Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Compost's the Thing

Well, I have to be honest. I am having a hard time getting everything done, and I'm not sure why. Maybe my age is slowing me down or something. I really can't figure it out, but it sure is frustrating. There are so many things rattling around in my head these days, it is hard to center on a topic. Let's see...

I've been thinking about the upcoming gardening season. I've always felt like this is the optimal season to get crops in the ground, plus I love greens and lettuces, which do much better over the winter. Roger has been doing such a great job with composting our crops and keeping the weeds down. I marvel at this because that was my job for many years, and it is very difficult to stay on top of it.

Last year one of our customers told us how she mulches with cardboard boxes, so we have been excited to be able to use up all the cardboard that seems to find its way to our house. It really is a great way to mulch the crops and helps keep the weeds down, plus it gives us some great pathways through the rows.

Roger is much better at keeping up with the composting than I was for a number of reasons. First of all, we eat a lot more vegetation than we did back when it was my job, so we fill up our bins much faster. Because we have so much, he is motivated to clear out the first bin in the cycle so he can have another one when he fills up the last one. We've got it timed out so that the first one is usually ready when the last one gets filled up.

Another reason he's better at it than me is because he's just so darn much taller and stronger than me. It used to give me fits trying to use the pitch fork and move it around and so forth. It really is a job better suited to someone his size. (Of course, there aren't too many jobs well suited to my height, now that I think about it!)

I really believe compost is the most important thing we can do for our crops. If tasks have to be prioritized, which of course they do, I would have to say work on the compost and let other things like weeding and even irrigation go. Good compost rotation will go a long way in helping to solve other woes.

Besides just adding organic matter to the soil which is very important in Florida due to the high percentage of sand, I think compost is important because it is a living soil. We talk alot about eating living foods and preserving the enzymes in our food, but how our food is grown is an important part of how it will turn out when mature and ready for the table.

I'm convinced that a lot of people think they don't like their fruits and veggies because they have never eaten any that have grown in soils teeming with life. They really do taste differently.

For example, last year, Roger grew the most tender and tastiest collards imaginable. I couldn't believe it. I know his excellent management of the compost is what contributed to this. I use this as an example as many don't think of collards as a raw food nor a particularly tasty one. These were definitely the exception to that rule. We can't wait to start cutting them later this week and making some veggie wraps with them.

What else has he got out there? The pepper plants are producing bumper crops this fall, and that is a blessing as we use them in many of our recipes. Hopefully we'll be able to make some rellenos next week. He's also got some nice looking lettuce and the broccoli should be up in a couple of weeks. The cherry tomatoes he picked this week were out of this world as well. We've ordered more seed of our favorite kind to see if we can protect them over the winter and keep them going. They make other tomatoes seem like ugly stepchildren...

Well, I've rambled on about that long enough. We're having so much fun with our beast boxes and our beasties (the name we lovingly give our customers who purchase them), that we can hardly think about anything else. We're finding a box that will suit it better and will be looking for artwork with which to decorate it, etc. Who would have thought this would be this much fun.

My oldest son and his girlfriend finally tried some of the foods from it last week and had mixed reviews. I think they understand why the beasties all enjoy them so much anyway. He's been going with me to deliver them, and he's seeing how neat everyone is too, so he can see why I enjoy doing it as much as I do (I think).

Here's the results from the survey for the box from the week before last week. Highest ranking items are on top. (Some have asked why there are scores over 5 when 5 is the highest score, but some people assign higher numbers indicating 5 is not good enough. That's ok by me!)
5.40 Chocolate brownie mousse trifle
5.18 sushi rolls w/ dipping sauce
5.00 smoothie
5.00 fruit add-on
4.50 veggie add-on
4.70 spinach salad w/ sliced pear, candied pecans, & raspberry vinaigrette
4.67 cheesy crackers
4.45 Mexi-cali wraps
4.39 mushroom, pepper, onion fajita filling
4.31 peanut sauce
4.30 Hawaiian granola
4.20 sweet bell pepper soup
4.14 carrot patch dessert
4.05 Mexican rice
4.00 pickled beets
3.21 cashew flower cinnamon yogurt
This was a good week; nothing scored less than a 3! We appreciate everyone's kindness and effort they took to respond.

Last week's survey just went out, so we'll see how everything fares this week. We work in so many weeks at the same time, it is hard to keep it all straight.

This week we are making something that is new to me, mu shu with hoisin sauce. Apparently this is a popular food at Asian restaurants and though I've never tried it, it sounded delicious, so we are excited about it. We've made the tamales several times before and love them, so we are anticipating good reviews on them. Desserts are always popular, and we are trying two new ones this week: almond butter cacao chunks and caramel bars. Well, I'm not going to say anymore; I'll send out the e-mail on that shortly.

For our recipe this week, I'm posting a sauce to copycat fish sauce for Brian, one of our customers. He was excited to see we had bok choy as they have a great recipe they love, but it calls for fish sauce, and they didn't know what to substitute for it so the dish could be healthier.

Here's info I found about it on the internet -
Fish sauce is a thin, salty liquid that is used in place of salt as a seasoning in many Asian recipes, and also serves as a dipping sauce. Made from salted fish, it is rich in Vitamin B and protein.

Although associated primarily with Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, fish sauce is also found in southern Chinese dishes. Depending on where it was made, you'll find it sold under a number of names. Chinese brands are often labeled "fish gravy" or "fish sauce," while it is called "nuoc mam" in Vietnam and "nam pla" in Thailand. However, they are all basically the same product, although the Thai and Vietnamese brands are considered superior.

Fish sauce can be stored indefinitely without refrigeration in a dry place.

Written by Rhonda Parkinson
Also Known As: Nuoc Mam, Nam Pla, fish gravy
Recipes Using Fish Sauce: Tom Yum Gung - Thai Hot and Sour Soup

Instead of fish, this recipe uses sea vegetables. This ones for you, Brian:

Better-Than-Fish Sauce

yields 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons hiziki seaweek, soaked in 1/3 cup water (reserve water)
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons dulse flakes
1/2 large date
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons nama shoyu

Blend all the ingredients including the soak water together until smooth.

Let me know how it turns out!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Better Late Than Never, Right?

Better late than never, right? I've been behind for about a week and a half now and wondering when I can play catch-up.

Since I didn't blog last week, these survey results are for the beast box the week before last...
3 + pumpkin seed cheese (dip for crudites)
4 Olive, tomato, & basil cheese spread (for open-face sandwiches)
5 cilantro pesto (sauce for veggie or other kind of pasta)
5 + guacamole (dip for corn chips)
4 + chili con crema
5 House salad; lettuce, celery, carrots, onion, topped with sunnies, raisins, dulse, and Ranch dressing
3 + creamy coleslaw
4 + vinaigrette for a side salad
4 + everyday bread (open face sandwiches)
4 + chili lime corny chips (dippers for the guac)
4 + buckwheaties (dip for bananas)
4.5 soul dates
4.5 chocolate macaroons
5 + pumpkin pie

The scale is 1 for "hated it" (Yay, we didn't get any of those!) and 5 for "can't wait to eat it again".

Last week's box had some neat stuff in it, but I'll post survey results of them later since all of that is gone now. This week we're having some fun with party foods since Gayle is having a yoga retreat in Florahome and is wanting hors d'euves. If anyone is interested in going to her shindig, let me know, and I'll pass on the details to you.

The beast box this week will have the following items:
All American veggie patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, tomato, mustard, and mayo
Alfredo pasta sauce
living taco fixings: unfried no-bean, salsa fresca, crema
macadamia ricotta
tangy coleslaw
sweet potato chips
Caesar salad: Romaine lettuce with croutons, sesame parmesan, dulse, and Caesar dressing
creamy spinach soup
zuccini nests (on which to nestle your pizza toppings)
veggie crisps
honey almond butter
tomato chewies
marshmallow cream cheese (for dipping fruit)
rawky road

Our recipe this week is for "Everybody's Favorite Salad" (according to the Top Raw Men - get it? They made a joke!) You can make everything ahead and just pour it over cleaned and trimmed Romaine. Easy peasy.
Everybody's Favorite Salad

2 large heads of Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces
2 avocados, pitted and spooned into salad bowl
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons raw apple cider vinegar (i.e. Braggs)
3 tablespoons extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins

Mix ingredients together. Let is sit for 10 minutes before serving.

The dressing ingredients will keep for a couple of days in the fridge. When you're ready to eat, just pour them over the fresh salad greens.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Breaking up with old patterns for living that aren't working for us can be one of the most difficult things we ever do in our lives. Even when we realize it isn't working, many of us stick with it long after we should have made a change. Why? Comfort zones? Maybe. I'm wondering how much of it is because the behavior is somehow addicting to us. (The definition of addiction is "psychological and/or physical dependency; ... often cause guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness, failure, rejection, anxiety, or humiliation symptoms associated with, among other medical conditions, depression and epilepsy" (Wikipedia, "addiction").

To me, one of the most profound acts done by any human being has been the creation of 12 step programs for the recovery of addiction. When I think about the first men and women who began these programs and how incredible it was that they had the courage and inspiration to do so, it baffles my mind.

What has this to do with a living foods lifestyle? First, I believe most of the food issues in the media nowadays stem back to the highly addictive lifestyle most of America eats. The word addiction is rarely used to describe it; however, how else can one explain the harmful continuation of a practice that ultimately leads to destruction? The raw vegan lifestyle, to me, not only eliminates addictive and destructive foods, it is the only one that does so in my opinion.

As I came to understand the raw vegan lifestyle which is viewed as extreme by even those who have embraced vegetarian or veganism, I found a way of eating that provided the perfect food plan for me, a compulsive overeater. While there are recipes I have tried and/or developed that are delicious and enjoyable, none could be defined as addictive (despite comments to that effect by those that try them).

To quote a pamphlet from Overeaters Anonymous, a 12 step program for people who cannot stop eating foods that are harmful for them, "Using a plan of eating is the beginning of freedom from compulsive overeating. Instead of depending on resolutions and willpower to help make good decisions in front of the refrigerator or in the restaurant, we develop a sensible plan of eating in advance" (A Plan of Eating, OA pamphlet, p. 2).

While it is important to accept a food plan for abstinence from harmful foods in order to "cure" an addiction to unhealthy foods, I have found I also have to work the 12 steps to be able to accomplish this. I don't know if this is true for everyone, but I am hoping it will be helpful to at least one other person. If I can help anyone recognize this and overcome their personal addiction to unhealthy foods, that would be a great thing. We come into contact weekly with folks that can't break the cycle of destructive substances; rarely do they even recognize it as addiction. That would be the first step: recognizing we are powerless over food (especially those foods that destroy health) and that our lives have become unmanageable.

This week I have found a vendor for kelp noodles that carries a larger size for a better price than we were able to get the smaller 12 oz size usually found in markets. This is exciting, because it brings it into a price range where we can use it in our beast boxes and give everyone a chance to try these. We like them in Asian cuisine where they are most suited as a substitute for glass noodles, but they are great to use in any recipe where you want a real noodle instead of (or with) a vegetable style noodle.

I hope by now everyone has at least tried substituting veggie noodles for white flour pasta noodles. I was surprised at how good this was and wondered why we hadn't always chosen to shred up vegetables as a base for yummy sauces. The kelp noodles add another dimension to it.

We have found that many people have an aversion to sea vegetables maybe because they are not so lovingly nicknamed sea weeds. According to dictionary.com, a weed is "an undesirable plant growing in cultivated ground", hence wild plants growing in the ocean would hardly fit the definition. (Of course, I take issue with most plants that are normally called weeds being considered "undesirable" since they can all be used in some way. Just because we are unfamiliar with their use does not justify the name calling...) Anyway, I digress.

My personal aversion to sea vegetables was because of their appearance I think. It all seemed so foreign and un-foodlike. I was in a living foods restaurant the first time I had the courage to try some, and I've loved them ever since. If we could get enough of them in the house, I'd eat some every day, but my granddaughter eats them by the pound, so it is hard to keep a supply on hand. I believe we will find out some day that there are nutrients in the sea vegetables that her little body needs for healing purposes. Our family favorites are dulse, arame, nori, kelp granules, and kelp noodles. I expect our repetoire will increase over time. We had some great sea vegetables in Miami the last time we were there, but I haven't located a source for them yet. Maybe my readers will have additional suggestions too. I'll try anything now. It hasn't always been like that.

My favorite way to use nori is as a wrap for salad. We all like to grab a few sheets, lay a few forkfuls of salad on one end, and roll. I like to do mine all at once, and by the time I've finished the fourth one, the first one has softened up a little bit due to the moisture in the salad. Then I have a handy dandy sea burrito! Delicious.

My favorite way to use kelp noodles is to mix them with shredded zucchini and us the mock peanut sauce to dress them. Some shredded bell pepper and onion is good too. We'll have some as one of our entrees next week, I promise.

According to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Raw, sea vegetables "are a source of important minerals and nutrients such as calcium, zinc, protein, and trace elements like iodine." Here's a recipe from their book using arame, one of the mildest flavored sea veggies:

Rainbow Salad

1 cup arame, soaked 30 minutes and drained
1/4 cup carrot, peeled and grated
1/4 cup red cabbage, sliced thin
1/4 cup green onion, diced small
1/2 teaspoon ginger or garlic, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon raw apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons nama shoyu or to taste

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl mixing well. Serve immediately. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired. This would also be a great filling for Nori rolls.
Our beast box menu this week has some interesting surprises. We love cilantro so much, we decided to try a cilantro pesto. We'll mix it into shredded zucchini and yellow squash noodles. We might chop a few tomatoes into it. The cilantro gives it a beautiful green color. We'll also have a side salad with it. (The pesto and vinaigrette for the side salad will be included with the beast box; the salad and veggie noodles can be purchased as part of the veggie add-on.)

Our main dish salad this week will be our classic ¡ Viva La Verde ! House salad which includes lots of yummy toppings: ball park sunnies, raisins, and dulse along with our delicious Ranch salad dressing.

The big dipper this week is a pumpkin seed cheese for use with crudites of your choice. (The veggie box has baby cucumber spears, parsnip sticks, baby carrots, celery sticks.)

We are also having a chip n dip: guacamole and chili lime corny chips. (Corny because no corn!) You might also enjoy this with some veggies.

As an aside, I have always been troubled by guacamole since it turns dark and ugly so fast. For that reason I took it out of the catalog because I just couldn't figure out how to keep it nice for the market. I asked Laurie, who orders it several times a month even though it isn't in the catalog anymore, how she dealt with that problem, and she told me that she freezes it until she's ready to eat it. I knew it froze well, but for some reason, I had never thought of doing that even though a few of our desserts (including a couple made with avocado) are sold frozen. So, it's back in the catalog. Just keep it frozen until you're ready to eat it, and let it thaw for a few minutes. This week it is available with or without tomato. I can't tell the difference in the taste, but Laurie claims there is.

Also featured this week is one of our favorite meals, the open-faced sandwich. For the base, we've made some of our everyday bread, a sprouted buck wheat cracker with carrot and honey to help flavor it. The spread is a delicious sun-dried tomato, olive, & basil cream cheese spread. We're going to top it with sliced tomatoes and some sprouts (veggie toppers are in the add-on).

The soup and salad this week is chili con crema & creamy coleslaw. Prior to this recipe for chili, we had varying degrees of success. One day while I was at the Beaver Street Market, this recipe came into my head, and I called home and asked Alicia to put it together, so we could see what it tasted like. It was really good, so we make it regularly now (at least in the colder part of the year). It's a simple recipe made with lots of good veggies and a delicious tomato base. We top it off with some of our hemp cashew cheese sour cream. The cole slaw is a creamy one made with a cashew sour cream base sweetened with agave nectar. (I can't stand cole slaw that is not sweet. It's just wrong. Sorry to those who aren't as sweet challenged as I am.)

Our snacks this week are some buckwheaties and soul dates. Buckwheaties are a dehydrated sprouted buckwheat. I think it tastes a little like grapenuts. We use them most often to dip bananas into, and Darius likes to use them to fill the little cavities in raspberries. So we've put both bananas and raspberries in the fruit add-on this week.

Soul dates are a little snack that goes a long way to satisfy your hunger in between meals. Roger used to buy these at health markets where they are outrageously priced. I told him he would have to figure out a way to make them as he was breaking the bank with buying 5 or 6 boxes a week. Surprisingly, he did! (By way of history, he can barely cook, let alone figure out a new recipe. That goes to show you how much he loves these things.) We named them soul dates as they are the heart and soul of Roger's success as a raw vegan. He goes NOWHERE without a box of them or a jar of dates in his backpack. They are good and very satisfying. You don't need much and can pinch off a piece of one to stave off hunger.

These also make a good pie crust. Smash one into one of the little cups we put all your food in, slice some banana on there, and top with any other fruit you have on hand (or something in the fruit add-on box), and you have a nifty fruit pie. You can even make a glaze by blending some of your raspberries in the fruit add-on with some agave nectar and spooning it on top, though the pie is good as is.

The desserts included this week is our “pumpkin” tart, a spicy little number in our regular line-up that we enjoy every week. No pumpkin though; we use carrots instead, but it tastes like the filling we enjoy by that name; the name "carrot tarts" just wouldn't do it!

We're also putting some chocolate macaroons in our box this week. This is a neat little cookie to help satisfy the chocolate monster that attacks every so often. We mix carob and raw cacao as we found cacao alone to be too stimulating. For some reason, the carob helps dissipate that.

Our survey results from last week were pretty good with the lowest score only a 3.25 on the kale chips, 3.75 on pita chips, and nearly a 4 on the lasagna. Our highest rating went to the BBQ veggie patty (a 6!), the Greek salad was a 5, veggie crisps a 4.75. Everything else fell between these: onion dip (4.25), sweet n sour sauce (4.7), butternut squash soup (4.0), carrot raisin salad (4.7), tomato chewies (4.0), and both desserts, apples layered with baklava filling and coconut cream banana dessert got 4+. Of course, not everyone votes, so we don't know if some of those would be lower (or higher) votes. It you'd like your opinion to count, please let us know what you like and don't like. High scores will be repeated; low scoring items won't.

Anyone ever hear of Mu Shu? I'm not a Chinese officiando, but the recipe for this sounds great. When the napa cabbage comes in, we'll have to get that on the menu. I'm not sure of everything on the menu next week, but I'm excited to find out. Hope you are too!