New Year’s Intentions, Part 2: What to NEVER, EVER Buy Conventionally (or What to Grow in Your Garden)

I was so excited about all the fancy words in my last post that I neglected the real meat/reason I wrote that post in the first place: to document which foods are best to buy organic and which are passable when conventionally grown.

During the summer, we hardly buy vegetables at all. We have so much growing in our yard that it’s difficult to eat it all at times. During the winter, though, we rely on others to grow our produce. The insane things we allow to be sprayed on our fruits and vegetables in this country totally freak me out, particularly now that we have a tiny, small being who loves fruits and vegetables in the house.

But the thing about buying organic or solely at the farmers market? $$$$. Really. I hate to say it, but $$$$. And also? Selection (at least at the standard chain grocery stores). And getting downtown to the weekly winter farmers market with a baby is just not always practical.

Dirty Dozen: The Environmental Working Group has a list of foods you should absolutely, never, OMG-you’ll-turn-green-and-die buy if conventionally grown. Strawberries are a really great one to grow at home instead (as well as spinach, snap peas, hot peppers, bell peppers, celery… shoot, just grow ’em all)!

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes
  • Hot peppers
  • Blueberries (domestic)

Clean Fifteen: Look how many of Willem’s favorite foods are on this list! SCORE!

  • Avocados (BABY FAVE)
  • Sweet corn (BABY FAVE)
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas (frozen) (BABY FAVE)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Cauliflower (BABY FAVE)
  • Sweet potatoes (BABY FAVE)

Resolutions: Confessions of the Garden and Eating Variety

So this is kind of embarrassing to admit, considering I love my garden and all growing green things so much AND considering I work for an urban micro-farming/health and wellness/general “get awesome with your bad self” non-profit… but wow, have we ever fallen off the healthy eating wagon as of late.

My biggest intention for 2015? Get back into whole, healthy, organic eating. Period. As much as possible.

20141231. Good intentions for 2015.

It started when Willem was born. I had no energy to make much in the way of healthy food, and I was starving ALL THE TIME, breastfeeding Willem, so getting calories of any kind was more important than trying to piece together healthy meals. 

Add to that the fact that the garden itself was rather sad last summer (I was a little too preoccupied with general functioning and raising a wee babe), and so even during prime eating season, we weren’t eating super great. Then… in saunters winter. And everything falls to shit.

Willem eats wonderfully. He is very much interested in food, and at 10.5 months, he still has never had a jar of store-bought baby food. The problem? Willem eats better than us. By a lot.

Which brings us to my goal of getting more healthy, whole, organic foods back into our lives. We’ll be looking into a meat CSA again for the early winter/spring and going organic (and hopefully local) for our vegetables. It’ll get easier once our SUPER-AWESOME GARDEN OF 2015 starts producing this spring, but the next few months will be a good testing ground.

20140104. Garden planning, v.2015.

Also? I just got this amazing book from my in-laws for Christmas. So excited to curl up with this, a wee glass of whiskey, and watch the snow fly outside.
Day 71. Wonderful Christmas gift from my in-laws and SNOW and football. Ahhh, Sunday. #100happydays

The Baby (Food) Bourgeoisie*

The other day, Willem had a late harvest medley with deconstructed meatballs for lunch. Oh, yeah. We’ve reached a new level of fine baby dining.

Willem's dinner: chard, lentils, and some sauce.

What exactly is that, you wonder? I’m glad you asked. It’s actually pureed spinach and carrots mixed with ground beef, onions, and garlic I had cooked up for chili for the grown ups in the house. But it sounds so much more intriguing when described all fancy-like, doesn’t it?

The chard is as big as Willem.

I’m kicking myself for not planting some more fall chard. Willem loves spinach, and chard is basically like spinach on steroids, right?

The other day, he had chard from the backyard mixed with lentils and apple sauce from our trip to Andersen Orchard. And yes, I sampled it. Pretty delicious, I must say.

*NOTE: You know how I remember how to spell “bourgeoisie”? I pronounce it in my head “bur-gee-OY-zee.” Every time. One of these days, I’ll slip and say it out loud.

What else is new? Well, our sweet guy is eight months old today. Consequently, getting his monthly pictures has gotten a tad trickier.

20141018. 8 months old.

20141018. 8 months old.

Love love love you, you majestic little creature, you.
Hanging with my favorite almost 8-month-old.

Our Freezer Has Never Witnessed This Level of Beauty

No, for real. Look at how pretty our freezer is these days! I could cry.

20140930. Our freezer is a magical, colorful land of baby food.

We’ve got carrots, pumpkin, apple sauce, black beans, berries, sweet potatoes, chicken noodle soup, peas, and spinach all in puree form… and some chocolate peanut butter ice cream for the grown ups.

Also, Willem had spaghetti (mixed with winter squash puree) for the first time today. I think he’s a fan.

20140930. Willem's first spaghetti (with winter squash).

In other “I like to eat things” news, here I am trying to teach Willem that eating grass is icky. It’s a work in progress. He IS quite small.

Adventures in EATING, Baby Edition

It is so strange to me that I get to witness another human being’s first time ever eating stuff. We like food over here, as evidenced by our garden (and our restaurant/takeout bill – up until last month when we decided we really needed to cut it out if we are going to be able to survive on one income). I was really hoping Willem would like food, too. General consensus? Does he ever.

20140726. New high chair. And our awesome kid.

No, really. I swear he likes food. This is just his well-honed Elvis impression.

Like, yesterday? Willem ate PEAS for the first time. Ever. In his life. And he was all, “Hey, it’s no big thing, I’m just eating PEAS. For the first time. Which, by the way, are REALLY GOOD, and CAN I PLEASE HAVE SOME MORE? Right MEOW?

Half a year old today.

Beets are also a serious fave.

It’s also kind of amazing watching his little brain work. He’s at the stage where, if you put a Cheerio or overcooked piece of broccoli or green bean in front of him, he gets laser sharp focus on whatever is on that tray. First he rakes it into his fist. If he gets a good grip on it and part of it is sticking out (on the mouth side, that is), he’s in business. If not, he sucks on his hand, shoving as much of it in as he can in hopes of getting that little food morsel out. If not? Well, he drops it back on the tray and starts all over again. Baby development = super cool to see.

20140724. Sweet potatoes are GOOD.

SO WHAT’S ON THE MENU? This is mostly for my own reference (and for times when I will inevitably feel uninspired re: Willem snacks and need a reminder of some faves), but here are just a few things our little guy has inhaled. We haven’t had to buy baby food yet – just made this stuff from fresh and frozen produce:

  • Sweet potato sticks, green beans, and broccoli (cooked soft so he can feed himself)
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup
  • Peas, spinach, and lentils
  • Banana and pumpkin with a little pumpkin pie spice
  • Beets!
  • Peas!
  • Carrots and apple sauce
  • Broccoli, carrots, and spinach
  • Black beans with just about anything
  • Lentils with just about anything
  • Peaches and blueberries

So we’ve got eating down. Now if we could just figure out how to not end up with sweet potato or spinach up our nose and down our sleeves.

Squash Bake. Squash Bake. Party Time. Excellent.

Currently, we have a bit of a squash problem – meaning we have seven, count ’em, SEVEN large green and yellow squash taking up half a shelf in our fridge. Keep in mind, this is after pickling five pounds of the beasts, making almost countless loaves of zucchini bread (really, I think we’re up to about eight, at this point), and devouring a previous squash bake.

20130714. So THIS happened: suddenly, it's summer!

When a friend told me her mom makes apple crisp in the summer but replaces apples with summer squash, I was all for it. Health food, it is not. But our house smells of wonderful baking deliciousness and cinnamon right now, and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. Because if you could smell it, you’d be jealous right now.

SQUASH BAKE, SQUASH BAKE, PARTY TIME, EXCELLENT. Helllllooooo, 1992!

SQUASH OATMEAL CRISP
Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups peeled, chopped squash (1/2″ cubes will do)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Putting It All Together

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oats, flour, and butter. Mix until crumbly. Lightly press half of crumb mixture into pan.
  • Spread the squash evenly over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and top with remaining crumb mixture.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

In other news, today was another amazing day at ye olde urban farming apprenticeship. We spent the morning picking onions, weeding, and planting broccoli seedlings with Genesis and Eli, the farmers at Full Hand Farm. On our way out, I told Tyler, part of the Growing Places Indy dynamic duo, that I think I heart Genesis and Eli, and he said, “They make it easy to heart them.”

Check out some beautiful photos of their farm and a little more of their story at Farm Stories, a photography project by local photographer Kelley Jordan.

I am just so continually impressed, inspired, and encouraged by the farmers in this area, their stories, and their advice, wisdom, and knowledge. I get the warm fuzzies every single Tuesday when we visit other farms and community organizations. The willingness to share knowledge and experiences and personal stories with us has been downright heartwarming, and I doubt I will ever have quite this experience to this extent again.

P.S. Click here for a special little snippet of today’s magic, captured by the lovely Kate: Eli playing a squash stalk like a trumpet. Who knew?!

Things That Should Never Be Uttered on a Friday Evening

This may or may not have been stated, rather boldly and with a small measure of gusto, just a moment ago: “I gotta go put on my comfy pants and write a blog post about bran muffins.”

Yup. Welcome to FRIDAY EVENING, SPACE-FARM EDITION!

But seriously, the mulberries are off the chain this year. You might be a little bit dead to me if the fantastic berry season facing us in central Indiana this spring/summer has somehow passed by you, unnoticed. The chickens have noticed: their beaks (and poops) are all dark purple-black from all the mulberries they’ve been eating.

20130620. MULBERRIES.

So in honor of this booming berry year, Friday evening or no Friday evening, I’m going to shout from the rooftops my favorite mulberry bran muffin recipe. When all of you are groggy, hungover, or still sleeping tomorrow morning, I’ll be baking up a batch of these delicious nuggets and eating ’em all warm and buttery and whatnot, fresh from the oven. How you like me now?

BEST MULBERRY BRAN MUFFIN RECIPE TO EVER GRACE YOUR COLON
(Adapted from Farm Girl Susan’s awesome recipe, which also includes a kajillion other mods)

INPUTS (makes about 10 muffins):
– 1 cup wheat bran
– 1/2 cup organic oat bran
– 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 large egg
– 1/3 cup soy/almond/regular milk
– 1/3 cup yogurt
– 1/6 cup safflower oil (or other neutral oil or melted organic butter)
– 1/3 cup sweet molasses, honey, or combination of the two
– A dash of lemon extract
– A healthy shake of cinnamon
– 1 cup frozen mulberries (don’t thaw)

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT STUFF:
Pre-heat oven to 375°. Line muffin pan with muffin cups (mine have pirates on them… I highly recommend pirate cups).

Combine the wheat bran, oat bran, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Combine the eggs, milk, yogurt, canola oil, molasses, lemon extract, and honey in a small bowl and mix well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until combined. Fold in the mulberries.

Generously fill the muffin cups with batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the muffins in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully remove them and serve warm – or not. Any temperature will do.

20130620. MULBERRIES.

Also, I happen to be completely, slap-happily exhausted right now. So this, comfy pants, white bean hummus, and a movie is about all I can muster at the present. Sneak peek for tomorrow, though: I can’t wait to tell you all about our totally heartwarming, life affirming visit to the Felege Hiywot Center.

Strawberry Yields Forever

Strawberry season is in full effect, y’all, and I think it’s safe to say that our strawberries have established themselves. Last spring, I planted four plants, and we got two strawberries. TWO.

This year, in our single 4’x4′ strawberry section of one of our raised beds, we have gotten almost more strawberries than we can eat. I say “almost,” because I really don’t think there is such a thing as “too many strawberries.”

20130609. Strawberries, mint, garlic scapes, peas, and strawberry-mint simple syrup.

This morning’s yield: strawberries, grapefruit mint, garlic scapes out the yin-yang, a few peas, our first itty bitty cherry tomatoes, and the most amazing strawberry-mint simple syrup ever.

So far, we have done the following with said strawberries:

  • Eaten ’em up.
  • Crushed ’em up with mint for some strawberry-mint water.
  • Boiled ’em down with mint to make strawberry-mint simple syrup.
  • Baked ’em up with a little sugar (“lazy person’s strawberry jam”) and spooned ’em over buttered bagels.
20130609. Strawberry season is in full effect.

The only bittersweet part about our epic strawberry yield: give it a few more weeks, and it will be over until next year.

Note: I unabashedly stole the title of this blog post from Jonny Yuma, a cool dude back in Bloomington and all-around nice guy. It’s just so brilliant!

Honorary Titles: Best Stay-at-Home Whatever?

I’ve decided that, if given the opportunity, I really could be… THE GREATEST STAY-AT-HOME WHATEVER TO EVER STAY AT HOME. It’s unfortunate that work gets in the way of all my amazing activities, keeping me from actualizing my true potential to stay at home, being whatever, and making and doing all day long.

But it’s okay. The work part probably keeps me (sort of, mostly, kind of) sane.

Here’s my recent resume of what I’ve been making and doing lately, which I think clearly puts me at least in the running to be greatest stay-at-home whatever: We brewed our first batch of beer last Sunday, and now our front closet smells delectably of beer…

20130410. Our hall closet smells like beer.

To be fair, I was more the helper. Chris is the real brewmaster in training.

Ever since, I’ve been feeding the spent grains to both the chickens and to Birdie (in the form of these amazingly easy dog biscuits):

20130410. Birdie's spent grain biscuits - before and after.

I think she approves.

The sweet potatoes continue to grow:
20130410. Sweet potatoes continue to grow.

And the barley fodder tray has begun to green up. Soon, the chickens will be munching on delicious barley greens (and in a few weeks, they’ll have free rein over the yard again).
20130410. Growing barley for the chickens.

I was also terribly impressed with myself: I SUCCESSFULLY made Neufchatel cheese with dried rosemary and lavender from last year’s garden (and with the prompting and encouragement of a fellow blogger, Chris Kafer, whose blog is one of the few I make a point of checking in on regularly!). This turned out better than I could have hoped and is amazing on bagels.

20130410. Homemade Neufchatel with rosemary and lavender.

NEUF. CHA. TEL! NEUF. CHA. TEL!

So wouldn’t you agree? I would totally be the best stay-at-home whatever that stayed at home doing whatever. EVER.

Spring: “Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?”

Why, yes, Spring. Yes, it was you I was looking for (for which I was looking? anyway…). Thanks for being all fashionably late and stuff.

True to weekend form, let’s just stick with a no-frills bullet point list of how Chris and I celebrated nicer weather today:

  • Attended an awesome urban backyard chickens workshop over at Fall Creek Gardens. Maggie, you crack me up (and make me feel like less of a crazy chicken lady, what with all we do to keep our chickens healthy and happy)!
  • Planted some of the kale in the outdoor beds. Looking at the forecast for next week, I think I’m going to get the rest of the kale and maybe the cabbage in the ground tomorrow, too.
  • Bought some propane, hooked up the new turkey fryer, and prepped the new giant brew kettle to make our first attempt ever at brewing our own beer tomorrow! (Note: Chris really did all of the above, but I’m super stoked to boil up our first batch tomorrow morning. The brew kettle is comically large and made me laugh out loud this morning when I walked into the kitchen, as it takes up our entire kitchen table. Pictures to follow!).
  • Planted a flat of sweet clover and started my own barley fodder trays to give the chickens some nice, fresh things to eat until we have the garden fence firmly in place. I’ll let you know how the barley trays works – it’s my first attempt at it, but it sounds ridiculously simple. Knowing me, I’ll find a way to jack it up.
  • Went to the grocery store to buy, among other things, ingredients to make another delicious egg casserole and Neufchatel cheese from scratch. It will be my first attempt at making such a cheese and only my second attempt at cheese-making ever.
  • Turned over a bunch of compost, uncovered glorious amounts of worms, and opened the compost bins up to the chickens. At one point, four of the five girls had jumped into the bin on the hunt for worms, pecking and scratching around. Help me process that compost, chickens!

So at this point in the garden, we have garlic, lettuce, kale, and a bunch of seeds, just waiting to germinate. Spring: the most wonderful time of the year.

WE HAVE LETTUCE.