What’s for dinner in April?

It’s all well and good to say you eat locally in August, when the bounty of the harvest is just falling out of the garden, but when the cool winds blow through the months of spring, and nary a sprout is available at your local farmers market, if it is even open, what do you eat then?  Daffodils?  Grass?  Here I’ll give you some examples of what truly is available that fits the bill for Local, Seasonal, Sustainable, and you can feel good about what you put on the table.

Spring is the season for cod fishing, and if you live on the Atlantic shore, or anywhere in the North East, fish caught off the Connecticut Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts are considered local, especially if you catch it yourself!  “What?!” You ask?  Relax.  It’s easier than you think.  Many charter boats go out regularly for cod, and provide you with the bait, tackle and knowledge to fish on your own.  A Google search will help you find one nearest you and the times and dates they fish.  The best part is you might come home with many pounds of cod for the freezer or dehydrator, and with luck you’ll have enough for many suppers to come.  Cod freezes remarkable well, and as it is a firm fish, holds its texture and flavor even through vigorous cooking techniques such as stews and casseroles. Try fresh sauteed cod with saffron risotto, or perhaps baked cod with cream, leeks (you might find leeks overwintered) and new spring green onions.  If you look for cod in the supermarket, ask if it is caught locally, and with rod and reel (line caught).

It’s also turkey season in Connecticut, and many a hunter is anxiously awaiting opening day.  This year my husband has to miss the beginning of the season, and my son, an avid pre-hunter, has asked me to take him out.  Having never turkey hunted before, this is somewhat of a daunting request.  We’ll see how it actually goes.  It would be a miracle if I actually got a spring turkey.  Other good protein sources would be chicken, venison, grass fed local beef and rabbit.  The chickens are starting to lay again with the warmer and longer days, so eggs are always a good choice.  A nice quiche is a perfect light spring meal, especially with sauteed garlic scapes.  Scrambled eggs with local goat cheese, roasted garlic and baby spinach would be delicious.

As for dry goods and staples, this morning I had polenta made from cornmeal purchased from Young Farm in East Granby Ct.  It is called Canada yellow flint cornmeal, and it is stone ground the traditional way.  The corn it comes from is New England open pollinated heirloom variety flint, an “antique” corn that has much higher nutritional value than corn harvested with conventional methods as per agri-business in the Midwest.  Young farm is an exceptional company that produces delicious and nutritious, not to mention sustainable and morally acceptable corn and wheat products, as well as vegetables.  Lean more about Young Farm here.  http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=2752#profile.  The polenta, with a spot of honey and some of last year’s frozen blueberries, was a fabulous start to the day. We eat it with salt, pepper and butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan when we want something savory instead of sweet.

“Vegetables?”, you ask. Not many, to be sure, but some.  I have started a variety of lettuce in my bathtub, so I can add some micro-greens to whatever organic lettuce I buy at the market.  I have had basil growing in pots since January and that always adds a bright spring flavor to any dish.   Kale seems to be always available, as it lasts throughout the winter.  Cabbage and sweet potatoes, carrots and onions are also over-winterers in the root cellar.  Garlic scapes are coming out of the ground now and it’s almost time for the luscious asparagus shoots, the star of spring.  I have frozen peas and spinach and tomatoes from last year’s harvest and even some acorn and butternut squash.  A lovely squash, kale or spinach soup with some flat bread makes a lovely spring meal. IMAG0262.jpg

As for fruit, we have our trusty freezer with its dwindling supplies of frozen blueberries, peaches and strawberries.  Not fresh, but still great for smoothies and the occasional pie.  I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetable, and fruits is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far more than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years.  It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months.  I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter and spring months.  If you don’t have one, or can’t afford a new one, there are several on-line sites where you might shop for a used one for much less.  So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.

Last night we had grilled marinated venison with sauteed onions.  It was simple, and simply delicious.   I used a shoulder roast and just sliced it into half inch steaks, mixed it with salt, pepper, olive oil and good balsamic vinegar, left it in the fridge of a few hours and grilled it over high heat.  Quick and easy.IMAG0260.jpg

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Contrary to popular myth, venison, if well treated and well prepared, is neither gamy nor tough.  While it has an unmistakable rich flavor altogether different than beef, it is a succulent and delicious addition to our menu.  Miss-treated it can be an awful chore to eat, and I am reluctant to eat venison unless I personally know the hunter and the manner in which it was killed and dressed. More about venison in particular and hunting in general later.  Happy spring!

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The speed of life: how we relate to our food.

Time sure flies, doesn’t it?  How did I get this old?  I look in the mirror and am amazed that inside I still feel  twenty six, but outside I look every bit of my forty (uh…) ish years.  And it keeps getting faster and faster.  I’ve satisfactorily explained this phenomenon to myself in terms of a mathematical theory involving ratios. It works like this. The amount of time we have been alive is directly proportional to the speed of time.   So in my head I understand it, but in my heart it’s still a mystery.  Why does time fly?  Why can’t I slow it down?

It seems to get worse the older I get.  This should be obvious as per my theory, but I believe it is also related to our new love/hate relationship with technology.  I mean, one hundred years ago, and for ages before that, when you needed to speak to someone who lived far away, you wrote them a letter.  And then you waited hopefully until they responded by mail to hear their reply.  Often the mail was at the whim of weather or war, and depending on how far away they were, you might wait weeks or months to hear from them.  Fifty years ago you picked up the party line and politely asked the operator to connect you through to whomever you were trying to reach, and hoped that Mrs. Miller from down the street  was not only not using the phone, but that she wouldn’t listen in on  your conversation.  And then you waited till they came to the phone.  Now what?  If someone doesn’t respond to your text within a few minutes, it’s not only bad form, but it’s highly irritating.  You might even feel like you are being ignored. How dare they!  Humph!

Technology has cracked our world open and united us in ways we haven’t begun to understand.  We have more immediate access to anything on the planet than ever before in the history of mankind.  Information, ideas and products are all at our fingertips in seconds, or in our homes within a matter of days.  This brings with it a host of reactions; socially, biologically, functionally, economically and emotionally.  Good for us, on many levels, but bad for us, I think, in more ways than one.

The way in which it concerns me, and what I attempt to address, is the way in which we are related to our food.  What and how we eat has changed more in the last one hundred years than it has changed in the last 5 million years.  And that is affecting who we are, what we do and how we feel.  It would be absurd to assume that biological evolution can keep up with the speed of technological evolution.  Eighty five million years of walking upright and we are essentially the same size and shape.  We eat, we poop, and our organs function in much the same way.  Yet in only 30 years our sociological environment has changed so fast that our bodies can’t keep up.   We are already learning that listening to noise with ear buds can alter the development of the growing ear drum, and that typing on a computer keyboard for hours a day can destroy the finely made insides of the carpel tunnels in our wrists.  We know that spending too much time looking at small print materials will negatively affect the shape of our eyeballs and that breathing particulates from certain manmade toxins will cause lumps to grow in our lungs.  The way we relate to our environment, as a culture, is harming us.  And yet we continue to assume that all food is good food, and the more the better.

The government isn’t helping us, either.  The Food and Drug Administration has taken on the role of dietary counselor for the nation, and they seem to be the last ones to get on board with healthy trends.  While they are currently advocating more whole grains and lower fat, which is good on some levels, they refuse to address the issues of where our food comes from, what is hidden in it, and how it was produced.

I am not a doctor, a nutritionist or even a dietitian, and lay claim to no professional insight into the working of human metabolism, agribusiness, food economics or any other thing.   My techniques, theories and insights are based on common sense and basic civic morality, as well as my experience cooking with whole, natural and healthful foods.  This blog is an introduction to moral, healthful eating and a place to start on the journey to become responsible for the things we put in our mouths.

There are plenty of very detailed books that explain how sugars, proteins and carbohydrates work in the body, describe which nutrients are best for us and why.  There are insightful books that explain in detail the multitude of reasons we should eat mostly food from our own area.   There are many books and documentaries that show how and why the American meat industry is bad for America, bad for Americans and downright disgusting and immoral.   All of these should be explored and internalized when choosing a method for your style of eating.   I hope here to lend support to a method that is based on the principles of eating locally, eating seasonally, and therefore living sustainably.  Look for more about these issues, and recipes that support them,  in the weeks that follow.