Dollars and Sense at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market Season is upon us!

And I love it.

I love the energy at a Farmer’s Market.

I love the people watching.

I love checking out the unique, artisanal products or heirloom produce that I could never find at a normal grocery store.

I love it all.

This morning Adam and I ventured out to our local Farmer’s Market.

It was a quick trip as we had some landscaping work to do back at the homestead. (… Work that made us realize we really are adults as our alma mater is celebrating its biggest spring event with the bars opening at 7AM.)

The Farmer’s Market didn’t have many produce vendors present thanks to the chilly, late spring we are experiencing. But, we did pick up some bratwurst from a local pork producer. They seemed like a great idea for dinner after a day of working in the yard.

As Adam paid the vendor $15.60 for the ten brats, I thought of the most common question and biggest complaint I always tend to hear in regards to local meat: Why is it so expensive?

Last year, after a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I came home with a free range whole chicken. I was excited about this bird. The vendor was full of information and clearly very passionate. And, I wasn’t sure that I had ever had a free range chicken. I kept reading the taste was amazingly different in comparison to a normal chicken breast at the store.

I also had never cooked a whole chicken. So, it seemed like a fun challenge and I couldn’t wait to see if I could taste a difference.

Adam was excited too… and then he asked how much it was.

I had not told him because in the back of my mind I knew how my [insert nice way to say “tight ass”] husband would react.

And, I was right.

The word “ridiculous” was used often and before I knew it he was researching how to raise meat chickens.

God love him and his “Why pay someone when I can do that” attitude…

Proof of this attitude?  His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio.  So happy to give it a little character.

Proof of this attitude? His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio. So happy to give it a little character.

So, in early September, we became the proud owners of fifty free range broilers.

The babies from last September.

The babies from last September.

Adam created a “chicken mobile” out of a large wagon. The top of the wagon had bedding, water and feed. Then a little ramp gave the chicken’s access to the ground so they could roam and snack on grass and bugs. We could move the wagon around the yard so the chickens wouldn’t eat one piece of land to entirety.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

We thought it was going to be great. Easy, too. We would have little, happy, free range birds and, in a couple months, a freezer full of organic, natural roasters for far less then we could purchase.

Right?

Wrong.

Okay, not totally.

In the end, the chickens came out great. They taste wonderful. We have enjoyed sharing them with family and friends and love how one bird can make us a couple meals.

However, they were a lot of work.

They required our attention twice a day, everyday.

They ate a ton. They drank a ton. (Note: Getting water to chickens on a cold, dark late November morning? Not exactly fun.)

There was quite a bit of cost to get started and the butchering at two bucks a pop added up fast. (… Although, that was worth every penny, in my book.)

When it was all said and done, Adam and I sat down and went over all our expenses. There was the chicken mobile, the feed, the equipment like heating lamps and water dispensers, the bedding, the butchering, and our labor.

We realized, using basic economics, if we were going to sell them at a market, $20.00 per chicken really isn’t that “ridiculous.”

As consumers, we have not just a choice, but also a voice.

And for the last sixty years or so, American consumers have voiced that meat should not only be available for every meal, it should also be cheap.

It started with fast food. We want a cheese burger for a buck. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents.

And, it’s now what we see in the grocery store and that is why a $20.00 chicken has such a sticker shock.

We are lucky, in a sense, that in America meat is so widely available and isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, out of all the countries in the world, American’s spend the least percentage of their income on food.

However, farmers feel the backlash of the availability of the cheap food, even though our society demanded it, and some farming practices are coming under fire.

Farmers are smart, resilient and able to adapt. That is what they did and they will do it again, if that is what the market demands.

However, thanks to my food service role in K-12 education I know the reality is that the cheap, widely available meat is likely here to stay. And, I could never completely go over to the one side of this agriculture fence and say “Organic or BUST” because there is not just a huge market, but a need.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a choice when I purchase food for Adam and me. And my choice in purchases is reflected in my belief to support local growers.

I am also fortunate to have a voice.

A voice that wants to ask, if we really are spending so much less of our income on food in comparison to our peers around the world, couldn’t we ditch the amped up cable package and reallocate that cash to receive a product that supports the earth, local farmers, the local community and provides great nutrition?

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon and couldn’t help but check the prices on bratwurst. A package of five was for sale for just under six dollars.

I spent a whopping four more dollars for my ten brats.

Four dollars that might go back and help that farmer raise more pigs. Or pay his rent. Or send his kid to college.

Or perhaps its four dollars that will stay in my community supporting other small business like my husbands. Or the cute lady who owns this fun accessory boutique that sucks me in when I drop off my dry cleaning. Or the new bakery on the square that I haven’t been to yet, but sounds delicious.

Four bucks.

Four bucks is less than a fast food meal.

… less than my drink at Starbs!

Money well spent.

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Go Garden: Tools Needed

Last night, to celebrate Earth Day and because “it’s time,” Adam wanted to till up the soil in our garden beds. Tilling the soil is important because it makes it easier to work in compost to help enhance the soil and makes seeds or seedlings easier to plant.

Because we have so many garden beds and they are so large, we like to use a rototiller. But, the rototiller was not feeling very festive and, last night, it decided that it didn’t want to work.

Adam was upset. We could use a shovel to till the ground but, the rototiller is a tool that makes our lives so much easier.

Some other garden tools that I found really useful and important to have in our first year of gardening are the following:

Work Gloves: Just like a cook’s best tool, a gardener’s best tool is their hands. However, in the garden your hands might need protection from branches, thorns, etc. You can spend a lot on gloves if you really wanted to, but a good fitting pair of cotton gloves with grips work great and won’t break the bank.

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Kneeler Pad: This will save your knees and quads when gardening. Even as a young, athletic person this was a life saver. You can also find them in cute patterns which always makes things fun!

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Hose with a Spray Nozzle: Watering cans look very “classic gardener,” but the amount of water needed to water a decent sized garden would likely require many trips back and forth from your outdoor tap. Be sure to measure the distance from an outdoor tap to the garden to ensure you purchase a long enough hose. Also look for nozzles with a rain spray option for gentle, thorough amount of moisture.

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Trowel: This one is super important. It will help with planting, weeding, incorporating compost into soil, and more. A trowel is in the garden with me at all times.

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Pruning Sheers: I use mine to harvest produce such as lettuce, so that it will regenerate itself, zucchini’s and peppers. They are also great to have for flower arranging and trimming landscaping.

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There are so many tools out there to help a gardener, but I feel these are the best to invest in first.

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A few other of my favorite tools that I would recommend investing in as you continue to grow your garden are:

Wheelbarrow
Hand Fork/Cultivator
Garden Hoe
Rake (… the one you use for leaves in the fall will work just fine)
A good shovel or spade
Rototiller
Compost bins

… Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!

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I learned that one the hard way…

Are there any garden tools that you swear by?

Natural Easter Egg Dyes

If I didn’t already know Easter was one week away, I would be able to tell by Pinterest.

Lately, my Pinterest feed has been an Easter Explosion.

It’s full little deviled eggs made to look like baby chicks that you might need a art degree and tons of patience to create, Cadbury Egg stuffed cupcakes (… because why wouldn’t you stuff an indulgent dessert with another indulgent dessert?), and more ideas for how to decorate Easter eggs than you can begin to think of.

I have seen glitter covered eggs.

Eggs to look like the Despicable Me minions.

Or, Ninja Turtles.

Or, Super Mario Brother’s characters.

I have even seen, what the pinner called, “Hipster” eggs… complete with mustaches and the saying “Keep Calm and Easter On.”

As silly as these Easter eggs pins seem, there was one that really caught my eye. It was a beautiful shot of pastel eggs that looked like the epitome of spring. The caption said that they were dyed naturally.

I was intrigued.

When working at the school there were a handful of students allergic to food dyes, which I first thought was odd. Then, after a little research, I learned that food dye allergies are relatively prevalent and can cause many issues from eczema to breathing problems. In this research, I also learned that some grocers are making naturally dyed baked goods in order to reach those who suffer from the allergy. I read about an example of how Whole Foods made a little girl’s birthday cupcakes pink by using beets.

Thanks to how pink my hands get when I cook beets, I knew it must work well.

So, I decided to give naturally dyed eggs a go in hopes of the pretty pastel eggs on Pinterest.

But, I didn’t get pastel.

I got these amazing jewel tone eggs.

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Here is what I did for each color:

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Red/Pink- One medium beet cut in pieces added to four cups boiling water, two tablespoons white vinegar, strain (Note: I was kind of disappointed in the shade of pink I got… I was expecting more. Next time, I would use two beets.)
Orange- Two Tablespoons paprika added to one cup boiling water, one Tablespoon white vinegar
Yellow- Two Tablespoons turmeric added to one cup boiling water, one Tablespoon white vinegar (This dye was the best. So vibrant and strong. Even my hands had a yellow tint 24 hours and two showers later.)
Blue- One quarter red cabbage cut in pieces added to four cups boiling water, two Tablespoons white vinegar, strain
Grey Blue- 1 cup frozen blueberries defrosted in one cup water, One Tablespoon white vinegar
Purple- 1 cup red wine

Hard boil eggs and let cool completely.

Let all dyes come to room temperature before dying.

(I used mainly white eggs. I tried with a couple brown ones, but they don’t get as vibrant.)

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In some of the dyes, brown eggs just got more brown...

In some of the dyes, brown eggs just got more brown…

Paler shades sat in dye for about ninety minutes. Darker shades were submerged in dye over night.

Mason jars worked great for holding the dye and eggs.

Mason jars worked great for holding the dye and eggs.

After removing the eggs from the dye, I put them on a wire rack to dry.

Place a paper towel under the rack to keep messes to a minimum.

Place a paper towel under the rack to keep messes to a minimum.

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Keep the finished eggs refrigerated and eat within a week. I think egg salad might be for dinner one night this week… 🙂

Chocolate Zucchini Brownies and Vanilla Ice Cream

At Purdue we had to take cooking labs as part of the Hospitality major. In the labs we worked in a mock restaurant where everyone was assigned roles that lasted the whole semester. I don’t know how they assigned us to the roles because we didn’t answer any questions about what we liked or where we had experience, but there always seemed to be a system to it.

Students with restaurant backgrounds were put on the line, cooking the entrees. People with strong, bossy personalities were expediters, inspecting every plate before it went out to a customer. Pretty girls, who wanted to be wedding planners or in sales, were servers and would spend the lab learning new napkin folds. People who didn’t want anything to do with restaurants and the food industry were put on the dish washing machine… and they hated the lab.

It wasn’t a hard system to crack.

And, for some reason, I was always put in charge of desserts.

I think the reasoning there was: She’s in a sorority and has a cute face but a little chub. She must like to bake.

Okay. Sure.

Guilty as charged.

I did.

At eighteen only real kitchen experience I had was baking with my mom at home.

So the system hit the nail on the head.

And, I did pick up quite a bit about making great desserts from the labs at the university and in the classes I took in Europe. (Yes. I was, somehow, assigned to desserts there as well. Sizing me up translated the same way all the way on another continent.)

Too this day I still like to make desserts, I just try not to do it often as I have this problem where everything sweet and wonderful tends to go to my behind. Does any one else suffer from this crazy phenomenon?

But, if I had to pick a favorite dessert to make it is hands down ice cream. We got an ice cream maker for our wedding and I love it. It is such a neat tool and makes ice cream making super easy. I have made sherbets, herb infused ice creams and more.

I decided that I wanted to make ice cream this weekend because I wanted to try the ginger syrup from the trip to Atlanta. The grower at the farmer’s market mentioned it is great drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla ice cream is ridiculously easy to make. There are a whopping four ingredients in it versus the, like, forty in the ice cream at the store. Best of all, it has this great, creamy, authentic flavor.

As I dug through my pantry to find the vanilla extract, I thought about what also goes great with cold vanilla ice cream: Warm, fresh baked brownies.

Get ready for dessert overload because in this post I have my super easy vanilla ice cream recipe and a great chocolate zucchini brownie recipe using some of last summer’s frozen zucchini.

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And in the spirit of full disclosure, the ginger syrup was excellent on the fresh made ice cream. The gingery bite of the syrup on the cool, creamy vanilla ice cream elevated my basic vanilla ice cream to a ten.

Gingery drizzle.

Gingery drizzle.

Vanilla Ice Cream
1 ½ cups whole milk (… it’s temping to try to save calories and use skim or a lower fat milk. Don’t do it. The texture isn’t right.)
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Use a hand or stand mixer to combine milk and sugar in a medium sized bowl. Mix until sugar is dissolved, about three minutes.
Mix in heavy cream and vanilla.
Pour mixture into the ice cream maker’s chilled freezer bowl. Mix for about 25 minutes.
Transfer to a container and freeze for at least two hours before serving.

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Chocolate Zucchini Brownies
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ melted butter
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
¼ cup unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup chocolate chips and a handful for topping

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Spray an 8×8 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, zucchini, vanilla, sugar, butter and salt until combined. Stir in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and allspice. Just combine.
Add chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.
Pour batter into baking pan. Top with a handful of chocolate chips. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center is cooked through.

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… In defense of my super decadant afternoon snack, I also planted a whole flat of lettuce today. It’s all about balance, right?!

Uh, yeah.  If you need me, you can find me at the gym.

Uh, yeah. If you need me, you can find me at the gym.

Go Garden: Sprouts Have Sprung!

Just a quick little update on the seedlings.

We planted these seeds about ten days ago. Since then, things have germinated and the little plants are looking good and green.

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We have thinned out the seedlings so that the strongest sprout is growing and there is only one seedling per space in the flat.

You can see that a couple of these spots had multiple seedlings going.  I would pull the weaker seedling very gently, so not to disturb the roots of the stronger plant.

You can see that a couple of these spots had multiple seedlings going. I would pull the weaker seedling very gently, so not to disturb the roots of the stronger plant.

We continue to check on the seedlings everyday and get them water. We also raise the heating lamp as the seedlings grow so that they don’t run into it.

I will check back in with these on the blog in a couple weeks when we begin hardening the seeds off.

Who else has seeds going? I would love to hear what you are growing!

Say “Kim-chi!”

This weekend Adam and I went to the Indiana Artisans Marketplace in Indianapolis.

We got tickets through one of Adam’s best friends, Andy. Andy designs and makes beautiful custom furniture. Andy is in business with his dad and they have been a part of Indiana Artisan for a couple years. Their work is often used by designers at show home events and he even has been featured in some log cabin magazines.

You can learn more about their company, Cole and Sons, Inc, and see their work at their website. Like their Facebook page, too!

Adam and I had fun checking out his featured pieces and seeing Andy drumming up new business.

We also had fun seeing all the other artisans creations. There was jewelry, paintings, pottery, wood working and more. Everyone was incredibly talented.

However, one group of artisans really stuck out to Adam and me… the Foodists!

There were wine makers and craft beer brew masters. Lots of honey and candy makers. BBQ sauces and rubs.

And…

And it gets even better…!

THERE WERE SAMPLES.

We had a ball.

And ended up buying quite a bit. I blame the wine samples…

Adam took this picture of our artisan damage.

Ignore the Lowe's receipts in the background.  We are testing back splash ideas...

Ignore the Lowe’s receipts in the background. We are testing back splash ideas…

I am pretty sure that we now have enough barbecue sauce to get us through the summer.

One thing I was particularly excited about was the jar of Kim-chi from Fermenti Artisan. Kim-chi is traditionally a Korean side dish that is made up of different vegetables and seasonings that ferment together in a jar for some time.

I read a lot about Kim-chi last summer when I read Michael Pollen’s Cooked. In Cooked, Michael studies cooking through the four classis elements of the world: Fire, water, air and earth. In the “Earth” chapter he dives into fermentation with sauerkraut and Kim-chi.

Much of it was super scientific and well over my head. And, in the spirit of being honest, to me, that chapter dragged. However, it did make me realize that I needed to try Kim-chi.

My opportunity arrived a few weeks ago when out to eat with girl friends and I spotted it on a menu. It was served with tuna and I was surprised how spicy and tasty it was.

I knew Adam would love it as he is a big fan of all things spicy. I had been looking up recipes to try to make my own, but then I saw it at the artisan marketplace. I knew we had to get some.

We also got some curtido, which the reps at the marketplace said works great in Mexican dishes.

We also got some curtido, which the reps at the marketplace said works great in Mexican dishes.

We used it on Monday night for a take on fried rice using quinoa and shrimp.

Adam and I both had big bites of the Kim-chi right out of the jar before we began cooking. It was spicy just like the Kim-chi I had a few weeks ago, but it didn’t have the typical “pepper” spiciness. It was a fresher spicy… which is ironic considering it is literally rotting vegetables.

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What might be even more ironic is that these rotting vegetables are actually good for you.

Really good for you.

In fact, Kim-chi is considered a “Super Food.” It’s full of vitamins like many other super foods such as kale, but what makes it different is it has a healthy bacteria culture that helps with digestion and, some studies show, prevents the growth of cancer.

And, as if Kim-chi could get any cooler, Korean’s actually say “Kim-chi!” like American’s say “Cheese!” for a picture!

Kim-chi and Shrimp Fried Quinoa

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1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 tablespoons oil (I used Olive… vegetable works.)
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (We had large ones in the freezer. I should have cut them into pieces; it was a big bite!)
1 cup heaping Kim-chi
1 tablespoon Chili Garlic Sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ lime, squeezed
Salt and Pepper
Minced green onions and lime wedge for garnish

Cook cup of quinoa according to package. Set aside.

Add oil to a large skillet or wok pan. Add shrimp to skillet once oil is hot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until pink, about three minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.

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Add Kim-chi and chili garlic paste to skillet. Stir-fry until they are combined and fragrant. Add in cooked quinoa, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Stir constantly about three minutes.

Push the quinoa mixture to one side of the skillet. Add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally with a spatula about two minutes.

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Remove from heat and fold eggs into quinoa mixture. Add the shrimp, lime juice and rice vinegar. Stir to combine.
Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Garnish and serve right away.

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