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The Boxes Are Back!

I just picked up my first order from Eating Out of the Box this season and it resulted in a lovely impromptu dinner.

Here’s what came in my *small* box:

1 bunch assorted color carrots
1/2 dozen Asian pears
2 small heads of lettuce
1 bag arugula
2 bags of Asian-style greens
1 additional bag of what I think is bok choy
1 bunch of red radishes

This box was gifted to me for some assistance I’m lending to the program this season. I also ordered a couple more pounds of Asian pears and 5 bunches of lemongrass, which I immediately froze for future use in teas and soups.

So excited for the lemongrass!

For dinner, I sauteed one of the bags of Asian greens with some soy sauce, oil, ground ginger and ground black pepper. I added this to some kelp noodles (I’ll leave these out next time; they were an experiment).

Here’s a kickin’ Asian salad/dish topper for you:

1 handful raw cashews
1 healthy dash Sriracha
1 healthy dash sweet chili sauce

Saute the above together and prepare to be wowed.

Back to Eating Out of the Box. If you haven’t read about them on my blog before, check out their site. Easton residents can order fresh produce, meat and more through this service on a weekly basis — no season-long signup necessary. That is a huge advantage to this program. The produce is organic and everything is produced locally. I highly recommend you try it out!

Allergies Giveth (Seldomly), and Allergies Taketh Away. Mostly They Just Taketh Away.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been doing another dietary test where I eliminate all potential allergens from what I eat and then slowly reintroduce them to see if I can pinpoint problematic foods. I decided to go through this again in September after feeling miserable for several weeks.

After nearly a month of relatively clean eating, however, I was still experiencing the itchy rashes that I’d hoped would go away after eating only meat and vegetables (I avoided fruit for a time too to cut my sugar intake as much as possible. Sugar can exacerbate allergy symptoms.).

Then, two things happened:

1) I forgot to buy celery one week at the farmer’s market.

2) I tried unpasteurized cider. Because fresh-pressed cider is just too tempting in the fall. At an orchard. On a hot day.

Here’s how the celery factors in. I’ve been making green smoothies almost every morning, using a variety of ingredients, but the core ones are kale, cucumber, parsley and celery, with some source of natural sweetness mixed in (up until recently, just local honey). I even started adding hemp protein powder to make a more substantial snack.

But then I accidentally left a bunch of celery behind at the market one day. I forged ahead that week and simply omitted celery from my smoothies. The following Saturday, I picked up a bunch of celery at the market and added it back in the next morning.

Boom. Skin reaction.

I didn’t want it to be true though. Certain friends and family members of mine will probably disown me after learning of this new allergy (read on to find out why). I hadn’t meant to test celery — maybe it was something else that spurred the reaction? I decided to do a more scientific trial. I studiously paid more attention to everything I was eating and especially  whether the items contained celery. Today I reintroduced a food with celery in it. Itchiness set in within minutes. Crap.

Come to find out, almost everything has celery in it. And it comes in many forms — whole celery, celery juice, celery seed and celery salt. Also? Fennel and anise are related to celery. Turns out whatever doesn’t have celery in it probably has fennel or anise instead.

That’s not really true, but fennel and anise are very useful herbs/ingredients and I’d hate to have to omit them too.

But back to plain ol’ celery. Nearly all stocks have celery in them. Okay, I can face having to make my own. Actually, I was pleased to find at least one brand doesn’t have celery in its aseptic container of chicken stock. I found that out this evening while purging my cabinets of everything else that has celery in it. The local food pantry’s about to receive a lot of chicken and veggie broth/stock.

Many natural sausages and bacon (gulp) are treated with celery juice instead of sodium nitrite as a preservative. Actually, sodium nitrite is naturally occurring in celery juice, which is why they add it in. Luckily, the local farm from whence most of my meat comes doesn’t use celery juice. Okay, bacon supply is still in tact.

Here’s where I’ll take the biggest hit though. Guess what popular seasoning blend (especially here on the Shore) has celery (salt) as its main ingredient?

Old Bay.

I put Old Bay on everything. Crabs (duh), any seafood really, potatoes, tuna salad (wait, that’s more seafood), I even used to put it on eggs before I realized I was allergic to eggs. Anyhow, the list goes on. I fear I may not be able to get steamed crabs at a restaurant again. I’ll have to steam them myself.

One friend pointed out that many restaurants make their own seasoning blends for crabs and there’s a chance they don’t all use celery salt. Fingers crossed, but I’m bracing myself for the worst in the meantime. I do plan to contrive a recipe for my own version of Old Bay without celery salt.

So that’s the bad news. The worst news, actually, that I’ve had in this whole allergy discovery process.

But let’s not end this post on a bad note. Remember that cider? That unpasteurized goodness I tried at a local orchard? Well, all that amounts to is mushed up fresh apples, right?

Right. And up until now, for the past 20 years, I haven’t been able to eat fresh apples, or pears, or peaches, or plums, or… you get the idea. Turns out there’s a protein in fresh tree-borne fruit that many people, especially those with tree allergies, are allergic to. The only consolation was that the protein cooks off.

But I really wanted to try that cider! So I had a few sips. And then the best thing happened.

Absolutely nothing happened! My lips didn’t go numb. My gums didn’t start to ache. The back of my throat didn’t itch.

I had bought several apples with which to cook (I could eat those tree-borne fruits once they were cooked, after all). I took a bite out of one. Nothing but pure bliss happened.

You can’t imagine how good a fresh apple tastes after not being able to eat one for 20 years.

Since then, I’ve been eating about 3 apples a day to make up for lost time. The cider goes into my smoothies.

It’s almost consolation for losing Old Bay (at least for the time being). After all, if my fresh fruit allergy could go away, maybe I’ll be able to enjoy Old Bay again.

Let’s hope.

Provide Your Feedback on FDA Regulations That Could Impact Local Producers

I just finished submitting my comments on regulations.gov and to my legislators on FDA regulations that are under consideration right now and could dramatically impact small-scale providers of locally grown and produced foods.

Read the full details of the regulations and their potential impacts here on the Food Renegade blog.

I adapted the language on that site with my own comments and submitted it to regulations.gov at these links:

On-Farm Produce Rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199

Preventitive Controls/HARPC Rules: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0920-0188

I then sent the same comments to my federal legislators asking them to take my comments into account if they play any part in the process of finalizing such regulations.

Please consider doing the same thing. You can use my comments below:

As a consumer of locally produced food from farms in my area of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I urge the FDA to address the following issues in the proposed FSMA rules. It is so important to make it EASIER for these small farms to operate, rather than throwing up hurdles and roadblocks.

Industrial agriculture lays waste to land that could feed local populations so much more easily, with less damage to the environment, and healthier food options for consumers. Save the onerous paperwork and inspections for the industrial-scale operations that are poisoning our land and our food with pesticides and GMO crops. Let the smaller-scale producers flourish.

Tester-Hagan “qualified exemption” in both the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule:
The gross sales test to qualify for the Tester-Hagan provision should be based on sales of food that is subject to FSMA, whether the produce standards or the preventive controls rule. Sales of food that would not be regulated under FSMA should not be included.

The FDA should not rush the process of revoking a producer’s Tester-Hagan exemption. The agency has other mechanisms it can use if there is an immediate threat of foodborne illness.
a) The FDA should be held to specific evidentiary standards before it can revoke a farmer’s or food facility’s Tester-Hagan exemption.
b) A farm or facility that is exempt under Tester-Hagan should be given at least 90 days to submit evidence and defend its exemption if FDA seeks to revoke it.
c) If the exemption is revoked, the farm or facility should have at least two years to come into compliance with the FSMA rules.

On-farm Produce Standards Rule:
The FDA’s approach to traditional farming methods, such as diversified livestock-crop farms, the use of working animals, and the use of biological soil amendments, is fundamentally flawed. The agency should not restrict these sustainable methods of farming without data showing an actual, verified increased rate of foodborne illness; the simple fact that these methods include diverse microbiological communities is not a sound scientific basis for restricting them.

The waiting period between applying manure and harvesting the crop should be no more than 4 months, and there should be no waiting period between applying compost and harvesting the crop. The excellent track record for safety on organic farms shows that this standard is sufficient.

Compost teas and other biological inoculants, including normal additives such as molasses, should be treated the same as compost.

Water testing should not be required more often than once a month, and farmers should be able to test less frequently after establishing the safety of their water source through consecutive negative tests. In addition, farmers should be given the option to test for pathogens, rather than having to treat or stop using the water that tested positive for generic e. coli.

The provisions on wildlife and domestic livestock need to be clarified to protect farmers who use biologically diverse farming from field inspectors using their discretion to require measures such as fencing or destruction of habitat.

Preventive Controls and HARPC Rule:
“Very small facilities” should be defined as being under $1 million in total annual sales, adjusted for inflation. Imposing HARPC requirements on businesses smaller than that is unnecessary and overly burdensome.

Any requirement for “supplier verification” should not prevent a facility from purchasing foods or ingredients from farms and facilities that are exempt from the regulations under the Tester-Hagan provision or other exemptions.

Low-risk activities conducted by a farm using its own products, such as making jams, grinding grains, or dehydrating vegetables, should not be subject to these regulations.

Low-risk activities, when conducted off-farm or by multiple farms working together, should not be subject to the same requirements as high-risk processing activities. The requirements should address both the scale of the operations and the level of risk of the activity.

Eating Out of the Box

It’s almost time! It may be fall, with cooler weather settling in and the leaves falling, but that doesn’t mean access to fresh, local produce and other locally produced foods has to end.

In Easton, we’re lucky to have Eating Out of the Box available to us. This is a weekly service along the lines of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) that does not require a subscription. Each week, you peruse the offerings that will most likely be made available and decide if you want to participate. Boxes are available for pickup (or delivery for a small fee) one night each week.

What kinds of produce are available in the cold winter months? Last year’s boxes usually contained a variety of greens, Asian pears, potatoes and more.

There is a small or large box option available. As the season gets into full swing, a la carte items like fresh baguettes, meat, dairy products, eggs and more can be purchased as well.

Check out the Eating Out of the Box web site and join their mailing list or their Facebook group so you will be notified when they start up operations in early November.

Fall Garden Update (and, Here We Go Again)

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Part of today’s harvest.

A little late to the party, I finally planted some carrot, kale and lettuce seeds today. What took so long? I had to clear out the dead and dying summer plants first and amend the soil in the beds. Between recent hot weather, travel and laziness, today’s 70-degree weather was my first opportunity to garden in a while. I did get some peas planted a few weeks ago and those are coming along.

So how did my summer garden grow? Wild. I had pumpkins everywhere, and there are still some long-neck canning pumpkins on the vine in my compost pile, waiting to be picked. I got one usable baby pie pumpkin — pests got the other two that had ripened. Phooey.

My tomatoes are still producing, so I haven’t cut those down yet. I finally pulled up the cucumber plants, but found a few cucumbers buried among the detritus that are hopefully still edible. I accidentally grew a cantaloupe plant (also a compost volunteer), but the solitary fruit it bore fell victim to pests in recent days. I was able to harvest some coriander (cilantro) seeds, which I’ll probably save for planting next year, rather than consuming.

Lessons learned for next year?

  • Put in more beds
  • Give the squash plants even more room than I did this year
  • Plant more of everything
  • Plant strawberries and melons (on purpose)

I still have a fair bit to do in the garden before wrapping things up for the cold season. I need to clean out around the beds and better prep them for next year. The landscape fabric alone didn’t do enough to keep the weeds down. I’m going to pull that up, remove the weeds and dig out still more hostas in the sunny corner of my garden. Next year, the area will get at least a good mulching, if not another covering of fabric before the mulch goes down.

I’ve turned one large bed along my garage into a new compost pile that I want to separate into three caged areas for more efficient composting. I’m also composting a bed outside my kitchen (no food scraps though, since it’s so close to the house) that gets a lot of shade and has only grown weeds. I’m hoping to try lettuce, possibly in containers, there next year.

I also need to clean up the fruit bushes I planted. The blackberry plants became very leggy and I didn’t do a very good job of training them onto the supports I set up. I need to tend to them and the only raspberry plant that pulled through. Not sure if I’ll try more of those next year.

Here We Go Again

Some of you may remember that last summer I went on an allergen-free diet for a month before slowly re-introducing foods to discover what food allergies I have (eggs and a wheat intolerance revealed themselves). Well, I need to do it again. I’m having a reaction to something and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks recently. The suspects are dairy and processed sugar, the latter of which has only slipped into my diet on occasion. I’ve also been eating grains other than wheat, so those may be a culprit as well.

So Monday’s the day I go back to eating only meat, veggies and a little bit of fruit. No dairy, alcohol, legumes or grains for a whole month. Honey will be my only sweetener. I plan on making lots of homemade, oven-baked sweet potato fries to help me pull through.

I’ve been treating myself in the meantime. I splurged at the gluten-free bakery today and feasted on Chipotle’s chips and guac last night. Not sure what my beverage of choice will be tonight, but last night’s was red wine.

I’ve already started stocking up on things to tide me over for the next month. I found myself eating way more protein than I normally would last time I did this. I bought a ton of chicken and ground bison today. I found beef sticks from Cedar Run Farm at the farmer’s market today and they have no preservatives or chemicals in them. Score! Perfect for snacking. I bought a bunch of kale and green beans, frying peppers and acorn squash to cook this week too. Bananas (not from the farmer’s market, of course), figs and raspberries will be my fruit splurges.

Wish me luck! Deciding to pursue this diet is often harder than the diet itself. I know I’ll feel so much better a month from now. And I’ll be done before the holidays hit. Hopefully by then, I’ll have figured out whatever it is that’s causing problems so I can avoid it. Fingers crossed it’s not alcohol or cheese!

Get Your Greens on Grilled Cheese

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I made another version of yesterday’s grilled cheese and added kale, sauteed onions and grated parm, inspired by a recipe in the September issue of Cooking Light magazine. I also added some mustard to the bread before adding the other fillings. Genius way to eat your greens!

Market-Inspired Lunch

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Gluten-free bread, heirloom tomato and Chesapeake Colby cheese, all from today’s farmers market, inspired me to make the first grilled cheese sandwich I’ve made in over a year. I added organic sliced avocado and bacon. Dee-lish!

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