Category Archives: Weekly Updates

When Oil and Vinegar Mix – Creative Cooking Tips from Glenda Keenan of Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar

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Imagine looking into your pantry or fridge and, other than a few staples and garnishes, finding nothing but fish, plums, and vinegar. Unless one was feeling especially imaginative, one may not have even found a dish to prepare, let alone a meal; however, Glenda Keenan, Pap Spud’s customer and owner of Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar, saw the beginning of a recipe book. Personally, these ingredients coming on the tail of a long day at work could very well result in take-out. For Glenda Keenan, these ingredients came on the tail of an unexpected divorce, a flood, the death of a beloved pet, and, let’s not forget, cancer . For her, the result was seared tuna with plums (p. 48 of her book, Cooking with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar). And just like the creation of this recipe, Keenan’s book uses the principles of health, quick preparation, minimal ingredients, creativity, and topping with flavor to create dishes that are mind bogglingly tasty.

So what exactly is Glenda Keenan’s book Cooking with Olive Oil and Vinegar? At its core, the book is a collection of recipes and advice for creating delicious yet astounding simple dishes using only a few ingredients along with flavorful balsamic vinegars and olive oils of the highest quality. But deeper than that, the book teaches principles of preparing amazing meals through creativity and adapting to what one has on hand.

Her inspiration for the book started with people coming into Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar and, staggered by the variety and selection, wondering what all the olive oils and balsamic vinegars could be used for. Looking at her book, I’d say everything from appetizers to desserts plus pickling and anything between. Glenda has used olive oil and balsamic vinegar in her cooking every day for the last five years, and she pairs this with her personal philosophy of cooking to create a book that anyone using it can be excited about.

Keenan wanted to base the book on how she cooks at the end of a long day at work: combining the elements of health, quick preparation, topping with flavor, and only a handful of ingredients. When it comes to these few ingredients, Glenda finds seasonal and local produce to be best. Availability may be an issue with seasonal and local produce, so adaptability in cooking plays a big role in Glenda’s kitchen. As Keenan says, what she makes is based around what she has and how’s she’s going to use it. If tomatoes and arugula are what’s available, Glenda has around 30 options for making salad dressing at the ready. If sweet potatoes are in season, she’ll bake them with maple balsamic vinegar.

While what one has on hand plays a big role in cooking Keenan style, adaptation comes into play in more than just the ‘main ingredients’. Imagination, options, and substitutions are all emphasized in her book, including advice about substituting fennel for water chestnuts at the rarer end of ingredients, to a table for subbing olive oil for butter on the everyday end. The book even contains suggestions for repurposing leftovers, like turning leftovers from the Brussels sprouts and fennel salad on page 72 into a cooked dish.

On the subject of adaptive cooking, I asked Keenan what it was like cooking from a Papa Spud’s box. To her it’s “nirvana”. But the joy of cooking from a box goes beyond the convenience of not having to go grocery shopping after a long day at her store. One aspect is sharing boxes with her daughter, the executive chef at Olio & Aceto Café in Chapel Hill. I asked Glenda whether she plans her meals before she orders her box or orders her box and what she orders inspires her. For her, it’s both. A great example is her Sunday afternoon cookouts with friends. She keeps brats, hotdogs, and ground beef on hand in the freezer, and forms her sides based on what’s locally available. If she gets extra of something in a box, Keenan has a plan for that, too. One option is to make and freeze individual dinners with the ingredients. The other is to pickle them in a favorite balsamic vinegar.

Keenan’s favorite recipe in the book is the Chicken Marbella on page 30. Unfortunately, this is one of the least attempted recipes due being the most complicated. So if time constraints bar the way or olives aren’t in your flavor profile, Glenda recommends the Chicken Picata on page 32 or the lemon chicken with dried cherries on page 38. If one pursues a vegetarian way of life, the main dishes section contains options like the Portabella Tacos on page 46 or the sweet potato gnocchi on page 52.

In her book, Glenda Keenan takes her personal philosophy of cooking and uses it to teach principles that everyone can use in the kitchen. Cooking with Olive Oil and Vinegar not only gives tried and tested recipes for any occasion, but it also teaches people to cook on their feet and perhaps even flying by the strings of their apron. You can borrow Glenda’s book through the Papa Spud’s cookbook swap, we will have 5 copies available for circulation starting next week (October 27th/28th deliveries) – or from her store, Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar in Chapel Hill (www.blueskyoilandvinegar.com), where you can get the oils and vinegar for any recipe in the book! I’m fairly certain we’re all familiar with the adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish; in a way, Glenda Keenan’s recipe book does both. If you find yourself in a predicament with a few random ingredients, remember that without imagination and creativity, none of our favorite recipes would exist. Knowledge comes from experience and experimentation, though if you’d rather reserve said experimentation for when guest aren’t coming over, we understand!

The Journey toward Organic Certification

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If one were to start naming off illegal activities, using the term ‘organic’ improperly probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. As it turns out, in regards to agriculture, it really is illegal to use the term ‘organic’ unless one is certified. While it’s perfectly legal to employ organic practices without official certification, one has to stick to terms like “sustainable.” Down2Earth Farms has always used sustainable methods since they began growing produce in 2012, but they’ve now made the jump to official organic certification.

One may wonder why a bit of terminology is such a big deal, but the truth is, being organically certified involves much more than abstaining from chemical pesticides. According to the USDA, organic agriculture involves practices at the cultural, biological, and mechanical levels and the promotion of ecological balance, preservation, biodiversity, and cycling resources. Of course, there’s also a list of no-no’s, including the use of sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and genetic engineering. Down2Earth Farms has always employed these principles, but Cecelia Redding of Down2Earth Farms has been on this path since college.

Cecelia Redding started out in mechanical engineering, but switched to agricultural engineering because her love for the combination of the biological sciences with the mechanical aspects of engineering. She watched from afar until deciding that she was going to farm using only sustainable and ecologically conscious practices. Eventually it all came together and culminated with finding the perfect piece of land to start Down2Earth Farms. However, this land had been used for farming with conventional methods. Organic certification requires one to wait three years after land has been used for conventional agriculture before applying for certification. During this time, one may only use approved materials and keep careful records of one’s agricultural practices. The three years are finally up, and Down2Earth Farms is now officially organic.

Organic agriculture does come with its own set of difficulties, and I don’t mean the yearly inspection. Two of the biggest difficulties come from pests and weeds. The primary way of dealing with pests is crop rotation. Certification actually requires a four-year rotation schedule, but Down2Earth doubles that with an eight-year schedule. If the same crop grows in the same place for too long, the relevant pests will build up in the area, some even living and growing in the soil. With a plentiful food supply growing in their proverbial living room, pests flourish and populate to increasingly problematic amounts. Rotating crops each year reduces the risk of a pest population boom, making farming without pesticides a little easier and helping to preserve environmental balance.

Creatures may cause their share of headaches, but plants share in the guilt. Weeds torment every farmer, but with organic agriculture, one can’t turn to Roundup for a solution. Organic herbicides do exist but have the drawback of being less effective. In addition, to use even an organic herbicide in organic agriculture, one must prove a problem currently exists. Even then there are strict controls, including only being able to spray some organic herbicides at certain times a day to avoid harming natural pollinators. Cecilia’s solution is to use her knowledge of engineering to combat weeds. By designing equipment to help fight weeds, she can control the problem in an ecologically responsible way. As an engineer, this is something she loves to do; however, it’s still a lot of extra time conventional farmers don’t have to spend. Organic agriculture takes time.

If farming organically involves so much time and trouble, why do it? The reasons may vary from person to person, but for Cecilia Redding, environmental aspects are at the core. She believes conventional farming practices are taking farmers away from where farming should be. With the use of conventional methods, people have “lost the science of building notorious soil” and wandered away from solid ecological practices. On the other hand, she feels that organic farming is a way to, “bring back the principles all farmers were taught to use,” and bring back good environmental practices as an essential part of that. For Redding and Down2Earth Farms, employing the ecologically sound practices of organic farming seems to be the responsible and logical choice, just as the name implies. When it comes to the motivation that makes the extra time and effort worthwhile, it seems to come down to the earth.

Hello Apples, Welcome Fall!

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For next week we will have some exciting new North Carolina apples varieties from Deal Orchards!

Deal Orchards is located just outside of Taylorsville, North Carolina in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains. The Orchard has been operated by the Deal family for three generations. They started in 1939, when Brack Deal and his wife Thelma Isabelle planted their first fruit trees. The Deals started with just 15 acres of orchard, but have grown over the years to over 100. Today, the orchard is run by Bracke and Isabelle’s son Lindsay and his son Alan, who oversee orchard operations along with their family.

Available from the Deal’s we expect:

Rome Beauty Apples: Rome Beauties are a great all-around apple. They are very crunchy, and have nice firm skins, which enhance the crunch. They keep very well, and are great for fresh eating, but aren’t overly sweet, making them a good choice for baking as well.

Golden Delicious Apples: Golden Delicious apples have a nice yellow/gold color that is good for both fresh eating as well as cooking. Its flavor is sweet and the flesh tends to be on the softer side, typically used in fresh eating over baking.

Jonagold Apples: Jonagolds were developed as a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples. They are a crisp apple with a sweet flavor, but a lot of acidity keeps them from tasting overly sweet. They are good for both fresh eating and baking.

Fuji Apples: A newer variety of apple originating from Japan. They are attractive, crisp, juicy apples, with a refreshing and sweet flavor. Fuji are widely grown and available early and late in the season. The later season variety is considered juicier and more flavorful. Fujis are typically a fresh eating apple.

Stayman’s Winesap: Stayman apples were developed in Kansas in the 1860’s, and continue as popular local cultivars today, especially in Appalachian Virginia and North Carolina. They are a very crunchy apple, with firm thick skin. Their skin is often textured, and start with greenish-yellow skin that develops a deep red blush. Their flavor is but tangy, making them a good fresh eating apple, but also great for baking and cooking.

Food Waste in America

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Just over a week ago on the 27th, the moon had a lot on its plate. It was a super moon, a harvest moon, and a full lunar eclipse. Was it stunning? Probably, but to be honest, it was hard for me to see with all the clouds. Unfortunately, there’s another shadow on the metaphorical harvest that’s difficult to see. A third of our food in America is lying on the ground, rotting and uneaten, and the problem far pre-dates apocalyptic moon happenings. While we normally may only see a few scraps thrown away here or a few spoiled products disposed of there, in reality, a whopping 31% of available food in the US goes uneaten(around 133 billion lbs.), and that’s only on the retail and consumer levels. So how does all this food go to waste? It’s a process that starts in the field and ends in the trashcan, losing more and more along the way.

The first part of the waste process begins the same place food does – wherever it’s grown. One aspect comes from over-planting as a way to hedge against weather and disease. The other is an issue of aesthetics. If produce doesn’t fit our idea of a perfect (insert name of produce) in color and shape, then we tend not to buy it. If, say, an apple fits the criteria for a perfect apple and is the epitome of apple-ness (think Plato’s forms), then it gets graded as grade 1. If not, it will be graded as grade 2 and lose up to 2/3rds of its value. This means the given piece of produce may no longer be financially viable to harvest, and stays on the vine or on the ground. In the end, around 7% of produce gets left in the field , which doesn’t even get counted toward the USDA’s estimated 31%.

The next wave of waste happens at the grocery store and retail level. Each year, stores toss around $15 billion worth of fruits and vegetables. Rather than appear understocked, groceries stores routinely overstock and dispose of the extras. “Sale by” dates and their relatives do their own part to heartily contribute to waste. Stores throw away an average of $2,300 worth of product due to the date printed on the box. Most of this food is still edible.

Restaurants and other food services are part of the waste machine as well. In order to ensure that every item on the menu is almost always available, more food than can be used is kept on hand. Customers are involved as well, as an average of 17% of food is left on the plate unfinished, and it doesn’t always seem worth taking home. Rules and policy dictate disposal as well. At McDonald’s, fries are allowed to bask in the glowing light of a heat lamp for seven minutes before they’re deemed too old to benefit society and trashed. All fast food is literally decimated this way, given that it’s the fate of one tenth of all the food produced.

With all of this food going uneaten up to this point, the consumer gets away guilt-free, right? Actually, the average American household throws away around 14-25% of the food and beverages they buy, equaling a tidy $1,365-$2,275 annually. Part of this is due to overstocking the pantry, as things don’t get used up because there’s no way to eat it all. The other factor is disposing of things because they’re past their expiration date. Thanks, expiration dates, for keeping us safe .

Finally, even disposal plays a role in food going uneaten. A plethora of food that could be donated gets disposed of instead. Some of this is due to difficulties of getting the food to where it can do some good, some due to donating food not being financially viable for business, and a lot just has to do with the fear of being sued. It turns out, you can’t get sued for good faith food donations thanks to the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act , but this isn’t common knowledge. Of what gets thrown away, regardless of the reason, only 3% gets composted. Of the rest, what isn’t incinerated ends up in a landfill. Food waste makes up a fifth of landfills, and the conditions in which it decomposes result in methane gas, a big player in the global warming game. In fact, food in landfills is the source of a quarter of the U.S.’s methane emissions.

What does it all mean? Locally, food that could go to starving families instead wastes away uneaten. Globally, food waste contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming in a big way, not to mention all of the water and other resources that go to producing food that won’t be eaten. Together, it’s kind of like allocating a portion of natural resources to slowly poisoning the earth. On a personal level, it costs a lot of money to waste food. Now, I know a nice, neat summary doesn’t change the difficulty of dealing with an issue of a national, if not global, scale. What about a summary of the two biggest factors that directly relate to the consumer?

Issue one: the aesthetics of food. In America, our food has to look delicious. This may not even be entirely our fault. It’s what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the grocery store. But no matter where this got started down the line, it can be unlearned like bad grammar. If what sales is dictated by the consumer (there’s probably a big discussion there I’m choosing to avoid), then opening our hearts to produce that’s pretty on the inside could be a first step. It starts with the decision to give a peach a chance, even if it is shaped more like a heart than a butt.

Issue two: expiration dates. Fun fact – with the exception of infant formula and baby food, no sale by or expiration date is federally mandated. Laws in most states require milk and perishables to be pulled from the shelf by their sale by date, but other than that, these dates are strictly advisory. Most stores feel it looks better to stock products that are in date, though most are still edible after. In fact, the dating on products pertains to quality, not safety. For canned goods, the date is generally based on the warranty on the can, not the longevity of the food inside it.

So if the dates are not required, why include them at all? It could be out of the goodness of companies’ hearts to protect our safety, or at least, our enjoyment of our food. Perhaps it’s just to keep the manufacturer from being sued. However, the more suspicious among us may feel that the sooner one has to throw away a product, the sooner one has to buy another to replace it. Of course, the obvious choice is to do what you feel is best for your health and the health of your family; but if one feels like bucking the system, there are ways to do so in a relatively safe manner. The key is information, and while there are a myriad of resources at one’s disposal, websites like this one can help you determine the longevity of individual foods, storage advice to increase aid longevity, and how to tell if something really has gone bad.

So, what do I think? If you answered that you don’t care what I think, you’re on the right track. Issues that affect things on a personal, local, and global scale are too big to be based on someone else’s opinion. For issues of this gravity, one has to make one’s own informed decisions (and I do hope I’ve been informative) and then act on them. Do what you feel is right. You don’t have to explain why you ate pasta that was a month past its best by date or an avocado that wasn’t perfectly symmetrical to anyone. But if you do, it may just cause a ripple. Your friends and family will care more about your opinion than that of the guy that wrote the blog or newsletter you read. Whatever path you choose, I leave you with this advice (which I admittedly got from a Spiderman cartoon), “be the change you wish to see.”

Fifth/First Generation Farming and a Brief History of the Move to Lettuce

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Nowadays, a ‘generation’ can refer to more than a group of people born between two approximate dates; this is especially true if the object in question is fifty times more likely to be referred to ‘4th gen’ than ‘fourth generation’ (though the phrase ‘next gen’ is also a great signifier). In these cases, the generation gap can be as short as the two months where one tries to figure out how to use the new device or the way it’s different than the last one or, in my case, as long as the two years until a game with the next batch of 150ish Pokémon comes out. While the concept of a next generation or Xth generation may be straight forward, can someone or something be both fifth and first generation? In regards to Jedd Koehn of Coastal Plains Produce, I say yes.

Jedd Koehn grew up on a western Kansas farm that grew organic produce including corn, beans, and sunflowers. His grandfather had worked the farm since the 1940’s, making the move to organic in the 80’s. After going organic, he formed a co-op with other local farmers that became Heartland Mill . Though over 1,000 miles away, Jedd Cohen was able to see things come full circle as he ate bread with his family in a Raleigh bakery. Bread made of grain from the mill his grandfather helped start.

Though he grew up on a farm that had been in his family for generations, Jedd was not always involved in farming. As many of us do (or are still doing), he did other things for a while. But eventually, he decided to return to farming. I asked him about his motivation for returning to farming as a way of life. He wanted to be around his wife and little boy more. He wanted to work alongside his son as he grew up. In the transition from organics in Kansas to hydroponics here in North Carolina, he started on a family farm and ended up starting a farm for his family.

Not only did he start a new farm in a new place with new crops, Jedd is also the first in his family to use hydroponics. Hydroponics and other elements of controlled environment agriculture, well, control the agricultural environment, enabling one to grow produce year round; however, this can’t completely rob the seasons of their influence. Spring and fall are ideal growing seasons for lettuce in a controlled environment, due to balance of light and temperature. This works well since they also happen to be the prime seasons for sales. In spring this is primarily due to spring fitness, while in the fall it’s mostly due to fall holidays. Winter holds the most difficulties for growing lettuce, as if the plants themselves know it’s not the time to grow. Despite providing heat and light and the astronomical cost this entails, the plants still take around eight weeks to grow as opposed to six in summer. The fast growing speeds of the summer come with their own difficulties. The plants quickly bolt, sprouting up from the center and going to seed, causing the plants to become bitter, deformed, and unsalable.

Seasonal difficulties and year round production makes for year round labor. Lots of labor. Koehn says it’s not a bad way to make a living if you don’t mind lots of work; and for Jedd Koehn, it’s work he gets to do with his son. With his young age, Tanner’s work helping Dad probably consists of quality time, learning, and a lot of ‘wanting to help.’ And with that comes the experience of nurturing something to fruition and a sense of pride in a job well done. Whether Tanner decides to farm, do something else, or do something else and then return to his hydroponic roots, he’ll still learn lessons as a sixth/second gen farmer that he can carry through his life and pass on to the next generation.

Local Edamame in Season!

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We have delicious Edamame from Down2Earth Farms on the order page this week! Edamame are fun to eat and so easy to prepare! They are salty, a little crunchy, and perfect for snacking. They make an excellent appetizer or side dish. All you need to prepare edamame is boiling water, salt, and 10 minutes. Just plop the whole pods into lightly salted boiling water for five minutes. Drain and toss with a little coarse salt like kosher salt or sea salt. To eat them, cool the cooked pods slightly, then just pop the edamame beans out of their shells and eat them straight from the pod. If you want to try something a little more exotic, follow the steps above and then stir-fry the pods for 1-2 minutes in a little oil with garlic, crushed red pepper, or grated ginger. These little touches give edamame a whole new twist on flavor!

Basic Steamed Edamame Recipe
http://www.kevinandamanda.com
basic edamame

Chile Garlic Edamame
http://www.foodnetwork.com
chile garlic edamame

Stir-Fried Edamame w/Garlic, Chili, & Ginger
http://everydayhealthyeverydaydelicious.com
edamame with garlic ginger

So, How’s the Weather? Or Why a Dry Summer isn’t Always a Bad Thing

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It’s happened to all of us. One minute you’re in the middle of a fascinating conversation or safely in the elevator alone (depending on the kind of day you’re having), and it happens. You’re stuck in the same old conversation about the weather. For many of us, it starts with observations on conditions or seasonal changes, moves on to preferences, and then there’s a bit on how it affects one’s plans, hobbies, or journey to and from the car. If the conversation gets really in depth, there may be some talk of how outdoor conditions affect the indoor climate.

There’s something to be said for how universal the weather conversation is. Everyone can relate to the weather, and we’re all affected by it in some way. But as I recently discovered, conversing about the weather isn’t always so mundane. For the agricultural community, the stakes go beyond whether you should bring an umbrella or sunscreen. The weather can affect your whole season and even your year. Plus there’s much more to learn than a weather app will tell you. With the upcoming season change, we decided to speak to Ken Chappell of Chappell’s Peaches and Apples and Cecilia Redding of Down2Earth Farms on how the weather this past summer has affected them and the produce in your boxes.

They both agreed that the summer has been pretty dry, but what I didn’t expect, was that with proper irrigation, this can be a good thing. Not only are rain and humidity are actually the biggest causes of disease in plant growth, but peaches actually like somewhat dry weather. Melons and peppers benefit from dry weather as well. While more water may mean plumper produce, the water can actually dilute the flavor of melons, and peppers are spicy in dry weather. Less water leads to higher alkaloid production in peppers, not least of these being capsaicin, the little guy responsible for binding to heat receptors in your mouth. Drier weather also lessens problems with mildew and can make harvesting easier, so the dry weather actually heaps benefits on many farmers. However, there are some difficulties to dry weather. While the difficulty may be apparent if one lacks an irrigation system, even with proper irrigation, an issue presents itself: namely, leaks. More irrigation equals more time fixing leaks, and while time consuming and possibly troublesome, the farmers I spoke to still gave the dry weather a thumbs up.

As we moved on to fall, we discussed expectations for the season and differences from previous years. While the dryness of the summer didn’t seem to have a lot of impact on the fall, some of the spring weather did. Chappell Peaches and Apples will be closing for the fall in two to three weeks instead of around Halloween, and the reason traces all the way back to March. On the 29th of March, a spring freeze dropped the weather to an icy 23°, causing gaps throughout the summer and leading to an early closing for fall.

While the dry summer makes for an easier harvest, the biggest fall change for Down2Earth Farms will be the introduction of two new high tunnels. Also called hoophouses, high tunnels serve to extend the growing season, and work much like unheated greenhouses, though they only allow for the growing of seasonal produce. At Down2Earth Farms, they also provide the added benefit of protection from windy weather in the area.

Though their opinions of the summer were similar, Chappell and Redding’s focus for their hopes for the fall differed. Chappell is hoping for rain this fall to provide groundwater for the winter. Redding’s focus was on temperature as she hopes for a smoother transition in temperature, with the real lows coming later on instead of the jumps of previous years.

The way people process and store information varies, and to process what I learned from the interviews, I decided to compare how I’d survive in produce growing weather.
1) Dryness – Depends how you look at it. I like rain, but for the most part, that’s on days I don’t go outside. On the other hand, I need lots of water. If I never had an alcoholic beverage in my life but went 30 minutes without a drink of water, I’d still start getting a hangover. On the other hand, proper hydration could be considered,um, drip irrigation, I guess, so let’s say I scored a maybe.
2)Temperature – Mostly fail. I’m good with a smooth transition into cool weather, but I’d also like that transition to start at the beginning of August. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for global disaster in terms of crop production since an early onset of winter can wreak havoc on produce; I’m speaking in terms of purely hypothetical personal comfort.
3) Acceptance of the weather and one’s outlook on it – Pretty good, though it’s something I still work on every day. This is more in regards to the farmer’s I spoke with rather than the plant’s opinion, but the positive outlook and their ability to adapt can serve as a reminder to all of us. If there’s a lot of rain, deal with the difficulties and be thankful for the groundwater. If the weather is dry, fix the leaks and be thankful for the flavor. Our best option is to do the best with what we’re given, and if the temperature is wrong, remember that the seasons change and the weather may be better next year.

Celebrating the Flavors of Mexico this September 16th!

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This Wednesday, September 16th marks the 205th anniversary of Mexican Independence. On this day in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest in Dolores, Mexico cried upon his people to revolt against the Spanish Colonial Government. This cry or “Grito”, became known as the “Grito de Dolores” and marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

This September 16th, people around Mexico will celebrate their independence, and of course those celebrations will include plates and plates of delicious Mexican food! In the US, we commonly recognize Mexican food as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, the sort of Tex-Mex influence that has become ubiquitous around the US. Authentic Mexican cuisine, however, is far more diverse and much more regionalized than the Tex-Mex version would suggest.

A fun way to scratch the surface into regional Mexican cuisine is through the diversity of the salsas. In Mexico, salsa (which means “sauce”) is meant to add flavor and life to the food that it accompanies. Salsa can be used as a dip, on meats, in tacos, on top of vegetables, and even in salads. Regional salsas typically reflect the produce that is grown there, and range from a simple 3-4 ingredient pico de gallo to a complex chocolate mole with 26 or more ingredients.

This September 16th, we encourage you to explore the diversity of food from our neighbor to the south with a few regional salsas that you may not have been exposed to before. We will have a simple recipe kit for each available in next week’s deliveries!

Chiltomate (Tomato Habanero Salsa):
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This simple, sweet and spicy salsa may be the first salsa in the world to use cooked tomatoes. It originates with the Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It has a spicy and fruity flavor that goes nicely over enchiladas, eggs or huevos rancheros, or a traditional Mayan dish like poc chuc!

Salsa de Cacahuate (Peanut Sauce):
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A smooth peanut sauce from the southern region of Mexico (Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas). This region of Mexico is very diverse agriculturally, and has many unique dishes not found in the rest of the country. The peanuts combine with the spicy chilis for a nutty, flavor-packed, picante topping to chicken or shrimp. A perfect dipping sauce for chicken or shrimp kebabs on the grill.

Guacamole Taquero (Taco Shop Guacamole):
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The avocado is available throughout Mexico. Even dishes we thought we knew, like guacamole, come in many different regional forms. This guacamole combines with a traditional salsa verde (tomatillo salsa) common in northern Mexico, where tomatillos predominate in the arid climate. Its smooth, creamy texture balanced with the acidity from the tomatillo make it the perfect taco guacamole!

Fresh Ham Steaks

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We have deal on Cubed Ham/Pork steaks from Shane Lee Farms on the order page this week! Cubed Ham/Pork steaks are really a cut of fresh (raw) pork from the “ham” section of the pig. The steaks are tenderized by a special machine that breaks up the meat fibers, thus tenderizing the meat and increasing juiciness. The process allows the pork to absorb seasonings easily and makes its texture softer. The process imprints tiny cubes on the meat, which is the origin of the name “cube steak.”

If you have never prepared Cubed Ham/Pork steaks, the following recipe is easy and delicious.

Ham Steak with Dijon Herb Sauce:

Cubed Ham Steaks are very much like a pork chop without the bone. They can be prepared any way you would prepare a pork steak or chop, but here is one easy recipe:

Ingredients:
1 T butter
2 Cubed ham steaks
Salt
Pepper
3 T chopped onions/shallots
3/4 c chicken stock
1 T dijon mustard
2 T chopped herbs like chives, thyme, etc.

1. Heat butter in frying pan or skillet over low heat.
2. Season pork with salt and pepper (or your favorite seasoning mix).
3. Raise the heat to medium and add the pork to the pan. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
4. Turn the pork and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Do not overcook! Pork should still be slightly pink inside when done.
5. Remove pork and keep warm.
6.Add onions to pan and saute for 2 minutes or until soft.
7. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Boil until stock reduces to about 1/2 cup.
8. Stir in the mustard and herbs.
9. Put pork on platter and pour sauce over meat.

Only Sort of Controlling the Weather

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A little piece of Disney World is coming to the Triangle – sort of. And no, I don’t mean the Disney store in Crabtree Mall has opened back up. Maybe it has (who hasn’t been waiting to get their Lilo and Stitch on), but that’s not the point. I’m thinking more along the lines of EPCOT and Living with the Land. The ride referenced is an exploration of horticultural technologies and sustainable agriculture, and though I doubt there will be any mouse-ears involved, LL Urban Farms is instituting even more controlled environment agriculture in their production process.

While LL Urban Farms has been using greenhouses to grow their lettuce since the beginning, they’ve been growing heirloom tomatoes outside for the last three years. This is all about to change. LL Urban Farms is moving their tomatoes indoors with the introduction of two new green houses. I spoke to Glen Lang (one of the “L’s” of LL Urban) about the change, and he provided me with both a timeline and some very compelling reasons for the switch.

For the timeline, the greenhouses are being built now. The tomatoes will be moved in and growing in the second week of October, and the tomatoes will be ready in January after a period of sixty to seventy days. I say moved in instead of planted, because the plants will be grafted onto disease resistant root systems, fighting disease and staying consistent with their method for the quality heirloom tomatoes they’ve produced. During the summer months when the availability of local tomatoes is highest, the old plants will be taken out and replaced with fresh plants. After a year’s growth, stems can reach a length of 40 feet and become unwieldy and cause difficulties in growing sustainable produce.

When I asked Mr. Lang about the reasons behind the switch, he first told me about the lack of local tomatoes during the winter months in our area. With the plant change during the peak season, fresh, local tomatoes will be available to people virtually year round. The second reason was to move their tomatoes into the realm of controlled environment agriculture.

Cool? Yes. But to convince you of the benefits of controlled environment agriculture, I should probably explain a bit of what it is. Controlled environment agriculture is the production of plants and produce in greenhouses or other similar structures. CEA can increase both the quality and productivity of crops by controlling environmental factors involved in the growth of plants. Rain and humidity are the two biggest factors of disease in plants, and CEA reduces, if not eliminates, both major risk factors. Healthier plants mean better produce and higher quality food. Temperature also plays a roll, and being able to keep tomatoes in their comfortable range of roughly 84° during the day and 62-65° at night helps fight problems like frostbite, wilting, and dehydration.

While some may suggest CEA sounds a bit newfangled, the concept has been around since the days of the Roman emperors . Around 14-17 AD, a doctor ordered Tiberius Caesar to eat a cucumber a day for health. I had always heard it was an apple a day, but I suppose either one was better than a Big Mac at keeping the doctor away. So ole’ Tiberius had movable plant beds that could be placed indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, and during sunny winter days, they were placed outside covered by a frame glazed with transparent mica. Greenhouses similar to what we use today were in use in 1670, and greenhouses were even used by George Washington at Mount Vernon around 1780. These were heated by decomposing manure, but thankfully technology has progressed since then.

Groovy. But how does CEA affect us today? Locally speaking, it means we’ll have high quality tomatoes in abundance year round. While field growing tomatoes may result in around 20 lbs. of tomatoes per plant per year with many having to be turned into tomato paste, CEA can raise that number to around 60 lbs. with 95% of them being at maximum, not-for-paste quality. Add on the fact that this produce will be local and free of pesticides and herbicides, and you’ve got a pretty sweet deal. From an environmental perspective, CEA growth environments can be closed, meaning there’s no liquid discharge into surface or ground water. Add on the fact that CEA facilities can be located in urban areas so open and agricultural land doesn’t need to be converted to greenhouses, and the prospect becomes even sweeter.

In summary, controlled environment agriculture is good for the environment and the increased production is good for sustaining produce for a world whose population keeps increasing. On top of that, one gets to eat fresh produce in the style of presidents and emperors, but with that option available to everyone near a farm that employs the techniques of CEA. Sometimes parts of us want things the traditional way, while other bits want to embrace the future. Controlled environment agriculture and greenhouses could be the best of both worlds.