Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kanawha Valley Sustainability Fair

Against all odds last Saturday, I made it to the Kanawha Valley Sustainability Fair.

I could be wrong, but I think it was the second annual. I remember seeing advertising for it last year, but I didn't make it. However, two of my coworkers did, and shared some ideas afterward. That's where I got the idea to make my rain barrel rather than buy one for upwards of $100. I have like $30 in mine. And it's bigger.

Anway, the reason I really wanted to make it to the fair this year is because the Monroe Farm Market was going to be there. A cooking demonstration was scheduled with kids from the PROSTART program (that's the high school vocation food program). Free samples. 'Nuf said.

At any rate, I didn't make it in time for the cooking demo, but I walked around the fair for about an hour. As I was driving there (highly discouraged, by the way... there was bicycle parking and free shuttles from downtown) I couldn't believe how crowded it was. You couldn't get near the place. I got lucky and found a parking spot, though.

I didn't get any groundbreaking ideas like the rain barrel from last year, but it was nice to browse the booths. I gladly participated in a survey by the organizers to help make it better for next year. I also tried some AWESOME ramp-infused olive oil. The lady had some Italian bread to dip it in. She said she also used it to make fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. If I would have had $10 or my checkbook, I would have bought some. But at any rate, I think I'll try to make some next spring. I don't have any ramps now, or I would.

It was nice to see that so many people are taking an interest in sustainability, especially in a place like Charleston. We're not as cosmopolitan in that respect as some larger urban markets such as San Francisco. 

I might have missed the cooking demo, but I did get to stop by the Monroe Farm Market booth and talk to a couple of my favorite farmers. I even got my picture taken with John Spangler from Spangler's Greenhouse. He's a hoot.
photo credit: John Spangler

I wish Jeremy could have gone with me. I think he would have kinda dug it. Actually, there was even a Division of Forestry booth. I've gotten him on the bandwagon with eating locally because of the quality and taste of the food. That the most important for him. The health and environmental benefits are secondary. He helps out with the recycling, but I think only because he knows it makes me happy.

At first, he was a hard sell on the whole "green revolution," but one of the easiest ways (and actually what got me started) to get someone to start thinking about it, is to pose it in terms of money. Often, it's cheaper to be green. Reducing your electric, water, gas consumption not only helps the planet, but more importantly, it puts more money in your pocket. Same goes with buying harsh household cleaners or things like Drano. There is tons of information out there on the internet about mixing your own cleaners with things you probably have around your house like vinegar. And free, if not cheap, fixes for lots of things you would buy chemicals for. Everybody knows CFLs last way longer than incandescent light bulbs (although disposing of them is still a concern). We've even gotten a nice little kitty here and then from taking our aluminum cans to the recycling place. Especially when the price of gas was so high--aluminum was going for something crazy like 89 cents a pound. We made a killin'.

At any rate, I was so glad to see how many people turned out for the Sustainability Fair. I'm sure next year's will be even bigger. Maybe I'll try to schedule a little better and get in on the free samples next year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First harvest of the season

Four straight days of rain, and although my garden is seriously saturated, it seems to love it. It's blowin' up.

Too bad I haven't planted beans yet. In my experience, they love these conditions.

Here's what I picked tonight for dinner tomorrow.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pecan pie, mint juleps and ... guacamole?

Let's play that Sesame Street game! "One of these things is not like the other ones..." (You have to sing it as you're reading it.)

We've been in the process of putting down hardwood floors in our dining room, living room and hallway for about a month now. Saturday, Jeremy enlisted the help of his sister's husband to help in the effort (I guess I wasn't measuring up as a lovely assistant), and I invited his sister and her two adorable little girls to come along and we'd hang out. I was planning to make burgers on the grill with some of the grass-fed ground sirloin I ordered from Sarver Heritage Farm at the Monroe Farm Market. More on those later.

Saturday morning, I got up early to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race here in Charleston (which was awesome by the way. 6,300 people walked, at $10 registration each + whatever each person raised in donations = roughly $161,700 for breast cancer research). When I got home, Jeremy told me his mom and dad were also coming, and they were bringing ribeyes.

Saturday was also Derby Day. Every year, I, of course bet on and watch the Derby, but I also make mint juleps and a pecan pie. The menu I had planned was cheeseburgers, tortilla chips and guacamole (I am looking forward to Cinco de Mayo) and pecan pie for dessert. But we swapped the cheeseburgers out for ribeyes and grilled potatoes. My father-in-law likes his steaks with rub as opposed to marinated. Actually, I, myself, am only a recent convert to marinating steaks. I didn't have enough rub for all six steaks (and didn't feel like making any more), so I split the baby and marinated three and rubbed three. The rub was Kroger brand steak and chops rub and I made the marinade with EVOO, white wine and minced garlic. I used my go-to grilled potato recipe as the side dish. Boil potatoes whole for about 15 minutes, drain and let cool. Slice in half long-ways, brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down until golden and crispy, then sprinkle with cheese immediately when you take them off the grill. We had blue cheese crumbles and shredded cheddar cheese. So easy and so good.

Before the steaks were ready, I put out a bowl of tortilla chips with homemade guacamole. I use a recipe from Tyler Florence's Eat This Book, which is basically this recipe without the chilies. I think this was best batch I've ever made. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, this could be it. Of course, I had some top-quality help, my two-year old niece, Gracie.

When she got to Charleston, Jeremy's sister had dropped Gracie off at our house and went to the farmers market with her 8-month-old to buy flowers with my in-laws. I was finishing up the food then, so I had Gracie in the kitchen helping. I had to make the pecan pie crust and filling and the guacamole.

I mixed the ingredients for the pie crust, and she added the ice water and took a crack at using a pastry cutter, but I had to finish it. After we chilled the dough in the fridge, I got it started and she rolled it out a little bit.

I think she was pretty impressed with the whole piemaking process. I had a good bit of scraps left from the pie crust, so we used them to make another minature pie. She said wanted to make it for her daddy. I had some apples I canned last fall, and we threw in a handful of frozen blueberries. She said she loved blueberries, and it's great, I think, anytime a kid says they love some type of fruit, vegetable or berry. I put a pat of butter in the apples, lots of brown sugar and some cinamon. We put it in a fiestaware bowl (One of the reasons I love fiestaware is because it is all oven safe. The other reason is that it is still made in West Virginia.). The pie was really cute, and it smelled fabulous as it was baking.

For the guacamole, she mashed up the avocados and tried to juice the limes, but I had to provide some elbow grease for that. It's interesting with kids that young at their perception of food, which reminds me a little of some of the scenes in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Kids don't think they like something if it looks foreign to them. I remember being that way when I was little. I asked Gracie if she liked avocados, and she made a face and said "no." Then I asked her if she'd ever tried them. She hadn't, so I offered her a little sliver. She wasn't too impressed with avocados plain, but once we got the guacamole done, she tried it, and she LOVED it. This kid wore some guacamole out.

Since watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I've been noticing more an more what's wrong with our food culture (or lack thereof). I enjoyed exposing Gracie to some new foods, especially since she discovered she liked them. She's not my kid, but I was still a little bit disappointed when his sister brought back some chicken nuggests from Burger King for Gracie to eat instead of the food the rest of us would be eating. Little did she know, she'd already had a healthy sample of guacamole. But, of course when the chicken nugget kids meal showed up, she squealed with delight, probably equally for the chicken nuggest and the toy inside the bag. It just illustrates how hard it is going to be to change food policy here in the United States. We've got a long ways to go, despite the huge progress that's been made recently.

Unfortunately, I didn't pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby, but we had a fabulous day. The food was good and the company was even better. And a lot of the new floor got put down in the process.