Wheat Berries for Breakfast

January 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

Wheat berries. Never heard of them? Neither had I, until I came across them as an ingredient in a course-grained whole wheat bread recipe (more on that bread another day). And now, they’re a special breakfast treat.

Wheat berries with raisins, slivered almonds and apple cider.

Wheat berries with raisins, slivered almonds and apple cider.

How did they go from bread to breakfast? When I spotted them in the Amy’s Bread cookbook recipe I read up a bit on this whole grain. According to Wikipedia, “wheat berry” is just another term for the whole wheat kernel. Silly me, I thought they looked familiar. As a farm kid, I had wheat kernels end up in pant cuffs, socks and occasionally other locations on my person after a day on the wheat combine. If milled instead of left whole, the wheat berries become wheat flour. And as we know, grains left whole are good for you because none of the nutrients are processed out of the grain. Keeping it whole leaves all that good-for-you protein, fiber and iron (and I’m sure other good things) right in that wheat berry for your health and flavor enjoyment.

The whole wheat berry as an ingredient in bread gives the bread some chewy texture—something to bite into other than just the bread.  They’re also a bit sweet and nutty in flavor—a great thing when used not just in breads, but also when added to salad greens or made into a grain-based dish.

My course-grained bread recipe called for just a 1/2 cup of cooked wheat berries with a half-cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Wanting to have some extra on hand, I added one cup of uncooked berries  to about 2.5-3 cups boiling water, then let it simmer, mostly covered, for about 50 minutes. The result was about 2 cups of plump wheat berries and surprisingly just enough liquid.

The berries that didn’t make it into the bread made it into my breakfast bowl. Taking a cue from my typical steel-cut oats preparation, these berries received some raisins (highly recommend the jumbo raisin mix from Trader Joe’s) and slivered almonds. And to plump up the raisins while warming in the microwave, I added enough apple cider to come nearly to the surface of the wheat berries. Soul-satisfyingly delicious. And it filled my belly. I even slurped from last juices from the bowl.

I would love to try wheat berries in a savory application and have seen a recipe or two pairing them with mushrooms. If you have any recommendations—either savory or sweet—please leave me a comment below.

And now that I know my family has a barn full of these wheat berries at home, I think I’ll bring home a great big bag of them next time I visit.

Why and when this vegetarian believes it’s ethical to eat meat

April 8, 2012 § 5 Comments

This is a little something I sent to the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist column in response to their query about why it’s ethical to eat meat. Yes, I am currently a vegetarian. No, I don’t believe it’s unethical to eat meat. It’s all about the how and where and … well, read on to get a real idea of where I stand on this. And please keep in mind, I’m not advocating one way or the other and for no one else but me. Comments? Leave ’em below!

I was 4, and I accompanied my oldest brother to a duck farm. He was delivering a load of hay to be used as bedding for the local two-legged citizenry, and I was just along for the ride. The bales were unloaded and we drove toward the gate. We slowed as we rounded the corner and spotted a bright-yellow baby duckling against the brick-red barn. The trouble was the roll of chicken fencing the little guy was stuck behind. We stopped, liberated the fluffball, and brought him home. I named him Grover.

We kept Grover in a pen by the sandbox. Each day as I stepped off the bus from kindergarten I would bound toward the pen, shove fistfuls of lawn toward him, study the quick thrusts of his neck. As a rule, ducks aren’t the cuddliest of pets, but for a kid, they’re alright.

It’ll come as no surprise to you that one day, Grover wasn’t in his pen to greet me. And it will also come as no surprise that later the same week an odd-looking, all-dark-meat chicken appeared on the dinner table. It was another brother—one who is still not my favorite—who broke the news. I remember the tears; no sound, just tears rolling down my cheeks. Mom got up, opened the freezer, and took out a package of hot dogs.

Growing up on a farm, this is what happens. Animals are named. Pets are killed. Portions of pork and beef and lamb are carved from their bodies, wrapped in crisp, white butcher paper, then “Bucky” or “Victor” and the date are penned on the package. Their flavors are contemplated as their diets are recalled and discussed. “Did we feed Bucky too many potato peelings?”

Grover was my indoctrination into this culture. A farm girl has to learn.

Forty years later I am a vegetarian. The psychological root of this is not due to my childhood pet being served to me on dinner plate. In fact, I do not eat meat because I don’t know who is on my plate. Who has touched that ham? Where did she live, what did she eat? This is not a creature with whom I am familiar, and because of that, I cannot take the animal into me. I can’t.

Four years ago I stopped eating pork. Years before I had given up beef and other red meat, and I have since stopped eating poultry (except for the Thanksgiving turkey, I admit). But pork, that was a big thing. And I gave it up with this caveat: I will not eat pork until I can raise the pig myself. (I have since tacked on the other meats.) I will once again know the what and where and when of the who that is on my plate.

The why or why not of the ethics of eating meat is irrelevant. We cannot feed our population unless meat is provided. On a societal level, meat must be a part of this American culture. And this holds true for numerous cultures and their circumstances.

The statement “eating meat is ethical” is one that can only be made by an individual, and with qualifications. For this vegetarian, eating meat is ethical if I know who it is and approve of how it was treated.

When I was 16, one of our female Muskovies died a horrible death: She drowned in a mud puddle while a male…ahem…did his business with her. My parents chose not to serve her for dinner. They clearly knew which side of ethical this duck died on.

copyright Ellen C. Wells, 2012

Fall’s First Frost Predicted: How to Prepare

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I listen to the local news as part of my morning ritual. But, most days I head online if I want to learn about the weather, even though sassy JC Monahan just gave me the five-day forecast five minutes ago.

My memory is a sieve when it comes to the weather. Except … when frost is predicted. It’s been a whole five hours since I heard this morning’s news, and I can still remember JC predicted frost will be in the air for Worcester County and western Massachusetts this evening. Thanks to being a “heat island” with all our brick and pavement, Boston proper will make it only down into the low 40s.

Whew.

I eased up on my fall-harvest plantings this year, but I still do have a few summer stragglers hanging on. Of what’s left, this is what will and won’t like temperatures in the low 40s:

early October zucchini

itty bitty zucchini

Zucchini/squash: Not a good year for them and they are not beefy enough to deal with temps too much colder than the low 50s. Hey, I had zucchini up until November last year. Maybe a quick one-night of 40s will be fine.

early October tomatoes

Oh, so sad.

Tomatoes: I have just two plants left and neither look great. It’s just cruel of me to keep them hangin’ on. Absolutely cruel, like pulling wings off flies. But I do it to see how far they can go.

early October carrots

Carrots - they'll be just fine.

Carrots: They’ll be just fine for a long time yet, thanks to that insulating layer of soil.

last of the season's basil

There it is - the rest of the season's basil.

Basil: Aaaaccckkk!!!!! I better go harvest that asap. It definitely won’t survive. It doesn’t even like my fridge set much below 45.

Snail-along

ick.

ps – this little guy is why it’s important to inspect your harvest before you bring it in your home – we had a few snails crawling on the walls in our fridge one morning …

early October leeks

Leeks: I have a good batch of leeks going this year. VERY excited about them. They’ll hang on for a good long time yet. I won’t have to worry about them until November or so. At that time I will try to mount them with as much soil as possible. I could be lucky enough to harvest leeks in January if I work it right.

early October jalepenos

We have jalepenos??

Jalepenos: We have jalepenos??

early October broccoli

Broccoli: It’s lovin’ this time of year.

early October chard

Chard: Back in mid August I pulled up all of my chard. Or so I thought. On a few of the smaller plants I pulled the biggest leaves off, leaving the small runts behind. A Well, wouldn’t you know but I have a batch of chard ready to go.

early October beets

The beets are so excited, they are pushing themselves outta the ground.

Beets: Happy as clams in this weather. And I have a lot of them. I’ll be harvesting them two by two for the rest of the month. I still have a whole jar of pickled beets in the fridge—maybe I need to make another.

If your ears have perked up with the sounding of the “frost predicted tonight” alarm, in all likelihood you’ll have a light frost, one that will damage only the most sensitive summer veggies in your garden. If you’re so inclined, try these techniques to help them survive a little bit longer:

-While the sun is still out, break out that old set of sheets you never use anymore and cover the most sensitive plants. The sheets will act light a light coat and keep the temps slightly elevated underneath as the soil gives off heat. Remove those covers the next day—it could really heat up under there. Plus, your neighbors will start talking about you.

Don’t have extra sheets or plant covers?

-As evening sets in, turn a hose on and water down the summer-loving veggies—the leaves, stems, fruit, etc.—and also the soil around the plants. The water around the foliage will freeze first or give up its heat first (it’s physics). Same with the moist soil.

Maybe with the temperatures climbing in the 80s starting tomorrow, I’ll be lucky enough to have some homegrown zucchini for next week’s Homegrown Food Challenge.

 

Can’t Do Vegan? Vegan-ish is Doable

October 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Interesting article in the Boston Globe this morning about how, for some (many, actually) being vegan is easier said than done.

No kidding. I would never, ever suggestion doing it cold turkey (cold tofurky?). If you’re going to give up all animal products, I don’t suggest doing it after a night of burger binging.

Why all the interest in becoming vegan?

  • It’s trendy. Just like chocolate-covered bacon is trendy. The interest will pass.
  • Hollywood stars are doing it—and they are losing weight. Look at that skinny guy from Spider Man. (Yo, you are way too skinny for a dude.)
  • “Meat” is bad for the environment. To the people who give that as a reason I say this: Put down the Big Mac, stop eating at the places where the Sysco truck stops, and go get yourself some meat raised locally and sustainably. Same goes for the McFish sandwich.
  • It’s better for your health. I’m no doctor, but from what I hear, I tend to agree that a diet with fewer animal products is likely better for you. For me, I feel better. Really. If you think about the way humans evolved, we “gathered” food – seeds, nuts, plants and such – until someone in the clan could come back with a mastodon. Then it was eaten slowly over a period of time. I.e. they didn’t gorge themselves on mastodon and then go out and get a double mastodon with special sauce and a super-sized side of fries. HOWEVER, there’s certain vitamins and nutrients you need and gain easily from a diet that includes meat and dairy. No meat and dairy? You have to work a little harder at obtaining those nutrients. And, popping pills isn’t the best way to go about it.

I’ve written about being “veganish” before; i.e. two out of three meals without animal products (yes, fish are animals). I started this back in March or April, fell off the wagon a bit during the summer, and have started the veganish thing again about four weeks ago. And you know, it’s not all that difficult. I stick with a vegan breakfast and lunch and add some fish/dairy protein at dinner – a sensible addition of cheese to a dish, or some fish or shrimp. Last week I was about to eat my arm off before I could grab lunch – usually my indicator that I am in desperate need of protein – so I grabbed a boiled egg. I made up for it with a vegan dinner.

Longtime vegans will say I’m not a vegan. And they are absolutely right. I’m not.

On the other hand, some folks may say I’m not taking into account the environmental impact of raising animals or fishing the oceans, and the animal’s own welfare. And to that I say, I’m working on it. For example, we just signed up for a CSF share—that’s Community Supported Fisheries—through Cape Ann Fresh Catch. No more shrimp from Thailand. We’ll be supporting our local fishing industry. That means local communities and local people. And we are getting more and more localized when purchasing our dairy, too.

One last note: This whole veganish thing? Out the window once we get our farm and can raise the animals ourselves.

Your thoughts?

The Homegrown Food Challenge

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

Are you in for the Home Grown Food Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge, unless it involves deep sea diving or eating 62 hot dogs.

A few weeks ago, the folks at the Homegrown Food Challenge emailed me out of the blue with a request: Can I submit a recipe or two or three that Luke and Karen—founders of the Food Challenge—can prepare during their October-long commitment to eating locally sourced food? Sure! Absolutely! And what’s this challenge you’re talking about?

Luke and Karen tell their own story over at their blog, Sweet Local Farm. In a nutshell, they’re living the “modern-day back-to-the-land” lifestyle on three acres of farmland in the Pioneer Valley. They plant, they tend, they harvest, they cook. And what they can’t eat all at once, they put up for the winter by canning and freezing and pickling and storing in a lot of other ways.

Can I come live with you, Luke and Karen? Cuz that’s exactly what I want to do.

Last year, realizing they had buckets and buckets of a wide variety of food at this time of year, they challenged themselves eat only what they grew during the month of October. And what they didn’t grow themselves, they’d source locally.

This year, they are doing it again and encouraging others to join in. Not everybody has a 3-acre farm that can support them for the month, they know that. And they realize 31 days is a long time to commit to any challenge, let alone one that involves food.

The Homegrown Food Challenge, therefore, is nothing if not flexible. Only growing tomatoes and basil in your garden? That’s fine—commit to eating only locally sourced foods and hit up your neighborhood farmers markets. Can’t commit to a month? Then sign up for a week or a day. or hey, even one day a week. Point is, making the commitment to the Homegrown Food Challenge will get you thinking about a) where your food comes from, b) what food you’re going to eat, and c) how you’re going to get that food. You do realize that calling up Domino’s or Yum Phat and having your meal appear before you in 30 minutes or less is a modern-day miracle? And one that only a small portion of this world’s population has the luxury to partake in?

Think about your food, people!

Ahem … sorry for the rant. It was quick, though.

Back to the Challenge. Head on over to the Homegrown Food Challenge’s Facebook page and sign up whichever source and time frame works for you. Or, just mentally commit to it. Whatever you do, there’s gonna be some recipes on the page that you can turn to for inspiration. And I’m sure Luke and Karen will be posting about it over on Sweet Local Farm.

As for Dainty’s role in this … I’ll give you a heads up when Luke and Karen use one of the recipes I’ve submitted. And I’ll also direct you over there when one of their other recipes looks Daintilicious. I’m very pysched about it.

Jennifer and I have officially committed to one week of locally sourced food. And it’s not going to be this week. This takes some planning and rule making (and rule breaking)—we’ll keep you posted as to when that week occurs. And she doesn’t know it yet, but in addition to that one week, I’m also adding in one day of locally sourced food each week, which I hope to continue beyond October.

How are we preparing for the Challenge? Well, we’re coming up with guidelines, e.g. oils, vinegars, flour, lemons and limes don’t count. And we’re planning some meals. And we’re mapping out farmers markets. And we’re going out for dinner tonight.

Need some inspiration? I will be posting the three recipes I submitted to Luke this weekend. AND, I’ll post an awesomely superb spicy tomato soup recipe later today so you can hit the farmers market tomorrow morning with a shopping list in hand.

Are you in? Who’s with me?

What to Do With Kohlrabi?

September 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi, my garden's "Let's try something new" veggie for 2011.

Kohlrabi. German for cabbage turnip. English for “What the hell is this thing?”

Duh, I know what kohlrabi is. It’s a member of the brassica clan, i.e. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussell’s sprouts, etc. All the brassica veggies are basically the same plant. One’s leaves form a head, one green florets, one really floppy outer leaves, one’s stem produces tiny head at the axillary buds. And in the case of kohlrabi, the stem swells up to the size of an ostrich egg.

Careful now, Dainty. You’re showing your botanical geek side. Calm down. Calm down.

I’ve never grown it before. Dad and the farm didn’t grow it either. But this year I bought a 6-pack of kohlrabi transplants as my “Let’s try something new” experiment. Why not, right? You only live once. Might as well grow some kohlrabi.

As you can see, my six transplants turned into 3 harvestable (barely) knobby things. One didn’t make it through the transplanting. One actually grew into broccoli. Note to self: Don’t buy transplants from the store again – your transplants labeled zucchini were actually yellow squash and the purple eggplant turned out to be white. As for the last transplant – no idea what happened to that, I lost track of it. Oh, well.

Anyway, so I’m here with three kohlrabi. One looks pretty good. One turned into the funniest looking kohlrabi ever – I expect my award in the mail any day now – and one looks like it’s been sitting in the hydrator a little longer than it should (true, every word).

And I have no idea what to do with them. Oh, sure, I’ve Googled. Saute it like broccoli stems. Cube. Puree. Middle Eastern and Indian dish galore have found their way into my searches. But I’m stuck. Folks, I’m at a loss. Indecision is a horrible thing.

So, dear Daintyites, , I’m looking to you for suggestions. Any ideas? Anyone? If you have a recipe – any recipe at all – please leave a comment below. I may need to hit the farm stands and gather up more of this brazen brassica.

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad

August 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I was a kid, my father would get a little stir crazy in winter and he’d do the worst thing a man with a 1-acre garden could do: Sit for hours with the Johnny’s Select Seed catalog. Fathers don’t get giddy as a rule, but I swear my dad would get as giddy as any school girl when the … um, somewhat large and heavy … box arrived. Sure, some of the seeds were for the farm: Seeds for 100 combined acres of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkins are a bit heavy. But then there were the items destined for our garden. Corn. Watermelon. Tomatoes. Peppers. Cucumbers. Zucchini. Squash. Yum. Yum.

But then … then there were the despised seeds: Peas and lima beans. And I swear, every single seed of those two crops came up and produced a bounty. Bleck and ugh … I really don’t like peas and lima beans. Really. Don’t. Like.

The worst part, really, and I don’t know how many of you can relate … the worst part was having to help my mother shell the bushels and bushels of pods these horrid plants would produce. You know how big a bushel is, right? It’s a lot. And now picture lots of lots. And having to take one lima bean pod or one pea pod, slicing it down lengthwise with your thumb nail, and then cajoling each pea or bean out of its home with said finger and into a pan. Pans and pans and pans of peas and beans. And Mom would blanch these mounds and mounds of peas and beans, put them into little plastic baggies, put the baggies in boxes, put the boxes in the freezers (yes, we had multiple freezers to store multiple upon multiple boxes), and then those boxes would come out of the freezer in the deepest, darkest of winter and end up on our plates. And then after dinner Dad would get out his Johnny’s Select Seed catalog and order more for the coming spring …

I really hate peas and lima beans. Really.

What did I find myself doing yesterday pre-lunch during my vacation? Shelling beans. Not a bushel, thankfully; just a gallon ziplock’s worth. The beans in question we grew in our garden this summer. No, not peas and not limas.They are Vermont cranberry beans. Beautiful pink and red speckly things. Gorgeous, really. No, I didn’t snap a pic pre-cooking. Sorry. But yes, we grew them this year—my garden plot neighbor has been growing them for years and loves loves loves them. Easy to grow. I’d tell you more about how to grow them except … well, okay, I’ll tell you. Sow the seeds about 2 inches apart in a row. Water. They will emerge. They’ll keep growing if you keep watering. I can’t even recall if I had to fertilize. It’s seriously that easy, people.

And the process at the other end of the line is just as simple, and way way way delicious. So very not a lima bean.

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad  from Epicurious.com)

Serves 4

  •    1 1/2 pounds fresh cranberry beans in pods
  •    2 tablespoons salt
  •    1/4 cup evoo
  •    1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  •    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves
  •    ground black pepper

– Shell beans and place in a saucepan of boiling salted water. Salt the water! That way the beans really take in the flavor.Unfortunately, the boiling spoils the beans’ beautiful coloration.

– Boil the beans until they are tender. If all of your beans are picked at the same stage, they should all come along at the same time. Mine, not so lucky. To get the “more done” or more dry beans to a tender stage, the more fresh beans got a tad over-mushy. But, I kinda liked the variety within the dish.

– Drain beans and transfer to a bowl. While beans are still warm, toss with remaining ingredients and season with salt, if needed. Serve still warm for a fabulous flavor, or at room temperature.

I could eat this for days. And luckily, there’s a bunch more beans ripening when we get home.

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