Nose to the Earth


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When I became a farm hand on a CSA farm many years ago, I was hoping to befriend food in a new way.  I had a slight idea that I wanted to become a professional cook but I wanted to approach my food education in a deliberately roundabout way.  It seemed like the right thing to do to, to get dirty and sunny and put my nose to the earth, rather than sit under the fluorescent lighting of an urban culinary classroom.

I am lucky in that I don’t usually chew on regret, but in the case of my farm experience, I really can’t fathom not having done it.  It’s paid me back in so many ways over the years.  It certainly brought me closer to understanding the life of food and that real food does have a life and complexity of its own and with that wisdom I became a better, more sympathetic and conscientious cook.  All that to say that I urge you to do what so many do this time of year, GROW YOUR OWN FOOD.  Once you do, even a tomato plant or two to start, you’ll gain some of that wisdom too.  (Not to mention that food from your own garden tastes better, costs far less and is nutritionally superior to produce from the grocery store.)

If you can’t grow your own food sign up for a CSA share.  Go to the local harvest website and easily find a CSA farm in your area.  Or, if you’re still craving a backyard garden plot but you’re short on time or shy about beginning your own, there is a local business called A Backyard Farm that will build and maintain a plot for you in your own yard.  How grand is that?

Of course there is always your local farmers market where you can find plenty of fresh and local produce.  If you’re like me and live in St. Paul you can head down to the St. Paul Farmers Market and be dazzled at how impressive this market is.  (I’ll mention that you cannot pass up the still-warm, savory empanadas at  the Toast to Bread booth or the new gelato stand that uses local and seasonal ingredients.  Yum!)  And here’s something altogether unusual and clever, a new urban organic U-Pick and CSA farm right in my neighborhood called City Backyard Farming LLC where you can also reap local, organic produce.

Grow your own food is still my regular message (which also tends to rub up against my own Just Get Cooking campaign).  But if you just can’t find the time, it is comforting to know that there are a few other decent avenues to link you to delicious, local and seasonal foods.

Finally, one question I hear time and again in my classes is which fruits and vegetables are most important to buy organic and are most vulnerable to and most compromised by pesticides and other chemicals.  It’s a good question, and although I always encourage buying organic in general the reality is that many folks, especially those new to buying organic foods feel they can’t always afford to do so.  Via the Simple, Good, and Tasty blog, I found Dr. Andrew Weil’s Guide to Pesticides: Dirty Dozen.  A great resource; something to print out and keep on the fridge or to keep in your wallet when you’re contemplating what to buy in the produce section.

Alright, here is a strange and wonderful recipe I found on the Chocolate and Zucchini blog site, which is based on, I believe, a Harold McGee recipe. Rembember that pesto can be made with almost any leafy green.  A great way to use up all those green tops of yours.  Enjoy!

Radish Leaf Pesto

– 2 large handfuls of good-looking radish leaves, stems removed
– 30 grams (1 ounce) hard cheese, such as pecorino or parmesan, grated or shaved using a vegetable peeler
– 30 grams (1 ounce) nuts, such as pistachios, almonds, or pinenuts (avoid walnuts, which make the end result too bitter in my opinion)
– 1 clove garlic, germ removed, cut in four
– a short ribbon of lemon zest cut thinly from an organic lemon with a vegetable peeler (optional)
– 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to get the consistency you like
– salt, pepper, ground chili pepper

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender or mini-chopper, and process in short pulses until smooth. You will likely have to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. This produces a thick pesto; add more oil and pulse again to get the consistency you prefer. (This can also be done with a mortar and pestle; it’s great for your karma and your triceps.)

Taste, adjust the seasoning, and pack into an airtight container (I use a recycled glass jar). Use within a few days (it will keep longer if you pour a thin layer of oil on the surface) or freeze.