Kitchen Cures For Climate Change

Seeking Higher Ground!

Helping Our Planet Plate By Plate

It’s getting more obvious each year that climate change is occurring faster than many people hoped. If of us are in a position to actively change the world, we can all most definitely change our corner of it. For starters, we can make a significant review of our daily habits, many of which contribute to our world’s environmental woes. Some changes are both pretty obvious and simple, like switching to energy saving LED lights. If you’ve been turned off by LED lighting in the past, take a look at the newer types, which are “tunable” to suit various needs, and are especially helpful for aging eyes!. We can also work on driving less, walking and biking more, and reducing energy use wherever possible (something we often think about but don’t always manage to put into practice).

What do we buy and how is it packaged? Reducing waste can make changes that accumulate beneficially, especially if we avoid single-use plastics and choose paper packaging over plastic. Aluminum cans are easy and cheap to recycle; indeed, they’re 100% recyclable indefinitely, whereas plastic bottles are more difficult and expensive to recycle than aluminum, steel, or glass. These and many other excellent tips can be found on Climates, a UK-based but worldwide social network that connects people who want to live lives that reduce the impacts of climate change. The group encourages thinking and experimenting and sharing carbon footprint-reducing ideas that are practical anywhere.

What’s On Home Plate?

If we first-worlders have been sheltered from drastic climate change, today violent weather shifts are affecting everyone everywhere. Island dweller like me definitely think about rising sea levels, nervously noticing the new tsunami warning signs posted in our Waterfront Park. Before long, all of us will also be more aware about food sourcing: We Americans enjoy unprecedented food choices, yet the more abundance we enjoy and the more we import, the greater our carbon footprint.

Here’s a sobering thought: The average footprint for people in United States is over three times the worldwide average. Wanna check yours? Try this: http://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=8

The fastest way to shrink our footprint is by changing our daily diet. If all meat eaters simply switched from beef and lamb to pork and poultry, each person would shrink a ton a year off their footprint. Over half of crops grown worldwide are used for meat animal feed, mostly for beef. While worldwide food production creates up to a third of all greenhouse gasses, by far the largest portion comes from raising beef. Hmmm.

Moving Towards Meatless

For some folks like me, making the switch was effortless. However, if your family is novelty-averse, try using pork and poultry in recipes where you might ordinarily use beef, such as stew. Use your usual beef-based recipe but substitute pork, and don’t say anything about it unless somebody asks. Most savory dishes can be made deliciously with turkey or chicken replacing beef, from burgers to meatloaf. Serve sustainably harvested fish weekly, perhaps starting with fish and chips and high-end fish sticks. Gradually mix in salmon burgers, fish tacos and grilled trout to gently nudge the family meal pattern away from red meat.

Many kids are far more open to eating vegetable-based meals when they’ve helped to grow and harvest the food, so get them into the garden early and often. If you already eat a meatless meal once a week, try having a weekly meatless day and ask the kids for ideas. If you get push back, have an open, exploratory conversation about climate change and choices. Experiment to find tasty, intriguing vegetarian recipes the whole family enjoys and simply serve them without comment. I’ve found that, if there’s lively conversation on interesting topics, many people won’t notice there’s no meat unless you point it out. So don’t.

Garden Tacos

Chewy, organic yellow corn tortillas make tacos especially toothsome; for the most intriguing texture, lightly fry the tortillas on both until they bubble, using just a slick of avocado oil. Crunchy sweet corn, velvety avocados, spicy peppers and onions make this high-satiety meal especially satisfying. Have all ingredients prepped so you can serve (or eat) these amazing treats straight from the pan.

Sweet Corn & Avocado Tacos

8-10 6-inch yellow corn tortillas
1-2 teaspoons avocado oil (or any high-temp oil)
1 cup salsa
2-3 ripe avocados, thickly sliced
few grains sea salt
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet peppers
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1-2 fresh limes, in wedges

Brush a heavy frying pan with oil and place over medium high heat for 1 minute. Fry a tortilla on both sides until it bubbles, then spoon a little salsa over it. Add slices of avocado and sprinkle with salt. Now add some corn, red onion, peppers and cilantro, squeeze on a little lime and fold in half. Eat at once and prepare to be amazed! Serves at least one.

http://www.climatesnetwork.com/splash.php

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25795-going-vegetarian-halves-co2-emissions-from-your-food/

More about tunable LED lighting:
https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/2016_gateway-acc.pdf

 

Food’s Carbon Footprint

 

 

 

Posted in Climate Change, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nourishing Native Pollinators

Planting For Bees, Bugs, Butterflies, Bats, Birds…

I’ve recently been asked to help design a garden that will nurture and support native bees and other native pollinators. The request was made with determination but some sorrow as well, as the couple seemed to think that the only way to do this is to replace all our non-native plants with huckleberries and salal. They also worried about attracting honeybees, which might crowd out natives. The idea that native pollinators are only able to feed on native plants is a common misconception. It’s true that some native pollinators are indeed specialists that really do feed mainly on certain plants; think about Monarch butterflies and milkweeds, for example, or squash bees. However, many native pollinators are generalists that happily harvest nectar and pollen from a wide palette of plants.

It’s easy to get confused about how to be helpful, since while there’s plentiful information available about non-native honeybee preferences, there’s far less for native pollinators, which were largely ignored by the general public until colony collapse started making headlines. Until a few years ago, nobody really knew how to nurture native pollinators in our gardens. However, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology challenged quite a bit of “standard wisdom.” A group of researchers decided to test the question of whether gardeners who want to enhance gardens in support of pollinators should plant native or exotic species. Three test plots designed like garden beds held native, near-native, or exotic mixtures of plants. Over a four year period, the beds with the most flowers at any given time got the most pollinator visits. The beds with the native and near-native mixes were the most popular with the greatest number and variety of pollinators overall. However, as the flowering season wore on, pollinator attention shifted as the exotic plants extended the floral display longer than the others.

Variety Wins!!

The final recommendation was to plant mixtures of native, near-native, and exotic plants with an eye to having bloom for as long as possible. Now, that’s exactly my kind of garden! The study (which took place in England), defined natives as plants that arrived in England without human intervention and were attractive enough to be garden worthy. Near-natives were chosen from plants native to the Northern Hemisphere that were ecologically similar to a native plant (like using Japanese maples in place of vine maples). Exotics had Southern Hemisphere origins and were able to fill a similar ecological slot to a native plant.

Though no precisely similar study has been done in the maritime Northwest, the researchers suggest that their results are likely to be replicable elsewhere. Some of our most useful guidelines can be found on the website of the Xerces society (see below), which has been promoting pollinator protection and support for nearly 50 years. We can also become researchers in our own gardens, watching and recording which plants get the most visits through the season. For instance, herbs are always popular in my gardens, along with almost any open-faced blossom that’s single rather than double (double flowers are harder to access).

Who’s Who In Pollinator Circles

I’ve always been fascinated by bees and other pollinators and enjoy trying to identify that many tiny critters that inhabit the garden. Like many people, I started with bees. Yikes! North America is home to over 4,000 bee species, many of which admittedly look pretty similar. Others, however, are quite distinctive and it’s well worth spending some time with an insect guide to learn to recognize our tiny neighbors. Good resources include bugguide.net and the USDA/Forest Service online guide called Bee Basics. If anyone wants to develop a good handbook to help identify native insects, I think you’d find a ready market!

As with so many things, the more we learn about our companion pollinators, the more we want to nurture and support them. Happily, simply offering a broad palette of pesticide-free plants will take us a long way toward that goal. While European honeybees are social creatures that share a hive, most of our natives are solitary bees that nest in the ground, in fallen logs and old stumps, or even in clumps of wild grasses. Like organic farmers, we can establish untended ‘bug bank’ areas where beneficial insect nests won’t be disturbed. Another excellent reason to practice benign neglect!

Nurturing Natives

Sturdy little Mason bees are among the best known of our natives, largely because they’re champion pollinators and easy to raise at home. (European honeybees actually aren’t all that efficient.) Since about 75% of backyard food crops are bee pollinated, providing food and shelter for natives can pay off in big garden dividends. Naturally enough, native flowering plants will be the biggest draw for native bees (who will often go on to visit the imports). You’ll find some attractive and garden worthy plant choices among the Oregon grape family, from low growing Mahonia nervosa to shapely, mannerly forms of shrubby M. aquifolium such as Smaragd and Apollo. I always add insect favorites like Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), and native roses to my own gardens if they aren’t there already, mainly because I love them too. Flowering currant and native honeysuckles are also rewarding, as are evergreen and deciduous huckleberries, thimbleberry, salmonberry, salal, ninebark, kinnikinnick and redtwig dogwoods.

Not too surprisingly, many native bee favorites are also appreciated by native butterflies. Indeed, when we amplify our garden palette with choice natives, our beds will come alive with a delightful range of beautiful critters, from helpful insects to lovely birds. Certain native perennials may appear without our help, including bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), red columbines (Aquilegia), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and avens (Geum macrophyllum). If they don’t pick the right place for themselves, gently reposition them now where they can flourish over time. I often group such volunteers between tall shrubs at the back of deep beds where they have room but don’t swamp proper border beauties.

Natives & Allies

Both honeybees and native pollinators are fond of Sidalceas and Lavateras in both native and non-native forms. Many species of violets, milkweeds (Asclepias), sweetpeas, dogwoods, and spireas are similarly popular, whether native or exotic. Fruit crops will benefit from Mason bees, while veggie beds will attract native bees that appreciate tomatoes and peppers as well as squash and beans. Ornamental thistles please bees, butterflies and birds (especially goldfinches), while hops can gladden the heart of man (in liquid form, anyway) as well as butterflies and the smaller bees.

Nectar is not the only attraction in a well stocked garden, so don’t get bugged by bugs. Having a haze of insects hovering over your beds will just about guarantee you a host of birds (even hummers need protein as well as sweet desserts) as well as butterflies. Housing helps too; many grasses (especially stipas) are butterfly friendly host plants, while roses offer building material to leaf cutter bees along with their pollen and nectar. That’s a large part of why I tidy the garden in late winter and early spring rather than in autumn; putting off the work protect and supports native pollinators and when I finally get around to it, there’s a lot less to do, since so much as self-composted in place.

Here are links to lots of accurate regional information:

Pollinator Conservation Resources – Pacific Northwest Region

http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MaritimeNorthwestPlantList_web.pdf

 

 

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Savoring The First Strawberries

Heritage Home Grown Sweetness

Though strawberries start appearing in supermarkets in early April, most of these hothouse products are huge and tasteless. By mid May, the first locals (which appear from now into June) arrive, ephemeral treasures to be cherished. Smaller and less showy than those super-sized California girls, the sweet little strawberries-next-door may be plain Janes but boast richer flavors and brighter perfumes. Berries of all kinds thrive in the maritime Northwest, and strawberries are no exception. June bearing strawberries produce a single crop and many runners, each of which can become a new plant. June bearers are often planted in wide beds and allowed to create new colonies after the fruit has been harvested. By planting early, mid, and late fruiting varieties, June bearers will fruit for about four weeks. Plant your starts about 12-16″ apart with the crown at soil level, choosing a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil.

Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries produce two to three flushes of fruit in bursts, from early summer into autumn. Both are good candidates for growing in strawberry pots near the kitchen, where a happy handful can quickly be gathered to brighten a salad or sweeten a dessert. Longer lived than June bearers, they are less prolific with runners, so coddle those that do appear to replace your original plants which will exhaust themselves in a few seasons. Tiny alpine strawberries, diminutive but prolific Everbearers, are just right for edging a path or tucking into odd corners.

Celebrating Strawberries

Here on Bainbridge Island, strawberry season has been celebrated for over a century, kicked off by the appearance of local fruit and culminating in our Filipino community’s election of a lovely young Strawberry Queen, who gets to ride a float in our lively small-town Fourth of July parade, practicing her flat-handed queenly wave. Local strawberries are also passionately welcomed by the whole community as folks flock to our local, family owned Town & Country Market for the season’s first local berries. Most come from the Sakuma Brothers farms, run by former island families who found larger fields on the main land, but some are still grown on small island farms that date back to the days when Bainbridge Island was called the fruit basket of Puget Sound.

Best In The West

Here on the West Coast, the earliest strawberries include Earliglow, a sweet, juicy June Bearing favorite with excellent form and flavor. Honeoye is also an early bird June Bearer, though it needs a full year to settle in. Once established, you’ll harvest copious quantities of fat, tangy fruit. For early to midseason fruit, consider Chandler, a very productive variety with succulent, colorful, wedge-shaped berries. Surecrop is another tasty June Bearer, with especially firm, plump fruit that freeze well. These sturdy, disease-resistant troopers need a season to get started but produce lavishly their second year.

Outstanding among Everbearing strawberries, Ogallala is especially hardy and tough. Like many others, this one is a light fruiter the first year but kicks it up to serious production in year two. Delicious in salads and smoothies, the juicy berries are red clear through, without the white hearts of many modern hybrids. Sequoia, also Everbearing, ripens earlier than average, with glossy, sweet berries with that classic conical shape. Sequoia also hits its stride in its second year, and often sends out scads of eager runners, each tipped with a wannabe baby plant. Day Length Neutral Seascape is notably disease resistant and highly fruitful, offering extended harvests well into August once established.

Strawberries On The Table

Refrigeration may keep berries fresher longer, but cold air starts converting sugars into starches, which makes ripe strawberries (or tomatoes) taste flat. For best flavor, serve strawberries the day they are picked and at room temperature. Freeze fresh strawberries whole on flat baking sheets, then transfer them to tightly sealed freezer containers. They’ll taste best if used within three months but save some to make jam or smoothies in winter and they’ll be fine for such purposes.

What might you do with your daily harvest? For a quick and delicious dessert, serve freshly picked strawberries with a sprinkle of freshly ground nutmeg and brown sugar. Garnish summery soups with sliced strawberries and slivered green onions. Add quartered strawberries to green salads and dress with a white balsamic vinaigrette. Stir a cupful of chopped strawberries into sourdough waffle or pancake batter. Or, of course, you can make smoothies!

Strawberry Breakfast Smoothies

1/2 cup ice cubes
1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 ripe banana
2 cups coconut, almond or oat milk (or any milk)
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons finely chopped mint
few grains sea salt

Grind ice in a blender, add remaining ingredients and puree until creamy. Serve cold. Serves 2.

Strawberry & Greens Salad

This summery salad is also lovely with raspberries or Loganberries.

8 leaves of Butter or Boston lettuce
1 cup finely shredded Swiss chard, golden or red
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
12 fresh strawberries, sliced and fanned
1 teaspoon capers, drained
2-3 ounces fresh goat cheese
Fresh Strawberry Dressing (see below)

On four salad plates, arrange lettuce and top with chard and red onion. Fan berries on each plate and top with capers and goat cheese. Drizzle with dressing and serve. Serves 4.

Ripe Strawberry Dressing

1 cup chopped strawberries
1/3 cup avocado oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic or cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Dessert First

Although nothing beats eating sun-warm strawberries straight from the garden, these enticing fruits lend themselves to a wide range of treatments, from sweet to savory. After eating a few day’s worth of naked berries, I’m ready for a few classics. For many years, my family has celebrated the start of local strawberry season by enjoying strawberry shortcake for dinner. There are, of course, many versions to try, but after a fair amount of playful experimentation, I’ve plumped for these light, flaky, slimmed down shortcakes, which gain flavor, fragrance, and a tender crumb from whole wheat pastry flour.

Perfect Strawberry Shortcake

Berries:
6 cups strawberries, hulled & quartered
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup

Combine in a bowl and set aside to macerate for at least 15 minutes.

Cream:
1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1-2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Whip cream to soft peaks, add sugar and vanilla and whip for 10-15 seconds more. Set aside.

Shortcakes:
2 cups whole wheat (or any) pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon cardamom or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter OR coconut oil
3/4 cup milk (almond if not cow)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and blend for 5 seconds. Add butter and process for 10 seconds or until evenly distributed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in milk, starting with 1/2 cup, adding just enough for the dough to form a ball (not too sticky). Pat into four rounds 1/2 inch high and bake at 450 until golden (12-15 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes, then split in half like a bun, using a fork, and fill with berries and cream. Serves at least one.

 

Posted in Early Crops, Easy Care Perennials, Gardening With Children, Growing Berry Crops, Planting & Transplanting, preserving food, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Food And Good Company

Relishing Raw Asparagus

This weekend, my daughter and I had a house blessing ceremony to celebrate moving in to our newly refurbished home. At a recent choir practice, I’d asked my fellow choristers to come sing a sweet old hymn, Bless This House, and then invited the whole congregation to come along, as well as the entire neighborhood, my Friday Tidy and library pals, and any old friend I happened to see last week. They packed the house with cheerful good will and good wishes, and I was extremely grateful to our talented contractor Jorge Hernandez for reinforcing the underpinnings before redoing the floors!

My loving and wise Pastor Dee Eisenhauer blessed the front doorway and each room, including what she declared to be the shrine of the kitchen, blessing the herbs and spices, the food, the pots and pans, the dishes, that all might serve to nourish us and our guests. What a powerful sentiment; may we indeed nourish each other physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually! I hope I can stay awake to that as I cook in this kitchen, taking delight in both the food and in my surroundings. I want to keep holding onto my gratitude for all the hands that went into making this room so bright and cheerful as well as functional and super cute.

Spring Gifts

As a house warming gift, a former library co-worker brought us a bag of home grown goodies, including young asparagus, huge shallots, and a beautiful, juicy Meyer lemon from her prolific tree (it lives indoors all winter, of course). She reminded me that they were ingredients in a salad I’d devised many years ago, a recipe I’d almost forgotten but happily revised for tonight’s dinner. Asparagus is a huge treat for me because I refuse to buy it out of season. I’d rather do without and look forward to spring asparagus than eat stalks that were grown thousands of miles away, flown up from South America and landing here trailing an enormous carbon shadow…

Fresh asparagus is both delicious and wholesome, packed with vitamins and antioxidants. When the first local produce arrives, grab it. Whether the stalks are thick or thin, there are wonderful ways to use them. Very thick stalks can be carefully peeled (though I find this a bother and prefer the slightly crispy crunch of skin-on asparagus). Like many vegetables, asparagus balances a subtle combination of savory and sweet sub-flavors that can be emphasized by alternating the herbs and spices we use in sauces. For instance, a mild curry dressing with a hint of cinnamon and coriander awakens sweetness, while lemon juice and capers bring out savory qualities.

Raw Asparagus Salads

These astonishing salads are high among my favorite springtime treats. Each offers an enticing variety of flavors and textures, and all can be adapted to accommodate vegan/dairy free eaters by leaving out the cheeses. Letting the salads stand before serving changes the textures, sometimes remarkably, as oil and/or vinegars “cook” the greens and asparagus a bit. You might try tasting some right after mixing, then letting them stand a bit, then tasting again to see which way you prefer these spring delights.

French Raw Asparagus Salad

1 organic lemon, juiced
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of smoked paprika
1 bunch plump asparagus
1/2 cup coarsely grated Romano cheese

In a jar, combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and paprika, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. Snap asparagus stem ends off and shave the spears into skinny strips (skin and all) with a vegetable peeler. In a serving bowl, combine asparagus and dressing, toss with cheese and serve. Serves 2-4.

Italian Raw Asparagus & Mushroom Salad

1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/3 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch plump asparagus
4 mushrooms (your favorite), halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian (flat) parsley
1/4 cup coarsely grated Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts

In a jar, combine lemon juice and rind with the olive oil, capers, salt, and pepper, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. Snap asparagus stem ends off and slice spears thinly on the diagonal, keeping tender tips intact. In a serving bowl, combine asparagus, mushrooms, red onion, and parsley with dressing and let stand for 20-130 minutes. Add cheese and nuts, toss gently and serve. Serves at least one.

Raw Asparagus & Shallot Salad

1/4 cup avocado oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon thyme, stemmed and minced
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups black Tuscan kale, shredded
1 cup arugula or radicchio, shredded
8 spears asparagus, ends snapped, cut thinly in rounds
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

In a jar, combine avocado oil, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. In a serving bowl, combine kale, arugula, asparagus, and shallots. Drizzle with dressing, toss gently and let stand for 15-20 minutes, then serve, garnished with almonds. Serves 2-4.

 

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