Sunday, January 20, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Virginia and I discussed how both of us have been attracted to the turquoise and brown color combination. How do certain colors and color combinations hit the collective consciousness? Can Pantone take all the credit? I will leave it to her because she writes about that for a living.

I just thought that the apple/persimmon cake I baked last evening looked nice. Unfortunately, I ran out of cooking oil and substituted low fat yogurt to mixed results. It really could use more fat. I used the Swedish Apple Cake recipe posted in Recipe Meme and used a combination of 1 chopped apple plus enough Hachiya persimmon pulp to make up 3 cups.

By the time I added enough flour to make a stiff batter, there was a huge amount. I also baked 3 mini-loafs not pictured above. They were all given to families that help us keep Iris occupied (along with fruit from the flats we bought at Costco yesterday).

With the help of Google, I discovered another recipe for Persimmon Cake that reads very similar to my cake. The ingredients are largely the same, save for small variations in spices. I used only cinnamon; she added nutmeg and cloves. Rachel has gone to cooking school while I have a BS in Chemistry. Maybe her cake will taste better. ;-)

I was on a cooking roll yesterday, also cooking black beans. 2 pints were frozen for another dish, and the rest went into Best Black Bean Soup from Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham. I added 2 carrots to her recipe. Notice the cilantro garnish from our garden? The great part of being a messy gardener is all the "volunteers". Who wouldn't want fresh, young cilantro volunteers?

This was supposed to be a post about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the book I read for the Apartment Therapy Re-Nest Book Club. In the beginning, I didn't think I would want to read another book nagging me to eat locally and organic. As I wrote before, I thought I was too busy add more to my workload. I was even chastised by reader mmadden for saying that "Farmers' markets are great, but they are not convenient for a harried working mom." (Go read her criticism and my response.)

I can say that I changed my mind (about the book, not about farmers' markets). Barbara Kingsolver has made some valid points about our nation's messed up relationship with food. Even if I don't have her real estate, I can still grow more of my own food. I can also eat more seasonally and locally, even within the time constraints of shopping only before and after work and childcare duties.

I used to think it horribly unfair that I was so heavily penalized in footprint calculators for not eating more locally. After all, I eat very little meat and that takes a lot of energy and water! My lifestyle is really green! I drink filtered tap water! I recycle! I re-use! I am on a stuff diet! Look how little trash I generate relative to my neighbors! How can my footprint be marginally better than average?

I forgot about the poop.

In modern life, we don't pay attention to what goes in and out of our bodies. We pretty much assume that there will be some food to eat when we are hungry and that our bodily waste will disappear with a flush. It is not so simple. Anyone who has ever backpacked understands how much they eat and poop. Barbara Kingsolver reminded me that, for most people, our greatest consumption, measured by mass, is in the food we put in our bodies. The greater the mass, the greater the amount of energy it takes energy to move it around. It is time to eat more local.

Kingsolver moved across the country to a place where with more land and water. I need to live close to work, in one of the densest regions of the US with some of the priciest real estate and very little water. Even so, with a little creativity, there is room to improve.

Our hostess in Christchurch threw together a light supper the evening we arrived. Amongst other things, she served a salad made with lettuce from her garden. How did she do that in a townhouse with a garden the size of ours? The next morning, she showed me her vegetables, interspersed with her flowers and other ornamentals. She only had 1-2 heads of lettuce in two varieties, but it was enough if she picked a few leaves each day from each head.

I already grow rosemary, thyme, bay and several varieties of chives and mint. Our Meyer lemon tree is groaning under the weight of this winter's crop. I already sowed some lettuce and pea seeds before I left home so I should have plenty of salad greens for a couple of months.

I started eyeing the insipid baby's tears ground cover in the shady areas. Wouldn't that be a good habitat for spinach, lettuce or watercress? Can I tuck some more herbs in other areas?

In the book, Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating local foods, most of it in season and organic. The first early spring of their experiment was bleak. They hadn't preserved food yet. They shopped farmers' markets, but the pickings were slim. In a few months, though, their garden started to reward them. My mouth watered as she described the arrival of each new food that came into season. Morels. Asparagus. Berries. Stone fruit. Tomatoes.

She reminds us that food tastes best when it is in season and has been freshly picked. You can't get fresher than your own garden. Lacking that, a farmers' market where the food was picked a that day is a good alternative. Unfortunately, I still find it difficult to go to a farmers' market for reasons I elaborated elsewhere. I explored alternatives.

At the recently remodeled supermarket 300 feet from my house, I spoke with the produce manager. He appears to be sansei (3rd generation Japanese american) with longtime ties to the community. He has been trying to convince the regional produce buyer to allow him to buy more Asian and Hispanic produce. He says they didn't believe him when he said he could sell those "specialty" items in his mass-market supermarket. Slowly, he is convincing them otherwise. The variety is increasing but quantity is still a problem. To my frustration, he can't keep enough white turnips (lobo in Mandarin) in stock. You can get beaver tail cactus there along with advice on how to cook it. I need to support his efforts by buying his produce.

Because of my commute route, it is easier for me to go to Whole Foods on my way to the office instead of on the way home. I started bringing in an extra bag for all the things that need to stay cold. I pop them into the fridge at the office while at work and bring them home later. Whole Foods doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. The bulk bins are a relative bargain. All their meats are guaranteed not to have antibiotics or added hormones. They even have a case near the front of the produce section of "in season and local" foods.

I also shop Trader Joe's on the route home. When we buy fresh food at Costco (a warehouse store with that sells food in bulk), we share them with other families. That way, we can have a greater variety.

I am planning meals more and using the food we buy more efficiently. I cook in large batches, freeze some and share some. Yesterday, my next door neighbor came over to help herself to snips from my rosemary bush (there is no way we will ever run out). I brought her over some mangoes and oranges from Costco. She sent her daughter over with some rosemary focaccia bread and challah and I sent her home with some apple persimmon cake. Another day, I sent over some cream of mushroom soup and scored some home-made pasta sauce.

It is time to send over some of our Meyer lemons. I remember fondly a few months ago when the neighbor on the corner gave away his excess avocados.


  1. I recently had a similar conversation with a friend who discovered a Greek yogurt that she likes. It's imported by a company in Queens -- blocks from her apartment -- but it's imported from Greece! Talk about an environmental footprint! But what about those of us who don't live in regions with year-around temperate weather? It's worth thinking about and trying to develop a solution.

    Think about this -- people in this country and others are starving, and yet the "diet industry" is huge here. We're a nation of people who can afford to eat well, but we largely opt to eat crap in large volumes. It's very sad.

  2. Martin and I subscribed to a CSA-like system in Seattle. They delivered a Rubbermaid box of fresh organic produce weekly. We probably should have opted for every other week, but it made menu planning a lot of fun because it would have veg that we would never have chosen on our own. Perhaps you can look into a CSA and split with another family. You'll be supporting the farmers directly.


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