This Week’s Bounty: Asparagus, Cottage Cheese and a Relational Eating Challenge

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The Richness of Eating Seasonally and Locally

Eat asparagus till you can eat no more

When I was growing up – I was blessed to have a mother and grandmother who were fantastic cooks.  So of course I just thought everyone ate this way!  But there was one thing that my mother killed every time she cooked it – and that was asparagus.  For some reason – perhaps it was the woody supermarket, California grown plants that could not take the boiling, or just her own misguided desire to cook it enough – that was how it always came out,  slimy, gray, tough and bitter.  I hated it.  It was not until I was in my 30s that my wife brought some home from a local farm and I decided to try it raw and see how it tasted.  I was converted.  Sweet, crisp, grassy, and all about springtime.  So now every spring I cannot wait to get some, and either just marinate it or heat it in some butter – but oh so little – just till it turns bright green.  What I have discovered though is that it has to be grown in excellent soil, otherwise it gets very bitter and woody, so after a few temptations at the supermarket with off season asparagus, I have taken the seasonal oath – that I will only eat local asparagus – but I will eat a lot of it.  So this week you better get yours early, because I am eating it til I can eat no more – then I will be happy to wait for it again – next Spring. That is my way of eating seasonally.

 

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Cottage Cheese – a seasonal treat?

I spent part of this afternoon at a new partner farm with their beautiful Jersey cows out in the pasture.  And those cows looked like they were on some sort of pleasurable high!  Which they were.  When cows get back out on the grass, they are so excited – not emotionally, but physically.  They have been craving this live food for months and getting only dry hay and a smidge of grain.  These cows were all lying down chewing their cud after spending the whole morning harvesting the gift of life and vitality from the sun and the earth.  Now they were doing their magic by transforming simple grass into incredibly nutritious and healthy milk, butter, cheese and yogurt.  When cows get back out on pasture – their milk production soars.  That should tell you something about how quality of food really does matter!  I don’t think the cows see grass as a luxury, like we think that good food is a luxury at times.  Fresh grass is what they are made for.

So – when this burst of productivity happens – a dairy farmer needs to do something with all this milk – if you are a cheese maker – no problem – you just ramp up cheese production and store it for the winter time – this is the way in the mountains of Europe and here in Vermont as well.  If you are a milk dairy – then you need to find other products that can last longer than a bottle of milk or tub of yogurt – presenting Butterworks Organic Cottage Cheese!  Each year when the cows get out on pasture – Jack, Anne, Christine and Colin take all of that extra milk and convert it to wonderful cottage cheese.  This is a long awaited treat up here in Vermont, and we were fortunate to get some of this run of deliciousness and will have enough to last a couple of weeks… so splurge.  This is the true face of seasonality.  Like the seasons there are waxing and wanings of production, flavor, richness and abundance. Reconnect to these rhythms and you will be the richer for it.

❖ Make your Localvore Friends Crazy

Tell them you are feeding your family 12 months a year on food sourced within 150 miles – and not spending hours and hours going from farm to farm.

So just for the record – if you are buying 40 – 60% of your weekly meals comprised of food from Farmers To You – you are a true localvore!  Watching Vicki Robin’s Ted Talk on Relational Eating – I realized that you all – in partnership with our farmers and Farmers To You, have already done what she is saying we must do. We have created a working local and regional food system that feeds us well 12 months a year!  Really – think about it – potentially 40 – 60% or more of your food all comes from within 150 miles of your home.  775 families strong.
That makes you a rarified group here in the USA where at most I estimate 1-2% of our population are doing as well.  Our little robust food system called Farmers To You  gives you a direct connection to those who are feeding your family, with very few moving parts to break down.
I would like to formally challenge all of our families to work to source 40 – 60% of their food locally – within 200 miles or less for at least this growing season.  If you are already doing this – then go for more!  You can do this within your partnership at Farmers To You or by joining a local CSA or regularly going to your local farmers market.  Whatever you do be dependable, consistent, and appreciative.  When we do this, the farmers and producers respond. They will meet the demand, and extend their seasons, and variety.  Then, in turn, we benefit.  Farmers To You started out with a dozen or so partner farmers, four dozen committed family partners and about 100 products each week.  Now, nearly 5 years later – through your partnership, dependability, consistency, and appreciation, we have grown to 775 families, over 60 partner farmers, and 250 products each week.  Your partner farmers are ready for the challenge – are you?

We are thrilled to be co-sponsoring Vicki Robin’s visit to the Boston area on Monday, June 8th at 7PM in Jamaica Plain. She will be talking about her personal experiment in relational eating, and the resulting book: “Blessing the Hands That Feed Us.” Go to the JP Forum event page for more information.

❖ Featured Items this week:

Butterworks Farm Organic Cottage Cheese – a seasonal treat from our friends.

Rhubarb and Asparagus and Scallions – such wonderful early spring treats.

Eggs – Eggs – Eggs – we have lots of them – the hens are laying and want us to eat more!
We now have new category of Eggs – GMO Free Eggs from two of our farmers – Jericho Settlers Farm and Maple Wind Farm.  All of our eggs are pasture raised, wildly free range – they are not just “allowed access to grass” as is the Organic standard.  This often only requires that there is a small doorway that the hens can push through if they are brave and strong enough to get outside.  All I know is that when I pass Pete and Gerry’s contract farm hen houses – there is not a hen in site.  Now compare that to our farms, and their hens are everywhere – and scratching, clucking, pecking at bugs, and grass and weeds and generally having a great time.  When I went up to the fencing today at Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho Vermont – they came flocking towards me to have their picture taken instead of running away.  Clearly the fence is meant to protect the hens from predators and actually not very good at keeping the birds in.  This is what free range is meant to be.  When hens are out on pasture they get about 30% of their nutrition from the pasture – bugs, grass, and weeds.  Their feed is therefore still very important.  Maple Wind Farm and Jericho Settlers Farm are choosing a higher grade of feed that guarantees that the soy used in the feed for protein is not genetically modified.  That is a nice added assurance.  Our other farms use a more conventional but still high quality feed, so their cost is lower.  The only exception is Vermont Compost Company where the birds feed off of compost piles and food scraps from local restaurants and cafeterias.  While we wish we could get more of these eggs – Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost is still perfecting this model and production is still limited.  Our hope is that we can work with farmers to replicate this model in the future and have birds eating less grain.

Great new veggies from one of our newer partner farmers – Christa and Mark at Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho Vermont.
Scallions
Bok Choy
Beet Greens
Escarole
Endive Frisee

If you have not had a chance to try the Dirty Squid from Red’s Best – you may miss out till next season.  This may be the last week.

If you missed out on the Bagels last week from Charlie at Patchwork Bakery – he has doubled production for this week – but make sure to order early.  We have also stocked up on Cream Cheese again too.

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Here, there, and everywhere: Meal planning

Boston-based Cornelia joined the Farmers To You staff in January of this year. She has brought her perspective as a working mom to our conversations about the partner family experience … and we’ve implored her to share her story. Her first installment can be found here: “Here, there, and everywhere. A fraught tale from a frantic mom.” The second installment can be found here: “Here, there, and everywhere. Overcoming the overwhelm.”  We hope you enjoy reading it, and invite all of you to share your perspective as well.

 

 

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With the numerous demands that come with raising an active toddler, enduring a 1.5 hour commute, working a full-time office job, managing daycare pickup and dropoff, and packing lunches and snacks, my first step toward cutting down on the overwhelm was by attempting to meal plan. My goals were to 1) make one trip to the store each week, therefore saving time, 2) have a written directive to follow for meal prep and packing, therefore cutting down on stress, 3) Eat in a way that reflected our values: local, sustainable, seasonal, healthful, and clean.

In order to learn this new habit, I created a pretty rigid system for myself: In an Excel spreadsheet. Each week, I took 30 minutes on the weekend and plotted out dinners first, then breakfasts (Oatmeal. Always oatmeal), then lunches and snacks for our son. This document – this thing of beauty – was then printed and mounted inside a kitchen cabinet for me to refer to throughout the week. My shopping list was created from this exercise, too, then kept handy for additions like toothpaste and olive oil. I made one big grocery shop early Sunday mornings, and was able to avoid the store for the rest of the week.

The highly organized spreadsheet method lasted about three months, then I started to wing it. I’d make a grocery list of the same ingredients I’d come to rely on; pasta, some kind of chicken, sausages, tortillas, cheese and random veggies, and assume I’d be able to figure out a meal from them every night.

It quickly fell apart. At the end of my workday, after the tortuous slog across town to daycare pickup, I would get home and panic would set in. Standing in front of my open cabinets… waiting for inspiration. What will everyone be willing to eat? What’s still fresh in the fridge? What’s my son doing while I’m banging about in here? Quickly, I’d have the kernel of an idea and off I’d go… chopping, shredding, searing, boiling, racing to get it all presented by 6:30 – the time that allows for a meal together, bath time, story time and the daily bedtime battles. Sometimes the winging it worked out fine and the meal is eaten happily. Other times, the panic won out, I lost my confidence, and I was not able to enjoy the process of cooking at all.

Back to the drawing board…I should have known that such a rigid system was not sustainable for me. I’m clearly happier when I have a plan, and I like to think I’ve found a manageable process.

I still need to sit quietly and ponder the upcoming week, but I don’t do it all at once. Now that I’m using Farmers To You again, I can keep in mind what’s available here and seek inspiration from it. With a small notebook to hold it all, I eventually plan the week’s meals. I consider: Any crazy days coming up? Travel? What’s simple and quick? How can I make something that has leftovers – usually a braised or stewed piece of meat? What day(s) can I start prepping a bit earlier in the day so there’s no racing around? What are we all eating for lunch from these ingredients? Is there time to bake bread this week? Breakfast can often be forgotten in this process, however. We’re currently back in an oatmeal rut, so I’m experimenting there. An easy homemade granola even made the scene this week!

What else has changed? A big one is that I’ve changed jobs (no more commute – woohoo!). Another is shifting my priorities. In a nutshell, we are simplifying our household, our budgeting (of time and money), and prioritizing quality time – together and individually – over busyness and frenzy. I schedule time for yoga. We walk to and from school more often. We hired a house cleaner. We’re still busy, but it feels like we have a handle on it these days.

Resources that keep me on track and away from overwhelm:

Mr. Money Mustache – mostly frugality and financial tips, with a hefty dose of “what’s really important to you?” thrown in. Take with a grain of salt, and don’t miss the comments section.

The Motherlode blog on NYT.com – broad topics, but always good reads.

Worth mentioning again: Overwhelmed author Brigid Shulte’s own column in the Washington Post

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M.ED

Elizabeth Warren’s “Two Income Trap.”

I’m looking forward to listening in on this upcoming online event organized by Kim John Payne: The Soul of Parenting Summit with interviews with experts on important parenting issues: Children and Technology, Planning Simple Family Meals (with Partner Family Mia Moran!), Setting Loving Limits, Parenting beyond Punishment, Transforming Defiance, Storytelling as a parenting Tool, Positive Self Talk.

I’d love to hear from you! Do you have resources you’d like to share?

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This Week’s Bounty: New Partner Farmer

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Snug Valley Farm – Ben’s pigs in their pasture

With the heat and the rain our Partner Vegetable Farmers tell us that the pace has gone from sleepy and plodding to downright wild! And they are loving it.

We will have Ramps (wild onions) again this week. Joseph and his crew will be out harvesting again, and with the cooler weather we are excited to be able to get two weeks out of this fleeting spring treat.

The big news this week is that we finally have our pork supply set up with a consistent source of beautifully raised animals. Take the time to read our profile on Ben Notterman and his family at Snug Valley Farm. Visit their website too.

Our pork cuts have been butchered and sourced by Jacob at Artisan Meats of Vermont up till now, and quite often the meat came from Ben at Snug Valley Farm. As Jacob’s business grew, and his demand for his delicious sausages and bacon increased, he has found it more difficult to also provide us with the cuts of pork we have come to enjoy. So in true Vermont fashion we got together (yes over one of those not to be exported beers) and worked it out so that Ben provides us with the cuts directly and then gives Jacob all the trim, bellies, and hams to make his sausage and bacon for us. Once again we are all piecing together a totally new food system based on collaboration and partnership. Your partnership is key in all of this.

Each week there will be a limited amount of cuts available – and as we get our rhythm down the supply will become more reliable and predictable.

The other big news for next week – is that the long awaited introduction of Charlie from Patchwork Bakeries Bagels have arrived. He will have Plain Bagels and Three Seed Bagels. They come packed 4 to a bag and are baked fresh for us! This is so exciting and don’t forget Champlain Valley Creamery Cream Cheese!! (So sorry – bagels were sold out early Saturday due to your high demand – we will work with Charlie to increase production for next week.)

Everyone seems to be enjoying our new Granola and Trail Mix from Tierra Farms. Take a look at the video on our Farmers and Producers Page. There are many companies out there who claim to be sourcing responsibly, paying living wages and providing benefits to employees, and Tierra is really walking the talk on most all levels. Very inspiring!

We are going to repeat the Dirty Squid along with the other fish selections this week. The Squid is a real seasonal item – and as with all seasonal items – enjoy it to the fullest! Share your stories about how you cleaned it and prepared it.

Enjoy this magical time of year – make sure to get outside for a walk each day – and watch as all the plants from the smallest ferns and grasses to the biggest trees come awake and unfurl their sun sails. See the colors change as the sun gives it life and the plants accept and integrate it fully.

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Storing and Preserving Bread

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All of the wonderful Red Hen breads freeze well. For the first 2-3 days, loaves can be stored at room temperature, cut side down, and covered with a cloth or paper bag. It is important to allow the bread to breathe, so plastic bags are not recommended – except when freezing bread. If you know you won’t finish the loaf in two days, cut the loaf in half, place one half in doubled plastic bags and throw in the freezer.

To thaw, simply place the bread – still in bags – on the counter to thaw for 6 hours or until any moisture that appears while thawing is gone. Remove the bread from the bag and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. If you have cut the loaf – place it cut side down on a cookie sheet or pan. Some people run the loaf under water before placing it in the oven.

Eva and Greg also refresh any stale bread in the same way – quickly run under cold water, barely wetting the crust, and pop in a pre-heated 350 oven for 10 minutes. Fantastic. The crust will crisp up, while keeping the inside soft.

Experiment with your loaves and let us know how it goes!

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Storing and preserving herbs

Nothing brings flavor to a dish like fresh herbs, and Julie at Red Wagon Plants grows some of the finest herbs around. To get the most out of your bunches, follow these simple rules for storage. Herbs fall into two categories: Soft-stemmed (basil, parsley, cilantro, etc.) and hard-stemmed (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)

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SOFT = BOUQUET

Store soft-stemmed herbs like you would flowers, trimmed and put into a vase with water. Basil should never go into the refrigerator. Change the water every other day.

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HARD = WRAPPED

Store hard-stemmed herbs wrapped in moist (not dripping) paper towel, followed by a plastic bag or wrap. Store in the produce drawer of your refrigerator.

Preserving herbs

HERB SALT – A genius idea from Food52. Try combinations to and make your own Herbmare!

COMPOUND BUTTER – This is my favorite way of preserving herbs that I know I’ll be using for cooked dishes. For example, I’ll chop up chives, thyme, parsley, and oregano for seasoning a chicken before roasting. Chives alone make for a perfect pat for finishing a sauce. Get creative and experiment!

  1. Chop herbs finely.
  2. Mix with softened, unsalted butter.
  3. Form into a log and wrap with plastic. Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm up.
  4. Unwrap the log, slice into discs, and store in zippered bags.

PESTO – Definitely basil pesto makes all things in life better, but have you tried cilantro pesto with pepitas? Parsley and kale pesto is fabulous tossed with pasta.

Yes, there is the whole freezing herbs in ice cube trays with water, but if you have room in your freezer for ice cube trays, I’d like to meet you and shake your hand.

HANGING – Simply tie a bunch together with string and hang in a dry place for a few days. This works best for hard-stemmed herbs.

Enjoy your herbs!

 

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