Eating: Pasta e Fagioli

Thursday, December 31st, 2009
Nothing like a comforting bowl of soup using your harvest's vegetables

Nothing like a comforting bowl of soup using your harvest's vegetables

I think soup is an almost perfect food.

In one pot you can create endless variations that can result in hearty, stick-to-your-ribs winter fare or light, frothy, heat-quenchers for summer. The former was what I went for last week. The combination of colder-than-normal temperatures and a need to make some room in the freezer had me hunting for a soup recipe utilizing chard (another marvellous thing about soup is the way you can really cram in those vegetables). I decided to make Pasta e Fagioli, loosely basing it on a recipe from ‘Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant’.

  • Saute 1 chopped onion, 2 sliced carrots, and 2 sliced celery stalks in some oil in a large pot.
  • When the onion starts to turn translucent, add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of rosemary.
  • Saute a couple of minutes before adding 3/4 lb. chard (mostly leaves) and cook until wilted.
  • Add a 28-oz. can of tomatoes and a 15-oz. can of chickpeas with liquid. Also add about 4 cups of water.
  • I had some pre-cooked turkey sausage that needed to be used so I chopped it up and added it to the soup at this point. An alternative that I made the other day was, instead of the sausage, I put in 1/2 lb. of frozen bush beans.
  • Salt to taste – I used a couple of teaspoons. Lots of black pepper.
  • Simmer gently, covered, for about a half hour.
  • I had some leftover spinach lasagna noodles that I sliced up and put in the bottom of each soup bowl but you can cook up any chunky pasta you have (cook it seperately or, even easier, throw the dry pasta into the pot with along with the tomatoes, beans, and water). A little grating of parmesan cheese and some toast made from a country loaf topped it off.

Soup is such a basic food but, as I said, has many variations. I’d love to hear some of yours…

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Adding It Up

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
My $20 essential garden tool

My $20 essential garden tool

I’ve often wondered whether my kitchen gardens were worth it – financially, I mean.  There’s no denying the physical and mental payoff but am I really saving any money on our grocery bills?  This year, the first year of this garden, I decided to find out.  I bought a scale and measured all the produce that came out of the garden…well, I attempted to, but we tend to eat our peas straight off the vine while admiring our maintenance efforts, and my husband tends to pull a radish or two while he’s working in the garage so I probably missed a pound or two.  I think I got most of it tallied, however, and here are the results of my 187 sq. ft. of growing space (not including my container garden of herbs).*

  • Basil  1.75 lbs @ $4.00/lb = $7.00
  • Beans  6.75 lbs @ $6.49/lb = $43.81
  • Beets  8 lbs @ $1.99/lb = $15.92
  • Carrots  3.25 lbs @ $1.20/lb = $3.90
  • Cilantro  1 lb @ $4.00/lb = $4.00  (I also let the cilantro go to seed so I could harvest coriander but since I haven’t finished that yet, I haven’t included it in my calculations.)
  • Cucumber  4.25 lbs @ $3.99/lb = $16.96
  • Peas  7 lbs @ $3.99/lb = $27.93
  • Peppers (Jalapeno and Hungarian Wax Banana)  1 lb @ $6.99/lb = $6.99
  • Radishes  2 lbs @ $4.98/lb = $9.96
  • Rainbow Chard  32.25 lbs @ $4.11/lb = $132.55
  • Salad Greens  4 lbs @ $5.99/lb = $23.96
  • Spinach  7.5 lbs @ $5.98/lb = $44.85
  • Tomatoes  48.5 lbs @ $3.29/lb = $159.57

The grand total comes to $497.40!  But wait…there’s more!

  • Canned Tomato Sauce  7 jars @ $5.59/jar = $39.13

Now the total is $536.53!  But before I get too excited, I also need to calculate how much I spent on the garden to put it in.  I decided not to include the $50 rental of the sodcutter since that will get pro-rated down to pennies by the time we move from here, ditto for the small bits of irrigation tubes, and I couldn’t figure out how to calculate the water usage, so that’s not included either.

  • Liquid Seaweed Fertilizer  1/2 a bottle @ $23.90 ea = $11.95
  • Canning Jars 7 @ $0.83 ea = $5.83
  • Bulk Compost 1 cu. yd. @ $50/cu. yd. = $50
  • Seeds and Plants (I had to make a guess because I used seeds from last year’s purchase) = about $100

Estimate for garden investment is $167.78.

That means my garden saved us about $368.75 in grocery bills for three months – or 1 sq. ft. produced almost $2 worth of food.  I don’t know where that falls in the criteria of a successful garden but I’m happy with that.  For a new garden that got put in in a hurry, I think we did pretty well.  Once we get the compost system up and running, start applying some xeriscaping techniques, start my own transplants, and do some seed-saving, I’ll be able to knock the costs down further.

This was an interesting exercise to do – knowing exactly how much I’m saving makes my food taste even better.  

*The dollar figures were obtained from my local grocery store and are for organically grown produce only (and much of it is Canadian grown).

Something To Chew On

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I encountered this lecture on TED.  Do you know about this online lecture series?  Every once in a while, when I feel my brain beginning to rot from too much TV, and there’s nothing good on CBC Radio, this is my last resort.  I can usually find something fascinating or funny to watch, and sometimes, as was the case with Carolyn Steel, learn something completely new to me.

Carolyn Steel at TED

I think what particularly struck me about her talk was how severed our connection is with the food production process.  Animals used to be butchered almost at our urban front door but once the railway came into use, we didn’t have to see that part of the eating process anymore and we lost a little more of the connection that helps us to value our food and the effort that goes into creating it.  But can you imagine all those hordes of poultry and livestock coming into a city?  It seems impossible to think of in a time and place when urban residents have to fight just to raise a few chickens in the backyard, and bringing in a herd of goats to chew down some noxious weeds is considered a revolutionary idea!