Seasonal Ingredient Map

SeasonalProduceMap.png

Seasonal Ingredient Map: "Epicurious has created a handy, interactive map of seasonal produce by state. Select a month, hover over a state, and a list of in-season ingredients is displayed with links to the ingredient descriptions and recipes....

I was looking for one of these a couple of years ago, and this one seems pretty good. It does a little grouping, I've noticed: when it says that this month is good for spinach in Virginia, it really means leafy greens in general (we get quite a bit of kale, mustard greens, and the like as well). With that minor quibble, it's a lovely tool. I am actively working to become in tune with seasonality, and we are attempting the noble goal of eating a family's share of CSA vegetables between the two of us (and whichever guests we happen to have over). While this tool won't change much by way of what we do, it will be nice to know what to expect when, and hopefully reinforce the memories of which point of the season we get which fruits and vegetables.

(Via Required Eating.)

Soup == Good food.

I made a vegetable soup yesterday, and it's tasty, so I'll share. No, not as a recipe, at least not yet. A vegetable soup is a pretty simple thing, as long as you follow some basic principles. There are two major parts to the soup: the liquids and the solids. Liquids should be about 75% vegetable broth or stock. You can use chicken broth/stock if you want, but the vegetable broth is tasty enough on its own. If you have lots of chicken broth around, it won't hurt the soup by any means, though it will make any vegetarians you might want to share with unhappy. There should be some tomato juices (see below), and the rest water. You do stock all the way instead of water, but it's not really necessary. However, please please please use low-sodium broth/stock. Otherwise you are doomed. Doomed! Well, at the very least you'll have little control over the saltiness of the soup, and that's pretty close to doom in my book. The second part of the vegetable soup are the solid vegetables. By and large, you are free to pick whatever you want for your soup. I recommend anything that you like, really, and nothing you don't. The only thing you should be sure to include, in my opinion, are tomatoes. Canned, whole tomatoes, unless it's tomato season and you have a good supplier, or maybe if the Flavr-Savr Tomatoes are available in your area, you could use those. I haven't seen them, and we can talk Genetically Modified food at another time, but I'm curious how they taste. I use about 2 cans of tomatoes, and their juice, and I chop the tomatoes to bite-sized chunks. Some people take the seeds out, because they're supposed to be bitter, but it's not something that hurt my soup. For the rest of the vegetables, I recommend broiling them in the oven if you have time, enough to get some browning going on. Chop the vegetables up into bite-sided chunks, throw some olive oil and salt over them, and broil them until they look tastier. Then you have to divvy up your vegetables into easily cooked and hardy vegetables. Corn and squashes are easily cooked, meaning that if they're roasted, they're probably pretty close to being as done as they should be, and will disintegrate if you cook them much longer. The rest, like broccoli, onion, carrots, and so on are hardy, so they can be cooked longer. Okay, really you want to divide the veggies up before you roast them, because it would be a pain to do after. To assemble the soup, you start by sweating a mirepoix, or combination of onions, celery, and carrots, in your soup pot for 10 minutes. It's a sweat, so do this over low heat, and salt it at the beginning so it'll draw out some juices. Once that's done (the onions will start going translucent), thow in your liquids, to about the halfway point of your soup pot. Bring to a simmer, then throw in your hearty vegetables, bring to a simmer again, and let that go about its simmering for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then put in your easily cooked vegetables, do a little more simmering to heat, and you're done. If you'd like, go ahead and use an immersion blender to chop things up a bit, but make sure there are plenty of good chunks still. Throughout the process from adding stock on, occasionally taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as desired. The salt level and quality of your ingredients will make or break your soup, so make sure your stock/broth is good, your vegetables are fresh and tasty, and that you put enough salt in to bring out the flavors (but don't make it taste salty, otherwise you could have just used the salty broth and/or stock).

Sustainable Agriculture

Scientists are apparently finding that a lot of the organic farming techniques are increasing crop yields by 79% over current methods. Now, there's some vagueness to the article, as there usually is with mainstream reporting of scientific news. What they're showing is averages, and we don't get information on how the averages are calculated. Are there 1-acre plots that have 500% higher crop yield, thus skewing the results for multi-hundred acre plots of land? Or vice versa, where there's one particularly large farm that's doing extremely well, and all of the smaller farms are being swept up in its wake? Still, presuming nobody is playing fast and loose with the statistics, this is good news. People tend to use organic techniques now either as a fad or because of better tasting foods, and when it's for the latter, I'm all for it. The problem is that organic farming in the US tends to cause decreased yields in exchange for a higher price. If we can get organic techniques to give better yields, then hopefully we can have better food all around. Of course, it's important not to dismiss the sustainable aspect of the farming. Many modern farming techniques leech all the nutrients out of the soil, reducing it to a barren wasteland (like Oklahoma). Proper crop rotation and other sustainable farming techniques will keep the land viable for centuries to come without having to go through serious hoops to rejuvenate the soil. If anyone has access to the proper study and wants to give me info on how I can take a look, I'd be pleased to read through. I'm always curious about research techniques, so I can properly understand the full context of any given study.