Colors of Summer

colors of summer $20
From the farmers’ market: okra, Cherokee purples, a couple ounces of Thai dragon peppers, an habanero pepper, peaches, white eggplant, and Mexican midget tomatoes from our garden

Mexican midgets
Mexican midgets from the garden. These things are prolific!

front garden
Our front garden. The back garden has been overtaken by various grasses. Here in the front we have the crazy Mexican midget (one plant!), ground cherries (more info on them in the next week or so…), several types of tomatoes that aren’t producing much, strawberries, dead purslane, several types of basil, oregano, and mint.


Bouquet of basil.


Pesto about to go in the freezer.

Mexican midget
Matt snagging a scarlet sign of summer.

Summertime and the Eatin’ is Easy

It’s so easy to eat well in the summertime. There is fresh, local produce twice a week at the farmers’ markets, and a bountiful co-op order once per month. I’d like to say a heart-felt Thank You! to all the Oklahoma farmers.

I was watching some farmers and crafters set up their booths for Wednesday’s downtown market and I was trying to imagine what they were going through. We’ve been getting a ton of rain, so their crops must be growing like crazy. But, the rain can (and usually does) bring some nasty friends: lightning, crazy-ass winds, and hail. So, those prolific vines or bushes can be flattened in an instant and there goes the investment of time and money and wagered return. I know how heartbroken I feel to see my battered tomato plants, and I’m still in the “novelty” stage, not the “bread-and-butter” stage. A big downpour came through Wednesday morning. Luckily, the meteorologists were correct in their forecast: the storm was quick, albeit fierce, and was in and out in about 20 minutes and left beautiful blue skies and crisp air. But, what if the storm had stuck around all day? How dependent are the farmers on the market sales? Then again, how much does the market detract from the time needed to tend the farm? Between developing a market for the goods, learning how to market, creating marketing materials, hiring, firing, loading, hauling, greeting, small-talking, selling (but not being too pushy), and hauling the leftovers back home, how much time is actually left to be a farmer? Or has the job description for a “farmer” evolved to include those duties by default? How much of the farmer business is a catch-22? The chicken or the egg? You get my drift.

I am very thankful for our Oklahoma farmers that make it work. And I’m glad to support them.

A few pretty pictures from the past three weeks at the OSU-OKC Downtown Farmers’ Market. I spend around $15 dollars each week.

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June 18th
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June 11th

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June 4th

Excerpt

Just finished reading an interview of Michael Pollan by Tom Philpott.

The entire discussion is great, but here’s a particularly interesting excerpt:

TP: The advice to “eat food, not much, mostly plants” is deceptively simple—how do you apply that in a society that’s become addicted to convenience food?

MP: I think that there’s some brainwashing going on with this idea that we don’t have time to cook anymore. We have made cooking seem much more complicated than it is, and part of that comes from watching cooking shows on television—we’ve turned cooking into a spectator sport. We’re terrified to play tackle football too when we watch how it’s played on TV—we’d get killed. But cooking’s a whole lot easier than it appears on Iron Chef.

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How a Meal Makes Itself

I got up early Saturday morning to get to the farmers market and run some other errands.

Yummy spread

Yummy spread

I bought some squash, tomatoes, corn, and onions for supper. And a cantaloupe because I just couldn’t resist. Enough produce to serve at least 6 people cost $16.00. My other purpose for going to the market was to make some price comparisons. I’ve chosen tomatoes for this initial comparison between local produce and conventionally grown, shipped produce from a major grocer.

My findings:

Big Box Grocer
Roma hothouse tomatoes from Canada: 1.69/lb
Vine-ripened greenhouse tomatoes from Canada: 1.59/lb
Green Giant (location not specified) vine-ripened: 2.99/lb
Green Giant (product of USA): 2.49/4-pack

Farmers Market
Red tomatoes from Choctaw, OK (23 miles away): 1.69/lb
Organic red tomatoes from El Reno, OK (41 miles away): 2.00/lb
Organic heirloom varieties from El Reno, OK: 3.00/lb

US Department of Labor/USDA
Average retail price for field-grown tomatoes in September 2006: 1.90/lb
Average retail price in June 2007: 1.51/lb
Average retail price in August 1980 (just for fun): .64/lb

Saturday morning the heirloom varieties were already all gone. When you can only get these sweet, sweet babies a couple months out of the year, the price doesn’t seem so bad.

That evening, after a day of swimming and relaxing, we prepared a meal to share with our visitors. We grilled burgers, along with sweet corn and squash boats. We removed the silk from the ear of corn, spread it with butter and parsley, re-wrapped the husks, tied them with jute, soaked ’em in cold water for about 20 minutes, then grilled them.

The squash was stuffed with a mixture of the squash meat, bread crumbs, red onion, garlic, mint, mozzarella, and topped with some shredded Parmesan. The meal was great, except for the flies that descended on the patio while we were trying to enjoy our meal.

Delusions

Every day I pass a meat market on my way to and from work. Matt and I had the morning off to take the dogs to the vet, so we made a point to stop in and buy some meat.

We parked in front of the windowless building. The back/side has a corral that I try not think too much about. The market is first and foremost a slaughterhouse and processor. We walk in the front door, not really knowing what would be on the other side. Will the meat be displayed? What do we want? We took in our surroundings as we waited for someone to help us. Clippings, photos, and ads were all over the walls and the room was basically office space. There was a glass wall between the office we were standing in and the processing room, where several people dressed in white were hacking up meat. One man, engaged in a conversation, gestured with a hacksaw to emphasize his point. The workers chopped and sorted, making what I assume was a “keepers” pile and tossing the inedibles in a bin. I reassured and tried to desensitize myself. I feel like if I am going to eat meat, I should at get a better sense of how it got to me. I’m not to the point where I could raise and kill an animal…baby steps. Eventually a man came out to see what we needed. We told him what we wanted and he took a cart back to the freezer to load it up.

We bought some sausage, pork chops, and chicken breasts, with the intention of freezing the meat for later use. We also bought a sack o’ bones for the dogs. And we felt good about it because we assumed this was all Oklahoma meat. I mean, why else bother buying from this quaint meat market instead of a local grocery store?

Once home, I was putting the meat away and was surprised by the packaging on the chicken. It looked suspiciously…normal…and the contact number was in Atlanta. I called the market. “Yeah, I am wondering where you get your retail meat?”

“Ummm…our beef comes from Kansas.”

“Oh, okay. What about your pork and chicken?”

“Well, we get most of our meat from Cargill.”

Man, did I feel silly. I just don’t get it. Why is it necessary that a local, small business that kills and cuts up animals ship in processed meat from God-knows-where? Surely there is an explanation. Or maybe I’m just naive to have assumed otherwise. Maybe I’ll go back and ask or perhaps someone will fill me in.

Local grower gets media attention

Today’s Oklahoman has an article featuring John Leonard, a farmer I’ve frequented at the Edmond Farmers Market. Once I cleared him out of Cherokee purples and he gave me a free one that had a soft spot. He has contracts with these local restaurants:

Wedge Pizzeria, OKC (46th and Western)

Deep Fork catering, OKC

Trattoria il Centro, downtown OKC

The article is great; in addition to discussing the labor and pay-offs of organic gardening, it publicizes upcoming organic gardening workshops and gives harvesting tips. I wish the writer had mentioned how it feels to buy directly from the grower. And how the connection is evident in the way John handles the produce and lit up when I expressed interested in his funny-lookin’ tomatoes. Perhaps she didn’t want to get into the emotional aspects of food, and I don’t really blame her. It may turn some people off. On the other hand, there are practical reasons for knowing the grower: recipes and advice. The recipe part is pretty self-explanatory. The advice part: I bought a lovely hanging plant from John several months ago. His dad was manning the booth and wasn’t quite sure how to care for the plant. No problem. It was too pretty to pass up. So, a couple of weeks later, I returned and John was there. I described the plant and right away he said, “Oh yeah! My dad told me about you!” And he proceeded to explain how to care for the plant. Luckily, I was doing everything right. Well, “everything” was just to make sure the plant was in the shade. So, there you have it, knowing the grower can help you to not throw money away.

Also, as you become a familiar face, a relationship forms and your food develops a story, or at least a story that you can stomach.

Hello world!

Summer is winding down; the season’s end is most apparent to me in the shorter days, cooler nights, and dying cicadas… Actually, I’ve never noticed dying cicadas before now, but figured I just wasn’t around many trees before. I hope this is indeed a sign of shorter days and not some cicada epidemic.

For tonight’s impromptu supper we cut up a cantaloupe. Oh. My. God. It was so juicy, sweet, and refreshing. I gorged myself on that Rush Springs, Oklahoma, cantaloupe, along with some leftover watermelon, Christian Cheese’s red and black pepper cheddar, and a hot dog. Ever since Supper Sister Theresa’s post, hot dogs have been on the brain.

I love sprinkling a few granules of sea salt on the melons. Matt looks in horror as I do this, but it makes melon meat burst into juice as I chew it. Plus, I love the salty-sweetness!

On a more somber note, Bob, the Co-op president, notified all the members that Christian Cheese had about 5 feet of water in their facility after Tropical Storm Erin came through. Yes, we had a tropical storm in a land-locked state. Odd, isn’t it?