produce

Kale Crisps

by Caroline

“I put kale on his plate and put kale on his plate and put kale on his plate, and my son tried it and grimaced and we praised him for trying it and pages flew off the calendar and his beard grew down to the floor, and then one day he ate it without comment. And then one day he ate it and said, “This is actually not as bad as I thought!” After which a pair of bluebirds draped around my shoulders the very banner of joy.” –Catherine Newman in Wondertime Magazine, April 2008

Catherine Newman understands how it goes with kids and vegetables, which is to say she understands how it goes with kids and [fill in the blank] — you cannot ever predict. I’m guessing that her son’s eventual, somewhat grudging acceptance of kale did not mean an end to kale refusal, but was just a moment that she could cling to on days when nothing–with food nor anything else–was going right. He tried the kale. Whatever else happened, he’d at least tried the kale.

In our house, it goes something like this: I put the spinach on the table. It’s sauteed with olive oil and garlic, it’s got a good squeeze of lemon juice on top, and maybe even a sprinkling of pine nuts. Three year-old Eli looks at it and says, “Spinach! Yum!” Then he takes a bite and puts down his fork, shaking his head mournfully, “I’m done with spinach.” The next night, I try again, this time with chard, and he shouts “I’m back in chard corner! I ate five serves of chard!” Six year-old Ben, meanwhile, sometimes gobbles it all up easily, sometimes discerns a drizzle too much olive oil and rejects it outright. All you can do is keep putting the vegetables on the table, but I have learned also, whatever else I am serving, to put down a bowl of carrot sticks. Whatever else might happen, they’ll always eat the carrots, and I can offer myself small comfort  at night that at least they won’t die of scurvy.

I tried something new tonight, and they eyed it with great suspicion. They picked it up from the very edges and just barely let it graze their lips before setting it down, not on their plates, but on the table (a sign of true rejection). I don’t understand it, when basically I was offering them kale potato chips. But also I do understand. Potato chips are familiar; kale is familiar; kale chips are New and thus we are starting the clock on these. But I will persist. The pages will fly off the calendar and perhaps one day the bluebirds will come to me, too.

Kale Crisps

Preheat oven to 250 (yes, that’s a two!)

Wash, dry and trim the kale: Peel off the tough stems by folding the kale leaves in half like a book and stripping the stems off. Toss with extra virgin olive oil. Roast for about thirty minutes. The kale should still be bright green and will be  paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer kale leaves to a cooling rack so that they stay crispy if you’re not planning to serve them right away.

Dollars and Sense, one mother’s manifesto

By Lisa

With the economy in freefall, and no real end in sight, many of us are thinking about money and our weekly budgets, and how to save where we can.  I’ve heard people talking about bundling phone, internet, cable, getting rid of their landlines, adjusting their car & homeowners insurance–all in an attempt to get rid of waste, money being spent that doesn’t really need to be spent.

But what does this mean for our food spending?

Lots of food bloggers have already written about this, and about food deals and shopping tips, and related topics like how to make dinner for a family of four on $10 or less.  And in a recent conversation with one of the farmers I buy from every week, she mentioned that fast food sales are up.

But for me, the change in my food spending patterns has been negligible.

I think about food and money a lot, in part because it feels like I spend so much money on food.  In any given week, I spend between $90-$120 at Trader Joes, and depending on the season, between $40-$80 at the Farmers Market.  At the height of summer, when I’m buying to freeze for the winter, and loading up on stone fruit, berries, and tomatoes, it’s at the high end. Now, when I have a freezer full of produce and the market goods are much more reasonable, I can get away with $40, including my weekly supply of fish.

It is true that for a small family–in size as well as stature–with children only 4 & 6 years old, this is a lot of money.  But Ella and Finn are terrific eaters, they eat exactly what we eat, and overall, we eat a lot–really a lot of fresh food.  Aside from extra water, some judiciously chosen canned goods, extra peanut butter, & crackers, and energy bars that we keep on hand for earthquake supplies (a necessity where we live, just in case) we have no processed food in the house.  The kids snack on fresh fruit, some cheese, some crackers, fresh nuts from the market, etc.  At the end of the week, all of the farmers market produce is gone.

I have certainly cut back in many ways.  I no longer buy three kinds of olives on a regular basis. We eat very little meat, and very small amounts when we do.  There was a time when I would have 2 kinds of prosciutto in the house, or specialty cheeses from Whole Foods, three or four kinds of olive oil, etc.  Now these kinds of things are reserved for dinner parties or special occasions.  We eat out less frequently.  And I don’t know what I would do without Trader Joes, where I can get lots of local products (masked as generic TJ brand) at terrific prices.

But I won’t compromise on the farmers market, nor on buying organic, local meats, nor on shunning processed and premade foods–with a very few exceptions.   Michael Pollan wrote recently in the New York Times that household spending on food has gone from 18% to less than 10%, which made me feel better when contemplating the fact that by far the largest part of our weekly budget goes to food.  There was a time in this country when it was normal to spend a good amount of money on good quality food.  I’m certainly not saying one has to spend a lot of money, nor that bargains can’t be found–just that what we put on our tables should be compromised as little as possible given the family budget.  I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to aim for spending the least amount possible on food (just as I think it’s no longer a wise choice for most of us regularly to splurge at specialty markets).

It’s our argument here that food and eating is a central part of family life, and that how we feed our young children has an impact not simply on their health, but also on their lifestyle, now and for the rest of their lives   For me, though some weeks I sigh as the food bills climb, the payoff is mmediately visible when we sit around our table. The lessons of how we eat are legion–eating fresh, eating locally, eating seasonally, supporting farmers, eating sustainable food, knowing the origins of their food, knowing how food makes its way from farm to table, understanding growing seasons, understanding the real cost of food, knowing that our economy directly supports the farm economy, knowing the animals they eat were raised humanely and sustainably, etc.

These are lessons that will resonate in my children’s lives for years to come.

Let us know what you think. How do you balance food and finances?

Dessert, (urban) homestead style

by Lisa

Unlike Caroline, I don’t bake a lot. We were joking the other day about our families and how although we have many things in common, there are some major differences. The fact that we eat meat for one. The fact–as she joked–that I’m going “going urban homestead.”  I demurred, but she’s not entirely wrong.

This fall, as we do every year, we roasted and froze 40lbs of tomatoes, made and froze about 20 family-sized servings of pesto, froze 3 flats of raspberries, and picked over 300 apples. My freezer is a sophisticated and delicately balanced puzzle of epic organization.

I do this because it saves me time and money, it adds some variety to our winter diet, but I do this mostly because all this produce tastes better than the canned kind. Bring home mountains of fresh, organic produce, freeze it immediately, and you have a farmers market in your freezer all winter long.  Yes, it takes time in those weeks that you’re canning and freezing, but then when school starts and you need a quick dinner, just reach in your freezer and there it is: emergency pesto, tomatoes that cook to the richest, sweetest sauce you’ll ever make, a surprise dessert.

But now, with the weather not turning, the apples are not lasting as well as they should.  So this weekend, it was time to invest in an automatic apple peeler and make apple sauce.  The gadget worked like a dream, and while I roasted beets and peppers (because, okay, the hoarding & stockpiling instinct is still strong within me), Kory, Ella, and Finn went to town. In about ten seconds flat, a four year old can peel an apple.

And so can his sister:

Or they can peel, core, and slice into cute spirals in the same lightning speed:

They ate a lot of apples, and Ella chomped down the skin like it was a long string of candy.

I made the apple sauce by instinct after reading a few recipes online.  Honestly, I made it for the kids. I don’t think I’ve eaten applesauce for 30 years. But after tasting our homemade version, I’m guessing that Ella and Finn will be lucky to have two more bowls.

We ate it warm that night for dessert. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It tasted like fresh picked, intensely sweet apples. Dessert gets fancier, and more chocolate-y, but I’m not at all sure it gets any better.

Homemade Apple Sauce

20-30 small apples

1/4 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

2-3 strips lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1. Peel, core, and chop or slice the apples. (Alternately, try leaving the skin on for flavor).  Put them in a large pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until apples are nearly dissolved.

2. REMOVE lemon zest and cinnamon stick.

3. Mash with a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier sauce. Or pass the mixture through a food mill.

Note: If you use fewer apples, just reduce the amount of sugar and zest accordingly, as long as you keep the brown & white sugars of equal proportion.  But you can also freeze this in individual or family-sized servings, just in case you’re compelled to start your own stockpile.

Peppers, The Prequel

By Lisa

The padrone-eating incident (now updated with pictures) was not without precedent.

One of our family staples, especially when it’s high pepper season, is dish of roasted red peppers bathed in olive oil, with capers, garlic, and anchovies.

Before you stop reading at “anchovy,” please consider this: a mysterious alchemy occurs when the peppers meet anchovies and garlic in a bath of olive oil.   The peppers mellow and deepen in flavor, the anchovies sweeten and lose some of their bite.  You can choose not to eat the anchovies.  Or if you are still squeamish, you can, if you must, leave them out altogether, though you will be missing something.

I have served this dish many, many times at parties, to unsuspecting friends, and it disappears quickly. I have served it to children, at dinner parties–not just my own–who have devoured it.  I have served it to my father-in-law, who hates anchovies, but still loves the peppers.

Truly, this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.

Every Sunday, all summer long, I made a large dish of these peppers and stashed it away in the refrigerator to marinate. I am not exaggerating when I write that this dish came out nearly every night, as appetizer or side dish. Ella tucked into it with abandon, piling her bread high with peppers, sprinkling a caper or two, then soaking the whole thing in a spoon or two of the marinating oil.  By the end of the summer, even Finn, who is a more cautious eater, was fighting her for a pass at the olive oil, which is liquid gold in its own right.  At parties and barbecues, Ella’s self-appointed job was to make the plate of the pepper-crostini. They’re bright and pretty on the plate, and they go just as well with beer as with prosecco.  We never got tired of them.

In the winter time, or for big parties, I make the same dish from jarred roasted peppers. In summer, when peppers are in season, I bring home my weekly stash of red, yellow, chocolate peppers, and roast them on the grill. If I’m really pressed for time, I can throw the peppers in the convection oven, but they aren’t quite as good this way.  It will keep easily for a week, covered in the refrigerator.

The recipe comes from the pages of Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking,  one of my go-to books when I have a fresh, local, seasonal ingredient and want inspiration.

Below is the basic recipe, with my notes & variations. Once the peppers are roasted, there’s nothing simpler. Consider it insurance for those pre-dinner hunger attacks.

Roasted Peppers with Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies

Ingredients:

  • Roasted peppers
  • Whole smashed garlic cloves
  • Capers
  • Anchovies
  • Oregano
  • Olive oil
  1. Slice peppers. Smash garlic cloves with the flat edge of the knife, peel and discard skin.
  2. Layer peppers in a shallow, flat bottomed dish. On top, place a smashed garlic clove, 2-3 anchovies (or more or less to taste), a sprinkling of capers, a sprig or dash of dried oregano.  If you roast the peppers yourself, you might sprinkle a very little coarse salt on them. Do not do this if the peppers are jarred.
  3. Repeat the layering process until your peppers are gone.
  4. Bathe the entire dish in olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight.
  6. Serve with sliced Italian bread

Ingredient notes:

Peppers:  Red are traditional and the sweetest, but try different varieties as accent colors and flavors if you’re so inclined.

Anchovies: Only buy anchovies packaged in glass (not tins). My experience has been that the more you pay, the better product you get. There is a vast difference in quality between cheaper and more expensive brands.

Oregano: Dried is just fine. Fresh sprigs are fine.  My favorite is to dry sprigs from my bush, and use these. They’re pretty and flavor is best.  If you use dried sprigs, you’ll likley need only 3 or so for a large dish.

Capers: If you use salt-packed, rinse them well.

Olive oil: Just a good, decent extra-virgin is fine. Nothing fancy. You need a lot of it, so I just pour from whatever big tin I’ve got on hand that week: Sagra, Whole Foods, etc.

In the case of this recipe, for me, omissions are very often accidents. I’ve forgotten to add: capers, oregano, salt. I’ve run out of anchovies before I started, then it was too late to get to the store. You can assemble it meticulously, so it looks like a beautiful strata of color, or you can throw it together in a haphazard flash.  The dish may be best with all of the ingredients, but it’s still delicious in whatever configuration you and your family prefer.  Just don’t leave out the garlic.


Berries

posted by Caroline

At home, I am a miser with berries. I haven’t quite gotten over the sticker shock when I pick up a basket of organic berries. But I fork over the money, thinking of the farmers who will use the income to pay their employees a decent wage, feed their children, buy health insurance.

Still, I can’t help but want to dole out the fruit in small doses, save it for special occasions, offer an inexpensive apple instead. Much as I adore summer fruit, much as I hate to see the glorious variety of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,  ollallaberries, nectarines, apricots, peaches, plums, pluots, aprium, and plumcots give way to four straight months of apples and pears, much as I regret all the torn-out magazine recipes that I didn’t get a chance to try, the frugal New Englander in me is honestly a tiny little bit relieved when the summer bounty is past and we’re back to apples and pears. Pears and apples.

Which is why every summer I make a point of bringing the boys to visit my parents’ home in the Connecticut woods, where they can eat all the berries they like. This year we arrived in late August, between the two raspberry crops, but there were a couple quarts in the freezer which the boys ate, thawed, on their breakfast cereal. Ben picked both blueberries, paraphrasing Blueberries for Sal (“Kerplink! Kerplank! Kerplunk!”) as he did, and blackberries, toughing out the sharp thorns longer than I would have expected, and then proudly showed off his harvest to everyone in the house.




Both boys ate little peaches, some no more than two or three bites, the speckled skin hiding a perfect sweet-tart balance.




And my dad peeled and cut up about forty of them for me to bake into a peach and blackberry crisp:




The boys gathered windfall apples and admired the last small green pears of the season. They tried gooseberries (not a hit), and if we’d stayed one more day, I would have thawed some of July’s strawberries and rhubarb for a pie.

Of course, the price of these fruits is harder to figure. First there is time. My dad planted the orchard before there was a house on this property; I was a kid when I helped him line up the trees, unable to share his vision of an orchard through the tangled brush, but happy enough to play along. The berries have been planted more recently, but some only this year matured enough to produce a decent harvest. And then there is care. The blueberries (transplants from a patch near my late grandfather’s house) need to be netted from the birds, the trees pruned and fenced to protect them from deer, the more delicate plants mulched for winter. And then there is the harvesting, and the processing — freezing some whole, some hulled, others peeled and pitted.

There is no way to pay for all this bounty, except to say thank you, and eat, and say thank you again.

And so when the boys crowded into the kitchen asking for a snack, I’d say, “How about some berries?” and fill their bowls.