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For the Love of Food

by | Jun 12, 2015
For the Love of Food

For the Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week the importance of self-experimentation, the downside of treadmill desks, and how America can become locavore.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

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Meal Planning Without Shopping Lists

by | Feb 15, 2012

Photo by evelynishere

Photo by evelynishere

Food shopping can be intimidating, especially if cooking is new to you.

A common approach to this problem is to pick your recipes beforehand, make a list of what you need and then shop until everything from the list is in your basket. But being comfortable shopping without a list is a valuable skill worth adding to your healthstyle toolkit.

Lists can come in handy, especially when you’re planning a large meal or event where organization is essential. But at a farmers market, shopping lists aren’t nearly as useful.

You can never be 100% certain of what you’re going to find at the market each week. Sure there are things you can usually count on (I know I can find kale at my market year round), but having a long catalog of ingredients for a particular recipe is likely to be frustrating.

A shopping list you can’t fulfill will leave you scrambling, running around the market looking for absent ingredients or inferior substitutes. No fun. The last thing you want to do is turn the farmers market into a source of anxiety.

Still the best reason to avoid lists at the farmers market is that discovering new and interesting foods is what makes shopping there such a treat. It takes an open mind and curious eyes if you hope to find the next tree tomato.

So how do you free yourself from the shackles of shopping lists without ending up with a pile of random vegetables and no obvious meals?

When shopping at a farmers market, the best meal planning strategy combines both structure and flexibility. Start with an idea of what you want to accomplish, then let the season’s offerings nourish your spirit of adventure and round out your menus.

Meal Planning at the Farmers Market

Step 1. Quantify

Think about how many meals you want to get from your purchases (e.g. 4 dinners, 5 lunches), and be sure to have that many main course ideas (vegetables being the centerpiece) given that a few will probably repeat.

At this point it is okay to have one or two things in mind you know you want to make, but the rest of your meals should be inspired by wandering through the aisles and seeing what catches your eye.

Step 2. Visualize

As you discover which foods will be the focal points of your meals, start to think about how you might like them cooked (even if you don’t know how). Think about what other flavors usually taste good with what you’re buying–consider herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, cilantro, etc.), proteins (meats, fish, eggs, legumes) and side dishes.

If you can’t think of anything, try to remember how these foods have been served to you in a restaurant. If you still aren’t sure what other flavors would be a good choice, ask the vendor you are buying from. Farmers are usually pretty good at cooking the foods they grow.

Step 3. Consolidate

For all the different ideas you had for meals, think of those with common flavors. Look for similarities between the dishes and overlapping ingredients. For example, most dishes will need some kind of onion, garlic or both. The farmers market is also a great place to get herbs and spices.

Look around and see what is available, purchasing the ingredients that are the most versatile. Flavors that can be included in several different dishes also give you the flexibility to change up your meal plans in middle of the week if you are suddenly struck with inspiration.

Step 4. Collect

As your ideas solidify, be sure to collect all the elements you need. iPhone apps can be particularly helpful with this if you want to double check ingredient lists. Because most popular recipes are born from available seasonal ingredients, it is likely you will find everything you need while shopping at the farmers market. If not, you might need to pick up the rest of your ingredients at a regular grocery store–not the end of the world.

To make sure you don’t forget anything, think about each dish individually and deconstruct each of the elements in your mind. This will jog your memory if you forgot to grab a lemon or some garlic.

Step 5. Plan

It is good to have a rough idea of when you are going to eat each of the meals you visualized. Some vegetables hold up better than others over the course of a week in the refrigerator. Plan to eat the most delicate produce in the first day or two, and save the hearty kale and broccoli for later in the week. Here are some tips to keep produce fresh.

Conclusion

Creative shopping without lists takes some practice, but you don’t have to be a master chef or flavor expert to get it right. When cooking with delicious, seasonal ingredients you can’t go wrong with simplicity. Start with the basics and work your way up as you get more comfortable in the kitchen and at the market.

Do you use shopping lists?

Originally published January 20, 2010.

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How Slow Food Are You?

by | May 10, 2010

Photo by *すぃか*

Do you ever wonder if your obsession with local, seasonal foods makes you a conscientious consumer or just a starry-eyed elitist?

A friend and fellow Slow Food member came up with a quick quiz to help you tell the difference.

Malice Waters lives and writes in San Francisco.

How Slow Food are you? A quiz.

By Malice Waters

The foods in my kitchen come from within:

1) 7,000 miles

2) 1,500 miles

3) 150 miles

4) 50 miles

Bottled water is:

1) A Necessity

2) An Option

3) A Triumph of Fearmongering Marketers

4) An Evil Plot by Monsanto

If I had to choose between local and organic, I would:

1) Choose Local

2) Choose Organic

3) Go Hungry

4) Reserve a table at Quince

At the farmers’ market, I fill my Prius beyond capacity. Which of these purchases do I jettison?

1) Farmstead Goat Cheese

2) Artisan Salumi

3) Fiddlehead Ferns

4) None. I hail a hybrid cab and load it up.

John Mackey of Whole Foods is:

1) A Friend to Small Farmers

2) A Savvy Businessman

3) A Greenwasher

4) All of the Above

A new cabinet-level agriculture post should go to:

1) Sarah Palin

2) Mario Batali

3) Michael Pollan

4) Marion Nestle

A “Bourbon Red” is:

1) An Energy Drink

2) A New Cocktail

3) A Heritage Turkey

4) An Organic Zinfandel

A “locavore” is:

1) A Type of Rodent

2) A Myopic Elitist

3) A Burrowing Insect

4) A Person Who Favors Locally Produced Foods

“Biodynamic” is:

1) A Biotech Startup

2) Marketing Hooey

3) An Evil Plot by Cargill

4) Cosmic Agriculture

“CSA” stands for:

1) Can’t Stand Asparagus

2) Caring, Sturdy Aardvark

3) Community-Supported Agriculture

4) Carrot Succulence Always

I throw a potluck party and a friend brings fajitas made with feedlot beef. My response is:

1) Say “thank you” and enjoy the fajitas.

2) Say “thank you” and then forget to serve the fajitas.

3) Say “thank you” but resolve to drop said friend.

4) Call PETA.

An $80 dollar-a-plate al fresco dinner at a local farm sounds:

1) Dubious

2) Great, if the Farmer Gets the Proceeds

3) Like an Evil Plot by Archer Daniels Midland

4) Like My Wedding Reception

Tally your score

12–20: See you at Wal-Mart.

21–26: Read Fast Food Nation and then try again.

27–35: Read Food Rules and then try again.

36 and up: Congratulations. You may now join Slow Food.

How Slow Food are you?

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your iPhone

by | May 11, 2009

locavore-app

Healthy eating can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You know you should be eating local, seasonal ingredients and lots of vegetables, but how do you know what to get? Once you have it, how do you cook it?

Enter iPhone. I can confidently say that my iPhone has made my life more convenient than any single electronic device since my first laptop. Sure plain cell phones are great, but honestly text messages annoy me more than they improve my quality of life.

An iPhone offers so much more than calls and texts, especially when you delve into the world of applications or “apps.” Apps are third party software programs that can be downloaded to your phone to perform specific (usually awesome) functions. Apps are what set iPhone apart from all other phones. Today I’m going to tell you about two apps in particular–Locavore and Epicurious–that can be used together to help you decide what to do for dinner.

Locavore ($3) is an app that finds all the farmers markets near you along with the produce in season in your area. It does this according to your physical location on earth using the built in iPhone GPS. Isn’t that brilliant? (Yes, I’m totally jealous that I didn’t make this app myself.)

I get questions every week about how to find a good farmers market in a given area. Honestly I had never had an answer much better than “Google it.” With Locavore’s “Markets” feature, you get a list of farmers markets in your area ranked by their distance to you. If you click on the market you want to visit it gives you all the essential information, such as what time of year it runs and its hours of operation. Locavore also allows you to browse by region (U.S. only) or specific food to find seasonal availability.

The farmers market information used by Locavore is from a website called Local Harvest. Even if you do not have an iPhone Local Harvest is a fantastic resource for finding farms, markets and CSAs near you. When you have located the market you would like to go to be sure to check near the bottom of the information paragraph for the last time the site was updated. In my experience farmers are not particularly tech savvy and often forget to update their websites. I always recommend calling before you go, just to confirm the market still exists and hasn’t changed its hours.

In the Locavore app, once you have found your market you can check the “In Season” feature. This will give you a list of items that are supposed to be in season in your area (information gathered from the Natural Resources Defense Council website).

Unfortunately, the list is more an approximation of reality than a true market browse through. I’ve been following my own market on Locavore since I first downloaded the app several weeks ago, and I’d say it is about 90% accurate. Definitely I have seen the list include some items that are not available and I would not expect to be available this time of year in my area (e.g. boysenberries). Also, my market is large and specialized enough that there are always unique finds that the NRDC does not know about.

You can, however, get an idea of items that should be easy to find. To avoid hunting down ingredients that may not be available, be sure to check the pie graph icons to the left of each item. These represent the number of months left until that specific vegetable or fruit goes out of season (again, this is approximate and depends substantially on the weather). If there is less than one month left, you probably shouldn’t plan your entire meal around that one ingredient since there is a good chance it won’t be there. If the pie is full (green), that means you can find the item year round in your area. In general, the Locavore produce list is fairly thorough and accurate and can be used to create a seasonal dinner menu.

One of the coolest features of Locavore is its connection to the recipe website Epicurious. If you find a seasonal ingredient you would like to try but need ideas on how to prepare it, simply click the item and a page will open to show you all the states it is available along with the its Wikipedia listing (in case you aren’t sure exactly what it is) and a link to Epicurious. If you follow the Epicurious link it takes you to a list of recipes using your ingredient. Click the dish that sounds the most delicious and get a complete recipe and shepicurious-appopping list. Use this to make sure you get all the ingredients you need at the market.

Conveniently Epicurious has its own app (free) if you already know the ingredient you want to use and do not need to find a farmers market. You can search by meal, event or specific ingredient, and create shopping lists for your favorite recipes. As you can imagine, I’m particularly fond of the “Healthy Lunches” option. Another bonus is the Epicurious app contains the entire contents of the Big Yellow Cookbook by Gourmet.

Overall Locavore and Epicurious are both fantastic apps for anyone interested in cooking local, seasonal meals. Together they are a powerful resource for finding ingredients and cooking the best seasonal meals possible.

Have you used either the Locavore or Epicurious iPhone apps?

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