B is for Beef Borscht…Soup

borscht

As some of you know the reason I started growing my own, is that deep down I am a person with champagne tastes on a beer budget. So I cook and I garden. And when I cook, I cook for an army and freeze what I can. I was raised in part by a man from a family of Portland foodies. We love to cook because we love to eat, and love eat really well, even more.

It’s Fall, and so my thoughts turns to soup and sweets. This is my on the fly recipe for beef borscht. I am an improvisational cook. I have many hits and a few misses. This is a hit. Take time to enjoy the colors! Make a lot and freeze it!

Beef Borscht

1/2 pound of beef. It’s soup, don’t splurge.
6-8 beets
5 cups beef broth
2 cups chopped celery
5 cloves garlic (more if you like)
1 cup tomato paste
1 large red onion
1/2 head of red cabbage
3 bay leaves
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tbs olive oil
3 tbs fresh dill or 3 tbs fresh parsley
plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche
salt and pepper

Peel and cut beets into medium pieces.
Cut the beef into bite sized pieces.
Chop celery, onion, garlic and cabbage.

Over medium heat in a large thick bottomed soup pot, stir in beef (seasoned with salt and pepper), after a bit add garlic, onion, bay leaf and marjoram. Brown the meat. Add the broth, the beets, tomato paste. Stir. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Add chopped cabbage and celery. Simmer 10 more minutes. I like the vegetables to be crunchy. You can simmer more if you like.

Serve hot with generous dollop of sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt and fresh dill or parsley (or both). Some may like more salt and pepper, dill or cream on top, so I always serve those on the side.

Takes 1 hour
Serves 10

Nice with a crusty bread with butter on the side…but what soup isn’t?

Banana Bread with Pecans and Chocolate Chips

banana_bread

There is a special rung of hell for people that let bananas go bad, because for most of us they come from so very far away. This is why we have banana bread. When your bananas start to go brown make this moist and spongy treat!

Makes 2 loaves.

3 cups over ripe bananas
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 eggs
1 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
2 cups crushed pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
3 cups unbleached flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 stick softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tbs vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer blend bananas, eggs, butter, yogurt, brown sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and lemon juice. This is easier if you crush with a potato masher first. Mix well. I used thick Greek vanilla and honey yogurt for this and it was wonderful.

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt, baking soda, chocolate and nuts. Mix well.

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix very well.

Oil two 9 by 5 baking pans.

Pour mixture into both pans splitting evenly.

Bake for 1 hour. Test for readiness with a toothpick. The toothpick will come out of the bread without and mixture on it when the bread is ready.

Let sit 20 minutes to cool. Then pop them out of the pans and serve!

*not required but very tasty.

10 Reasons Becoming a Hyperlocavore is a Positive Climate Action

Having a positive effect on climate, is not the reason I made these changes in my life. So yes, a bit of the old bait and switch here. I made them because I wanted more pleasure incorporated into my daily grind. Having a positive effect on my ecological footprint, was the icing on the very tasty cake my life has become through growing a good portion of my own food. But for Blog Action Day ’09 I will re-frame my reasons in climate terms.

And with no further ado, my list.

1. Distance to plate.

There has been a bit of confusion added to the discussion lately about locavore eating strategies actually being a negative if the only measure is distance to plate, that food miles are actually increased. Of course, distance to plate is only one of about 100 reasons being a locavore makes sense. Depending on how you access the growers in your food shed, what you use to get to where your veg is, it all depends on quite a few variables in your own life, your city’s infrastructure, your community…The arguments I have seen are very strangely skewed in ways that I will save for another post.

However, you cannot convince me that an efficiently delivered but tasteless tomato from 2000 miles away is a winner no matter which way you slice it. The distance to my plate is about 10 feet, because I grow my own mouth watering fresh vegetables.

Growing my own heirlooms is much cheaper than buying them by the pound. They don’t travel well. So you can’t really get this unless you do it yourself or get to know a very local grower, at least on my limited budget. Life must be worth living or why save anything… yourself…the planet…Who cares if everything tastes like cardboard? Kill me now!

Before you call me an elitist, please note I live on very little money per year. We all have choices and priorities to make. These are mine.

2. When I am gardening I’m not watching TV, using the computer or game station.

Though some gardeners use some plug in tools, most of the time I am using my human power and a hand tool. Don’t get me wrong. I love my computer, my Battlestar Gallactica, Glee and So You Think You Can Dance as much as the next boob tube addict. Still, I do less of these energy intensive activities now that I have a gorgeous garden to tend. My garden feeds me and my spirit in return for my attention and time in a way that no toy can.

3. Factory meat is grown in a factory-like setting which, is generally a semi automated system dependent on cheap oil.

Though there are a few farmers out there that are closing the loop with methane powered energy storage systems, and I salute them, they are in minority. Maybe someday these systems will become the norm.

A back yard chicken coop doesn’t use electricity for much at all, unless you live in a place with four seasons and need a heater. I don’t have my own flock yet, but I am definitely thinking about it. There are a lot of climate related reasons to forgo meat, but for me the jury is still out – however I do need the manure!

4. Efficient though oil dependant food systems constantly shed and de-skill workers while at the same time suck more from the energy grid to replace them with expensive machinery.

I’m not a Luddite, nor am I anti-efficiency or anti-science. But I do question the wisdom of creating a world where so few of us have profitable meaningful work. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet, only a small number of us have good work. Localizing means that much more needs to be created and distributed locally. The crafts of bread making, beer making, wine making, honey making, guitar making, candy making, soap making and vegetable growing are having a resurgence. Some of us know the price of food is tied intimately to the price of oil, and oil in the long run has no where to go but up. Localizing goes a long way to help many issues, including the cost of food, re-skilling a de-skilled work force and keeping money in the hands of people in our communities.

A localized economy doesn’t ship in goods from halfway around the planet unless absolutely necessary, like coffee, otherwise known as “my dark master.”

5. Growing my own vegetables means I am likely to eat a lot more of them.

Eating meat regularly has a higher impact than driving an SUV. I’m not a strict vegetarian, but I do eat less meat now that I have a productive garden.  Having a super fresh garden 10 feet away means easy means I don’t have to think much about it – just walk outside, see what’s ripe and pick my dinner. When I was living in NYC and eating out a lot,  the easiest thing was to simply pick what was immediately appealing, which for me usually involved meat- which I used like a reward for a harried day. Again, your mileage may vary.

6. Growing my own and having a decent pantry means I go to the grocery store about once a month.

Once a month? Yup. I do sometimes have to make a trip for things I have forgotten, but that’s my error. I’m getting a lot better at keeping a full pantry and making good lists. A full pantry means that whipping something up from the yard is not at all taxing. To make full use of a great garden you need a well stocked pantry.

Being conscious of simple strategies like building a real pantry and making lists mean that I don’t have to put a lot of energy into feeding me and mine.  I do know that all of our lives are different. And this may not be a choice you make, but I’m on the other side of eating out all the time – and I am really enjoying myself doing things very differently.

To get into the cooking groove check out these fantastic sites:

7. I am fitter now that I am growing my own.

Benefits beyond feeling better about my climate impact include being much fitter, less depressed, having better skin and feeling generally more resilient and capable in my life.

Being fit means that my moods are even. I am less inclined to look for things to distract me from the general state of anxiety I experienced when working for a corporation and being handsomely rewarded. The hidden cost of my higher pay check was a great deal more anxiety and stress brought on by long commutes, expensive dress codes, unrelenting deadlines aimed towards goals that were not my own.

I know now if I start to feel anxious, a rarity, I have a bunch of weeds that need pulling. Pulling weeds, tending a garden in general beats any anti-anxiety strategy I have tried.

So what is the climate connection? Glad you asked! Things I used to distract myself with were shopping for hours for crap I didn’t need wandering the mall in a fugue state ‘relaxing’, driving hither and yon for bargains to ‘save money’ while paying what 18% on a credit card, taking a lot of looong weekend ‘get aways.’ Sound familiar?

Because I am where I want to be in my life, I do all of these a lot less. I am quite content now, and that itself has a huge climate impact. The open road beckons, but it does so in a whisper rather than a yell.

8. I cook my own meals much more often at home.

I’m re-skilling myself, in the kitchen, a direct result of having a flood of produce to handle and cooking a lot at once, means I do not buy many highly processed, plastic wrapped, small serving, factory made, well traveled meals these days. And no, you cannot convince me it is ‘food’ now that I’ve gotten used to the real thing. I prefer my tomato sauce over store bought any day. Does that make me an elite foodie? How can it when I am spending far less on far better tasting food?

I do understand that many of us are living under serious time constraints and pressures. And I certainly do not intend that this should be seen as an argument for the re-domestication of the American female. Real food skills make everyone sexier, men too.

9. I waste far less food.

“Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion.”
-From Wasted Food

That’s 100 billion, with a B. A shocking number. We are getting far too used to numbers that should shock us. If I grew it, you can be sure I am not going to waste it. I watched it grow sometimes for months! We may take other people’s labor for granted but we rarely take our own for granted. How much food do you see wasted  in a week…take a look around. That means that all the energy put into growing it was wasted too.

10. I don’t use petrochemicals to grow my own food.

The list of products and strategies for growing your own luscious fruit and veg without petroleum and other petroleum dependent chemicals is very long now. Sustainable agriculture has been proven to be more efficient per hectare than industrial agriculture.

Now you might be inclined to attack any one of these points. Feel free. I may be moved, but remember, I made these changes so that I would enjoy my life more not to save the planet from catastrophic climate shifts. Are you a climate skeptic? I could care less. Please take that argument elsewhere.  I am over it. I am interested if you are a ‘tasty food skeptic’ because that would be weird and interesting. Tastiness, just another liberal plot…

If I am really honest, my immediate quality of life is more important to me than the rather abstract “massive climate disruption.” Probably true for most of you too. What can I say? I am, at base, a person who grew up loving fast cars, burgers and fries, road trips, fireworks and instant gratification… you know, an American.

My instant gratifications have simply shifted and incidentally I am actually… gratified.

Have no space to grow your own? Consider starting a yard sharing group with folks you know.

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10 Reasons Becoming a Hyperlocavore is a Positive Climate Action by Liz McLellan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
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