Archive for February, 2012

The Homies!

This has been an exciting week, what with being nominated for a Homie –  Apartment Therapy’s annual shout-out to all the home-related blogs out there.  I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few days looking through the list and have found a few new favorites:

Tiny-Ass Apartment

Urban Gardens

Built by Kids

The Art of Doing Stuff

Made by Joel

Check them out! There are plenty more on the Apartment Therapy Homies Page (and while you’re there, throw in a vote for Domaphile if you are so inclined).

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Food Gathering: Beyond the Supermarket.

I’m sorry to have missed this weekend’s annual JustFood Conference, because the panel discussions and workshops all looked so fascinating.  There were sessions covering everything from understanding the Farm Bill to what it takes to start your own farm (or at least start a CSA at your office, if you’re not ready to pack it in and head for the hills).  The event was sold out, which is a testament to how many people are thinking about these issues.

Reading through the conference program got me thinking about food sourcing. Many CSAs offer more than just produce – often you can get meat, eggs, dairy, honey, even grains.   We try to supplement our share with trips to the farmer’s market, but let’s be honest: in the wintertime especially, the majority of our food and household products arrive on our door courtesy of Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, or the Associated.

Not that I have anything against supermarkets, they certainly serve an important purpose, but I do think we take their convenience for granted at the expense of not knowing exactly where our food is coming from and what is in it.  Now, more than ever it seems, there are a myriad of creative ways to find food – sometimes local, sometimes organic, often sustainable and usually an interesting alternative to the standard supermarket fare.

So, how does one go about foraging online for food?  I have compiled a list of my favorite resources, some are general and nation-wide, but many are specific to the New York region.  If the Northeast isn’t local for you, start with the general national resources and you can narrow your results to your area.  I’m also looking to expand this list, so if you know of a resource or farm or food-type that belongs here, please let me know!

GENERAL

  • Local Harvest is a nationwide guide to finding local and sustainable food resources in your area.  Everything from farmer’s markets to CSA’s to grocery stores and food co-ops.  You can even purchase food (and CSA shares) through them – it’s a little like Etsy.  Looking for Emu steaks? Well, there’s a farm in Kansas that specializes in that very thing.  Not exactly local – unless you are in Kansas, that is.
  • FarmPlate is a recently launched online resource dedicated to connecting food producers and consumers across the country.  Their elegant database is searchable by location and producer, but you can also spend a lot of time browsing for things like seaweed harvesters (there’s one 86 miles from NYC), mushroom foragers (64 miles) and truck farms (nearest one in Brooklyn, of course!).  They also cover artisans, restaurants and markets.
  • RealTimeFarms is a crowd-sourced online food guide dedicated to connecting (you guessed it) farms, artisans and consumers.  Content can be added by members, making this a fascinating experiment to watch. They also have a cool Portlandia-like feature where restaurants can “share their menu’s story” by showcasing the source of their ingredients. None of them seem to come from hippie cults, however.
  • JustFood is one of my very favorite organizations connecting New Yorkers to local farms and galvanizing people around food issues.  If you are in New York, you can use their handy CSA finder.
  • GrowNYC is a city-wide non-profit agency dedicated to environmental awareness and improving the quality of life in New York.   They are responsible for the flourishing Greenmarkets in our city and their website is a treasure trove of information about local producers, seasonal food, and sustainability.  They are active in food equality issues and advocating for their farmers, as evidenced by their recently published report assessing the challenges local farmers face in retaining their farmland (full disclosure, my dear friend is a co-author of this extremely well-researched and important document).

MEAT

Many CSA’s offer meat shares on a limited basis, but if you are really hankering for sustainable grass-fed meat, you have a number of options that you can ponder while you set up your chest freezer:

  • EatWild is an online directory of over 1,300 grass fed farms nationwide.  Their map will connect you directly to producers in your area, or you can purchase items through their online store.
  • High Point Farms is an example of one of the many meat-only CSA’s that you can find through EatWild.  They offer shares of beef, pork, poultry and eggs for pick-up in various neighborhoods in NYC.
  • Grazin’ Angus Acres is one of the farms supported by the Greenmarket, selling their meat at area farmer’s markets.

FISH

Finding sustainable seafood can be a challenge, and Community Supported Fisheries are a recent development with most existing along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coast.  One of the most interesting organizations is Walking Fish, a CSF started in 2009 by 5 graduate students at Duke University’s School the Environment in partnership with local fishermen.

  • The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is an organization dedicated to restoring our marine system by supporting responsible and sustainable fishing.  Their site includes a list of community supported fisheries around the country and even includes a “find your CSF” feature.  According to their site, the nearest CSF to Manhattan is the Cape Ann Fresh Catch in Bolton, MA.  Not exactly local, so I’m still looking.
  • With no obvious CSF sources in NYC (please, correct me if I am wrong!), the next best option seems to be the Greenmarket Fishermen, one of which is American Seafood.  Check out GrowNYC’s Seafood Calendar, too.
  • i love blue sea is an innovated online source for sustainable fish.  Partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, they provide direct access to sustainable seafood.  If you live near San Francisco, you get the added bonus of it being local, too!  However, they will ship all over the US.
  • Sea2Table is an inspiring story of how an American family took a vacation to Tobago, met some fishermen and decided to figure out a way to get their sustainably caught fish to restaurants in the United States.  Although their fish doesn’t appear to be sold retail, they have expanded their model to include fisheries all over the world.

DAIRY

When I was growing up (in the ’70’s) we still had a milkman.  He delivered a few half-gallons of milk to a little box outside our door once a week.  It wasn’t organic and it didn’t even come in glass bottles (just paper cartons), but it was local.  In the past 15 years, organic milk has become as common as any other supermarket staple, and local milk is making a retail comeback, too.  You can even get milk in glass bottles again at Whole Foods or your Farmer’s market.  Two of the best local brands around NYC are MilkThistle and Ronnybrook.  But what if you want raw milk? Or even raw camel milk?

  • Udder Milk Creamery is a cooperative that provides 100% grass-fed, raw, organic dairy – along with many other raw and fermented products – to its members.  Once you have signed up, you can order online and they will deliver. They also offer alternative health and beauty products, so if you are in the market for edible clay and bee sting therapy, this will be one-stop shopping for you.
  • Traditional Nutrition Guild is a non-profit organization that follows the nutritional guidelines of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  It started in 2002 in Brooklyn as a way of delivering raw milk to its members, and has since expanded to include 4 of the 5 boroughs.

COFFEE

Coffee is an intrinsically non-local (at least for North America) product, but yet essential to a large number of us.  Fair-trade coffee is now easy to find from Starbucks to Whole Foods and beyond, but CoffeeCSA.org takes it to another level, allowing you to invest in a specific coffee farm with the return of regular direct coffee shipments.  For $650/year, you can receive monthly shipments of 5 lbs. of coffee (about what my family consumes), which comes out to about $12.50/lb.  The last pound of coffee I bought at Starbucks cost about the same and frankly, I would rather give all of my $12.50 to the farmer, wouldn’t you?

GRAINS

Local grains seem to be the next frontier in food and some CSAs offer shares of beans and wheat.  According to a recent New York Magazine article, 2012 is the year of the local grain – with many bakeries paying attention to where their ingredients are coming from.  But finding the actual grains themselves is still a bit of a challenge.  For locally cultivated grains like wheat, corn, spelt and rye, check out your local farmer’s market.  If rice is your thing (as it is mine), think about starting a paddy in your apartment (I’m totally serious about doing this).

  • Cayuga Organics is a purveyor of local, organic grains grown on farms around NYC.  You can find their heirloom grains at farmer’s markets, or buy directly from them online.  Their grains include, wheat, spelt, rye, farro, freekah, corn, and beans.
  • Wild Hive Farm is a community mill in upstate New York that process local, organic grains.  They have a commercial CSA that provides large quantities of flour to bakeries, but they also sell their products at the Greenmarket.
  • Farmer Ground Flour is a mill located in Trumansburg, New York, co-owned by the miller and the farmers that grow the grain.  Started in 2008, FGF is committed to organic, sustainable agriculture and the promotion of heirloom varieties.  They sell their flour at various NYC farmer’s markets, but will also custom blend flour for those interested customers who “want to try a new direction in flour”.  I wish that was me.

HONEY

Some people believe that consuming local honey can alleviate allergies.  Although the scientific data doesn’t seem to back up the claim, there are other compelling reasons to seek out local honey.  For one thing, it supports your local producers.  Contrary to what you might think, there are a fair number of honey producing bees in NYC -and you can find their liquid gold at the greenmarket.  A number of CSA’s also offer honey shares.  But if you are looking for a honey-only CSA, look no further than Brooklyn Homesteader.  The next best thing to getting your own bees.

OTHER NON-CSA, NON-SUPERMARKET, DELIVERY SOURCES

Aside from the specialized sources above and the CSA model, there are a number of other organizations that are in the business of connecting you to local and/or organic foods via delivery.  Places like Urban Organics, SPUD and Door-to-Door Organics that give you a little more flexibility than a standard CSA.  A nice description of these alternatives can be found in this Treehugger article.

Another new hybrid-CSA model a friend just told me about yesterday is This Batch.  Operating out of a restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, This Batch is a service that allows people to buy food from local farmers, but allows a little more flexibility than than a CSA.  Each week, members receive an email of options from which to choose.  Sounds intriguing, and I would be interested to find out how it works. The first season could be an interesting exercise in the trends of taste.  What will happen to all that unwanted celery root? Or rutabega?  Or what if everyone wants kale and there isn’t enough?  Stay tuned!

This list is a work in progress and I hope to add to it moving forward. I would be interest in hearing your own non-supermarket food sources?

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Kitchen Cosmetics: Would you care to try our house-made, artisanal deodorant?

Let’s start from the premise that deodorant is problematic.  For one thing, the kinds that really work are filled with all sorts of things that are suspect for your health: aluminum, parabens, propylyne glycol, and random perfumes, to name a few.  It got a bad rap back in 1990 when a study was published linking the aluminum in deodorant to Alzheimer’s While the research is ultimately inconclusive, it does give one pause.

So what are the alternatives?  Well, there’s the deodorant crystal – a stone made of ammonium alum – but I’ve never found it to be effective.  And there are some good non-toxic brands on the market, my favorite being Lavanilla, but at $18 tube, I feel sort of like a loser buying it – especially now that I know how easy it is to make at home.

There are a wide array of recipes out there to help you combat the persistent quandary of the stinky armpit.  Some have few ingredients, some have several – but they all include the magical element that is baking soda: the great neutralizer.  Why is sodium bicarbonate so awesome?  You can use it to leaven your bread, scour your tub, brush your teeth, deodorize your fridge and at the end of the day, you can sprinkle it in your armpits, too!

Google DIY deodorant and you will find so many recipes you will start to get the feeling you are the only one out there not making your own.  I can assure you this is not the case, but once you start down this road it is kind of addictive (see Lemon Honey Body Butter).  One of my favorite sources for homemade cosmetic ideas is Crunchy Betty and she has a few good deodorant recipes, one that you can even put in a stick or tube (although I am too lazy for that).  The truth is, you only need a few basic ingredients and then you can embellish on your own.  The formula that I find works best is:

3 T. Coconut Oil

2T. Shea Butter

3 T. Arrowroot Powder

2 T. Baking Soda

A few drops of essential oils (eucalyptus, tea tree, etc.) – optional

Melt the Coconut Oil and the Shea Butter together in a double boiler.  Once melted, stir in the arrowroot and baking soda, mixing thoroughly.  Pour into a glass jar to cool, stirring occasionally to keep the oil from separating. It takes about 5 minutes to mix together and a few hours to cool. I find that if you put it in the fridge overnight, it solidifies nicely and you don’t need to store it in the fridge after that.  It forms a thick paste that you can apply with your fingertips.

If you want a thicker paste, you could add more arrowroot.  I think 2 T. of baking soda is enough to be effective, but using more could irritate the skin.  Same with the essential oils.  They are not necessary, but can add a nice scent.  On the other hand, tea tree oil is a little intense.  You have to play around a bit to find what works best for your skin.

So why go to the trouble to make your own deodorant when you can easily find a decent brand  on every street corner?

  1. Because you know what’s in it – no ingredients you can’t pronounce (except maybe the shea butter…)
  2. Because the ingredients are inexpensive, you can spend all the cash you save by making your own deodorant on expensive mascara (which I do not recommend going DIY on).
  3. You bypass all the packaging. Yay!
  4. Because it works!  How do I  know? Because my husband even uses it and he’s, well, a man.

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More Valentine’s Inspiration

As I mentioned in my last post, I think this is the last year of the matchbox valentine for us and I need some new inspiration.  Just this morning, my college friend, the designer Kristine Bolhuis, posted this charming photo of the valentines she made with her 7 year-old son.  She writes:

In our family, Valentines are all about doilies. And that is how it was when I was growing up. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, but had been an elementary school teacher. During holidays she brought out her supplies and decorations from her teaching days. Valentines always involved doilies, and red and pink construction paper.

This year, when I asked my 7 year old boy what kind of Valentines he would like to give out, I was fully expecting him to say “Star Wars!” or “Pokemon!”. But no, his answer was “Doilies Mom! Get doilies!” And so I did.

After some searching I found nice quality doilies at a kitchen/restaurant supply store. We used a 6 inch size (made by Hoffmaster). To the usual red and pink construction paper hearts my son added some red watercolor paint, stickers, and marker drawings. He went to town on these and each one is unique. Even my 4 year old enjoyed making them for her preschool class. Between the two children, we are handing out just over 50 of these handmade Valentines this year.

I think I have found my Valentine’s Day inspiration for 2013!  I love these beautiful doilies they remind me of snowflakes and I – for one – would be happy to receive them.  They are also the perfect answer to the non-candy valentine, as requested by many teachers.  I have to say, I am coming around to this idea.  By 11:30 today, the nurse’s office called to say that my daughter had vomited and asked me to pick her up.  Worried that she had the stomach flu, I rushed to the school.  She seemed fine, no fever.  On the way out the door, she told me they were making necklaces out of fruit loops and she ate them all.  Then puked.  Nice.

Aside from our school valentine making frenzy, I managed to make some little gifts for the girls to wear to school.  Inspired by this post at Felt So Cute, I took some leftover felt and stitched up some hearts.  For my oldest daughter, I made a headband.  And for my hair-ornament-eschewing 5-year old, I made a pin that got lost in the candy-overdose frenzy.  It took about 2 hours to finish them both, but that’s because I was using the wrong needles.  This is a completely doable project.

So that is Valentine’s Day.  The girls are asleep and my husband is making lamb chops.  All is well.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I pull out the little match boxes and origami paper that I don’t seem to ever use for its intended purpose.  For me, Valentine’s Day is all about the crafts.  And the color red. I hesitated to make the same kind of valentines this year, but I had 30 matchboxes leftover from the last go around and a fresh crop of kindergarteners, so why not?  Esmé is reading and writing this year and loved labeling all the boxes.

For my older daughter, we needed to do something a little different.  But what? I scoured the blogosphere, but in the end found these little bags that she was happy to decorate (again, the theme being unused origami paper):

The original plan was to make chocolates to fill the bags.  I did my research, purchased some heart-shaped molds and the ingredients.  How hard could it be? Probably not that hard, but mid-weekend, amidst the cutting, pasting, coloring, birthday parties and music festival, my husband gently told me that making little heart-shaped chocolates was maybe just a little insane.  I totally disagreed, but gradually came around to his point of view on Sunday evening, when we were still slogging through all the boxes and bags.  By that time, it was too late to even make cookies, so I ran to the store and came back with Hershey kisses.

I still want to try my hand at making chocolates, but perhaps a pack of 3rd graders wouldn’t be the most appreciative audience for that sort of endeavor, anyway.

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Schnitzelfest 2012

One of the side effects of a month of virtuous eating, was the excessive mental energy given to thinking about verboten foods, mostly in the form of fried potatoes, stewed meats, warm bread and pastry.  By the end of January, we had planned a dinner party.  Schnitzelfest  is our mid-winter culinary tradition, usually centered around short ribs, spätzle and braised cabbage.  This year, we decided to go with saurbraten, which needed to be marinated for 5 days before the party.  Although it was delicious, I think shortribs are a better contrast to the braised cabbage.

Here is the menu:

VORSPEISE

Pretzels with Quark

Fun-sized Wienerschnitzel with Preserved Lemons

Latkes with Smoked Whitefish and Horseradish Sauce

HAUPTSPEISE

Saurbraten

Spätzle

Braised Red Cabbage

NACHSPEISE

Apfelstrudel mit schlag

Thumbprint Cookies

Underberg

The biggest success of the evening was the Strudel.  Made by gradually stretching pastry dough over a bed sheet draped over our kitchen table, my husband managed to pull it out to 3 feet square!  The result was magnificent.  One friend brought perfect thumbprint cookies and another brought small bottles of Underberg to finish off the evening.  It was a Bavarian bender like no other.

We’re back to reality now.  No more mini-schnitzels. sigh.

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By the way, what’s up with your building compost?

Our building compost has been going for one month!  Those of us participating in the program have gotten used to carrying our little buckets of food scraps down to the “garbage courtyard” – as it is so pleasantly called –  dumping them in the tumbler, adding a handful of leaves and giving it a spin.  So far so good.   But that is not to say there haven’t been a few bumps along the way.

Starting a bin in January (albeit an eerily mild one), we knew that the breakdown process would be a bit slow.  However, I was a somewhat distressed to find that after only a couple of weeks, it looked like our bin was almost full of what amounted to semi-frozen vegetables – nothing seemed to be decomposing.  It would be a huge disappointment to have to stop our composting to let the bin cure right as we were getting going, so I decided to give it some help in the form of a compost accelerator:

Gardener’s Supply Super Hot Compost Starter is a mixture of bacteria, fungus and nitrogen (in the form of blood meal, bone char, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, pasteurized poultry litter, natural nitrate of soda, feather meal, and peanut meal) designed to speed up the chemical reaction that is compost.  It looks like this:

Unsure of exactly how much to add, I marched down to the bin and threw in approximately three cups, gave it a spin and hoped for the best.  A day or two later, I went down to check and was pleasantly surprised to find that our bin had essentially “cooked down” from a pile of discernible food scraps to a steamy compost:

Success!  That night, however, it rained.  The next day I was dismayed to find a rather large puddle of compost slime collecting underneath the bin.  Of course, had the tumbler been sitting on a grassy surface, the excess liquid – a normal part of composting (I think) – would soak into the ground,  but on the concrete it made an icky mess.   Our facilities manager (not a big fan of this project to begin with) was justifiably unhappy about it.  I cleaned it up and took a peak in the bin. Still steaming, it seemed like the microbes were on a roll.  Maybe too much of a roll.  By the next day, the weather had warmed up and the bin had begun to smell – a lot.  Every time I went out there, the odor had taken on a different fragrance note as though it were the inverse of a fine perfume. By the hour, one could almost imagine what those over-achieving microbes were working on: eggs? citrus? no, onions!  The building maintenance staff was not happy.  If this is the way compost smells, I don’t think it will be doable here.  Crap.  While I understood their concerns, I have to say that even when the compost was at its most pungent, it was not as gross as the garbage room smells every single day.  It wasn’t even as gross as any NYC street corner in August. But I kept that to myself.

The only thing I could think of was to add more browns, so I put a bunch of dried leaves in the bin to try to balance out the wet steamy mess.  The weather cooled down for a few days and suddenly the microbes seemed to wear themselves out and the compost stopped smelling.  All was right with the world again.  Lesson learned? Composting is about balance.  Too dry and cold? Nothing happens.  Too wet and slimy? Tempers flare and smells abound.  A metaphor for life, perhaps?

In the meantime, I read a fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly yesterday about a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae commonly found in compost.    Turns out, it has mind-altering effects, acting as a serotonin booster.  In other words, compost can get you high. Now, if I tell that to the building maintenance guys, they’ll probably set up a table and start eating their lunch out there.

While our building compost is only a small measure in keeping food waste out of landfills, it’s a start.  Check out this documentary trailer that shows the dramatic amount of food that ends up there anyway:

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