Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Guest Judge Andrea Meyers Weighs in on our Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Posts

Our wonderful Guest Judge Andrea Meyers of Andreas Recipes was able to squeeze time in this busy  holiday week to look over our blog posts regarding our featured book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver and her family and what follows are her very thoughtful comments:

"I was thrilled that Rachel invited me to be the judge for this round of Cook the Books, because in many ways I identify with the challenge that Kingsolver and her family set for themselves. While working overseas for eight years, I fell in love with many locals foods but also missed the foods I had grown up with. My first attempt at growing my own was in Bogota, Colombia, with a small calamondin orange tree in a pot. It was absolutely beautiful with all the tiny little oranges, and after that I was hooked. I've grown indoor avocado trees in pots that never produced a single avocado, but gave me immense satisfaction that I could actually grow something and it would live.

When we settled in our home on a quarter-acre lot in Northern Virginia in 2007, we had a container garden on the deck our first year as we studied the light and where it fell in the yard throughout the day. Then the next spring we dug up a bunch of inedible bushes on the south side and planted tomatoes and basil. Now we've turned about 300 square feet of grass, bushes, and weeds into an edible landscape that we continue to expand. In the spring we get chard, rhubarb, cilantro, dill, chives, and asparagus. Summer brings us blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, basil, oregano, lemon balm, green onions, and tomatillos, which often last well into autumn. The sage, thyme, and rosemary last pretty much year round now. And this year we had our first crop of grapes: muscadines, scuppernogs, concord, and a few other varieties that will produce in a year or so. We also have a few fig, apple, cherry, peach, plum, and pecan trees, as well as an experimental pomegranate in the yard, and some wild persimmons out in the woods behind our house. Just today we got our very first pecan, and we have two indoor Meyer lemon trees with lemons ripening.

We've worked hard at this for the past six years, and it hasn't all been a bed of roses (though we grow those, too). We've learned that local pests liked our squash, cucumbers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant way too much for them to be viable crops for us. We did not want to resort to pesticides, so we stopped growing those things. And some years yield better harvests than others. The last two years we've had crazy good crops of tomatoes, but we had a late freeze last spring which killed off the blueberry blossoms and the apple, peach, and plum blossoms. We have to pick some critters off the plants almost daily, and we've lined our fence with chicken wire to keep out the local bunnies, who seem to think of our backyard as their own personal buffet.

I cannot credit Kingsolver's book for inspiring us to grow our own; that comes from our families and generations of farming genes. For us, it was the desire to use our bit of land for more than just growing grass and ornamental trees and bushes. We wanted to have more control over what went into our food, and we wanted our children to grow up with an edible garden and awareness of where food comes from and how to prepare it. We take them to pick local apples and visit the farms in the area to get local eggs, honey, pumpkins, and other fruits and vegetables. And we balance that with the things that we like that don't come locally: chocolate, coffee, tea, pasta, pantry items and spices. We shop at Costco, Wegman's, and local markets.

Kingsolver's challenge was obviously life-changing for her and her family, and reading about their decisions and how they learned about eating through the seasons and supporting their local farmers was fascinating for me. Each of us makes food decisions based on what we feel is important, what fits with our needs, and what is available. And I think that all of your blog posts illustrate this idea beautifully! I truly liked all of the stories and the dishes you chose to make, and I saved them for future meals.

As for a winner, my favorite post comes from Foodycat. I enjoyed reading the story of her journey to local farms in search of all the right ingredients, and love the finished dish with the roasted pork chops and stuffed onions and apples. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your story, photos, and dish with us! "

--Thank YOU Andrea, for the care and time you took in looking over our blog posts about this great book! It sounds like you had fun along with us and we really value your input and the story of how you have been expanding your kitchen garden in Virginia. Congratulations to Foodycat for another well-deserved winning post and for giving us a peek at what was available at some local English farms and what happened to all those fresh ingredients in her magical kitchen!

And now, I am turning over the hosting duties to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen who will send us over to East Africa as we read Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin. I just finished this quiet little novel about about Angel Tungaraza, a Tanzanian matriarch who is raising her five orphaned grandchildren with her professor husband in Rwanda, and also runs her own cake business. New participants are always welcome, so feel free to join our Cook the Books regulars in reading and blogging along with us in December/January.

-Rachel, The Crispy Cook

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's an Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Roundup!

It is so nice to share a book that one loves with others and for this round of Cook the Books, I had so much pleasure in seeing how our band of  bloggers took to reading, and in many cases, re-reading, this great volume: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life", by Barbara L. Kingsolver and Company. Some folks were inspired to rush out to their backyard gardens and pantries of home-grown and prepared foods, while others embraced the locavore message of this book to seek out their suppers from local farmers and markets. Our book club regulars (and always-invited newbies) hail from around the globe, so it was particularly interesting to me to see what folks would cook up for our virtual feast roundup.

First out of the blogging gate was Culinary Adventures with Camilla, a self-professed "black thumb" gardener, though she is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriber and has some California gardening friends to provide her with fresh, local produce. Using these gorgeous locally-grown dried beans -and check out her photo's nod to the book cover above- Camilla was inspired to make a homemade batch of Gila River Vegetarian Beans


Alicia, the adventurous cook behind Foodycat, loved our featured book and roved around the English countryside to procure the ingredients for her "Britain on a Plate" feast of locally grown pork, baked local farm apples and onions stuffed with pork sausage and sauteed cabbage glazed with her home-grown apple jelly. A food still life worthy of a 17th Dutch master painter!

I'm always intrigued by the ingredients that my Hawai'ian blogger buddy and Cook the Books Co-Host Deb of Kahakai Kitchen has access to. For her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle post Deb looked to the sea, and came up with a delectable meal of Kampachi, a kind of locally farmed fish, topped with Dried Tomato Pesto blended from an excess of farmer's market tomatoes that Deb previously dehydrated and local macadamia nuts, oil and sea salt. Sounds luscious!

Eliot's Eats blogs from somewhere in the American Southwest (I think) from her gardening descriptions. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was actually the impetus for starting her blog and inspired her to grow and harvest more of her own food. Her post was a very timely one, published on November 1st, la Dia de Muertos, the holiday honored dead loved ones, and she celebrated by making up a batch of Pan de Muertos using locally sourced ingredients and her own homemade butter.

Please join me in welcoming a new participant to Cook the Books, Gwen of Simply Health Family!  Welcome Gwen!  This Arizona native went with a seasonal recipe, perfect for the Thanksgiving table, a Holiday Corn Pudding recipe from Kingsolver's book that was billed as being "so simple a 9 year old can do it". In fact, Gwen's 4 year old was the main sous chef for this tempting dish.

My upstate New York garden hung on until the end of October and I had an amazing bounty of hot and sweet peppers. For my Crispy Cook post I canned a couple of half-pints of Jalapeno Relish using a particularly fertile Jalapeno plant for my supply of peppers. This was my first time growing this variety, as I didn't think they'd be very bountiful in my Zone 4 garden, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Another Cook the Book welcome is in order for Cathy, of Delaware Girl Eats! She shares a tour of the Bellevue State Park Community Gardens, where she received the wonderful gift of some buttercup squash, a native American varietal, from one of the gardeners. Her recipe for Roasted Buttercup Squash with Rosemary looks sumptuous and elegant.

Winter squash is also a passion (she says it's an obsession) for my Indiana blogger buddy and CTB Co-Host Heather, of Girlichef. In fact, Heather is in the midst of co-hosting another blog event, 12 Weeks of Winter Squash, if you are looking for ideas to use the seasonal bounty of this great vegetable. Heather cooked up a bodacious platter of Roasted Delicata Squash and Tuscan Kale Pasta for us to drool over.

A third variety of winter squash, this curvaceous Zucca Marina del Chioggia, inspired Simona, another of my delightful Cook the Books Co-Hosts, to use some of its flesh in a loaf of Winter Squash and Whey Bread. You can find this recipe and other great posts on Simona's blog, Briciole, where the Italian native writes about food, breadmaking and cheesemaking in her new California home.

I hope that you have enjoyed this survey of wonderful eats inspired by our Kingsolver book selection. Please be sure to visit the links above to see the entire thoughtful and beautiful posts by our participating bloggers. Our Guest Judge, Andrea of Andreas Recipes, will be reading through them and let us know what she thinks next week.

In the meantime, you can get a jump on our next book selection, Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin, which is a novel set in contemporary Rwanda. I just finished it and really savored it; so many ideas, emotions and characters are contained in its pages. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen picked this book (thanks Deb!) and will be cohosting this next round for our December/January reading. Be sure to bookmark some time during the busy holiday season to read this great book!