Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Slow Foods Healthy Meal Challenge!

Dear Folks,

Slow Foods USA is having a challenge event on September 17, 2011.  Can you make, share, host or write about a meal that is a homemade, nutritious and overall healthy option to fast-food offerings for $5 or less?

Click here to learn more about the challenge itself.

I have taken the pledge to make such a meal.  Here is what I'm going to do.  I decided to address the meal options as versions of "happy meals" (I am working with a crafter friend to come up with a locally made 'toy'- and hoping that works out).  These won't be for just children only, I expect adults to enjoy the meals I have in mind too.

If it were adults alone who need to make better food choices some of the "challenge" would not be so challenging.  But finding healthy options for children when you are competing with some of the top social/food addictions is a real challenge.

For those of you who are not familiar with Slow Foods - it is an organization devoted both to alternatives to both fast food, and the re-focus back to community and local.

"Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment."

On September 16th, I will publish my recipes and other related information to the challenge, and hope that you can do two things:  1)  try them yourselves, and 2) pass the information around to as many people as you can.

Get off the fast food track and onto the community slow food trail and enjoy a renewed sense of community and, oh by the way, better health :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Is A Market Town? What Is A Made Over?

Dear Folks,

I am particularly drawn to old fashioned ideas - when they make perfect sense most of the time.  There is something comforting to me about terms like 'made over' and 'market town.'

The former (made over) is an old fashioned term for using 'left overs.'  Now a days more recent terms referring to left overs are Rachel Ray's "cook once, eat all week."  Yesterday I made a rif on an Italian pasta fagioli (bean) soup, using a couple of left overs, to 'make over' into this outstanding soup. (Recipes below.)  Made over foods are the ultimate in recycling and if done with creativity, no one has to know you used left overs unless you tell them.  Growing up in a financially challenged family, I had a negative 'thing' about anything hand-me-down or leftovers.  I have matured in both age and appreciation for making complete use of something, or even planning ahead to consider the other uses for things down the road.

What Is A Market Town?

The phrase has history in both England and other countries in Europe and other areas of the world might call these marketplaces bazaar or souk.  Whatever the term it means a central place to come together to sell and buy things.

I like the term 'market town' because to me it means community.  While England is known for its market towns operating as a hub to the smaller residential villages and towns surrounding it, the need for market towns was utilized here in the US, although not always under that name. Any rural farming or ranching area had a place where residents "went to town" weekly or monthly to buy or sell supplies, visit and catch up with other residents and then return home with their purchases.

In this day and age the concept of a "market town" for centrally located merchandise sources might be called a "mall" (shudder) but really should be looked as "your neighborhood" community.

The valley does not have the advantage of several centuries of community history like some areas of the east coast.  The almost ancient areas there had to forge extensive community reliance in the 16 and 1700s in order to literally survive.  That history made it a little easier to form communities where most people knew each other, and share not only commerce, but social interaction.

Here is the valley while there is a rich history of cultural diversity, there is less community because we are soooo spread out.

Where am I going with this?  I would like our valley folks to look at their neighborhoods as their community, not just the city at large, although that is certainly a part of it.  There are a lot of reasons for choosing to look to neighbors and most it has to do with a kind of survival resource.  In a disaster who would you turn to first?  What if you can't call or drive or even bike to help?  Most of us would either call for help to our neighbors or we would see that our neighbors need help.

This past week's earthquake and then hurricane Irene on the east coast made me contemplate community a lot more - I have extensive family all up and down the eastern seaboard.  So far all reports are they are all safe and un-injured.  Some may be without power until early September, some can't go to work because the roads are either blocked or the companies themselves shut down.  On a side note I am very angry at those who think the hurricane was over-hyped.  You can't over-prepare for a hurricane or other potential natural disaster.  If you are lucky enough to survive with extra, store it or donate it!

So the community I envision is my neighborhood.  If you think, as I do, about what my neighbors do for a living or are good at in retirement, I can think of my neighborhood as a 'market town' and by extension as "my community" where I might get help from a plumber or Deane can help someone start their car, or . . . I help them.  I like to share my meals with neighbors, particularly an elder one.  One neighbor and I do cookie/candy making at the holidays and deliver trays to those we know.  We bring fresh things from our garden to newbies.  My neighbor and I going to organize a cookie swap for the holidays.  What can you do in your neighborhood that would make it your community?  It does not have to be houses.  An apartment complex or dormitory is a community.  Years ago I lived in a small garden apartment complex and we all routinely got together for parties and holidays, going in and out of apartments like a huge progressive party.

I hope you see what I mean here.  Who are your neighbors and what can you and they share?

Besides a 'market town' for buying and selling things, your community can also be your participation with your neighbors in a neighborhood community garden.  I have written about this before. A community garden, can certainly be a lot set aside by the City (Mesa Community College also has a community garden), but it can also be several neighbors growing what they are either good at or have space for and then getting together for a good old harvest gathering and sharing.  And during that event you can find out what each do, and plan for a cookie or candy swap during the holidays.

More on community gardens.

Here is a new buzz word SPIN -- Small Plot INtensive farming.  Deane's son Travis has launched a tour with his gal-friend Morgan highlighting gardeners, small farmers and others with great ideas on permaculture and sustainable agriculture.  The SPIN concept is to make use of urban lands either by lending, renting or purchasing them for sustainable farming, to create a small commercial farm in an urban environment.  A 'community farm'.  The main "Eco-Jaunt" site is here.

The feature on SPIN is here.

Learn more about SPIN here.

While you might not be interested in staring your own commercial farm the ideas in the SPIN concept of utilizing local and urban areas for community are worth learning.

Made Over Recipes.


Home made chicken broth (sure you can use store bought)
Boiled Dressing (see below for recipe)
1 Left Over Cooked Chicken Breast (see directions)
1 can organic northern white beans or cannellini beans (more power to you if you cook your own from scratch - save about 2 and a half cups worth of cooked with some of the liquid)
1 large potato (I used a very large new red) - I always leave healthy skin on potatoes while cooking
1/4 cup stellinie or pastini pasta (small star type)
1 heaping tablespoon of corn starch
water as needed
Herb blend of choice - I used rosemary, garlic and black pepper
salt to taste (I used a total of about 1/2 teaspoon)
Optional:  Other vegetables to add more depth and color - carrots, celery, parsnip, sweet potatoes.  The extra veggies should be added at the same time as the potatoes and the liquid increased to completely cover them while cooking.

A boiled dressing is an old fashioned recipe where you thicken a liquid mixture of flavors to create a sauce which can be used hot like a gravy or cold like a salad dressing.  The beauty of this recipe is at your choice there can be no fat at all, it has a lot of flavor depending on what herbs and spices you put in it and the citrus brings out better flavor in most foods.  This is an unsweetened lemon or limeade.

2 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice
6 ounces of water
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 heaping tablespoon of corn starch.
Herb/spice mixture - I used about a half teaspoon of a mix of dried rosemary, garlic and black pepper.

Mix juice with water, and place 3/4 of it in a sauce pan with salt and herbs and bring just to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Make a slurry of the remaining cold liquid with corn starch and blend well (the easiest way I have found to mix the corn starch slurry is to put in a jar, cap tightly and shake well.)

Slowly poor the slurry in the simmering pot, stirring - simmer for about 2-4 minutes until thickened.  At this point you can use while hot or chill and use later for heated gravy/sauces or tossed with salads.

3-4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 recipe of the boiled dressing
1 teaspoon of olive oil

To a hot skillet add oil and then the chicken breasts, cook on medium high heat uncovered. Turn after 1 minute.  Cook other side 1 minute, turn once more and add dressing all at once.  Add more herbs if you like. Cover and cook on medium turning the chicken every few minutes until done.  It usually takes me a total of 20 minutes for this dish.

Save 1 chicken breast and some of the sauce for the soup on another day.  Sever dinner tonight with either a salad or a colorful mix of sauted vegetables.  You can saute the vegetables in a bit of the sauce to keep the flavor theme going.

Dice the raw potato.  Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and set aside.  Open the can of beans, but do not drain.

Bring 3 cups of chicken broth to a boil and add the liquid from the beans, setting the beans aside.

Add the potatoes and about a quarter teaspoon of the blend of herbs.  Add a shake of or pinch of salt.  Cover and cook the potatoes for about 7 minutes on a low boil.  A knife or fork should get just a bit of resistance.  Add the pasta, stir and continue cooking covered for 6 minutes.   Add the beans, chicken and reserved sauce all at once. Cover and cook for 1 minute.  Meanwhile to some chicken broth or water, add the corn starch and make a slurry.  Slowly add to the pot while stirring.  Taste for any additional salt or herbs.  Serve with crusty bread.  A very hearty and satisfying soup - we had it yesterday and it was delicious - keep the recipe for cool or cold fall / winter meals.

If those of you of Italian heritage are wondering why no tomatoes -- I love tomatoes, tomato sauces and lots of foods cooked with them.  I just want some wonderful soups and stews which allow other flavors to come forward.

Hope you can expand your community!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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