Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seasonal produce at last!

Since I started blogging I have been grocery shopping by starting in the meat department and seeing what looked good/affordable.  But there is finally enough local produce that I will be switching to starting in the produce section.  Which got me to thinking about meat and dairy and their availability locally.

I was a vegetarian for years, and one of the main reasons was I thought it would be much better for the environment.  There is no question to me that factory farmed meat is very very destructive for the earth. I am increasingly certain that pastured meat is actually much better for the planet than annual row crops.  Pasture encourages diversity, perennials have the deep nourishing root systems that hold water in the soil and prevent erosion, etc.  In the winter, given the choice between local humanely processed and pastured meat and dairy or row crops shipped in from who knows where, I have been focusing on meat.

But now it's summer, real glorious summer, and I can focus on produce.

I will put a new shopping list in the side bar later today, I am heading to the store now.  But here is my plan:  Start in produce and select a weeks worth of local produce.  (Well, this week I am only shopping for a few days, we are heading to a convention for 5 days.)  I will try for a variety of colors.  My emphasis will be on greens and aromatics, but if there is anything starchy or any local fruit I will buy those too.  From now till the fall I am going to attempt to only buy local produce.  This will naturally limit or change what I can cook, and determine the shape of my other grocery choices.

Because the cows are out on quickly growing summer pasture I am going to also emphasize local grass fed dairy options.

I will end at the meat counter and select whatever looks good for grilling or other quick energy conserving and heat minimizing cooking methods.  Though, the crock pot doesn't heat up the kitchen too bad and you could always stick it in the entry or a bed room or something.

A few center of the store staples like tea and coffee, beans for the vegetarians, and some dark chocolate and I should be set.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Patio planters

I love planting patio pots with a mixture of annuals, and several people have asked me lately how I decide what to put in them.  So I thought I would write out my tips, though none of them are earth shattering or new.

The advantage of patio pots is I can change them every year.  So much of my yard is perennials, and I actually like making new gardens better than I like gardening, so mixed pots give me that creative outlet.

The first thing to consider is form, I generally plant one tall thing, one or two draping things, and then the rest to fill in.

I think texture, scale, and shape are important, so I try to have some different kinds of foliage texture and shape, like long blade like leaves from spike or an ornamental grass, bigger leaves such as sweet potato vine, and some finer textures like asparagus fern.

Next I consider color, and I focus on foliage more than flowers.  Your options are pretty much dark green, chartreuse, silver, variegated, and purple.  And of course coleus, which I always use, because it's as good as a flower.  Variety is good, but chaos is bad.  Unity is good, but too much and it's boring.  And in addition to each pot having a good composition, I like all the pots to go together, but be different.  I don't cram every foliage color in each pot, too chaotic, every pot will end up with normal green, so I pick one or two other foliage colors for each pot. This year all of my pots have some chartreuse, and some dark red and chartreuse coleus to create unity.  Then some have variegated foliage as well, and some have purple as well.  I skipped anything silver this year.

Flowers are actually the last thing I think of.  I created unity among my pots by using dark red and purple snap dragons in all of the pots.  Each pot has one different kind of dark red or purple flower that's a focal point, and several of the pots have peach colored petunias as filler.  I didn't really pick the flower color scheme this year because I got a purple, scarlet, and peach mixed pot as a gift, so I just made the rest go with that.  But I use purple and peach a lot, so it's no hardship.  The flowers match the foliage and coleus too.

I have two lovely cobalt blue planters and would love several more in different sizes and shapes, but until I can afford that I make due with a few big terra cotta pots too.  I just can't afford to go too crazy with the pots, but whimsical interesting containers are half of the fun.  Fine Gardening magazine has lot's of fun ideas in this regard.

Finally, this year most of my pots have different scented geraniums, don't forget scent and feel too.  I often will put Rosemary as the vertical element, mint, fuzzy plants, etc.  The planters are in high traffic areas and are easy to touch and smell.  Herbs do great in mixed pots.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I added a page in the side bar, it links to my google spread sheet of camping packing lists.  I have a list for backpacking, canoe camping, and car camping.  To an extent they are geared to my family of 5, but one could easily adjust as needed.  Items in parenthases are for cooler seasons or are otherwise optional.  I will put up a page of camping daily menus and shopping lists too soon.

I live and camp in Minnesota, while it is cold up north, and cold in fall, winter, and spring, it is fairly warm in summer.  I used all of the cool weather items when I was in Scotland, as well as a cooler rated sleeping bag.  In July I can get away with much less here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weekly Menu 6/16/2012

I went shopping on Thursday, just to mess everything up for myself.  My son was having a sleep over and wanted all manner of specific things, and we had no food in the house, so we just did it.

Thursday: hamburgers, baked sweet potato fries, yogurt and granola parfait.  I also made a chinese style hot and sour pork ball and noodle soup for the gluten free set, and saved some for lunches through the crazy busy weekend.

Friday: dinner out before my son's concert.

Saturday: green pork tacos, cheese quesadillas.  Today is crazy with performances, a memorial, and much running around, so I am going to put the pork in the crock pot, and whenever we need food we can pull out some pork and throw together quesadillas for the kids.  Everyone is getting a bag of plums, string cheese, yogurt, and a bag of homemade granola to bring with them today.

Sunday: Possibly also crazy busy, barbecued beef in the crock pot, mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed kale, fried tofu for the vegetarians, or potentially veggie burgers, whichever they prefer.  Edit: we were barely home and all subsisted on bars all day on Saturday, so we are having the pork and quesadillas tonight and will move the whole menu back a day instead.

Monday: Roast whole chicken, tomato and rosemary stewed white bean ragout, sautéed red chard.

Tuesday: Mini meat loaf with the rest of the pork and the other pound of hamburger.  Tomato salad, quinoa pilaf.

Wednesday: The kids and I may take off for a camping trip somewhere in here, but one way or the other there will be grilled brat worst. Devilled eggs for the vegetarians, and whatever vegetables and carbohydrates I can scrounge up, we have plenty of cheese and some gluten free noodles, maybe mac and cheese?  Edited to add: I forgot the kohlrabi!  We will have creamed kohlrabi with our brat worst.  I think of creamed kohlrabi as a German thing, because I had it fairly often in Germany, but it may very well be one of those Finnish things I picked up from my host-mother.  

The smoked trout will show up in lunches or breakfasts.  Or possibly some composed salads.  I made homemade strawberry and coconut granola in vast amounts on Thursday, so that will be a feature of breakfasts, along with the bacon and breakfast sausages.  I am also baking bars and brownies to share with people after the memorial.  Edit: I shamelessly bought mixes.  I am sure the perfect gluten free brownie is homemade, but really, the mixes are so good.  I also made a double batch of the Joy of Cooking lemon curd bars, but with Bob's Red Mill shortbread mix for the crust, and GF flour in the lemon custard layer.  In my 12 x 18 jelly roll pan they turned out perfect.  And I made a double batch of Betty Crocker cook book Toffee Nut Bars, which are my family's favorite.  

Weekly Shopping

Several people have asked if I am going to change my shopping list to reflect the change of seasons, but sadly here in Minnesota there is virtually nothing local to buy yet.  What there is I have added though, and it's remarkable how it shapes my shopping to go to the produce department and search out the local food and emphasize it.  We didn't sign up for a CSA this summer, we seem to use an every 3 year schedule of CSA buying, it's hard to get motivated to use a CSA when the co-op is at the end of your block.

I haven't posted in a while, and truly haven't shopped normally in a while because one of my closest childhood friends has been very ill and died last week.  I spent a fair amount of time cooking, cleaning, and gardening for him, in an attempt to help.  But more than lost time, I spent a lot of time grieving and sad.  I am sure I will write more about it later.  The intensity of my own recent grief, losing my friend, the end of the school year, and the hectic pace of life in general would have been a great time to just plug in menus and shopping lists from the past.  Instead we ate from day to day, David did most of the cooking.  And we got a lot of takeout.  True Thai has a gluten free menu now!  Himilaya continues to be the best local Napli food, and I have become obsessed with Brasa.  Did you know everything at Brasa is gluten free except for the bread and corn bread?  Nothing they deep fry has gluten.  None of their sauces have gluten.  And it's really easy to order low-carb.  The place is dietary nirvana for me.

In fact, how weird would it be to go get some pulled beef and fried yucca for breakfast?

But I did go shopping this week, so down to business:

We started in the meat department, my vegetarian daughter is right, I do place meat at the center of my meal ideas these days.  We got two pounds of ground beef, some fresh brat worst, a package of bacon, a half pound of breakfast sausage, a pound of ground pork, a chuck roast, a whole chicken, a package of smoked trout, and a boston butt roast.  Now that I type it there is a lot of pork there.  Generally I try to emphasize fish and ruminant meat.

We walked back towards produce by way of the dairy department.  We bought whole milk, cream, whole milk cottage cheese, sour cream, 2 things of butter, whole milk plain yogurt, 5 small yogurts, and 3 dozen jumbo eggs.  All of our dairy was organic, and all but the small yogurts and cottage cheese was local.

In the produce department we searched for local produce, and then looked for seasonal produce, and then broke down and added the out of season shipped from who knows where staples.  We got: local lettuce, local tomatoes (hoop house?) local asparagus, local kale, local red chard, local scallions, local kohlrabi, local bok choi, local bell peppers, local button mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, onions, jalapeños, avocados, celery, a musk melon, plums, limes, sweet potatoes, ginger, and bananas.  There are great looking local strawberries, but we don't need them because we are getting a big bowl of strawberries a day from our garden.

Bulk we got: rolled oats, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds.

Cheese department: cheddar, co-jack, goat cheese, bulk string cheese, and swiss cheese, all local.

Prepared food: two cans of raspberry green tea, my son was having a friend over and this was as close to soda as we would let him get, cheese puffs, pickles, chocolate whey protein powder, dehydrated coconut, freeze dried strawberries, gluten free sugar cookie mix, gluten free brownie mix, corn tortillas, and whole wheat hamburger buns.

Our P6 total was %56.  If you took out my son's junk food it would have been closer to %65.

We went over our budget by exactly the cost of the chocolate whey protein powder.  For some reason my son NEEDED to have several odd things for his sleepover, including whey powder. The kicker?  They didn't even have any of the whey during the sleepover.  They did make dinner though, hamburgers, baked sweet potato fries, and yogurt granola parfaits.  My son and his friend are entering a healthy school lunch contest, and they are convinced that Michelle Obama is going to come have lunch with them next school year as their prize.  For a vegetarian my son had very strong opinions about how to make the burgers, but everyone said they were super good.