Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Root cellars

I want an old-fashioned root cellar. These are storage places for food (not just root vegetables) that do not require electricity for temperature or humidity control, but keep foods fresh throughout the year.

Root cellars vary greatly, from a barrel dug into the ground to an entire room dug into a slope or hillside. There are four important factors to consider when building one: temperature, humidity, ventilation and pest impenetrability.

First, the temperature of a root cellar should be somewhere above freezing, but not more than 40 degrees (like a refrigerator). Temperatures depend on depth dug into the ground (the deeper you go, the less likely you are to dip below freezing), what direction it is facing (south-facing will get warmer) and whether you add insulation. Because our NY winters are cold, but not harsh, and the frost line gets to about 12-18 inches, it is a good idea to either dig a barrel root cellar so that food is stored below the frost line or have a protecting layer of mulch or insulation above the barrel to prevent freezing around it (so it would be mounded-up above ground).

Humidity is also important: too much humidity spoils food and too little dehydrates it. Different root vegetables require different humidity levels, but somewhere around 80-90 is usually safe. Maintaining the humidity level depends on the season (summers here are more humid) and the material of your cellar - soil is easy to control by either wetting it or drying it out with gravel layers; cement flooring or wood walls might need some water from time to time.

Ventilation is needed for the vegetables to breath and to help maintain temperature and humidity levels. Pipes in a barrel-dug cellar or windows in a hillside-dug cellar can assist the ventilation.

Finally, impenetrability from rodents and other pests is a must. You don't want little critters enjoying your harvest before you have a chance to.

We are using our deposito as our root cellar for now, but are trying to find an appropriate slope to dig into. There is also a room on the property already dug into a hillside, supposedly used by Jason's grandmother for refrigeration, underneath the High House study that stays cool all year but never freezes and has high humidity. If we can just rodent-proof it, we could be all set.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Recipe with peas, Indian-style

Aloo matar (Indian green peas w/ potatoes)

Ingredients: peas, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, ghee (or butter/oil), spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt), fresh cilantro

Preparing: Cook 1 diced medium onion, 1 tbsp. of chopped ginger and 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic in the ghee. Add your spices (2:1:1:1:1 tsp. of coriander:cumin:turmeric:cayenne:salt) and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add chopped tomato with juices (fresh or jarred/canned) and cook a few minutes. Finally, add 1-2 cups frozen peas and cubed (1 cm cube pieces) potato and cook for 12-15 minutes (until potatoes are tender; if the juice from your tomatoes is not sufficient, might need to add 1/2 cup of water).

Eating: Top with chopped fresh cilantro and scoop up with freshly baked naan bread. We served this dish with our saag-style greens and a red lentil dish (see photo).

Dish history: We are eating out of the storage room, and this is a good recipe for using up some frozen peas, canned tomatoes, potatoes, onion and garlic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A day of inspiration

This past weekend I attended the 2012 TEDxManhattan conference. The day's theme was "Changing the way we eat" and, like traditional TED talks, the audience was inspired and entertained by a series of captivating speakers.

Some of the recurrent themes that came up in the 17 talks were sustainable farming, reducing meat consumption, the importance of taste, transparency in food labeling, and the power of what even small-scale changes to our individual lives or surrounding communities and classrooms can have on the food system and America's culture of food.

The most dynamic speaker was a teacher from the Bronx, who spoke a-mile-a-minute, had 100s of photos he flipped through, and who had so much passion for his students, classroom and Bronx Green Machine project that he made me tear up and be reminded again that there are amazing teachers out there. The most humble and endearing was a gentleman who started a community gardening program for veterans that is literally saving some of their lives. Several innovators discussed their physical inventions (e.g., to keep food fresh) and online tools (e.g., to find out where your food comes from or to find ways to end hunger with fresh produce), while other speakers exposed the truths behind our meat, poultry and fish industries, urging us to try out the "Meatless Monday" campaign.

A poignant moment: When one speaker asked the audience to close their eyes and envision the best-tasting tomato they had this past year. Then he polled the audience to see how many people had bought that tomato from a supermarket. Not one of the 350+ audience members rose their hand. This is because, he said, produce is produced for travel these days, not taste. We have the most efficient produce distribution system, in that it quickly dispenses thousands of pounds of fresh produce to thousands of stores across the country from just several agricultural regions in the U.S., and yet it is so paradoxically insufficient, because these greens and beans and tomatoes travel hundreds or thousands of miles to reach our plates, when they could come from local farms (or even better, our own backyards). His solution: investing in greenhouse infrastructure so that farms can distribute fresh produce to their local supermarket, thus eliminating unnecessary travel time and distance.

This "taste" issue is a tricky one, because it gets at the heart of our food culture that has muddled through changes to our industrial system, the introduction of chemicals to our land, the depletion of our free time to actually cook meals, the education we receive that does not teach our children the difference between an eggplant and a potato and the imposing advertisements for and excessive availability of packaged and processed foods, and has created a public largely alienated from the food we put into our bodies and feed our families.

So there is a movement afoot. People see deception in our food system. People feel the difference when they eat real, fresh food. And there are people out there actually doing something about it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recipe with Brussels sprouts

Roasted B. sprouts w/ bacon

Ingredients: Brussels sprouts, bacon, balsamic vinegar

Preparing: Cut your B. sprouts to desired size (usually halved or quartered) and place in baking dish. Place a cooling rack on top of the baking dish and arrange uncooked bacon slices on the cooling rack (see pic) - as the bacon crisps in the oven, the bacon fat will drip onto the B. sprouts and help them roast. (Important: Be sure the bacon is only hanging over the dish - you don't want bacon fat dripping into the oven). Roast for approximately 30 minutes, or until bacon is crisp. Crumble bacon into B. sprouts, add a few tablespoons of balsamic dressing, stir, and put back in oven for 8-10 minutes, until B. sprouts are browned.

Eating: Great side dish that makes almost anyone love B. sprouts.

Dish history: I've made this dish for years by mixing uncooked bacon pieces in the B. sprouts or cooking the bacon first and then crumbling later, but this Xmas my brother told me about this cooling-rack-method and it really makes the dish easier and tastier. Sweet Lou!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Putting our money where our mouths are (Part III)

As we all know, change to our individual routines, habits and behaviors are not easy or quick.  Often, best intentions and public proclamations are sorely trailed by the more laggard, lazy cousin of actual action.

The New Year is built around this ritual: promises to ourselves to quit smoking, or to find a job that inspires us, or to eat healthier and get more exercise; promises which are sometimes happily fulfilled, but also more often than not remain on the following year's to-do list.  But even though the process may be longer than we intended, it is what actually happens in the end that matters.

Almost a year ago we talked about moving our money out of large corporate banks that put profit to distant shareholders above all else (including the nation's economy), work ceaselessly to lure you into new debt traps, and fail to re-invest significant money in local communities.  We were sick of supporting the system -- our participation bought cheap by convenience and lack of initiative in exploring alternatives -- and wanted out.

We began to explore banking alternatives, sleuthing on-line to uncover individual bank's lending and investment practices and interviewing prospective banks for a place to call home to our bank account.  And then, as so often happens to many positive intentions to change old unhealthy habits and behaviors, life got incredibly busy, old routines flexed their muscles and all change got pushed to the back burner.  Our money stayed put where it was.

But true intentions, like a seed planted in fall, have a way of remaining dormant until their time has arrived to become.  Yesterday, we finally found a home for our money in a bank that reflects our values: the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.  Why this bank?

Unlike a commercial bank, a credit union is owned locally by its members instead of by stockholders that often live far from the community in which the bank is located. In addition, a credit union is a non-profit, so instead of being driven solely by concerns about profits returned to stockholders, credit-unions return gains on investments to all members in the form of higher returns on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans.  Most importantly, you can only be a member of a credit union if you live in the local area, so we know that the money in our account will go into a large pool of collective capital that allows the bank to make loans to small-businesses and people living in our community.

When we signed all the paperwork and chatted with our banking representative, we noticed that many of the people coming through the doors were elderly.  Why?  Maybe it's only the old-timers that remember what banks once were in America: important partners who had a shared stake in seeing the local community grow and do well, who had more to gain from slow progress than quick profits and the wreckage of debt.

So we're going to the annual meeting of members to elect the board and weigh in on the annual plan.  Maybe the idea of a banking meeting sounds about as enticing as dental work, but who knows?  Maybe there's more to banking than we have come to expect.

And if your New Years pledge has nothing to do with moving your money, that's fine; just remain hopeful that our old pledges for change sometimes sprout roots and take hold just when we had about given up on them.  We're pulling for you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Longhaul Farm's CSA

Longhaul Farm has officially announced it's 2012 CSA.

We sent letters to all of our neighbors on our road and a few nearby family friends telling them about the opportunity to be a member of our farm. Once a family is signed up, they will receive a weekly share of vegetables from June through October and be an important part of our farm community. Here's a list of vegetables we hope to offer:
Late spring
Early fall
Brussels sprouts
Bok choy
Cherry tomatoes
Chinese cabbage
Broccoli raab
Collard greens
Mustard greens
Green beans
Tatsoi cabbage
Herbs (dill, sage, etc.)
Heirloom tomatoes
Sweet potatoes
Swiss chard

Peppers (hot and sweet)

Summer squash
Swiss chard
Tomatoes for canning
Winter squash

Please visit our CSA webpage to lean more about it.