Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sweets from Trees: Naturally Harvested Organic Maple Syrup

In the Northwest, mouthwatering berries {and sunshine!} haven't yet emerged to cheer our plates and hearts, and February's glut of Valentine's chocolate is kindly in the past...but take heart ~ now's just the time for sweetness that comes from humble trees.

"The season of sugar-making came when the first crow appeared. This happened about the beginning or middle of March, while there was yet snow on the ground. This period of the season was looked forward to with great interest, and, as among the Minnesota Ojibwa today, became a holiday for everybody. Each female head of a household had her own sugar hut, built in a locality abounding in maple trees which might or might not have been convenient to her camp, but which was the place always resorted to by her, and claimed by right of decent through her mother's family and totem."
~ A European American's observation from 1896
As referenced in Jessica Prentice's delightful book, Full Moon Feast.
See her Sap Moon chapter for 13 traditional, unrefined sources of sweetness.


I took a vicarious field trip last weekend, when a good friend living in Boston told me over the phone about her adventures "sugaring" in Vermont. She recently drove north for a regional festival where small farms, producing anywhere from handfuls to hundreds of gallons, displayed their wares and offered delicious samples of maply-goodness.

Her stories reminded me that those small scale production operations can be a true labor of love.

The trees are tapped

They bleed their sap

And a diligent farmer must tend a boiling vat,
until the water evaporates to leave a golden syrup

For any of you in the Portland area interested in cooking with this high quality sweetener, Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen has made arrangements for sourcing "Certified organic maple syrup from Michigan and Wisconsin. Amish made, using horse power for collection and wood fire for the evaporation process."

The syrup will be available for pickup in NE Portland in early April; orders & payment due by the end of the month.

In the meantime, you may also enjoy this post that speaks to seasonal eating and sweetener choices: A Celebration Every Day: Sap Moon

Hope to see you at April's Food Group, where we'll be chatting about bulk buying (like...stocking up on syrup when it's in season?) and exchanging kitchen stories from the past month...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

April's Food Group: Azure Standard and Buying in Bulk

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "buying in bulk"? Perhaps you think of the bins at your local grocery store. Maybe the packs of GA-zillions of rolls of toilet paper from Costco come to mind. Or perhaps, the packages of ramen noodles leftover from Y2K. Well, toss your old ramen and your pre-conceived notions about bulk buying out the window because we are hosting a practical and resourceful Food Group devoted to buying in bulk!

Our discussion will center around Azure Standard, as it is our main source for buying and splitting bulk pantry staples, but we will cover a variety of local bulk buying opportunities for your benefit. Since becoming a drop point for Azure Standard in October, many of you have expressed interest in participating but don't know where to begin. We are passionate about like-minded people pulling resources together to help one another save money on healthy food. With this in mind, we decided to devote an entire Food Group to the how's, why's and where's of buying in bulk.

{Allison and Bethany with some Azure goodies, hot off the semi truck}

Discussion will include:

  • Setting up an Azure account
  • Navigating the Azure website
  • Tips on what to buy and how to store it
  • Seasonal planning and budgeting for buying in bulk
  • Resources for a variety of group buying opportunities
Whether you are interested in buying in bulk but don't know where to start, or you have years of experience to contribute and are looking for a few new resources, we'd love to have you join April's Food Group.

Wednesday, April 6th, 7:00 p.m.
Emily's Home, 78th and Burnside, PDX

Food Group is FREE, so bring a snack, bring a friend and join us for an evening of conversation and food camaraderie!

~Emily and Bethany

Food for Thought: Writing or Reinventing The Wheel?

{Photo Credit}

The creativity and pluck of humanity is a beautiful thing, especially exhibited in words scrawled on paper or neatly formatted through keystrokes and mouse clicks.

But sometimes this internet storm of 24/7 information begs the question:

Why Write (More)?

In browsing the food and farming and sustainability stories that wend their way through my Twitter and Facebook feeds and email subscriptions during a given week, I'm often simultaneously inspired and overwhelmed.

So much to learn. So much to try. So much to be tested and pondered.

So much already written.

Here at Sustainable Food for Thought, the answer to "Why Write?" is fairly straightforward:

Sustainable Living grows from the dynamism of thought + action.

We write to share ideas and encourage friends in the community to live a considered life, to try new things, and to think more critically about the hows and whys of our food systems. Often, posts are extensions of the themes we explore in Food Group, and at times, they are resources and recipes that we've enjoyed and want to pass along to you.

I'm harder pressed to find an answer to the question: "Why Write More?"

The volume of information in this digital age is a double-edge sword. It can fan the flame of curiosity and learning, but it can likewise deflate readers by the sheer burden of new ideas and steal joy from writers who give up precious hours simply for the sake of "posting."

I've grown to realize, writing the internet's umpteenth overview of how to stretch farm raised roasting chickens into several meals may not be the best use of time when there are so many other fabulous examples already available. (Even though I've enjoyed taking pictures of my precious chicken in its various states at various mealtimes and filing away the mental snippets to someday post.)

Today, I am reminded of the simplicity of sharing. 

Of pointing you in the directions of inspiration rather than reinventing the wheel.

I often bookmark articles to share. I have a mental list a mile long of inspirations to pass on to all of you. At times, pulling them together to add to a larger post seems the best thing to do.

But today, no extras. Simply a smattering of beautiful, insightful, thought provoking links.

No need to write more when other authors scattered around blogs and newspapers and digital corners and library shelves have already eloquently compiled and presented their content.

Perhaps some of these finds will inspire you.

And perhaps they will fade from your attention and drift into internet history... 

In either case:


What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 1:9
Read and write and learn and live it out because you love it.
Not to keep up or to accomplish more for the sake of more.
But because something deeper calls out to you.
Because thoughts inspire you to action.

And I will try to do the same.


{ Food for Thought }
This Week's Links & Stories for Sustainable Living

Finding a Local Farmer ~ A Keeper of the Home Guest Post by Katie of Modern Alternative Momma

The Urban Farming Guys ~ A group doing great work to restore life to a decaying inner city through urban food production and community building.

Are Foodies Gluttons? ~ An interesting piece on the criticisms of Foodies' "inordenant preoccupation" with food vs. the efforts to call Americans to pay attention to their dinner plates and the nation's food policies.

Preservationists vs. Artisans
~ A post and ensuing discussion on the recent New York Times' controversial "D.I.Y. Cooking Handbook"

Relaxing the Rules for Small, Local Food Sellers ~ The piece also makes reference to Oregon's recent slew of bills (bills including the recent approval of home brewer to share their beverages off of their home property)

Winter Squash Smoothies ~ Two Frog Home's creative beverage - just in time for clearing out the last of the winter stores to make room for new Springtime Market finds.

DIY Green House ~ Inspiration for readers with space, from the ever elegant Crackers blog.

The Lexicon of Sustainability ~ Watch the 2:45 video for details on this education project.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Edible Landscaping: Growing Food in the Flower Bed

Preview: Sustainable Food for Thought's Guest Post at Frugal Granola.

{Photo Credit}

Add nutritious food to your dinner table


Give your yard a mini-makeover!

It's easier that you may think to reap the
benefits of color, nutrition, and stylish design.

Too overloaded to take on a brand new vegetable garden? Bored with your ho-hum yard? Did you know you can add zest to your existing landscape by bringing the color and texture of home-grown foods directly into your existing flower beds?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

{Books on the Shelf} What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets

What do you eat on an average day?

Where does your food come from?

How do you prepare it?

A bit ago, I shared my discovery of a great book by husband and wife traveling photographer/writer duo, Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio:

I found their feast for the eyes and mind at my local library, and inspired by that first read, I quickly placed a hold on their more recent 2010 publication:

After waiting patiently for months as I crept higher and higher on the library's list, I finally got my hands on a copy, and now that I've taken my time perusing its fabulous pages, I thought I'd share the inspiration with you.

Part Lonely Planet Travel book, part sociology commentary, part essay collection featuring such authors as Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry, What I Eat breaks down the daily diet of 80 individuals with caloric intake ranging from 800 calories in drought ridden Kenya to 12,300 calories in the well stocked suburbs of Great Britain.

With a forward by Marion Nestle and a lovely passage of "Collective Wisdom" on eating supplied by recognizable figures as varied as Mark Bittman, Francis Coppola, Jack LaLanne, and Alice Waters, the book sets out with the reminder that everyone eats. Food choices, sources, and customs play into the daily nourishment of our bodies, and the geographical exploration of diet, habit, and health puts in a new light the food we consume each and every day.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks & Other: Categories of food consumed, listed by type and quantity. The month of the year is noted, and explanations made for seasonal differences in diet.

Beautiful photos and engaging text reveal Italian Friars, Israeli Rabbis, Egyptian Businessmen, Brazilian Fisherman, Tibetan Monks, Japanese Sumo Wrestlers, American Models, Icelandic Fisherman, Namibian Pastoralists, German Brewers, and Spanish Shepherds classified by age, height, and weight, with occupation and daily meals detailed for all to see.

The book comes to a fitting close with Wendell Berry's The Pleasures of Eating, a favorite essay reminding us all:

Eating "is an agricultural we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used." - Participate in food production - Prepare your own food - Learn the origins of the food you buy - Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer - Learn as much as you can about the economy and technology of industrial food production

I encourage you to get your hands on a copy and take an armchair tour of the world and its beautiful people, diverse diets, and amazing resources.

Excellent Food for Thought.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

March Food Group: Planning Your Kitchen Garden

Our March Food Group was canceled due to a family emergency, however the seed swap will be held during April's meeting, and the outline and resources from the event are shared below. You are invited to chime in down in the comments section for additional discussion, and we'll put out the call for double the homemade treats in April to make up for missing homemade goodies this month!

Planning Your Garden ~ What to Grow & Where to Grow It

{SE Portland front yard kitchen garden circa 2009}

What level of gardener would call yourself?

Your heart's in the right place
But your hands have never been in the soil

Green Thumb
You have dirt under your fingernails
And a few growing seasons under your belt

Garden Graduate
You've been harvesting veggies year after year
Now you're ready for new challenges

{ Food for Thought }

Which vegetables and herbs to you most often purchase at the market?

Think about your favorite recipes and seasonal dishes and the average number of times you grab a particular type of produce and put it in your basket. Would you rather buy New Seasons' organic cilantro imported from California for $1.49 a bunch, week after week, or harvest home grown cilantro all season long for the one-time cost of seed or starts?

What inputs go in to producing those crops?
What types of chemicals, labor, fuel for transportation, etc. are in play?

Do you know where those inputs come from, how they're created and funded? Do you have a sense of the sociological, ecological, and nutritional impacts?

What amount of trade off in time and effort would you be willing to invest for the opportunity to harvest those same foods from your own garden?

Be realistic; be educated. Even if you're not able to daily tend a 40'x40' plot out in the country, ask yourself which few crops would make the biggest impact to your food budget bottom line and which reasonable next step would be right for you. For those crops that you're unable to grow yourself, remember to use your dollars to support sustainable sources (small scale producers, farmers markets, CSAs).

{ What to Grow }

Seed catalogs & nursery sales are calling: what will you cultivate this year?

{Organic garden starts available at the Portland Farmers Market}


Get your fingers dirty for the first time and focus on growing a few easy crops (lettuce, beans, peas, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchini, corn, strawberries) ~ perhaps avoid finicky carrots or overly needy heads of cauliflower.

Reward yourself with the gratification of color: string up a line and grow my favorite, Purple Podded Pole Beans. Plant a patch of edible flowers like borage and nasturtiums and liven up your salads for the rest of the year.

Choose when to buy starts versus seeds. Tip: when you're not bothering with cold frames and greenhouses and basement grow lights, buy hot weather, long season plants as starts to get a jump on Oregon's shorter growing seasons - tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc.

A quick kitchen garden jump start: plant your first herb garden to have fresh sprigs on hand and to reduce pricey purchases of minuscule bundles packaged in excess plastic and labels. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme are popular for a reason.

Don't plant too early: remember that crazy Oregon frosts come rolling in long after the calendar says "springtime." Check for the region's last frost date before you set your tender little seeds and starts out to live a life on their own. Mother's Day was always our family's rule of thumb for safe vegetable garden planting in the Willamette Valley.

Green Thumb

Ready to extend the savings and the rewards? Push the growing seasons.

Stop buying starts at the nursery. Consider sowing seeds indoors well before the last frost date so that you're ahead of the game once the springtime weather is ready to place nice. Beware of what not to grow (for example, beans do not transplant well), but be encouraged by the possibility of harvesting your own melons well before the autumn rains kick in.

Add cooler weather crops to your planting mix (greens like kale and chard, garlic, and cover crops like clover to enrich your soil fertility during the slower seasons).

Introduce perennial plants into your garden (rhubarb, asparagus, artichokes, berry vines); these edibles will grow in place year after year and can become foundational elements of your garden's layout and design.

Use companion plantings to aid with pest control, soil fertility, and crop yields. Handy chart.

Garden Graduate

Eliminate the need to purchase seeds
altogether! Plant seeds saved from previous seasons' heirloom varieties which will grow true to type. Build your own seed library and swap with other gardeners. (See notes below for details on the Portland Seed Library.)

Take on new cultivation challenges
: Meyer lemons, limes, blood oranges, kumquats, feijoas, etc. (See a recent Portland foodie's article on growing Mandarin oranges.)

Supplement locavore meals with home grown and home brewed beverages:
Grow your own green tea (Camellia sinensis is available from Territorial Seeds)
Grow your own hops for home brewed beer
Grow your own sweet flowering herbs for making sparkling beverages (try Jessica Prentice's hibiscus and rose hip soda, yarrow ale, or lemon verbena ale from Full Moon Feast)

{ Where to Grow It }

Think about your available space and its proximity to the kitchen, water sources, and sunlight. Pay attention to soil health.

{Vestal Community Garden garden plot circa early 2010}


Just starting? Try a few pots on your balcony, stoop, or windowsill. The larger the better for keeping moisture in the soil and giving ample room for roots.

Balance your potting soil mix with additional compost in order to ensure enough soil density to support strong root growth (especially important for taller, heavier plants like tomatoes). Any friendly neighborhood garden center will point you in the right direction for healthy, organic soils.

Siting tips: if you're surrounded by shade, focus on root vegetables and and leafy greens. If you're blessed with plenty of sun, put in more of the plants that require the sunshine to fully develop large, colorful fruits (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers).

Green Thumb

Ready to move beyond the bounds of pots?

Consider gardening in your yard: remove an area of lawn and build up the soil. Plant edibles among your flower beds (be certain you're using herbicide and pesticide free gardening methods).

Construct raised beds for ease of soil building, of maintenance, and harvesting.

Interested in more growing space and opportunity to rub shoulders with your neighbors? Investigate the Community Garden plots available near you and jump on a waiting list or start a local effort.

Garden Graduate

Ready to take on multi-seasonal planning? With a little strategic forethought and effort, crop rotation zones will push your garden toward optimal soil health and higher yields.

You guide the formation of ecosystems when you plant your garden. To introduce a higher diversity of soil-living microorganisms, balance the populations of beneficial (and non-beneficial!) insects, and build the overall soil structure, move the location of certain types of plants from one growing season to the next.

To learn more, browse Julie Day's Crop Rotation Made Easy and the No Dig Vegetable Garden.

{ What Next? }

Local Seed and Start Sources:

Great Books to Have on Hand:
Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades

Helpful Web Resources:
Planting a Vegetable Garden by Rod Smith
Oregon State University Extension Service Gardening Encyclopedia
OSU Planting Guidelines

Hands On Learning Opportunities:

**Note: Although we weren't able to meet in person for Food Group, Bethany W. provided a few great resources over email to share with the gr0up:

Borrow (and return) Free Seeds from the Portland Seed Library and seed saving project. "We had a seed swap there this past weekend and I can tell you with certainty there is no need for anyone in the Portland area to buy carrot, spinach, chinese cabbage or orach seeds! [There] are plenty of other seeds too but there is an excess of these and some others due to a mammoth donation from a seed company and since they won't last forever we are really trying to get people to take them." See the Seed Ambassadors Project e-zine for more news and updates.**

Remember, gardeners are a friendly bunch - grow something new, ask questions, learn along the way, and celebrate serving up the fruits of your labor...

{Garden Fresh Produce = Joyful Meals}

"If you've never experienced the joy
of accomplishing more than you can imagine,
plant a garden."
~Robert Brault

Again, so sorry to have missed the company and good food for our March Food Group. Hopefully the ideas outlined here will be a helpful jumping off point as we all begin to plan our springtime plantings. Be sure to bring seeds and stories for swapping at our April Food Group ~ and feel free to share discussions below in the meantime...



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