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Visit the Cook for Good blog for wildly good cooking tips, money-saving ideas, book reviews, and more from Linda Watson and guest bloggers.

Wednesday
Sep012010

Sharpen and repair to save money on kitchen equipment

Sharpen. A few weeks ago, I took my kitchen knives in to be sharpened by the pros at A Southern Season. What a difference! I'm retesting and timing the recipes for my upcoming book, Wildly Affordable Organic, so I know that I'm saving minutes with chop-heavy recipes like Red Bean Chili. My hands are less tired after a big cooking session too. Sharpening three knives cost a little over $12. They are literally as sharp as new. But even with steep online discounts, a new set of knives would have cost about $200. My go-to knives are J.A. Henckels Twin Four Stars: the 3" paring knife and the 6" and 8" chef's knives. Savings: $188.

Repair. I resurrected my bread machine by getting a new paddle for it on eBay. I found the paddle plus a backup gasket for $16. The Zojirushi I've been admiring in the King Arthur Flour catalog costs $239 plus shipping. I just use the bread machine for bread and pizza dough that requires kneading, so my old Dak Auto-Bakery will keep doing the job just fine. (Don't have a bread machine? Use my Whisk Bread recipes to make great bread and pizza dough without kneading or a machine.) Savings: $223.

Put eBay to work. Now I'm on a repair tear. I spent my collected Sears Rewards on a new Cuisinart food processor the other day, but took it back after watching the instructional video. My 20-year-old Braun Multipractic 280 machine has more options and seems easier to use! My small grating blade came apart after years of heavy use and the housing for the steel blade is beginning to crack, but other than that, it works like a champ. Parts are hard to find, but eBay is now sending me a note. I'm sure I'll be able to replace those for less than the $161 for the new machine. Savings: over $100.

What are your techniques for getting the best value out of your kitchen equipment?

Saturday
Aug212010

Music & samples at the market

Shopping at farmers' markets has upped my happiness quotient in so many ways. Take today's visit to the Western Wake Farmers' Market. I stopped by to chat with market manager Kim Hunter and try her delicious Summer Ginger Quinoa recipe. Many folks stopped by the Redbud Organic Farm booth to congratulate Clay and Nancy on the story in the local paper: Two Ministers on Three Heavenly Acres.

And then, at the end of the row of white tents, I saw a singer and guitarist: Jo Gore and The Alternative. What terrific jazz delivery, rich emotion, and vivid lyrics. I moved nearer into the shade, listening to original songs and a few well-chosen covers. I was smitten enough to buy their CD, from which I learned that guitarist Bo Lankenau writes the music and lyrics. He looks a little like Sting and sounds a little like Leo Kotke, a winning combination. Checking out the website, I see that the full Alternative includes more musicians and that Jo has a glamorous side that she must have thought was too much for the early morning crowd. She seemed beautiful but shy in black knit leggings and top, but she knows what to do with a red dress. Can hardly wait to see a full live show.

What was good at the market today?
Figs, melons, peaches, basil, potatoes, eggplant, and even the rare green beans. Tomatoes and summer squash were scarce because of the heat. The first winter squash are starting to show up.

Friends, figs, and a new band! Sunshine and samples! Going to the farmers' market can be miles more fun than shopping under the fluorescents at Big Box Mart.

Friday
Aug202010

Math Lessons for Locavores?!? Here's a tutorial.

Stephen Budiansky writes a op-ed piece in today's New York Times in which he offers Math Lessons for Locavores. The self-styled Liberal Curmudgeon says takes locavores to task for being "self-indulgent — and self-defeating." He says, "The statistics brandished by local-food advocates to support such doctrinaire assertions are always selective, usually misleading and often bogus." And then he proceeds to do the same thing himself. He's even harsher on his blog about the piece, saying that:

The problem is the way the food gurus have turned the whole "locavore" thing into one of those doctrinaire, authoritarian, and joyless religions that all too often make environmentalists their own worst enemies.

Oh, PUH-LEEZE! I'm a flexitarian who is taking stand-up comedy classes. The folks I meet at farmers' markets and sustainability events are full of humor and flexibility, not to mention great food.

But let's look at the sources for his math lessons. Budiansky cites U of M's Center for Sustainable Systems, but their food-system factsheet on the page he links to urges readers to "Eat Locally" and cites a Leopold Center study showing that "increasing Iowa's consumption of regionally grown fresh produce by only 10% would save over 300,000 gallons in transportation fuel a year."

Old, Questionable Source on Use of Food Energy. Budiansky uses a chart which I have seen many times in anti-locavore works. It says that 31.7% of the food energy is used in household storage and preparation. Even if that is true, it's probably higher in my house, since when I buy locally from a farmer, I reduce or eliminate other energy uses in the chart: 6.6% for commercial food service, 6.6% for packaging material, 16.4% for the processing industry, and even 3.7% for food retail, since the market stand doesn't have air conditioning, coolers, freezers, or even electric lights. Many farmers markets don't even have dedicated building or parking lots. Check out the source document for this chart (see appendix B), you'll see that much of the data is at least 15 years old, before the efficiencies Budiansky himself mentions. The researchers make odd assumptions. The household preparation figure is high because it includes all the hot water used in household sinks. (Don't these people use the sinks in their bathrooms?) The packaging figure is low, since it includes only packaging that could be "specifically attributable to food packaging," but not corrugated boxes and plastic wraps.

Locavores also care about the overall productivity of farms. Dr. Tim LaSalle was the keynote speaker at last year's Sustainable Agriculture conference, run by the Carolina Farm Stewardship. Read his report on The Organic Green Revolution to see how organic regenerative farming systems will "sustain and improve the health of our world population, our soil, and our environment."

Eating mostly locally grown, seasonal food that is low on the food chain can lessen your energy use. It also helps support local farms. I want to live in a country full of local farmers, who take care of the land and help supply food to their communities. They also tend to hire local accountants, doctors, and mechanics, helping support non-farm jobs in their communities. As Wendell Berry writes in Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food,

The size of landholdings is likewise a political fact. In any given region there is a farm size that is democratic, and a farm size that is plutocratic or totalitarian. The size of landholdings is likewise a political fact. In any given region there is a farm size that is democratic, and a farm size that is plutocratic or totalitarian.

Sunday
Aug082010

NYT: At Vegans’ Weddings, Beef or Tofu?

Some headlines seem ripped from the pages of The Onion, yet show up in the New York Times. Take At Vegans’ Weddings, Beef or Tofu?

Tofu, of course, you think. Or Harvest Lasagna. Or asparagus quiche. Or a selection of many delicious and festive options, plus cake.

But I was surprised both to read that Chelsea Clinton is a vegetarian and that she served short ribs at her wedding. Short RIBS, such a vividly meaty-meat with all those bones and with echoes back to Eve. Why not pork barbeque? Her groom is Jewish, but evidently the morality of dining choices was not on the menu.

For years, I've had holiday dinner parties, with 50 or so guests, that had all vegetarian food. Many guests never noticed, exclaiming with surprise years into our acquaintance when they realize I don't buy or cook meat. Most people focus on the good food that's there, not what's missing.

I've been spared boorish guests like the article's Mr. Moore, who not only snuck out for chicken parm but brought it back to the wedding! He says, "I know it’s your day, but it’s not all about you. Why have a wedding if you’re going to be like that? Just print a bumper sticker.” By "be like that," does he mean honor the bridal couple's sense of morality? Isn't that what a wedding is about? Of course they should consider the comforts and pleasures of their guests, including not sneering at Aunt Ida's lizard pumps, but wedding guests will not go into meat withdrawal or get kwashiorkor in an afternoon.

What do you think? Should vegans serve honey and dairy? Vegetarians serve meat? Baptists and tea-totalers serve champagne? Various religious serve their versions of unclean food, be it meat, seafood, pork, or something not kosher or halal? Should anyone serve veal or foie gras? Bring your mistress up the aisle too, lest you hurt her feelings?

Where do you draw the line, if there is one?

Saturday
Jul312010

Carrboro Market: variety w/ international feel

During my Eat Local July challenge, I've gone to a different market every week to see what's available. The Carrboro Farmers' Market, just west of Chapel Hill, NC, will delight anyone looking for a foodie market, while still having enough stalls with more conventional and even old-timey produce and prices to keep your budget from screaming out of control. I got all the wonderful produce you see below for $24.25.

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