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.

Advertisements

I eat local. I also eat at Chick-Fil-A.

Hanging out at the play place with friends.
Hanging out at the play place with friends.

As has been the case for the past couple of years, the sales numbers for Little Rock-area restaurants have been released, and the local Chick-Fil-A franchises are in the top. This has our local alt-weekly foaming at the mouth pitting people who eat local against those who eat at Chick-Fil-A.

For one thing, as I learned when trying to decide if I, a huge supporter of marriage equality and gay rights, should boycott CFA, our CFAs are locally owned franchises. I don’t personally know the owners, but friends who do have told me that they are not homophobic and do not support anti-equality causes. In fact, they have supported friends’ ministries, like Young Life.

Still, I get the urge to shop local and eat local. I’m a largely vegetarian, farmer’s market shopping foodie. When we go out to eat, our favorites are local places like The Root, South on Main, Bruno’s, Big Orange, Local Lime, The Fold, La Hacienda, and Damgoode Pies. I haven’t eaten at a chain like an Applebee’s or Chili’s or Olive Garden in YEARS. I think eating locally grown, locally made food from locally owned places is absolutely the ideal.

IMG_6722
Farmer’s market babies with their local produce.

But as a mom with young kids? I also eat at Chick-Fil-A. Not because my kids only eat nuggets. Nope. I’m raising baby foodies who eat whatever we eat, every single meal. But because there is just no locally-owned equivalent to my usual CFA experience: going at breakfast time, sipping coffee with my mom friends and getting to socialize, while our kids play on a safe, clean, indoor playground. Plus, our local CFA’s always have more than enough high chairs, changing tables in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms, free placemats, and a really excellent staff that usually helps me to my table with my food and highchair and kid. They have never ever ever looked askance at me and my mom posse dragging along a pack of short people.

In my wildest fantasies, there would be an indoor play place at someplace like Mylo Coffee, and I could eat delicious pastries while chatting with my mama friends and watching my kids play, and not a single hipster with a Macbook Air would give me a dirty look over my kids harshing their quiet coffee shop mellow.

But that doesn’t exist. So I’ll keep taking my kids out to eat hyper-local food for dinner, but I’m also not giving up my occasional mornings at CFA, either.

Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig? Uh, no.

IMG_1935Wow. What a question. But it’s been a Salon headline, thanks to an excerpt from a new book about Femivores, and as a result, has been re-blogged in several places. And now I’m asking too. Only I’m also going to answer the question.

NO.

I’m a feminist, I bake my own bread, and oh hey look, I dealt with all of this stuff in a post back in 2010.

To recap, what I said then is true now: yes, it’s sexist and inaccurate when food writers express nostalgia for a Good Old Days that never existed. As Emily Matchar makes clear in the excerpt of her book that Salon posted, and as is clear to anyone who watches Mad Men, it’s simply not true that our grandmothers ate better, more wholesome food than we did. My grandmother’s most famous recipe involves a jar of Cheese Wiz, for example. You’d have to go back to my great grandmother on the farm to get to something close to “slow food,” and then you’d also have to consider that she was living a life of drudgery during the Great Depression with many many mouths to feed. So yes, it’s absolutely a valid criticism of folks like Michael Pollan to ask that they please lay off the pre-feminist nostalgia.

It’s also one thing to note that feminism led many women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, and another to blame all our current food woes on that fact. Sometimes, it has seemed that Pollan has done this, but in a rather large body of writing I must charitably point out that overall, I do not get the feeling that he’s truly a sexist who thinks cooking is women’s work, as he himself is a man who cooks. Still, we need to consider that the lack of home cooking in this country might be precisely because FEMINISM ISN’T FINISHED YET, and true equality would have as many men getting into cooking as women getting out of it.

This brings me to my frustration with the “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig” chapter/article heading. It’s like Jay Smooth’s awesome video about racism: you need to keep the conversation about what the person said/did, rather than on who/what they are as a person. Absolutely Michael Pollan has written some sexist things. But calling him, as a person, a sexist pig, even in a semi-joking headline, really goes too far, especially when there are so many actual sexist pigs out there not doing good work and fighting the good fight, save for a few statements.

I guess, as a bread-baking, yogurt-making, pastured-egg eating, feminist, stay at home mom, I wonder what people think is exactly the problem in this movement, one in which people who have other options are choosing something based upon important values and beliefs. I don’t want to fall too far into the choice feminist camp, because I believe even feminists can make problematic choices, and that the personal is political, and the choices we make perpetuate a system larger than ourselves, etc. etc. etc. BUT. There are a lot of us, women and men, for whom food and other seemingly small choices are deeply important, even spiritual. We may find joy in a system of farming, cooking, and eating that is healthier for ourselves, for the workers who make/grow/produce our food, and for the planet.

Matchar writes, “As should be obvious to anyone who’s peeked at a cookbook from the late 1940s or early 1950s that promotes ingredients like sliced hot dogs and canned tomato soup, we’ve been eating processed crap since long before feminism. Yet the idea of the feminist abandoning her children to TV dinners while she rushes off to a consciousness-raising group is unshakable.”

But in a way, Matchar seems to echo this early criticism of feminists, and seems to think we’re choosing these domestic pursuits to the exclusion of other, worthier causes:

“Many smart, educated, progressive-minded people, people who in other eras would have been marching for abortion rights or against apartheid, are now immersed in grassroots food organizing, planting community gardens and turning their own homes into minifarms complete with chicken coops.”

But you know, we’re the people who have time to show up to the pro-choice rally with homemade muffins in tow. It’s like when you show interest in supporting a charity for say, animal welfare, and someone reminds you that there are starving people in the world who matter more. Well, it’s amazing how boundless my interests and passions can be. I can care deeply about the food I feed myself and my family and also about social justice and politics. And I can be part of a slow food movement while still recognizing that it has major problems with privilege, a lot of the time.

And you know, I have a feeling Matchar feels the same way, too. She mentions in her piece that she’s “been learning to can jam, bake bread from scratch in my Dutch oven (though my husband is better at it), and make my own tomato sauce from a bushel of ugly tomatoes I bought at the farmer’s market.” It’s entirely possible her book reflects my tone of largely admiration for the work of slow-foodies while also seeing a few shortcomings. It’s just unfortunate that she (or an editor?) are (even jokingly) calling one of the “good guys” a “sexist pig” in order to sell a few more copies.

CSA: Charleston – The Halfway Mark

I believe we’re now halfway through our CSA season with the wonderful Pinckney’s Produce, but I could be wrong.   Anyway, here’s what we got this week:

That’s:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 bunch chard
  • 1 cabbage (gave away to a coworker)
  • 10 yellow crookneck squash
  • 3 sweet onions
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 5 banana peppers
  • 6 pattypan squash
  • 12 pickling cucumbers
  • 8 zucchini
  • 1 large bag green beans (gave half away to a coworker)

And here’s what we did with it all:

Tuesday

Tuesday I focused on making pickles with the squash, zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers.  I did refrigerator dills with the cukes and bread and butter pickles with the rest.  I’ve been taking jars of the pickles to friends and coworkers and everyone loves them.

refrigerator dill pickles

bread and butter squash and zucchini pickles.

Otherwise, we ate leftover corn on the cob, grilled squash salad, and grilled cabbage coleslaw from last week with some blackened salmon for dinner.

even our leftovers are yummy thanks to our CSA!

Wednesday

Wednesday I fried some bacon in a skillet, poured off most of the grease, and sauteed the chard with some garlic and red pepper flakes.  I served this with the crumbled bacon and some parmesan cheese over orzo.  Not bad for a random no-recipe meal!

sauteed chard with garlic and red pepper over orzo.

Thursday

Thursday I was feeling crummy and Jon was feeling crummy, likely because some germy kid at his work gave him a cold, which he kindly shared with me. The hazards of pediatrics! Anyway, I was feeling like some comfort food, so I made fried rice with the bell peppers, 2 pattypan squash, and an onion.  I made a ton so I had leftovers for lunch on Friday as well.  Fried rice, like frittatas, is just one of those meals where I throw in a bunch of veggies I need to use up and it always turns out great.

Friday

Friday night, I was home alone, but that didn’t stop me from making myself an awesome dinner.  I made two delicious quiches with the kale and some leeks I bought at the store, following the Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a Leek and Swiss Chard Tart.  I’m really not sure what the difference is between a quiche and a tart, but basically this was a quiche.  I used pre-made puff pastry for my crust, and I subbed in herbes de provence, because I couldn’t find my dried thyme.  It came out so delicious, and it fed us for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday as well.  Definitely try this recipe if you have some greens around!

Saturday

Saturday I went with one old standby and tried one new thing.  The old standby is my usual green bean recipe: sautee green beans with garlic and onions with ginger and soy sauce.  Jon loves them, I love them, can’t go wrong.  The new thing was using the rest of the squash and zucchini in a potato and summer squash gratin with goat cheese.  It probably would have been a lot less time consuming if I had had a mandolin for slicing the veggies crazy thin, but my one and only Wusthof knife worked out pretty well, even if it did seem to take an eternity.  No matter what, all the slicing was worth it for a dish that tasted so good!  Mine had a few more layers than the original recipe called for, but I just kept layering.  I added more milk and more cheese to make up for the fact that my gratin was larger.  This is another recipe I highly recommend.

potato, squash, and goat cheese gratin.

Sunday we had a party to go to, so I didn’t do any cooking.

Monday

Monday we were feeling lazy and wanting to watch Battlestar Galactica (we’re nerds) and drink margaritas.  I had a bit of kale left in the fridge, so I cut it up and sauteed it until wilted, and then I used it in place of spinach in a spinach and artichoke dip recipe.  Turns out, any green will do in spinach and artichoke dip. My theory: with enough cheese, you could basically use grass clippings and no one would care.

So, another week down, and besides what I gave away to a coworker, we ate it all! I’m pretty proud!

on skinny shoppers, food elitism, and gender in the kitchen

You don't have to be a skinny, white, rich lady to get into cooking. Image by Nina Leen via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.

I’m a foodie. I’m an unabashed, CSA-member, local-beet-eating, corn-syrup-eschewing, pickle-making, bread-baking foodie. I write a lot about food, how I sacrifice my hopes and dreams to bake bread, how I experiment with the new and wacky produce that appears in my CSA boxes, how I try to eat everywhere worth eating in my city before I have to leave it.  I also read a lot about food.  I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and if Michael Pollan wrote it, I’ve probably read it.

This doesn’t mean I *like* everything I read from Michael Pollan. Continue reading “on skinny shoppers, food elitism, and gender in the kitchen”

CSA: Charleston — squash!

After last week’s poor CSA performance, wherein Jon and I were both out of town for long stretches so we ended up giving most of our CSA produce away, I was determined to do fun things with the bulk of our CSA goodness this week, and I think I succeeded! Man, I love Pinckney’s Produce! If you’re interested in signing up for the fall season, there’s a waiting list forming now, so check them out.

Here’s what we got this week:

That’s:

  • 1 bunch mustard greens
  • 2 bunches kale
  • 1 cabbage
  • 4 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 banana peppers
  • 1 bag broccoli
  • 5 pattypan squash
  • 9 yellow squash
  • 8 cucumbers
  • 8 zucchini

What I did with it all:

Tuesday:

Tuesday night, I made a stir fry using the carrots, broccoli, peppers, and 2 pattypan squash, which I served with a soy, ginger, and sriracha sauce over rice. Yum! I had leftover stir fry for lunch the next day.

I also made two batches of refrigerator pickles, the first using my usual dill pickle recipe for the cucumbers, and the second batch using a modified form of this bread and butter pickle recipe for half the squash and zucchini.  This recipe is really special because it uses maple syrup for the sweetness rather than sugar. Though I think the maple syrup contributed to the flavor and color, if you don’t have that much real syrup on hand, I bet brown sugar would work well!  Also, I couldn’t find red chiles, so I added red pepper flakes. I basically did a refrigerator pickle method for the squash pickles too, just heating up the liquids and then putting the squash in their liquids in jars (and yogurt tubs) in the fridge and letting them “pickle” that way, rather than boiling them in jars for 20 minutes and sealing them.

Wednesday

Wednesday night I made squash and zucchini pizzas following the Smitten Kitchen’s Lemony Goat Cheese and Zucchini Pizza recipe.  I made the crust before going to work and left it to rise all day, which makes for a much better crust than just letting it rise for an hour.  I also didn’t have goat cheese, so I subbed in Laughing Cow cheese, because my husband had recently picked up a bunch of it at Costco because it was on sale.  It came out great! I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, so you’ll just have to extrapolate that it was browner and meltier and glistening with olive oil.  I had leftover pizza for a couple of breakfasts and one lunch.

Wednesday night I also cooked lentils and caramelized onions to use in Thursday night’s dinner.

Thursday

Thursday night we ate the kale in this kale and lentil pasta, which came out delicious! I forgot to take any pictures, unfortunately.  We had the leftovers for lunch a couple of times.

Friday night I went out to eat with a friend.

Saturday

Saturday I went and saw Sex and the City 2 with a bunch of girlfriends.  We pre-partied with cosmos at a friend’s condo, so I decided to bring a very appropriate snack: red velvet cupcakes made using Magnolia Bakery’s recipe.

This is me eating an actual Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcake at 30 Rock in New York:

On the left: red velvet. On the right: caramel and banana. Both: AMAZING.

And here’s how mine turned out (the coconut was strategic, to keep the frosting from sticking all over the container or other cupcakes in transit to the party):

Smuggling cute pink cans of champagne into the theatre is basically a must when seeing SATC2.

One thing to note about the Magnolia Bakery’s red velvet recipe is that, unlike many red velvet recipes, it does not use cream cheese frosting, and uses a creamy vanilla frosting instead. I like the changeup, because I find cream cheese frosting a little sickeningly sweet for red velvet cupcakes.

Sunday

Sunday lunch was a mustard green frittata with fontina cheese.

On Sunday evening we had a few friends over for a bring your own meat cookout.  I made a grilled squash and zucchini salad following this recipe from Real Simple, as well as a grilled cole slaw (really!) using the cabbage and an additional red cabbage.  I liked this slaw a lot because it’s got a vinegar dressing instead of being drenched in mayo.  Warning: two heads of cabbage makes a LOT of slaw!!  The squash and zucchini salad was also a big hit, and my one big change was adding the sweet onions to the grill instead of using the called-for green onions.  Our meat was grilled chicken which I had marinated in Greek yogurt, garlic, cumin, and chili powder.  We snacked on pickles and had cupcakes for dessert.

Wrap-Up

Overall, a very delicious week, with no major failures! We even managed to be mostly vegetarian, with the exception of the chicken we ate at our cookout!   Outside of the CSA veggies, we also made some homemade salsa and some tabouli on Sunday, which we snacked on at the beach on Monday along with some yummy watermelon, all washed down with mojitos made with mint we grew in our yard.

Did you cook anything good this week?

CSA: Charleston – giving it all away

Some weeks, there’s just no way we can eat all of the CSA goodness that comes in our box, and this was one of those weeks.  Jon was gone for most of the week, and I was out of town over the weekend finding us a place to live in Little Rock (mission: accomplished!).  So I gave away most of our veggies to neighbors and coworkers so the food wouldn’t go to waste.  Here’s what we got:

  • strawberries
  • 3 carrots (gave away)
  • 4 onions
  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 head romaine lettuce (gave away)
  • 1 butter crunch lettuce (gave away)
  • 4 zucchini (gave 2 away)
  • 8 squash
  • 2 bunches beets (gave away)
  • 2 bunches chard (gave 1 away)
  • 1 bunch cabbage (gave away)

As you can see, I gave most of that away.  Here’s what I did with what I kept:

One night, I seriously ate a plate full of spinach sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice for dinner.  So good!

I also baked Smitten Kitchen’s Poppy Seed Lemon Cake, which was AMAZING, and I served it with sliced strawberries soaked in a bit of sugar over night to make them nice and syrupy.  She adapted the recipe from one at Cafe Sabarsky, which is a cafe inside the Neue Galerie in New York, and Jon and I actually have been there! Here’s what we had when we were there:

And for our first meal back home, together, after all our traveling, I made a pasta using the chard and onions with a little bacon, garlic, olive oil, red pepper and parmesan cheese.  It was inspired by this pasta recipe which I use a lot with collards.  I also sliced up the squash and zucchini and made Baked Summer Squash, which turned out pretty good as well!

We’re looking forward to picking up another box of goodies this week and getting to eat most of them this time! It turns out I’m not crazy for thinking we’re getting a ridiculous amount of veggies in our smaller-sized (compared to the last season we did) boxes– in this week’s email, the farmers told us that they’re having a bumper crop, and they’re passing on the bounty to us.  No complaints here! I’m always happy to find a friend to share some local veggies with.