Chicken with Bok Choy

Last night for dinner I made one of our household favorites, Chicken with Bok Choy. I originally found the recipe online several summers ago when we first received bok choy (also known as pac choi or “Chinese cabbage”) in our CSA share. I had never heard of the stuff, let alone cooked with it, so I turned to cooks.com, a fantastic recipe resource I discovered during my senior year of college when I was no longer on a student meal plan and had to fend for myself in the cooking realm. The database is made up of culinary creations – some excellent, others never to be repeated – from people all over the world, and one can simply enter in a few ingredients you’d like to use and all sorts of ideas pop up. Have some carrots, kohlrabi and cream, as I did? You might find this great recipe for “Kohlrabi and Carrots.” My husband will hate the Lynn Rossetto Kasper reference, but consider it an online solution to “Stump the Cook.”

So, this Chicken with Bok Choy recipe was one I came across and it seemed very simple. Few ingredients and a great use for a green completely foreign to me. I followed the original recipe the first time and have made some adaptations since then, namely rearranging the recipe to make it more readable. Here is my version:

Chicken with Bok Choy

  • 8 oz boneless chicken
  • 1 lb bok choy (pac choi)
  • 1 slice ginger root (or substitute: ground ginger)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • oil
  • Marinade: 3/4 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari, 3/4 Tbsp cornstarch
  • Sauce: 1½ Tbsp soy sauce or tamari, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp cornstarch, ¼ c water

Slice chicken and put in a bowl.  Add Marinade and mix; set aside.

Chop bok choy into slightly larger than “bite-size” pieces, separating the stems and leaves.  Heat wok (or large pan), then add 3 Tbsp oil. Add bok choy stems and ½ cup water and stir fry, approximately 7 minutes.  Add leaves and cook until limp.

In a separate wok (or pan), heat 3 Tbsp oil.  Stir fry ginger root and garlic until fragrant.  Add chicken and stir fry until cooked. Add Sauce, turn heat to high and stir quickly to mix.

Remove and mix with bok choy.

MY NOTES: As I mentioned, this recipe is adapted from the original. One of the main things I did was the step about separating the bok choy stems and leaves. I found when I added them both at the same time, either the stems would not get cooked enough or the leaves would become mush. Separating them might take a little more time, but this recipe is so quick anyway, it is worth it. I also removed the salt from the recipe, as it seemed very unnecessary, especially when you have soy sauce or tamari. Personally, I only use tamari, as the sodium is much lower and it is 100% soy, where as “soy sauce” often contains wheat, so isn’t edible for gluten free folks out there. Additionally, while the original calls for thighs or legs, I usually use chicken breast, and I often add more garlic and ginger. In a pinch, if I forget to get fresh ginger, ground does work, though I usually don’t add it until I add the chicken. When selecting the oil you will cook with, be sure to choose an oil suitable for cooking on medium to high heat (higher smoke point), like refined canola.

This summer when I was home visiting my family, we made this recipe, but were a little short on bok choy, so we increased the veggie volume with a few peas and celery. This last time, I threw in a little cabbage left from another recipe. You can definitely experiment with adding additional veggies, though I would stay away from things that have really strong or contrasting flavor (like sweet bell peppers). The bok choy flavor is rather delicate, and you might lose some of what really makes this recipe enjoyable. Of course, this is all up to personal tastes.

I’ve shared this recipe with friends and family probably more than any other on my favorites list, and I hope you enjoy it too!

August 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm 1 comment

Blue tomatoes!

That’s right, blue. And beautiful as ever.

Helsing Junction Blues

We’re growing a cherry tomato in our garden this year called Helsing Junction Blues. It’s a newer tomato variety, bred by Tom Wagner, a professional tomato breeder who owns New World Seeds & Tubers. The name is in honor of Helsing Junction Farm, a certified organic farm in Washington. I purchased the seedling from Norsejenta’s Seedlings in Duluth, Minnesota.

The leaves of the plant have a slightly bluish tint and tend to curl up on the edges a bit. So far we’ve harvested about a dozen and a half of these two-tone tomatoes. They start off part purple and part green, ripening to red and indigo blue. Roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, they aren’t sweet to speak of, but have a well-rounded full flavor. The plant is incredibly prolific and the tomatoes grow in bunches, as can be seen in the picture.

I will continue to highlight a number of things we are growing in our garden throughout the remainder of the summer. It’s been great growing so far!

July 30, 2012 at 12:08 am 1 comment

The beauty

I was recently asked to give a brief talk about the community garden where I volunteer, which I’ve written about in the past. The talk was for an event focused on community development work and my task was to highlight the achievements and importance of places like the garden in building sustainable community. My talk started with the reasons I first came to the garden – partly a matter of faith, caring for creation and the children and families in the community, and partly a matter of professional interest, advocating for access to healthy, local and affordable food for all.

And while these two reasons are definitely valid and important enough on their own as motivation to volunteer at the garden, I realized that the thing which keeps me coming back to the garden is simply…

The beauty.
(The following is the remainder of my speech.)

This beauty may not always be apparent, we have our tough days – but the beauty is always there.

The beauty in our garden is not found in everyone showing up on time and diligently working for hours. It’s not found in straightly planted rows of carrots or evenly spaced tomato seedlings, with no weeds growing between them.

The beauty in our garden is found in places you might not see if you stopped by on your own, but I promise you that it exists in a way that can, and will, grow over the years.

The beauty in our garden is found in a child discovering how to read a seed packet or learning to use a shovel for the first time.

It’s found when a child you weren’t sure was paying attention correctly identifies most of the vegetables planted in the garden.

This beauty is found in beets, and a young girl, down on her knees discovering how to thin them and saying how sad it was to have to remove some of the plants so others could grow, then realizing that she could eat the greens and eagerly taking them home.

The beauty is found when you overhear supposedly “uninterested” kids later instructing their peers on how to properly plant a tomato with phrases like “no, she said to do it THIS way.”

The beauty occurs you hear Indian women telling Latino women how to use eggplant and Latino women informing me what you can do with a tomatillo.

The beauty is when you harvest the abundant basil and turn it in to pesto and then serve it on pasta, and some of the kids actually like it (even if they won’t admit it until weeks later).

The beauty is found when a child returns to the garden after picking lettuce the previous day and she tells you that her mom bought salad dressing especially for the occasion so they could enjoy the meal together, as a family.

The beauty is found in a six year old boy who looks up at you, after tasting his first bite ever of yellow summer squash, which HE helped you grill and serve to the other kids, and say “Mmmm…Squash is the bomb! Can I have another?”

The Cottageville Park Neighborhood Garden provides a unique space for our youth and families in the Blake Road Corridor to come together. In a neighborhood that has its challenges, there are just as many, if not more, opportunities. The garden is a place where adults and children from all cultures and walks of life can put their hands in the dirt, and grow not only food, but community.

June 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm 3 comments

First fruits

Perennial plants provide a type of spring joy that will likely never be achieved by annuals, at least not in northern climes. Sure, annuals offer some of the tastiest harvest, but perennials often get the first (asparagus, anyone?) and last (apple pie, yes please) say of the growing season. While annuals often require certain temperatures and warmer soils to be planted, perennials begin their new growth as soon as Mother Nature hits the “Go” button. Their emergence may depend on the particular spring and your location, but by April or May, around the country we are all generally treated to some sort of perennial beauty.

I love early spring flowers – while in college in Tacoma, Washington, my favorite were the daffodils that bloomed in February – but the real treat to me are the early fruits. This last weekend, we were gifted with our first: vibrant red strawberries. We have patiently watched for these berries, having planted the initial starter plants in 2010. The first summer was just to establish the patch, and last year, the few berries that were produced were stolen by ants, so this year has been awaited with much anticipation.

Unlike anything you could ever get shipped from California, a fresh, tender Minnesota Grown strawberry delivers a burst of tanginess and sweetness that will leave you craving more. They almost melt in your mouth like a fine chocolate.

If you don’t have space in your own garden to grow berries, or you can’t grow enough to meet your needs for pies, jams or just plain eating, there are many ways to get your hands on these delicious treats. Check out your grocery and ask them if they carry local produce; if they don’t, as them to consider it. Find your nearest farmers market and get to know the vendors. Or, you can do what I find most satisfying, and that is Pick Your Own or PYO. One of my favorite places to pick strawberries is Sam Kedem Nursery & Garden in Hasting, Minnesota. Sam and Rachel have been growing wonderful produce for over 15 years, and for the past several years have been certified Organic. In addition to strawberries, they also have PYO raspberries, blueberries, cherries and currants, not to mention many vegetables. If you’re looking for some quality produce and friendly farmers, head on down!

Not near Hastings, but want to PYO elsewhere in Minnesota, check out this handy guide, organized by county.  Other states also have listings. Happy picking!

May 31, 2012 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

Plant sale extravaganza!

Here in Minnesota, where Spring first peeked out two months ago, then retracted in to cold, rainy April, we are very ready to get our garden on. This past weekend, we were given the gift of two warms days on which to do our major plant shopping. Fortunately, it also happened to be a BIG weekend for plant sales.

I started my weekend with the annual Spring Plant Sale and Open House at Minnesota Food Association (MFA), which I have also volunteered at for the last three years. An organically certified farm, MFA’s plants are grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. I spent the day helping others decide what to take home for their gardens, and then filled my own boxes full of tomatoes, peppers and our family favorite – Brussel sprouts! I’d like to take a moment to put in a plug for my favorite sweet pepper, the Gypsy pepper, which I discovered through the MFA sale last year. They start out light yellow and progress to bright red (see picture), and become the most magnificently sweet delights you could imagine.

The next day, my friend who runs Norsejenta’s Seedlings, had her annual batch of tomatoes and peppers ready for pickup. For tomatoes, I went home with wonders like Anna Banana Russian, Isis Candy and Mortgage Lifter! And of course, I couldn’t leave without a KBX, my favorite I discovered at this sale last year.

Next I headed across the river to the Friends School Plant Sale for their final day when everything is 30% off. I love going on this day because I am usually not looking for anything in particular, which is good because its pretty picked over, but I always find some fun (or funny) treasure. Last year it was “Gretel” eggplant (I didn’t get there in time to get the matching “Hansel” plants). This year I picked up a Thai Green eggplant and two varieties of kohlrabi.

If you missed out on any of these (or you’re in another part of the country), don’t fret, there are sure to be more in the coming weeks. Wherever you are, be sure to check them out and this year, consider getting something fun and new to try!

May 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm Leave a comment

Grapefruit and Chicken Thai Style Salad

Salads are a popular dinner in our house. Usually it is a typical tossed salad – lettuce and whatever random veggies I have chopped or shredded as mix-ins, a sprinkle of cheese, seeds or nuts and topped with a light dressing often of oil and balsamic vinegar, or Italian for my husband. Lately, however, I’ve had an interest in mixing things up and bringing together new flavors in the salad bowl.

Last weekend we went to a restaurant in Minneapolis where we had never eaten before and ordered the spring roll. Unlike many I’ve had before with shrimp, this was a vegetarian one, and when it came out, it was about twice the size of most spring rolls I’ve had. Filled to the brim with lettuce and other veggies, my husband and I agreed it was almost more like a salad in a sheet of rice paper, not a bad idea actually. That got me thinking I’d really like to make some sort of Asian inspired salads, so when the greens start growing in the garden this summer, I’ll have a few salad options up my sleeve.

Enter the Wedge Co-op and their handy “What’s for Supper?” recipe cards! A few weeks ago I had picked up one for a Grapefruit and Chicken Thai Style Salad and knowing I had most of the ingredients, I decided it was a good option for dinner last night.

With no further ado, here is the recipe:

  • 1 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 1 tsp dried ground coriander
  • 1 tsp dried ground mustard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp Sucanat® or brown sugar, divided
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast or thigh cut into strips
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1/3 c peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp tamari (regular or wheat-free)
  • ¼-½ tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • 1 head lettuce, chopped
  • ¼ c roasted peanuts
  • ¼ c finely sliced scallions
  • OPTION: ½ c cilantro leaves

1.  In a large bowl, combine the ginger, coriander, mustard, salt and ½ tsp. of the Sucanat® or sugar. Mix well. Add the chicken strips and toss well to coat.

2.  Broil the spice-coated chicken strips for ~5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

3.  Section the grapefruit and set fruit aside. Squeeze the remainder into a small bowl until you have 3-4 Tbsp juice.

4.  In a small mixing bowl, combine 3 Tbsp of the grapefruit juice with the peanut butter, tamari, 1½ tsp. Sucanat® or brown sugar and Sriracha or other hot sauce. Mix well until smooth.

5.  Arrange lettuce on plates. Top with chicken, grapefruit sections, peanuts and scallions. Pour dressing over the salads and top with cilantro, if using.

MY NOTES: I LOVE peanut based dressings and sauces, so this was a winner in that category for sure. The chicken was perfectly flavored with these spices and it is super fast with the cooking (just five minutes, once the oven is heated of course). My husband was a taste tester for me and agreed the flavors blended really well together, save one – neither of us liked the pieces of grapefruit in the salad and I will definitely not include them in the future. If you didn’t want to get a grapefruit just for the juice, I think you could easily substitute lemon or lime juice in the sauce. Also, the dressing would probably be better with creamy, but I only had chunky peanut butter, and I probably could have skipped the roasted peanuts on top since it was kind of the same thing. For a vegetarian version, this would likely be very good with “mock duck,” though I would not recommend tofu, unless you’re very good at cooking with it.

April 1, 2012 at 9:30 am 1 comment

Ode to compost

I am pretty lucky to be employed at a place that works hard to practice what we preach. This includes a number of things like encouraging biking and busing to work, recycling, supporting a good work-life balance and providing space for a staff garden. As part of our effort to reduce our waste and to produce free compost for the garden, we also collect our food scraps during the warm months (though if I have my way, this will become year round in the near future). One of the challenges with composting is, like recycling, not everyone knows what’s in or out. We’ve struggled with getting folks to remember that yes, you can in fact compost the coffee, filter and all, but no, please do not put in your rotten cheese. And please, PLEASE do not put in fruit or veggie peels with those awful stickers (they are in fact plastic and DO NOT compost)!!

So, last summer I wrote a poem. I was on my bike, riding to work, when I thought that maybe something lyrical or poetic would help, so I started racking my brain for clever bits and phrases which might resonate with those standing confused over the food waste container in the kitchen. I created what I thought was a pretty good poem, which I shared with friends and family, but never had quite enough time to get laminated and posted at work. This year, with spring arriving early, I was determined to get this done before we started the garden. After a bit of revising (I really wanted to include something about those darn stickers), the following is my tribute to compost. I hope you enjoy it.

~

Ode to Compost
Written by Emily

The compost bin here doth stand,
Collecting our food scraps for the land.

In go your peels and apple cores,
Coffee grounds and so much more!

Thumbs up to tea bags and eggshells;
Bits of bread are okay as well.

Things not welcome are sticks and stones,
Meat and cheese and chicken bones.

Worst of all are those plastic fruit stickers –
Please don’t make our gardeners garbage pickers!

This may seem tricky at the start,
Just keep on trying, don’t lose heart!

If you’ve got a question, please do ask,
Making dirt from food waste is our task!

For help in this effort, we thank you now,
We’ll think of you next year when we plow. 

~

You are welcome to use this poem in your own home, office, garden, etc., I only ask that you please give proper authorship attribution, and please do not alter the text.

I would also like to add a few non-food items you are easily able to compost. These include leaves, grass clippings (though these really are better left on your lawn), egg cartons, black and white newspaper, the cardboard tube inside toilet paper or paper towel rolls and paper plates, napkins and cups which do not have large amounts of grease on them. In reality, it is possible to compost meat, cheese, grease, etc., (collectively known as FOG in the compost world, short for “fats, oil and grease), as well as bones, however many municipalities do not allow these items, as they can attract unwanted critters in ways that veggies don’t and have higher potential for being disease or pathogen vectors. Other things to keep out of your backyard bin are compostable plastics (sadly, these will not breakdown in a non-commercial/industrial setting) and pet droppings.

As always, check with your city about the rules for bins and see if they have a discount program for purchasing one. There are also easy ways to build one yourself out of wood and/or wirewhich is also a great opportunity for using salvaged wood from other projects.

Happy composting!

March 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

I’m souped!

Tonight I spent several hours making soup. I know my last post was also about soup, but what can I say, it is probably my favorite category of food to make. Plus, I collected a few recipes over the last month or so that I wanted to try and had some veggies in the fridge in desperate need of using, so it seemed like a good way to spend the evening.

It just so happened that all three of the soups I made were of the pureed variety – two according to the recipes and one by my own choice. Though I love a good hearty, chunky soup, I often enjoy a good pureed soup as a way to use a lot of different ingredients to create exciting new flavors, and they generally make excellent “comfort foods.” Also, though I have done no research whatsoever on this, I feel it might be one of the best ways to help my body really absorb and utilize the nutrients in food. As my husband will tell you, I am not exactly a slow eater, which unfortunately probably doesn’t do my body any favors when it is trying to digest the foods I ingest. I’m working to slow myself down and chew my food more (that sounds ridiculous for a 27-year-old to say, seems like something I should have learned a couple decades ago), but the pureed soups (hopefully) help in the meantime.

On to the soups. First up was basically a homemade version of Cream of Mushroom Soup. My husband and I both love fungi of almost any kind, so this was a great fit for our family.

Here is the recipe for Mushroom Soup:

Cooking the mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 pound firm white mushrooms, cleaned
  • Juice from 1 medium lemon
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallots
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
Directions

  • Sprinkle the mushrooms with lemon juice. In a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, coarsely chop the mushrooms.
  • Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, and lightly saute the shallots. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and saute for 10 minutes, or until the liquid disappears.
  • Add cream and stock and bring to a boil. Quickly reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water and add to the soup. Continue to simmer 5 minutes longer, stirring constantly.
  • Correct seasoning to taste.

MY NOTES: This one is definitely not for the faint of heart – it is a full on mushroom fest – loved it. I made the mistake of putting the whole pound of mushrooms in the food processor at once, that did not work, definitely split it in a couple batches. Also, I opted to pureed the whole batch at the end. In the future, I will probably just puree 1/2 or 2/3 and leave a little for texture. One other random thing, when cooking the mushrooms, they looked oddly like ground meat, which could put off the die hard vegetarian. Speaking of which, this could easily be made with veggie broth – though you might lose some of the richness of an animal fat based broth, so maybe add some butter – I did use some homemade chicken broth as suggested.

Next up was Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup

MY NOTES: If there are two things I love in food, they are squash and curry, so this was a definite winner. Also, this was a super easy recipe, largely because of the curry paste, which includes other spices, so it would be easy for any level of cook to make. I used the Thai Kitchen brand of red curry paste, which I found at my local co-op, but you can probably find many places. Your local Asian grocery will probably have a recommendation for other brands as well, but being new to cooking with curry paste, I can’t say for sure what the differences might be between Thai red curry and other red curry pastes. The flavor of this soup was superb (my husband said, and I quote: “This is probably the best squash recipe you’ve made,” which could be taken several ways – he hates squash, but I also make a lot of stuff with squash, so…)

Finally, I did some serious chopping and made a recipe I got via my weekly email from Blendtec called Roasted Root Vegetable Soup. I cannot, for the life of me, find this recipe online, so here it is:

Ingredients

1 celery root, peeled and cubed
1 large parsnip, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 Tbsp olive oil
5-6 C chicken or vegetable broth
1 ½ tsp white wine vinegar
1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Add prepared vegetables, onion and garlic to 9×13-inch pan and drizzle with olive oil. Toss vegetables in olive oil and bake for 45 minutes until roasted and tender. Add 3 cups of broth and roasted vegetables to blender and secure lid. Puree. Pour remaining broth into large saucepan and add pureed soup. Taste and adjust salt as necessary and add black pepper, if desired and serve warm.
For a creamy touch, try adding ½ cup of half and half or full-fat coconut milk before serving or garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika, cumin or fresh herbs of your choice.

MY NOTES: As many of you already know, I do not use olive oil ever on high heat. It is BAD to do, no exceptions! So, the first substitution I did was using canola oil on the veggies, but you could easily use other high heat oils like sunflower oil. I did not have a celery root (celeriac) and didn’t really want to buy one, so to make up for the volume lost, I increased the carrots and parsnips and threw in a couple small potatoes. Also, the directions never said when to add the vinegar (which I did not have so substituted with a bit of white wine and apple cider vinegar) or the cayenne, so I added them both in near the end. For broth, since I had both chicken and veggie thawed out for the previous two soups, I used what I had left of each. The taste on this one was also excellent, as my husband said “rooty!”

March 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

You say tomato, I say tomato soup please!

For the record, I hated tomatoes as a kid. Except for ketchup and pizza sauce, this plant with the serious fruit-veggie split personality issue never touched my taste buds (at least not that I can remember). I think my disgust with them may have been at least partially caused by an experience as a young kid at a daycare where I was forced to eat tomato soup. But I can’t say for sure.

So, I successfully avoided Solanum lycopersicum for much of the first two decades of my life. Then came college. My junior year, I spent a semester in Denmark. Unlike most Danes, my two host sisters were vegetarians, so my host mom cooked with a wide variety of veggies I had formerly despised. Among them: bell peppers, onions, zucchini and, of course, tomatoes. It was “eat veggies” or “go hungry.” Amazingly, I was smitten. My palate was thoroughly pleased with the variety of tastes I had long been ignoring.

But my new found love for the plant kingdom is not the reason for this post. This is about tomatoes. Specifically (and maybe ironically) tomato soup. Done well, tomato soup is one of the best comfort foods around. Paired with a toasted cheese sandwich and a pickle, it’s a meal made in heaven.

The best tomato soup I’ve found has a twist I would have never expected. Balsamic vinegar – another of God’s great gifts to humanity. I was introduced to the recipe for Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup just over a year ago by a co-worker.

MY NOTES: In making this soup, the big difference for me is no beef broth. I made the soup this week using some of the turkey broth I made and froze at Thanksgiving, and previously I’ve used homemade veggie broth. Additionally, you will find no cooking spray in my kitchen, so I use butter to grease the pan. Lastly, the only other difference in the way I make this recipe is to skip the straining step at the end. No reason to take out the best part!

One of the main reasons I like this soup in January is I get to use some of my own tomatoes. This week I used some of the heirlooms I canned in the late season when they were out of control.

In addition to the vinegar, this soup is unique in that you bake the ingredients (except the half and half) instead of cooking them in a pot. This really brings the flavors together in a way I don’t think you can achieve on the stove top. Not to mention the lovely aroma!

So, as winter (finally) sets in here in Minnesota, turn on the oven, pop open some tomatoes and bake. Soup that is.

Did I mention this is the best tomato soup ever?

January 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm 2 comments

Wasted

Alright folks, I need to take a moment to get up on my soapbox, the one with the podium. It’s not about politics or religion. It’s not healthcare, education or immigration. But it is definitely about a part of the American way of life which we cannot continue to ignore. It’s about a habit we’ve grown into as a society that our great-grandparents would have cringed at. It’s not prolific tattoos or baggy jeans. It’s not fast driving or talking on cell phones during dinner.

No, it’s wasting food.

During the two World Wars, wasting food in the United States was high on the list of social sins. In fact, one could say that wasting food was close to treason. Ok, that may be my own historical embellishment, but it is not far off when you consider that the American people were asked to abide by rations on sugar, wheat and meat in order to “save it for the troops,” and to not waste a morsel of what they did take home. Our grandmothers cooked, canned and cured every edible scrap they could get their hands on.

Somehow, over the last six decades, however, we seem to have forgotten that NOT wasting food used to be an act of patriotism in this country, and we now seem to carry an air of entitlement to waste. Whether it is kids in a school cafeteria, professionals in the corporate work place, a family out to dine at a restaurant or you and me at our own kitchen tables, Americans throw away 40% of the food we produce. FORTY percent. For a nation that generally claims we need to increase agricultural yields in order to grow enough to feed the world, we might do better to take an inward look at our wasteful gluttony first. The insanity of it really is mind blowing if you think about it for more than thirty seconds.

Given my wholesale criticism of all of us here, I will sadly acknowledge the three fingers pointing back at me. A few weeks ago, after a crazy month of meetings, dining out and otherwise ignoring our kitchen, I went through our fridge and threw away an embarrassing amount of food. This is not the norm for me these days – I have worked hard to shop for what we need and not in excess. Unfortunately, as a colleague sometimes jokes, that week I had “really expensive compost.” Fortunately, I am able to compost most of our food waste, but it still does not sit any better with my sense of responsibility. A responsibility for caring for the land (that produces our food), the people (who tend and harvest it) and the resources of this planet (extracted to process, package and truck it all)

In May 2011, I participated in an EPA webinar on food waste.  It was definitely not the first time I’d thought about food waste, but author Jonathan Bloom had some excellent commentary, which he shares with folks on the blog Wasted Food and in his book American Wasteland. On the same webinar I learned about an awesome marketing campaign against waste in the UK. Called Love Food Hate Waste, this creative effort uses humorous imagery and blunt facts to remind food lovers that we’ve got to cut our wasteful ways.

Not wanting to be a complete Debbie Downer on this, here are some ideas for reducing food waste – recycled, revamp and regurgitated – from others to me to you:

  • Reconsider bulk. I’m not talking about the bulk bins at your local co-op. I’m talking about the Costco kind of bulk. The kind where you buy a (sometimes ridiculously) large quantity of food – amount uncontrollable by the purchaser – because it seems like a good deal, then end up throwing half of it away because you are unable to consume it all in time. Consider instead finding a smaller volume of those perishables from a more sustainable source. Then pay the producer (probably the same as you would at the Big Box) so they can make a living. And finally, waste none.
  • Shop more frequently, buy less. This is a super hard concept for Americans in particular I think, but it fits in with the first suggestion. We like the shopping carts large enough to haul an SUV worth of groceries, but what we end up taking home largely becomes trash. Doesn’t that seem silly? We pay money for food so we can pay more money to have it hauled away on Tuesdays? Consider buying your fruits, veggies, dairy, meat and other perishables on a more frequent basis and then use them up before heading out again.
  • Remember what’s in your fridge. Alright, this one is a “personal experience” idea. My husband and I were members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm for several summers and would often get way more food than we could deal with in a week. In addition to not knowing what to do with all of it before the next box came, I also struggled with remembering what the heck was in the drawers and on the shelves in my fridge. Enter magnetic white board. Left over from my days in the college dorm, this went up on the fridge door and I now track everything in the fridge (at least in the summer when we have lots of fresh produce from the garden and farmers markets). I kid you not, if you keep it updated, it will help with reducing waste, as well as meal planning. Not to mention that it will help reduce the energy wasted every time you stand there with the door wide open deciding what to eat.
  • Leftovers – eat ’em or freeze. If you and your family cannot eat leftovers within a few days (or get “leftover fatigue” after a few meals), consider freezing a portion. For example, I love to make soup in the summer when the ingredients are fresh from my garden, but my husband doesn’t like hot soups in the heat. So, I make the soups, put a few portions in the fridge for me and freeze the rest for fall and winter. We use produce in season, reduce waste and have homemade frozen dinners ready in the cold months. Triple win.

So, those are some of my tips for keeping us moving down the path of less food waste. What are your ideas? How will you use 2012 as the year to be a better steward of your food?

January 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm 6 comments

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