Our Virtual Picnic: An Ecocentric Labor Day Recipe Roundup and Twitter Chat

I contributed to the most recent group blog post over at Ecocentric Blog (my work blog) – Our Virtual Picnic: An Ecocentric Labor Day Recipe Roundup and Twitter Chat. Check it out – there are great recipe ideas for Labor Day weekend from some great cooks.

Mine are oldies, but goodies from my appearance on Jayni’s Kitchen:

Dawn’s Corn and Pepper Frittata with Salsa Verde

The beauty of this frittata recipe is that it can be made ahead and is as versatile and delicious cold, or still warm from the oven. I actually prefer it at room temperature, placed between two slices of bread with some salsa and summer tomatoes! While this recipe calls for corn and peppers, you could easily replace them with other seasonal vegetables, whatever looks best at the farmers’ market. “Corn milk” makes this frittata recipe special, adding a little extra sweetness to balance out the spice from the peppers. Enjoy!

Corn and Pepper Frittata

Ingredients:

6 local, pasture-raised eggs 1 small white onion, chopped 1 medium poblano pepper, chopped ½ jalapeño, or other hot green pepper, chopped 2 ears sweet corn 1 cup sharp white cheddar (local, if possible), grated 3 scallions, sliced 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper, to taste

Salsa verde (see recipe below)

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and poblano and jalapeño peppers in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with a pinch of salt over low heat for about 7 minutes, or until onions and peppers have softened. Meanwhile, cut the kernels from 1 ear of corn and reserve. Grate the other ear on a cheese grater over a medium bowl to create corn “milk.” Crack all the eggs directly into the bowl with the “milk” and vigorously whisk them together — this will help make the eggs fluffy. Add some salt and pepper to the eggs to taste and set aside the egg mixture. Add the corn kernels to the onion and pepper mixture and saute for about 1 minute.

If necessary, add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan (if the pan looks dry) and swirl the oil around the pan. Increase the heat to medium and add the egg mixture to the pan. Add the cheddar and stir all of the ingredients around – spreading them evenly throughout the egg mixture. Place the scallions on top and gently pat down into the egg. Cover and let cook for about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Transfer the pan (uncovered) to the broiler and let it cook until the top gets a little brown and the eggs are cooked through. If you feel the eggs might need to cook a little longer, but the top is already browned, put the cover back on the pan and let it sit on the stove top (with no burners on); the heat will continue to cook the eggs. For the rest of the directions, click through:

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12 Reasons to Avoid Conventional Flowers This Mother’s Day and 5 Alternative Gift Options

In a little-known Hallmark holiday back-story, the disturbing nature of which rivals even Valentine’s Day, the woman who founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, actually spent the last years of her life fighting against its commercialization. In the short nine years that it had existed, for Anna, the day lost its meaning. Obviously, she lost her fight against the day’s commercialization; today Mother’s Day has become one of the most financially successful U.S. holidays. The 500 carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) that Anna delivered to that original service started a tradition that saw Americans spend close to 2 billion dollars on flowers for Mother’s Day last year alone. Two billion dollars on flowers! In an extremely ironic end to her life, it is said that Anna died penniless in a nursing home, her final bills paid for by the Florist’s Exchange.

Adding insult to injury, that two billion dollars on flowers is not only an ostentatious show of commercialism, but the cut flower industry, with approximately 80 percent of cut flowers being imported into the US, contributes to a serious overuse of pesticides. Because flowers are considered a “non-edible,” the restrictions for pesticide use are not as stringent as they are for food items. This amounts to significant problems for human and animal health and as well as water, soil and air. They are especially harmful to the workers who have to apply them; there are even signs of secondary pesticide exposure for the family members who live with these farm workers (think second hand smoke).

The same interest in transitioning industrial acreage to sustainable food farming, we should also think about transitioning the floriculture industries in the U.S. and abroad. Many companies and third party certifiers are working to improve worker protection and reduce dependence on pesticides. There are other things you could buy to celebrate your mom, but if you’re buying her flowers this weekend (yes, Johnny-come-latelies, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!) it is important to seek out these more sustainable options. The major labels to look for are – USDA Organic, Veriflora, TransFair USA and Sierra Eco.

Local, sustainable and/or organic flowers are possible to find, so start looking! And remember the more locally you can purchase them, the better.

Where to get local, sustainable and/or organic flowers?

  • Farmers’ Markets (Find one near you at EatWellGuide.org)
  • Farms/Farm Stands
  • Your yard, a neighborhood lot, a friend’s or family member’s garden

Online options for flower delivery?

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What’s in Season? Sweet Potatoes

Unless you’re in southern California, the farmers’ market is certainly sparse these days. Pea shoots and some other early spring favorites are surely right around the corner but for now, at least here in NYC,the pickin’s are slim: we’ve got meat, dairy, apples (lots of apples!), root vegetables and some good looking sweet potatoes.

What’s a Sweet Potato? It’s a perennial tuber root with leaves and flowers too! You can eat the leaves, but by the time we get them in the winter, the roots have been stored for months and the leaves are long gone. And just to clarify, a sweet potato is not related to a potato or a yam, but is its very own thing  – strangely enough, it is in the Morning Glory family!

Where do they come from? Domesticated  an estimated 5000+ years ago in Central or South America, sweet potatoes are now grow in the US mainly in warmer states like North Carolina, Mississippi, California and Tennessee. They are often grown in other countries too (China is one of the biggest exporters), so look for locally grown sweet potatoes at your farmers’ market, or regionally grown at your grocery store.

Varieties? Hundreds! The long and tapered root is sometimes small, fingerling potato size, but they can grow quite large. The skin is smooth and comes in many different colors – yellow, orange, red, brown, purple and beige. The most common flesh color is orange, but can also range from shades of white to a brilliant purple.

Season? Sweet potatoes don’t like frost. They are harvested from August to October and then stored for us to enjoy through the winter.

Dirty Dozen or Clean 15? Sweet potatoes rank #13 on the Clean 15 list from the Environmental Working Group’s shoppers guide to pesticides in produce.

Nutritional info? Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, they can also improve blood sugar regulation.

From the World’s Healthiest Foods website:
1 cup of baked Sweet Potato has 102.60 calories and many vitamins and minerals: vitamin A438.1%, vitamin C 37.2%, manganese 28.4%, vitamin B6 16.5%, tryptophan15.6%, potassium15.4%, fiber 15%, vitamin B5 10.1%, copper 9%, vitamin B 38.5%

How to cook them? Grilled, baked, mashed, roasted, steamed, boiled – they are extremely versatile. Soup, au gratin, chips, veggie burgers and more recipes than you will ever have time to try show up when you Google “Sweet Potato Recipes.”

Recipes: I tried out this sweet potato recipe from the wildly popular Healthy. Happy. Life. blog – this recipe alone was shared on Facebook 472 times! I just made the burgers (see the slideshow above), but check out her post to see how beautiful they look with the Cilantro Jicama Fiesta Slaw! The burgers were very easy to make and tasted delicious. They were a little bit denser the next day, and even more “patty” like. The jalapeno added a nice kick!

Black Bean Fiesta Burgers
vegan, makes 5 burgers

Burgers:
1 1/2 cups black beans, drained/canned (unsalted)
3 Tbsp fine bread crumbs
3/4 cup baked/mashed sweet potato
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro – including stems
1/3 cup diced white onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chopped garlic
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 jalapeno, diced/de-seeded
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast – or use more bread crumbs
a few dashes of chipotle powder or cayenne for extra heat

Directions:

1. First off prepare the Fiesta Slaw according to the directions. Chill in fridge until ready to add to burgers.

2. Whip up your “special spicy sauce” – set aside in fridge as well.

3. Next up, prepare the burgers. Pulse all the ingredients in a food processor. You can also mash well by hand – but a fp is a tad faster. Next, hand-form burger patties with the mixture and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. I like to roll my burgers in a touch of bread crumbs so that they have nice crisp edges.

4. Bake your burgers at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before assembling burgers. The last 5 minutes of cooking – add your burger buns to the oven to warm/toast them.

5. Assemble those burgers! Warm bun, spread of special sauce, tomato, onion, optional avocado, burger, fiesta slaw and finally another slather of the special spicy sauce on the top bun.

Serve! Enjoy the fiesta in your mouth!

Want more sweet potato? The Kitchn recently sent out this tasty round-up of sweet potato recipes.

Freeze The Last Vegetables For The Cold Months Ahead

It’s that time of year. The growing season is winding down, but there is still quite an abundance of local fruits and vegetables at all but the northernmost farmers’ markets and coops (even here in NYC after Hurricane Irene did so much damage). I’m still eating like it’s summer (well the end of summer) and hoping that it will never end. But there is a way to extend the bounty, even into the cold and snow that will be here before we know it. Preserve, preserve, preserve!

I know that preserving can be intimidating, so I’m going to show you how easy it can be done. How can it be easy you ask? I’m not talking about canning (which Leslie really did do and swears canning is easy, if a little time-consuming) – I’m talking about an often overlooked but solidly tested form of preserving, freezing! Anyone can do this, all you need to do is boil some water for blanching and open your freezer door. I went to my local coop and bought all the local and organic produce that I could carry. Right now it is cheap and at the height of its flavor. I got eggplants, carrots, peppers, corn, yellow zucchini, green striped zucchini and 5 pounds of tomatoes. The tomatoes, which are a beautiful red and summer sweet, were only $1/pound! Not only will I get to enjoy actual vine ripened  tomatoes in December, but I paid a very low price and will actually save money.

The whole process took me a couple of hours. Schedule an evening or afternoon and just settle in. I find it meditative to peel, chop and get these amazing vegetables ready for freezing. Taking the time now will provide you with great benefits later – easy dinners, saved money, healthy foods at your fingertips and delicious flavors!

General “Recipe”:

Prepare the veggies for freezing by washing, peeling (if you want to), cutting into the size that you want. Blanch each batch of vegetables and then cold dunk them in a big bowl of ice (lots of ice!) to stop the cooking process. Drain the extra water from them and freeze.

Blanching Times:

Eggplant, 4 minutes
Summer Squash, 3 minutes
Corn, 4-6 minutes
Peppers, 2-3 minutes
Carrots, 2-5 minutes
Tomatoes, 1 minute – just to remove skins!

Suggestions:

  • Find detailed instructions for all kinds of freezing and other preserving on the Pick Your Own website. They even have pictures to follow!
  • Freeze the vegetables in one layer on trays so that they don’t stick together. After they are frozen put them into freezer bags. You can also put pieces of wax paper between the vegetables to keep pieces from sticking (for example if you want to keep your eggplant rounds separate).
  • Pack a variety of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers – for example) into one bag for an easy meal. Portion them for single or family size servings.
  • Use a straw to suck out the last bit of air in the zip-lock bag if you don’t have a vacuum sealer. It works great!
  • I needed way more ice than I had on hand and ended up going to the gas station by my house at 10pm so that I could finish this process. Ice is important!

Money Spent:

Striped Zucchini, 5.53
Yellow Zucchini, 4.00
Red Peppers, 2.33
Frying Peppers, 1.51
Chantenay Carrots, 2.72
Eggplant, 3.47
Corn (IPM), 2.08
Tomatoes, 4.71

Total 26.35

My freezer is full and I’m going to do what I can to keep my hands off of it until at least December. If I do, I’m guessing I will get about 10 meals out of this batch. Just add some pasta, brown rice or quinoa and protein – in my case beans, tofu or tempeh, but you could add some sustainable meat and these frozen veggies will go a long way!

Enjoy National Farmers’ Market Week – August 7th

This Sunday, August 7 starts the 12th annual National Farmers Market Week. All around the country, farmers’ markets will be celebrating with cooking demonstrations, music, educational events, kids’ games and more. According to the USDA, farmers’ markets create “more viable regional economies; increased access to fresh, nutritious food; and stronger social networks that help keep communities strong.” And we agree!

Go to Eat Well Guide to find a market close to you and plan on checking them out between the 7th and13th – not only is it the peak season for beautiful produce, but the markets will be teeming with people soaking up the summer sun, enjoying conversations with farmers and each other. Also, Eat Well Guide just partnered with the Farmers Market Coalition to update their “Farmers Market Glossary” with 37 terms every shopper should know… look for them while you are at the market next week!

A quick twitter search for “national farmers’ market week” shows that many markets are participating and planning special events to celebrate. Here are a few:

  • Glenview, IL – they will have a Green Table where environmental experts share advice on a different topic each week.
  • Tacoma, WA Broadway Market – enjoy an open mic with a performance by Billy Farmer.
  • Alexandria, VA West End Market – will have martial arts and canning demonstrations.
  • St. Croix – health screenings will be available at the market.
  • Dayton, OH – register to participate in two farm tours.

If you’re on Twitter, tweet your farmers’ market plans with #farmmktwk and “national farmers market week” to get your friends and family involved. To make it easy to share all about farmers’ markets with your Twitter and Facebook followers, the Farmers Market Coalition has a social media cheat sheet and every day, Sunday through Saturday, has a theme. How easy is that?

Shoppers at farmers markets have 4-5x more conversations than their counterparts at the supermarket. http://bit.ly/nz65m8 #farmmktwk

Take some pictures and share your good food finds with us on our Facebook page! Tell us what market you shopped at and what you created with your summer bounty. Enjoy!

Healthy Bites Newsletter #4

OK – after a little hiatus, the long awaited newsletter #4! You have been waiting, right? Here is a little preview:

Shit happens. Oh it does! And all we can do is get back on track as soon as possible. I’ve had a few “shit happens” months lately, and now I’m excited to get going again. For me it helps to get out my calendar and schedule things that are usually obvious – make a list for the grocery store, go to the grocery store, make dinner, pack up leftovers for lunch, get my butt to Yoga and the gym! Then I try to follow the plan and not be too hard on myself when it doesn’t happen exactly as I thought. I keep this up until my plans become habits again and life starts to flow. While I fell off track for a couple of months this time, sometimes it’s just a day, weekend or week of some unhealthy foods, a few too many drinks or no exercise that we need to pick ourselves back up from. Remember to just get back out there. You can do it! I can do it!

You can find the whole newsletter about Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Gazpacho, and Farmers’ Markets here.

Tour the Union Square Greenmarket

Take a  visual stroll around the Union Square Greenmarket. It’s held on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – year-round! Started in 1976, it’s now open from 8am until 6pm and you’ll find up to 60,000 shoppers on a single day and during peak growing times, you can buy from up to 140 vendors during the week. What’s going on at your local farmers’ market this time of year?

See my farmers’ market pictures on Flickr.