Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In touch with my food. Literally.

One thing I've learned in trying to eat more local, less processed foods is how much I have to touch my food now.  Whether it's for preservation or just prep for dinner, there is a lot more involved when you quit opening up cans.

Take the purple hull peas.  I'd never had them before.  Farmer Sandra grows them and I was intrigued.  They're a pretty greenish purple and look like beans.

Except they are not.  The edible part lies within the hull and must be painstakingly removed.

Shellin' peas - it can either be relaxing or mind-numbingly boring.

The first time, I did them all by myself.  What began as relaxing soon became monotonous.  It took well over an hour.

I cooked them in sauteed onion and bacon and then boiled them for about 90 minutes.  Delicious!  The kids LOVED them!

So, I decided they were worth the effort and the next time I brought them home from the farm I made it a Family Project to shell the peas.  What began as relaxing soon turned into bickering, adolescent fits, and at least one nameless person leaving the room in tears.

But I digress.

The point is, it took no little while to get all those peas out of their hulls.  But they were worth the work.  Purple hull peas are not something you'd ever find in the grocery store, in a can, or in the frozen food section. They are wonderful and this is the only way you can enjoy them.  By touching every little dang pea.

A few weeks back, when I went to "my farm" to get my veggies, Farmer Sandra had harvested ALL the carrots.  They were not going to stand up to the heat, and needed to be used now or they'd be no good at all.

I pretty much filled my bag with carrots that week, intending to find a way to preserve them.

Homegrown carrots are neither as "pretty" or as large as you find in the grocery store.  But they have a much more robust flavor, and earthiness that all good root vegetables should have.  And a lot more charm in their appearance.

Problem is, before preserving, all of these carrots needed to be vigorously scrubbed.  I'm a scrubber, not a peeler.  I think peeling is wasteful in both taste and mass and nutritional value.  Scrubbing hundreds of little carrots took no little while.

The next challenge is to preserve them in a way that I think enhances their flavor and makes eating them a pleasure rather than a chore.

As usual, I scanned a lot of recipes and decided to go a bit exotic.  Star anise, cinnamon, clove all seemed to be good compliments to their earthy flavor, and some lemon (juice and peel) to brighten the overall effect and contract all that earthiness.

They sure look pretty, but I need to give them a few weeks in the jars before trying them.  I'll let you know how they taste.

All this prep work gives new meaning to "handmade food."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Aidan's Trip to the Olympic Training Center

Aidan and several of his teammates were recently invited for some intensive training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  It was an amazing opportunity and he got a lot out of it.  

Meet the team at the airport – all the kids are uniformly attired in team t-shirt and jeans.  Coach’s orders.

One of his teammates dad is a Southwest pilot, so he bid for the flight.  He introduced the kids over the plane PA and they all cheered very loudly.  Business travelers just loved that, I’m sure.

They had a couple of hours to kill before they could check in at the OTC, so they went to the zoo.  Apparently, Aidan made friends with a giraffe.

The purpose of the OTC is to provide athletes a stress-free environment in which to focus solely on training.  The best facilities, equipment, food, comfort, recreation, education and camaraderie a serious athlete needs.  Most of them didn't want to come home.

The kids were kept very busy.  Every day they trained in the pool twice for 2 hours each workout.  They attended educational sessions on nutrition, ethics and doping.  They did dryland workouts or worked in the weight room.  They ate four meals.  They had nightly team meetings with their coaches.  They had a little spare time to enjoy the lounges with pool tables, ping pong, etc. and meet other athletes.

Food was amazing; Aidan reportedly ate about four 2000-calorie meals each day.  The menu was varied and extremely healthy.  Nutritional information was posted by each buffet dish.

There are public tours of the OTC on a regular basis.  The public does not have access, but only view the training facilities, dormitories, grounds etc. from the opposite side of glass partitions. This was definitely a surprise to Aidan.  Kind of like the primate exhibit at the zoo.

Other athletes on site included Olympic level cyclists and wrestlers. The swimmers would cross paths with these athletes in the dorms, dining areas, recreation areas, etc. These adults were very encouraging to our kids and complemented them on how hard they were training and how much potential they had.

The US Paralympics Swim Team was also in residence training.  Aidan was awed by these amazing athletes.  He was very indignant that the para-athletes get less attention than the others.

During his final practice, each swimmer was filmed. They filmed each stroke from both sides, head-on and above.  This will be an excellent tool to refine his technique this season.  Aidan was quite tired when it was his turn, and you can tell watching the video.  Not just "I'm a little pooped" tired.  More like, "I've been swimming 10,000 yards a day at 7,000 feet" tired.  

Of the trip, Aidan said “It was better than I expected.  Usually when I imagine things, I am disappointed.  I imagined this was going to be great, and it exceeded my expectations.”  

The trip has an enormous impact on him.  He returned happy, motivated, confident and eager.  And tired.

Ready to grab the world by it’s tail.  I am looking forward to seeing this experience pay off in big and small ways.

Front row, left side.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday morning farm visits

This year, I bought a share in a small local farm.  I am a big fan of locavorism, and while I am far from perfect, I do what I can.  I believe it is good for our bodies, good for our planet, and good for the dying breed of small growers.

My farmer's name is Sandra, and I found her on Local Harvest, a great website that connects consumers with local producers of all manner of food and goods.  I was very lucky to have hit the Local Harvest website shortly after she put up her profile, as she only sold 10 shares on her farm this year.

Sandra's farm is called Mansion Farms and it is out in Roanoke, the next town over from me.  Let's see if she's reading.....  Sandra, why do you call your place Mansion Farms?  You can leave a comment. ;-)

So.  Every Saturday morning I make the quick drive out to Sandra's place to pick up my share of the produce she has harvested that week.  Being a terrible novice gardener myself, I am learning a lot just from chatting with her for a few minutes every week.  Maybe someday it will all sink in enough that I can grow some of this stuff successfully myself, but for now I am glad that Sandra is doing it for me.

There is different stuff available every week, and the fun challenge is figuring out how not to let it go to waste. I try to incorporate everything I pick up that week into our meals, and if there is a lot of stuff, I try to preserve it.  It has all been a great learning experience.

Sandra has lots of stuff going on besides her 1/2 acre vegetable garden.  She keeps a flock of chickens and sells the eggs.  I know you've heard me say over and over and over - there is nothing like a farm fresh egg.  Once you try one, you will never buy those weak facsimiles from the grocery store again.

She has goats and sheep and is working on expanding her herd to use for meat.  She also keeps turkeys.  An endangered breed called Midget White.  One of these little guys will be my holiday bird this year.

Sandra also trains and rescues "Livestock Guardian Dogs."  You send these lovable guys out in the pasture with your goats, turkeys, sheep, etc. and they keep the predators at bay.  The turkeys have even figured out to run to the dogs when they sense a threat, such as a large bird overhead, etc.

It's a pleasant errand to run every Saturday.  I enjoy hearing Sandra's plans for expansion, learning what can and can't grow in different times of our growing season, and learning how to cook new foods such as okra, and purple hull peas.

As I've said before - Nature can't be wrong.  I think it will be worth it to listen to her rhythms and dance her dance.