September 08, 2009

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BLAST FROM THE PAST Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah enjoys the results) In the course of my dangerous and challenging research fo r the Orchard Mystery series, I have been forced to investigate the dark depths of...farmers markets. My garden this year has been less than bounteous (look! three tomatoes! twelve beans! and the slugs ate all the zucchini!), but others have fared better, and it is a real treat to go exploring. But I have found a time warp: in Plymouth (yes, that Plymouth). Plymouth's farmers market is something else. It occupies an unbeatable site, literally on the shores of Plymouth Harbor, complete with bobbing boats and drifts of seaweed and sweeping views. It would be worth visiting just for that. More important, it is an almost totally organic market. And there are a number of bonuses–local seafood, including affordable lobster; goat cheese; grass-fed meat; homebaked breads; dips and salads. All local products, trucked no more than a few miles. Foodie heaven. But that's still not all. I must admit that I was a child of the sixties, and although I didn't inhale (well, not much), I knew my share of mildly counter-culture types. I even had friends that belonged to (gasp) a food co-op (although the one memory of their produce that sticks in my mind was helping one of them to pick the pebbles out of the bulk beans). So walking into the Plymouth market is like taking a step back in time. I have found that organic farmers take their mission very seriously (heck, I even wrote about it in Rotten to the Core). Not that I can argue with them: their goal is to produce food that is both healthy for you and tastes good. And it is a joy to wander from booth to booth at the market, admiring the fingerling potatoes and the many-colored carrots and beets. One week I came home with four different kinds of eggplant, and that didn't even exhaust the choices. The goat stall offers not only cheese, but goat milk, goat butter, goat yoghurt, and goat ice cream (I'm working my way up to that last one). This past week they even brought a goat along–a six-week-old charmer named Aster. Aster was a big hit among the children who were there. And that's another aspect: the market as entertainment. The vendors want to bring families in, so they offer story time and music (this week there was an earnest group singing about saving our trees, and in the past they've had a wonderful Celtic harpist), and animals you can pet (look, Mommy, I touched a chicken!). (And toilet facilities, complete with a changing table for infants.) I can only imagine how exciting it must be to a child to see the colorful wealth of food they can choose from. (To be fair, I knew what fresh vegetables looked like when I was growing up; my mother exposed me to such exotic things as avocados and asparagus and endive, flying in the face of that wonder-food of the fifties, frozen vegetables.) There's also a component of the market as education. Beyond the wild and wonderful array of vegetables, there are usually booths dispensing information. One week it may be about principles of organic farming. This past week is was about midwives. When was the last (or first?) time you saw that? So, as I said, venturing into the Plymouth Farmers Market is like stepping back into another time and place, into a tight-knit community that cares about food and wants others to share their enthusiasm. And it is good food, as I can attest. It even comes with honest dirt attached. Hey, folks, potatoes come out of the ground! That's soil! Somebody like Michael Pollan or Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out somewhere (please, it's a holiday–don't make me go find the source.) that when when talking to groups of city children, they hear questions like, "how do you put the carrots into the ground?" Too many children have lost the connection between growing and eating, and that is sad. Food does not grow in styrofoam packages with shrink-wrap, but will the current generation ever know that? There is one big obstacle to eating organic produce: cost. It's one of those chicken-and-egg things (tongue firmly wedged in cheek). Most organic farmers run fairly limited operations. They don't use chemicals, so their produce may be smaller and gnarlier than the giant glowing examples we're used to seeing in our markets. They don't receive government subsidies for their crops (and don't get me started on the evils of corporate agriculture–just go see Food, Inc.). And they can't produce a crop year-round, so they have to make all their profits during their growing/harvest season. All of this drives up the prices they have to charge. Understandably, consumers don't want to pay more than they have to, so they go to their supermarkets and buy apples from New Zealand and broccoli from Mexico, and they're happy to have them all year round, whenever they want. Which has nothing to do with the agricultural world. So organic farmers face an uphill battle to educate consumers and convince them that clean, locally-grown food tastes better and is ecologically responsible. If they can convince enough people, then the price may come down. That's how the market works. I'm convinced. And in an age when speed and convenience seems to be the driving factor in food consumption, it's nice to step back and really take a look at what we're eating and how we're preparing it. We have taken so much of the pleasure out of food, and we need to recapture that. We'll all be the better for it. These are my own tomatoes. Unfortunately they are the total of my tomato crop this year. So far.
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I Might Be Dead By Morning Posted by Kate Flora If the number of people sweating it out at the gym today are any indication, I'm not the only one who has turned the corner into fall and decided to get more serious about health and fitness. That seriousness has already gotten me a trainer--it began as a series of three sessions and has now morphed into a weekly "fitness date." Next week I hope to have some pictures, but suffice it to say that my trainer is young enough to be my son, fit enough to send me into despair, and has enough tattoos to star in a graphic novel. He also has a very sweet way of conning me into lifting more weight, and doing more reps, than I am capable of doing. Then he sits back and grins as I try to do that one last set with deplorable form and shaking arms that make me feel more like Olive Oyl than Popeye. While he is trying to con me, and I'm trying to distract him, we have conversations about the latest research into health and fitness. I send him articles about the risks of sugar and how doing crunches the new way with the back pressed firmly toward the floor may not be best for overall core strength. He threatens to bring in a new program which will, given my measurements, will chart my progress toward that Dallas Cheerleader body I long for. Okay. Here's truth. I have no interest in looking like those silly girls in white shorts. But what I've read is that what makes their figures look so good is not so much largest chests as small waists. And so I'm suffering the tortures of exercise in order to create a nice, small waist. Of course we also talk a lot about eating healthy food, and that reminds me that this summer, despite the availability of fresh food at the local farmer's markets, has not been one for the good nutrition books. Unfortunately, the world's greatest cheeseburger sub is sold at that stand in Brunswick, Maine, which is right next to the organic tomatoes, the fresh baby kale, the small onions and eggplants for roasting, and the bunches of fresh herbs. So it has not been a very well-behaved summer. I've bought boatloads of vegetables. And I've succumbed to Dannys more often than I should have. Today, I vowed reform, yet again. (How often have I said this? Remember that line in Wind in the Willows: Toad Must Reform? Well, Toad is trying.) So, following up on something else that I've read, which is that it takes the stomach twenty minutes to know that you've been eating, so begin a meal with soup and you'll feel fuller faster and eat less, I decided to make some soup tonight to lead into our shrimp and avocado salad and fresh melon. Well, I have this lovely bunch of fresh baby kale, and I have shitake mushrooms, and I'm going to make my famous "power soup," but I like to throw in a bit of beef or chicken. So I go downstairs to the freezer and lo and behold! Something that looks like a wee bit of frozen steak. Yes. This is the point in the narrative where I finally explain the title of this week's blog. I bring the steak upstairs to thaw, and discover that it is buffalo. Now, I have no memory of ever having bought a buffalo steak. I can't imagine that I ever would have bought a buffalo steak. But here it is, in my refrigerator. And it looks quite lean and delicious and is just the right size to cut up and put into my soup. So I do. Then. Later. My husband and I are eating the soup, and I tell him that he's eating buffalo. He gives me the funny look. He knows that I am adventurous with vegetables but not with meat. "Buffalo?" he says. I explain about finding it in the downstairs freezer. And then we both sit back and imagine people going surreptitiously from house to house, leaving plausible, yet slight mysterious, items in the freezer. This would work find with someone as absent-minded as I am. Someone who runs two houses and two kitchens all summer and by September is terminally confused about food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and clothing. Indeed, by September, you could probably put an entire BUFFALO in my house and I'd just pat it on the hump and dust it. So we shall see. It might be that mysterious, insidious individual who is leaving odd food in people's refrigerators and will be long gone by the time we ingest them and wake up dead. Of course, if I die in the night, you probably won't get to read this. Last week...or some time recently, I promised my mother's bread recipe. My mother was a food writer, and one thing she was always trying to do was find ways to sneak more nutrition into what her children ate. This is a variable recipe which lets you make five different kinds of bread. She created it so that my brother John, my sister Sara, and I could learn to make bread, become invested in our food, and hopefully, be healthy and good bakers. When I was fourteen, and working as an assistant cook at a summer writer's colony, I made this bread and got a standing ovation. Five Bowl Breads for Beginners Cornmeal Bran Wheat Germ Rolled Oats Shredded Wheat Warm water 1 ½ c. 1 ½ c. 1 ½ c. 1 ½ c. 1 ½ c. Sugar ¼ c. **** **** ¼ c. ¼ c. Molassses **** ¼ c. ¼ c. **** **** Grain 1 c. 1 c. 1 c. 1 c. 3 biscuits Yeast 1 pkg. 1 pkg. 1 pkg. 1 pkg. 1 pkg. Salt 2 tsp. 2 tsp. 2 tsp. 2 tsp. 2 tsp. Egg yolks 2 2 2 2 2 Oil 1/3 c. 1/3...

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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