Tag Archives: organic

Jersey Girl Grows Okra

My garden is nothing to speak of this year. The parsley and collards have reseeded themselves wherever they saw fit. Some of last year’s onions and kale are lingering. A couple rows of carrots came up from the seeds I planted, if you can discern them from the parsley. And I have a few tomato plants–some from a friend who gave me seed starts  and a couple of grape tomato volunteers. Watering was a big chore most of July and it seems the extreme heat took a lot out of everybody. Except the okra.

I’ve never grown okra before, and I’ve rarely eaten it except for trips to the Deep South. In New Jersey, where I grew up, it seems our standard plantings were tomatoes, summer squash, chard, lettuce, and green beans, which my sisters and I would laboriously weed around every summer. So when I saw okra seedlings for sale at the Holland Farmers Market back in May I figured, what the hay. They seem to have taken awhile to get going but I finally have okra pods, which is the part we get to eat!

Apparently okra thrives in the heat, which is likely why it’s prevalent in the South. But when to pick the pods? And then what? First I Googled “how to grow okra” and came across Chris’ Backyard Gardening Blog, which was extremely helpful in answering my questions. (And, Chris just happens to be from Lower Michigan!) I’m glad I researched it, too, because you should not pick okra with your bare hands. The tiny spines on the pods and leaves can irritate skin. I used a combination pruning shear and tongs to snag them when they were ready for harvesting.

The only way I remember seeing or tasting okra is fried or in soups and gumbo. Again, I did a little research, this time for okra recipes. And I was glad I did because many of the comments I read about recipes mention its slimy-ness. If there’s one texture I despise in my mouth, it’s slimy. (No mushrooms for me, please!)

Luckily, I found Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times for Roasted Okra. Roasting anything in an oven at 450 degrees in the middle of summer is not appealing but on a cool day I tried it. I think you could easily grill the okra instead but this is definitely the way to go to avoid slimy vegetables, and to keep it simple. Nothing beats olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roasted okra makes a lovely side dish to accompany Pork Steak on the Grill and collards!

GMO Alfalfa: A Lose-Lose Situation

A hot topic in the news you may have heard about recently is the deregulation of Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready alfalfa, which shows the Obama Administration’s lack of support for small farmers and food system reform.

What this means is that genetically modified organism (GMO) alfalfa has the ability to contaminate both conventional and organic alfalfa fields. For conventional growers, contamination prevents them from exporting because many markets outside the U.S. won’t accept GMO crops. For organic farmers–especially dairy and beef–contamination of alfalfa can make it difficult to find GMO-free feed, which is a requirement under organic rules.

While USDA Secretary Vilsack had suggested a “co-existence plan” requiring geographic buffers between fields planted with GMO alfalfa and conventional or organic fields, the compromise was reportedly overruled by the White House.

I subscribe to emails from Michael Pollan, which is where I first heard the news about the GMO alfalfa. Pollan claims, “In my view, Round-Up Ready alfalfa is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. Alfalfa is a perennial grass that doesn’t suffer from serious weed problems. In fact, ninety-three percent of alfalfa fields receive no herbicide at all. Which I suppose is fortunate for any farmers who plant GMO alfalfa, since Round-Up itself is well on its way to obsolescence, as weeds resistant to the herbicide proliferate around the country; I’m told that farmers in Iowa are already having to resort to hand-weeding to control weeds that no longer respond. So why is the Administration willing to risk damage to both organic and conventional agriculture to promote such an unnecessary product? Ask President Obama.”

Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), said, “We’re disappointed with the USDA’s decision and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice. The USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”

The CFS sent an open letter to Secretary Vilsack, calling on the USDA to base its decision on sound science and the interests of farmers, and to avoid rushing the process to meet the marketing timelines or sales targets of Monsanto, Forage Genetics, or other entities.

And What About Pets?

I write a blog about happy food–that which is organic, sustainable, humane, and local whenever possible. And, I’m a pet owner. All my life I’ve had pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and gerbils. Just a couple of months ago, Bill and I adopted two new cats from the humane society after our three geriatric ones all died of kidney disease. It’s a rough way to go but our vet said it means we took very good care of our cats. The kidneys simply wear out by age 20, or even 18, which are the ages our kitties lived to be.

After mourning the last old kitty, who died about a year ago, we are back to buying cat food for 2-year-old Fredsy and 5-month old Little Moo.

I keep thinking: Shouldn’t we be feeding our new kitties some form of happy food–chicken that doesn’t come from a factory farm, and fish that’s raised in the wild? I know there are some happier pet food products out there but I haven’t done my research yet.

An article appeared in yesterday’s The New York Times called “A Sniff of Home Cooking for Cats and Dogs.” It says that Barbara Laino, a pet owner in Warwick, New York, makes her own pet food for Orion, the Alaskan malamute, as well as another dog and three cats. Her approach is to provide for her animals what she wants for herself: a healthy diet of unprocessed organic food. “We know processed foods are wrong for us,” Ms. Laino says. “It has to be wrong for them. If you can feed yourself healthily and your children, then you can feed your pets healthily, too. It really isn’t that hard.” (Isn’t that what I’m always saying about making food for ourselves, rather than buying processed food?)

Even Cesar Millan of “The Dog Whisperer” agrees. “Organic has become a new fashion, a new style of living,” he said. “And if the human becomes aware, if he eats organic, he wants everyone around him to be healthy, too, especially the one that is always there for you.”

That’s what I was thinking….that I’d like to feed my pets in line with the way Bill and I eat. But is it as easy as Laino says?

Some people are concerned with how to maintain a balanced diet for their pets, but there are many examples in the article of increased demand at butchers and meat markets by people who are making homemade food for their pets.

I think if I consider homemade pet food, I would do my research and talk to our vet. Or maybe I can find an adequate pet food in the store that at least has organic ingredients. After all, according to The Times, sales of organic pet food were $84 million in 2009, and have grown more than tenfold since 2002.

For starters, I could offer Little Moo garbanzo beans. Or falafel and hummus. Yesterday, after draining a can of them in the kitchen sink, I found her there lapping up the juice.

The Non-GMO Shopping Guide

Thanks to my friend Tammy of Harbor Health and Massage for sharing the Non-GMO Shopping Guide in her fall newsletter, The Beacon. It’s a handy guide, produced by the Institute for Responsible Technology, that can help you avoid eating GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods.

The website offers four tips for avoiding GMO food:

  • Buy organic.
  • Look for “Non-GMO Project” verified seals.
  • Avoid “At-Risk Ingredients” including corn, soybeans, canola, and cottonseed.
  • Buy products listed in the shopping guide.
  • I especially like the list of invisible GM ingredients (processed foods with hidden GM sources). Print off a copy of the guide and take it with you next time you go food shopping!

    And the Chef Panel Says: Go Organic


    The current issue of Time magazine focuses on the organic food debate. One segment includes the results from a blue-ribbon panel of nine New York chefs who reveal their preferences in a taste test: Farm vs. Supermarket.

    Although the subtitle of the article leads you to believe that “organic and small-farm products aren’t always better,” the results indicate a definite lean toward preferring organic. In four out of seven of the tests, organic was the winner and in two of the tests it was a draw between organic and nonorganic. Even the preference for beef (grass-fed vs. grass-and-grain-fed prime steak) points toward an inclusion of grass in the cow’s diet, as opposed to a totally grain-fed piece of meat.

    The two taste tests that each ended in a draw were for carrots and goat cheese. Both the Organic Bunny Love carrots and the Dole non-organic carrots were “almost exactly the same,” according to Chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy.

    Anne Saxelby, owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers, tasted the organic and nonorganic Farmstead goat cheeses. Her conclusion? “Cheese needs milk–and milk, like wine, needs terroir. The pasture, the cheesemaker’s prowess and the technique–that’s where you get your flavor. These two cheeses are equally delicious; there really is no difference.”

    The other tests, in which organic was the winner over nonorganic, focused on white nectarines, tomatoes, pork, chicken, and eggs. (With all the violations among Iowa egg producers right now, who wouldn’t choose organic? And local!)

    I was glad to see these results from the New York panel, which, by the way, also included the following chefs:

    Marco Canora of Hearth

    Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson of Minetta Tavern

    Floyd Cardoz of Tabla

    Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl

    April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig

    George Weld of Egg

    Michael Pollan: On Organic Food

    Michael Pollan was interviewed recently on NBC Nightly News. Check out this nearly eight-minute video where he addresses when and why it makes sense to buy and eat organic food.

    Chef Christine Ferris: Working from Imagination to Please the Palate

    When I arrived at the kitchen of Christine Ferris Catering, I knew I was at the right place by the Visser Farms crates used as plant stands for potted rosemary and parsley in the south window. They’d been absorbing the sunlight all winter long, and donating their herbal fragrances to Chris’ culinary creations.

    Visser Farms is one of the major vendors at the Holland Farmers’ Market—the one that told me at the end of the season last year that they could supply produce all through the winter if we so desired. Chris Ferris got the word, too. That’s the beauty of a local food network—local farmers, local chefs, and locavores—helping each other out in the supply-and-demand dynamics that surround one of my favorite activities: eating.

    The first time I sampled Chris’ culinary art was at my friend Sue’s wedding. I was so impressed with the amount of fresh, organic, and local food she sourced. It was a delicious meal and beautifully presented.

    So, when Bill and I got married in 2008, we asked Chris to cater our event. On top of the fresh, organic, locavore angle, we challenged her to find recipes that would accommodate Bill’s dairy (cow), corn, and wheat allergies. We figured if he’s the groom, he should be able to eat anything on the buffet. Mission accomplished: Bill was able to eat everything, and many of our guests complimented the meal as well.

    The icing on the cake was that there was no icing on the cake. Instead, we requested that Chris make Bill’s wheat-free, corn-free, dairy-free chocolate cake recipe. And, of course, she improved it. It was her idea to bake it in a spring-form pan, which is how I’ve been making it ever since.

    Chris is a culinary artist. While her food sources are important to eaters like me—focused on happy food—it’s the way she prepares the food that brings out the artist in the chef. For example, while I was visiting she decided to make a cherry ginger coriander marinade for the duck breast she would be serving that night.

    The idea for the ingredients was inspired by the memory of a Pinot Noir that she had tasted in California recently. Inspired by a memory of taste! That’s like a musician who hears a melody and plays by ear. Chris’ approach to cooking is an artistic one, beyond what can be learned or experienced in culinary school.
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