CSA Box Week 6 and canning classes

Guess what?

My husband went to a canning class. He’s such a good sport.

We’re both highly motivated because we have a Concord grape vine in our backyard. Well, we rent so it’s not technically our vine, but it’s sitting there producing pretty purple grapes. Our first year here (two years ago) we actually tried making grape jelly on the stove. It never set, we never “sterilized” or “processed” anything and we just made an awful mess of the kitchen.

So last year we let the birds eat the bounty.

This summer I found canning classes so we decided that we’d give it another chance.  The place was offering two classes and it seemed logical that we would each get a chance to see someone can who knows what they are doing.

I asked my husband to go to the first class.

He showed up and texted me, “Hilarious, this class is me and 20 women!”

I couldn’t resist so I texted him back, “You like them odds? :)”

He responded, “Average age 55 I think not!”

Me: “Oh man! Well, you are there to learn after all! :)”

He came back actually pretty enthusiastic and proud of the jar of peach preserves he was carrying. Although my class was less hands-on, now I feel less intimidated by the process because I have seen it done. If other mere mortals can do this, then I can too.

I’ll have to keep you updated on if we are successful making grape jelly!

***

I picked up the CSA box and saw something curious…

What’s that peeking out?

It’s an hierloom tomato!

Right side up!

 

Kale, Eggplant, The Tomato, two onions, pepper

Melon, Carrots, Eggplant 

 

 Bag of lettuce, sack of tomatoes, miscellaneous peppers

Six ears of corn!

Total haul:

  • 1 hierloom tomato
  • 2 eggplants
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 2 onions
  • 4 miscellaneous peppers
  • 1 melon
  • 1 bunch of carrots
  • 1 bag of lettuce
  • 1 sack of tomatoes
  • 6 ears of corn

 

Everyone always talks about how great hierloom tomatoes taste. Well, my husband and I both agree that they are just okay. I figured they would be best fresh. I just sliced it up and we ate it raw. It tasted just “eh.” Nothing special going on there. Definitely bucking the rule there. We didn’t eat it until two days after I picked up our share. Should I have sliced it up immediately?

I made tomato sauce from scratch for the first time and it really was terrific. My husband loved it. I want to share the recipe and photos, but pictures of tomato sauce just look like barf. I don’t need pictures of barf on my blog. It was delicious barf though! (Planning on a second “recipe” blog…at some point…)

The Case Against Fresh Fruit and Veggies

I guess I’m a flip-flopper. Appropriate since people are already campaigning.

I’ve discussed my dislike of fruit cups because of added sugar and the syrup. But I might be coming around to fruit and veggie preservation. Taking on the CSA box of veggies every other week has made me more aware of the seasonality of fruits and veggies. I have been pretty oblivious to what’s in season when. Aside from getting pumpkins in the fall, I never really thought about what might be coming out of the ground at a particular time of year.

Like most of the veggies I’ve gotten from our CSA and especially the fruit I’m buying at the farmer’s market, it’s the best I’ve ever eaten. The strawberries my son and I picked the last day of the season? The best I have ever eaten. The dark and light cherries I bought at the farmer’s market? The best I have ever eaten. Just a couple weekends ago there are no more cherries at the farmer’s market. The trees are no longer bearing fruit.

I mentioned that to my husband and he said, “Well, we can buy more at the store.” Really? Because the other weekend when cherries were in season, my husband bought a bag at the grocery store. Since we were enjoying the one from the farmer’s market, we figured they would be similar. Sorry, but they got nothing on the farmer’s market cherries. Don’t know why, but it’s true.

And should we be buying fruit out of season? My son loves apples, but to get them organic and year round they have to be flown in from New Zealand. Is that the best use of my money? To be spent on airline fuel to get an apple halfway around the world just so my son can nibble on it?

What about school lunch? Is it unreasonable to demand year round fresh fruit? Probably. Is the expense of flying in oranges from Florida or California worth it? Not if they are just getting tossed in the trash because kids don’t have enough time to eat them or peel them independently.

We need to go retro. Go back to the old ways. Natural preserving and canning isn’t bad. That’s how our ancestors made it through the winter. It just has to be done using natural, pure ingredients in glass jars, plastic containers, or cans without linings that contain BPA. Let’s teach kids through their lunch experience about which foods are in season when. That’s good knowledge to have and most kids aren’t getting that at home, including me.

I went to the farmer’s market last weekend and the weekend before. Ok, I’m going every weekend we’re in town. I’ve gone more this summer than any previous summer combined. That stand that was selling cherries is now selling something else. Peaches. I reached out for a slimy sample and gave it to my son. He gobbled it down. The best we’ve ever eaten.

Lunch Wrap Up: Week of August 15th

I’ve got news. My son is attending a new day care. While we have really loved a lot about the old place, I ended up checking out a new place about five months ago. I liked it, but I wasn’t ready to uproot my son. This summer I wasn’t super thrilled with his day care. I’m not going to go into details, but basically I got the feeling that my son was a number to them, not a person. It was a tipping point. I re-toured the new day care and was reminded of its strengths. So we got him in and he has been there part-time for two weeks. Of course he’ll start back up full-time very soon (back to school for everyone!).

The transition has been harder than we expected. He’s been going to childcare since infancy so we didn’t expect trouble. Really, it is the morning drop-off that has been tough. That’s my husband’s shift so he has had to bear the brunt. When I arrive to pick my son up, he’s super chipper. Wow, am I lucky.

I told another mom at the old day care about why we were leaving. She decided to check out my son’s new day care. After touring the new place on one of my son’s first days, she told me he was “very happy.” That was reassuring.  And now she has decided to make the switch as well. So I’m not the only one who wasn’t feeling satisfied with the old day care (Sorry if this is hard to follow).

Of course the new school’s menu is very different…or oddly similar, depending. Also snacks are not formalized on the menu. Read on…

Bacon, corn cake (from CSA); yogurt; sliced apples; package of crackers; rice bar; cucumber shapes (from CSA) and carrot slices

One of the great things about the new place is that they send back the unfinished food. It sounds gross, but it’s so helpful for me. I wasn’t sure if the amount of food in this lunch would be enough for him, but he ended up not eating the yogurt or the bar. They manage snacks differently at the new school so my son is very hungry at pickup. Day care menu: Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, diced carrots, orange with wheat bread.

 Salmon, rice; sliced peaches (farmer’s market); bar (repeat from previous day); potatoes (farmer’s market) and carrots (CSA); strawberry muffin (berry picking)

He ate a little of everything, but all of the peaches, muffin, and the bar. Day care menu: BBQ chicken, rice, “Italian blend” (?), pear with dinner roll.

Hard-boiled eggs; peaches (farmer’s market); broccoli (from CSA); mac and “cheese”; cucumber muffin (from CSA)

My son barely touched the broccoli and the pasta. I made cucumber muffins because I had soooo many cucumbers from the CSA. I wasn’t feeling ready to can (even with all your positive encouragement), but I’m always up for baking. They turned out great. I’d like to start a new recipe blog and share recipes in a more formal way. Also it will help me keep track of things that work for us. Day care menu: Chicken tenders, cheesy mashed potatoes, broccoli, cinnamon applesauce with rye bread.

Oh yeah, I forgot to pick up a hard copy of the menu so nothing matches like I usually try to do. It’s a learning curve for all of us!

Survey results: Eating lunch

Thanks to everyone who responded to my survey “Eating lunch.” A whopping 541 people completed the survey! Here are the results:

1. Do you eat lunch every day? (Answered question = 523)

Yes  89.3% (467)

No 10.7% (56)

Other (31) — People responding “other” told me that sometimes you forget, are too busy, or you might eat a late breakfast. One of you likes to eat “lunner” around 3 pm 🙂

2. Do you ever eat the following at lunch? (Choose multiple) (Answered question = 540)

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich 48.1% (260)

Frozen microwave meal 36.7% (198)

Turkey sandwich 57.0% (308)

Tuna sandwich 39.8% (215)

Deli sandwich 41.7% (225)

Hot dog 15.7% (85)

Hamburger 25.0% (135)

Chicken sandwich 32.4% (175)

Fish sandwich 6.9% (37)

Spaghetti 35.6% (192)

Gyros 9.6% (52)

Pasta salad 34.6% (187)

Green salad 3.1% (395)

Chicken soup 34.3% (185)

Veggie soup 42.4% (229)

Chicken and rice 20.0% (108)

Egg salad sandwich 25.6% (138)

Tacos 29.1% (157)

Pizza 51.7% (279

Chicken nuggets 13.5% 73)

Steak 6.7% (36)

Panini 21.5% (116)

Stir fry 21.9% (118)

Leftovers from home 90.6% (489) — Holy cow!

Leftovers from a restaurant 58.3% (315)

Breakfast for lunch 24.4% (132)

Other (please specify) — 120 people told me that their lunches included items like “black bean burger,” “quiche,” “baked potatoes,” “veggie sandwiches,” “nachos,” “bagels,” “rice dishes,” “casseroles,” and “protein bars.” Someone remarked that lunch “varies based on fridge contents” (okay I LOLed at that one — too true).

3. What sides to you eat with lunch? (Answered question = 520)

Apple 59.8% (311)

Banana 41.2% (214)

Orange 30.4% (158)

Fruit cup 15.6% (81)

Other fruit (fresh) 65.4% (340)

Chips 46.9% (244)

Pudding 13.3% 69

Yogurt 44.4% (231)

Pasta salad 20.6% (107)

Green salad 51.9% (270)

Crackers 45.2% (235)

Hummus 37.9% (197)

Fruit snacks 11.9% (62)

Celery 25.4% (132)

Carrots 59.0% (307)

Cucumber 41.2% (214)

Bread 33.3% (173)

Nuts 33.3% (173)

Granola bar 32.1% (167)

Cottage cheese with pineapple 5.4% (28)

Fries 19.2% (100)

Other (please specify) –112 people told me that their sides included “cheese,” “steamed veggies,” “pretzels,” “pickles,” “bars,” “popcorn,” “potato salad,” “ice cream,” “dips,” and “applesauce.” Fresh veggies were really popular.

4. What do you drink at lunch? (Choose  multiple) (Answered question = 534)

Water 89.3% (477)

Coffee 9.6% (51)

Tea 34.5% (184)

Milk 11.0% (59)

Juice 15.0% (80)

Soda 36.7% (196)

Smoothie 4.9% (26)

Milkshake 1.9% (10)

Hot Cocoa 0.7% (4)

Bottled water 17.6% (94)

Other (please specify) — 50 people responded saying they drank “iced tea,” “nothing,” “diet coke,” “sparkling water,” “seltzer,” “sports drinks,” “kombucha,” “soy milk,” and “wine.”

5. Do you eat dessert with lunch? (Answered question = 520)

Yes 28.5% (148)

No 72.1% (375)

If yes, please specify — 146 people told me their dessert consisted of “cookies,” “pudding,” “granola bar,” “cake,” “chocolate,” “ice cream,” “fruit,” and “brownies.” Someone mentioned having a “raging sweet tooth” – I think we might be related!

6. Do you normally eat at home, on the go, or at a restaurant? (Answered question = 512)

At home 32.8% (168)

At work 63.3% (324)

In your car 1.6% (8)

At a restaurant 2.3% (12)

Other (please specify) — 72 people said they ate “at school” (Um duh. Can you believe I left that out!?), “in class,” and “at the park.”

7. Do you eat lunch outside of the home?  (Choose multiple) (Answered question = 520)

Yes 33.5% (174)

No 2.3% (12)

On weekdays 28.8% (150)

On weekends 11.9% (62)

Only special occasions 23.5% (122)

Other (please specify) — 89 people mentioned eating “at school” and “at their desks.”

8. Where do you eat lunch outside of the home? (Choose multiple) answered question 512

At work 66.2% (339)

Coffee shop (Starbucks, etc) 9.8% (50)

Fast food restaurant (McDonald’s, etc) 29.9% (153)

Casual (Panera, etc) 64.5% (330)

Restaurant (Local pancake place, etc) 52.1% (267)

Other (please specify) — 71 told me they also eat at a “friend’s house,” “Subway,” and “at school.”

9. What’s your typical lunch (Monday through Friday)? (Answered question = 505)

You guys told me you normally eat sandwiches, pizza, and leftovers (like you indicated above).

10. What’s your ideal lunch (Brie and strawberries with my mom at her house)? (Answered question = 448)

You said your favorite, ideal lunch would be “sushi,” “panini,” “Thai food,” “picnic,” “soup and salad,” and even eating in “peace and quiet.”

11. Do you pack lunch for your kid(s)? (Answered question = 283)

Yes 33.6% 95

No 66.4% 188

Other (please specify) —  245 most of you have no children or chilldren too young to pack for!

12. If you have children, what’s their typical lunch? (Answered question = 257)

Most of you are packing sandwiches and finger foods (easy and quick to eat!)

13. What’s your child’s idea of the ideal lunch? (Answered question = 235)

Some responses included “sushi,” “pizza,” “McDonalds,” and “chicken fingers/nuggets.”

14. How important is lunch to you and/or  your loved ones? (Answered question = 534)

Not True Neutral True Very True Rating Average
Lunch is a nutritious respite from a long day. 1.3% (7) 17.3% (92) 46.4% (247) 35.0% (186) 3.15 532
Lunch is necessary for me and my family 2.6% (14) 7.3% (39) 35.7% (190) 54.3% (289) 3.42 532
A traditional lunch is not important to me my family 38.5% (200) 31.0% (161) 24.9% (129) 5.6% (29) 1.97 519
Lunch offers valuable time for socialization 14.0% (74) 33.1% (175) 34.8% (184) 18.0% (95) 2.57 528
At work I can place a professional value on lunch 19.9% (99) 38.4% (191) 28.4% (141) 13.3% (66) 2.35 497

 

Comments in “other” for this question asked for clarification about some of the questions. When I asked about a “traditional lunch,” I was referring to the fact that many of you guys like to eat many small meals and don’t sit down for a “traditional lunch.” Sorry that wasn’t clear.” Also when I mentioned “professional value” I was referring to lunch offering you something that matters to your work. I should have defined it better. It could be “wining and dining” clients or, as in my husband’s case, lunch is a place when the guys go out and chat about what’s happening at work and how to manage certain people or projects. Even though I don’t have a lunch like that in the school setting, I find there to be significant “professional value” at lunchtime. When I was eating school lunch every day in my room, I missed out on hearing the latest news about the building. I was always out of the loop.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. You guys are a very healthy bunch and really value food.

SurveyMonkey will be going down over the weekend for site maintanence so no new survey. I think in the future I’m going to alternate weeks with one week offering a survey and the next week sharing the results. Next week I’ll ask you about cooking. The survey will be shorter, too!

 

 

 

Feeding America’s New Resource for Tracking Child Hunger

There is a nameless, faceless epidemic in our country. It’s called hunger. According to Feeding America, 16.6% of Americans are food insecure. That’s more than 50 million Americans. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that number. But it’s happening, in urban centers and in rural parts of our country.

What does “food insecurity” really mean? The USDA defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Feeding America goes on to add that food insecurity “may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.” Did you ever take Psychology 101? That definition conjures up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There’s no question you need to have the basics before you can think about doing bigger things with your life.

Feeding America just launched a new interactive map documenting hunger on a national, state, and even county-by-county basis by child. They already had the map available as a resource, but now they have added data about children. Visitors to the map can drill down to see how many children in individual counties are food insecure. It’s deeply troubling to review these numbers, but I’m of the opinion that I’d rather know than not know.

I noticed that child food insecurity numbers are highly variable by state. Most interesting was the urban to rural comparisons. I thought that urban areas would have the highest numbers of people living with hunger, but many rural areas had childhood hunger numbers as high as or even higher than urban areas.

Here’s how you read the data:

I chose a random city: Salt Lake City, Utah. You can see that 14% of total people are food insecure, but a whopping 20% of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Kids suffer disproportionately to adults. On the upper right, 52% of kids who are food insecure receive food stamps (SNAP), but then there are the people who make “too much” to get that kind of assistance. I’m not sure how they calculate all of this, but the poverty level for 2011 is at $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four (source and resource). The people who make too much to get food stamps (SNAP) are the people who go to food pantries. Or they are people who were more recently impacted by a job loss or unexpected bills (usually healthcare related as many are uninsured).

As a contrast I chose a random rural area: Coffee county, Georgia. Compared to Salt Lake City, there are fewer people but more living with hunger. Hunger seen in kids is very high with 37% of kids living with food insecurity. An astounding 1 out of 3 kids is hungry on a regular or semi-regular basis. More of the children from this area are able to take advantage of food stamps (SNAP), but still 23% of their families make too much money to qualify for SNAP and have to find other sources, like food pantries or extended family, to get food on the table.

Information is power, but what do you do when you find out about all of this overwhelming need. Well, I can’t help but wonder why. The economy? A failure of education? Corporations outsourcing jobs? Lack of community gardens? Food deserts? No good jobs? Regardless of why, people are in hurting and are in need now. Here’s what you can do:

1) Volunteer at a local food bank or food pantry (Google your state and “food bank” or use volunteermatch.org)

2) Donate to Feeding America

3) Encourage Employer Giving

4) Advocate for Child Nutrition

5) Teach someone how to cook (I think of Dianasaur Dishes — what an inspiration)

6) Teach someone to garden or volunteer at a community garden.

 

Breadstick? Meet my desk

Edited to add: I have had this post queued up for awhile — finally decided to publish it even though it’s super weird…

Flashback.

June 2011.

It was the last couple days of school. Kids were gone. I was cleaning my room and boxing up tons of stuff. I wiped surfaces and peered at items on shelves that I’d forgotten about. That’s when I found a paper sack. I opened it and found ketchup packets, extra sporks, and this…

Hello food-like items!

Oh god…NO! The breadstick was from Day 156 and the cookie was from Day 148! I put them in that bag and shoved them into a corner on a shelf.

I noticed right away that the breadstick was super hard like formica. Then I noticed the thinest layer of green mold:

It’s barely visible in this photo — it’s like dust!

Seeing the mold on the breadstick made feel a little reassured. The breadstick *will* biodegrade one day! But what to do with it now? I didn’t like the breadsticks when I was eating school lunch. But a six-month-old breadstick with a faint dusting of mold? Inedible.

I wondered if the breadstick was harder than my desk. What would happen if I hit the breadstick on the desk? Surely the breadstick would crack…

Flakes of bread came off, but it didn’t crack.

[Pause for me to look and the breadstick and consider my options]

So I banged it harder on my desk…

I got crumbs all over my desk, but the breadstick proved to be virtually indestructible.

Breadstick: 1 Mrs. Q: 0

Moving on to the cookie…

It broke easily in my hands just like it would have six months earlier. Actually, it looked good enough to eat (cookies are my weak spot). I’m left wondering why I didn’t eat it back in 2010… I ran out of time, which happened frequently or I was concerned about any funky artificial food dyes (petroleum-based and created in labs). I guess I decided to stash it in a bag for “later.” Sugar really doesn’t decompose, does it?

So what did I do with the breadstick and the cookie? I quietly put them back in the bag and threw them out. I had no interest in hanging on to them for old times’ sake.

File under: Weirdest post ever

Going on vacation!

I’m going on vacation for a few days. I briefly considered blogging while I’m gone, but I won’t have reliable internet where I’m going  taking a break is healthy. I need a short rest before what could be the busiest months I’ve experienced all year.

Before I leave, I wanted to share this amazing article that was in the New York Times today:

School Restore Fresh Cooking to the Cafeteria

It gives me hope.

See you next week!

 

CSA Box Week 5 with recipes!

Here’s what we got!

 A pepper, a cucumber, another white eggplant, a bunch of carrots, fennel (?)

Bag of greens, bag of basil, green onions (hiding), micellaneous corn, a paper bag with….

 

 ~Ten tomatoes

 Eight ears of corn!

 Closer look at the bag of greens, an onion, a yellow squash, a pepper (any guesses as to what kind?), melon

In sum:

  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 eggplant, white
  • 1 bunch carrots
  • 1 fennel
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • ~10 tomatoes
  • 8 ears of corn
  • 1 bag greens
  • 1 bag basil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 melon
  • 1 pepper

Not a bad haul.

I’ve realized something. Getting our CSA box is helping me learn how to cook. I cooked before but I was not adventurous. I would eat “anything,” but I didn’t really know how to prepare veggies aside from boiling or steaming them.

I mentioned last week that I would share the recipe I used for coleslaw. What I needed was a coleslaw that I could eat, but that didn’t have mayo in it because my husband hates mayo. I just Googled “coleslaw without mayo” and I stumbled upon Gluten-free Goddess’s Snappy Crunchy Coleslaw. LOVE IT (and so does my husband). I made it a bit differently than she did. I skipped the caraway seeds, dill, cumin, and pepper and just drizzled honey on it because I’m addicted to sweet.

Oh yeah, I added cucumber too (yeah, I have quite a few of those!)

The texture was a bit too chunky for me so the next time I made it, I dusted off my mini-Cuisinart (received it as a wedding gift many years ago – probably haven’t used it since my son’s birth) to pulverize all the veggies and it looked like this:

 I added chopped-up kohlrabi, skipped the onion, and let my son push “chop” and “grind” The texture was way better.

Since I had my seldom-used trusty mini-Cuisinart out, I decided to try making salsa. I had never made salsa before so I never knew it was so easy! I used the recipe for salsa with nectarines and corn from the book Cooking for Isaiah by Silvana Nardone. Salsa recipes can be found anywhere and are super easy (and delicious). I ended up skipping the corn and just whizzing the tomatoes and nectarines (and the rest of the ingredients) in the little machine. Part of my problem with tomatoes is that I don’t like chunks. The salsa I made had no chunks. I used a banana pepper (moderate spice level) instead of a jalapeno, which was a great substitution.

I took a picture of the salsa, but I can’t share it because it was the color of puke. Tasted amazing, but after getting tossed around in the food processor it didn’t look so great. You’ll have to trust me on that one.

I also made corn cakes with red pepper, fennel and basil for Sunday’s breakfast. My husband almost died — they were that good. Also from Silvana’s book though I added what I had and didn’t know how to use: the fennel and the basil. No pictures because I forgot. Her book is my go-to gluten free cookbook.

Lastly, I’m perfecting the “use something for two meals” technique. I roasted a bunch of veggies:

Before they baked for 45 minutes. By the way, the beets and potatoes are from the farmer’s market. No after pic…

That night we had sandwiches with roasted veggies on the side. The next day I made a stew starting out with oil in a pan and chopped onions (from the CSA) and then chopped up the leftover roasted veggies and threw them in there. I let it sit for a bit while I boiled up some lentils, wild rice, and black quinoa. Threw everything in one big pot and it turning into a terrific stew. To guide me I used an old magazine cutting “If you have lentils, you could…” and it gave a beginning cook an idea of where to start. Hilarious, but it was a great road map. I keep a small binder of interesting recipes that I cut out of magazines and the paper:

I’m big into casseroles and stews. My husband loved the lentil stew, but my son? Not so much.

I still don’t know what to do with every veggie. I still feel overwhelmed in the kitchen a lot of the time. I still deal with food refusals from my son.

But at least I’m trying. One thing I’ve learned through this blog is that it’s worth it to take risks.