Embracing Seasonality & The Flavors of Winter

winter lunch

Growing up, I was unaware of the complex workings of our food system. I had no idea that oranges were an unnatural thing to see in the supermarket in the dead of winter. And that tomatoes were prematurely ripened so they could look like a tomato and trucked thousands of miles to end up on our shelves. I grew up eating strawberries in the middle of winter, unaware of the consequences. How could I have known any better? After all, no one told me this. It wasn’t until my college education that I began to question the “normalcies” of our food system.

If you strive like I do to eat seasonally, then I know you can relate to the feeling of pure torture as you walk through the produce section of the store. It’s all laid out, as in a smorgasbord waiting to be devoured. I crave the flavors of spring and wonder when we’re going to get out of this winter. It’s one hard pill to swallow when you realize you can easily reach for that $5 container of blueberries (ouch!) but your conscience wouldn’t allow it.

But as I delve more into the food culture, I find myself craving winter root vegetables. Maybe it’s my body trying find peace with the natural earth… or maybe because roasted acorn squash is incredibly delicious (I’m thinking it’s the latter ;)! The truth is there is a delightful array of options available to us during our winter hibernation. Of course nothing grows in the winter, but we can eat vegetables and fruits from the fall all thanks to modern storage methods. Even limiting your grocery trip to seasonal produce can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. (<< this is a wonderful article on carbon footprints on the Economist. It even talks about carbon footprint labeling. It’s worth a read!) Even better, subscribe to a CSA and you can reap the benefits of a local farmer’s fall harvest (more on CSAs later)!

Acorn squash is my favorite root vegetable by far! With a tough skin, it’s harder to cut but the work is well worth it! All you have to do is roast it and it is perfection! Butternut is the sister squash and it’s perfect to use as a soup. Any other vegetable like carrots, leaks, onions, and potatoes will do. Winter and fall fruits would include apples, grapes, and even certain varieties of raspberries and strawberries! If you’re looking to create a delicious winter salad, try kale, collard greens, or spinach. Kale is my personal favorite. And, if you’re looking for a different take on kale you can try kale chips – delicious and nutritious.

Seasonal eating doesn’t have to be difficult but it does take some willpower. It becomes easier after a while and you might even find yourself starting to crave these foods! When we eat in balance with the seasons, we lessen our environmental impact. And yes in kind of a hokey way, we’re more in balance with the earth’s natural patterns. It makes us healthier, happier individuals.

Roasted Acorn Squash

– preheat oven to 350

– cut the squash into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet

– drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper

– bake for 30-40 minutes, or until soft

Kale Chips

– preheat oven to 300

– arrange chip-size pieces of kale on a baking sheet (removing any stems)

– drizzle with olive oil and salt

– bake for 30 minutes or until crispy

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A Recipe | Crockpot Deer Chili

For the past couple of years we have had what seems like an endless store of deer meat. My Fiancé got a deer a few years back and although I’ve tried to use it up any way I can, we still have a lot left over. This is a wonderful predicament to be in because it means I don’t have to buy meat from the grocery store. There is a veil between us and how our food is prepared and once that veil was lifted from my eyes, I was disgusted. Meat is by far one of the worst of the food industry – wreaking havoc on human health and the environment. If I can find a way around the system, I’m all for it.

Hunting for meat is wholesome and natural. It’s what people had to do in order to survive the winter. Now we don’t have to work for our food anymore. It is practically handed to us in the form of fast food and factory farms that make food production a science. I wish I could say I live a truly minimal lifestyle, only living off the land. But deer meat is one item I can say is nice to have loads of in the freezer at my disposal. If the apocalypse happened, we would be set (with meat anyway).

Deer meat is kind of a mixed bag for most people. Some like it, some don’t, and some are afraid to try it. I’m sure deer meat is the least of our worries with all the other exotic meats out there. Nevertheless, I want to ease your fears and show you a great way to use it – in chili. If you cook deer meat in something like chili or in a sauce it loses its gaminess and tastes (in my opinion) just like ground beef. You won’t be able to tell the difference. I created a basic crockpot chili recipe that is hearty and flavorful. It’s a good base to start with so if you like a little kick (which I don’t) you can certainly add more spices and even some hot sauce!

It’s nice if you have a handsome fiancé like I do to go out and catch you a deer! But what if you don’t have that? What are your options? Find a local farm or store where they carry local meat. If you live in Lancaster Ohio, Bay Food Market is a family owned business that processes meat themselves that they get from local farms in the area (be on the lookout for a story on them in the near future). To find a farm in your area, check out Eat Wild. As a last resort if you must buy meat from the grocery store, buy organic and free range meat. But since these organic companies are so big, you can’t be one hundred percent sure they are following all the guidelines. Loop holes, unfortunately, are common in the organic food system. The best situation is when you can visit the farm to see how your food is being prepared. You develop a relationship with the farmer. There’s nothing better for our health and for the environment than true pastoralism.

rustic chili

Recipe | Crockpot Deer Chili

Ingredients:

2 pounds of ground deer meat (or meat of your choice)

1 medium sweet onion

2 cups diced green peppers

2 cans organic diced tomatoes

1 can organic black beans

1 can organic kidney beans

1 can organic tomato paste

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. chili powder

2 tbsp. hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Add the meat, onion, green pepper, and salt and pepper to a large skillet and begin to brown the meat. Meanwhile, put the remaining ingredients in the crockpot. Add to that the browned ground meat and stir to combine. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Enjoy!

Farm Fresh Eggs | Why Local is Better

If you know anything about me, you know that I love to cook. It wasn’t always that way though. My priorities have shifted over the years. I am newly engaged and soon I will have a family of mouths to feed. In all my recipe developing and food photography that I do so meticulously, I realized I had left out a critical component – one that was part and parcel to earning my degree. I became consciously aware that I was using ingredients in my cooking that were not local or seasonal. If there’s any environmental issue I am most passionate about, it’s the local food movement and sustainable agriculture. Somehow we’ve become so disconnected with our food, and we don’t know how to get back. The reality is wholesome and sustainable food is out there, you just need to know where to look. I want to show the average american how they can live off the land – whether they do it themselves through gardening or raising chickens, or whether they are supporting local farmers by subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture) or going to a farmers market.

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The first and easiest change I made was buying local eggs. It took me a while to find a steady provider, but once I did, I have never gone back to store bought eggs. The owners of the flower shop I work at raise chickens and they sell them at 2.50 a dozen. The eggs are brown and they vary in size. In contrast, the eggs you buy from the store are white and they are uniform in size. We are given this notion that these are farm fresh eggs, that white and uniform is a sign of purity, and with packaging that reminds us of the agrarian days. The reality is chickens that are so confined during their short lives that their bones and muscles deteriorate, effectively disabling them.

In contrast, I can visit these free roaming chickens who are providing me with eggs. I can walk out and feed them, give them water, etc. And then I can have my omelet or scrambled eggs and feel good about it. The yolk is much more yellow and rich in color – and it tastes better too! In the documentary Farmageddon, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms talks about how this connection to our food should be romantic. And there is a certain romance to it when we can go to the farm, talk to the farmer, and see the animals that are to be consumed. It’s beautiful.

The choice is yours whether you want to go farm fresh or not. For me, even though 2.50 a dozen is more than what I would pay at the grocery store, I like that my dollars are going towards a local farmer or someone who simply raises chickens. And, I like that my dollars aren’t going towards factory farms and multinational companies. Local Harvest is a great website where you can find farms near you or subscribe to a CSA. I would also try asking around in your community to see who sells eggs in your area.

What are your experiences buying local? Do you have a local favorite? Comment below!