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Although slightly behind due to the weather, harvest season is starting.   For the women who came before us this was a full-time job that required a full-time commitment and more.  This was also a time when women had to wake up before dawn to stoke the fire, start the bread, milk the cows, churn the butter and patch the dungarees.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  Regardless of what used to be,  my typical day currently looks something like this:

1. Wake up with alarm.  It may or may not be dawn.  Depends on the time of year.

2. Let dog out, brew coffee, take shower, dress child prepare lunches, breakfasts, etc. Turn on Disney Channel/Nick Jr. and pray for a meltdown free morning.

3. Rush off to office and punch in just under the wire.  Work a full day.

4. Leave office.  Make any and all last-minute stops.  Funny how last-minute turns into last 20.  Barely make it home/to daycare on time.

5. Get to house, find solace in an adult beverage.  Try to come up with a nutritious tasty dinner that does not come from a box and takes only 20 minutes to make.  Often experience big, fat failure.

6. Catch up on house work, MAYBE, watch a favorite tv show. pass out while trying to read your favorite book, wondering where the devil the day went.

7. Spend your weekends trying to cram an entire week’s worth of “home-work” in.   Inform your family that if they would like to eat they need to pick up the phone or open a box of Cheerios.  You are done.

If this looks at all like a typical day for you, adding harvesting and preserving your vegetables may seem like the straw that will crack your spine.  When I add things like jam, relish and pickle making and blanching and freezing pounds of greens and peas to an otherwise ridiculous day it seems physically impossible to do it all.   When I tell friends that I stayed up until midnight making salsa, they look at me like the elevator stopped traveling to the top floor. I would be lying if I said the harvest was not time-consuming or did not mean burning the candle at both ends.  There have been many a tear shed on a Tuesday night when the salsa was barely going into the jars at midnight, let alone being processed.   I can tell you, however, that it is worth every tear-stained, pepper burned, sliced finger of it.  If you are thinking about giving preserving the season a try with goods from your own garden, CSA share, or routine trips to your local farmstand/farmers market, here are some tips that will help you keep your sanity and enjoy your hard-earned goods.

1.  Get a Foodsaver or one of the knock off’s.   We have a Rival and it is amazing.  I am not sure how I ever got by without it.   Freezing raspberries this evening took 15 minutes and they look like they will last forever and taste good too.   Preserving the season is done in vain if your frozen goods taste like yucky ice.

2.  Make something you have never made before.  With part of our raspberry harvest this year I made GF raspberry cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting.   This is not some thing I would normally make, but I was inspired by the fruit and my family loved them because they tasted like summer in a cupcake.  It did not seem like hard harvest work when I was licking the frosting.  off my nose, and my fingers, and my lips.

3. A blanch a day keeps the doctor away.   If you can blanch and freeze one set of veggies either from garden or CSA a day, you will have a freezer packed with fresh and delicious vegetables in no time.

4.  There is always room for more kale.  Or swiss chard.  Or beet greens.  If you get a lot of greens (there is more in this world than spinach), you can add them to pretty much every casserole, make a great bed for poached eggs or make a yummy addition to a salad or a sandwich.  Kale chips are an amazing snack that is super easy to make.

5.  Do what you want.  If you don’t like salsa, don’t make salsa.  If you really hate Kale, give it to a friend or donate it to a food pantry.  Preserving the harvest is about wanting to enjoy the taste and health benefits of the growing season.    If you don’t like it now, you will not like in weeks or months.  If you don’t love making jams, jellies, relishes and preserves don’t do it.

6.  If you take the time to freeze..take the the time to blanch.   Blanching your vegetables is key to keeping them fresh and tasty by killing enzymes.  Over-blanching kicks them into high gear.  Under does not completely destroy them.   Take a peek at the Ball Book or the Better Homes and Garden cookbook.  Both places give you a detailed charts on how long to boil and when to throw them into the ice-water.   It takes time and can be hot, but is worth every minute.

7. A food processor/grinder is a must have.   It can take hours to chop by hand and it doesn’t make it taste better.  It just makes you angry and no one will give you a medal for it, because no-one cares.

In the end, it is a lot of work. and it can take a lot of time, as clearly evidences by the 6 days it has taken me to write this. Women 100 years ago did not have all the conveniences we have now, but did not have all the same stresses or time consumers we have now.   In the end however, when you are craving a homemade blueberry muffin or a reuben with homemade thousand island dressing there is nothing like finding and tasting delicious items from your own stores.  The best advice I can give:  Try it.  If you don’t love it, let someone else do it for you.  If you do, keep trying new and fun things with new and fun vegetables.  I promise your palette and your health will thank you.   I was hoping to have some sumptuous photos of some of the delicious things that harvest season has brought to our kitchen, however, I am having some photo difficulties.  Stay tuned for some specific recipes and photos.

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Yesterday was CSA day!!  In fact this whole week in one way or the other has been a seasonal eater/localvore’s dream.   We picked our own strawberries, which my ice cream cone, pirate booty, Spaghetti-o (yup the original MSG filled can shaped processed pasta product.  Uh-Oh is right, but she loves them and there are worse things) loving daughter was gobbling  up like  Cookie Monster with his cookies.  The strawberries became delicious jam that we will enjoy for months as well as a pie and handfuls of sweet and delicious treats whenever we wanted.   We picked fresh lettuce and herbs from our garden and officially started the girlies on their diet of garden greens.    Then of course the CSA came, delightful and fresh we have already had two sumptuous meals made with CSA pesto: Garlic Scapes, Basil, Parsley, Spinach Leaves (those came from our garden), Lemon Juice and Olive Oil.   Delicious and full flavored this summary pesto was featured in homemade mushroom risotto (A GF Staple) and in a pesto chicken salad Panini tonight.  The risotto was served with a delicious slow cooked local chicken stuffed with a fresh herb bouquet and rubbed in paprika and garlic.  Tonight’s chicken salad Panini was served with crispy baked kale chips (also from the CSA).  Tomorrow we will be serving a tossed salad full of CSA and garden lettuce, onions, chives, radishes and herbs.  Saturday morning there will be a breakfast casserole loaded with CSA sautéed chard, scallions and garden chives.   My favorite part of it all?  I got all of  that in one stop and was completely inspired by the grab bag full of goodies.  My husband who normally hears “pesto” and responds with “please, no.”   Enjoyed each fresh and summary tasting bite of both meals.    For week two my CSA contained:

Kale

Scallions

Swiss Chard

Radishes

Basil

Parsley

Lettuce

Garlic Scapes

Total: $27.oo    Total Meals Inspired by CSA: 4 so far.

Commercially Prepared Pesto: $10 a jar if you want organic.   Homemade fresh and delicious pesto: $6.00 (that’s even a high estimate, as I know by the end of the season I will have paid undervalue for the CSA in total.)   Homemade pesto will always beat the commercially prepared stuff in a taste test and it truly is one of the best tastes of summer that you can freeze and enjoy all year-long.

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When I signed our family up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the first time last season, my husband supported the decision but with a condition: I had to prove its value.    Well, at the end of last season, he bought what I was selling, but this season he is demanding a little more proof that we get our $21o worth with the fresh produce selections we receive every other week from June until October.   Our conversation which involved a lot of me whining and repeating “it is worth it, trust me”, and a lot of my husband saying “prove it”, inspired a question and an answer.  Why don’t more people take advantage of a CSA?   Because  $200-$800 is a boatload of money to pay for vegetables.    I could tell you about all the advantages of buying local and organic produce, but instead I am going to estimate the worth of what we receive bi-weekly, because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t make fiscal sense, we are all a little less likely to do it.  I will also share  the menu inspirations that come from our CSA goodness.   Please keep in mind that these estimates are based on my location in the world: New England and that I am going to use the average price for organic produce in my area (my thoughts on the “organic” label are best kept for another day) I figure that the average price per pound for organic produce in my local stores is $2.14.    So today, I got my first delivery  for the season and it included:

Garlic Scapes (not seen in a lot of mainstream stores, but I will go with the price for two organic garlic heads)- worth $2.14

5 bunches of leeks-worth $2.14

1 bunch of dark green leaf lettuc-$2.14

1 pint of strawberries-$3.21

1 bunch of rhubarb-$2.14

5 bunch of green onions-$2.14

Total:$11.77

It will only go up from there and I promise you no strawberry bought in my local grocery store will taste as sweet.  Tonight we dined on a delicious garlic pesto salmon, green salad with strawberries and maple balsamic vinaigrette and quinoa pilaf inspired by today’s CSA delivery and early season picks from our garden.  It was delicious and simple menu.  A perfect season opener.   Tomorrow, the remainder of the strawberries and the rhubarb will become  delicious muffins and the onions and leeks will no doubt be featured in many a dinner this week.   Don’t worry if this isn’t the post that convinces you, I wouldn’t expect it to, but hopefully as I continue to post what we are receiving and how we are using it, you might see how a CSA could benefit your family.   Some of the benefits that don’t have a monetary value include having fresh produce without dealing with the grocery store, getting delicious and fresh food I did not even know I wanted and having it last more than 10 hours in my fridge.   There are very few grocery stores that can offer that.   Not sure if you can commit to a CSA?  I used to have those same fears.  It just seemed like it was too much.  Shopping at your local farmers market is a great alternative and can be an overall outstanding experience.   Below are some websites to visit and learn more about CSA’s in your area as well as other local food sources.   Some tips and words to live by from my CSA Experience:  Don’t knock Bok Choy till you have tried it.   Eat more Kale, because you will get a lot of it.   Bring heavy duty bags with you; Potatoes and green beans are HEAVY.   Last but not least: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, season the quinoa.  Even the best local produce can’t bring back a bland pilaf from disaster.   Happy CSAing to you!!

www.eatwild.com

www.maplewoodorganics.biz  (this is our CSA and it is AWESOME).

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The original title for this post was going to be “Localvores for Wal-Mart.”  It was inspired by a conversation I had yesterday with two of my dearest friends who gently reminded me that my desire for a Super Wal-Mart to come to my town was a perfect contradiction to my buy local, eat organic, return to basics platform that I have clearly been fairly vocal about.   Anyone else NOT my dearest friends would have probably come right out and said, “You loud mouthed hypocrite!!  How can you even think such a thing?”    Well, here is my defense.   We on the eat local/organic front tend to be a tad bit extreme when it comes to our beliefs.   That extremism sometimes forces everyone to miss a key point:  Every little bit counts.   Every time we choose to buy from our local farmers market or sign up for a CSA we are making a difference.  Every vegetable we plant, harvest and either eat or put by, makes a difference.   I will be the first person to say that food in our nation has become big business right along with oil and electronics and my sincere hope is that more people like me decide to build a relationship with food or those who grow it, or decide to become growers themselves.   As it turns out, however, to the best of my knowledge, no one local or otherwise grows toilet paper. If you do know someone who does, by all means, send me their way.s  As romantic as using leaves or newspaper sounds, I am just not there yet in my journey back to basics and I am guessing that city sewers and septic systems around the country will appreciate that choice.  The same can be said for soaps, make-up, toothpaste, medicine, etc.    Let’s be honest, sometimes the only things that will satisfy my child are chicken fries and Spaghettios.   As a mom, I do my best to prepare whole and healthy foods for my family. I bulk up on local, in-season produce and freeze or can it.   I try to do the cook once, eat all week routine as often as possible.   I use homemade or “green” cleaning products whenever possible.  I do seem to have an unhealthy addiction to Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Method Daily Shower Cleaner. The wasteful skeleton in my closet comes in the form of Lysol or Clorox disposable wipes.   Since the city might frown on us putting a milking cow in the backyard, I will still need to continue to purchase milk.  Until I get a chance to take that glass blowing class,  I still need to purchase containers to freeze all of my make ahead meals and jars to put all my jellies and pickles in.    The moral of my tale here is that until such a time when ALL of my time can be put into creating a self-sustaining household, I will still need to budget a good chunk of our monthly funds for groceries purchased at a store.   I would also like to purchase a whole (butchered) cow for my larder and perhaps a pig that have both been grass-fed and bred locally.   As luck would have it, my family is not in a position to have that much budget for food, so it would be nice to get as many of those aforementioned necessities at the cheapest price possible.  In my experience, that occurs in places like Wal-Mart.    Every dollar I save there is one more dollar that can go towards a significant purchase from a local farmer or merchant in my area.   Now, the debate as to whether a Wal-Mart ever REALLLY gets built in this town will rage on for years to come, so in the meantime, I have been inspired by TLC’s Extreme Couponing.   While it would be sweet to get $1000 of groceries for $1.98, I don’t know that I will ever be that committed, but I am going to strive to shave 50%-60% off our grocery bills each month.  Ideally, this money will be put towards paying off some debt, paying for my, (dare I say it aloud lest it doesn’t come true), my Iphone, and most importantly putting money into purchasing local, grass-fed meat and fresh and local produce.    Also, of course, there is the part of me that loves a good challenge and has a really strong desire to build a grocery reserve.   As a parent it takes only one sleepless night wondering if you will have enough money for groceries that week to make you want to become more of an ant and less of a grasshopper.   So, our new approach to “stockpiling” will be a combination of putting food by, cooking once and eating all week, and of course, extreme couponing.  Below is a list of websites that I am using to start my foray into spending less to have more.   Also, Google Docs has some amazing templates for coupon tracking and monthly budgeting that I have downloaded and will start using.   I plan to Tweet and Blog about my successes and failures in this area and will hopefully inspire others to take a look at how much they are spending and what they are spending it on.   If my life were a fantasy camp, I could just make every thing myself, but until someone invents a from scratch that doesn’t scratch TP, I am guessing that I will need to continue this approach.  My first official extreme shopping trip will occur later this week and I will certainly share that experience, good, bad or ugly.

The Organic Mother-This is my friend and also the owner of our CSA, Hannah’s Blog.  She has some great tips on how to live organically on a budget and an amazing book she is selling for just a $1.  Check it out and you will become a fan like I have.

For the Momma’s – I learned about this site over a year ago when I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Course.  It’s a great site with great daily deals (including free Kindle Books) and links to lots of other couponing and money-saving sites.

Couponing 101– A great site that offers a more realistic perspective on how to coupon like a real person and not the border line hoarders on the TV Show.  Also loaded with great links to printable coupons and daily deals.

Wicked Cool Deals– A great site, especially if you live in New England, as they give price matches to my favorite store Price Chopper.  Which, by the by, if you live near a Price Chopper and have not taken advantage of the gas deal…you are CRAZY.

Common Sense with Money– This site pretty much has everything the above sites do, but also has a free E-book on couponing that you can download for free if you sign up for their newsletter.

Most importantly, if you are looking for a deal on a favorite product (organic or otherwise), you can always visit the companies’ websites.  Many of them have printable coupons available.   Also, a lot of the links I have on this site have all helped me begin to put food by and make my food dollars stretch.

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The last 72 hours of my life have been consumed with all things disease related.   I am recovering from teeth being ripped out of my head (yup, still riding that train, because as it turns out there are 4 holes where once there were teeth.  Teeth that I loved.  Teeth that served me well.  I want steak.   Holes are not good for chewing steak),  studying like a lunatic for a Pathophysiology and Pharmacology final exam tomorrow, and of course watching the news regarding the unbelievable E-Coli outbreak in Germany.   I run the risk of getting a little soapboxy here, but I will chance it, because food borne illness scares the bejezzus out of me.   If you eat raw chicken you might get  Salmonella.  I can accept that.  When you are pregnant, they tell you anything eaten that has not been cooked to an internal temperature of nuclear meltdown can cause 1 of a million food borne illnesses.   I can accept that.  If you decide to go tribal and eat the raw heart of a deer like in the legends of old,  you might get rabies. I can accept that.  You order a salad or sandwich at an upstanding clean restaurant and you get a deadly strain of E-Coli.  I cannot accept this.   You stop to get your kid  a snack on a road trip and think that getting the peanut butter crackers is the right choice and they get Salmonella. I cannot accept this.  I understand that bad things happen and sometimes are just out of our hands, but at the same time, have we as a global society gotten so far out of touch from our food sources that we have forgotten how it should be prepared and how it should be enjoyed?    I absolutely believe the incident in Germany is just one of those unfortunate things that no one had any control over, but reading about it over these last several days has just reinforced my belief that the majority of the food that comes into our house should have a face and a story.  I should know where it comes from and where it has been before coming to our plate.   Food was given to us to grow, cultivate and enjoy.   It should taste extraordinary and be a labor of love.    I am not so ridiculous to believe that this can be true of all things (Lord help the person who stands between me and a bag of Fritos on a bad day), but as a society we have to start thinking about the imperative nature of having a safe and stable food source.  How do we achieve this?  One kitchen garden and small food business at a time.  Now, I step off my soap box and retire to bed to dream of E-C0li, Heliobactor, MI’s, and neoplasm’s of various sizes.  Good Night.

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