Saturday, September 29, 2007

Oshkosh-Style Stir-Fry

As the eat local challenge is drawing to a close, we decided to throw together a stir fry made up of mostly local fare. Here's the recipe:
  • 1.5 pounds sirloin steak
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 small beet
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 chili pepper (not too hot)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1 Tbsp Toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1/4 cup Soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
  • 2 cups Water
  • 2 Tbsp Corn starch
  1. Cut meat into thin slices. Slice vegetables thinly. Cut onions into wedges.
  2. Heat oil in skillet or wok.
  3. Fry meat while stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to separate platter, and keep warm.
  4. Add vegetables to skillet or wok, and fry 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Transfer vegetables to separate platter. Keep warm.
  6. Heat sesame seed oil in skillet.
  7. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and water, and bring to a boil
  8. Dissolve corn starch in cold water, and add to sauce while stirring.
  9. Let boil for 3-5 minutes until thickened, and adjust taste as you see fit. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  10. Return meat and vegetables to skillet and heat through with the sauce.
  11. Serve with white or brown rice (we did basmati tonight, as the brown rice would have taken too long and the kids won't eat it).
It was a bit of an experiment with potatoes and beets in a stir-fry, but it worked out nicely. The potatoes added extra volume and a nice mellow taste, while the beets added sweetness. Our version did not havec a lot of heat. You could try add more hot peppers and more ginger, wouldn't hurt either. We also served it with home-brew beer (Fuggles IPA).
How local was it? All the vegetables were from our garden, the meat was from Cattleana (our local meat CSA), and the beer was brewed at home. The water chestnuts, the rice, and all the ingredients for the sauce were standard supermarket items, so who knows where they came from. But I think this still qualifies as a nice local meal - it certainly used some of our veggies, which is always nice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Great Gardening Resource

If you're gardening in Wisconsin (or surrounding states), UW Extension in Milwaukee has a great resource: The Wisconsin Almanac, which is a monthly newsletter with tips on what activities to carry out that month. For instance, September's version showed us we should be OK with our late lettuce planting. But we could probably also consider dividing and moving some of the perennials that are in unfortunate spots.

It's not just organic advice, so organic gardeners should be careful. But the advice is solid none the less, and references all the great Extension publications on gardening.

We keep a monthly reminder on our calendar to check this site. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there's an archive of previous months, so you'll have to check back every month.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Second Plantings

Weather was super great this weekend, so we spent some time in the garden, cleaning up a few beds and replanting some garlic in one. Garlic has a two-season cycle, so these should be ready to pick and eat next fall. They will hopefully sprout this fall, die back over the winter, and then come back in the spring.

Garlic is about as easy to grow as can be: Take the individual cloves, stick them in the ground about an inch deep. Cover with soil. Stand back. Wait. Water, Etc.

We also got some bare lawn patches over-seeded. We've had some trouble-spots on the terraces where the sprinklers have a hard time reaching and in one area, we've had a snow plow or school bus go over the curve and really make a mess of things. But this is a great time to sow grass: Temperatures are lower than in mid-summer, but the soil is still nice and warm. And usually there's dew at night to keep the seeds moist until they can sprout. You can usually count on some rain as well. Even so, we'll keep the sprinklers going on the area as long as possible.

Over Labor Day weekend, we planted some more lettuce. You can plant lettuce every 2 weeks over the summer and then have a continuous supply. We had started some lettuce indoors over the winter that was planted out in the spring and produced nicely - 5 or 6 heads, but we hadn't doen any successive plantings, so we've had to buy lettuce. This late planting is a bit of a long shot - will we get enough to harvest before the frost kills it all?

Another long shot was sowing some buckwheat in a couple harvested beds as green manure. They really should have been sown in July according to package directions. Next year we'll have to research a little more to find a more suitable winter cover that will be able to sprout if sown in September.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Native plant dilemma

We have planted a bunch of native prairie plants in many parts of our yard and are happy with them. Last fall we were impressed with the sunflowers we saw growing in some empty lots around here and dug a couple up and put in a spot that needed more plants. Throughout the spring and summer we watched the plants come up and up and up - at least 10 feet high. But no flowers. Then all of a sudden we got an explosion of 4-inch sunflowers - very impressive display.

Only problem is, we did some digging, and it turns out they are sawtoothed sunflowers, which are native plants, but also very aggressive. And while we like how they look, and would love to keep them around all winter as bird food, shelter, and wind break, we also are not interested in these plants completely taking over. So, this weekend they will likely be dug up and composted...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Eco-friendly coffee practices

Now that the health benefits of drinking coffee are well established (as long as it’s regular, black coffee), here are some ways to improve the sustainability of your coffee practices (and save some money):
  1. Beans. It all starts with the beans. Obviously it’s hard in most places to get truly local coffee. Do the next best thing and buy beans that are certified fair trade. Fair trade ensures that the coffee farmers are compensated fairly and ensures sustainable growing practices. If you can’t get fair-trade, go for organic, and if that’s not available go for high-end like Starbucks coffee. These are generally all shade-grown.
  2. Brewing. Use a standard drip coffee maker instead of individual-serve makers (unless you’re just making a single cup a day). Make all the coffee you will need for the entire day, so you only need to brew once. As soon as the coffee maker is done brewing, pour the coffee into a thermos (ours will keep coffee reasonably warm all day).
  3. At work. Bring your home made coffee along in a sturdy steel thermos or thermal mug – this way you know you’ll get good coffee instead of that bitter office coffee that’s been simmering for hours! And you will save time and money from running to your local coffee joint.
  4. At the coffee shop. If you’re unable to bring your own coffee (traveling, meetings etc), bring your own thermal mug to the coffee shop and ask them to pour your coffee in there. At Starbucks, you’ll save 10 cents per cup, and you’ll save the environment from all the paper or Styrofoam cups. I haven’t checked other coffee places (I don’t go to them often, because I bring my own coffee), but you can probably get a break if you ask.

What do you do to minimize the environmental impact of your coffee habit?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Eating Local Update

Whew - semester and school start really took some time away from more leisurely pursuits like writing blog posts!

So, welcome back to school and all the fall activities like harvesting, canning, etc. We have spent some time over labor day weekend preparing our jams (strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and blueberry). We now have quite a large number of jars and have even sold the first few jars to a friend - a nice way to extend the local eating to later in the year and to other people - anybody buying our jam around here would presumably save buying a jar of Smuckers from ... who knows where? All the berries for our jams are either grown in our yard or within 30 miles from our house (oh, except the blueberries - they're from Michigan). So we think it's pretty local. Of course, we have no idea where the sugar came from... Might have to investigate that for next time.

In terms of meals, we have really been doing great at eating locally. Of the five meals in September, we have had at least 75% local ingredients in four of them. Of course it helps having the start of the Eat Local Challenge coinciding with a garden where tomatoes are ripening in record numbers along with cucumbers and bell peppers. The potatoes also have been doing well and we've been eating those on a regular basis along with the carrots. And when you belong to a meat CSA, that takes care of a major portion of the meal as well.

Summary of meals made this month so far:
  • Friday (Sep 1): Homemade pizza. Local veggie toppings, local cheese (we're in Wisconsin, duh!). Homemade beer.
  • Saturday: Grilled ham steaks with veggie skewers. Local meat, and veggies from the garden (potatoes, onion, beets). Australian Wine.
  • Sunday: Beer-can chicken with grilled and roasted vegetables (Roasted Beets and potato skewers). Chicken from CSA.
  • Monday: Hamburgers and corn on the cob. Had to buy the meat from the grocery store because we forgot to get something out of the freezer, but the corn was local. More Australian Wine.
  • Tuesday: Easy Shepherd's Pie (didn't take too long, but when the recipe calls for a roux and simultaneously having three pots going, it's a stretch calling it 'easy'). Almost entirely local. Served with homemade pickled beets and salad.
So far, things are going well (although we did drink a good amount of Australian wine - more on that later...)