Since we grow produce, flowers, herbs and fruits at our Farm, food is a big part of our life. And where there is food, there is cooking, which I love to do. Hate to clean up the messes I make, but I am trying to remember to clean up as I go along. Sometimes, I get so into what I am making that when it is done and I turn around and see the kitchen, I am sure I have this look on my face, like a deer in headlights.
We eat mainly vegetarian because we have a strong moral objection to the way that animals are treated in the American quest for cheap meat, eggs, milk, etc., so I consider myself quite fortunate because if I want to experiment with a new recipe or even invent one, I have 17 acres of organic ingredients at my beck and call. I love to take a basket to the garden and pick out dinner, which may be why going to the supermarket freaks me out a little. All those aisles that make no sense and all the veggies wrapped up in plastic...yuk! I don't think "supermarket" is a proper term. I think stupefying market would be a better one. And natural food markets are not immune to this disorder, so don't be thinking otherwise.
That concept is one of the larger reasons that Americans have become so disconnected to where our food comes from and has led us to an epidemic of obesity in this country. When you are subjected to sensory overload like that, your good judgement shuts down and you just act on impulse. I read an article once about the psychology of advertising and believe me, there is something almost sinister about the way things are arranged at the grocery store. Packaging that targets primal areas of the brain, for example. Ray Croc objected to the use of the "golden arches" as a symbol for his McDonald's restaurants. Theory was that since they were trying to replace "Mom" at dinnertime, the rounded shape of the arches was "like a mother's bosom" and therefore people would be more trusting of their products. By the way, I read this article in a respected professional publication, not the National Enquirer. Now, back to the subject of food.
In the summer, our meals are more or less a no brainer because we eat veggie sandwiches at least once a day and NEVER get tired of them. It seems like they are never the same two days in a row. Sometimes we have them for lunch and sometimes for dinner. One day we may have ripe Mr. Stripey tomatoes, Big Bertha green peppers, sweet Candy onions and a Green Fingers cucumber, along with homegrown sprouts and chipotle pepper mayo on organic 9 grain bread. The next day, it maybe a sweet Cubanelle pepper and a Brandywine tomato, with arugula and avocado mayo (homemade, of course) on organic oatmeal bread. Dinner might be something as simple as half a melon, salsa and chips or something an involved as a Salmon/Leek/Potato pie, with a creamy lemony dill sauce.
The main theme of meals here at New Moon is always built around things that are grown on the Farm. Because I have such a wide variety of homegrown ingredients at my disposal, I don't mind splurging for organic avocados, eggs or alderwood smoked Pacific salmon. Those are my main vices, when it comes to food, except for Ben and Jerry's Karmel Sutra ice cream, which I am proud to say I can resist, most of the time at least, as long as I keep my "grocery store blinders" well adjusted.
We try to keep our in season, local food at about 90-95% of what we eat, which is pretty darned good. January and February are usually too cold for very much to be coming out of the gardens, but we can still glean quite a bit of food, even during the coldest months of the year, so we are able to eat at least a few things fresh from the Farm year round.During that time we will only have big greens and root veggies left in the ground, so that is when we use up all the winter squash, sweet potatoes, pecans, apples and what I preserve during the summer. We also have a couple of beehives. We take part of the honey from the hives, usually in late summer and leave behind what the bees will need to survive when there are not more flowers to visit. So I have jars and jars of nearly organic honey to use during the cold months (I guess we will still be having cold months...). Beautiful, thick, golden honey is like looking at a perfect summer day captured in glass....it just lifts you up with its splendor. Thanks, bees.
Since the main goal here at the Farm is to be as self-sustaining as possible, I do a lot of food preservation. I have to say that being in control of our food source and supply is gratifying on many levels. There is satisfaction in the completion of the cycle of the life of the plant, from seed to fruition. Being involved in the process at every level, producing most of our own food puts us in touch with both our surroundings and in touch with a deeper part of ourselves. It is quite spiritual, actually. There is also a quiet security in knowing that we aren't dependent on someone else for our sustenance and that our food is wholesome and safe. There is a deep appreciation for everything on our plates and in our pantry and when we say grace at the table, we really mean it.
"Putting by" food, during the peak seasons, is a constant activity here. We can, freeze, dehydrate or dry as much as possible. Every season brings something new to add to our larder. I make jams, jellies and preserves with everything from strawberries to green tomatoes and blueberries. Pickles and relishes are made with cucumbers, peppers, squash and tomatoes. I even make taco sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup and anything else I think we might use during the off season. I make rubs, dried herb blends, seasoned salts and flavored sugars. We often use the fruit syrups I make, instead of Log Cabin, on waffles and griddlecakes.
In 2000, the first year we lived here, we decided to set up an experiment, by calculating how much we would need to grow to survive for an entire year, only purchasing minimal items from the supermarket. I found a great book on the subject. It contained a chart that listed about 100 vegetables and fruits and showed how much a harvest would yield in preserved food. That was also the year I overcame my fear of pressure canners (related to an issue from childhood visits to my grandparents' farm) and canned everything from green beans to okra/corn/tomato soup, thanks to the help of my mother-in-law, food preserver extraordinaire. I have since decided that I prefer freezing to canning, because of the time involved and the quality of the food. Some things don't freeze well and some things are better canned, than frozen, so I just go with the flow of that.
I have several items that are staples around here for the winter months and so I put up a lot of those. This year I made "sun dried" tomatoes, which I packed in olive oil with sliced garlic and sea salt. Prep and drying time for those took an 18 hour day. 5 pounds of grape or Roma tomatoes will yield about 2 cups of dried tomatoes, so you really have to want these babies....I ended up with about 8 cups, completed, you do the math.
I also make a "pizza sauce" which is one of our mainstays in the winter. I am a tomato-a-holic but I refuse to eat one we didn't grow, so if I didn't have some of our summer harvest preserved, it would be hard on me (wink). I take a variety of tomatoes, at their peak of ripeness, and cook them down for hours and hours and hours on a slow simmer until they are almost as thick as tomato paste. On tomato canning day, I can't leave the Farm because I have to stir every half hour or all my effort is wasted. Scorched sauce goes in the dumper, so I am very dedicated to the process. My sauce is seasoned with my secret blend of herbs and spices, lots of garlic and some sea salt. It is so good, you could eat it with a spoon but we prefer to use it on pizza, as a base for Italian, Mexican and Creole dishes, etc. It is truly to die for. No modesty about my pizza sauce here.
And while I am on the subject of pizza sauce, let me briefly tell you how we make pizza. It is probably the best pizza I have ever eaten. We take flour tortilla shells or wraps (there are so many good flavored ones...any of them will work) and spread with a thin layer of sauce. A little sauce goes a long way but try to avoid using jarred pizza sauce...it is just too "runny". If you don't have a really thick sauce to use, try using the organic or regular tomato paste. The Hunt's organic version with basil and garlic is very good (if you have to go get some at the store, don't get lost in the aisles). Using a thinner sauce or too many toppings will make the shell soggy and it won't crisp up properly.
On top of the tomato sauce, I put a relative thin layer of whatever cheese I am in the mood for. Soy cheese works pretty well, if you grate it. Just don't overdo the cheese. Cheese has lots of moisture and some kinds are oily and will just ruin your efforts. "Cheesy pizza is greasy pizza" is a good mantra to use when making pizza.
After the tomato-cheese layer is on, I then place thinly slivered veggies on top. Mushrooms, olives, fresh or pickled peppers, onions, fresh basil, etc. are all good choices, but the choices are endless. Just drain or blot anything that has been in liquid. Too much moisture in any of your toppings will result in a limp crust and a ruined pizza. If you use a meat to top, try to use only pepperoni or something you can also cut into tiny pieces.
I use my kitchen shears to cut the toppings into slivers because bigger is not better in this recipe. (And by the way, if you don't have kitchen shears, get some. I use these more than a knife for food prep.) Another thing I top with is sauteed eggplant, the tiny Asian kind. I sliver 3-4 small ones, saute with peppers, onions and garlic, in a very little bit of olive oil. Add a splash of water about 2 minutes before you remove, to deglaze the pan and soften up the peel of the aubergines. Or you can just peel them and leave this step out.
The goal is for the topping to be full of flavor but not overdone. You don't want to overwhelm with toppings, this is a minimalist pizza, afterall. Once you have topped off the pizza with your chosen combo, pop into a 400 degree over for about 10-12 minutes and get ready for a treat. If you have topped it properly, the crust will be almost like a cracker, which is how I think pizza is supposed to be. I have been to Italy and never had pizza there like we have in the States (although I was never in Sicily...). Big, icky, gooey crusted pizza probably designed to fill you up with cheap dough and not expensive toppings. And the beauty of this type of pizza is the caloric content. Since lots of people don't eat pizza because of the calorie overload, this one is idea. I have calculated the number of calories in one of these pizzas and I can make a filling, incredibly tasty pizza with a TOTAL calorie content of less that 500 for the WHOLE THING!!!
You can also top half the shell, fold it over, put a little cheese along the edges to seal at it cooks and bake at the same time and temp. Or you can fold it like a burrito....sealing it up like that makes it transportable, say for a bag lunch for work. Just avoid nuking it.....not only is that bad for you, it will make your crust turn into something resembling the sole of your shoes.
Oh, oh....I said that was going to be brief, but I guess I was wrong about that....but I imagine you will think it was worth the time if you try the pizza. I have used up all my time for today, so I will leave you with your mouth watering for a pizza.
Next time....Raising Free Range Chickens