Author Archive | EMILY AKINS

SHARING: HOW I FOUND MY WAY TO CSA

 

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Fair Share CSA loot
photo Emily Akins

“I used to say I didn’t like tomatoes; but, after joining the CSA and eating the freshest and most interesting tomatoes I’d ever seen, I realized that I just didn’t like bland, plastic-y, flavorless tomatoes from the grocery store. It turns out I love a good heirloom tomato.”

This year will be my 10th season with my Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) through Fair Share Farm in Kearney, MO. I’ve been reminiscing lately – especially now that my weekly farm fresh veggies are a well-entrenched way of life for me. How did I fi rst get started with my CSA?

It was 10 years ago when I signed up as a Fair Share member. At that time Michael Pollan’s “Th e Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” had not even been published yet, much less read by me. I hadn’t heard of the 100-mile diet; I hadn’t learned that most food in the industrial food chain comes from 1,500 miles away. Locavore didn’t become the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year until 2007. “Food, Inc.” didn’t come out until 2008.

In short, all of the compelling facts I’ve learned about food today – the very same figures I often tout as good reasons to join a CSA – were nowhere on my radar yet. So I’m having to think a bit harder to remember what made me join in the first place.

The year was 2005. During the fall of the previous year, my friend and coworker Heather Gibbons had invited some farmers to the EcoTeam at work, a resource group focused on sustainability. Th ese farmers – Tom Ruggieri and Rebecca Graff of Fair Share Farm – had a lot of interesting and thought-provoking things to say, the specifics of which I can’t quite remember now. What I do remember is that the idea of getting food directly from a farm nearby sounded quaint, wholesome, and delicious.

And, maybe it was a little old fashioned sounding too. (And, I am just enough of a romantic to feel nostalgia for a time I have never known.)

Heather and I were both interested in the CSA and perhaps a little daunted by the notion of subscribing. So, we decided to go in together and to share a “full share” – that is, a subscription to a larger portion of fresh vegetables to be picked up each week from May to October.… Read More

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The Winter of Our Soup

winterSoup
Lentil soup with Kale ribbons

Once I ate soup for an entire month. Not the same kind of soup for a whole month, this wasn’t a crazy weight loss diet or something, it was different soups almost every day. And, actually it wasn’t strictly every day; we took a break on the weekends here and there. And there wasn’t any grand reason to eat soup other than the fact that we thought it would be fun.

It was my husband, Sergio’s idea. He likes these sorts of stints – like the time he ate a veggie burger every day for 31 days (31veggieburgers.blogspot.com). He also isn’t too keen on winter – cold weather, snow, the sun that sets at 4:45, all the darkness. He grew up where it’s temperate, and though he’s been in the Midwest for a long time and has endured several particularly bad winters, I think he has still never given up the notion that it just should never be this cold.

So, a few years ago, just after New Years, when he was grumpy about the cold, he decided he had a hankering for soup and figured that would warm him up. He got the idea that it would be fun to eat it every single day. I thought he was crazy at first, but he convinced me. Honestly, he didn’t have to try very hard to convince me. The truth is I love soup. The ease of the slow cooker, the one pot meals.

And, in winter it’s a great way to prepare the food I preserved during the growing season. A freezer full of frozen greens and peppers, mason jars full of corn and tomatoes, all perfect for soups. A bowl, a spoon, a crusty bread, and, voila, dinner’s done.

Having decided to eat soup for a month, we sat down with some recipes and made some plans. On a regular basis, we make a lot of soups and stews that are terribly similar and formulaic. Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew or Spicy White Bean, Sweet Potato and Collard Stew. Always orange vegetable + green leaf + legume. We knew w didn’t want to eat THAT for a month, so we attempted to diversify our repertoire with a few new and different soups.

We pored over our cookbooks, namely Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, and selected a few options for the next few days.… Read More

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In the Kitchen With Kids

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Do you know what I think is missing from all the cookbooks, websites, and TV shows about cooking? Toddler wrangling. I have lots of go-to sites for CSA recipes, I found good sources for making organic baby food, and I enjoy several reality TV cooking shows. But, no one ever mentions the one thing that dominates my kitchen at dinnertime.

Toddler wrangling.

Sometimes I think back to when my firstborn was a baby. My husband and I both took long parental leaves and spent extra time to make the baby food that our daughter would eat when she moved to solid foods. We Vitamixed everything and froze it in small quantities.

We used recipes from our baby food cookbooks. I remember everything from that time as slow and deliberate. Just the one baby, just the one goal – wholesome, minimally processed food to nurture her through infancy. Which we did.

Now she is turning four, and she has reached a level of boisterousness and rambunctiousness that I would have been hard pressed to imagine back then. Baby number two came along somewhere in there. She has just turned two, so she is also hardly a baby anymore, either. And, she is also boisterous beyond belief.

We did the same for her – minimally processed, local, organic veggies puréed at their height of freshness and frozen so they would be ready when she was. The extra time afforded us during our long luxurious parental leaves is a thing of the past; and now that one goal – wholesome, minimally processed food – is still at the forefront, but is a bit harder to achieve. Mostly because of the kids, of course, who are nearly always underfoot and are very demanding.

The big chunks of time that we used to have to cook have now been carved into small pieces by those very same little people that we’re cooking so earnestly for.

We take each little morsel of time, and we piece together what we need to prepare a real meal – chopping vegetables the night before, cooking large portions and getting clever with leftovers, etc. Our simple goal requires some complex steps and creative solutions. All of this means that nowadays when I read cookbooks I have to laugh at how oblivious most recipes are to our 9-5 jobs, our immediately hungry children, and, oh yes, the vagaries of toddlerhood.

Recipes that tell you to cook one thing for one minute and then add the next thing and cook for two minutes, instructions that suggest you stir constantly, helpful hints on good prep order…I find the impossibility of it all laughable.… Read More

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Crime Sandwiches

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from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (1976)

W hen I was a kid, my mom or grandmother often celebrated Valentine’s Day by making some lovely little sandwich cookies. Cute little cut outs – sometimes hearts, sometimes circles, sometimes fluted edges – with pink cream filling in the middle. I have faint, delicate, gentle memories of these light and sugary wafer sandwiches. I remember them vaguely but fondly. Three years ago I was at my parents’ house around Valentine’s Day and my mom made them again; I fell in love with them anew and decided I would make them every year.

Of course I haven’t. I made them just that first year for Easter (with yellow cream filling), but haven’t incorporated them into my yearly repertoire of holiday baking traditions. Been too busy since then – moving into a new house, having another baby, working full time. These days, life operates at a pretty frenetic pace, but as we approached Valentine’s Day this year, I decided I should really make those cookies again.

It wasn’t until a few days before Valentine’s Day that I realized I don’t actually have the recipe like I thought I did. So one morning, in between meetings, I texted my mom (who was traveling for work) to ask for the recipe and she responded with the name of the recipe and the ingredient list as best she could remember; she promised to send me a snapshot of the recipe after she flew back home that night.

The next thing I knew, we were awfully busy prepping valentines for school and then celebrating on the day of. It wasn’t until the day after Valentine’s Day when I could get to the store for the missing ingredients. And, it wasn’t until the day after that that I could bake them. Even then I was so distracted with the hustle and bustle at my house that I forgot to prick the wafers with fork tines. At least, since it wasn’t V-Day anymore, I didn’t feel so bad for not having a heart shaped cookie cutter or any red food coloring (and no time to go buy new cookie cutters or procure any natural food coloring). A very frenetic pace indeed.

But, here is the funniest part of it all: that day when my mom sent her text she was in a hurry, too (no doubt, even busier than I was) and in her haste, whatever she had typed when she wrote the name of the cookies (probably Creme Sandwiches instead of Cream Wafers) was auto-corrected to Crime Sandwiches.… Read More

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: SAGE ADVICE

foodThotSage 

Please tell me I’m not the only person who buys big bundles of herbs and doesn’t know what to do with them. Am I? Whenever I am at the farmers market, I am so tempted: the funky basils, so aromatic; huge bundles of thyme, so twiggy; broad flat leaves of parsley; spindly, waxy rosemary needles; mint bunches, sweet and summery … I am powerless in their presence and I always say yes. A week later at home, after having indulged and enjoyed what I can, I find myself struggling to think of a new way to use up the last of the herbs lest I have to compost the remainder. Heaven forfend.

So I have made it my mission to hunt for recipes that call for – even better, that feature – herbs. Pestos, gremolatas, infusions, juices, (mojitos, anyone?) … they all get filed away under the “What To Do With All Those Herbs” category in my head.

Sage is one such irresistible herb and I always have more than I need. The smell intoxicates me and I am compelled to simply carry it with me all day long or, what the heck, just wear it so the aroma never leaves my side. Alas, I have decided to focus on actually cooking with it. And so the simplest solutions are brilliant for a reason: sage and winter squash or pumpkin – of course, I don’t care how unoriginal that is, it’s delicious. Sage in a stuffing or dressing for Thanksgiving – also of course. A delicious mainstay at the feasts of many.

But earlier this year I found myself with an abundance of sage in the spring. Every time I smelled it I thought of Thanksgiving and butternut squashes but I could do nothing of the sort with it at that time of year. So I got creative. I went looking for desserts.

I am drawn to sweet applications of herbs traditionally found only in savory dishes. Like the basil ice cream I had once at Justus Drugstore or the rosemary caramel chocolate at Christopher Elbow. In my own kitchen, I regularly make Rosemary Remembrance Cake from Nigella Lawson’s book Feast; now when I get rosemary in my CSA share, I don’t think potatoes, I think cake. And I don’t just think cake, I think, “Cake!!!”

So thanks to Nigella’s initial inspiration and that abundance of springtime sage, I found my way to a Rustic Sage Cake.… Read More

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: HARVEST TIME & NEW BEGINNINGS

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It is back-to-school time and fall, perhaps my favorite time of year, when the heavy heat of summer rolls into the hardy harvests of autumn. At the farmers markets it’s the best of both worlds as crops from both seasons appear: there are great quantities of the ripest of summer’s fruits and vegetables, all going out with a bang – the end of the eggplant, the tomatoes at their finest peppers and okra. At the same time, the fall fare is cropping up little by little and you can sense the shift that is coming, even as you try not to feel the sweltering heat – let’s hope this is the last of the highest temperatures, finally.

For most people it is the “back-to” school time of year, but for our family it is simply the “to-school” time of year as our oldest daughter, Julia, begins her first every year at school. Out of daycare and into a Montessori.

I am giddy, as giddy as I used to be at the beginning of each new year of school for myself. She is eager, too. Since school is new for us this year, I notice more ads and sales for school supplies, materials, and products. Traditionally, marketers use images of shiny red apples in their back-to-school promotions. As I see these cliches, (and as I wax nostalgic thinking of how Julia has grown so fast and is approaching her birthday) I am reminded of some other apples, real apples that I purchased the year my first born was born. Apples come around in the fall and as it happened, so did Julia. I went to the farmers market at nine months pregnant while I was probably still in nesting mode – trying to ensure that everything was ready for the baby to arrive. But I also thought I should prepare for when the baby would start to eat solid foods at which time I wouldn’t be able to get local apples. I had it all planned: I’ll get these now, I thought, and make applesauce now and can it and it’ll be ready to feed the baby when the baby is old enough to eat it!

A perfect plan, complicated by one little thing; the baby. I was buying these bulk apple seconds – 20 pounds of them, to be exact – about a week before my due date. Since I had convinced myself my baby would be late I thought I had plenty of time.… Read More

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Tibicos (or Water Kefir)

Words and photo by Emily Akins

www.everythingbeginswithane.blogspot.com

 

This is our new favorite drink. There are lots of names for it; most people call it Water Kefir, but we call it Tibicos. And the cutest thing ever is Julia asking for “teebeecosh!” It’s a probiotic beverage made with kefir grains. Which sounds so weird when I explain it. So I’ve started just saying that it’s like home made soda but it’s good for you instead of bad for you.
It’s good for you the way that yogurt or milk kefir are good for you – because of the good bacteria that grows. You start out with kefir grains (not real “grains” – they actually look like giant salt crystals). You feed them sugar (and a few other things). They grow and grow during the first ferment; then you flavor the tibicos in the second ferment, after you’ve removed the grains. And in just a matter of days you have some lovely and delicious “soda” (so to speak).
Our favorite flavors are peach or apricot (flavored with tea), lemon juice, or ginger. (Oh and we made a black currant one once that tasted just like a Clearly Canadian!)
See below for the “recipe” we received from our friend who got us started in the world of water kefir. We have (miraculously!) kept our grains going for a couple of months now and while we did have to slow down production, we have kept a steady cycle going. And when we’ve gone on tibicos hiatus in order to leave town, I have missed it so much.
Julia likes it pretty well, too. Clara is still deciding. But I’m glad to have some probiotics to give them to balance out the antibiotics we had to give them a few weeks ago. Gotta keep that balance.
We will have extra grains up for grabs periodically. Happy to spread the Tibicos gospel and the grains!

 

Water Kefir

Ingredients

  • Water Kefir
  • Basic ratio:
  • 1 Tbsp grains
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup water

Instructions

  1. First Ferment:
  2. In a jar, add sugar (ideally sucanat/rapidura/turbinado; organic raw cane sugar works), some raisins (about 10), a splash of lemon juice, a tiny pinch of baking soda, and water. Stir to somewhat dissolve sugar. Add grains. Can be left covered lightly with a cloth or a lid. Let sit in room temperature - not in sun - for 48 hours or until brew no longer tastes like sugar water.
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A MINDFUL MOUTHFUL

foodThoughtMindfulI had the ultimate “mindless eating” experience. It was around Christmastime last year and my world was all hustle and bustle. I was at home doing a bunch of things at once – cleaning up, checking my phone, listening to music, tending to noisy and clamoring children, thinking about a million other things besides what I was doing – and in the process I had popped some food into my mouth. My taste buds snapped me out of my absent-minded spree when they registered to my brain, “Hey, this food is good!” And my brain could not figure out what it was. Now let me be clear – the food was actually still in mouth, I was still chewing it, I recognized it as a familiar flavor, and I knew that I liked it. But I didn’t know what it was or where I’d gotten it. I stood in the kitchen dumbfounded, looking around me, trying to figure out what it was that I was eating … and feeling very stupid.

I finally looked in the dining room and spotted the giant holiday tin of Topsy’s popcorn and realized I was eating caramel popcorn. Duh. Was I really so busy that I couldn’t identify food in my mouth? Has it really come to this?

If you read the introduction to Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, you’ll see that, yes, perhaps it has come to this. According to Pollan, “survey researchers tell us we’re spending more time engaged in ‘secondary eating,’ … and less time engaged in ‘primary eating’ — a rather depressing term for the once-venerable institution known as the meal.” We are a society that favors fast and easy food prep and that de-emphasizes the shared meal. From fast food restaurants to frozen food in the grocery store; from multitasking “lunch & learns,” to “grab and go” snacks; from “30-minute meals” to “semi homemade…” I’m guessing I’m not the only person to put food in their mouth and hardly notice it.

Even within the growing trends in recent years in health food and organic food, we still crave convenience, so that now it is perfectly easy to find a packaged, processed meal that features organic ingredients, no preservatives, no GMOs, low in fat and sodium, low glycemic index, high in omega 3s, etc. All in a “1 step, 1 minute” package. We are trying, Lord help us, to eat better, aren’t we?… Read More

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Urban Grown Farms & Gardens Tour 2013

 Words and photos by Emily Akins

 
Switzer Neighborhood Farm
This year marks the 5th biennial urban farms and gardens tour, hosted by Cultivate KC, and the urban growth (pun intended) this city has seen is nothing short of amazing. In 2005 when the tour began, there were 6 farms on the tour and 300 people who attended the whole tour. Every tour since has seen an exponential increase in both attendees and farm sites on the tour. This event now boasts 60 sites and has spanned to cover two days; the small number 300 is more likely to describe the number of attendees in one day at one farm. By now the tour has reached the status of The Largest Urban Farm Tour in the nation. 
 
All of which means, this city has a lot of food growing in a lot of unexpected and important places. 
 
chard on the westside
 
Urban farming – popular enough now to merit its own magazine – is more than just the trendy thing to do. This movement goes beyond the offbeat juxtapositions: the dilapidated buildings next to lush raised beds of kale, rusted art and radishes, municipal chickens and downtown ducks. This is about growing food in precisely the spots where people are everyday. This is about revitalizing wasted land and making it livable, beautiful, and productive. This is about knowing where your food comes from and seeing it for yourself, whether you’re a little kid, a grown woman, an old man. For some of these sites, this is about serving the underserved, about communities pulling together to take care of themselves, and about volunteers working to feed others. Whether a site is an oasis in a food desert or growing the freshest food right outside the restaurant kitchen, this tour is about “cultivating change.” 
 
When I volunteered four years ago, I hurried all over town to help and see as much as I could in one day, but I could only make it to 5 farm sites. And that was before I had kids. So this year I was pretty proud when – over the course of 2 days, while Sergio was unavailable, with both girls in tow, stopping for potty breaks and diaper changes and breastfeeding – I made it to 5 farms again! Of course, that leaves 55 farms I wanted to see but couldn’t. I’m not complaining, though. Too many urban farms and gardens is a great problem to have.
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EDIBLE TRADITIONS: FOOD MEMORIES

tradFoodMemories

Recently I was in a meeting in which everyone was asked to share a favorite food memory. It hadn’t occurred to me until that very moment, but I have a lot of very nice food memories. I spent some time considering them all, fishing around for my favorite. There was that exquisite cup of coffee in Seattle, that incredible gozleme in Turkey, that chocolate ganache cake with mint milk (the only food ever to make me laugh out loud) … many delicious moments that I love to recall. But the sweetest food memories that I could muster up were memories of things that my grandmother cooked when I was young. And I wasn’t the only one harkening back to family; everyone else in the meeting seemed to want to remember grandparents and parents as well. Everyone else’s food memories went straight to family. And my food memories went straight to Mema.

My Mema cooked a lot of food for me over the years – we ate together on Sundays and Wednesdays almost every week for my entire childhood. Even when the food she cooked was as plain and simple as the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the Nestle semisweet chocolate chip package, it was always something special because Mema made it.

So during this meeting the other day I spent some time with my food memories and was pleasantly puzzled to find how far and wide this path led me. I started with my own recent history; thought back to my childhood, my family and my Mema; then I managed to burrow my way back to memories of my great grandmother, Mema’s mother, who was called Mama Taylor. Which is funny because I never actually met Mama Taylor; she died 8 years before I was born. But she lives on in lots of ways, and one of those ways is through food memories.

Mema talks about her mama’s chocolate pudding and chocolate pie (which my aunt still fixes for Mema today). Mema still has the very dough bowl that Mama Taylor used to use to make biscuits every morning (biscuits from scratch, without measurements). And according to Mema, Mama Taylor was famous for her pickles; the kids at school would always try to trade with Mema to get some of those pickles. Each of these food memories that Mema has shared with me over the years is a fuzzy glimpse into a world I can’t possibly fathom but that I love to imagine, a world that – in a remote and distant way – is a world that I came from.… Read More

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