Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Changing Your Diet Can Save The Planet

Despite growing publicity, a significant number of people are still unaware of the connection between food and climate change. They don’t realize that the meat on their plate was probably raised in an environmentally damaging CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), with little to no regard for the animal’s welfare. They don’t think about the immense amount of greenhouse gas emmiting fossil fuels that are burned to produce, process, package, and ship their food to them (take a look at the label on your produce- there’s a good chance it doesn’t say USA on it).

This is why I recommend Anna Lappe’s book, Diet for a Hot Planet. The connection between food and environmental sustainability is an in-depth and complex subject, but Lappe makes it easy to understand. The author uses plenty of evidence, all documented, to support her claims, and information is laid out in a logical way. She explains all the dangers of genetically modified crops, industrialized large-scale agribusiness, corporations like Monsanto and Unilever, and chemical-intensive farming. Even more importantly, she supplies readers with tips on how they can make changes when it comes to food that actually help both the planet and the consumer (i.e. buy local, reducing emissions from food transport, and organic, reducing chemicals put into land, food, and body). The book highlights the problems posed by industrial agriculture, while also instilling in the reader the sense that he/she can do something about it by making different decisions at the grocery store or, better yet, the farmers’ market.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pictures of the New Chicken Coop

Maine Maple Sunday

Who knew chocolate and maple made a good combination?
         Today is Maine Maple Sunday. According to the Maine Maple Producers Association, “Sap can only be harvested while it’s moving through the trunk. The sugar in sap is stored as starch throughout the year. During the spring, the warm days and cold nights help change these starches to sugars and the flow of sweet sap begins.” Science has never sounded so delicious to me. In honor of this delectable natural sweetener, I made maple cupcakes with chocolate maple ganache, as well as some granola sweetened with maple syrup. These recipes are a good way to get out from under the thumb of processed sugar. I used organic maple syrup from Maine Maple Products, a Maine company, since I’m always trying to go organic and local.
I took the cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. You must buy this cookbook whether you are vegan or not; I’m not, by the way. The cupcakes are delicious and the recipes are pretty easy. If you know someone who is lactose intolerant, this is the dessert cookbook for them. It gives an overview of all of the specialty ingredients (you should be able to find all of the ingredients for most of the recipes in any larger grocery store), equipment, and baking tips you may need. Also, it has a troubleshooting section just in case something goes wrong.
          The granola recipe is available online from the NY Times. It is low in fat, quick, and very flexible about adding nuts, seeds, and dried fruit of your choice. I just use the oats, nuts, cinnamon, salt, and maple syrup. It would be difficult to mess this recipe up. I mean, you could try if you wanted, but I don’t know why you would. Both recipes are easy and full of maple syrupy goodness.
This granola is great plain or in yogurt for some added crunch.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Seedlings and Rare Breed Chickens

Tomato and Onion Seedlings
         I am very excited to announce that the seeds I planted two weekends ago are popping up! Time to get bulbs into the grow light. Onions were the first to make an appearance, followed by Moskvich tomatoes and tomatillos. There’s no sign of the celery, eggplant, or squash, but a quick Google search revealed that the eggplant seeds need more heat to germinate than tomatoes, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that. I may have to wait it out.
Tomato Seedlings
         Also, I thought I’d forgotten to order a cherry tomato this year, but one came in the mail today so I guess I rememb­­ered. Black-out episodes of seed buying makes it seem like I’ve got a problem or something. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a package of heirloom Red Pear Cherry Tomatoes from High Mowing Organic Seeds. I started them along with Sarian Strawberries from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, some Oriental Poppies that were given to me by a sales rep at work, and an heirloom White Italian Sunflower, also from High Mowing Organic Seeds. The poppies and sunflowers are going into my flower cutting beds so I can have fresh cut flowers in the house all summer. Since my office is now home to about 42 peat pots and a 36 cell flat of seeds and seedlings, I should probably stop seed starting or run the risk of taking over other rooms in the house and needing to buy another grow light. I just need spring to show up in full force so the snow will melt and I can start getting beds ready.
          On another note, my mom recently ordered some Chantecler chicks from a company in Vermont. The Chantecler chicken is a rare and endangered breed, native to Canada, that is supposed to be cold hearty (important since I live in Maine), and good for both laying and meat. We’ll be doing our part to continue the breed. Since she isn’t allowed to have chickens where she lives, my mom will be keeping them at my house. Yay for me! She’s on the self-sufficiency train as well, so this is a big step for us towards being more self-reliant. We’ll have our own eggs, meat, and veggies this year. I’m particularly happy about the eggs because I haven’t been able to buy them at the supermarket since the salmonella scare months ago (thank God for farmers’ markets). The coop is being delivered soon, and then we’ll be off to pick up chicks J To learn more about Chantecler chickens, check out the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) website.

Chantecler Pullet
Picture from www.mypetchicken.com

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homemade Soup and Bread

Looks like I wont have to cook for a few days :)
     Soup and bread are the perfect combination, and it helps that soup can be pretty easy to make. This weekend I made Butternut Squash Soup and No-Knead Bread. The soup recipe comes straight from the Crock Pot website. I don't know about you, but I love the crock pot for weekends when I have a million and one things to do; insert ingredients and walk away. This soup is super easy to put together, makes a big batch, and tastes great. The hardest part is peeling the squash (there must be some trick to it  that doesn't involve me cutting myself?). You can find the recipe for squash soup here.
      I was able to find all organic ingredients except for the squash, which came from Honduras. Really? No local butternut squash in New England? Hence the goal to grow my own vegetables. Transporting squash from the backyard to my kitchen is a lot more sustainable than from somewhere in Honduras to my kitchen.
A little flat and floury, but still yummy.
     Now for the bread. I usually make bread in the bread maker, operating on the same principle as the crock pot: insert ingredients and walk away. There is something to be said for handmade bread, however, so I gave it a whirl. I found a recipe from the NY Times Online for No-Knead Bread, by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. As the name implies, there is no need to knead this bread, which saves time and effort. The bread first needs to rise for 12-18 hours so plan ahead. Read the directions more carefully than I did so you don't miss the "let stand for 15 min. before rolling into a ball" step. If you do, you'll end up dumping a pound of flour on it because it's so sticky. You will also end up with a bit too much flour dusted on top of the bread after it's baked, which you will have to brush of knock off. Finally, use fresh yeast. I didn't and the bread came out much flatter than it was supposed to. All of that aside, the bread is delicious and the perfect accompaniment to soup. It does requires some sort of enamel or cast iron pot for baking. You can find the recipe for No-Knead Bread here.
     While I definitely want to improve on my cooking skills to be able to make more complex recipes, easy recipes, crock pots, bread makers, etc. are great for amateur cooks like myself, as well as for busy people. Cooking more at home is an easy way to save money and make healthy food that's not overly processed. I'm pretty sure my soup, Honduras squash aside, is healthier than some sodium and preservative laden soup from a can.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seedlings, Snow, and a Meyer Lemon Tree?

     I was especially perturbed when I woke up to snow this morning. I had already started seeds last week, which was my official notice to Mother Nature that winter was over; apparently, she didn't get the message. Luckily, the snow didn't last and I can still see the top of one of my raised beds peeking through all that white.
     While I'm not so patiently waiting for my 32 peat pots to show signs of life, I am pleased to note that the Meyer lemon tree I received for Christmas has quite a few little flower buds on it. According to HHMS (Her Holiness Martha Stewart), I'll need a little paint brush in order to brush the inside of each flower to help pollination. Other than that, all focus is on the seedlings-to-be. I ended up using an organic seeds starter since compost was no where to be found and I'm a little stressed by the watering, as usual. You don't want to drown them, but you don't want to dry them out either. Also, it seems like every time I check they're still damp, even though I haven't watered them much. I think it may be because there isn't enough air circulation in the office, now gardening headquarters, so I'll have to leave the door open.
The Snuggler
     We usually keep it closed due to the fact that we have two Huskies, one of which has a penchant for any and all things mischievous. The last time I used a fish emulsion to fertilize the lemon tree, I caught him trying to lick soil out of the pot. He likes to do naughty things in the middle of the night when no one is awake to catch him, so hopefully I don't wake up to peat pots and soil strewn about the house tomorrow. Here's hoping.
The Mischievous One

Friday, March 11, 2011

Seeds Are Here

     The majority of the seeds I ordered came in! I've been tearing open my mailbox every day for about a week looking for them. They're all organic except for some strawberry seeds I'm ordering from Johnny's, which didn't have an organic equivalent. I took inventory of my seed starting supplies, but all I have left are ten 3" peat pots from last year. Looks like I'll be making a  trip to the garden center this weekend. Everything I read says to use a seed starting mix, but all of my successful seedlings were started in compost last year; I figure, why mess with a good thing? I'll also be making a run to the hardware store to get light bulbs for my grow light.
      I ordered several heirloom varieties this year, including an heirloom pie pumpkin and Rouge D'Hiver Lettuce. I bought a couple different kinds of tomato seeds with the intention of making and freezing plenty of tomato sauce- a bit ambitious considering the pitiful showing my tomatoes had last year but try, try again as they say. I also ordered an adorable eggplant called a Rosa Bianca eggplant. Baba Ganoush anyone? I'm looking forward to spinach, zucchini, peas, green beans, carrots, squash, and a bunch of other veggies this year. Of course, I still need to construct several more raised beds and have a truckload of compost delivered, but that wont be happening until the snow melts.
     All in all, I'd say it was an exciting day. There's something hopeful about warming weather and seed starting.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ready, Set, Garden!

Ok, this title may be a bit premature, especially considering we're still buried under several feet of snow and I'm writing this while wearing long underwear, two layers of socks, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and another sweatshirt on top of that. Spring will come, however, and then I will begin my first year truly dedicated to a more sustainable away of life. Before continuing, I should give some history as to how I came to this point.
Three years ago I was working in a job I hated with people that I liked even less. I booked a trip to England to get away for a week. It was actually this trip to England that planted a little pastoral seed in my brain. After spending several days in the bustling city of London, my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I boarded a train to Bath. Being from small towns in Maine, our brains were still on overload from all of the London stimuli. It was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life to look out the train window and watch the English countryside roll by, green grass and sheep out to pasture. Of course this was after we were kicked off the train in Reading to await the next train we were actually supposed to be on- you know, a minor hiccup. Moving on.
I thought how lucky the farmers of those sheep were. They got to be outside with the fresh air, connected to the land. They had a freedom to their lives and a personal investment in their livelihood that I envied and was denied from my job. I had no illusions as to how much work it was, but it seemed a worthy work. I decided to do it. I could be the farmer instead of envying the farmer. I would be able to work for myself and do something that felt productive and worth while.
At that point the dream was vague. I wanted to be a farmer but I wasn't sure what kind of farmer or exactly what it would entail. I’d barely ever planted anything before. Three years later, after some trial gardening and a lot of research and help from a green thumbed mother, I’m at least on my way to a large organic kitchen garden that will greatly increase my personal sustainability. I'll grow, pick, cook, and freeze my own vegetables. It’s not a farm yet, but it’s progress. This blog will chronicle my adventures towards a more self-sufficient way of life.