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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our Third Share- Spring Turns To Summer

Portland can be a bit tempestuous about changing seasons. Right now, I like to think that the city is throwing a tantrum, tenaciously holding onto drippy gray skies and lashing out with random downpours. Stubborn as the weather may be, it can't change the truth that my vegetables are now boasting: summer is coming. Soon it will be time to say goodbye to my precious asparagus (which we have been enjoying cooked in leftover bacon grease [cardiologists beware]). But there are promises of lovely things to come and take its place, like the five adorable zucchinis that appeared in my CSA bag this week.

I never used to be a summer person, but lately I have been growing excited about bicycle rides, warm nights, and (more recently) a delicious new season of vegetables. Hopefully, Portland will come around soon too.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Home Brewed Kombucha

home brewed kombucha

When I first tried kombucha, I was not in love. Before my first sip, I was unaware that it is a fermented tea with a taste reminiscent of diluted vinegar. As you can imagine, that wasn't a pleasant surprise. I was (am) also very skeptical about all the health claims that kombucha slingers make to promote their product.  All that said, I am now a home kombucha brewer. The taste has grown on me. I find it refreshing. I do feel good when I drink it. And I guess it's healthy and probiotics and whatnot.

Home Brewed Kombucha

1 gal filtered water
¼ cups raw cane sugar
6-7 organic tea bags (black and/or green)
kombucha starter (ask about it at your local health food store)

fresh squeezed lemon juice
fresh ginger
100% pomegranate juice

Bring your water to a boil then cut the heat. Pour in the sugar and stir till dissolved. Drop in all your tea bags. Steep for fifteen minutes or so then pull them all out. Pour your tea into a one gallon glass pickling jar or some similar large glass vessel that can easily be covered. It's important that this vessel be sterile before you use it for kombucha (that means boiling it).  Let the tea cool to room temperature. Now add your kombucha starter to the sweetened tea. Cover the jar loosely with a lid, or rubber band some cheese cloth over the top. Let sit for two to three weeks, somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight. It's interesting to watch the lily pad of bacteria and yeast develop on top of the liquid.

When it's ready, pour your kombucha into smaller glass bottles for storage being sure to leave enough liquid in the gallon jar to keep the kombucha culture (or SCOBY) covered. This is when you can add fruit juices for flavor. Our favorites are the three listed. Chop the ginger and muddle it in the fresh squeezed lemon juice then strain that into your bottles of kombucha and top it off with a splash of pomegranate juice. Store it in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure. And start the process over again!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why I Chose Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) - Part 2: Political Reasons

This is part two of an article about why I chose to invest in a CSA. Head over here to check out part one. In this post, I will focus on political reasons why community supported agriculture was the right choice for me.

The reasons why I chose CSAs are:

To ditch GMOs

Let’s talk a little bit about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs have been plentiful in the market since the 90s. Monsanto is the biggest producer of these seeds, which have lab-derived genes forced into their DNA. Round-Up Ready corn, soybeans, and cottonseed are the company’s best-known products. Fields sown with Round-Up Ready seeds can survive being sprayed with herbicide, which kills all surrounding weeds. Additionally, about 19% of GMOs produce their own pesticides.

While perhaps helpful for planting and tending to crops, there is a devastating lack of research on the safety and impact of GMOs. There has never been a lifetime study on the impact of GM crops on humans. While it is not conclusive, it is worth noting that a recent study found that a lifetime feeding of GM corn to rats lead to premature death up to 50% more than a diet of non-GMO feed (50-70% and 20-30% premature death rates, respectively).

Even disregarding health concerns associated with GMOs, it is worth noting that GM crops encourage growing huge monocultures which deplete the soil of the U.S. Midwest, South, and Global South; often require the application of pesticides and herbicides; and require farmers to be dependent on seed company’s because of seed patents.

GMOs are everywhere and hard to identify. Staying out of the grocery store is a great way to avoid them. It’s great having a food source that I am confident is GMO free.

While I’m at it, ditch Monsanto

Because I disagree with the cultivation of GM crops and the herbicides and pesticides that come along with them, it is important to me not to feed the beast that creates them. In this case, the beast is the agriculture monolith, Monsanto.

Monsanto has been in the news lately as a target of world-wide protests against the company’s practices and genetically modified products. I wrote above why I avoid non-organics and GMOs, so I would like to add here that Monsanto's practices inspire me to boycott the company: namely patenting seeds and suing farmers.

Monsanto patents its GMO seeds because they want to protect their profit margin the technology they innovated and applied to the seeds. To which I would usually say, “Fair enough, new technology is patented all the time,” EXCEPT in this case:

1.    Monsanto has a nasty habit of suing farmers who replant their seeds. Farmers who buy Monsanto GMO seeds sign a contract promising not to harvest and plant seeds produced from the crops, thus banning a traditional and practical farming practice. Unfortunately, growing corn and soybeans is not the most profitable game, and some farmers try to stretch their dollar by replanting. In this case Monsanto has no problem suing the farm, effectively stomping on small businesses with their huge corporate foot.
2.    Monsanto also sues if they find their seeds on a farm that didn’t intend to plant them in the first place. This is a particular brand of crazy because seeds are meant to travel and plant anywhere the wind will carry them.
3. Can we just take a moment to acknowledge that Monsanto is patenting life forms? Can't we agree that maybe that's a little bit different than a Shake-Weight?

In the interest of journalistic fairness, you can read their explanation of their lawsuit practice here.

I’m also not crazy about many other things about Monsanto as well: their development and production of bovine growth hormone, Agent Orange, DDT, and aspartame; government manipulation; faulty research and concealed evidence, and questionable tactics when determining patent violation.

Most of all, I really hate that this company apparently seeks to control the world food supply without interference from the organizations that are supposed to protect us. To me, this represents a reverence for capitalism over the land and food.  Ignoring that these basic human needs have importance that stretches far beyond the dollar is foolishness that I hope we will not pay for as harshly as we may deserve.

To support local, sustainable farms

While we certainly are not wealthy around here, I want farmers who work hard to put food on my table to be paid fairly for their efforts. I want to support farmers who choose to implement sustainable practices on their land. I want to spend my money with people who fight to preserve heirloom seeds and biodiversity.

The really cool thing about CSAs is that by investing in a farm, I am directly contributing to those ideals. My initial investment likely went to farm implements, non-GMO seeds, worker wages, and other expenses. CSAs give farmers a way to get a season started without incurring major debt. Shared risk means that if the season goes poorly, everyone who has bought into the farm will make do with fewer vegetables; it doesn’t necessarily mean the downfall of the operation.

I believe the higher demand there is for CSAs, the more people will start up their own small farms. When local land is bought up for bio-diverse small farms, the entire community benefits. Fresh, healthy food is abundant; air, water, and soil quality increase; and money from a community stays in the community. No more splitting profits with Safeway or Monsanto or oil companies.

While there are some great alternatives to CSAs, like farmer’s markets and home gardens, this is a unique benefit that I hope will snowball as CSAs gain popularity. For me, this is why a CSA was a good choice: it is an achievable way for me to invest in my ideals and my community.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Basic Chicken Stock

chicken stock

This is the very definition of a kitchen staple; it's easy; and it really comes in handy. You can use it for soups, gravies, to add flavor to cooked beans or grains, in stuffing, meat pies; there are innumerable ways to use this stock. It's extremely versatile because it only has very basic seasonings. It tastes mostly like chicken and vaguely of vegetables. You add flavor to whatever it is you decide to make with the stock. So save your bones, folks. We're making broth.

Basic Chicken Stock

1 chicken carcass (that's the nicest way of putting it)
6 cups water (more or less)
½ large onion (roughly chopped)
3 carrots (coarsely sliced)
1 celery heart with leaves (loosely hewn)
2 cloves garlic (perfunctorily minced)
olive oil
black pepper

If you've just cooked a bird, or you brought one home already cooked and you've devoured chicken to your heart's content, you're ready to start. Pull as much meat off the bones as you can and save it to eat later or possibly throw in the soup you eventually make.


Put a large stock pot on the stove. Drizzle some olive oil in and drop in your maimed vegetables (onions, carrot, celery, garlic) and saute for a few minutes. Throw your chicken carcass (and the pan drippings, skin, gizzards, necks, livers and any other bits and gibblets you don't intend to eat) into the pot and pour in just enough water to completely cover the bones. Add a pinch of salt and grind in a little pepper. Crank the heat to high and bring your stock to a boil. Immediately reduce to a low simmer, cover and let cook for at least an hour or as many as eight (I prefer the long cook when I have the time).

maimed veggies

After the allotted time, allow the broth to cool then strain it with a wire mesh strainer (lined with cheese cloth if you want clearer broth). Divide into sealed containers and refrigerate. After it's completely cooled you can remove some of the chicken fat from the top of the broth and use it for cooking or just leave it in for extra flavor (like I do). Congratulations! You're now inescapably headed down the path to a lifetime of grand culinary misadventures. Or one can only hope.

stock pot