May 2016

fresh rhubarb from our garden

Rhubarb Season!

When we first changed over pretty much our entire, limited backyard space into a raised bed garden about four years ago, two of our first choices for what to plant in the new garden were asparagus and rhubarb.  Both of these plants are perennial and take several years to become established in your garden before you can begin harvesting from them.  So we knew that we needed to plan ahead and get started right away if we wanted to eventually enjoy fresh asparagus and rhubarb from our garden.  After watching the plants grow and expand for the first two seasons (if you start them from seeds, you need to wait an additional year but we weren’t that patient!), we were finally able to cut off the first asparagus and rhubarb stalks last year.  Woohoo!  Super exciting!  (It’s the little things, right?)  In the meantime, we had been getting a good supply of rhubarb from both our CSA and from my grandma’s garden in Western PA.  So I already had lots of ideas about what to do with the rhubarb once I got it into the kitchen.  But, just in case you don’t have a pile of rhubarb recipes hanging around your kitchen…or you want some new ones to try this year….read on….

 

So what do you do with rhubarb anyway?  (For starters, don’t eat the leaves.  They are poisonous!)  I feel like rhubarb is one of those foods where you either love it or hate it.  I happen to love it.  But I admit that it has a very tart flavor that usually needs to be combined with something sweet to balance out the flavors.  If you’ve seen rhubarb at the grocery store or farmer’s market and wondered what in the world it could be used for…here are four of my favorite ways to use rhubarb in a recipe at this time of year.  Also, since rhubarb is only in season for a small percentage of the year, I usually take all that I can get and then chop up the extra and freeze it in quart-size Ziploc bags so that I can pull it out of the freezer and use it all year long in muffin or dessert recipes. 

 

Rhubarb Muffins: A classic favorite in our house.  (I actually have about four different rhubarb muffin recipes that I like to make so it was difficult to narrow it down to just one for this post!)

 

Rhubarb Sauce: Similar to applesauce but a bit more tart so it helps to serve it with something sweet, such as with ice cream for dessert or maybe in your oatmeal for breakfast with some sliced strawberries.  It comes from one of my all-time favorite seasonal cookbooks: Simply in Season, by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert.  Also, this is another great example of a way to preserve your rhubarb for later in the year because it freezes very well.

 

Rhubarb Mint Iced Tea: A simple, refreshing recipe to make and keep in your fridge for when you want to cool down and relax after digging in the garden under the hot sun all afternoon.  Rhubarb is very high in vitamin C so you can consider this a yummy way to take your vitamins and stay healthy!

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sangria: If you needed a reason to throw an early summer party or are looking for a recipe to make and bring to a Memorial Day party this weekend – here it is!  You have to try this recipe!

 

That’s it for now…I could have kept posting rhubarb recipes all day but I thought it best to control the madness.  If you have a favorite rhubarb recipe that is not included here, please share the love! 

I hope you enjoy this beautiful, rejuvenating time of year and try a new recipe or two!

 

Rhubarb Muffins
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Ingredients
  1. 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  2. ¾ cup ground flax
  3. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  7. 1 egg, beaten
  8. 1 cup yogurt
  9. ½-3/4 cup honey*
  10. ¼ cup applesauce
  11. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  12. 1 ½ cups rhubarb (fresh or frozen**), diced
  13. ½ cup nuts (pecans or walnuts), toasted and chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon) in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, add the wet ingredients (egg through vanilla) and whisk together. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in rhubarb and nuts. Spoon batter into greased muffin cups or liners.
  3. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. *Sometimes I heat up the honey a bit first to allow it to flow more freely and combine better with the other wet ingredients.
  2. **If you are using frozen rhubarb, allow to thaw first and drain any excess liquid.
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Rhubarb Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. 4 cups rhubarb
  2. ½ cup honey
  3. 1 Tablespoon tapioca
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Let stand for 10 minutes or until some juice forms. Heat slowly to boiling. Cool and serve or store in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to use.
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Rhubarb Mint Iced Tea
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Ingredients
  1. 8 stalks rhubarb, cut into 3-inch lengths
  2. 8 cups water
  3. 1/3 cup honey
  4. 8 large sprigs mint, plus extra for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine rhubarb and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add mint sprigs and simmer for another 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and stir in honey to dissolve. Allow to cool. Serve over ice with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!
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Strawberry-Rhubarb Sangria
Print
Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup honey or maple syrup
  2. ½ cup water
  3. 2 rhubarb stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  4. ½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  5. 1 orange, halved and sliced
  6. 2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
  7. 1 bottle (750 ml) chilled sparkling wine, such as Prosecco
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, combine honey or maple syrup with water. Bring to a boil and add rhubarb. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. (Transfer to a heatproof bowl, if necessary, to cool faster.)
  2. Meanwhile, in a pitcher or large bowl, combine orange juice, orange slices, and strawberries. To serve, add cooled rhubarb mixture, sparkling wine, and ice. Enjoy!
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eat local or organic?

Eat Local or Organic?

Which is more important, eating local or organic?  This question has been asked so many times over recent years and has many different answers, depending on who you ask.  Even though you may not have asked, here is my version of an answer to this question.

 

The short answer is: ORGANIC.  The long answer is: local but only if you can find a local source that grows their food using organic practices.  If you can find both, that is the best possible source of food for you and your family.  A local farmer who may not necessarily be certified organic but follows organic farming practices such as not using pesticides or antibiotics or growth hormones.  This is the ideal.  If this is not possible, I think it is actually more important to support organic than local.  After all, local chemical farming still pollutes the earth and increases our carbon footprint and energy usage.  Organic foods are cleaner, healthier, safer, and taste better than those that are farmed or raised with chemicals.  Organic farming is more productive than chemical farming and can help clean up the planet at the same time.  Don’t get me wrong, I firmly and consistently support our local farmers and our local economy whenever possible.  I believe this to be an important step to healing much of what is broken and hurting in our society today.  However, what ultimately convinced me to value organic over local sources was the fact that organic farming has the ability to pull excess carbon out of the air (of which we have too much of right now and, ironically, is largely attributed to chemical farming and the mass production of meat, both of which you could be avoiding by choosing to buy organic) and fix the carbon in the soil (where we do not have enough of it right now because of chemical farming processes that deplete the soil of its nutrients).  So much so that it would offset any carbon footprint that was created during the transport of this organic food around the world to your grocery store (this same carbon footprint had previously swayed me towards favoring local foods to avoid the environmental costs involved in stocking the modern day grocery store).  I feel like buying organic is a way for me to maybe make some small difference in a worldwide problem and, if everyone made that same choice, we could actually reverse the problem and start to heal the planet.  That’s huge.  But we cannot leave it up to the CEOs and politicians to make the “right” decision just because it feels good.  The truth of the matter is that the decision would have to be based on what makes the most financial sense for those individuals or companies.  Which brings me to my next point…

 

I firmly believe in the power of voting with our dollars and supporting organic farming is the most important way you can spend your voting dollars, in my opinion.  The amount that you spend on this voting method will be different for every budget but the important thing is that you are making your vote known.  And I believe that, by showing the world that we demand organic, we will start to see more and more local farmers using organic practices and move towards that ideal of local AND organic food on our dinner table.

 

Okay, so maybe you are ready to make a change in your food buying behavior.  But where do you start?  And how can you afford to switch to organic when it seems to cost so much more?  Here are a few ideas to get you started today:

 

  • Check out the “Dirty Dozen” of produce at EWG and start buying the organic versions of these twelve items.  Here is the list for 2016:

 

EWG's Dirty Dozen list for 2016

 

Once you make the decision to start buying these items organic, start looking for sales and then buy as much of that item that you can handle.  You can buy more than you need at the time and then preserve it for later by freezing, dehydrating, or canning.

 

  • For any foods that you eat a lot of in your family, check to see if there is a way to buy that item in bulk and save yourself some time and money.  For example, in our household, we buy pretty much all of our grains, flours, beans, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey, maple syrup, salt, and even coconut oil in bulk.  We purchased food-grade buckets and bags to store these items in our basement – where it is cool and dry and usually dark – until we are ready to use them.  Keep in mind that we did this over the course of several years though.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Just pick one thing at a time to work on.  Little changes will still change your life!

 

  • Choose one food item to investigate each month (preferably one that you buy and use regularly – maybe carrots or pears or milk or chicken?) and then do some research to find out where that item comes from, how it is grown or raised, and how it gets to your table.  If it makes sense to switch to the organic version of that item (maybe because of heavy pesticide use, the use of antibiotics or hormones, or GMO seeds), then switch!  Don’t forget to check to see if a local option exists before buying it at the grocery store.

 

Now, if you’re already doing some of the things above and want to work towards buying organic AND local, here are some ways to dig even deeper into the source of your food and start to support your local economy at the same time that you are putting healthier food options on your table:

 

  • Look up the dates and times and locations of your local farmers’ markets and put a reminder on your calendar to visit a market next weekend.  When you go to the market, be sure to bring your own shopping bags and cash in your wallet, just in case the farmer is not set up to accept credit cards.  When you get there, take the time to walk around and ask questions of the farmers.  Don’t hold back!  A good farmer will be happy to share their farming practices and tell you about what they have for sale that day.  So ask them things like, “Do you ever spray your crops with pesticides or use chemical fertilizer?” or “When did you harvest those greens?”  (The answer to that last one is usually “This morning!”)  And if you see something new that you want to try, ask the farmer, “How would you recommend storing and preparing these dandelion greens?”  Sometimes they even have recipes available for you to take with you and try at home. 

 

  • Look up some local farms and orchards in your area, call them ahead of time to confirm organic practices, and then make a point to visit one of them in the next three months (preferably one that sells something that your family likes to eat…maybe a blueberry farm or an apple orchard?). 

 

o   BONUS: See if you can find a farm that offers a “Pick Your Own” option during the growing season.  This is a great way to save money and have fun together as a family!  Every year, we visit our local farms and pick as many strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and tomatoes as we can and then either freeze or can them to use for the rest of the year.  (We have never been able to pick enough to match our annual consumption but hopefully as the boys get older and are able to help out more – instead of eating as many as they pick – we might just have enough!)

 

  • Check or ask around for restaurants that support the farm-to-table mentality.  Pick one that sounds yummy, call the babysitter, and set up a date with your favorite person!  (NOTE: this option will definitely be more expensive than what you are used to spending on a meal so be prepared, make it a special occasion, and know that you are getting what you pay for!  For example, Joe’s company gives him monetary awards as recognition for a job well done so, when he comes home with one of these awards, we like to celebrate by going out to dinner and letting the company pay for our farm-fresh food!)

 

  • Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in your area.  These have come so far in the past 5 years that there is a good chance you can find an organic farm in your area that provides CSA shares throughout the summer or winter months.  The way these usually work (every one is a little bit different) is that you sign up months in advance (usually as early as January or February for a summer CSA that runs from May through October) and pay the farmer the entire cost of the CSA season up front.  (To give you an idea of what to expect, we pay about $600 for a full summer share of non-certified organic produce that is meant to feed a family of 4.)  Then, every week during the CSA season, you either pick up your produce at the farm or sometimes it is delivered to another central location and you pick it up there.  We have been participating in a CSA program for the past 8 years and we absolutely love it! 

 

For all of the suggestions listed above, you can find out more by visiting the Local Harvest website or looking up your local chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local.  Both of these organizations provide lists of farms, farmers’ markets, CSAs and restaurants in your area to get you started on your journey!

 

And if you are interested in learning more about this topic, here are some of my favorite books that have inspired me over the years to be more mindful of what we eat and where it comes from and how its production impacts the world.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – by Barbara Kingsolver

Omnivore’s Dilemma – by Michael Pollen

Organic Manifesto – by Maria Rodale

 

In Organic Manifesto, Maria Rodale states, “If you do just one thing – make one conscious choice – that can change the world, go organic.” “No other single choice you can make to improve the health of your family and the planet will have greater positive repercussions for our future.”

 

What change will you make in your life today?