We’re still enjoying the bounty of our summer garden in the form of plenty of fresh tomatoes. I’ve been looking for creative ways to eat/cook with them – even tomato sandwiches, which I love, can become tiresome. I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup generally, but I found a recipe on the Food Network, tweaked it a bit, and really like it. I’ve made it twice in the last week, and am looking forward to having a bowl of leftovers for lunch today.
The secret is to brown the tomatoes before hand. This adds a lovely roasted flavour to the soup. To view the original recipe click here; here is my lower-fat version:
October Tomato Soup
3 lbs tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used various sizes, from cherry, plum and regular tomatoes. I decreased the grilling time by half for the cherry tomatoes)
4 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
1 T butter & 2 T Olive oil
4 shallots, chopped
2 T tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock (I used vegetarian bouillon cubes)
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup milk
3 T basil leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange tomatoes, flesh side up, on 2 wire racks set on sheet trays (I put parchment paper on the cookie sheets the second time, as it was difficult to clean up the first time). Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, making sure they are well covered. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar.
Roast tomatoes in the middle rack of the oven until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour (less for smaller tomatoes, as noted above). Cool slightly.
Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, then mix in tomato paste for a few more minutes (I used some of my homemade tomato sauce rather than tomato paste). Add stock and cayenne.
Mix yogurt and milk in medium bowl, then add some of soup base and mix together. Add this mixture to the rest of the mixture in the pot, stir well. (It may appear slightly “curdled” because of the yogurt, but this will disappear when the tomatoes are blended in). Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the roasted tomatoes to the pan. Puree with an immersion blender (unfortunately mine broke the first time I tried to blend the soup, so I mixed it in a blender. This didn’t work as well with the doubled recipe I made last night, and some soup ended up sprayed around the kitchen out of the top of the blender – very messy!)
Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish generously with fresh basil (don’t miss this step, it really makes the soup special). I used fresh thai basil that we have growing in a pot in our kitchen – deeelicious!
Kitikaanikamik is an Ojibway word that means “the place where things grow”. The Local Foods Initiative (RLLFI) in the northern Ontario town that I live in has applied to the Aviva Community Fund for “seed” money to get our solar greenhouse/community gardening project up and running. RLLFI has already acquired the funds to buy a passive solar greenhouse which can operate in all but the coldest few months of winter. To make the project, called Kitikaanikamik, “Where People Come To Grow” a reality, we will also need to purchase soil, build a shelter and compost area, and ensure a power and water supply. To help make this project a reality, you can support us by voting for it on the Aviva website – click here (you have to register with your email address, but once you’ve done that you can vote for us once a day). Your support is much appreciated!
If you aren’t yet convinced this is a good project to support, check out this video, then go and vote!
A fellow climate activist recently said that climate change is a gift to humanity, if we choose to accept it. What I understand from that is that climate change is a massive wake-up call that we humans need to change the way we are interacting with our ecosystem and with each other. We need to treat our water, air, and dirt with respect, like the life-giving miracles that they are. Are we going to learn this lesson? I don’t know, but (to quote another climate activist) “I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful”. Because shift does happen, and in our global hyper-connected world it can happen with lightening speed.
My journey over the last 2 years as a climate activist has led me to a much greater awareness, for example, of how our food system works – or rather, how dysfunctional it currently is. And part of what I have learned is how we in North America have allowed huge agro-businesses like Monsanto (the former manufacturer of the deadly chemical Agent Orange) to write the food rules about what we are allowed to consume. Monsanto was recently run out of Haiti because the people there, although battered and bruised from their earthquake and living in the most economically depressed country in the Americas, wanted no truck with Monsanto’s “donation” of genetically modified frankenseeds. Yet here in North America, the general public is mostly in the dark about the high prevalence of GM foods in our food system. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, at least 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets now contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. That’s a heck of a lot!
GM foods have had specific changes introduced into their DNA through genetic engineering techniques. For example, by inserting two genes from daffodil and one gene from a bacterium, rice can be enriched with beta-carotene (read more here). Recombinant BGH (“Posilac” by Monsanto Company), a genetically engineered version of a growth hormone that increases milk output in dairy cows by 10 to 30 percent, was unanimously declared unsafe by the United Nations Food Safety Agency in 1999, after they confirmed excess levels of the naturally occurring insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1), including its highly potent variants, in rBGH milk and concluding that these posed major risks of cancer. Luckily here in Canada, the use of rBGH was banned that year, but 12 years later, it is still permitted in the U.S. milk supply.
There is mounting evidence of the widespread use, and potential harm, of GM foods. If you’d like to know more, here are some recent articles:
What I’ve learned is that the only way to ensure that my family and I are not consuming GM foods is to buy fresh produce (either organic or not) and avoid all processed foods that are not labelled “organic”. So there is yet one more reason to buy local produce, if lowering your cholesterol at the same time as lowering your carbon footprint wasn’t enough already!
For the last week, we’ve been enjoying fresh leaf lettuce from our nothern garden. My youngest daughter is a very meticulous cleaner of garden vegetables, which is important when you are eating your own fresh picked lettuce if you don’t want to consume some extra dirt and even the occasional slug in your salad. I did traumatize my family yesterday by accidentally mixing unwashed lettuce with a large bag of already cleaned greens, but no permanent harm was done. We are also eagerly anticipating our first feed of strawberries, as the plants are blossoming and should be ready to be picked in the next week or two. Here are some pictures snapped this morning:
Nobody is more passionate about spreading the message about eating healthy, fresh food than Jamie Oliver. Here he is at last year’s TED Conference, sharing stories about the obesity epidemic and his Food Revolution:
As Jamie says, “it is achievable”. This is true of the Food Revolution, as well as tackling climate change. “Romantic, yes… but it’s about trying to get people to realize that each of your individual efforts make a difference.” Around North America, and around the world, there are plenty of wonderful things going on, and amazing people are doing them. Like Jamie, whose passion comes in large part from being a parent, there are parents out there who are stepping up to protect their children’s future. We CAN do this – remember, Shift Happens.
We live in a topsy-turvy world where far, far more money is spent on guns and making war than on educating children and feeding the starving, and where the richest corporations in the world have funded a successful PR campaign to paint climate scientists as money grubbers getting rich off the science of global warming. Considering this, growing a garden upside down seems somehow appropriate.
We had heard good things about growing tomatoes this way, so this spring we looked around several gardening centres for an upside down planter. When we couldn’t find any, Mark decided to make his own. Although some people recommend using 5 gallon buckets, Mark chose to fashion three planters out of empty potassium chloride bags that we already had on hand. After turning the bag inside out for aesthetic reasons and then opening both ends, he made a cuff on either end and we secured it by stitching it. At one end, he strung a stiff wire through the cuff (to keep the top end open) and then attached wires for hanging it up. At the other end, he inserted either an ice cream pail lid or a wooden circle he made to fit, with a hole in the centre, and stapled it to the plastic after getting the tomato plant in place. This is the final product:
I’m not convinced that this is the look I want on our front deck this summer, although Mark says from the road they look like decorative lanterns! And if we have lots of fresh tomatoes from them this summer, I will probably be convinced that they are beautiful.
I decided the focus for my blog this week was going to be food, as these days in our household there is much talk about and action on getting our garden in, now that we are back from holidays. Mark is the gardener in our household, while I provide support services like bringing out glasses of ice tea and weeding sporadically. I do play a more active part in the harvesting, preparing, and eating department. However, since I’ve become more aware of the crucial role food plays in our unsustainable North American lifestyle, and particularly after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve promised Mark that I will change my non-gardening ways. He remains skeptical, but I’m optimistic. There’s so much room for improvement, how hard can it be?
Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring up here in the northern climes. It starts to peek up from the dirt while there’s still patches of snow lingering in our yard. Mark is a big rhubarb fan, and as a result we now have 5 large, healthy rhubarb plants around the yard.
The great thing about rhubarb, from a gardener’s point of view, is that it’s a perennial which needs a minimum of attention from one spring to the next. That’s the kind of plant I can appreciate. And from an eater’s point of view, unless you are a rhubarb-hater (I know a few!) there’s little that compares to a fresh rhubarb crisp or a homemade rhubarb muffin. Nutritionally, rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. As a child growing up on a prairie farm, rhubarb was the first harvest from my dad’s garden and we kids would eat the stalks raw, dipped in sugar.
I’m busy with a work project that has a looming deadline, so I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening right now, as the project is consuming most of my waking hours. However, I did find time a few days ago to pick some rhubarb and make muffins, which in turn provided sustenance to Mark as he planted our home garden, so I’m kind of helping with gardening. My daughters were lobbying for our usual rhubarb muffins, but I tried out a new recipe and after tasting the result they gave it their stamp of approval. I found the recipe on smittenkitchen.com . I like the recommendation to mix a portion of the streusel crumbs into the batter, which I’d never done before. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, so here’s my version of Rhubarb Streusel Muffins:
1/4 cup (31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28 grams) spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt, use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted (I used light olive oil)
1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm ( I used light olive oil)
3/4 cup (177 ml) sour cream (I used yogurt)
1 cup (approx. 120 grams) spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 16 muffin cups.
Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.
Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.
Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.
Have you planted a garden yet? If you have – congratulations! You are taking the first steps towards food sustainability and security. If you’re still considering it, this video might make a difference:
Today’s guest blog post features Ellen LaConte. Ms. LaConte is a memoirist, magazine and book editor, and freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and trade journals on subjects ranging from organic gardening and alternative technologies to the evolution of consciousness, democracy theory, and complex systems. After three decades of homesteading in Connecticut and Maine, she gardens now on a half-acre in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina. Ms. LaConte is the author of “Life Rules: Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once and how Life teaches us to fix it”.
Getting Started in the Garden: Thirteen Tips for “Veggie Virgins” and Other Inexperienced Food Growers
Don’t assume lack of space is a deal-breaker. Most of us don’t live on farms. Nor do we have spacious, magazine-worthy backyards. And in the case of city-dwellers, we may not have backyards of any type! That’s okay, says Ellen LaConte, who is something of an outside-the-box thinker when it comes to gardening in smaller or unconventional settings. (In fact, based on her own experiences, she has written articles on turning suburban outdoor spaces into “tiny homestead Edens.”)
In general, LaConte recommends that neighborhood gardening novices start with one of two easy options: the container garden or the raised-bed garden. (A quick Internet search will unearth a plethora of advice, instructions, and details about each.)
Make your bed…raised! A raised-bed garden is one that is built on top of your native soil—in other words, you don’t have to dig into your yard and can build it wherever you want. It can be enclosed by lumber, stone, brick, concrete, or even hay bales, and is filled with whatever type of soil you choose. Advantages include (but are certainly not limited to): improved accessibility (you don’t need to stoop as far to reach your plants), good drainage, fewer weeds, the ability to plant more densely, and improved soil quality. Also, raised-bed gardens heat up more quickly than the native soil, so you’ll be able to plant sooner and you’ll probably enjoy a higher produce yield.
Contain yourself! Did you know that almost any vegetable, and quite a few fruits (such as berries, limes, and melons), can be adapted to growing in a pot? It’s true! So even if you’ve got no yard at all, you can still cultivate a container garden on your balcony, patio, or windowsill. As with a raised-bed garden, container gardens are very accessible and offer you total control over soil quality. Keep in mind a few simple guidelines such as making sure that larger plants are in larger containers and that all have adequate drainage holes, and you’re good to garden!
Start small. If you bite off more produce than you can chew, you may become overwhelmed and leave your garden to the not-so-tender mercies of nature. If you’re a newbie, choose just a few easy-to-cultivate vegetables, fruits, and herbs, preferably ones that already feature prominently in your diet. You can let yourself gradually catch the gardening bug from there!
Don’t panic: You’ll find the time. Prospective gardeners may be excited by the idea of growing their own fruits and vegetables but daunted by the scope of the project ahead of them. If you’re wondering where you’re going to find the time to cultivate and harvest plants, take a deep breath. After the initial effort of planting and potting is over, your daily garden chores such as watering and weeding will usually be done in 15 to 30 minutes. And when you consider how much time most of us waste in front of the computer or TV, well…the task ahead of you might not be so difficult to fit in after all. (And it’ll certainly be more nourishing!)
“Grow” easy on yourself. The fact is, some types of produce are much hardier and easier to grow than others. Why make your first foray into gardening more difficult than it needs to be by trying to raise plants that are needy? Start with tried-and-true plants like basil, rosemary, blueberries, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers, for example.
It’s as easy as one, two, TREE. When most people think “gardening,” trees don’t necessarily spring to mind. While it’s true that trees can take longer than tomato plants or berry bushes to yield fruit, the wait is usually well worth it. Consider planting cherry, apple, peach, etc. saplings in your yard. As they grow, these trees will be both beautiful and practical. And the yardless needn’t be left out—remember that fruits such as peaches, plums, figs, lemons, limes, etc. (often available in dwarf varieties) can be grown in pots.
Farm alongside your flowers. Many people whose patios or yards are livened up by colorful flowers have never given a second thought to raising produce. If you’re one of them, consider this: You already have the knowledge and skills to care for plants. So why not plant some tomatoes or cilantro along with those zinnias and pansies?
Grow your own “spice rack.” Many people don’t immediately think of herbs when they hear the word “gardening,” but the truth is that these little plants are generally easy to grow, don’t require much space (think window boxes and small pots), and can really spice up your meals! Plus, with a little advance planning, you can stock your shelf with dried herbs that will last the whole year round.
Practice pollution-free pest control. If you are able to grow and harvest your produce with no unwelcome critters taking a bite or two, consider yourself lucky! The fact is, it’s a good idea to have a pesticide plan in place…but you don’t have to risk polluting your yard or harming beneficial insects in the process. For example, hot pepper sprays, garlic, used dishwater, and even some varieties of plants naturally repel insects and animals alike.
Make it a group effort… Nobody ever said that gardening had to be a solitary activity! For example, you might grab a neighbor (or two or three) and share the hoeing, weeding, and watering chores. And when your labors bear fruit, you can share that as well. (Also, it’s worth noting that gardening doesn’t have to be an adults-only activity. It can be a great bonding experience for families, too—working outside is much healthier than playing a video game or watching TV, and your kids will learn quite a bit in the process.)
…or a community-wide one! If you like the idea of enlisting aid in your cultivation efforts but don’t have the desire or space to “host” a garden yourself, research to see if there are any community gardens in your area. They may charge a fee for participation and might feature plots that are collectively gardened or plots that are allotted to individuals. One thing’s for sure, though—you’ll be able to take advantage of the expertise of your fellow gardeners, and you’ll probably make some new friends in the process!
If you need some guidance, find a 4-H club… Maybe you didn’t leave your 4-H days behind with your adolescence after all! The fact is, 4-H offers programs to its members that focus on plant science. Your local club might be able to give you personalized advice on your fledgling gardening endeavor…and you might find a fulfilling volunteering or mentoring opportunity in the process!
…or hit up the hardware store. Most hardware stores with gardening centers have everything you need to get started—and that doesn’t just include plants and gardening implements (though those are available in spades—pun intended!). Ask employees for advice on everything from which plants grow well in shade to how often to fertilize, and you’ll go home with your questions answered.
…or make friends at a farmer’s market. Chances are, there’s one near you…and who better to ask for tips and tricks than your fellow citizens who have already learned to garden successfully? This is also a good venue at which to learn about community gardens and group efforts. And bonus: You might be able to set up a booth yourself sooner than you think!
Today’s guest blog post is written by Ellen LaConte. Ms. LaConte is a memoirist, magazine and book editor, and freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and trade journals on subjects ranging from organic gardening and alternative technologies to the evolution of consciousness, democracy theory, and complex systems. After three decades of homesteading in Connecticut and Maine, she gardens now on a half-acre in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina. Ms. LaConte is author of “Life Rules: Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once and how Life teaches us to fix it”.
Garden for Your Life: Five Exciting Reasons—and One Downright Scary One—You Should Learn to Grow Food This Year
Spring has sprung…and if you’re looking for a good way to “go green” this year, here’s a suggestion. Don’t stop at planting a tree, attending a rally, or giving to your favorite conservation fund. Instead, make 2011 the year you move beyond symbolic gestures and engage with the Earth in the most primal, profound, and productive way possible: by learning to grow your own food.
It’s interesting to me that people work so hard to acquire the skills we need to make a living, yet most of us neglect the most basic, essential, and valuable skill of all: the ability to feed ourselves. We depend almost totally on other people to provide the nourishment that keeps us alive.
When you ponder the implications—especially in an economy that seems to be hanging on by a thread—you can see it doesn’t make a lot of sense. For this reason and many others, I’d love to see more people commemorate Earth Day by vowing to experience firsthand the miracle of growing food.
Plenty of people dabble in gardening, of course. A survey by the Garden Writers Association revealed that 38 percent of Americans grew some of their own vegetables in 2009, a number that reflected a growing percentage of under-40s, many of whom dragged or coaxed their kids to get down and dirty, too. And apparently something like 37 percent of food gardeners aim to expand their gardens this year.
While these aren’t bad numbers, I would rather see that 38 percent reverse itself into 83 percent. Growing your own food, brings with it a huge variety of benefits. Even if you discount the ever-more-plausible specter of economic collapse (more on this later), it’s hard to deny the gifts that gardening brings to your life:
1. It’s a source of fresh, delicious, wholesome food. Guess what most people list as their first and primary reason for growing some of their own food? That’s right: the food itself. Fresher, healthier, tastier—especially if it’s grown organically, without toxic chemicals—homegrown food is just closer to what food is supposed to be about. It doesn’t just keep you alive; it makes life worth living. And it keeps your body as happy as your taste buds.
What’s especially pleasing is that so many young people still have a taste for fresh and homegrown, for live and soil-born, hand-harvested and heirloom. Contrary to what modern taste mavens have written, the young haven’t all gone over to the artificial strawberry-flavored column.
2. It helps us get mo’ satisfaction. Seventy-one percent of young people, and at least that many older vegetable gardeners, spend hours on their hands and knees in proximity to earthworms and ants because they get some kind of satisfaction out of it. Part of that satisfaction is doubtless chalked up to tasty food and bragging rights. But a large part of it is owed to the ancient, unshakeable, bred-in-the-bone sense of competence and self-reliance that comes from providing for yourself and your loved ones and friends something that you and they absolutely need.
These are feelings most Americans have lost since they’ve come to depend on “the economy” to supply them with food. They are bone-deep feelings we share not just with those hearty, self-reliant colonial Americans we’re so proud to trace ourselves back to but also with the first humans that figured out that maybe if they left those apple seeds where they lay, maybe scuffed a little dirt over them or scattered a handful of those self-sown wheat seeds where the light and soil were better, why, darn, miracles would happen over which they had some control. On-demand food, 10,000 B.C.-style.
3. We’re up for downtime, and digging in the dirt supplies it in (pun alert!) spades. Gardening’s hard work. It takes concentration and focus. But for most Americans, the break from artificial lighting and air, plastic plants, a chair that may or may not be ergonomic, multitasking, 24/7/365 exposure to interruption, and other demands is more like a vacation than work. Sixty percent of the young vegetable gardeners in the Garden Writers Association survey said that’s why they gardened: It relaxed them.
When you’re in the garden, you’re working on plant and wind and sun and rain time, not clock time. If you let yourself be fully present to what the garden needs from you, you’re automatically attuned to Life’s more leisurely time frames, not the customary frenetic human ones.
4. It’s a spiritual thing. The original sacred texts of most of the great spiritual traditions begin in or refer to some sort of garden. Most of the world’s spiritual teachers have taught us how we should live in the world and with each other by using gardening metaphors and parables. So is it any wonder that for many, the garden, even one created in pots huddled on a patio on the fifteenth floor above an urban street, triggers a spontaneous, instinctive connection with that larger Life within which we have our lives and that ineffable Source of all that is, which makes new life arise out of something as unprepossessing as a seed?
Gardening makes us partners in the ongoing Creation. Like other forms of what feels like playing and praying at the same time, gardening is something that can be done alone. Its depths and pleasures are, however, amplified greatly by being shared.
Where I live in the Bible-belt south, it would be safe to say “the family that breaks clay together, stays together.”
5. It keeps us fit and healthy.Bend and stretch, bend and stretch. No doubt about it, gardening is one of the best ways to get and stay fit even before it offers up bounties of food that, if we eat them instead of what we pick up on the way home or have in a box in the cupboard or bag in the freezer, amplify fitness. Whole muscle groups you didn’t know you had get worked out at least seasonally in the process of digging, turning, hoeing, raking, sowing, weeding.
“Infamous twentieth century homesteader, vegetarian, and gardener Helen Nearing liked to say “gardening is an adult sport.” It’s also an aerobic and isotonic one. And, since she didn’t have children, she couldn’t have known that they take to gardening like doctors to golf courses, too.
6. And last—but certainly not least!—it might someday save your life. Here, without a doubt, is the most compelling reason of all to get proficient at growing your own food. As I explain in my book Life Rules, the entire global economy is too big not to fail. Dwindling resources, climate instability, skyrocketing prices, and other red flags point to a future in which the cheap, abundant, and readily available food we currently enjoy may no longer be there for us.
As hard as it is for most Americans to imagine, there may come a day when grocery store shelves are bare. If and when that day comes, the ability to grow your own food will no longer be a hobby but a survival skill.
Even if the worst doesn’t happen (I fervently hope we’ll get on top of our converging problems so that it doesn’t), a society that’s not disconnected from its food production is a healthier one in general. And when you consider how easy it really is to grow fruits and veggies—in backyards, on vacant lots, in community gardens, and in patio pots—there’s certainly no reason not to.
Gardening well takes skill, but seeds, soil, earthworms, more billions of soil microbes than you can count (if you don’t kill ’em with inorganic chemicals), rain, and sun do most of the work. The food is built into the seed and is called out of the seed by the other five. To take charge of our food supply again, we just need 83 instead of 38 percent of Americans to bring seeds into contact with them, love ’em a little, and wait.
Sounds like a good way to get up close and personal with our particular places on Earth this spring.