Friday, April 30, 2010

Real Food. Real Easy.

By rights, all I should be doing right now is studying for the exams I have tomorrow. Instead, I went into the yard this morning with the dogs. From the window, I had seen it blooming, and I just had to get a close-up view. Had to.
This gorgeous yellow flower is the lone Russian Red Kale that survived the winter in my garden. In the fall, I was so busy with school... parenting... surviving... that I never cleaned up the garden for winter. When the snow hit, the garden was a wreck. Completely overgrown. *Sigh* I figured I would take care of things in the spring. But the spring semester has been even crazier than the fall and it hasn't happened.

Several weeks ago, however, I took a wrong turn in the yard and ended up staring a monster of a kale plant right in the face. Literally. The trunk on this thing is thicker than my drinking glasses. At that point, it had put out lots of new growth and was just starting to think about flowering. Free food! Exactly when there was nothing fresh locally, too. I pinched back it's first flower foray and harvested a surprising quantity of leaves. And then another. But eventually, it seemed cruel and pointless to stop this plant from flowering. It really wanted to. It was supposed to. And if it did, there would be more kale plants. So I left it alone to do its thing- and it has. It's beautiful. The trunk, stems, and leaf veins are purple, the leaves green, and the flowers this cheerful yellow. It's such a pretty plant that it left me wondering where I could use it in a flower border. Seriously. It's that pretty. And hey, people use those ugly, stinky ornamental cabbages- so why not kale?
But the kale wasn't all I found in the garden today. I also found an army or lettuce. Seriously. Check out the formation to the left. The solid green is Amish Deer Tongue, and the speckled is Forellenschluss (aka Speckled Trout Back, etc). Or perhaps I should say, that's what they were last year. Because I was not paying attention, I do not know if the lettuces flowered at the same time. They may be hybrids; or not. At this point, I don't care. I have an entire bed of lettuce growing, for which I did exactly nothing. In addition to these two, I've found exactly one head of this lovely (but poorly photographed) lettuce. I don't remember it's name, but will have to look it up and plant some more. It is really pretty! As you can imagine, I was thrilled so much lettuce going strong in the garden with no effort from me. But the bounty didn't

end there. The grapes that came with the property, whose trellis was all but obliterated by the series of storms over the winter, are leafing out. I haven't told them, but I've been thinking about pulling them out, rebuilding a stronger, better trellis, and planting grapes we actually like. The strawberry bed I put in last year is going like crazy. Apparently strawberries enjoy a certain degree of neglect because I have never seen strawberry plants this big. There are weeds everywhere, and still these plants make every effort to do what they are designed to do. If I remember to cover the strawberry bed to keep out the birds, it looks like we should have a bumper crop this year. How awesome is that? But wait, there's more! Despite my best effort to clean all the potatoes out of
the bed last year, one potato plant has come up. At this point, I'm inclined to leave it be for now and see what happens. You're not really *supposed* to do that- in order to prevent diseases from building up in the soil. But what the heck- let's live a little!
Then there's the chard, in red and yellow, and the corn salad that have seeded freely. And the hop vine running towards the sun. And the onions that didn't get pulled last year, but which I tried to pull early this spring and then gave up on because they were uber slimy, they are looking lovely as they prepare to go to seed.
As a gardener, and especially as a master gardener, I should be ashamed of myself for letting my garden fall into such a state. But as a real person with real responsibilities that have to come before the garden, I have to acknowledge that things happen. Usually, though, when "things happen" they don't result in free food sans work! Seeing the unplanned, yet very welcome, bounty in the garden- and the sheer beauty of some of these plants when allowed to go full cirlce,
has me thinking a lot about how and why we relegate food plants
to a garden of their own. Many plants from the food garden would be truly lovely mixed in with ornamentals. How about a walkway lined with gorgeous lettuce? Or kale as the backdrop to flowers? Onions provide interesting structural elements and the cool flowers common to all alliums. Strawberries might make a fun groundcover. Edible landscaping is not a new idea. But I'm not sure why its not more popular. I'm guessing people have just never seen the possibilities open to them. But it's worth having a good think over, because the potential exists to produce a lot of food without giving up the interest and decorative value of traditional landscape plants. Do you have an edible landscape? I would love to hear how you incorporate food with fun in your garden.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

USDA & FDA To Lobby UN To Prevent Labeling Of GMOs Worldwide!

Did you read that title? Wow. How scary is this? And so many other things. Ballsy. Irresponsible. Rude. The list goes on. The following is taken directly from the Fresh: the movie website . You can follow that link to sign the petition at the website. And please pass on the info! Comments must be in by Monday.

We have just a few days to stop the U.S. government from preventing the labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have adopted a pro-corporate position that laughably claims labeling GM/GE foods creates the "false" impression that "that the labeled food is in some way different from other foods.” [1]  Even worse, the current U.S. draft position paper declares that mandatory labeling laws such as they have in Europe are “false, misleading or deceptive.“ [2]

On May 3rd, Obama administration officals from the FDA and  USDA will travel to Canada for a special United Nations meeting to tell the world to adopt the same position, preventing other countries from rightly labeling GMOs as different from fresh, natural food.
Sign our petition now before the deadline on Monday. 

[1] Consumers Union, Press Release, April 20, 2010
[2] 80+ Groups Urge FDA, USDA to Change U.S. Position on Food Labeling Civil Eats, April 20, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Please accept my sincerest apologies for adding a donate button. I would really like to send my kids to computer camp this summer. They deserve it; and I can't swing it. No pressure. Really.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FDA Raids Amish Farm

At 4:30am Tuesday, April 20, Amish farmer Dan Allgyer of Kinzers, Pennsylvania walked out to his barn to begin the morning milking. At 5:00am, five men in three vehicles drove onto Allgyer's property and began poking around by the light of the flashlights they carried. The quintet included two FDA agents, two deputy US Marshals, and one PA State Trooper. They told Allgyer they were there for a "routine inspection," but also handed him a warrant claiming "credible evidence" that Allgyer was involved in interstate commerce. More specifically, Allgyer is suspected of selling raw milk dairy products across state lines.

The 5:00am "routine inspection" involved much rooting around, taking of pictures, and delaying of milking. The very next morning, Allgyer received an expedited Letter of Warning from the FDA informing him that "Failure to make prompt corrections could result in regulatory action without further notice. Possible actions include seizure and/or injunction."

A legal defense fund for Dan is in the works with details to follow as available. Meanwhile, please consider this request from the executive director of the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association and visit NICFA at this address:

ACTION: Please call and write the number and address below. Express yourself. Tell them that you support Dan Allgyer. If you drink fresh, unpastuerized milk tell them that. Tell them that more people every day are drinking fresh milk and this is going to increase. It's not going to stop no matter how many farmers they persecute. Tell them the government has no place between individuals and the farmers from whom they get their food.
Philadelphia District Office
Serves Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Customhouse
Second and Chestnut Streets, Room 900
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 597-4390 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time)

Cookbook Review: A Winner! (sort of)

When I posted the Easy Cabbage Casserole recipe, I promised to do a review of the cookbook from whence it came (all hail Mr. Gall, my 8th grade English teacher). Here is the promised review. Actually, it's two reviews. I obtained from the library Brenda Ponichtera's Quick & Healthy in original version, and also volume 2. The second volume is picture here. If you decide to pick up a copy, you want the one with the red cover.
I received the original book from the library first. Honestly, I was more than a little disappointed. This book included a small handful of recipes I might try (but never actually did). When I first looked at the book, I was struck by several things. Ponichtera is a dietician who specializes in diabetes, weight loss, and heart disease. So it was really no surprise to see that all her recipes feature low-fat, fat-free, light, and "lite" versions of products. I was more surprised to see her reliance on things like canned cream-of soups (low-fat, of course) and liquid smoke (what exactly is that stuff?). This book included a lot of repetition. For example, some of the same recipes appear several times- once in each specific meat's section. I can see how this is helpful if you only have chicken to work with on a particular night, but it adds a lot of filler to the book. Looking back over this book for this review, I have to say that there may be more interesting recipes in there than I originally thought. Perhaps I initially picked it up on the wrong night. But, overall, I stand by my original position.

The second book, however, I found to have more promise. I will tell you this up front: all the recipes I have tried without modification have been bland. But they have all also shown a lot of promise if minor adjustments are made. For instance, I followed the recipe for Chicken Chop Suey to the letter. It wasn't bad, just boring. I think this particular recipe would have been lots more interesting with the addition of something as simple as a small amount of red pepper flakes. I also made a Creamy Cabbage Soup that includes polish sausage. Considering the addition of the sausage, I expected more flavor. Again, it wasn't bad, but it also wasn't interesting or fun to eat. If you goal is to stay alive, this is a peach. If you want to live a little too, alterations are in order. For this soup, we felt it would have been better blended (instead, it calls for chopped cabbage in a creamy base, which is kind of a weird combination). It also needs more flavor. Perhaps a stronger sausage, or some other addition entirely. 

The things that I really like about Volume 2 are that the reliance on processed products is diminished, and the recipes are almost all short, easy to follow, and promising with minor adjustments. I can work from this book. New from, this book goes for just under $13, or used for slightly less. For that price, I plan to pick up my own copy of Volume 2. What is your favorite cookbook for "quick and healthy" recipes?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Favorite Shortcut Products: SOC Organic Tikka Masala Sauce

If you've been reading here for a while, you know that I have a lot on my plate and not much time to spare. Converting to a better diet has been challenging enough without the added food prep time. As such, I've been on a constant search for shortcut products that help me feed my family better, with less time in the kitchen. Seeds of Change has a line of simmer sauces that I really like a lot. There are four of them; although oddly, the ShopRite where I find them locally only carries three. We use the Tikka Masala sauce most often. It is a mild curry sauce. Usually I add chicken and serve it over brown rice. But I did just notice that SoC has a recipe for Butternut Squash Tikka Masala on their website that looks intriguing.

In addition to Tikka Masala, there's nice Korma sauce, Jalfrezi, and Madras. We found the Madras sauce too hot for us. The Jalfrezi is referred to as a medium-hot curry sauce (as opposed to the red hot Madras and the mild Tikka Masala) and would probably be popular at my house. Too bad we can't buy it here! I also like the Korma sauce, which is a mild coconut curry. Unfortunately, The Girl is not a fan of coconut, so we don't have it often.

Each jar contains only 12 oz. of sauce, but stretches nicely with the addition of chicken. I think I remember the jar saying it contained three servings. We do tend to split it three ways here and have it as the main course of our meal. But it would go a lot further as a side dish if you have more mouths to feed. I don't consider this cheap; it goes for about $4.50 a jar. But it is really nice to have in the pantry for nights I either don't have time or energy to stand around in the kitchen. If you've tried similar healthy shortcut products, I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easy Cabbage Casserole

This casserole is so easy. It's also healthy and the kids didn't complain at all. That makes it a new favorite for me. This recipe showed up in my inbox via Mary Hunt's Everyday Cheapskate newsletter. The full recipe info from the newsletter is below, including the original source info. But I made a few minor changes. First, I didn't have "quick-cooking brown rice." Actually, I didn't even know this existed. So I used regular brown rice. I put a cup of rice and a cup of water in a pan and brought it to a boil. Then I took it off the heat and poured the whole shebang in my casserole dish. Also, the recipe below calls for a small head of cabbage, about 1 1/2 pounds. I could not find a cabbage that small. The one I used was just over two pounds and I went ahead and used the whole thing. That made for a full casserole dish, but not too full. I meant to add salt and forgot. I think it would have helped define the flavors a little, but it was fine without. The recipe calls for a 10.25-ounce can of tomato soup. I used 14-something ounces and I think even a little more would have been even better, but I didn't add any water to it. Finally, I sprinkled the top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and then after it baked I added a little more and mixed it in. The cheese was an excellent addition.

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole

This is a simple version of stuffed cabbage rolls. If you're looking for a quick one-dish meal, try this one on a busy day. You'll be delighted to have a meal complete with a whole grain, protein and vegetable. You'll save time if you double the recipe so you can have plenty for leftovers.

1 cup boiling water
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice, uncooked
1 small head of cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 pound extra-lean ground beef or ground turkey (7 percent fat)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 can (10.25-ounces) low-fat condensed tomato soup*
1/2 can water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2-quart covered casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add 1 cup of boiling water and rice to the dish. Cover while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Slice cabbage. In a large skillet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, stir-fry cabbage until limp. Add the cabbage to the casserole dish.

Brown meat with garlic and optional salt in the same skillet used to stir-fry the cabbage. Spread over cabbage.

Mix soup with water. Pour over all, and gently stir to mix. Cover and bake for 55 minutes or until rice is cooked and cabbage is tender. Serves: 4.

Note: One serving is an excellent source of fiber.
Nutritional Information:Serving Size: 2 cupsCarb Servings: 2**
1 1/2 starch, 2 vegetable, 3 lean meat,
1/2 fat**Nutrient Analysis: calories 336, total fat 10g, saturated fat 3g, cholesterol 71mg, sodium 416mg, total carbohydrate 36g, dietary fiber 6g, sugars 6g, protein 27g
*Sodium is figured for reduced sodium.**Half of the grams of fiber have been subtracted from the grams of total carbohydrate when figuring Carb Servings and Exchanges.

Source: Quick & Healthy Volume II, © 2009 Brenda J. Ponichtera, R.D. Published by Small Steps Press, publishing health conscious books for the general population, a division of the American Diabetes Association; retail $18.95. To order call 1-800-232-6733 or visit Also available at local and online bookstores.