Last season’s harvest and Polar Plunge!

This post might come as a surprise, because I’ve pretty much closed this blog down.  I’ve kept it open just for informational purposes because I still know a few people who use it for recipes and such.  However, I had something I wanted to post about and since there are a surprising number of people who are disappointed that I’ve stopped posting about my garden, I decided to also throw in a few pictures of a typical harvest day from last year’s garden.  As you can see, it did pretty well, so I’m pleased with the techniques I’ve been using.  Feel free to peruse through my blog to learn about what methods I’ve been trying (e.g. square-foot gardening, composting, etc.).

Back to the intention of this post.  I wanted to let everybody know that I’m doing the Polar Plunge again (see my post from when I did it last year).  I’m trying to raise money for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of the leading organizations fighting for policies that will put us on a path to climate sustainability.  As you know, this is very important to me.  Last year I had a lot of sponsors.  This year, I have some sponsors, but I want to do better.  If any of you are able (and willing) to spare a little money to sponsor me jumping into the ice-cold Potomac (not only to make a fool of myself, but to bring attention to an important issue and raise money for a grassroots organization fighting for that issue), I would really, really appreciate it (and so will the polar bears)!  The link below will take you to my donation page:

http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/vineetaggarwal/keepwintercold2012

Now, as promised, here are some pictures of last year’s harvest.  Perhaps if this blog is still up next season, I’ll let you know how this year’s Winter Garden went (I currently have garlic, kale, mustard, arugula, and collars out there)!

Peppers

Edamame

Tomatoes

Various

Thanks for reading…peace!

A Different Kind of Surprise in the Winter Garden

You might remember from my post last year around this same approximate time of year that I was shocked when I uncovered my Winter Garden to find that all of the vegetables that I assumed were dead after being buried under feet of snow all Winter were actually thriving.  Well, this year, when I uncovered the Winter Garden, I got a different kind of surprise — one with eyes.  Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can spot the little creature that decided to plunk itself down into one of the pots I was growing edamame seedlings in:

Toad 1

Toad 2

Toad 3

As I’ve said before, for just having a tiny little yard at our townhouse, we get a pretty remarkable diversity of creatures back there!

In other news, also in time with the season, our family room has been transformed into a greenhouse with all of the seedlings we are growing to eventually transplant into the garden this year.  I had initially said I wouldn’t go through the trouble this year of starting too many seeds myself, but I got carried away when I saw the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog for this season.  Once I have everything finalized I’ll list exactly what we’re growing (maybe…this blog is supposed to be on hiatus)…but for now, here is a picture:

Family Room Greenhouse

Finally, I thought I’d briefly mention another project in fermentation of mine.  You might recall in the past that I’ve tried my hand at various wines (peach, strawberry, dandelion, etc.) as a way to preserve some of our surplus produce of the season as well as a way to have a tasty treat down the road.  Well, I recently decided I wanted to try to do the same thing with apples (i.e. hard cider), and as luck would have it, a local orchard started holding training courses in how to make your own hard cider!  Needless to say, I attended a class the first chance I got, and came home with a 3 gallon bucket of the orchard’s pressed apples to work with.  Here are some pictures of the cider-making operation at the orchard (Distillery Lane Ciderworks), as well as some shots of when I helped their chief cider-maker, Tim Rose, bottle some of their cider for distribution (I was the only member of the class, so I got very special treatment, including a great tour of the orchard by the owner, Rob Miller):

Distillery Lane Ciderworks 1

Distillery Lane Ciderworks 2

Distillery Lane Ciderworks 3

Distillery Lane Ciderworks 4

Distillery Lane Ciderworks 5

A few weeks later, and I have about 15 bottles of various types of cider I’ve made (still/dry, still/sweetened, and sparkling), and I have to admit that it turned out pretty damn good — it kind of tastes like a dry white wine but with a slight apple flavor.  Those of you who I’ll be seeing in the near future will likely be helping me drink some!  Here is a picture of the final product:

Home Cider

That’s it for now…I may have some more updates soon…I can’t seem to stay away when exciting things pop up…if you’re still reading my blog despite the sporadic nature of my posts, thank you!  Until next time, peace…

Two exciting things…

It’s funny how when I decided to put this blog on hiatus I now have more things to write about.  I guess that’s how things go sometimes. There is just too much going on that I wanted to share…

First off, there is a brilliant new piece of software called Granola that I’ve been using, and I’d like to encourage everybody to use it as well. It’s a very, very simple way to save energy by dynamically adjusting your computer’s power consumption based on what it actually needs at any given time, not just consuming power at an arbitrarily set maximum threshold.  Since it is adjusted based on need and not set to any sort of minimum threshold, you will notice absolutely no difference in performance of your computer whatsoever.  It simply runs in the background and causes your computer to consume less power — this means longer battery life, lower electricity bills, less carbon being released into the atmosphere, etc.  The power consumption is reduced minimally, but with over 1 billion PC’s across this planet, you can imagine what this would add up to if everybody was running this software (the website claims this would be equivalent of taking 7 million cars of the road). That’s far off, but I would encourage you to move in that direction by downloading and installing the software yourself, as well as encouraging others to do so.  Click on the image below, which is constantly updated with how many kWh of energy have been saved across all the machines I have installed Granola on:

Green Vine is doing its part to save the world. Shouldn’t you?

Granola by MiserWare



I’ve got this running on a number of machines now, all tied to the same account — you can create your own account when you download the software, and it allows you tie that account to any machines you decide to install on — that way you can also get a cumulative view of your total energy savings across all machines you put Granola on (e.g. your laptop, desktop, work computer, etc.).  Let me know how this goes and if anybody needs help installing (it’s available for Windows and Linux — the Linux installation is a bit more involved, so I’m happy to help with that if anybody needs it).

The next exciting thing is the new composter I finally got.  You may remember my previous complaints about the NatureMill automatic composter.  The makers claim that most people have had good experiences with it and they were surprised by my bad experiences, but I just can’t see how that’s possible — I know what I’m doing as far as composting (it takes a bit of experience to get it right), but all I ever ended up with was 3 broken machines and a goopy mess instead of compost.  Space limitations make it difficult for me to have a traditional compost heap/pit, but I’ve finally found a good alternate solution (and it doesn’t consume electricity like the NatureMill does).  I bought an Envirocycle compost tumbler, and I couldn’t be happier with it.  It looks good, fits in my backyard, is made with primarily recycled materials, and works great.  I’ve been dumping food scraps, coffee grounds from the office, etc. in it for a good few weeks/months now, and here is how it’s looking — I’m pretty impressed given that it’s Winter and therefore the decomposition process is happening very minimally, yet things appear to be breaking down quite nicely:

Composter closed

Composter open

If you’re curious to check one out yourself, click on the link below:

Envirocycle Mini Composter

That’s it for now…thanks for reading…until next time, peace!

Guide to Vegetarianism

There have been a number of things popping up of interest here and there, so I haven’t done the best job putting my blog into hiatus, but  I suppose that’s not a bad thing!

A family friend recently asked me for some advice on vegetarianism as well as some recipes.  After I typed her out a huge e-mail, I realized that it was a pretty good reference for anybody looking to turn towards vegetarianism or somebody who is already a vegetarian but has some questions or needs some new recipes.

I am by no means a nutritionist, so I wouldn’t take any of this as the absolute truth (i.e. question anything that doesn’t make sense to you and do your own research), however, at this point (it’s been 14 years), I think I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge through my own experience and research and done a pretty good job being a healthy vegetarian.  I think it’s a good way to live in terms of ethics, the environment, and health, so if you’re interested, read on!

One other quick thing — I haven’t done a lot of editing from the original e-mail, so some of this stuff might have local references and such (e.g. grocery store recommendations).  Please just ignore that sort of stuff if it doesn’t apply to you (incidentally, most of the items I’ve listed can be found in most grocery stores, or if not, most health food stores)…

First off are some ingredients.  You can pretty much get all the nutrition (including protein), from plant-based (non-animal based) foods pretty easily.  The only two things that can sometimes be tricky are Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12.  You can get these from supplements (e.g. multivitamin), or, you can generally get enough Vitamin D as a vegetarian just by spending some time in the unfiltered Sun everyday.  Vitamin B-12 is found in a naturally occurring yeast commonly referred to as, “Nutritional Yeast.”  You don’t have to worry about these things as much if you consume eggs and dairy, but since I generally don’t, a lot of my recipes incorporate Nutritional Yeast and such (more information on this ingredient below).  Onto the list…note that all of these ingredients can be found in most grocery stores, and if you can’t find them, they can definitely be found at Wegman’s and Whole Foods:

Soy:

– Tofu is a great protein source.  If you are using it as a meat substitute in something like stir-fry for example, you want to use extra-firm regular tofu (not the silken variety).  One recommendation I have is a brand called Twin Oaks that can be bought from Whole Foods.  It is grown and processed locally, and has a texture very similar to paneer — it works great as a substitute for dairy-based cheese in dishes like Palak Paneer.  If you are unable to find this, you can achieve a similar texture by first freezing your tofu, and then thawing it out and squeezing out the water prior to using.

– Like with anything else, too much tofu is not good.  As such, you should try an alternative to tofu called tempeh — it is like tofu but the soy is fermented — the fermentation basically eliminates some of the acids normally found in tofu that can leach away some of the nutrients in other foods when consumed along with tofu (therefore eating tempeh is slightly more nutritious than eating tofu).  The taste isn’t for everybody, so you have to use good recipes (my favorite one, Orange-Glazed Tempeh is listed below).

– There are also a bunch of soy products that are processed to mimic their animal counterparts — these aren’t things you should eat often because they are highly processed, but they are good things for vegetarians to occasionally eat because they are high in protein and taste like some of the foods that non-vegetarians eat.  Boca burgers (hamburger), Gimme Lean (ground beef), Tofutti non-dairy products (e.g. ice cream, cream cheese, etc.).  A good non-soy alternative to the typical veggie burger is one made in California called Sunshine Burger — it is made entirely of brown rice, veggies, seeds, etc. (no soy).  It can be found at Wegman’s and Whole Foods.

Wheat Gluten:

– Wheat Gluten is another protein source that can be consumed as an alternative to soy.  You can make your own, or you can buy it from the store in the form of a product called “seitan.”  Seitan can be used in the exact same way as tofu (marinated, grilled, stir-fried with vegetables, etc.).

– There is a great company called Field Roast that makes seitan sausages and such — they are minimally processed and very tasty — you can find them at Whole Foods and Wegman’s.

Beans, lentils, etc.:

– These are another great protein source, and very easy (esp. for Indians because dal is such a common dish).  Black beans can be wrapped in tortillas with salsa, kidney beans can be used in chili (recipe below), etc.  Hummus (with whole wheat pita bread, cut vegetables to dip, etc.) is a good snack for kids — a recipe is below.

Nuts, seeds, etc.:

– Peanuts, walnuts, flax seed, sunflower seed, etc. are very good snacks (or can be mixed into other food such as bread, oatmeal, etc.) that are high in protein and contain the essential fats, Omega 3’s, etc. that our bodies need.

Grains:

– In addition to the standard brown rice (which is a healthy high-protein alternative to white rice), there are a lot of healthy grains that vegetarians can eat for protein — quinoa and steel-cut oats are some of my favorites (recipes below)

– Whole wheat is another obvious one.  Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, etc. are great protein sources.  One thing to look for is whole wheat bread that is made from sprouted grain.  Normally, wheat is dried and then ground into flour.  However, if the wheat is sprouted first prior to grinding into flour, it can become a lot healthier (the same concept behind fermented soy — unsprouted wheat contains some acids that can leach nutrients away from other foods).  You can find sprouted-grain bread in the freezer section of Wegman’s, Whole Foods, etc., as well as freshly-baked in the bakery at Whole Foods.

Mushrooms:

– Mushrooms are very high in protein.  My favorites are shiitake and portobello.  They are good for vegetarians because they have a “meaty” texture.  Shiitake can be used in stir-fry, soup, etc. (the only caveat is that the stems need to be removed first because they are very tough/chewy).  Large portobellos can be used as a veggie patty for veggie burgers — all you have to do is remove the stem, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper, and grill on both sides until tender (on a grill or in a pan).

Leafy-greens:

– These are some of the healthiest things you can eat.  My favorites are kale, spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, etc.  A standard recipe for these is to just saute some diced garlic/onion in olive-oil, throw in the chopped-greens, saute until tender, add some salt or soy sauce, and sprinkle on some crushed red pepper if you like things spicy.  Water-cress is a very high-protein green that can be eaten raw (e.g. in sandwiches, as an alternative to lettuce, which don’t have as much nutrition).  Kale is also one of the healthiest all-around foods (recipe below).

Nutritional Yeast:

– This is a form of yeast that is high in protein and Vitamin B-12.  It has a nutty/cheesy flavor so it is used in a lot of vegan/vegetarian recipes.  It can be found in the bulk bins at Wegman’s and Whole Foods.  You will see it in some of my recipes below, but it can also be used as a condiment because it tastes slightly salty (e.g. it is very tasty when sprinkled on top of popcorn, and by doing so you are increasing the nutritional value of the popcorn).

Dairy alternatives:

– There are many alternatives to dairy-based milked generally referred to as plant-based milk — soy, almond, hazelnut, coconut, hemp, rice, etc.  I have experimented with a lot of them and have found almond to the be best — it tastes the most like regular milk.  The best brand is called Almond Breeze — it is fortified with calcium and vitamins that are normally found in dairy milk — I usually get Plain Unsweetened, but also comes in Plain Sweetened, chocolate, vanilla, etc.  This can be found in most grocery stores, but definitely Whole Foods and Wegmans.  It can also be made at home if you have a powerful enough blender (e.g. VitaMix).

– Margarine is a good alternative to butter, but you have to be careful about making sure the margarine you use doesn’t have partially hydrogenated fats or palm oil, which are both questionable ingredients.  A good alternative I have found is called Spectrum Spread (canola-oil based) — it can be found at Wegman’s.

– Most vegan cheeses do not taste good, but there is a brand called Daiya that is quite good when cooked in recipes — they come shredded in either Mozzarella or Cheddar — they are sold at Wegman’s and Whole Foods — I use them in pizza, pasta, tacos, etc. very successfully.

– Mayonnaise:  The best brand is called Veganaise — it can be found at Wegmans and Whole Foods; it is very good.

Egg alternatives:

– In baking, there is a product called EnerG Egg Replacer that can be used in place of eggs — it is made of potato starch.  It works very well, but there is also a version you can make at home from flax seed that is healthier.  If you combine 1 TBS ground flax seed (not whole) with 3 TBS hot/warm water, let sit for a few minutes, and then stir vigorously, you will notice that it turns into a sticky consistency just like egg — you can use this as an alternative to egg in any baking.

– In other recipes, I have discovered that black salt (kala namak), gives any food an “eggy” taste.  So, for example, I sometimes make scrambled “egg” by sauteeing garlic/onion in olive oil, add in chopped mushroom, add in crumbled tofu, sprinkle on black salt and a little turmeric/haldi (for color), and cook for a few minutes — you end up with a tasty alternative to scrambled egg.  You will see the black salt used in some of the recipes below.

This original e-mail generated some questions about protein, calcium, etc., here were my answers:

– Plant milk is any form of milk that is not dairy-based.  So this means any of the following:  soy milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, rice milk, etc.  You can find any of these at most stores.  As I mentioned, I have found almond milk to be the best, and my favorite brand is called Almond Breeze (can be found at Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Bloom, etc.).

– I think consuming tofu a few times a week is fine.  It only starts to become a problem if you are having a soy product for every meal every day.  For example, there are some vegetarians/vegans who will have cereal with soy milk for breakfast, a sandwich with soy cheese for lunch, and a soy-based veggie burger for dinner, etc.  I think that’s a bad idea — just like with anything else, you need moderation.  So, I think tofu is good a few times a week, but for the other meals, you should mix it up with some of the other things I mentioned (wheat gluten, beans/lentils, nuts, mushrooms, greens, etc.).

– Flax seed is a great way to get essential fats and Omega 3’s (instead of eating fish).  The best way to consume it is ground, because our bodies can’t really break up the seeds properly to get all the nutrition in them when they are whole — you can make sure to chew thoroughly, but it’s probably easiest to just consume them ground instead of whole.  You can either buy them pre-ground or whole and then just grind them yourself — pre-ground is easier, but grinding yourself will taste fresher — the only issue is that if you grind yourself, you’ll want to only do it in quantities in which you know you will be able to consume within a few weeks, because ground flax seed goes bad quicker.  To give you an example, we grind about 1.25 cups every week, and then mix 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed in our oatmeal every morning.  I think that’s a good amount, but you should see what works for you (you may have to start with 1 tablespoon and see how it goes — ground flax seed gives some people heartburn).  I would probably recommend this over flax seed oil, as flax seed oil tastes bad and is quite expensive.

– As for calcium, you should generally be okay with the amount of calcium that is naturally found in tofu, greens, etc., and with the amount of calcium that is added to the commercial plant milks (e.g. I think Almond Breeze has 20% calcium in one serving).  All of this combined with the amount in a multivitamin should generally be enough.  So, the key is a balanced diet containing the items I described in my previous e-mail.  If you think you may not be eating enough of these things to get enough calcium, there are vegan/vegetarian calcium supplements available at most stores — I know that Whole Foods has them in the form of natural juice fruit chews, and Costco has them in the form of candy!

– Again, same goes for protein — you should generally be okay in terms of protein level with the amount of protein naturally found in soy, nuts, beans/lentils, wheat, etc.  However, if you feel that you may not be getting enough of these things, putting protein powder in a shake every morning is not a bad idea — my only recommendation would be to find a protein powder made from pea or brown rice instead of soy — that way it will be easier to avoid overdoing the soy.  I know that both Wegman’s and Whole Foods carry protein powders derived from brown rice or pea — I’m sure other stores carry these as well.

Now here are some recipes:

Breakfast:

Spiced Banana Pancakes:

Serves 4

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1-1/4 cups plant milk of choice

3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice and set aside. In a food processor, add plant milk and half of the banana slices and process until smooth.

2. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing with a few swift strokes until just combined. Fold in the remaining banana slices.

3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat. Ladle about 3 tablespoons of the batter onto the hot griddle. Cook on one side until small bubbles appear on top, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until the other side is lightly browned, about 1 minute more. Keep the cooked pancakes warm in the oven while you prepare the remaining pancakes.

Soysage Casserole:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-size yellow onion, diced

3 cups soy or wheat-gluten/seitan sausage, crumbled

1 pound tofu, drained and crumbled

2 cups plant milk of choice

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 slices bread

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine the tofu, plant milk, thyme, fennel seed, salt, and pepper to taste and mix well. Blend in the sausage mixture and set aside.

3. Tear bread into bite-sized pieces and place in a lightly oiled shallow 9×13 baking dish. Pour sausage mixture evenly over bread and set aside until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

4. Bake casserole until puffy and lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm.

Crock-pot Steel-Cut Oats:

Serves 2

2 cups almond milk + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract OR use vanilla plant milk

1/2 cup steel cut oats

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons almonds (added slightly before serving just to heat through)

Pumpkin Variation (Serves 2)

1.75 cups almond milk

1/2 cup steel cut oats

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Combine ingredients in crock pot, turn on “Low” overnight or for about 6 hours.

Snacks:

Hummus:

2 cups cooked chickpeas

2/3 cup chickpea water (either from boiling, or from the can)

3 Tbs tahini

1 large clove garlic or 2 small cloves

1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs lemon juice

Combine everything in a blender/food-processor.  Serve with whole-wheat pita wedges, crackers, cut vegetables, etc.

Baba Ganouj:

1 eggplant

3 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 cup tahini

2 garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons green onion — minced

black pepper — to taste

1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the stem ends of the eggplant and prick it all over with a fork. Place it directly on an oven rack and let it roast until completely sagged (about 45 minutes). When it is sagging, wrinkled, crumpled, and totally soft, you’ll know it’s ready. Remove it from the oven, and let cool. Scoop the insides out and mash well. Combine with rest of ingredients.  Chill well. Serve with whole-wheat pita wedges, crackers, cut vegetables, etc.

Kale “chips”:

1 bunch kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

– Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

– With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner (very important to dry thoroughly).

– Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.

– Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.

Lunch:

Vegan “Tuna” Sandwich:

Serves 6

30 ounces (2 cans) garbanzo beans, drained

1/4 cup red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced

1/4 cup dill pickle, finely chopped

2 tablespoons nori seaweed flakes (optional, for a fishy taste)

1 cup vegan mayonnaise

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground

12 slices bread, lightly toasted

6 large, crisp lettuce or watercress leaves

12 fresh tomato slices

1. In a large bowl, mash the garbanzo beans with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Fold the onion, garlic, pickle, nori, mayonnaise, salt, and black pepper into the garbanzo beans. Combine thoroughly.

2. Lightly toast the bread. Spread the salad on one slice and stack with a lettuce leaf, two tomato slices, and another slice of bread. Cut sandwiches in half and serve.

“Egg” Salad Sandwich:

1 block extra firm or firm tofu

1/4 cup green onion

2 TBS mustard

2 1/4 teaspoons relish

1 TBS apple cider vinegar

1 tsp black salt + additional and/or regular salt if needed

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 TBS nutritional yeast

1/4 cup vegan mayonaise

Hand-crumble the tofu, mix in the rest of the ingredients well.  Refrigerate to chill, or serve as is, just like real egg sald (e.g. scoop onto bread with lettuce for a egg salad sandwich alternative).

Dinner:

Orange-Glazed Tempeh:

Serves 2 - 4 depending on appetite…

1 cup orange juice (if fresh-squeezed, use 3-4 large juicy oranges)

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce)

1 1/2 tablespoons mirin (asian condiment, very important)

2 teaspoons maple syrup

2 small garlic cloves, crushed

roughly 10 ounces of tempeh (or extra-firm tofu)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Put the orange juice in a small bowl. Squeeze the grated ginger over the bowl to extract the juices, then discard the pulp. Add the tamari, mirin, and maple syrup, and garlic. Mix together and set aside.

Cut the tempeh (or tofu) into thin-ish, bite-sized pieces, and if working with tofu, pat dry with a paper towel.

Put the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the tempeh and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden underneath. Turn and cook the other side for another 5 minutes, or until golden. Pour the orange juice mixture into the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a thick glaze. Turn the tempeh once more during this time and spoon the sauce over the tofu from time to time.

Serve the tempeh drizzled with any remaining sauce.  I like to eat this with brown rice and a side of vegetables/greens.

Vegan Quiche:

1 14oz. block firm tofu

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 1/2 teaspoon white miso

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 tablspoon dijon or brown mustard

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1.5 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

1 handful of chopped fresh chives, or garlic chives, or scallions, etc.

1/2 cup  plant milk of choice

veggies of choice (chopped greens, mushrooms, onion, garlic, optionally 30 chopped leaves of de-stemmed sorrel)

1/2 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese (OPTIONAL)

– Drain and crumble the tofu

– Blend nut. yeast, miso, olive oil, mustard, salts, pepper, turmeric, and milk in a blender.

– Saute the veggies

– Stir everything together (tofu, sauce, veggies, chives, rosemary, and optional cheese) and spoon into pre-baked crust.

– Bake at 350 for 35 minutes

Butternut Squash Lasagna :

The filling and sauce can be made ahead of time, and you don’t need to precook the noodles.

12 ounces lasagna noodles (9 to 12 noodles)

1/2 onion, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups chopped spinach, kale, chard, or other dark green leafy vegetable

3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup boiling water

Tofu Filling:

1 1/2 pounds firm or silken tofu

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Black pepper to taste

Butternut Sauce:

3 cups mashed cooked butternut squash

3/4 cup plant milk

1 tablespoon miso

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Saute onion in olive oil until soft. Stir in the garlic and greens. If the greens are dry, add a little water. Cover and steam 5 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

Place tofu filling ingredients in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Remove to bowl and set aside. Place Butternut Sauce ingredients in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.

Assemble lasagna as follows: Cover the bottom of 9 x 13-inch pan with thin layer of sauce. Place a single layer of lasagna noodles in bottom of pan. Leave a little space between the noodles because they will expand when cooked. Spread 1/2 of the tofu filling over noodles. Sprinkle 1/2 of the cooked greens over tofu. Spread 1/3 of the butternut sauce over the greens. Repeat for one more layer. Place noodle layer on top and cover with butternut sauce. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over squash. Pour boiling water in corners and around edges of lasagna. Cover pan with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove cover and bake 10 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing to set.

Makes 9 servings

Note: To save time, you can buy frozen pureed squash. Many markets also carry fresh or frozen peeled and cut squash that can be quickly steamed.

Mushroom Risotto:

Serves 8

6 cups Veggie Broth

1 Tbsp Extra- Virgin Olive Oil

4 oz Baby Bella mushrooms, cut in thin matchlike strips (2 cups)

4 cloves garlic, peeled, very finely chopped (2 Tbsp)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 cup Arborio Rice (important to use this type of rice)

Salt

Pepper

1 tsp Black Truffle Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

– Heat broth in saucepan; maintain at gentle simmer while risotto is being prepared.

– Heat olive oil in separate heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan on MEDIUM, until oil faintly smokes. Add mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary; cook, stirring, 1 min. Increase temperature to MEDIUM-HIGH. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, 2 min.

– Add 1 cup simmering broth to rice; cook, stirring constantly, until broth is almost absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed. Add final cup of broth a little at a time, adding only as much as can be absorbed, until rice is cooked al dente and mixture is creamy. (All 6 cups of broth may not be used.)

– Remove pan from heat; season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with truffle oil (if using).

– Serve immediately.

Chili:

4 cups or 2 cans cooked kidney or red beans

1 1/2 packages ground veggie crumbles (e.g. Morninstar, Gimme Lean, etc.)

2 diced onions

2 diced bell peppers

3 tablespoon minced garlic, or to taste

2 diced tomatoes or 1 can

1 can tomato sauce

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped mushrooms

– Cook onions, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil in a pot on the stove, over medium heat. Watch it, keep stirring and make sure it doesn’t burn.

– Add crumbles, mushrooms, tomatoes, and sauce.  Stir in spices. Stir in beans.

– Stir and keep heating a few minutes until the heat is distributed evenly. Serve.

Herbed Quinoa (serve with vegetables, tofu, etc.)

½ cup quinoa (1/2 pound)

2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

– Rinse quinoa in 5 changes of water in a bowl, rubbing grains and letting them settle

before pouring off water.

– Cook quinoa in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 10 minutes.  Drain in sieve and rinse under cold water.

– Set sieve with quinoa over saucepan filled with 1 1/2 inches boiling water, the sieve should not touch water. Cover with a lid and steam quinoa until fluffy and dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Check water level in pan occasionally, adding water if necessary.

– Toss quinoa with oil and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Set aside to cool then toss with scallions and thyme.

Shakes:

Mixed Fruit Shake:

1 cup plant milk

1 medium frozen banana broken into several pieces

1/2 cup frozen fruit of choice

1 Tbsp maple syrup

Dash  of ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together in a blender.  This is for one serving.

Banana Shake:

2 fully ripe bananas

1 1/2 glasses plant milk

3 tablespoons vanilla soy/cocunut/rice ice cream

1 tablespoon chopped almonds

Mix all ingredients together in a blender.  This is for one serving.

Strawberry Malt Shake:

Serves 2

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled

1 12-ounce package firm silken tofu

1 cup vanilla plant milk

2 tablespoons barley malt syrup

1/4 to 1/3 cup agave nectar syrup (this is a vegan alternative to honey available mostly everywhere)

1. In a blender, combine strawberries and tofu until thoroughly mixed together. Scrape down the sides of the blender, and process once more until completely smooth.

2. With the blender running, add plant milk and barley malt syrup. Add agave to taste, depending on the strawberries’ sweetness.

Soups:

Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup:

2 T margarine

3 T flour

12 oz plant milk

6 – 8 mushrooms diced

1 small onion diced

Pinch of salt, pepper, thyme (maybe ¼ teaspoon of each)

Saute mushroom and onions in the margarine until soft.  Add the flour and spices, cooking and stirring constantly until thick and bubbly.   Slowly stir in milk.  Bring to a simmer and let it cook until thick and smooth, stirring occasionally.  NOTE:  substitute mushrooms for equivalent quantity of other vegetables for “cream of” soup of that vegetable.  This makes the equivalent of one can of soup.

Potato Garlic Soup with Chives:

– 8 cloves of garlic, peeled

– 8 cups of vegetable broth

– 2 lbs of potatoes cut into bite-size pieces

– 1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped

– 1/2 tsp salt

– 1/4 teaspoon pepper

– 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

– 2 cups plant milk

– 1/4 cup additional chives, chopped

– In a kettle, combine first 7 ingredients.  Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer partly covered for 30 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer solid ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.  Return processed mixture to pot, stir in milk and heat through.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with remaining chives.

Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4):

– 2 Tbsp olive oil

– 1 large onion, diced

– 7 cloves of garlic chopped [1/2 head] (optional)

– 1 tsp. salt

– 2 lbs peeled and cubed butternut squash

– 8 cups vegetable broth

– 1/4 cup Arborio rice (it’s very important that you use this type of rice)

– In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, and salt.  Saute, stirring regularly, until the onions are softened, but not browned.

– Add the squash, cover the pot, and cook over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent browning.

– Add the broth and rice.  Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, covered, until the squash is very tender.

– Blend the soup until creamy.  Add additional stock to desired consistency.

Spinach and Zucchini Soup:

Serves about 6.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 medium onions, roughly chopped

big pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups potatoes (2 medium) cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 1/2 cups zucchini (2 medium), loosely chopped

4 cups vegetable stock

4 cups fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed

1 cup cilantro, loosely chopped

In a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot (but not smoking) add the garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes along with pinch of salt - just until they soften up a bit. Stir in the potatoes and zucchini. Add the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft throughout, roughly 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the spinach, and wait for it to wilt, just ten seconds or so. Now stir in the cilantro. Puree with a hand blender until smooth. Now taste, and add more salt if needed, serve.

L’Hamraak (Moroccan Eggplant and Summer Squash Soup):

Salt

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch / 13 mm cubes

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large summer squash or zucchini (about 7-8 inches / 18-20 cm long) cut into 1/2 inch / 13 mm cubes

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 T finely chopped cilantro (coriander)

2 large tomatoes, finely chopped

1 t cumin

1/2 t pepper

5 1/2 cups water

– Sprinkle salt on eggplant cubes and place in a strainer. Top with a weight and allow to drain for 45 minutes.

– Heat oil in a large saucepan; add the squash and saute over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in eggplant, onion, garlic and cilantro; saute, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, adding more oil if necessary.

– Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Taste and add salt if needed.

– Serve hot.

I hope that was informative and helpful…please leave comments if you have any questions, suggestions, etc.  Thanks for reading…until next time, peace!

Brief Resurrection: 2011 Polar Bear Plunge

Hello…I decided to pull my blog out of its slumber to post a few pictures of an event I just participated in:  The Annual Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) Polar Bear Plunge.  This is basically an event to both raise funds for CCAN but also to draw attention to the global warming crisis.  You can learn more about this issue and the work that CCAN does here:

http://www.keepwintercold.org

Also, if anybody is still interested in donating to the cause, please follow the link below:

https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/423/t/11404/my/donate.jsp?supporter_my_donate_page_KEY=2166

Now onto the pictures…note, you can click on the pictures to see larger versions…

Here is a picture of Anastasia Shestakova, a local musician who helped warm up the crowd prior to the plunge:

Anastasia

There was a polar bear lurking in the crowd:

Polar Bear

Another interesting character…

Wind

Mike Tidwell, founder/director of CCAN saying a few words to the crowd prior to the plunge:

Tidwell

Congresswoman Donna Edwards, one of the few politicians who gets it — she not only spoke to the audience but participated in the plunge:

Edwards

A Franciscan monk addresses the crowd; one of his brothers took the plunge:

Monk

Group photo prior to the plunge.  You can play Where’s Waldo to guess where I am.  Also notice NaVorro Bowman, linebacker for the San Francisco 49′ers chilling to the right of the polar bear:

group

Walking to the changing tents…remember that striped beach towel…it’ll help you recognize me later!

Walking to tents

The rescue workers in the water prior to the plunge…fortunately they were not needed (as far as I am aware).  Notice the ice chunks in the water; yes, it was that cold.

Rescue

Waiting with the other plungers…about to go in!

Waiting

I did it!  This is me running back out with some of the other plungers after I submerged myself…

Running out...

Mass exodus from the water…

Exodus

Now I’m heading back to the changing tent…it’s all over…luckily that ambulance was not needed!  Time to reflect on the event while trying to get the feeling back in my feet…

Done

Thanks to all of you who donated…one day the polar bears will thank you!

Thanksgiving and Hiatus

With Thanksgiving drawing near, we’ve been very busy closing down the garden, planting the Winter garden, and doing some last-minute preserving of produce from the garden and our CSA. Although we’ve been very thankful this past season for all the great food we’ve been able to eat and for our lives in general, this time of year always makes me a bit sad knowing that there are millions of turkeys being treated in a shamefully inhumane way only to be eventually slaughtered to feed our greedy faces.  There is a lot of information out there as to why we should consider a turkey-free Thanksgiving, but I am going to reproduce just one list from a particular animal rights organization:

1. They’re Begging Your Pardon

Turkeys are “smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings,” Oregon State University poultry scientist Tom Savage says. Turkeys are social, playful birds who enjoy the company of others. They relish having their feathers stroked and like to chirp, cluck, and gobble along to their favorite tunes. Anyone who spends time with them at farm sanctuaries quickly learns that turkeys are as varied in personality as dogs and cats. The president “pardons” a turkey every year—can’t you pardon one too?

2. Get Rid of Your Wattle

Turkey flesh is brimming with fat. Just one homemade patty of ground, cooked turkey meat contains a whopping 244 mg of cholesterol, and half of its calories come from fat. Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans are.

3. Can You Spell ‘Pandemic’?

Experts are warning that a virulent new strain of bird flu could spread to human beings and kill millions of Americans. Current factory-farm conditions, in which turkeys are drugged up and bred to grow so quickly they can barely walk, are a prescription for disease outbreaks. Eating a turkey carcass contaminated with bird flu could kill you, and currently available drugs might not work. Cooking should kill the virus, but it could be left behind on cutting boards and utensils and spread through something else you’re eating.

4. Recall Process Doesn’t Fly

The U.S. government is the only government in the Western world that does not have the power to recall contaminated animal products. Instead, American consumers must trust the profit-hungry meat, dairy, and egg industries to decide when recalls are necessary. Dan Glickman, secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton, explained that this limit on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) power to protect consumers from tainted animal products is “one of the biggest loopholes out there.” There are all sorts of killer bacteria found in turkey flesh, including salmonella and campylobacter. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 28 percent of fresh turkeys were contaminated with bacteria, primarily with campylobacter, for which the USDA does not even require testing.

5. Let the Turkeys Give Thanks!

Let’s face it: If you’re eating a turkey, that’s a corpse you’ve got there on the table, and if you don’t eat it quickly enough, it will decompose. Is that really what we want as the centerpiece of a holiday meal: an animal’s dead and decaying carcass? Thanksgiving is a time to take stock of our lives and give thanks for all that we have, so why not let the turkeys give thanks too?

6. Want Stuffing With Your Supergerms?

Dosing turkeys with antibiotics to stimulate their growth and to keep them alive in filthy, disease-ridden conditions that would otherwise kill them poses even more risks for people who eat them. Leading health organizations—including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association—have warned that by giving powerful drugs (via animal products) to humans who are not sick, the farmed-animal industry is creating possible long-term risks to human health and will spread antibiotic-resistant supergerms. That’s why the use of drugs to promote growth in animals used for food has been banned for many years in Europe.

7. Without a Wing and a Prayer

On factory farms, turkeys live for months in sheds where they are packed so tightly that flapping a wing or stretching a leg is nearly impossible. They stand in waste, and urine and ammonia fumes burn their eyes and lungs. At the slaughterhouse, turkeys have their throats slit while they are still conscious. Those who miss the automated knife are scalded to death in the defeathering tank.

8. Foul Farming

Anyone who has driven by a farm has probably smelled it first from a mile away. Turkeys and other animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. human population—all without the benefit of waste treatment systems. There are no federal guidelines to regulate how factory farms treat, store, and dispose of the trillions of pounds of concentrated, untreated animal excrement that they produce each year.

9. Blood, Sweat, and Fear

Killing animals is inherently dangerous work, but the fast line speeds, the dirty, slippery killing floors, and the lack of training make animal-processing plants some of the most dangerous places to work in America today. The industry has refused to slow down the lines or buy appropriate safety gear because these changes could cut into companies’ bottom lines. In its 185-page exposé on worker exploitation by the farmed-animal industry, “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants,” Human Rights Watch explains, ‘These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.”

10. A Cornucopia of Turkey Alternatives

Give up the giblets and carve out a new tradition this Thanksgiving—Tofurky Roast, a savory soy- and wheat-based roasts with stuffing and gravy or oven-roasted, peppered, hickory-smoked, or cranberry- and stuffing-flavored Tofurky Deli Slices. Give animals and yourself something to be really thankful for this year.

Because of all this, we will be having our usual seitan “turkey” this year.  Through various trials, we’ve decided that the best recipe is one from one of my favorite vegan chefs, Bryanna Clark Grogan.  Here is a link to her amazing seitan roast:

http://pastebin.com/RLzqtdAq

One other thing we are doing this year (as we did last year), is to “Adopt a Turkey” through Farm Sanctuary (this is basically a novel way to help support Farm Sanctuary continuing their work to protect farm animals).  If you would like to consider donating as well, here is the link:

http://www.adoptaturkey.org/

On that note, I wanted to thank everybody who has been reading my blog over the years.  With the growing season slowing down over the Winter, I’ve decided to take a small hiatus from updating this blog.  I’ve been overseeing the monthly newsletter for the Virginia Master Naturalist program I am a part of, and with that and all the other stuff I have going on, I haven’t been able to update this blog as frequently as I’d like too.  So, I’m waiting until I can give it the time it deserves.  The site will still be up in the meantime, and anybody who has used this as a resource for various tips, recipes, etc., should use the search feature to find any information they need until I start updating with new information again.  I hope everybody who has been visiting this blog has gotten something out of it, and I thank you again for reading…peace!

Getting Ready for Cooler Weather

The past month since my last post has been very busy, and of course a lot of that time has been spent tending to the garden and cooking, eating, and storing away what we’ve been getting from it as well as from our CSA.

A lot of the stuff in our garden this season didn’t produce in the quantities we had expected/hoped for given our new Square Foot Gardens (e.g. okra, eggplants, etc.), however, we have been absolutely overloaded with tomatoes.  We got a soil test done (which I would highly, highly recommend for anybody planning a garden) from the University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory — it was incredibly helpful and super easy — all you do is fill out a form, send in a sample of your soil, and they send you a report telling you the quantities of various nutrients present (or not present) in your soil as well as if there are any contaminants (e.g. lead).  Based on these readings, they will also make recommendations for how to amend your soil.  In our case, a suspicion I had about the soil in the Square Foot Garden turned out to be true — I know that compost is incredibly good for your soil because of all of the micronutrients it contains, and its ability to provide support to other nutrients added to the soil (i.e. because it holds onto moisture, minerals, etc.).  However, it is not necessarily the source of all the nutrients your plants need (i.e. adding compost helps improve the soil structure for the nutrients, but the nutrients still need to be added).  The Square Foot Gardening method claims that compost is all one will ever have to add in order to supply the necessary nutrients, but unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case based on the test results.  Our Square Foot Garden soil was seriously lacking in both Nitrogen and Phosphorous (but had very good readings for Potassium, the other essential nutrient for a thriving garden).  So, anybody who has a Square Foot Garden or is planning on starting one, I would recommend also adding the following to your soil in addition to compost every season (I selected these particular sources of Nitrogen and Phosphorous because they contained no animal by-products):

For Nitrogen, Soybean Meal seems to be like a good option:

http://www.downtoearthfertilizer.com/soybeanmeal.html

And for Phosphorous, Rock Phosphate seems to be like a good option:

http://www.downtoearthfertilizer.com/prock.html

I will be giving this a try next season, and will be sure to post about how it goes!  Anyhow, like I said, despite all this the tomatoes were still rolling in, so we’ve been doing a lot of preserving as I mentioned in my last post, which has been great.  Now that things are slowing down a bit, I’ve been trying to find creative ways to preserve some of the other few items that we have leftover and haven’t been able to eat, when a friend happened to send me an article that was just what I was looking for!  It seems that there are a lot of people that use alcohol to preserve their summer bounty as it requires less work than all the sterilizing, boiling, etc. that needs to occur with traditional canning.  Apparently putting fruit in a jar, sprinkling on some sugar, and covering it with liquor is enough to preserve the fruit because of the high alcohol content of the liquor.  Seems simple, and you get a tasty treat in the end!  The only downside is that it takes longer to preserve (about 3 months), but all that means is extra special Winter holidays with your alcoholic peaches!  Here is the article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/22/dining/22appe.html?th&emc=th

I couldn’t wait to try this, so I decided to try to preserve the last few local peaches of the season using this method.  Here is a picture:

Peach Liquor

I will be sure to report how they turn out this Winter (just forgive the typos if I decide to write my post immediately after trying them)!

Anyway, the other thing this part of the season means is preparing the garden with some of the cooler weather items.  So far, we have planted garlic and spinach.  Spinach is easy enough, but some of you may not know how to grow garlic, so I will explain it.  That being said, I have only tried to grow garlic once (this past season), and was only semi-successful because they got zapped by a heat wave during a weekend that I was out of town (I did get some garlic, but it was very tiny — I ended up using them in a wonderful pickle recipe, the recipe is here).  I think I’ll have better luck with the cooler weather garlic though (planted now, about 4 weeks prior to the first freeze, and harvested in Spring/early Summer).

Basically, there are two main types of garlic:  Hardneck and softneck.  Hardneck does better in colder climates, and has the added benefit of producing a garlic-flavored flower (sometimes called a “scape” or a “curl”).  We make an amazing pesto with the scapes, so I’m going on a slight tangent here to list the recipe:

1 bunch garlic scapes/curls

1⁄4 cup dry roasted peanuts or walnuts or pine nuts

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1⁄4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

Chop garlic, puree in food processor or blender. Add nuts and puree. Add oil and nutritional yeast and puree. Use as a dip, pasta sauce, pizza topping (after thinning with more oil) or on bagels.

Anyhow, once you decide what type of garlic you want to grow, you have to get a bulb.  You are best off getting your seed bulbs from a nursery or a farm market, because most likely the ones you find in the grocery store have been tampered with to prevent you from growing your own from them (those sneaky bastards)!  We use the bulbs that came in one of our CSA boxes:

CSA Garlic

Next, remove the number of cloves from the bulb for the number of new bulbs that you want to grow (each clove will grow into an entire bulb).  Just pluck them out of the bulb, no need to peel them or anything:

Cloves

The general rule is to space them about 4 to 6 inches apart, which means about 4 to 9 bulbs per square foot in our Square Foot Garden — we decided to do 6 of them in 2 squares, for a total of 12 bulbs if everything works out.  To plant, all you do is push each clove pointy-side up about 2 inches into the soil, and water once this is all complete:

Planting Garlic

The green shoots should appear in a few weeks, and by early Summer they should be ready to harvest.  I will provide an update then about digging them up, curing, etc.

That’s about it for this time.  I hope you all are enjoying the transition from Summer to Fall.  Until next time, thanks for reading, peace!

Backyard Treats

There has been a lot going on in the garden lately, so much so that I haven’t had much time to blog with all the watering, picking, preserving, etc. that has been happening.  This is the time of year where the tomatoes are just pouring in.  Here is a sampling of what I might bring in from the garden any given morning:

Heirloom Tomatoes

This particular batch of tomatoes contained some heirloom Beefsteaks, Mr. Stripeys, Tigerela, Yellow Pear, and Tumbling Tom tomatoes.  With so many tomatoes coming in from the garden and from our CSA, we have started to do a lot of preserving.  This means we can eat local produce even during the Winter months (it wasn’t too long ago that this was the norm — prior to the days when produce was getting shipped from across the world so that we could eat strawberries in the middle of Winter).  Last year, we preserved our tomatoes by freezing.  Even though those tomatoes still tasted better than the ones from the grocery store, we didn’t like the watery consistency of the thawed tomatoes.  So this year, we have tried our hand at canning, and so far it has been going really well.  It is pretty easy — first, we just wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, and put them upside down on a baking sheet (notice that we also roasted some garlic along with the tomatoes):

Roasting Tomatoes

Then, we bake them at 450 degrees F for about 25 minutes, let them cool, pinch the skins off (optional), and then either stuff them into glass jars as is (leaving a gap at the top so that the tomatoes won’t touch the jar lid), or combine them with various herbs and spices to make a general sauce that can then be used later as a base for many dishes (spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, etc.):

Jarred Tomatoes

Once we have done this, we put them in a pot of boiling water for about 45 minutes (making sure the top of the jars are covered in at least 1 - 2 inches of water).  If you have a rack canner, this is pretty easy — if not, the only thing you have to do is put a small towel at the bottom of the pot to ensure that the glass isn’t directly touching the heat source, as that might cause the glass to break (this is the method that we use as we don’t have a canner).  Once the 45 minutes are over, set the jars on the counter overnight to cool.  You will know that they are properly sealed if in the morning, the center of the jar lids are concave and don’t pop back when you push down.  If this is the case, you can store the jar in the pantry and consume within about a year.  If this is not the case, you should consume the contents of the jars within the next few days.

In addition to tomatoes, we have also preserved some of the fresh fruit we have picked over the course of the summer including blackberries and peaches.  Here is a picture of some of the delicious peach jam we made with some of the fresh local peaches we picked:

Peach Jam

One other great thing about this time of year is the blooming of some of the later season native flowers that we have planted.  Here are pictures of the sunflowers and the black-eyed susans from our garden:

Sunflowers

Black-eyed Susans

Having this diverse set of plants in our garden and attracted many visitors, one of the coolest of which recently was the incredible Praying Mantis:

Praying Mantis

That’s it for now — I hope you enjoyed that quick update.  Pretty soon we will be planting some of the things we plan to grow over the Fall/Winter including spinach and garlic — that will likely be my next post.  Until then, thanks for reading, peace!

What’s in Season?

One of the big themes of this blog is eating local produce according to the seasons — by striving to eat what is currently growing in your area at a particular time of year, your food doesn’t have to be shipped from some place far away, which should cut down on fossil fuel usage, help your local farmers, and result in higher quality food.  In the part of Virginia where I live this generally means starting off with the early season foods that do better in the colder weather of March/April (e.g. greens, broccoli, etc.), then move onto the produce that starts to emerge when the weather warms up a bit (e.g. asparagus, strawberries, etc.), then when things start to really heat up the fruits/vegetables that thrive in warmer weather start to come in (e.g. eggplant, peppers, peaches, etc.), and finally when things begin to cool down again we go back to some of the cooler weather produce again (e.g. greens, broccoli, etc.) as well as things that are planted early but take a long time to finally produce (e.g. pumpkin, butternut squash, etc.).  This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but here is a general guideline:

March: Broccoli, cabbage, greens, herbs

April: Broccoli, cabbage, greens, herbs, asparagus

May: Greens, herbs, asparagus, cucumbers, peas, potatoes

June: Herbs, cucumbers, potatoes, beans, blackberries, summer squash, strawberries

July: Herbs, cucumbers, potatoes, beans, blackberries, summer squash, blueberries, cantaloupes,  eggplant, nectarines, peaches, peppers, raspberries, tomatoes

August: Herbs, cucumbers, beans, summer squash, blueberries, cantaloupes, eggplant, nectarines, peaches, peppers, raspberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, apples, Asian pears

September: Broccoli, cabbage, greens, herbs, beans, summer squash, cantaloupes, eggplant, peppers, raspberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, apples, Asian pears, fall squash (e.g. pumpkin, butternut, etc.)

October: Broccoli, cabbage, greens, herbs, beans, summer squash, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, apples, Asian pears, fall squash (e.g. pumpkin, butternut, etc.)

November: Broccoli, cabbage

December, January, February: During these months we would rely primarily on things that were preserved from the growing season as well as certain greens that can survive through the Winter (e.g. spinach).  Look at our Winter Garden as an example.

Of course, things may be slightly different depending on where you live.  Here is a cool website where you can enter your state and time of year, and it will generate a list of what might be in season in your area during that time:  Sustainable Table

As far as what’s happening in our garden right now, we’ve been enjoying a lot of the earlier season stuff (greens, herbs, etc.).  The later season stuff hasn’t started producing in abundance yet, however we are on the verge of that and so far have at least gotten a little taste of the variety that’s about to come — here is a picture of a few of the things I just picked this morning while watering:

Veggies

In other exciting news, you might remember that peach wine that I started making two years ago and that has been aging over the past year.  Well, we finally uncorked a bottle, and it was amazing!  I have to give myself a pat on the back for that one because I really didn’t think my first attempt at making fruit wine was going to be that successful.  What a great way to use up some of our extra local produce:

Peach wine

And finally, you may remember I mentioned that we are trying a new CSA this year.  Well, that has also turned out to be a major success.  I really did enjoy our old CSA, but as I said I was starting to feel that they were focused more on the agri-tourism aspect of farming (i.e. making a farm visit a fun family experience with rides, games, etc.) rather than on sustainable produce.  I started to notice that while their fruits/vegetables were good, they weren’t as good as what I was producing in the garden and as good as what other friends would say about their produce from different CSA’s.  So, in order to find out if it truly was just that particular CSA, I switched to Potomac Vegetable Farms this year, and wow, what a difference!  PVF isn’t as big of an operation so we don’t get as much, but what we do get is of undeniably high quality.  We actually even like that PVF operates so simply — we simply drive up to the farm stand, dump out the box with our name on it into our reusable bags, and go home.  No sign-ins, tractor rides, etc. as before.  This is reflected in the produce as well — it is so flavorful that very simple preparations result in very satisfying food (e.g. just sauteeing the greens in a little olive oil and garlic,  just grilling the squash with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper on it, etc.).  So, we’re very happy, and feel better that we are now supporting a farm more focused on sustainable produce than anything else.

That’s it for now…hopefully by my next update, the garden will be bursting!  Thanks for reading, peace.

Costa Rica!

In a society driven by consumerism, the choices we make are very important to the health of the planet.  For example, choosing to buy local/organic produce over industrial produce, buying products made from recycled/reused materials, etc.  These choices need not be isolated to products though — they can also be extended to other actions we take.  This blog post concerns choices my wife and I made on a recent vacation to Costa Rica.

For one, choosing Costa Rica as a vacation destination was an important decision on its own.  When choosing to support a place with tourist dollars, it is important to support a region that places environmentalism at the top of its priority list, and Costa Rica can serve as a model to the rest of the world in this regard.  The Costa Rican government made a decision many years ago to generate revenue for the country by preserving its natural beauty instead of exploiting it like other countries with similar ecosystems have done (e.g. Brazil).  They have done this by not only bringing large swaths of wilderness under government protection and encouraging tourism to these areas, but more importantly, have taken steps to ensure that the tourism is low-impact by developing and encouraging compliance with a program called The Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), implemented by the official Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).  If you are interested in learning more about this program, I would recommend that you visit the official website, here.

Anyway, when my wife and I booked our hotels in Costa Rica, we made sure that they were all certified by the ICT, and in fact, two of the hotels we stayed in had achieved the highest level of accreditation by the board (”5 Green Leaves”).  I wanted to share pictures of some of the steps taken by these hotels to achieve this certification.  These were genuine efforts by hotel management and staff to minimize the impact of running their hotels (we were actually able to take a “behind-the-scenes” tour of one of the hotels, so we know this wasn’t just greenwash).  I wish this was the standard for hotels everywhere!

First off is Arena del Mar, situated right next to the Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos, Costa Rica. One thing I particularly liked about this hotel is that all of the landscaping was done exclusively with native plants (for more information as to why native plants are important, please visit my previous blog post about it).  Here is a picture of the hotel’s native plant nursery:

Nursery

One other impressive aspect of this hotel was the use of solar energy — all of the hot water used at the hotel was heated with solar energy.  There were also various areas around the hotel that didn’t require much energy, so they used solar panels for their energy needs (e.g. the booth nearby the beach where you could pick up towels and such, as seen on top of the tin roof in the picture below):

Solar

The final picture below is an example of what I thought was a clever way to reuse a material that is typically the source of a lot of pollution in Costa Rica.  Next to coffee and now tourism, Costa Rica’s biggest source of revenue is banana.  The problem with bananas is that they are almost impossible to keep critters away from. So, what banana plantations do is put a blue plastic bag around each bunch of bananas in the trees.  This normally would add up to a large amount of waste, but in an effort to reuse existing material (thereby saving new material from being used and diverting existing material from the landfill), some smart Costa Ricans have started turning those plastic bags into a durable and waterproof thatching material for rooftops.  Check out this thatched roof at the hotel, made from that material:

Roof

There were tons of other things that Arenas del Mar did at their hotel, but this blog post would be huge if I posted pictures of everything, so I’ll just name a few more before moving onto the next hotel:  Only electric golf carts are allowed for transportation once you are on the hotel grounds, all of the rooms contain refillable dispensers for shampoo, soap, etc. instead of those little plastic bottles (something I previously pointed out as a great idea at the Good Hotel in San Francisco), they compost their kitchen waste, and finally, one of the biggest sources of pollution from hotels, laundry, is managed using the Ozone Washing System (which eliminates the need for hot water, large amounts of detergent, etc., by oxygenating the water in order to clean the laundry).

The next hotel, Villa Blanca, in the cloud forest about 2 hours outside of San Jose, contained many of the same aspects as Arenas del Mar, but made two additional efforts that are particularly relevant to this blog.  For one, quite a bit of the produce used in their restaurant comes from the greenhouse located on the premises (it was very obvious from the quality of the food).  Here is a picture:

Greenhouse

Next, they had a naturalist research center located on the hotel grounds that was currently doing a study on the diversity of nocturnal insects (specifically moths) located within the cloud forest.  Not only did we get to take a tour of their facility during the day, but we got to see one of their collection sites at night, when the moths were active and congregating around the lamp they setup — it was like a big party:

Moths

By supporting operations such as these, we help the planet in many ways, one of which is preserving the biodiversity of life that surrounds us.  In a place like Costa Rica, this biodiversity is particularly mind-blowing.  As such, in closing, I will leave you with a sampling of pictures highlighting the various animals, insects, etc. that we encountered during our trip.  I hope they will amaze you to the point where you will also consider traveling responsibly in order to help keep this beauty around!

Woodpecker:

Woodpecker

Howler Monkey:

Howler

Iguana:

Iguana

Toucan:

Toucan

Dragonfly:

Dragonfly

Poison dart frog:

Frog

Bats:

Bats

Zig-zag Spider:

Spider

Crocodile:

Croc

Sloth:

Sloth

Pygmy rain frog:

pygmy

Orange-kneed tarantula:

Tarantula

“Owl eyes” moth:

Moth

I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  My next post will contain updates from the garden.  Until then, thanks for reading…peace!