Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores

I was raised by some serious gardeners. I’m talking, the garden took up a large chunk of the front yard, we had chickens and ducks, there was a brief stint with a pig, and I know my way around hot water bath canning. I knew from a young age how to pull weeds, make cut worm collars for young tomato plants, how to identify a squash bug, and that zucchini and squash plants make me itch. I guess you could say my parents were slow food before most people knew slow food was a thing. I got to college, somehow, without ever having had a frozen vegetable, and called my mom soon after my arrival wanting to know why the green beans in the cafeteria tasted so…weird. “Oh honey, they’re probably frozen,” she said, laughing a little bit at both me and herself for raising me this way.

As I became an adult cooking for myself and then for a family, I strayed a little bit from those slow food values. Big bags of frozen chicken breasts were a major staple, and I mostly shopped at the nearest grocery store. Then we saw the movie Food Inc. and got serious about changing the way we were eating. We largely gave up factory farmed meat, electing to eat less of it and save our money for the “good stuff,” sustainably-raised, pastured, humanely-processed beef, chicken, and pork. We realized that not only was eating less meat and more vegetables, with as much of it raised locally as possible, was better for our bodies and for the planet, but also better for the farmers and workers who grew and made our food, too. We joined a CSA and I found myself with a weekly Iron Chef challenge to use up an enormous bounty of often unfamiliar produce each week. I learned to love greens and accepted that I may never like beets. This weird way of eating became our norm. We even got into urban gardening and ran a community garden for a time.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Then we became parents, and we knew we wanted our kids to be raised eating the same kinds of food I grew up on: local, sustainable, whole foods. We did baby led weaning with Etta (not so much with Claire because she had some serious feeding issues related to spina bifida and ate only purees for a long time, before she got some amazing help from a speech therapist who helped her learn to eat), and from the start, she ate like we did, albeit with her meals often made from deconstructed components of our food. We just kept eating family meals, kept giving our kids real food, and now we have three year olds who constantly impress me with their palates and their willingness to try new things, and also with their curiosity about where their food comes from.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

This summer, my husband has taken our urban container garden to the next level with a fancy self-watering system he built. It’s only the beginning of June, and we’ve already been eating peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs from our garden. I believe there have been some strawberries, too, but the girls snatch those before I ever get a chance to have one. We have several baby cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers on the way, and our tomatoes are so covered with green tomatoes that their cages have been reinforced with rope to keep the plants from toppling over. Every day, the girls run outside to check the progress of our garden, point out new “babies” on the plants, and ask us a million questions about everything. As weird as I once thought my super-gardener parents were, my heart now bursts with pride to see my girls picking cherry tomatoes warm from the sun and popping them right in their mouths– and knowing they can, too, because our tomatoes have never been sprayed with pesticides.


Beyond the food we grow, the girls participate in procuring other local foods with us, too. Often we walk to our local Hillcrest Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, where we pick up our groceries for the week and enjoy breakfast from local food trucks. Increasingly, I’ve been using an online market, the Arkansas Local Food Network, to order our Arkansas Grown, Arkansas Made goodies in advance for pickup on Saturday. This allows me to make a meal plan for the week a little easier. We all take our bags to a church downtown and pick up our order on Saturday morning where everything is waiting for us, and then I can fill in with any components we might need from the grocery store.


Since local food is such a huge part of our life, I was super excited to go to the Farm2Home event at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm last week. The event was sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit and existed to help raise awareness about the Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown programs. The AAD knows most people would love to shop local, and would do more of it, if identifying locally grown, locally made products were easier to do. The Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown logos can appear on products and in restaurants and businesses that sell products grown or made in the state, and they are also listed on the Arkansas Grown website to help people find local producers and growers near them. And this program will help reach people who might want to shop local but who aren’t scouting out new vendors at farmer’s markets on weekends– I’ve seen the Arkansas Grown signage at Walmart and other large retailers.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home


I left Farm2Home excited and inspired– worn out by traffic on my way home, I almost pulled through a drive through, but I came home and made pasta with local kale instead. I’m even more committed to buying local and raising our girls to love local foods, and I’m excited about programs that will help more folks buy local. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned at Farm2Home in other posts, too, so check back for those soon!

*Note: I attended an event to learn about the Arkansas Grown program, but was not compensated for this post.

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farmer’s market meals

Last Saturday I actually made it to the Farmer’s Market. This was my haul:

Don’t you love how I subconsciously arranged everything in ROYGBIV order? I swear it wasn’t intentional.

I figured it might be fun to turn my Farmer’s Market trips into posts about how we eat for a week on our delicious local produce.

The cukes and the yellow squash immediately became pickles, the squash joining some zucchinis we had grown to become summer squash bread and butter pickles (seriously, such a good recipe, though I skip the whole ice bath part and they still turn out just dandy), and the cukes becoming my absolute favorite, I swear they’re as good as Claussen’s, dill refrigerator pickles.

pickles in progress

The gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and the Japanese eggplant joined some mozzarella and some home-grown basil to become a delicious margherita pizza.

Look at that tomato flesh. So red, it's almost black.

The pattypan squash was sauteed in olive oil with home-grown herbs and served alongside a red lentil salad with heirloom tomatoes, and some tilapia.

And the remainder of the squash, eggplant, and tomato were turned into a sort of ratatouille which we ate with goat cheese over pearl couscous:

This was eaten alongside some tomato and onion focaccia I made using some tomatoes we grew in our community garden:

Truly the most beautiful bread I have ever baked, and also one of the tastiest.

Finally, the blackberries were mixed with honey, lemon zest, and corn starch and topped with a few pats of butter and a cornmeal crust to become personal-pan cobblers:

All in all, a delicious week of largely local food!

we might starve without a CSA

Image: Clagett Farm CSA Week 9, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

We’ve been in Little Rock and without our beloved CSA for three weeks now, and I’ve realized that after a year as a CSA member, I completely forgot how to feed us in a conventional way.

You see, I became so used to receiving a giant box of veggies each week and planning my meals accordingly, that I actually forgot how to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for us without it.  This became apparent today when we realized we were both starving and had nothing in the house for lunch.  Before, back in our CSA days, when our fridge was always overflowing with veggies, every meal I cooked involved enough leftovers for at least two lunches.  On top of that, just to use up all the veggies before they went bad, I was always making and freezing ratatouilles, soups, and pasta sauces that could be pulled out and defrosted to make a last-minute meal.

Today, stomach growling, I peeked in the fridge and realized that while I had ingredients to make two more dinners (I shop the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and fill in with the grocery store on Sundays), the only other things I had to eat were bacon, eggs, tortillas, cheese, pita chips, and hummus.  I had completely forgotten to plan for lunch, because I got so used to having leftovers or something from the freezer!  “What are we going to EAT?” I wailed to Jon, flopping down on the guest bed near where he was using his computer.  (I tend to get swoony and dramatic when hungry.)  “We could get some lunchmeat and sandwich stuff,” he suggested.  “But that’s against the rules!”

What are the rules? Well, after seeing “Food, Inc.” we agreed upon the following:

  • We only eat meat that is sustainably and ethically raised.  This basically means “pastured” meat, or meat that comes from an animal raised in a pasture (more than “free-range”, which is basically meaningless) where it can stretch its legs, graze on grass, and, in the case of chickens, munch on bugs and worms.  This meat would preferably be local, but does not have to be.
  • In order to afford that meat, we eat vegetarian (or nearly vegetarian) for much of the week.
  • What veggies we do consume are to be local (when possible), first and foremost, and preferably organic.
  • All of our dairy is to be organic.  Eggs are to be from pastured nesting hens.
  • We avoid corn syrup, processed foods, and excessive packaging.
  • Our coffee is to be fair trade and shade grown.
  • Most of these rules go out the window outside our home.

After some discussion, we decided that 1) we might have to relax our rules while we figure out a food routine here in our new city, and 2) it was time to get ourselves to Sam’s Club.  In Charleston, we were members of Costco, but it’s basically the same thing as Sam’s.  The #1 major reason to be a member is to get big frozen bags of seafood.  Currently, we don’t have rules about seafood, though we are moving in that direction as we learn more about the environmental impact of commercial fishing and fish farming operations.  I have a general idea that wild-caught salmon is “better” than farmed salmon, but I couldn’t tell you why.  Still, fish is a staple in our diet, because it’s easier to get than pastured meat most of the time, and because I’m still not a good enough vegetarian cook not to base most of my meals around a protein source.  Other things we commonly buy at Sam’s/Costco: canned tomatoes, chicken stock, chocolate chips, pasta, pita chips, Zyrtec, Prilosec, Lactaid, parmesan cheese, feta cheese, and dog food.

So, now we’re members of Sam’s (which, I have to say, membership for a year was $40 and they gave us a $20 gift card, so, with the savings on what we bought today alone, our membership is more than paid for), and our pantry is nicely stocked.  I’m realizing I need to buy more than I think I need at the farmer’s market on Saturdays so I can make a few extra dishes and freeze them to have in a pinch later.  We’re still figuring out how to eat our values in a new city, and I’m sure we have a ways to go.  I’m also trying to figure out how the food aspect of this blog will look without the weekly rhythm of our CSA boxes, though I know I want to keep sharing stories and recipes of our adventures in more ethical eating.  If you have suggestions, let me know! Here’s hoping we won’t starve because I don’t know how to eat like a regular person anymore.

CSA tips and tricks

Image: "Clagett Farm CSA Week 18", a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

Each week, I blog about what I got in my CSA box and what I do with it.  After reading this Slate piece by an overwhelmed CSA member, I thought maybe I should also write about the tips that help me figure out how to handle my weekly deluge of fresh, local produce.

  • The goal is not to love every item, but to find a way to eat every item. That might sound a little strange, but hear me out.  I don’t like turnips. I don’t really like rutabagas.  If I were just shopping the Farmer’s Market or grocery store, I’d probably never eat a turnip, a rutabaga, or even greens like collards or kale.  However, part of the appeal of the CSA experience is trying new things, and I consider it my mission to find at least one way I can eat every item without hating it.  The author mentions her struggle with turnips. I share that struggle.  I’ve hidden them in chowders, put them into risottos, and even snuck them into pot pies.  For me, they need to be part of an ensemble of other veggies that hide their turnipy flavor.  The same is true for mustard greens.  I don’t really like them by themselves, but I’ve discovered that, covered in cheese in a frittata, they’re pretty tasty!
  • The internet is your friend. Not sure what to do with collard greens? Get thee to Epicurious.  Sites like Epicurious, The Kitchn, and AllRecipes are the keys to CSA success.  You just type in “collard greens” into the search bar, and tons of recipes will pop up.  Read the reviews on the recipes, and don’t be afraid to experiment and substitute. A recipe calls for celery and you don’t have any? Maybe you can add in a little celery seed for flavor, or substitute a similar watery, crunchy veggie in its place.  You don’t have the herb they call for? Try substituting something you do have!  And don’t be afraid to Google for substitutions either– it’s how I learned I can make my own buttermilk if needed for a recipe by simply adding vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk!
  • Make a plan of attack. It helps to make time on the day you usually pick up your CSA box to plan and do prep work for the week’s worth of meals. On the day you get your CSA box, lay everything out.  Figure out which things are most perishable, and plan to eat those first. Estimate what you can reasonably eat in one week, and make plans to give away or preserve (via freezing, pickling, or canning) what you can’t.  Don’t feel bad about giving away your produce if you know you can’t eat it! You may help win new subscribers for your CSA program that way!  Use the aforementioned recipe websites to find recipes for each meal, then head to the grocery store to get things you might need to fill in. Look at any recipes that might take longer than an hour and see if you can do any prep work ahead of time to ensure faster meals later.
  • Learn to pickle. Seriously. Pickles are a great way to preserve your produce, and they’re a great thing to give away to help lighten your load. You can pickle cucumbers, squash, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans… anything.  I’m a big fan of spicy refrigerator dill pickles and summer squash bread and butter pickles (doesn’t have to be used with squash).  You don’t have to spend all day boiling them in jars, either– just keep them in their brine in the fridge for a few weeks.  They’ll get pickle-ier as time goes on, but they won’t go bad. You don’t even need jars! I make my personal-use pickles in large re-used yogurt tubs. Updated to add: Don’t stress if you can’t find pickling salt. My research has shown that kosher salt will work just fine, it just might result in cloudier brine and less-green cukes. They will still taste great.
  • Make friends with your freezer! Another great way to save veggies for a later day is to make up a big batch of soup, pasta sauce, or ratatouille and freeze it flat in a ziplock bag for a later day.  We ate frozen soups and sauces all winter long.  I even froze shredded zucchini to use in zucchini bread after the season was over.
  • Have some stand-bys. Every week, I eat at least one stir-fry made with any variety of veggies, using a simple sauce that uses any and all of the following: soy sauce, honey, lemon/lime juice, sesame oil, sriracha, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes.  Another good standby is a frittata using a variety of veggies.  Another is to saute veggies with garlic and herbs and serve them over pasta with parmesan or feta cheese.  These meals will carry you through when you just can’t be bothered to try something new and fun with your produce.
  • Have fun. Don’t let yourself feel too guilty about greens wilting in your fridge. Some days, you just aren’t feeling it, and that’s fine. I’m little miss CSA, and I still eat popcorn for dinner on occasion.  If possible, try to give away your excess produce to someone who will eat it, but don’t beat yourself up if something goes bad before you use it.  Compost it if possible!

Are you a CSA member? Do you have any tips to share? Questions you’d like me to answer?

kitchen catch-all

eating in

  • image via Real Simple

    I’ve mentioned before that we try to go vegetarian a few nights per week, because we’re concerned about the way conventional meat is raised and slaughtered, because we’re concerned about the impact of meat consumption on the environment, and because we’re concerned about the impact of meat consumption on global hunger.  One of the easiest veggie meals is some form of beans and rice.  This week I made Cuban style black beans and served them with coconut rice.  Coconut rice is seriously one of my favorite things, so if you’ve never had it, try it!  This meal is especially delicious with a Cuba Libre (aka a rum and coke).

  • Saturday night I made one of our favorite meals.  It’s the almond tilapia from this recipe and this minty chickpea salad, which I made with bulgur instead of cous cous and added some lemon juice to make it even more like tabouli.  If you try it, the method to use bulgur is to add 3 cups boiling water to one cup bulgur in a large bowl, cover, and leave for 45 minutes.  When the time was up, I still had some water that hadn’t been absorbed by the bulgur, so I strained it and proceeded as usual for the rest of the recipe.  We actually eat a LOT of cous cous, so using the bulgur wheat was a nice change up.
  • Two words: Margarita. Cookies. You know you wanna try.  Here’s the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen.  I made mine mostly following the recipe, though I didn’t have an orange, so I just added in some triple sec (half a teaspoon). I’m sure it says something about me that I had triple sec but not an orange, but there you go.  A friend who had tried the recipe before recommended adding a little extra lime, so I doubled the amount of lime zest and added the juice of one lime.  I STILL think that wasn’t enough lime. I’m now wondering if you can get lime extract, as I really like the idea of these cookies, especially the hint of salt.
  • I also made my own hummus this week.  I followed this recipe from The Kitchn, but added in a whole can of drained artichoke hearts in water for a bit of a flavor boost.  The artichoke made for especially creamy hummus, and I’m very pleased with the results.  The hardest thing about making hummus is getting my hands on tahini, but Harris Teeter stocks it in the international food aisle.  Even though tahini is a little pricey, it makes several batches worth of hummus and is still a lot more cost effective than paying $5 per tub of pre-made hummus.  If you’ve got a food processor, you should check it out.

eating out

  • I was true to my word and went back to McCrady’s with Jon this week so he too could experience the wonder of a pre-prohibition cocktail for 25 cents.  We got a booth in the bar area, and when the waitress asked us what she could get us, we said “donkey.” She smiled and said she’d have those drinks right out for us.  This week’s cocktail was a Ward 8, and featured whiskey, orange bitters, and grenadine.  We sipped our cocktails while snacking on crispy duck rillettes with cranberry ketchup and fried housemade bread and butter pickles with ramp buttermilk dressing.  Even without the super cheap drink special, McCrady’s is fast becoming one of my favorite places to have a drink in Charleston.  It’s exactly dark and cozy enough that you could almost pretend you really are in a Speakeasy.
  • I’d been itching to check out Ted’s Butcherblock ever since I started searching for sustainable meat sources after seeing Food Inc.  In addition to being a great butcher/wine/cheese shop, Ted’s has lots of sandwiches and salads and other food items.  On Friday nights, they serve a $12 supper, so we decided to see what kind of food we could get for such a great price.  This Friday’s supper was lemon pepper shrimp skewers with grilled eggplant and Israeli couscous with radishes and cucumbers, with an almond custard for dessert.  The food was fabulous and filling.  I’m going to be searching for an almond custard recipe so I can try to recreate it soon– such a rich flavor and served with this amazing honey-nut crispy thing that I can’t even describe. In addition to the super cheap dinner, Ted’s also has $5 wine tastings on Friday night.  $5 got us four samples (about one glass in total) of two whites and two reds.  I especially liked an Oregon Pinot Gris. We also had some fun people watching as there were two very elderly couples in the shop, cutting each others’ eggplant, snagging each others’ dessert, and holding hands, and there was another couple with a particularly adorable and chubby baby who was wearing a very cute hat and drooling all over the place.  You should definitely check out Ted’s on a Friday night. I’m convinced there isn’t a better deal in town.
  • The Farmer’s Market is back! While we’re blessed with a crazy-long growing season, the time without the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square always seems like an eternity.  Saturday was opening day, and we headed down town excitedly, with plenty of room for crepes from our favorite food stand.  I went for smoked sausage, egg, and swiss with peppers and onions, and Jon got the egg veggie which features mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms.  The crepe stand’s line was three times as long as any other vendor, but they’re always worth the wait.  Bring a blanket and sit under a shade tree and enjoy the people and puppy watching while you devour your crepes.
    the crepe menu.
    just a taste of the puppy-watching

    I loved these vibrant flowers.

food for thought

  • Got a lot of leftover Easter candy? Try this method for Peeps Brulee.
  • If you try the hummus recipe above and want to use up some of the rest of your tahini in a soup with a similar flavor profile, try hummus soup (I’m gonna try it soon!).