Living La Vita Locale: Blueberry Season is Here

Image result for blueberry whitesbog

My heart leaps when I see that little blue sign by the side of the road that says, “U-Pick Blueberries” with a bright orange arrow with “3.5 miles” stenciled across it.  It is the annual symbol that blueberry season is here.  The season for the most valuable crop in New Jersey, the official state fruit.  My little home state ranks fifth in the nation for blueberry production, behind Washington State, Oregon, Georgia and Michigan (not in that order).

Fun fact: The commercial blueberry was first cultivated in Whitesbog, NJ by Elizabeth Coleman White, and agricultural scientist Frederick Coville. The low-bush wild blueberries were very prolific throughout the Pine Barrens, and White read about Coville’s work on the  blueberry in an agriculture journal.  In 1910, she and her father, cranberry barron and landowner, Joseph White, convinced Coville to join them in Whitesbog to continue his work with the added efforts of White.  The result is the blueberry as we know it today.  If you are in the area, you can take a tour of the historic Whitesbog Village, and maybe even pick a few blueberries.

This year, I think I finally perfected a no-bake blueberry pie filling that set up beautifully in about an hour in the fridge.  It is a very straight-forward application that highlights the blueness of the berries, is low sugar, and gluten-free.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie Filling

  • 1 prepared 9-inch pie crust   (use whatever kind of prepared pie crust you like.  The recipe on the link is a traditional flour crust and therefore NOT gluten-fee)
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 T organic cornstarch*
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1/4 C sugar**
  1. Put 2 C of the blueberries and the sugar in a saucepan.
  2. Whisk together the water, cornstarch, and salt until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the sugar and berries.
  3. Cook over a high heat until bubbles appear.  Reduce the heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly until the berries darken and the mixture gets thick (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let is cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. Carefully stir in the remaining 4 C of berries and continue mixing until all of the berries are well-coated.  Let the mixture cool a little more (about 5 minutes).
  5. Pour into your prepared pie crust.
  6. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to ensure the set.

For added pizzazz, top this with whipped cream, or serve next to a scoop of ice cream.

*I call for organic corn starch as a way to avoid GMO corn.

**You can use many types of sugar, but do not substitute with things like stevia or truvia.  The sugar is part of what thickens the mixture.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.  I mix it in yogurt, top ice cream, and make a no-bake cheesecake with it as well.  So make a double batch!

Why You Should and Can Cook at Home

Sometimes, an afternoon spent playing in the dirt with your son seems like a much better idea than cooking dinner.  In my eyes, practically any afternoon spent playing with my children was not time well spent, but time best spent.  When I speak to people about food, I get many defensive responses.  At the top of the list are: 1) I can’t cook, mostly because I never liked cooking and have grown to hate it, actually, which is very uncool these days because I can’t post a picture of what I just cooked on Instagram; 2) I can’t afford organic food.  It’s ridiculously expensive, and 3) I don’t have the time.  But there are many counterarguments for why you should and can cook at home.

Yes, You Can Cook

I am about to begin publishing a series of posts with recipes that are simple and straightforward, that even the most culinarily-impaired person can prepare.  I promise to include ingredients that most people use and eat on a regular basis.  No special kitchen tools, no ingredients that you have to buy at a specialty store or purchase online.  The goal is to encourage you to get into your kitchen.  Bring your children; bring your wife; bring your husband; bring your dog (ours are very good with clean-up when stuff “hits the deck”).  If you know how to turn on your stove, you are qualified to prepared these recipes.

Yes, You Can Afford Some Organic Food

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food.  I discuss this in another post.  But if you eat at a fast food place, and are feeding a family of four, you will probably spend about $25.  A pound of grass-fed organic beef runs about $6.50.  Add on $2.00 for rolls, $1.29 for organic leaf lettuce, less than a dollar for an organic tomato (less if you grow a tomato plant in a pot on your patio).  And maybe you get frozen fries for $2.50 (Not hard to make your own, but intimidating, so we’ll go with the frozen food section) and a bottle of soda for $1.99 (but you should drink water – it’s a lot better for you and much less expensive if it comes out of your tap and you filter it), you have spent less than $16, had some good bonding time with your family, and eaten organic food, and saved $9.00.

And you’re thinking, ‘Nine dollars?  All that for a nine-dollar savings?”  But let that add up.  Let’s say that you get fast food once a week.  Now it is $9 x 52 weeks a year, which is over $400.  Still not enough to get your attention? What if it also meant that your cholesterol levels returned to the normal zone and you could stop spending money on a prescription or two?  We tend to look at these kinds of things in a small context, but the truth is that what we eat and how we eat affects our physical and mental health.  So factor in time spent at the doctor – what is your time worth an hour?

Time is Relative

And speaking of an hour, the biggest complaint/defense I hear is “I don’t have the time.”  This is also a matter of perspective.  Some days are ridiculous.  We have them, too.  But many days are not; they are more I’d-rather-crash-on-the-couch-than-cook.  Let’s see if we can start to change that.

We can start with

Simple Burgers

  • 1 lb. of ground meat (you choose what you want to use, beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t ground pepper
  • ¼ t onion powder

Mix all of this together and form four patties.  Fry them in a pan over a medium heat, about 6 minutes a side.  Put them on a platter in a warm spot.

If there isn’t any fat in the pan, add 1 T olive oil or butter and heat it.  Add 1 T flour and stir it around in the fat.  Add ½ C of milk, and stir until it thickens.  If you have some Worcestershire sauce, you could add a dash of that, but it isn’t necessary. Pour the sauce over the patties and take it to the table.

You can serve this with a salad that you have one of your family members make, or just slice up a head of lettuce and put some dressing on.

Start to finish, this takes about 25 minutes.

Focus on One: Kick the Can

Remember that game? Kick the Can? That brings back summer memories when half the neighborhood convened in our backyard for the after dinner games. The first was always “Kill the Man” which involved everyone running after and trying to tackle whoever had the ball – there were no teams, just every boy for himself (or girl for herself). My sister was great at this game because she was fast and agile and no one could catch her. Then, once it was getting dark, was Flashlight Tag or Kick the Can. And we never had to worry about mosquito bites because the DDT fogger trucks came through every evening.

And while getting out and playing a game after dinner would be a great focus for a month, May is probably not the month – kids are still in school; most sports teams are still playing; in our district it is the time for band concerts and art shows. IMG_0452But May is the month for early summer berries like strawberries and early raspberries. Our favorite ways to enjoy either of these berries is topped with whipped cream or made into ice-cream.

What is your idea of whipped cream? Growing up, we used a lot of Cool-Whip® and I think that was because originally it was marketed as non-dairy. And we loved it – it was a sweet, creamy topping.

Then, one fateful night, my mother bought whipped cream – the kind that comes in an aerosol can. She topped the pudding we were having for dessert and once we had that, Cool-Whip® had to move over.

For a long time I thought whipped cream came out of a can. Imagine my surprise finding a recipe in an old cookbook for whipped cream. On my first attempt, I made clotted cream because I left it whip for too long. It was delicious on scones, but not so great for fresh berries. What follows isn’t a recipe with measurements, it’s more of a technique. Depending on the sweetness of the berries, I add more or less sugar (usually about 2T sugar to 1 C of heavy cream). If I am making a dessert layering berries and sponge cake for example, I will add about ¼ t of vanilla.

There is much made of being sure your bowl and beaters are all very cold before you begin. I found no noticeable difference between room temperature equipment and cold equipment. The big issue is keeping a close eye on the product as it whips. You know what whipped cream is supposed to look like, so whip it until it gets to look like that. The TRICK is not to look away. Do not walk away to do anything else while you are whipping the cream. I am famous for doing things like putting onions on to sauté and then running out to snip rosemary. That is an absolute no-no when you are whipping cream.

You cannot use light cream. You need either heavy cream or Whipping Cream. They are not synonymous! The whipped cream from heavy cream (35-37% milk fat) will hold it’s shape longer than that from whipping cream (29-31% milk fat), but whipping cream whips up faster and fluffier.

Pour the cream into a bowl and start the beaters. Increase to high speed. Slowly add the sugar and patiently watch as the cream whips up. If you are adding vanilla, do so when it gets to the “soft peaks” stage: when the beaters are leaving a trail through the cream, but it is still very soft.

Another Snow Day, Another Activity

DSC_6068This winter has been ridiculous.

I was joking with my students the other day that they might have fireworks at graduation, since it might not be until the 4th of July!  They weren’t amused.

Are you out of snow day activity ideas?  How about mixing up some granola.  It is an easy activity that my children can do with a little supervision from me (translation: I can sit at the kitchen table and grade papers while they take care of this one).

Fast Granola Recipe

  • 4 C rolled oats
  • 3 C chopped nuts of choice and/or seeds (we like a combination of almonds, sunflower and pecans)
  • 1/3 C honey
  • 1/3 C melted butter
  • 1 C chopped dried fruit
  1. Preheat oven to 275° F
  2. Combine honey with melted butter
  3. Combine oats and nuts/seeds and coat with the honey butter mixture
  4.  Spread in a 9 x 13 baking dish and put in the oven for 15 minutes
  5. Take out and stir the mixture.  Put back in the oven for 15 minutes. Repeat until mixture turns golden (not brown). 45 minutes to one hour total cooking time.
  6. Remove from oven.  Stir in dried fruit
  7. Let cool and enjoy.  Store in refrigerator.

I have a slow granola recipe as well.  We have found that soaking grains has made them more digestible for some members of the family.  If you have some trouble digesting grains, try soaking the oats overnight and then dry on screens in your dehydrator, or by spreading the oats on cookie sheets in a very low oven (150° F).  We also soak our nuts and seeds in a salt water solution and dry them in the dehydrator or low oven.  We like this because it makes a “salty-sweet” snack!