Archive | June, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

30 Jun

That is how I chose to utilize the second of our three massive zucchini from last week’s trip to the Farmer’s Market. The following recipe only needed half of one of the monsters to equal 2 cups of grated veggie.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups grated zucchini

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two loaf pans (or one loaf pan and a muffin pan, as I did).
  2. Spread almonds on a cookie sheet and bake until fragrant,  3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  4. Whisk eggs, sugar, applesauce, canola oil, and vanilla in another large bowl until blended. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in zucchini and almonds. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans.
  5. Bake the loaves 55 to 60 minutes (30 to 35 minutes for muffins), or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.

Yield was one loaf and one dozen muffins.

This recipe could easily be doubled and the excess frozen to enjoy later.

Farmers Market vs CSA: Weeks 1 and 2

24 Jun

We stopped by the Bloomfield Farmer’s Market last evening (in the middle of a wicked summer storm) and scored these babies, three for $1:

20110624-051410.jpg

Highlighter added for size perspective

Fairly large zucchini for the middle of June. I sliced one up tonight and sauted it in a tablespoon of butter for a veggie side with a plate of whole wheat spaghetti and semi-homemade tomato sauce; even after each of us ate a large portion there still are enough leftovers for tomorrow. That leaves two monsters hanging out in the crisper for meals next week.

I love farmers’ markets. Not only do they allow consumers to meet the people who grow their veggies and ask them questions, but they usually prove to be much more economical than the grocery store. And there’s something about the hustle and bustle of crowds with cloth grocery sacks weaving among the piles of unwaxed produce  in the open air that makes an afternoon truly feel like summer.

Last year we hit the market on a weekly basis, spending $20-25 each trip.  Because of the timing of the market, we tended to go prior to eating dinner, which meant we were shopping hungry (huge no-no in some schools of shopping thought). Often it did lead to impulse purchases based on misconceptions: “Sure, two dozen pierogies at $6/dozen is a good buy”, “Of course we can eat two gigantic heads of lettuce and three pounds of plums before they go bad”, “A bushel of peppers doesn’t look like that much. And it’s only $5!”. Sometimes we wound up throwing food out either because we couldn’t eat it fast enough, or we were tired of the lack of variety provided by buying too much of one item. Either way, the end result was that there wasn’t a whole lot of savings in our monthly food budget of approximately $250 a month.

This year we are trying a combination approach to see what works best. As always dry goods, snack foods, dairy and meats are being purchased at one or more of the chain grocers (it isn’t uncommon for me to visit two different stores on grocery day). Veggies and fruits, however, are being obtained through one of two ways: the farmer’s market and a farm share.

Farm shares, also known as CSAs (or Community Supported Agriculture) allow the consumer to purchase a percentage of a farm’s yield for that year’s growing season. Generally payment is either by installment or in-full sometime in late winter/early spring, but either way most require complete payment prior to the first disbursement. The farm we chose offers both a full share (every week pickup) and half share (every other week) option. For now we’re doing the half-share, since we worried the full share may prove to be too much for a household of two people. We can always supplement from the farmers’ market, which is less offensive than throwing away spoiled food.

We’re lucky enough to live in an area saturated with CSAs, most of which participate in some form of city dropoff program. After a lot of comparisons of plans and informal polling of friends who have tried a CSA, we settled on a half share priced at $260 for 11 weeks of deliveries, running from early June to the first week in November. This averages out to a cost of $23.63 per disbursement, or $11.82 per week if the produce is enough to feed us for two weeks. We picked up our first crate on June 16, which you can read more about here (in the future, I’ll either be cross-posting or exclusively posting here for CSA-related entries). The produce lasted exactly one week to the day, except for a lone apple lingering around the fruit bowl, which is about what I had expected for this early in the growing season. Hopefully it picks up as the summer progresses.

Regardless, the CSA provided a variety of items that I’m not sure we could have gotten at the farmers’ market for the same price. And it inspired us to approach the market with a little more forethought than we have in summers past (also, we ate dinner before we went!). Our haul from the market amounted to the following for $11 even:

  • one pint of cherries
  • the aforementioned three monster zucchini
  • two heads of young broccoli
  • a quart-sized box of Anaheim peppers (7 peppers total),

all of which should last us for yet another week.  Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of those zucchini…

Grocery Poll

24 Jun

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog, please take the time to participate in the poll.

Searching for a purpose

24 Jun

As I write the first entry for this blog, I’m at a loss to find a succinct purpose for beginning without resorting to statistics. Horrific, frightening statistics, such as:

“Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago…”

“In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%…”

“An estimated 32.7 percent of U.S. adults 20 years and older are overweight, 34.3 percent are obese and 5.9 percent are extremely obese…”

“The medical care costs of obesity in the United States are staggering. In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled about $147 billion…”

(All quotes from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html)

But the statistics are only a small portion of the obesity equation, and none of them address the sources of the problem. Yes, as a society we are less mobile. We are more stressed. We are overworked, overtired, and overwhelmed with the number of decisions we have to make every day — including one of the most important decisions we make: what we put in our bodies. It is so easy to reach for the quick fix, the drive thru, the convienience foods. All of which compound the problem. So what do we do about it?

There are the questions of taste, of affordability, of culture, of temptation. In a world where industrialized countries still search for ways to water food deserts with fresh produce, where family-owned farms have been replaced by corporate food factories, and restaurants use toys to market a full day’s worth of calories to toddlers, is the whole system rotten from the root up? And, more pressing yet, is there any way around it? How far off the grid does one have to go to eat well, and on budget? How much time and effort does that really take?

This is the story of one couple (and two pugs) trying to answer those questions.

We are more fortunate than some — despite living in Allegheny County (which a recent study found leads the state of Pennsylvania in number of USDA identified food deserts), we reside in a zip code categorized as a “food oasis”. Though it remains a low-income neighborhood overall, enough gentrification has set in to provide more options for obtaining healthy foods. Within a slightly-less than three mile radius from our home (10 minute city drive or approximately 20 minute bus ride), are a Giant Eagle Market District, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and numerous family-owned meat/bakery/produce shops. We also have access to multiple City Parks farmer’s markets and Pittsburgh’s Strip District, as well as city delivery farm shares. We are childless, middle class, white and college-educated — all which, according to the CDC’s statistics, make us less at risk for food insecurity.

So this may not be the most scientific experiment, or the most original blog. However, it is the personal account of two people who have chosen to be concious of what they are eating, and who are desperately curious about how that stacks up financially against those who choose otherwise.