. Luckily I  moved up from the east side to a deluxe apartment in the sky… or maybe that wasn’t me. Anyway I moved to the downtown area of our town(as tiny as it is) and live  in an apartment that is basically on the roof, and with lots of sunny  flat space come opportunity. Thus I introduce to you what I have to work with.

The desert that is my roof:

The roof is a good roof, but really hot thanks to black rubber plastic and has no water source, and while plants like sun, many don’t love sweltering heat and they all love water. So maybe my particular roof isn’t the best place for a garden, but I am dedicated so here we go. It is still the early season here in Virginia, with it still getting pretty cool at night. I decided to start lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, and potatoes(which haven’t been planted yet.) Because of the heat retaining moisture is key,there are lots of thinks you can do to help with this. Since it is still coolish and I have some time to figure out more methods,I opted to use plastic pots for most of my plants to limit them drying out. Although if you are looking for a cheap alternative you can easily use a harvest basket and put plastic inside(make sure to poke holes in the bottom.) You want a pot that can breath and keep moisture in, a tough job for a pot and ceramic pots can really suck the moisture out your plants when they are receiving a lot of sun.  So after getting some dirty fingers and playing with arrangement I have the beginnings of my garden. I hope to add lots more things, but as I have a problem with moderation(and no water source), I am actively trying to restrain myself, saving my sanity and my poor abused pocket book.  I still haven’t figured out how to water these other carrying water out to them from inside, I’m hoping to add a rain barrel into the mix soon(any other watering advice would be appreciated.)  I have a reprieve as it is still not hot enough during the day to dry out, any idea to prevent impeding drout  are welcomed. Most of you will have it much easier if you choose to plant some vegetables in pots, as you can put them wherever you want,  like close to your front porch or near a water source, just make sure there is lots of light!

These are strawberries, which work great in a hanging basket I’m told so that’s where they reside.

I bought this harvest backt for 3 bucks and some plastic from lowes for 2 bucks for a cheapo pot.

So you see that to start gardening without ground you really just need some pots, soil, and a watering source doesn’t hurt either.

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