Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Meal


Each bite of salty, crispy, cast-iron-skillet browned rosemary-olive bread makes my mouth water in anticipation. Then, the sharp tomato juice drips over the smooth, creamy cheese, filling my mouth with contrasting flavors and textures. The crisped bacon crunches in my teeth and I am in pure bliss because this is the most perfect, delicious fall treat I can imagine. I dip slices of crisp, tart apples into creamy-smooth yogurt, and I crunch my way through a carrot that was just dug out of the Connecticut earth. There are many reasons why this meal makes me happy.

I am happy about where this meal came from. Not everything we eat is local, but every week I try to see how well we can get by with farmer's market and in-season products only. Here's how this meal stacks up:

  • Local artisan bread
  • Local artisan cheese
  • Local, organic bacon (from a humanely raised, family-farm pig. We recently purchased a
    half side - about 50lb of meat - at $3/lb)
  • Leftover bacon grease from aforementioned swine
  • Tomatoes from our backyard
  • Local, organic carrots
  • Local-to-DC-where-I-was-visiting-a-friend heirloom, organic apples*
  • Local, farmer's market yogurt

*Greg says local-to-DC doesn't count. But I was in DC anyway, so I think it counts.

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I do my best to put my money where my mouth is - for it is true that artisan products are generally more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts - but I am equally as often surprised that the value for the money allows me to get away with better deals than I thought. Let's take a guess at this sandwich. The loaf was $4, but I only used a quarter of it. The bacon was $3/lb, and we fried up a pound this morning - maybe a third of a pound went into the sandwich. A few slices of cheese ($2), two carrots ($0.40), an apple ($0.50), and two tablespoons of yogurt ($0.50). I estimate the cost at (1+1+2+0.4+0.5+0.5) /2= $2.70 for each spectacular lunch. It took me 10 minutes to make, with two dishes, one knife and a cutting board to wash and one cast iron pan to clean.

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There's not much that I would trade this lifestyle for. I like knowing that every penny I spent on my food went to folks who are working hard to bring back family agriculture, sustainable living practices and all around good values. I like that the meat I ate came from a pig who led a happy animal life (something I feel sure of, because I look the farmer in the eye every week when I buy his pastured chicken eggs and he asks me how Zane and Tori are doing). I like that the food tastes wonderful and that it fills my belly well. I like that I saw two people buy basketfuls of fresh produce using food stamps. I like that in the imperfection of this world, we are all able to live our lives by the principles we believe in, whatever those principles may be. This is what a Happy Meal is for me.

P.S. Greg says I should have called this post "Porky's II", since we had bacon for breakfast and he's funnier than I am

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pumpkin Zucchini Bread


On a recent drive back from a wedding in Bar Harbor, Greg and I stopped by the home of one of his friends in Portland, Maine. After a delightful lunch and a quick tour of the city (Portland, by the way, is pretty cool), we went on our way, with the addition of one giant squash and one monstrous zucchini taken from our friends' garden.


What's a girl to do? She's to make Zucchini bread!


I've been wanting to adapt my favorite bran muffin recipe to include zucchini for a while now. It took two tries to work out the kinks to this recipe. The trick, it seems, is correctly balancing the moisture of the grated zucchini with the amount of milk, soy milk, buttermilk or yogurt. Since moisture content of zucchini varies with the size of the zucchini (larger = more watery), I'm going to suggest that you adapt the quantity of fluid ingredients based on whether you're using typical, medium-sized grocery store zucchini or the behemoth, overgrown garden zucchini variety (take out a few tablespoons of milk). I added an extra egg to increase the stability of the flour, and I nixed the white flour. I also chose to use pumpkin butter in this recipe because that's what I had in my pantry... You could just as easily add a applesauce, pumpkin puree, or a little extra yogurt in its place.


Why is this recipe a good one? Let me list the reasons:

(1) You can make it one bowl, if you'd like

(2) You can adapt the ingredients to whatever you'd like

(3) There's a lot of zucchini in this recipe.

(4) The bread is moist, tender, and barely sweet, with hints of the fall flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon and ginger.

(5) You can still adapt this recipe further. I kept the zucchini loaf itself plain, but I sprinkled some ground extra sugar, ground nuts and pumpkin seeds on top (see picture above; they all fell off). It would have been better if I had stirred everything in them in. You could add in some ground or toasted nuts (walnuts might be nice), a little extra sugar for sweetness, ground flax, oats, or double the spices for a super fall-themed treat.

Pumpkin Zucchini Bread

Note: less liquid gives you crumbly muffins, and more liquid gives you a soft cake. I am suggesting a dairy ratio for the typical size of zucchini. If you use the massively overgrown zucchini that I did, then take out a few tablespoons of soy milk. You could also substitute 1 1/4 cup buttermilk or play with the milk/yogurt ratio -- I've made the recipe (sans zucchini) with all sorts of dairy combinations, and it's always good. Don't be afraid to cut back by a tablespoon or two on the milk if your grated zucchini has a lot of moisture; it's probably better to lean towards too dry of a batter, since this recipe makes a very moist batter to begin with. If you make this batter and the moisture balance seems off (say, it's dripping off the spoon in large droplets rather sliding or plopping off the spoon in huge blobs), you can always stir in a little extra flour before baking it.

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut parchment to fit the bottom of a loaf pan and use a little butter to secure it in place. If the pan is not non-stick, be sure to butter the walls of the pan. Sift together:

1 cup wheat bran

180g whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Stir in spices and nuts, if desired:

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

Dash of nutmeg

~1 cup toasted nuts, optional

In a medium bowl, blend together:

3/4 cup soy milk + 1/2 cup yogurt *

1/2 cup sweetener of choice (I mix 4 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp honey and 2 tbsp molasses - it's worth the extra effort, I promise)

1/2 cup pumpkin butter

2 large eggs

3 tbsp vegetable oil

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in:

2 cups grated zucchini

Pour into  loaf pan. Bake until the tops spring back when pressed gently in the center, about 45-60 minutes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lame Post


This post is so lame. It's been so long. This blog has been so ignored. And I have been so busy  not busy lately. I really have no excuse, except -- the freedom that I am finding in a Month of No-Work (M.N.W., AKA October) is making me superbly, wonderfully lazy... lazy, lazy and lazier.


Plus, I've been traveling. Vermont for a few days to see a friend, then Indiana for the grandparents (and Rosh Hashanah - more on that soon), then St. Louis to present at a conference, and then Austin to see my brother Andy, his wife Leslie, and their new little baby girl Alexandra. Greg and I are off for the weekend to Maine for a wedding, and the weekend after I'll be in DC for a friend-reunion of sorts.


So, basically, I've got a zillion photos from all this traveling, lots of stories, a few new dishes and no urge to actually post them. See, this blog used to be my escape from the stress of work. I've had no need to escape anything this past month. Good for me, bad for the blog.


I'll post some recipes next week. In the  meantime, happy October, and I'm just saying "hi"


Oh. And here's a cow: