Monday, December 13, 2010

Sweets for Your Holiday Sweet, Local Style

At this time of year, amidst the festive flurry of holiday parties and visits, many of us find ourselves scrambling to identify just the right gift for our loved ones (especially those of us with a newborn at home, who may not have had time for the usual latte and window shopping...sigh). This can be especially tricky when one of those most dear to us is particularly difficult to gift.

My father, a hard working academic who is perpetually immersed in the writing of one paper or another, is just such a person. What to get for the professor who eats, sleeps, and breathes Finance? Every year I consider a variety of possibilities and, just as quickly, rule them all out. An interesting book on an economic issue? (Nope--he probably knows it all already.) A nice tie or sweater? (This seemed good for a while, but Lord & Taylor can only carry you so far.) A gadget for the grill? (Nope. Dad does like to grill, but he's not a gadget kind of guy.)

Finally, a few years ago, I stumbled upon a simple solution: turron. For those of you not familiar with this treat, turron is an almond-based, Spanish Christmas candy, of which I consumed copious quantities when I lived there. I had a hankering for it over the holidays and was searching for it on line when it hit me--dad loves almonds, he loves simple flavors, and, in spite of his remarkable self restraint, he definitely loves sweets. Three boxes of Turron de Alicante were soon en route to his doorstep that year and were devoured within 24 hours of their arrival...or so the story goes. Sweet success! Now, each year, in addition to whatever attempt I make at an inspired gift for my father, there are always a couple of boxes of turron, sure to please and to give him a rare opportunity to overindulge.

Of course, the one thing that could make this gift even better is if it were locally made and crafted. After all, shipping candy all the way from Spain to New Orleans is not the most sustainable practice. Thankfully, with the steady rise of the local food movement, many foodie entrepreneurs are creating delectable treats with local, seasonal ingredients. And, with so much care and craftsmanship behind these products, the quality often surpasses that of the mass-produced name brands that many of us associate with holiday fancies. Such is the case with the remarkable sweets made by Valerie Conyngham of Vianne Chocolat, whom I recently wrote about in the winter issue of Edible Boston. Based in butter and cream from small, local dairies, her chocolates are infused with local products and produce. Her strawberry balsamic chocolate includes a strawberry jam from the Copley farmers market, and her fall flavors include pumpkin seeds and apple, two unusual companions for chocolate that could only come from being locally inspired. The brilliance of giving such sweets as a gift is that, in addition to the exceptional, creative flavors, you're supporting local business and agriculture and the many individuals who work so hard to make local, sustainable eating a truly viable option, even when it comes to fine chocolates. You can tell your special someone that, in addition to the fun and tasty treat, you've made a contribution to a very important cause in his or her honor--sweet success, doubled!

For more information on where to find Vianne Chocolat or how to order on line, visit Valerie's website. And, if I were you, I'd pick up a little box for myself as well. After all, such thoughtful, responsible holiday shopping deserves a little reward!

Happy Shopping, Happy Eating, and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Ecofoodie Baby

Welcomed into the world on November 3rd,
currently cause for much joy, exhaustion, and a short Ecofoodie hiatus.
Back soon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homemade Pasta, Close to Home

As mentioned in a previous post, I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with the lovely ladies of Nella Pasta at the Crop Circle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain. Each week they make fresh pasta that is "locally handcrafted, wholesome, and simple," just as it states on every batch they sell.

Their story is a classic tale of the unexpected blessings that can come from a bad economy. Leigh and Rachel met while working desk jobs that neither of them found particularly inspiring, only to discover that they shared a passion for food and had attended culinary programs just blocks from each other in Florence a few years before. They eventually began planning a pasta business in their free time, but the ultimate jump start came with company cutbacks--when the two of them were laid off on the same day they went straight to the coffee shop across the street and started carving out their business plan in earnest.

An important part of that plan involved working with local farmers and producers to incorporate seasonal ingredients as fresh as the pasta itself. As a result, they've developed ongoing relationships with local farms like Stillman's and Allandale, and have even begun getting some of their flour from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA. (You, too, can get some great local grains there--check out their website for details!) This commitment to working with local, sustainable, organic ingredients means that Nella Pasta recipes are different each week, keeping it exciting for both its creators and its lucky consumers. Springtime means asparagus goes into the mix, while fall brings treats like ravioli with brown butter, white bean, cranberry and fresh thyme--you won't find that in any chain supermarket!

Where do you find it, you ask? Currently, the ladies are selling pastas, pestos (kale and spiced pumpkin seed, anyone?), and pasta salads at the Lexington and Hingham farmers markets. Their pasta salads can also be found at City Feed in JP and the Equal Exchange Cafe. If none of these spots are close to you, keep your eye on the Locations tab of their website for new markets, and ask your own local food market to carry them!

For me, in addition to the satisfaction that comes from choosing a product that supports a whole chain of local farmers and producers, cooking with Nella Pasta also carries the joy of being inspired by an ingredient in a new way. Leigh and Rachel were kind enough to send me home with samples of their weekly varieties, including wheat & ground flax seed and a jewel-toned roasted beet linguine. And while lately I've been much less inclined to lug my 8-months-pregnant belly around the kitchen after a long day at work, this pasta got me back on my cooking feet! Every noodle was hearty and flavorful, leading me to wonder how I ever even considered eating dried up pasta out of a cardboard box. Below are some recipes I whipped up with farm share ingredients I had on hand, and you can also check out their website for more tasty ideas. Or better yet, stop by one of their farmers market stands and see what they're recommending for seasonal "inside out ravioli." You can grab your fresh pasta and produce right there and have an inspiring night of your own in the kitchen!

And don't forget--there are still a few days left to help Nella Pasta win Daily Candy's "Start Small, Go Big" contest, so please be sure to vote!

Whole Wheat & Ground Flaxseed Linguine with Thyme Brown Butter & Delicata Squash
I kept this recipe relatively simple in order to let the flavors of the pasta really come through. The rich, hearty flavor of the linguine paired oh so deliciously with nutty, herby brown butter and sweet roasted squash!

1 lb Nella Pasta whole wheat & ground flaxseed linguine
Two medium delicata squash (or any other winter squash you have on hand)
2 T olive oil
3 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
pinch salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 stick unsalted butter
freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (you could also substitute a yummy soft cheese here--verboten to me at the moment)

Preheat the oven to 400 and put some water on to boil. Halve the squash, scrape out the seeds, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces--little half moons. Toss with olive oil, 1 T of the thyme, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for around 25-30 minutes, until fork tender.

When squash is just about done, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, whisking frequently until the foam subsides and golden brown milk solids begin to form. You will know it's ready when it has a rich, nutty aroma. Keep a close eye until it's done though, as it can burn in a heartbeat! Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining 2 T thyme. There may be a second round of foam with the fresh herb. Simply whisk until it subsides.

Set aside the brown butter, drop your pasta into boiling, lightly salted water, and do not walk away! It will truly be ready in about a minute's time and you don't want it to overcook. Give it a good swirl around the pot and test frequently for doneness--it's best when al dente, which makes for a nice hearty, toothy texture.

When pasta is ready, drain and toss with brown butter and squash. Serve topped with a sprinkling of cheese. Yummy.

Roasted Beet Linguine with Walnut Parsley Pesto
Again, I wanted to keep this recipe relatively simple so as not to mask the flavors and colors of the pasta--witness the beautiful beet linguine, pictured below.

1 lb Nella Pasta beet linguine
2 c packed flat leaf parsley leaves
3/4 c toasted walnuts
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 t lemon zest
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper

Easy: Boil water. Combine first 6 pesto ingredients in food processor and blend until combined.
Stream in olive oil until the mixture loosens up enough to toss well with hot pasta (you can add more or less oil here as needed), and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drop your pasta, drain when al dente (again, this only takes about a minute), and toss with pesto. Top with a sprinkle of freshly grated cheese. Voila! Quick, delicious, and oh so fresh.

Penne with Fresh Sage & Mascarpone Cheese
For the heartier penne noodle I went with a good, creamy sauce. This recipe, adapted from, makes for some incredible comfort food on a cool fall evening--fabulous enough for company but simple enough for a night of self-indulgence with a good movie on the couch!

1 lb Nella Pasta penne
1/2 T unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, diced
2 t homemade bread crumbs
3 t finely chopped fresh sage leaves (you can add even more here if you are a sage lover, like me!)
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 c mascarpone cheese
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

While your pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides, stirring frequently. Add garlic and sautee until soft. Add bread crumbs, sage, and just a teensy touch of salt--the cheese already has plenty. Cook the sage and bread crumb mixture, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Set aside.

Drop the pasta when your water is boiling--the penne will need a little longer to cook than spaghetti or linguine, but keep a close eye on this as well! After two minutes, try a piece to see how close you are to al dente and continue testing frequently until you have the texture you like. Again, this noodle is fabulous if you keep it on the toothy side, especially with this rich, creamy sauce--it really holds its own.

When the pasta is ready, drain and pour back into the pot. Add the mascarpone, Parmesan, and a few good turns of freshly grated black pepper. Stir gently to combine. Serve topped with a generous dusting of the bread crumb mixture and enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall Fun for (Eco)Foodies

This time of year is pretty fabulous for those of us who love fresh, varied produce from our local farms. You can get everything from tomatoes, to okra, to winter squash, all of it rich with flavor and good-for-you goodness. Us Bostonians are also blessed with a thriving network of people invested in the local food movement, which means there are plenty of opportunities to expand your mind along with your belly. Below are just a few events coming up in the next few weeks--be sure to check out the websites for more info on not only these events but future happenings. Enjoy!

Boston Local Food Festival
Saturday, October 2nd. Fort Point Channel.
This promises to be a veritable bonanza of local goodness, with everything your local-loving heart might possibly desire. You can sample everything from beer, to cheese, to bok choy and soak in all kinds of food-related demonstrations. I don't know what I'm more excited about...sustainable cooking with crepes or "retiring Ronald McDonald"! For more details about the festival and how to find your way there, visit

DIG IN! Volunteer with Slow Food Boston @ Earthworks or The Food Project
Saturday, September 25th.
What better way to spend a gorgeous fall Saturday than doing a few hours of good for a great local food organization, followed by a local potluck picnic? At The Food Project site, volunteers will help put the farm "to bed" for the winter and have the chance to learn more about their programs for urban youth. At Earthworks, helpers will mulch and renutriate the soil around trees and shrubs in their urban orchards, all of which are open for public picking. Either way, you can't go wrong! For more details on each project and how to get involved you can visit the Slow Food Boston events page. There, you can also learn about Slow Food's RAFT Dinners--the focus there is on heirloom varietals along with regional foods and traditions--as well as a book event this Friday for Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini.

Festivals, Festivals, Festivals.
You can treat yourself to local beers, homemade chili, cider donuts, and so much more if you just know where to be and when. Check out this list of New England food festivals compiled by You can also peruse the websites of local farms for more apple and fall-themed events, like the Cider Pressing, Harvest Potluck, and Scarecrow Contest at Red Fire Farm!

Markets, Markets, Markets.
Although the abrupt appearance of such crisp weather can make it feel like the growing season must be coming to an end, most local farmers markets will be open and overflowing through late October or even November. For a list of which markets are open and until when, visit

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Going Local in P-town

A couple of weeks ago, amidst the chaos of moving, painting, and other end of summer madness, my husband and I managed to escape to Provincetown for a short but wonderful weekend. In addition to catching the last night of carnival and perusing the galleries of Commercial Street (perfect painting for the new nursery--check!), we also managed to sample plenty of scrumptious local fare. Here are a few of our favorites, just in case you're planning a late season foray to the Cape yourself!

My husband procured some delectable oysters from this dude with a cart. Didn't manage to snap a pic of the fisherman himself (bearded and rubber booted, just as you imagine), nor could I sample the wares in my current state, but my husband will attest that Wellfleet oysters are just as good you've heard.

If you are an oyster lover or count yourself among the curious, you might consider spending a crisp, fall afternoon at the Wellfleet Oysterfest, coming up on October 16th & 17th. In addition to lots of delicious local bivalves, there will be a 5K road race, an arts & crafts fair, and a sure to be amazing shucking contest. Click here for the schedule of yummy events!

Saltwater taffy. The obligatory and oh so guilty stick-to-your-teeth pleasure.

By Saturday night, after so much walking, my baby belly demanded to stay in the hotel room and get some serious rest. Heartbreaking, given that we had planned to pay a visit to Tiny's restaurant, whose menu is comprised entirely of food grown or caught right there on Cape Cod. To my surprise and delight, my husband returned from a "pizza run" with Tiny's takeout, which included these savory roasted new potatoes and Cod cakes made with local, line caught Cod. We also enjoyed a light but creamy lobster corn chowder and some shrimp and bean sprout fritters...mmm... Be sure to pay their roof deck a visit when you go. It overlooks Commercial Street, which reliably makes for some fabulous people watching. If you look closely, you might even see a muscle man carrying a one-eyed dog in a baby carrier on his bare, tanned chest. File under: strange but true.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cast Your Vote: Help Nella Pasta Go Big!

This afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting the lovely ladies of Nella Pasta in their Jamaica Plain kitchen. I'll be posting more soon about their fresh, seasonal pastas and culinary treats, but in the meantime I wanted to encourage you all to vote for this local-minded business in Daily Candy's "Start Small, Go Big Contest." Winners will receive $10,000 to put toward their business along with a host of other educational and networking opportunities. Voting is a great opportunity to support your local food community--not only are you voting for Nella Pasta, but also the many small farms and producers from which they get everything from veggies to flour. (Witness the roasted beet linguine in the photo to the left--that gorgeous color is all local!)

From now until September 29th you can vote once a day via Facebook or on the Daily Candy website. So put a reminder in your calendar and add a quick vote to your daily web surfing regimen. It's worth the extra click of the mouse!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Heart TED.

Lately, I've been on the hunt for novel lunchtime activities at work. Sometimes I read, sometimes I catch up on a guilty reality pleasure via Hulu (Real Housewives, anyone?), and sometimes I just keep working. But when you work full time there are a lot of lunch hours to fill, and it's easy to feel like you're in a rut. Enter my new favorite lunchtime companion, TED.

Many of you are probably already well-acquainted--although I first stumbled upon TED videos last year via some clever friends on Facebook, the group has been in existence since 1984. The non-profit began as a conference designed to bring together thinkers from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design, and has since mushroomed into a powerful forum for forward thinking ideas on everything from gaming to public health. In addition to annual and traveling conferences, they've also begun awarding a TED prize, which this year went to Jamie Oliver for his work in promoting healthy eating and preventing obesity. You can watch his acceptance speech here. The fact that they chose the food-oriented work of a chef as this years winner speaks to the urgent need to change our current food systems, from kitchen counter to factory farm. And the importance of this discussion is represented in numerous videos on the site, covering topics ranging from sustainable seafood to world hunger. Hence, my new favorite lunch buddy, and one I highly recommend you get to know.

Today, I watched a thoughtful and moving talk by Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, on the importance of preserving biodiversity in our agricultural systems. It's heartbreaking to hear how much we've already lost on this front, but it's heartening to learn that people in the world are crossing borders (thank you Norway) and truly taking care of business to ensure that we don't wind up facing starvation on a global scale. At just 17 minutes long, it's a more than worthwhile investment of your lunchtime. You can watch below or visit and search for other ideas that might float your lunchtime boat. Bon apetit!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some Kale, A Few Tomatoes, and a Bun.

What do these things have in common, you ask? Quite simple: they are all things I've been busy baking in the oven over the past few months, and I submit the last as my excuse for Ecofoodie's long silence, as it is a bun of the metaphorical variety. Yes, that's Ecofoodie baby! Due to arrive sometime around Halloween (boo!), this little muffin has been the source of much joy, nausea, and distraction of late, preventing me from doing much writing of any sort.

But now I'm back, with more recipes (some kale chips are in the works), events, and thoughts on sustainable eating. Very soon I'll be posting about upcoming Slow Food Boston events and some lovely ladies in Jamaica Plain who make seasonal pasta...yum! But for starters, here is my recipe for Roasted Tomato Pasta: simple, easy, and a perfect way to enjoy the end of summer tomato boom! Happy eating!

Roasted Tomato Pasta

2 pints (or thereabouts) of whatever small tomato variety looks good at the market
2-3 T olive oil
angel hair pasta, or whatever long noodle you prefer
Parmesan cheese
fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400. In the meantime, rinse tomatoes and spread in a single layer in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and toss with a good drizzle of olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. You'll know they're done when they've burst and begun to caramelize! Once they burst, they release their delicious juice, which mingles with the olive oil, salt, and pepper to make a wonderfully fresh sauce. Toss tomatoes and sauce with cooked pasta, sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan and a little fresh basil if you have it, and voila! Easy, tasty summer dinner.

Photo by Froge via Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Last night, as I stashed all of the new goodies from my farm share into the refrigerator, I was happy to see that we had received both baby arugula and some mesclun mix for salads this week. Today, as I made my lunch, I was even more delighted (I may have actually cried out in glee) to discover that what I thought were salad greens were actually fiddleheads! Somehow, I have never had the opportunity to sample these harbingers of spring, so I am very excited to experiment with another farm share first.

My husband seems fairly certain that they are best enjoyed via a quick pan sautee and a dash of salt and pepper. However, the little wrinkle of doubt in his brow as he says so leads me to believe that some research is in order. So, this afternoon I will be forgetting about the cold and rain outside and happily perusing the internet and my cookbooks for a recipe for tomorrow evening. In the meantime, suggestions from fiddlehead connoisseurs are welcome! Happy, happy spring!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tales From the Freezer...and a Recipe or Two.

Last fall I made my first tiny attempts at food preservation. Being a renter with a rather quirky kitchen, my options were limited, but I wanted to make a go of it nonetheless. After all, if I'm ever going to go for a full scale canning, pickling, and drying operation I had to start somewhere, right?

Given the superoverabundance of farm share peppers and back yard basil that I found myself struggling with at the end of the summer months, I decided to give both treats a go round in the freezer. I vaguely recalled hearing that peppers could simply be chopped and thrown into a freezer safe container, and a little online research revealed that basil could be frozen in a variety of ways (to mixed reviews)--I opted to test out freezing chopped basil in both water and olive oil. Result? A mixed bag.

I'll start with the bad news. The basil, sadly, did not fare well in either form. I froze them in cubes in the ice tray, and when looked more like fragments of ash than the delightful taste of summer that I'd hoped to preserve. Still worse, flavor seemed to have disappeared altogether. In short, this was a double fail. In hindsight, I suspect I may have tried to pack far too much basil into each tiny cube. Consequently, much of the leaves were exposed to the harsh freezer air rather than protected by a solid fortress of water or oil. In the end, I did find some success in freezing small batches of pesto I had made. It thawed out looking as green and fresh as the day it was born, and with a little dash of salt all of those fabulous summer flavors came right back to life. For the simple and easy recipe, click here.

Happily, the frozen peppers were a marvelous success. Not only were they much easier to prep for freezing than the basil--just wash, dry, and cut into whatever size and shape you desire--but they lasted through the whole winter without getting dry or freezer burnt. For the most part, I used them in my favorite new recipe, a veggie stir fry with peanut sauce. Thanks to my winter farm share with Enterprise Farm, I was able to combine my summer peppers with organic carrots, zucchini and other yummy produce from their East Coast Food Shed.

All in all, I'm happy to have discovered two reliable freezer methods for preserving the abundance of summer. As for the basil, if any of you lovely readers have had better luck with these methods or something altogether different, I would love to hear about it! In the meantime, enjoy this peanuty stir fry recipe, which can be made with just about any veggie you love, fresh or frozen.

Veggie Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Ingredients (makes enough for 2-3 people)
2 T unsweetened peanut butter
2 T warm water
1-2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 t rice vinegar
1/2 t sesame oil
3 t chili paste (less if you like it not so spicy!)

1 small head of broccoli
1 very large or two medium carrots
1 large or 2 small zucchini
1/2 red or vidalia onion
1 yellow or orange bell pepper
a sprinkle of sweet peas
2 cloves garlic
1 t diced fresh ginger (or several dashes of powdered)

Cooked brown rice or pot stickers

In a bowl or a large measuring cup, combine the peanut butter and water. Whisk until thoroughly blended, adding a touch more water if it's still very thick. Add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce along with the rice vinegar, sesame oil, and chili paste. If you don't have fresh ginger to cook with the veggies, add a few good dashes of powdered ginger here. Give a good stir and a taste. This sauce seems to work a little differently each time, so once you've got the base recipe feel free to add up to another tablespoon of soy sauce or a dash of any of the other ingredients in order to bring it into balance.

Julienne the carrots, zucchini, peppers, and onion (i.e. cut them into thin strips, matchstick-sized strips), chop the broccoli into small florets, and dice the garlic and ginger. Sautee the vegetables in olive oil, starting with those that take the longest to cook. For this particular combo, it's best to start with the broccoli, add the carrots, then add the zucchini, peppers, and onions. Save the peas for the very end so that they keep their lovely green color. Just before you add the peas, make a well in the center of the pan and add the garlic and ginger. Sautee for a minute or two and then stir them into the rest of the vegetables along with the peas.

Add your peanut sauce and serve over brown rice or pot stickers. Simple, quick, and tasty!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Little Weekend Fun in the Sun

After a few more days of wind and rain, many of us Bostonians are looking forward to enjoying a little sunshine over the weekend. If you count yourself among that many, here's one great way to spend a sunny Saturday. From 10:00-2:00, Earthworks will be hosting a volunteer day at their Edward L. Cooper Center Orchard, doing general cleanup, pruning raspberry bushes, preparing the soil, and transplanting some beech plums, just to name a few activities. If you're not familiar with Earthworks, they are a wonderful local non-profit that plants and cares for urban orchards as a means toward environmental education and creating a healthier, more sustainable city. They maintain orchards in urban areas across Boston, many of them in schoolyards, and the fruit is free for the picking throughout the summer and fall--you can find the orchard nearest you on their website. Needless to say, they do some fabulous work in our communities, and supporting the start to the growing season certainly sounds like a great way to spend a few hours on the weekend! If you're interested in joining them on Saturday, the details are below. And if you can't make it this weekend, not to worry--there will be volunteer days on April 24th and May 22nd as well. If you're interested, please call for times and details as the dates get closer.

The Edward L. Cooper Center is at 34 Linwood Street in Roxbury. There is plenty of room to park, and it's about a five minute walk from the Roxbury Crossing stop on the Orange line. Earthworks will provide you with all the tools and guidance you need, but long sleeves and pants are recommended as there may be some messy or thorny spots that need attention. Water will also be provided, and you should feel free to bring some snacks as well! If you plan on joining in the fun, please be sure to call the Earthworks office (617.442.1059) to let them know you'll be coming--they need to know how many people to expect.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My New Favorite Neighbor

For the new issue of Edible Boston, I wrote an article about Community Servings, a remarkable organization just down the street from me in Jamaica Plain. In addition to providing healthy, nutritionally-balanced meals to the critically ill, they play host to a farmers market, a CSA, and a number of other programs centered in healthy, whole, sustainable food. They are a force for positive change in many underserved neighborhoods of Boston, and I am happy to count myself among their many regular volunteers.

To learn more about their work and how you can get in on the fun in their kitchen, click here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Blues

Last summer marked the end of out-of-season berries for me. After devouring a few pints of sweet, local strawberries from the Copley Square farmers market, I just couldn't fathom eating colorless, tasteless fruit shipped all the way across the country. Such berries aren't good for the planet or the palate. Much better to dream of sweet perfection through the cold winter months and enjoy that brilliant taste of spring when it finally comes.

Yesterday, however, I discovered a large bag of frozen, organic blueberries in my freezer. I have no idea when or why I purchased said blueberries, but as a cold, dreary rain fell outside my winter window I felt my spirits lift a little. What to do with this accidental bounty? The clear choice: muffins. After a few minutes gathering ideas on the internet, I put together a recipe that turned out warm, blue, and delicious. Only one thing could make it better, and I can't wait to make these again when the blueberries are big, fresh, and plentiful. Perhaps this year I'll grab a few extra pints and freeze them myself, preserving a little taste of locally-grown sunshine to combat the February blahs. In the meantime, I would make them again with apple pieces, dried fruit, or sans fruit altogether. There's nothing bad about a cinnamon oatmeal muffin, after all!

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

1/2 c all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c oatmeal
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c water
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 T vanilla
1 c blueberries (thawed and drained if frozen)
2 t sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.

In large bowl, mix first 8 ingredients. In small bowl, mix egg, water, oil, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the first bowl and stir until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Spoon into greased muffin tins filling each cup about 2/3 of the way.

Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops. Bake for 20 minutes and enjoy, preferably while they're still warm! They also make a delicious next-day breakfast: warm them over in the toaster, top with plain yogurt and drizzle with honey. Heaven on a plate.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Un Petit Cafe

When it comes to eating a diet that is as sustainable as possible, one of my daily struggles is coffee. I generally only have a cup in the morning, but boy do I need that cup to start my day. Not so much for the caffeine as for the rich, comforting warmth that only the aroma and flavor of coffee can provide. (I have nothing against tea and drink plenty of it, but it's just not the same.)

For years now, I have been buying only Fair Trade, Shade Grown, Organic coffee. But, one thing I have never managed to do is get up early to brew this sustainable coffee and take it into work with me four days a week. The result: I, like so many tired, coffee-loving people, find myself at Starbucks, ordering coffee whose origins are unknown to me and drinking it out of a bleached paper cup. Sure, from day to day it may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about how many of us grab a quick cuppa Joe each day (or two, or three), it adds up very quickly on two fronts. First, there is the quantity of waste we generate with all of those disposable cups, the most offensive arrangement being the giant plastic iced coffee cup doubled up with an even bigger styrofoam one (shame on you Dunkin Donuts). But, even more importantly, there's a great deal of power being exercised when that many consumers make a repeat, daily purchase. We could all walk out tomorrow and tell Starbucks we're not coming back until everything they serve is shade grown. And guess what? They would have to comply. It's easy to forget that, added together, our daily personal choices do make for a serious force in the business world. As Gary Hirshberg, the owner of Stonyfield, points out in Food, Inc., it's the reason that Wal-Mart no longer carries milk from hormone-treated cows. We do have a voice, and even our smallest choices matter.

With this in mind, I recently made an investment in a teeny tiny French press, pictured above next to some lovely fruit courtesy of Enterprise Farm. I used it at home this morning for fun, but starting this Monday I will get my daily coffee at my desk rather than at a counter. Thanks to this adorable contraption, I will know where my coffee comes from and how it was grown. I can drink it out of a ceramic mug that makes a much better hand warmer than cardboard. And, I can change my part of the group message to places like Starbucks, no longer sending the signal that everything they're doing is a.o.k. with me. All this, while saving myself a good bit of money as well. Tres magnifique!

Update: As noted by a coffee-minded reader (see comments), Starbucks does have better practices than many coffee retailers when it comes to how their beans are grown and traded, all of which is detailed on their newly revamped (and rather impressive) website. While I am aware that Starbucks does have some good practices, the issue for me is that I can't be sure what lies behind the daily variety on any given morning. According to the site, 75% of their coffee is currenty "repsonsibly grown, ethically traded," and they have set goals for environmental responsibility, though nothing I can see on shade growing. You can let them know that you appreciate their efforts to be responsible, transparent corporate citizens, and that you'd like to see them reach 100% by dropping them a line here. If they can reach that goal, busy coffee-lovers no longer have to worry that the variety in their re-usable mug falls into the 25% whose provenance is questionable. If you are a devoted Dunkin' drinker, or Peet's, or elsewhere, encourage them to raise their sustainable standards as well!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tatsoi is the New Green

Last week, I discovered an unfamiliar stowaway in my farm share box: dark little bundles of greens, clustered together on short, delicate stems. Perplexed and excited as always by the discovery of a new veggie, I dug up the Enterprise Farm e-newlsetter from the day before and discovered I was holding tatsoi, grown by Eastern Carolina Organics as part of the winter food shed. Seeing as I'd never heard of such a leaf, I decided a little research was in order.

Per Wikipedia (which I will deny using as a source if you tell any of my former writing students), tatsoi is also referred to as spinach mustard, spoon mustard, or rosette bok choy for the shape of the clusters the leaves grow in. For such a crisp and seemingly delicate green, it's apparently very hearty--it can tolerate temperatures as low as 15 F and can be harvested from under the snow! (If so, it seems this might be a good candidate for growing more locally, even through the coldest winter months.) The kitchen dicitionary at RecipeZaar likens the flavor to bok choy, but I would argue it's got a little more bite--it's grassy, lemony, and mustardy all at once, and boy does it jazz up a bowlful of red leaf lettuce! RecipeZaar also suggests tossing it into soups just before serving, which I imagine might work well with Asian flavors.

Though I haven't tried it yet, there was also a delectable-sounding recipe in the e-newsletter. You can find it below, and you can bet that I will be giving it a shot the next time these yummy rosettes come my way. Keep your eye out for them at your nearest winter farmers market--they are a lovely treat!

Chilled Sesame Ginger Tatsoi,
From the Enterprise Farm Newsletter

1 1/2 lbs Tatsoi, washed & dried
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T sugar
4 dashes Tobasco sauce
1/4 c white vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T ginger, minced
1/4 c sesame seeds, toasted

Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil. Add the tatsoi, blanch for 1 minute, drain, and immediately plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain again.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, sugar, vinegar, and Tobasco. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the tatsoi and dressing. Mix well and refrigerate until well chilled. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love and Fortune

Tonight, I am headed to Cambridge to celebrate Valentine's Day with some lovely ladies. Seeing as my hostess already has a fabulous menu planned, I wanted to bring something sweet and fun to add to the party. Since today is also the first day of the Chinese New Year, I thought it would be extra fun if this something held a message for the New Year to come. As it happens, I have a box full of fortunes on hand on the kitchen (seriously), and although I have no idea how to make an actual fortune cookie, I do know how to make a chocolate one. And with a little dab of icing for glue, each cookie becomes a messenger of fortune, holding a special sentiment for its consumer. Some are silly, some speak to matters of the heart--it's Valentine's Day after all--and others are good old-fashioned fortune cookie food for thought.

My favorite? "A contented mind is a perpetual feast." With that thought, and with this recipe, I wish you a happy Valentine's Day and an even happier New Year!

Chocolate Shortbread Refrigerator Cookies,
adapted from an old and yellowed page from the New York Times Magazine

1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, coarsely chopped
1.5 t vanilla extract
3 T ice water

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just to sift. Add butter and pulse until combined. Sprinkel water and vanilla on top and pulse until combined. This is a dry dough, so do not be alarmed if it's not all sticking together!

Divide the dough in half and shape each half inside waxed paper into a cylinder about 7 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (The cookies will spread a bit when baked.) Refrigerate the dough for at least several hours or for as long as 1 day. (You can also freeze the dough for several weeks wrapped in foil.)

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and set them 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the tops are firm.

Transfer to wire racks to cool. Icing optional!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Give Love, Get Love: Local Treats for Your Sweet

This Valentine's Day, The Channel Cafe has planned an inspired "Local Love" meal featuring local, organic produce from Enterprise Farms and libations from Narragansett Brewery. The four course dinner will also include locally foraged mushrooms and locally raised meat. Yes, that is a lot of local!

The dinner, which will take place on Saturday the 13th (perfect for surprising that special someone!), is just $30 per person, including beer. Quite a deal for a meal that features such special ingredients. Indeed, everything on the plate that night will have been produced with tremendous care, the very type of attentive devotion that the holiday should celebrate. It's a perfect opportunity to give a little love back to your local farmers and to celebrate love in your own life, whether with friends or a sweetheart.

My husband and I can hardly wait until Saturday, and I imagine that spots are filling up quickly. Call 617-426-0695 to reserve your place at the table!

*The lovely gift tag in the photo comes courtesy of Central Bottle, where the owner's seven-year-old nephew is officially in charge of all signage. There is a basket full of these gems by the register, perfect to go with a gift bottle for your special someone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15"

These days, most of us are conscious of many different issues when we wander the aisles of the supermarket. If you're reading this blog, you probably try to avoid corn syrup and processed foods, you might keep your eye out for locally-produced products, and you certainly buy organic whenever you can. But, if you're like most consumers, your budget is not limitless, so price is also a factor when deciding between the healthiest option and the next best thing. If the difference between organic and conventionally grown broccoli makes your heart skip a beat, the choice can be a tricky one.

Well, thanks to a fabulous interview with Michael Pollan on DemocracyNow, I've learned of a very helpful list put together by the Environmental Working Group. Referred to as the "Dirty Dozen," the list contains the 12 fruits and veggies that soak up the most pesticides when grown conventionally and are therefore the most important to buy organic. It also names the "Clean 15," for which the opposite is true--these items absorb much less of whatever they might be sprayed with, so buying them non-organic is less worrisome than most. With this list in hand, you can see that it's better to splurge on the organic apples and save a little on some conventional broccoli. Or if conventional strawberries are all that's available, better to wait until next week.

You can download a pocket-sized copy of the guide (or the iphone app!) by clicking here. Happy shopping, and healthy eating!

Click here to watch Pollan's full interview--it's packed full of nutritious information!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sustainable Seafood with Slow Food Boston

This Sunday, as part of their 3rd annual Winter Film Series, Slow Food Boston will be offering a screening of The End of the Line, a documentary that explores the many complex issues surrounding seafood consumption. From environmental impacts, to mercury levels, to the people whose livelihoods depend on healthy oceans, the film promises to be an informative look at a complicated web of relationships. The film will be followed by a panel discussion including Jacqueline Church, founder of Teach a Man to Fish; Heather Tausig, director of conservation at the New England Aquarium; and Niaz Dorry, and activist who works with groups like Cape Ann Fresh Catch.

If you're a die hard Saints fan (or a fan of that other team), not to worry. The screening is at 3:30--perfect timing for a dose of good-for-you food knowledge before you head home to enjoy the game...and probably some not-so-good-for-you snacks.

Click here for directions and details!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Eat Well. Do Good. Have Fun.

If you're looking for a little foodie fun to warm your belly and your heart this weekend, head to Enterprise Farm for their Locally Grown Pancake Breakfast. The breakfast, which takes place tomorrow from 9:00 a.m. to noon, will feature pancakes made with locally grown and milled whole wheat flour from Four Star Farms in Northfield, Mass. And there will be plenty of locally made accopmaniments, including maple syrup from Bree-Z-Knoll Farm and bacon from Austin Brothers Valley Farm.

Although the farm's location in Whately is a bit of a drive for us Bostonians, it's a worthwhile trip this time of year. When you just can't manage another bite of pancake, you can peruse the local, organic produce on offer at The Food Shed and stock up on wintry veggies for the next few weeks, including my favorite: celery root!

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Northampton Survival Center, which provides food to low-income individuals and families in the area, an important community resource especially in this difficult economy. So, grab a few friends and make a day of it. Your farmers, your community, and your belly will thank you!

Click here for directions.

Photo by Presta, via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Forever, Mickey D's

I am, and forever will be, a great lover of the French fry. A lot of people say this, I know, but in my case the love runs deep. So deep, in fact, that when I appeared on a radio show during my senior year of college, I responded "the French fry" when asked to name the greatest invention of all time. (Not my brightest moment, but I was desperate not to name a domestic appliance as had the three women who answered before me, and fries were all that came to my terribly nervous mind.)

In any case, fries are one of my greatest culinary loves, and up until today this has included the very occasional excursion to McDonald's. There's just something incomparable about those long, thing, crispy fries, so reliable golden and salty no matter which franchise you choose. No, I do not feel good about these indulgences when I succumb to the urge (most often on a road trip), and I certainly feel no better after the fact. I have pretty much broken with all other McDonald's products, and have often wished to able to break the chains of the French fry bond. Today, I got my wish.

This morning, on WBUR's On Point, Michael Pollan discussed his most recent book, Food Rules, in which he attempts to present a simple set of guidelines to help consumers navigate their way toward whole, healthful food each day. It was an interesting discussion as always, but one that by now I'm fairly familiar with. Until they got to the subject of McDonald's French fries and their remarkably consistent perfection. As it turns out, those remarkably unblemished fries are made spot free at a cost that is, to me, unacceptable. McDonald's will not take potatoes that have the usual harmless brown spots, so farmers are forced to use an incredibly potent pesticide, one that happens to also be an incredibly potent neurotoxin. According to Pollan, farmers cannot go back into the field for five days after spraying for fear of brain damage. Even if something goes wrong with an irrigation line during that period, they'll let the fields go dry before setting foot into what has become a powerfully toxic zone. The possibility that a farmer (or a farmer's spouse, or children, or neighbors) could stumble into a field where food is being raised for me to eat and incur irrevocable brain damage is not one that I can ignore, particularly when I can get delicious, non-toxic, whole potato fries at any number of local restaurants, or make them myself at home.

One of the hardest arguments to overcome when trying to convince someone to avoid a processed food or product is also one of the simplest: "but it tastes good." It's the reason why people continue to eat hamburger full of ammonia, chickens that have never seen the light of day, and apples from New Zealand instead of next door. So, when I come across a piece of information like this I do my best to spread the word. It can take a lot for people to overcome the call of their own taste buds, myself included, but putting other people's lives at risk for a prettier french fry seems like a place where we should all resolve to draw the line.

Click here to listen to the full show.

Photo by Kevin Steele, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thank You, Flavor Bible

On a recent afternoon, I was perusing my new and already beloved Flavor Bible, looking for a new way to spice up some sweet potatoes. I considered the many tantalizing flavor companions offered by advising chefs, including bourbon, coriander, nutmeg, and orange zest. Sadly, though, nothing was really tickling my creative fancy.

Until, that is, I noticed a little section at the end of the entry labeled Flavor Affinities. At first I was confused by said section, as the entire list that comes before could be labeled as such. But, what appears to set this section apart is that it presents combinations of three flavors or more. Sweet potatoes + apples + sage (= yum.) Sweet potatoes + bacon + onions + rosemary (= yum.) And near the end of the list: sweet potatoes + kale + prosciutto (= so very yum and a perfect way to utilize a fresh bunch of kale in the fridge.) After noting that both kale and sweet potatoes pair well with thyme, I gathered my ingredients and went to work. Here's what I came up with, along with a few ideas for modifications the next time around.

Savory Kale & Sweet Potato Pasta (Gnocchi, if you've got 'em!)

Here, I stuck with a slightly modified version of my still favorite sweet potato preparation. Preheat the oven to 400. Mince 3-4 large garlic cloves and combine in a large bowl with 1/3 c fresh thyme leaves and 1/2 t red pepper flakes. Add in 3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into comfortably bite-sized pieces. Toss with enough olive oil to coat (about 3 T), add a pinch of salt and pepper, and distribute onto a foil-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for around 40 minutes, till potatoes are tender.


Slice 4-5 pieces of prosciutto into 1/4 inch strips. Separate and sautee until crisp, adding a drizzle of olive oil to the pan if needed. (Do not use a non-stick pan for this--you want all of the brown deliciousness for later.) When prosciutto is crisp, remove from pan and spread on a paper towel-lined plate, leaving any remaining fat in the pan.

In the same pan, sautee one medium yellow onion, sliced thin. Add about 1.5 c of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Add the kale (chopped), another generous helping of fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and cover. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. If needed, add more stock as it cooks--you want some liquid in the pan in the end to toss together with the pasta.

What I wanted to have with this dish were gnocchi, those pillowy little bundles of delight. But, as I didn't have access to good pre-made ones and was scared away from attempting some from scratch by a doomsaying husband, I ended up with whole wheat spaghetti. This was all right, but both the shape and the flavor seemed out of balance with the star ingredients--a bite with just kale, sweet potato, and prosciutto was divine, and the pasta seemed to get in the way of that rather than enhance it. Although I haven't tried it, I imagine that gnocchi would be a much better companion. I have also since learned that gnocchi can indeed be made at home without inviting certain disaster, and that The Silver Spoon cookbook has a lovely recipe. Next time around I'd like to attempt said recipe. At the very least, I would use a shorter pasta, probably penne.

The Final Product:
When your pasta, potatoes, and kale are done, toss the pasta and kale (with remaining broth) together in a large bowl. Fold in sweet potatoes. Serve and top with a generous sprinkle of prosciutto. As often as possible, combine all three of the delightfully affinitied flavors in one bite. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Berry of a Different Sort

One of the exciting things about our new winter farm share with Enterprise Farm has been that, in addition to the lovely fruits and veggies each week, we've also received the occasional bag of wheat berries. These lovely little berries come to us via Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA, and are particularly exciting to me as I have yet to find many options for truly local grains. They are also exciting because I have never in my life cooked with a wheat berry! Word on the street is they add a bit of crunchy texture for a hearty whole grain bread (here's hoping my husband will break out his KitchenAid sometime soon) and recipes for wheat berry salad abound (throw in your favorite mix of cukes, feta, olives, etc.). But, when I finally had some time to get inventive the other night, I opted for my usual winter standby: soup. The wheat berries add a wonderful texture with their springy bite, and combined with beans you've got a complete protein. Here's what I put together--it's a simple, easy recipe that can be adapted to suit whatever your pantry has on offer.

Wheat Berry and Winter Vegetable Soup

12 c low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock*
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 t dried thyme
1 t red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2-3 good splashes of olive oil
1 c wheat berries
1 helping heaping of whatever winter veggies you have on hand--I used parsnip, carrot, kale, squash, and onion
1 can kidney beans, rinsed (someday, I will learn to cook with dried)
1 can canellini beans, rinsed

In a large stock pot, bring the stock, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and olive oil to a boil. Add the wheat berries and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour.

While the wheat berries cook, chop veggies. Add them to the soup when the hour is up and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until veggies are tender.

Add the beans and simmer for another 5 minutes.


*you may notice that many soup recipes call for 10 cups of stock--I like to use 12, as this often results in a big bowl's worth of leftover broth, perfect for freezing. When you have the sniffles, or just the winter blahs, nothing beats a rich, hot broth with a piece of crusty bread!

Warm, steamy, yummy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Restaurant Week, Dorchester Style

For all you Bostonians who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Restaurant Week in the spring, I have happy news--you don't have to wait until March! For the first time this year, eight restaurants in Dorchester and Milton will be participating in a neighborhood Restaurant Week, with each location offering a special three-course dinner for $30.10 in addition to their regular fare. The event, which runs from January 17th through the 31st (excluding Fri/Sat nights) is a great way to do some local eating. Not only will you be supporting small businesses in your area, but many of them--including Chris Douglass' Ashmont Grill and Tavolo--make an effort to buy produce and specialty items from local farms and producers. In other words, it's a win-win-win.

For those of you who don't often venture out in the Dorchester area, this is a perfect opportunity to check out a growing neighborhood--all of these restaurants offer free parking, and most are a stone's throw away from the Red Line. Click on the restaurants below to see their full menus and contact information--reservations recommended!

Photo courtesy of Adam Pieniazek on Flickr Creative Commons.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Wintertime Treat: Growing in the Concrete Jungle

As we Bostonians brace ourselves for the longest, coldest months of the year, Slow Food Boston is offering a welcome bright spot with the beginning of their Winter Film Series next Sunday: a screening of HomeGrown, the story of a family who managed to grow 6,000 pounds of produce on less than 1/4 acre of land in downtown Pasadena. As always, the movie will be followed by a panel discussion to expand on the ideas presented in the film, including Lisa Gross, founder of the Urban Homesteaders' League, and Jess Liborio of The Food Project. For just a $5 donation to Slow Food you can reserve your spot, which I would say is quite the bargain--after all, when was the last time you got to see a movie for less than $10? Much less donate your money to a great organization and participate in a stimulating conversation? Click here to reserve your tickets for the 3:30 showing. Hope to see you there!

Other upcoming film topics include the complexities of seafood consumption and the fight for healthy school lunches. Click here to see the full series schedule.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On Wearing Perfume at the Table

We have all been there. Enjoying a tasty meal and soaking up the atmosphere at our favorite restaurant, when in walks a veritable explosion of perfume. (Or sometimes cologne, but I have found that women tend to be the more common offenders in this department.) Suddenly, rather than tasting your remarkably delightful chick pea fries, you are tasting Chanel. Instead of the fine cocktail of Campari and gin you've been sipping, you're sipping on every sense of the word.

This was precisely what happened to a friend and I who were dining at the lovely Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge last night. Just as our food arrived, so did a large party of people, at least one of whom was responsible for contaminating the entire air space of the restaurant. As always, these odiferous diners struck me as an unwelcome and unfair offense--why should I have to smell the people next to me when I'm trying to enjoy a bowl of Pumpkin soup with crispy pork rillette and spiced yogurt (divine, in spite of the smelly distraction)? It will fade into the background, my friend and I told ourselves, hoping that after a time we would cease to notice the cloud of overpowering and acrid aromas. But it never did. My garlic spinach--adorably presented in a squat little canning jar--and my Negroni were tainted by the stench until the very last mouthful.

When it comes to this blog, I usually try to leave my cranky pants at home, but last night put me over the edge. Perfume has a place--even I have a couple that I like to spritz on (lightly) once in a while--but it most certainly does not belong in a restaurant. If you want to douse yourself before cooking for that special someone at home, go nuts. But when you're headed out to a public space where people have gathered for the specific purpose of enjoying yummy food, ditch the scintillating scents. And, if you are not a perfumer, encourage any offending friends to do the same. The food, the drink, and your fellow diners will all be better off!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

"A garden is the most direct way to recapture the issue of health and to make it a private instead of a governmental responsibility." --Wendell Berry, "The Reactor and the Garden," The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural.

January is not a typical time of year for gardening. Not in Boston, certainly. Not in the sense that we typically think of: digging our fingers under the soil to plant, to weed, or to harvest. This time of year, we are buried in snow and the ground is frozen hard. But, this does not mean that the January gardner sits entirely idle. On the contrary, the deep winter season offers time for contemplation. What will be planted in the growing season to come? What lessons can be learned from the last? Even I, with only my tiny herb planter to ponder, find myself considering what new varieties I might try out next year, what more I would plant if I had the luxury of a yard to do it in.

January also brings in a new year, prompting many of us to reflect on how we'd like to make our lives better over the next twelve months, how to grow ourselves as individuals and work together to solve larger social problems. After a few long weeks of holiday overindulgences--thankfully tempered by the start of a new farm share--I find myself thinking a great deal about food and the myriad ways that our choices in that realm stand to effect not only our personal health, but that of the planet as a whole. Following Thursday's New York Times article about the ubiquitous presence of ammonia processed beef in this country's hamburger, and a recent re-viewing of the incredible documentary, Food Inc. (if you haven't seen it yet, you really must) Berry's words about recapturing the responsibility for our health hold particular resonance. The government agencies responsible for fostering and protecting our food system cannot currently be relied upon to do so given the revolving door between corporate agriculture and positions of power at the USDA and FDA. And, while this system needs to be held accountable and fighting to change it is an essential endeavor, it can feel like chipping away at an iceberg.

A garden, on the other hand, provides much speedier results, and a much more satisfying path to getting there. The means are as satisfying as the end, and the gardener has ownership in the entire process. Yes, there are the perils of pests and weather to contend with in order to achieve success, but these are much more pleasant adversaries to consider than profit-hungry CEOs whose power seems to have no end. As stated at the end of Food Inc., planting a garden, even a small one, is the most direct way to regain control of your food supply, and thereby your health, in a system that has gone so terribly awry. It is also far more delicious than letter writing.

So, for those of you inclined to spend these snowy days indoors, pondering your plantings for the first or the fortieth time, I offer a few reading suggestions to help you percolate on the possibilities until the spring thaw.

First, there's Karel Capek's The Gardener's Year, part of the Modern Library Gardening Series, edited by none other than Michael Pollan. Originally written in Czech in 1929, Capek's observations are whimsical and insightful, reminding us of the wonders of growing while poking light fun at the quirks and obsessions of the average gardener. The book's pages are also adorned by a charming collection line drawings created by Capek's brother. As Pollan writes in his series introduction, "there's plenty of how-to here, but the emphasis is more along the lines of how-to-think-about-it than how-to-do-it." Just right for the time of year when you're better off under a blanket than out in a field. The series has become home to many other forgotten books, including enticing titles such as In the Land of the Blue Poppies, Old Herbaceous, and The Gardener's Bed-Book: Short and Long Pieces to Be Read in Bed By Those Who Love Green Growing Things. You can peruse and purchase any of them here.

For a more contemporary but still varied list of gardening-related books, click here to see the year's 10 best gardening books, according to the Gardening blog.

To see you through until you get your hands on one of these, or until you can get your hands good and dirty, here are a few encouraging winter words by Capek, from a chapter entitled "The Gardener's February":

"But do you know what? The snowdrops are in flower; and hamamelis with yellow stars is in flower, and hellebore has fat buds; and when you look properly (but you must hold your breath) you will find buds and sprouts on almost everything; with a thousand tiny pulses life rises from the soil. Now we gardeners will stick to it; already we are rushing into sap."