Living La Vita Locale 5/30: Salad greens

What’s fresh at the market this week? Salad greens, kale, collards, and spinach. If you are new to eating seasonally, treasure these greens now, because once high summer hits, the baby greens and cool weather lettuce are done. Granted their place is taken with other greens and lettuces, but these sweet greens of spring and early summer are truly delightful.

Salads are great, and dressing is really easy to make, like Basil Vinegrette, but how about something that elevates these greens to main dish status?

Asian Burgers with Greens

1 lb. ground beef (100% pastured is best), preferably 85% lean

¼ C Mirin

¼ C soy sauce

2 T rice wine vinegar

1 t brown sugar

½ t black pepper

1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely minced

½” piece of ginger, grated

Mix all of these ingredients thoroughly and let rest in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or overnight.

In a small food processor, or single-serve smoothie blender combine the following:

½ C olive oil

¼ rice wine vinegar

2 T soy sauce

1 t sugar

½” piece of ginger, finely grated

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

Blend until smooth. Open the container and taste the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be made up to a week in advance. Refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

Heat the grill to medium hot. Make four patties from the ground meat mixture.

Before you put the meat on the grill, mix some greens together in a bowl. You can use any combination. At the Collingswood Farmer’s Market this week, there were a variety of lettuces and spring mixes, and at the Fernbrook Farm CSA, shareholders received lettuce and kale. From my garden, I thinned my beet patch, so I have baby beet greens. You could slice bok choy. Include a variety for texture and taste. Mix the greens with the ginger dressing and let it sit until you finish grilling the meat. The dressing will wilt the greens.

Grill the burgers to the desired doneness. Plate the burger on a bed of greens.

Living “La Vita Locale”

This summer I will be engaging in a new endeavor on my blog, “La Vita Locale” that will feature recipes for produce that is currently available in local farmer’s markets and my Community Supported Agriculture farm, Fernbrook Farm CSA. Some posts will include links to prior posts (why reinvent the wheel, right?) in order to give you the most options for your produce.

One of the projects I sometimes give my students when I teach the Politics of Food unit is to go grocery shopping with a parent and look for a list of items at a grocery store and a farmer’s market. The discussion we have after they do this activity is always compelling because they realize that phrases like “Fresh baked on Premises” does not mean made from scratch with whole foods ingredients. Baked on premises only means that they defrosted a pie and stuck it in the oven, baked it, let it cool, and put it in a box. They learn that the produce at some Farmer’s “markets” comes from Florida and California. There is nothing wrong with a store selling fruits and veggies from other states, but when there are “Jersey Fresh” banners festooning the market from one end to the other, there is an implication that the food is local. News flash: Oranges don’t grow in New Jersey. Neither do avocados.

The students soon come to realize that there are farmer’s markets and then there are Farmer’s Markets. The ones we have relegated to lower case “fm” are the ones where maybe 10% of what they have for sale is actually produced by the company or farm that is selling it. We understand that a farm may not bottle its own honey, or make its own salsa, and maybe they get those value-added products from another local source, but those things usually aren’t the bulk of what is available in the farm shop. How do you know what the farm actually grows? If it isn’t labeled “Smith Farm’s Own” or something like that, just ask. With the amount of publicity food is getting lately, with this big emphasis on “Fresh & Local,” it has become ever more important to ask questions, read labels, and not just take for granted that if the produce for sale is presented in a little basket that it came from a local farm source.

Then there are real Farmer’s Markets, like The Collingswood Farmer’s Market that I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday with my friend Cathy. On Saturday mornings, farmer’s come in and set up tables and sell produce.  This is one way to eat lower on the commodity chain: fewer steps between the producer/farmer and the consumer — you! Yesterday at the market I saw a lot of asparagus. It happens to be a great year for asparagus – we have been eating asparagus from our patch 2 or 3 times a week for the past few weeks. I didn’t buy any. But I did get wonderful organic strawberries from DanLynn Farms. My strawberries are just blushing, so I was pretty excited to have strawberries (and so were my children!). I also picked up amazing fresh mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms. Most mushrooms from the grocery store are dried out, but until you have had a freshly harvested mushroom, you wouldn’t even know the difference.

photo 3But the fun story of the morning was running into a former Triton student, April, at the Treehouse Coffee Shop’s booth. They featured fresh-made lemonade (like right in front of my face) and a wide variety of baked goods, including a really excellent gluten-free brownie. They also carry salsa and jams produced by people in the community. The Treehouse is located in Audubon, NJ and hosts the Our Yards Farm CSA, which is run by Julie, a “graduate” of the apprentice program at my CSA! I love how small the world can be!

Back to those mushrooms! We were having grilled lamb, so we sautéed the mushrooms to serve along side:

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 pint of mushrooms
  • 1 T chopped shallot
  • 2-3 T white wine
  • 1 t chopped fresh sage
  • salt to taste

Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat a cast iron skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Add chopped shallot and cook until it is translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are golden. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. When the pan is dry, turn off the heat. Toss with chopped fresh sage. Salt to taste.

Food Disconnect

Fanny Burney, our camera hound
Fanny Burney, our camera hound

Student: “What kind of eggs do your chickens lay?”

Me: “Brown.”

Student: “No.  I mean are they the kind of eggs that you eat, or the kind that turn into chicks?”

Me: “Well, we don’t have a rooster, so they won’t turn into chicks.”

Student: “Oh.  Roosters lay the eggs that turn into chicks.  I didn’t know that.”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Yes, that is an actual conversation that took place in my classroom not too long ago.  And while I was laughing (and so was the student after an explanation), it made me very sad that so many people are so disconnected from their food. So I ventured a question to them, “Where does your food come from?”  The answers?  They varied, but they were all fast food places.

If someone asked my children that question they would tell you, “a farm.”  I’m glad that they know this; that we have the privilege of being able to go to the farms and buy our food direct from the farmers.  What strikes me is that my family is a minority, and it is a paradox – as food delivery and technology advances, we go out of our way to bypass the advances in order to get better food because the “advances” are actually a degradation.

Industrial food has created a system that creates distance between the food source and the consumer.  The more steps between, the more people can profit from the same item.  Economics really does drive our culture.  America took the success of Henry Ford’s car production and applied it wherever she could – to the food industry, to the medical/pharmaceutical industry, and now to education.  One size fits all and the faster and cheaper we get it to market, the better it is for everyone.

Everyone is going to college, or deserves the chance, or must because there are no more manual labor jobs available.  OK, I’m going to state the obvious: Not everyone is smart enough to go to college.  Stupid people do exist.  And you know what else?  Some people don’t want to go to college.  And manual labor jobs do exist, we’ve just become too elitist to think that anyone would want to do them.  Or we’ve out-sourced it because that is less expensive.  Or we created a system that doesn’t allow for us to see them.  And what irks me is that the colleges, especially the for-profits and community colleges, really do want all of these students to attend.  Why?  It doesn’t matter if the student passes or fails, as long as the college gets paid.

But then there is my friend Terry.  She decided not to go to college and become a nurse.  Rather she became an apprentice on a farm.  And two years later, she is happily working on a farm.  Outside in the fresh air.  And she told me that she could not imagine smelling hospital every day.  She is content.  And while the manager at my CSA did go to college, he was an English major, not a botanist, or a biologist, or an Ag major.

In a sense, this applies to the food system.  For the corporate public, it doesn’t matter if the food is good or just mediocre, or void of any nutritional value, as long as people are making money! That underpaid laborers are processing meat products is of no matter as long as the food remains cheap, which is all that seems to matter to the general public.  While we still teach children to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm, we don’t teach them that the pig, with his oink, oink here and there, is also the bacon on that bacon cheeseburger.  When I suggested to my students that a steer they ooh’ed and ahh’d at because it was so cute might end up in a taco, they flipped out.  I was being too harsh.

Really?

But this is exactly what corporate industrial food desires – a complete disconnect between the meat on the hoof and the meat we eat.  Corporate food wants a consumer that doesn’t know that all eggs could be chicks if they were fertile and incubated.  This is the paradox: everyone has to go to college in order to be kept stupid and indoctrinated into the idea of corporate busy, so that we perceive ourselves as not having time to prepare foods for ourselves, or go to the farms and buy direct from the farmer.   My generation started our children on this pretty young.  I remember sitting at a pre-schoolers’ Halloween party, listening to the parents discuss the myriad of activities in which their children participated: gymnastics, dance, karate, swimming, soccer, T-ball, cheerleading, art, music, Mommy and Me Yoga, Daddy and Me Spanish.  During the pre-school years, my kids participated in dinner with Mommy and Daddy, every night between 5:30 and 6:30, followed by a game of See How Much Water We Can Get OUT of the Tub Before Our Bath Time is Over.  I was really freaked out that kids had four or five activities at the age of 3 or 4.  No wonder these mothers were ready to have nervous breakdowns – they worked a 40 hour week and then ran around for another two or three hours a day taking the children to different activities.  Why?  What is the point?  One mom told me so that her son could get into a better college.  I thought, ‘I never heard of a college checking into pre-school activities.’  And for the benefit of the child? Who remembers what she did when she was 4 by the time she is 7?

But by 12, she is indoctrinated into the busy mindset.  And this is what keeps many Americans dependent on fast/convenience foods.  Dinner is not something to eat at a table with utensils, it is something eaten in a car with fingers.

Fertile and incubated ideas can produce change, so educate the next generation to see food from source to table, and make informed decisions.  Break the perception of what corporate America deems is necessary, and make decisions based on what you need.  And when someone says, “A rooster lays an egg on the roof of the barn.  The roof has an equal pitch of 45° on either side.  Which side of the roof will the egg roll down if the wind is blowing ESE at 15 MPH?”, you will know that the correct reply is, “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”

Felony Milk

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Cows on Grass at Freedom Acres Farm

I am a felon.  I’ve not been convicted, nor even charged with anything.  And if I ever was charged, I’d be appalled that the government would waste money prosecuting a case over smuggled milk.

“Milk?” you ask.

Yes.  Milk.  I’m one of those people.  You know, the ones who drink raw milk.

“Raw?” you ask.

Well, not cooked, which is what pasteurization does.  And my argument for raw milk will come in another post.  The good news is that because I can’t buy it in a store because it is illegal to sell raw milk in NJ, I have to go directly to a farm.  In Pennsylvania.  And then bring it home, across state lines (that’s where the felony comes in), with the intention to drink it.

One of the big changes we made in our lives is trying to remove as many links as possible from our commodity chain.  We have a garden and we produce a goodly amount of tomatoes and cucumbers.  We have a thriving “s-berry” patch (an old farming superstition to not say anything good about them by name, or we jinx ’em!), as well as raspberries and young apple trees (so far so good on the apples, but who knows!).  Most of what we don’t grow ourselves, we get from a Community Supported Agriculture Farm (CSA) and local orchards.  And yes, in the winter, we sadly return to the grocery store…

At the moment, we are single-sourcing our meat, from Nature’s Sunlight Farm in Newville, PA.  I’m not going to get into our amazing relationship with the Nolt Family today because they are a post (or 6) in and of themselves.  No feedlot meat for us.  No battery-produced chickens.  No links between.  We pick it up from the farmer.

A beautiful Jersey cow at Freedom Acres Farm

Our raw milk odyssey has taken us up and down the NJ/PA border, finding different dairies, trying their product.  While all of the dairies with whom we dealt have wonderful milk, we felt that we were “trading out” on the various value-added products available, and that prices were kind of steep.

My friend Andrea (her name is changed to protect her from harm due to contraband milk smuggling collusion) called me a couple of weeks ago with a lead on a new farm.  She, as a resident of Pennsylvania, can legally purchase raw milk at a store.  However, she can save $4 a gallon by going directly to a farm.  She went and checked it out (doing nothing illegal, mind you, because her milk was not going to cross state lines).

Because she was so impressed with product, I had to go with her on the next milk run.  One blustery morning, I found myself at Freedom Acres Farm in Honey Brook, PA.  The farm is run by husband and wife team, Samuel and Esther Fisher.  Esther was at the door a minute after we arrived.  We brought in the “empties” and chatted about their products.

Andrea had warned me that the milk was going to be in big jars, but I had to chuckle when I saw the them.  They are institutional-sized pickle jars.  I find that irony really amusing.  Esther brought out a variety of cheeses, cream cheese and yogurt.  Samuel came in a bit later and started to chat with us in what I will call “teacher-mode” (enough people chide me about going into “teacher-mode,” so I do know it when I see it!), about pastured, grass-fed milk.  Andrea held up a hand and said, “Samuel, Natalie is the one who got me started on raw milk.”

I have been back, and plan to continue purchasing milk and dairy products from Freedom Acres.  The milk is creamy and delicious.  The cheeses are truly wonderful.  The cheddar is a house favorite.  The jalepeño cheddar wasn’t hot enough for my husband (but nothing ever is, unless his taste buds get seared off), but my son who has tastes the polar opposite of his father, thought it was delicious.  The Monterey Jack melts beautifully and has a nice silky consistency.

And oh, the butter.  The butter! Spring butter!  And if your head isn’t swimming in a moment of ecstasy thinking about spring butter, then you have never tasted it.  It is rich and has a flavor unlike anything I’ve ever spread on bread.  The color is a bright, deep yellow, and it is full of good nutrients like CLA!

If you are in the area of Honey Brook (or maybe even not so in the area… I’m driving over an hour to get there), I strongly recommend this farm.  The products are outstanding and the farmer and his wife are lovely people.

Freedom Acres Farm     Honey Brook, PA    610-273-2076