It’s no secret that I have an obscene love of food. What most people don’t know however, is how much that love extends to the utensils and dishes with which food is prepared, served and enjoyed. I would wager, in fact, even my own family is in the dark as to how deep my fondness for all things food-service related runs.
There is something about fall that is truly endearing on every level. The combination of warm, soft sweaters; the sound of leaves blowing across the ground; the smell of chill in the air; and the inherent comfort in the foods that call the season home don’t hurt. Of that I am sure. But for small farmers and local growers the season signifies something greater than even these material comforts.
Fall, for farmers, is the end of an era. It is a time of hard work as is every season, but it’s also a time of reflection, of examining what worked and what did not. It’s a time of tweaking systems. A time of extending harvest, milking the earth for just a few more weeks of production. More than all of this however, it’s a time of loss. Of saying goodbye. [Read more…]
This week, in the Back-to-School Eats series, I’m going to talk Brown Bag Lunches. From planning to execution, purchase to lunchroom-feast I’ve got tips, tricks and ideas to make healthy, mostly local lunches quick, easy and attainable for even the busiest families. But before we get started on lunch, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Back-to-School Eats: On The Go Breakfast Edition for four wholesome ways to kick off your school-kid’s day. Because breakfast is the most important meal, one that sets the tone for success and health and if your child hasn’t had a good breakfast the quality of his lunch isn’t going to be able to make up the difference.
Have a System – When my oldest started Kindergarten I was still one of those really good parents. I was expending an obnoxious amount of time trying to Do It All and I was succeeding. Most of the remnants of that time are now long gone, ancient history, but a few usable bits and pieces still remain. One of those things is a lunch planning spreadsheet I created. Or, rather, several of them. They’re divided into four categories; main dish, fruit, vegetable and treat. Those categories are color coded and each spreadsheet represents a different season, a different part of the school year. In each of the categories, on each of the spreadsheets, are several items that we usually have on hand during that time of year. Some items make an appearance in more than one season — peanut butter and jam sandwiches and apples, for instance — but many are seasonal with temporary availability — like asparagus in the springtime, peaches and pears in the late summer and early fall. Each day my girls pick one item from each category to make up the lunch of their choice. You don’t have to use my system, though it works very well if you’d like to, but have a system in place to make everything from purchase to packing easy.
Start Big – It’s contrary to everything your mother ever told you — “Start small, deary! Work your way up! — but hear me out. What I mean is not to start big overall, but to start with the big things. To have the biggest impact start with the largest portions of the meal and work your way down to the condiments, the toppings, the little treats. If sandwiches are a common component of your kids’ lunch look for good local sources of bread (or the grains to make it in your very own bread maker) and lunch meat. Worry about the condiments later, for instance.
Understand Your Law of Supply and Demand – And obey it. If you have one child who eats an apple a day, chances are you don’t need a bushel of apples every week. It’s just as easy to overdo it at the Farmer’s Market as it is to not go at all. Buy what you need, eat what you buy.
Plan Ahead – Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in a temperate climate where the growing season and the Farmer’s Market go year-round, you’re going to have to plan ahead for winter. Last year, in On Year Round Appreciation, I alluded to the importance of asking your local growers about year-round product availability now, before the market closes, but that is doubly important when you’re trying to get three meals a day out of the local food scene. Remember, some products don’t have a set season. Meats, eggs, preserves, breads, and even some produce that keeps well in a root cellar like potatoes, onions, apples, hard squashes and garlic can be had in the dead of winter without trucking it in from miles out. Start planning how you’ll access these goods before the cold sets in. You may be able to buy them farm direct, you may need to stock up. Now is the time to know which it’ll be.
Whatever the system you choose and foods you pack here’s to happy, healthy, local and — most important — stress-free back-to-school lunches!
I have always adored misshapen pumpkins most.
I have always preferred imperfection.
That’s why, when last weekend, as I watched my own two girls pick out their yearly jack-o-lantern prospects I was proud to see flattened stems and dented backsides making the cut.
Last week, in On Inheritance we talked Heirloom tomatoes; their origins, beauty, roots in the land and the way such a simple fruit can connect us with our ancestors, the generations past. This week, we’ll take a more practical look at the summer’s most coveted bounty with some of the best recipes from around the web.
After decades of conditioning to the acceptance of dull, pale, supermarket varieties one of the biggest questions people have about heirloom tomatoes is what to do with them. Sure, they’re pretty, but how do we eat them? Everyone knows they’re great for slicing, but a rare few know the true breadth of a good heirloom’s culinary possibilities.
Prior to the relatively recent industrialization of our food system however, heirlooms were all that existed and as such the possibilities for their uses extend as far as our imaginations. From salads to sauces, pizzas to pastas heirloom tomatoes are the perfect accompaniment to just about any dish and even make great waves as the dinner table headliner themselves. That said, without further ado, some of the best heirloom tomato recipes I’ve found to date:
Food Network gives a well-received template for creating an heirloom tomato salsa, my only tweak to their system would be to encourage you not to limit yourself to one variety of tomato. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different textures, colors and tastes to find the blend you enjoy most.
Martha Stewart offers her rendition of the all-American Friday night dinner with her Oven-Dried Heirloom Tomato Pizza and there’s really no sense in trying to improve a recipe from the master, especially when it doesn’t get any simpler. I love how she lets the tomatoes flavor take center stage in this one with just a dash of pepper to spice things up.
Sea Salt With Food’s Grilled Corn and Shrimp Salad doesn’t specifically call for heirloom tomatoes, but substituted for the conventional grape tomatoes the heirloom would really make it pop.
And last, but certainly not least, one I have not tried but that I couldn’t help but be fascinated with; Cheddar Cheese Pancakes with Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette — yes, I said warm bacon — from Sippity Sup. Try it and let me know what you think. It has both tomatoes and bacon so it has to be good.
Until next week, happy tomato eating!
* Heirloom Tomato Art in this column is by Big Bean Photos, f2 Images and Darrah Parker, respectively. Because Tomatoes are not just for eating, but also good for decorating. So go get yourself a print, or ten.