When I mention to people that I’m going to the farmers’ market on an icy Saturday morning in February, I sometimes get a few confused looks. ”What can you get this time of year?” is the question that invariably follows. While it is true that the market in the dead of winter seems almost vacant compared to the summer market (WCGM is getting bigger and more crowded every year), you can still find enough good local food to keep your belly happy and full until spring. Here’s what I’m expecting to see tomorrow:
1. Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips store well and are available all winter.
2. Venison: January is deer hunting season in southeastern Pennsylvania, so if you are lucky enough to know a hunter, you might be able to snag yourself some fresh venison. My best friend lives in a hunting family and tried for years to convince me to eat venison. I finally gave in this time and now I have more deer meat in my freezer than I know what to do with. It is so tasty and the fact that it was killed in the woods behind my parents’ house really makes it the ultimate local food.
3. Beets, winter radishes, and a few varieties of dark leafy greens might turn up.
4. Dried goods like seeds, nuts, and grains. These past few weeks I’ve seen this artisan pasta vendor at our market. We have an awesome bread guy, too.
5. Canned or preserved fruits and vegetables let you have a taste of summer even when it’s 10 degrees out. I tip my hat to the Amish lady at our farmers’ market whose canning abilities are something to marvel at. She cans EVERYTHING: sauces, condiments, jellies, jams, vegetables, compotes, you name it. And she bakes wicked sticky buns.
6. Sprouts of almost all varieties can be grown indoors year-round. I’ve never tried, but apparently it’s really easy and really cheap. There’s no soil involved and they are ready to eat 3 to 6 days after “planting”.
Hmm.. am I missing anything? I guess I’ll find out tomorrow!
One of the goals I recently set for myself (see that post here) was to learn how to make butter and cheese. There are two reasons for my wanting to do this. The first is that I like to try new things in the kitchen and experimenting with dairy seemed like a fun challenge. The second reason is that in the very near future, I will stop buying conventional, factory farmed animal products all together and eat dairy and eggs only when they come from a local source. This means knowing how to process local milk and cream (easy to find) into things like butter and cheese (harder to find).
I’ve never tried to make cheese before, but my 5th grade class made butter once as part of a lesson about the daily life of a Puritan. We “churned” our own butter by passing around a bowl of cream, taking turns stirring it. Eventually it turned into this creamy, sweet butter that we spread on muffins. To a butter-loving ten year old who worshipped a yellow goddess made of butter and would have eaten butter on a popsicle stick daily if only my mom would just let me pack my own lunch, it was a very cool day. If my fifth grade self could do it, I figured my 24 year old self should at least give it a shot. (Now my ten year old self is kicking me for waiting this long to make it again.)
For months I’ve been stalking Williams-Sonoma’s agrarian page and coveting all the little cheese kits, mini herb gardens, and whatnot. Everything on that site is so cute, especially the DIY kitchen kits. (Apparently you can make your own tofu.. who knew!) Anyway, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and ordered the mozzarella/ricotta kit and the DIY butter kit. As soon as the package arrived, I ripped it apart and started making butter before the cardboard hit the floor. It is SO easy.
Here’s how to do it: Continue reading
I didn’t attempt to winterize anything I grew last year. Didn’t bring any plants inside, didn’t try to protect them from the freezing cold wind.. in short, I was neglectful and let everything die. I feel a little bit bad about about this. It’s not nice to watch from your cozy apartment window as your helpless basil shrivels up and your once prolific parsley turns yellow and freezes to death. It’s also a little bit pointless to have a blog about urban gardening and not actually have a garden. Shame on me! The only good thing to come out of my irresponsible plant-parenting is that now I have the opportunity to start fresh.
One of my goals for the new year is to design and execute a manageable mini vegetable garden. I say manageable because I’m a new gardener and I don’t want to get in over my head by taking on more than I can handle. The other challenge is that I live in an apartment with a very small patio and no real yard. I’ll have to get creative with the use of space and everything I grow will probably have to be in containers. I found a few great resources to help me get started:
1. There are so many sites out there that will help you come up with a planting time line. Sproutrobot.com is one that I really like! All you have to do is enter your zip code and sprout robot tells you what you should be planting and when. The Vegetable Garden has a similar page that tells you what zone you live in and how to plant accordingly. In my area, gardeners should start cabbage and leeks indoors this month.
3. Blogs supply me with endless urban design and gardening inspiration! I’ve recently started following garden betty, urban gardens, the dirt, and raised urban gardens. I’m always looking for inspiration, so if anyone has any recommendations for blogs I should check out, let me know!
My biggest challenge will probably come with the planning aspect of things, but I am determined! What are your gardening challenges/goals for the new year?
If you’re a last minute shopper like most of the people I know and you’re stumped by what to get the foodie, the green-thumb, or even the black-thumb in your life, consider these six gift ideas:
1. Grow-your-own mushroom kits. These kits are practically fool-proof and require minimal care: all they want from you is a cool, some-what humid indoor spot in your apartment and in return they will yield several crops of delicate, earthy mushrooms over the course of a few months. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Williams-Sonoma’s Agrarian line has Shiitake and Oyster mushroom kits for $25 a piece, Back to the Roots has a GYO mushroom kit for $19.95, and this White button mushroom kit sells for $27 on harrisseeds.com.
Ok, I’m stoked about this. The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is hosting their 22nd annual Farming for the Future conference in February 2013. It’s a weekend long event being held in State College, PA. It just so happens that I was already planning to travel to the State College area that weekend so I am definitely going to hit up this conference. The list of workshops looks particularly interesting. Beekeeping for the Future: Practices for Today, Birds of a Feather: Backyard Poultry Basics, Sprouting Small Grains for Fodder, Farm Advocacy 101, and the Salmonella Chronicles all sound really cool to me. One of the keynote speakers is Vermont-based writer and speaker Ben Hewitt. I’ve never heard of him, but I checked out his website and I’m very curious! He talks a lot about localizing the food system and I love that, so I just might pick up a copy of his book “The Town That Food Saved” and read it before the conference.
Can’t wait!! Is anyone else going?
I love to cook. Eating seasonally is important to me, but so is my budget. Weekly trips to the farmers’ market can get a little on the expensive side, no doubt about it. Planning my meals for the week helps me keep costs down. It also keeps my refrigerator organized which in turn keeps a lot of food from being wasted. It helps to know what’s in season when planning the week’s menu. Here’s what I’ll be stocking up on this month: