Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here Comes Halloween, Here Comes Halloween

   We love Halloween.  For my husband, it has been a life long love affair.  For me, it has been a more recent acquisition.  Every year, our home is turned into a fall Halloween wonderland, both inside and out.  My students get such a kick out of coming to the house and walking by a flying ghost or a growling animal hidden in the hedge.  I swear we spend more money on Halloween decorations than on Christmas.  We have the generic fall/Halloween ones that come up for the entire month, then the slightly more specific Halloween ones that come out for the last week or so, and then a whole entire other group that are added for just the actual Halloween party and day.  It's like the Jack's beanstalk, it just keeps growing and growing and growing!  I told my hubby that we might be reaching our max as far as decorations go, and we would probably have to cut down on our shopping sprees because our house just can't hold much more and luckily he agreed. 

One of the things that we love to do in addition to our annual Halloween party, is to host a couple of Family Home Evenings (FHE) with friends at our home to make Halloween crafts, decorate cupcakes or cookies, and carve pumpkins.  It's usually spread over 2 or 3 weeks and sometimes we even award prizes.  I thought to myself, well, shouldn't I buy the most local pumpkins I can possibly get?  So, I drove the short distance to Farmer Tom's and to my surprise, he had all of his pumpkins on sale for a dollar a piece!  What a steal!  So I bought four, even though I had already bought two from him earlier in the season.  Our Halloween Edition FHEs are such a fun tradition and I'm glad to know that we can make them just a little bit local amongst all the Chinese made decorations. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Night Pizza

Okay, so I promise I'll get better about posting pictures, as I'm sure it's a little boring to just read my posts with no visuals! 

With that out of the way, I want to mention a new tradition we've started in our house: Friday Night Pizza.  It doesn't sound like a novel concept at all, and I can't even claim that I came up with it myself, but we've definitely enjoyed it.  I got the idea from Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Vegetable Miracle.  You can find her recipe at   Since I have some sensitivity to bread, it also makes me more conscious of what I eat during the week so that I can enjoy my pizza on Friday.   

Since rule one of transitioning to local eating is using up what you already have, I've been using some store bought pizza dough I had in the freezer.  This is fine, but I"m looking forward to making my own dough next time.  Here are the combinations we've tried so far (local items are in purple):

Basic Cheese Pizza:
Homemade tomato sauce (10lbs of tomatoes I cooked up about a month ago)
Amish Mozzarella

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken:
Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
Leftover Chicken (from the Gerber's chicken I cooked up on Tuesday)
Heinen's Own Shaved Ham
Heinen's Mozzarella
Farm fresh red onion
Canned pineapple chunks
 A touch of Heinen's Mild Cheddar

 So now I want to know, what is your easy, reliable meal that you always fall back on?  Please tell me!  I'd love to try it out and see how I can turn it local.  Also,  I need your help in finding the best roast chicken recipe EVER!  I like cooking up a chicken at the beginning of the week to use throughout the week, so help me out!  Thanks for your contributions!

Monday, October 18, 2010


I was driving by Dairy Queen and they were advertising their use of local honey!  I was totally surprised!  I mean, Dairy Queen?  Weird, but great!

Yum Yum Applesauce

  Apples are one of the best treats of fall food.  We went out to Hillcrest Farms in Amherst and picked our own apples a few weeks ago.  Heinen's and Pickering farms also bring in apples from lots of local farmers.  My childhood best friend lived on an apple orchard and we still reminisce about "Applebutter Day."  You've got one, maybe two, more weekends to go pick fresh apples and I highly suggest it because it's a fun and wonderful way to spend your day and the cider is great!
  Inspired by the fresh apples, I decided to try and make my own applesauce.  Little did I know, it is the easiest thing in the world!  My husband can't live without cinnamon applesauce, so it's an important staple in our home.  Before we got married, I didn't realize that spaghetti can't be served without cinnamon applesauce on the side!  So, here is my recipe for applesauce.   I didn't can any this year, because I had stupidly already bought a ton from Costco.  So, as I mentioned in my last post, I will use up all that first and can next fall!  The applesauce will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. 

Yum Yum Applesauce

6-8 apples, peeled and sliced (I find a mixture of two thirds golden delicious and one third macintosh is fabulous!  Jonagolds and galas work too)
1/2 cup water
Cinnamon (I use loads!  Adjust to your taste)
Honey (This is optional and I don't always add it in.  I never use more than about a tablespoon)

Put apples and water in a medium sauce pan. Cover and cook on medium or low for 20-30 minutes, until apples are soft (you can't cook it too long, so don't worry).  Mash with a potato masher (you can puree it once it cools if you want it really smooth).   Stir in cinnamon and honey if desired.  Let cool and enjoy!


Friday, October 15, 2010

Mid-Month Reflection

I just got home from Costco.  As I was walking through the isles, I felt guilty because as my friend, B., reminded me "You don't know where this stuff comes from.  It comes from all over!"  Well, as if I wasn't feeling guilty enough already.  But then I thought to myself, "Why am I feeling guilty?"  I realized that I didn't need to feel that way at all.  I never claimed to be a total locavore or to be trying to attain that status.  That's someone else's agenda, not mine.  My agenda is that of the lazy locavore:  To be local as much as possible through small steps and slight alterations of lifestyle.  So then I had to think to myself:  "Why am I interested in being a lazy locavore?" Here is what I came up with:

1.  Nutrition.  I have always been interested in nutrition and I've always been a veggie-aholic.  I want to pass down good nutrition to my future children and grandchildren.  I want them to grow up with the freedom from weight and health problems that I have had due to good nutrition.  Prescription drugs prices have raised 8.3% in one year.  I'd rather eat wholesome foods in their most natural state and get the vitamins and nutrients I need than pay for prescriptions.  
2.  I care about agricultural America.  I grew up in rural Kansas and lived on a farm for seven years, how could I not?
3.  Enjoyment.  I love food.  The savory, the rich, the spicy - give me it all!  My husband teases me about how much I think about food.  It is a great enjoyment in my life.  I want to pass this enjoyment onto my family and friends and you can't do that with boxed food.  Either it's bland or it packs on the pounds.  I can't stand diets.  I'm so annoyed by all the trendy diet crap.  "Buy this low calorie snack, buy that."  How about you eat real snacks instead?  My favorites are nuts with a tiny bit of chocolate mixed in, fresh raw green beans, or yum-yum orange peppers.  The best diet of all?  Everything in moderation - works every time. 

Okay, so those are my reasons and I have to say that I really like them.   If you're considering becoming a locavore I suggest you find your reasons.  If we each switch just 25% of our diet to a local diet, we'll be making a huge impact and we've got a whole winter to practice making that slow transition!  Here are my suggestions for ways to get started:

1.   Identify the items that you can and would like to buy locally.
2.  Use up all the food in your house that you have that pertains to those items but is not local.
3.  Slowly start purchasing local items, just one or two at a time, instead of the old items.

Thanks for taking this journey with me!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ohio Fajitas

Okay, so I may not live south of the border, but I can still cook up some mean local (mostly) fajitas.  I love Heinen's and I'm sorry that everyone doesn't have them  (I think they're going to have to start paying me for all this advertising!).  They sell so many local gems (more on this in the future).

I have a goal to find really good, vegetarian fed, antibiotic and hormone free meat.  It is my winter goal since I won't be focusing on vegetables then.  Until then, Heinen's is doing a fine job of filling my local meats need.  They carry Gerber chicken, with fits the bill perfectly and I don't have to search any further.  I stopped buying chicken at another (ahem!) big store awhile back because it didn't taste or look as good.  I knew nothing about local importance or the benefits of vegetarian fed meat at that point, but my taste buds must have.  Vegetarian fed meat is meat the way it was intended to be.  Chickens do not like eating other chickens or cows or pigs, or anything of the sort.  Somehow, corporate America has decided that they do.  They've also decided that chickens like to stay shut up in a cage full of dung rather than roaming about a farm yard.  Yeah right, and little boys hating running around on soccer fields.  (Note:  I'm not completely against corporate America.  I just think they messed up in this department.)  Anyway, Gerber chicken is the way to go.  Check it out at Heinen's or at

Okay, but my fajitas didn't use chicken last night, they used beef.  I also got the beef from Heinen's and it is local, antibiotic and hormone free, but apparently not completely vegetarian fed.  They are probably pasture finished because cows not on a mostly vegetarian diet can't usually get away without antibiotics.  So, I'm close.  Beyond the taste benefits (which let me tell you, everyone knows Heinen's meat tastes better - can I get my check yet?), vegetarian fed beef is higher in omega-3s and other important nutrients.  So, my beef was local, and what else?  Well, the cheese - also from Heinen's.  I will do a whole section on cheese at some point, just not today.

My peppers and onions were from Farmer Tom and Pickering Farms.  If you run now, you might still be able to find some local peppers (although probably not at any grocery store - just farm stands) and slice them and put them in the freezer for the winter.  If you're ahead of me, then you've also already made and canned your own salsa.  I'll get there, but hey, I'm the lazy locavore, remember?

So my splurges were an avacado, tortillas, and spices.  Let me tell you, picking up that avacado with a sticker on the outside of it was bizarre.  Other than bananas, I haven't many pieces of produce with stickers on it lately.  It suddenly seems so bizarre to see a sticker on a piece of food that isn't in a wrapper.  Oh yeah, that means it's not local.

And that, my friends, is how you get an Ohio fajita.

One More Recipe

I overlooked one more recipe from a friend!  (Hey, I'm knew at this blogging thing.)

My friend, MZ, says that Sweet Potato fries have become a favorite at her house.  You can just slice them up and sprinkle cinnamon (optional) and bake.  I will add that I love baking big sweet potato fries with some slices of red onions as well.  The flavor is incredible and even my in-laws (who aren't big veggie lovers) ate second helpings. 

Keeping creating and sharing.  I love it!

Recipes from My Wonderful Friend

     Apparently, people are reading my blog because today I received three emails from a friend, M., containing recipes and information on butternut squash.   Heinen's has all local winter squash on sale for .69 per lb.  Go get some!  Here are her recipes - I can't wait to try them!

Butternut Squash & Spinach Au Gratin

Bottom Layer2 lbs butternut squash
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. butter, melted

Middle Layer16 cups fresh spinach (you can also use frozen - easier but not as tasty!)
1 cup half & half (I use ½ cup whipping cream & ½ cup milk)
1 tablespoon corn starch

Top Layer
1 cup of mozzarella cheese (prefer a mix of asiago/mozzarella/parmesan)
½ cup of cream freesia (¼ cup sour cream & ¼ cup whipping cream)

Peel outer skin of squash with peeler or knife. Discard skin. Halve squash lengthwise and cut into slices (not too thin). Place slices in bowl with salt, pepper and melted butter. Toss well. Spoon mixture into buttered 9-inch baking dish. Bake, covered, at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare middle spinach layer. If using fresh spinach, bring 1 inch water to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart pot over high heat. Add spinach, a few handfuls at a time, and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Thoroughly squeeze cooked fresh or thawed frozen spinach in small handfuls to remove excess moisture, then coarsely chop and transfer to a bowl.

Over medium heat, stir together 1 cup of half & half and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Remove from heat and add spinach. Pour spinach mixture evenly over squash in baking dish.

Now to make the cream freesia, combine ¼ cup sour cream and ¼ cup whipping cream. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Then mix in 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Pour evenly over spinach layer.

Bake uncovered at 475 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

So yummy and sorta healthy!!!
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Caramelized Butternut Squash

2 medium butternut squash (4-5 lbs. total)
6 T. unsalted butter, melted
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
1 ½ t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut off and discard ends of each butternut squash.  Peel the squash, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into 1¼ to 1½ inch cubes and place them on a baking sheet.  Add the melted butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper.  With clean hands, toss all the ingredients together and spread in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the squash is tender and the glaze begins to carmalize.  While roasting, turn the squash a few times with a spatula, to be sure it browns evenly.  Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Thanks, M.!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another success!

Today, I ventured into the world of butternut squash.   One of the things about eating locally, is that you have to be willing to try new foods.  The great thing about this is that you get to expand your eating repetoire and never, ever get bored of eating the same old thing.  Winter squash are the vegetable of choice right now, and especially into the coming winter months.  They keep so easily, you can buy some now and they'll still be good in a month.  A lot of people love spaghetti squash and acorn squash, so you can try those too.  All squash are basically the same, cut them open and roast them until they're soft.  So our goal for today is to try a winter squash variety that is new to you.

So today, I tried butternut squash, once again from Farmer Tom.  FYI - Most grocery stores have a local section, and butternut squash is guaranteed to be there.  I peeled it, removed the seeds and cubed it yesterday while dinner was cooking and stored it in the fridge.  Today, I put it on a pan with some diced onion, 4 chicken thighs (with skin and bone), olive oil, and salt and pepper.  I roasted all that for about 30 minutes at 400.  Then, I put the chicken aside to cool and dumped the rest in with 4 cups of chicken broth in a soup pot.  You only have to cook it for about 10 minutes on medium high, and then mash a bit of it so that it's not so chunky (you can puree it if you really want).  Cut up the chicken after removing the skin and bones and add it to cook for the last few minutes.  Add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice before serving. 

Now, we all know that my hubby is the real test of this recipe.  When he saw it all cut up before roasting, he said "Yum, cheese!" and was about to pick it up to eat it.  I told him, no that's not cheese, it's butternut squash.  Well, that didn't scare him too badly.  In fact, by the time we ate it (I stored it in the fridge, as we were having it for dinner six hours later), he had forgotten about the "squash" word entirely.  As he was eating it, he hollers from the couch, "Hey, this is pretty good!"  I said, "Really?  You like it?"  He said, "Yes.  Just don't tell me what's in it.  Okay?"  I said slyly, "Oh, it's just chicken and cheese."  To which he said laughing, "Yum, I love cheese and chicken."  And he ate every last little bite, or I guess spoon full.  So try it out!   

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why be a locavore?

I realized after my first two posts that I hadn't really explained the idea of being a "locavore."  Well, a locavore is someone that is dedicated to eating foods that are locally produced.  As a result of eating locally, you end up eating food in its proper season as well.  Some people take the locavore mentality as serious as religion, which is fine, but doesn't work for me.  I'm a lazy locavore: a person who works and goes to school and has too much on her plate, but who still cares about nutrition, taste, and self-sustaining food.  You see, the grocery store varieties of vegetables have been genetically engineered so that they kill bugs, but also so that they can not reproduce.  In addition, their nutritional content has been sacrificed for the benefit of a perfect appearance and longer shelf life.  Don't even get me started on flavor.  I mentioned that Farmer Tom's sweet potatoes smell like cinnamon, but believe you me, the spuds from the store do not smell that way.  Local farmers are more likely to use heirlooms because they reproduce and have great flavor.  Oh, and they have great nutritional value. 
   So why am I freezing all this stuff when I could buy packaged stuff at the store?  Because food that is stored only two or three days after it is picked is going to have a much higher nutritional value than something that has been shipped across the country, packaged, and then shipped back across the country.  Not to mention, our tax dollars are paying for all the packaged food that gives us no nutritional value.  If you buy your food fresh and process it yourself, it will take more time, but it will give you more enjoyment and more nutritional value out of your food.  Oh, and it will give your children a longer, healthier life. 
  I'm busy just like you, so I can't be a total locavore.  But, I can make small steps in the right direction that will make huge differences in my life, as well as my family's lives, and possibly Farmer Tom's life too.  I grew up in a house with little more in the packaged goods department than Saltines and Grape Nuts.  You can do it too.  You might even find a new hobby while you're doing it! 

Sweet! Potatoes

Farmer Tom had an abundance of sweet potatoes this week, and so I stocked up.  Well, stocked up as far as a family of two is concerned.  I bought four massive potatoes and spent $2.00 total.  I'll probably go back this week and eight to ten more to last us for a few months.  Tonight, I made some amazing sweet potato quesadillas, for which you can get the recipe at   Don't be afraid of the swiss chard in the recipe, I'd never had it before and it was fabulous!  I told my husband, "Your body is thanking you for giving it all these vitamins and nutrients!  It will have to force out all the toxins from bad food."  To which he said jokingly, "No, all of my cells are armed with pitchforks saying, 'give me sugar!'"  Well, at least he ate it and didn't even think it tasted bad.  He got creative and tried it with salsa and with a banana slice on top.  I'm all for experimenting with your food - that's what makes it exciting! 

Anyway, our goal for today is to make sweet potato puree for quick and easy meals or side dishes all winter long.  Did you know that sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest vegetables in existence?  So much good stuff inside these little orange sweeties!  Farmer Tom's sweet potatoes were so fragrant that they smelled similar to cinnamon as I was peeling them.  Yummmmm!

Sweet potato puree is easy!  Peel the potatoes (the more the better - get them while they're fresh!).  Chop them up into medium sized cubes.  Roast or steam and then mash 'em up with a potato masher.   (I have a vegetable steamer that I just plug in and forget about and is dishwasher safe.  I highly recommend getting one.)  Let them sit in a bowl to cool while you do a few things on your to-do list.  Then spoon into pint-sized sip-locks and freeze.  (Keep one in the fridge for lunch tomorrow)   When you want to use them, you can thaw them just like the pumpkin and mix in some brown sugar (or local honey from your Amish friends) and cinnamon for a side dish.  I also recommend mixing them with some diced chicken and putting in a puff pastry or try out the quesadilla recipe.  

Kids and husbands love sweet potatoes when they are fresh and full of flavor.  And their bodies love them too!  My freezer is now full of easy-peasy sweeties! 

Fall Flavors

The harvest is winding up but there are still some incredible flavors to be enjoyed.   I'm lucky to have "Farmer Tom" living right around the corner from my house.  But even if you don't have "Farmer Tom,"  I'm sure you have a local farmer's market or a veggie stand somewhere near you.  Even Heinen's will do for many things, as they support many local farmers. 

Our goal today is to make fresh pumpkin puree that you can enjoy all winter long.  Don't freak out.  It's easy.  I watched a neighbor's kid, planted flowers, and took a shower while cooking up three pumpkins separately.  Cooking one is even easier. 

First, pick up one pie pumpkin (small pumpkins especially good for baking) from a local farm stand.   If you don't have that, go to Heinen's.  But please don't buy a pie pumpkin from some big store chain that has been driven over thousands of miles when you could get one from somewhere nearby!  And please, don't buy the flavorless and nutrition zapped pumpkin puree in a can.  It's not worth the 89 cents.  

Step one:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Step two:  Rinse off outside of pumpkin and then cut up the pumpkin into fourths with a serrated, sharp knife.
Step three:  Put pumpkin pieces (I usually have the skin on the bottom) into a oven-safe pan with a cup or two of water.  Tip:  The Pampered Chef stone covered bakers are fabulous for this!
Step four:  Cover and bake for about an hour and twenty minutes.
Step five:  Take out and let sit with lid off until it cools (it can sit for a couple of hours and still be fine).  Scoop out flesh with spoon, or if its soft enough, just peel the skin right off.  Put in a blender and puree until smooth.

  Now that you've got the puree, you can either use it right away or you can put it into pint-sized zip-locks and throw in the freezer.  I made three pumpkins worth, which equaled about 5 pints.  When I want to use it, I can just thaw it in the bag in a bowl of warm water for about 10-15 minutes.   

Congratulations!  You just added nutritional value and taste to your next pumpkin pie or goody.  You've also supported a local farmer (and his/her family) and saved gasoline and tax dollars!  Hopefully, you've also created a new memory with a friend or family member that helped you cook.