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Plant carrots, save the world (or at least avoid pesticides)

I had just finished transplanting my heirloom carrots from their egg carton home into planters outside when I came back in and browsed through an article in the New York Times about the revival of the kitchen garden. People freaked out about the spinach E. coli scare, the numerous strawberry-Hepatitis A incidents and the Humane Society video showing animal cruelty at a meatpacking plant have been turning to their own backyard as a source of nourishment.

Quite likely as a result of my parents’ own hippie tendencies (they make their own soymilk, and, before cow’s milk became déclassé, they had a cow and made their own yogurt), I’ve always been interested in growing and making my own food.

My first real taste of urban agriculture, however, took place at Fairview Gardens Farm and the Center for Urban Agriculture in Goleta, Calif. This place is a haven for organic fruit and veggie lovers. I worked as an intern for three weeks, helping to sow the seeds, weed the rows, harvest the fruits and vegetables and eat a few in between 🙂 What struck me was just how, well, difficult it was to keep the pests and weeds away. No wonder we turned to pesticides. But at what cost?

I also helped to coordinate the Community Supported Agriculture program, where people came each week to pick up their “share” of the farm — a basket filled with fruits and vegetables all harvested only hours earlier.

This was years ago, before the explosion of the locavore movement, before Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” books, and before organics were regulated by the USDA.

Now, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the wagon. Kitchen gardens are now chic and shopping at the farmers’ market has become uber trendy. CSAs are becoming increasingly common and eating local has become an obsession for some.

But you don’t have to jump in all of the way to enjoy some of the joys and benefits of tending to your own garden. You can plant a few herbs by your apartment window (egg cartons — the former home of my carrots — make wonderful little pots for seedlings) and join the local movement. I’m currently growing some cilantro and basil. All it took was a quick trip to Home Depot for a few seed packets and a bag of seed starer mix. The article had a great website — kitchengardeners.org — that has tons of tips on how to grow your own garden.

So come on, join us. After all, everybody’s doing it.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Spice It Up

It’s a familiar fixture in any kitchen. Often forgotten, relegated to a inconspicuous dark corner of counter space or pantry shelf.

s_turmeric.jpgAh, yes, the spice rack.

Most of your spices just sit there, forgotten. Depending on your level of experimentation, a few may emerge. But if you’re like most people, by the time you finally reach for the oregano, thyme or marjoram, it tastes like old, dusty cardboard.

Solution? Forget buying an entire spice rack at your local gourmet food store or an overpriced glass jar of sage at your local supermarket. Purchase only the spices you need at Penzey’s (www.penzeys.com) in small quantities.

Experiment with one spice at a time (their fabulous catalog includes a bunch of recipes) before stocking your entire pantry. Their spices are much cheaper than those you would find at the supermarket and you can often find a variety of spices. Case in point, they sell four different kinds of cinnamon! Penzeys also offers spice sets that make perfect gifts for the home cook.

In case you need some inspiration to whip up a spicy dish, here’s a delicious soup adapted from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook. When I first made the recipe, I found it a little watery, so I added a few veggies to make it a little more hearty. Serve with crusty white bread.

Curried Tomato Seafood Bouillabaisse

Ingredients

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes

3 cups vegetable stock

3 cups water

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

2 whole cloves

1 1-inch stick cinnamon

1 1/2 tsps crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons medium spicy curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 lb. assorted white fish, mussels, clams (Trader Joe’s has a perfect frozen seafood mix for this), fresh (or, if frozen, thawed)

1 cup edamame

1 cup chopped bok choy

salt and pepper

1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves

*****

1. In a large pot, combine the tomatoes, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, red pepper, curry powder and lemongrass with the stock and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.

2. Add the fish to the broth and cook about 10 minutes.

3. Add the edamame and bok choy (feel free to experiment with other veggies).

4. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Ladle into soup bowls and top with the parsley.

(serves 4)

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2008 in Soups, spices

 

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