EcoMom Challenge #3: Shop Local (part II of III)

EcoMom Challenge #3 encourages us to Shop Local, Fair Trade and Organic, as part of the EcoMom 10 Steps to Living Sustainably. Last week I covered Fair Trade and this week I am finally getting around to discussing why we should shop local. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet when it comes to green living, you may consider me a local extremist, but in fact, although our family has eaten more local food this year than ever before, we are still a far cry from living a truly local existence!

Upfront, the call to shop local can be a tad elusive. What constitutes local?  Furthermore, legitimate local shopping requires you to be vigilant and on top of your buying habits and knowledgeable about the background of the food stuffs or other goods that you are buying. For example, Crocs shoes were once made locally (from imported foreign oil) with their original manufacturing plant just down the road. In our area the fact that Crocs were locally made received lots of media attention; however, the fact that they shut down local operations (and now manufacture in China) over a year ago has not been advertised at all. I am sure that more than one faithful customer thinks that Crocs make shoes in Niwot not China.

In fact, buying material goods that are locally made, let alone, made in the USA can often be quite a challenge. So, whenever our family comes across locally made goods we get quite excited; however, most instances of material good purchasing focus simply on buying goods made in the USA. Weve been surpised at how many Target products are actually made at home, while also being surprised that certain products, especially kitchen implements, seem to be universally made in China. Consequently, Ive personally put off numerous purchases this year in hopes that I could track down the same or similar item neused. Ive met with moderate success.

Local food is yet an entirely different story it is a story that comes with all sorts of warm and fuzzy tales, and happy endings. Between our local Farmers Market, local farms and our CSA membership the Green Me family has been eating loads and loads of fresh produce this summer and I have been experimenting with canning, pickling and making jams. Weve pretty much stopped buying any produce from the grocery store (except for organic raspberries to spoil the little one) and I seriously find myself wondering what I am going to do in December, January or the rest of the winter with out vine or tree ripened fruit!

When I made strawberry jam in June, I was generous with my bounty passing out jars to friends and family. I only kept 12 jars for our family, which seemed extravagant at the time, but now that I know we can eat a jar of jam in 3 days, 12 jars simply isnt enough for an entire winter! (I made low sugar varieties, so our sugar intake is minimal over said 3 day period!) I will be making grape jelly and perhaps grape juice (or maybe even wine) in a few weeks, assuming that the raccoons do not return this year.

So, the Green Me family is eating local, but what does that really mean? Why deprive oneself of bananas, and eat only peaches everyday for 7 days straight? One of the fantastic features of modern life and shipping routes is that we are able (and accustomed) to eating all sorts of produce out of season. Blueberries in January? Grapes in May? Bananas every day of the year? No problem? Well, there is that little problem, called oil, and then there is that other problem, called human induced climate change.

So, what is a healthy, fruit and veggie loving gal todo?  One option would be to simply eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Potatoes are high in vitamin C, fiber, folic acid and more, plus they store really really well. Nah I may love potatoes, but three meals a day, day in and day out just wont do. Fortunately, there is a great abundunce of fruits that can be grown locally melons, apples, peaches, starwberries, apricots, raspberries, pears, plums, grapes and more can be found in Farmers Market stalls and back yards across the front range. Alas the only fruit I really miss is the beautiful blueberry (Ive read they can be grown in barrels in the backyard, so this may be a future venture.)

And, the sweet thing about eating local and in season fruit is that it not only tastes delicious, but you can be sure that tree (or vine ripened) fruit is being delivered to you with peak nutritional value and without the guilt of fossil fuel trail (or the chemicals sprayed on fruits like apples and bananas to cause them to ripen). And, if you buy or grow it in excess, you can also preserve the fruit for consumption in the winter months. I canned peaches last fall for the first time and I must say that every time I broke out a jar to eat or make a pie, it was like infusing a gray February day with summer sunshine. Id never much liked store bought canned peaches, but the real thing, canned in a light syrup was absolutely delightful!

In addition to saving fossil fuel and energy in general, eating local and especially supporting local and small farms helps support your local economy and keep farming alive in your community. Farming is a very difficult business these days, and many farmers must work second jobs to keep their farms a float. For this reason CSAs are very important, because the reservation monies you pay in the spring, help fund the seasons crop. And, the CSA membership, helps to ensure that the farmer earns an income, even when crops fail. The CSA is most often a very rewarding relationship for both parties, but you can also think of it a little bit like an independent subsidy for small farmers who unlike mega corporate farms get zilch from the government.

Eating local is good for you, good for the economy, good for the environment and a great way to get involved in your local community. So, if you haven’t yet hit your local Farmers Market the season is going strong, so get out there and EAT LOCAL! Your heart will thank you!

100 Ways to Prepare Asparagus

Ha. Sorry to deceive, but I am not that creative! Besides, Id most certainly have a marital revolt on my hands if I made (and served) 100 different asparagus recipes in under a week or even over several months! Nonetheless, Mr. Green Me, several of my neighbors, my mom and myself, all swear that the asparagus that I picked last week is the BEST asparagus we have ever eaten. I’ve eaten freshly picked asparagus in the past, but I tend to like asparagus, so until I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Id never really considered why some asparagus is simply good, while other asparagus is absolutely divine.

The Monroe Farms asparagus was divine. And, I did find a variety of tasty ways to serve the asparagus over the weekend and into this week. The first night, I flash sauteed the asparagus in a little olive oil and salt. Mmm mmm. Next, I made a crustless quiche with asparagus, fresh free-roaming organic eggs, Maverick Ranch Bacon and Hazel Del mushrooms. Delish. We had the quiche for breakfast AND lunch.

Next I broke out my canning equipment (sounds complicated, but not so) and I pickled six 1 quart jars of asparagus. I had to make my own pickling spices, as the only pickling spice I could find premade had suspect ingredients, and the recipe that I chose to follow suggested removing the cloves. (Please note that follow is a relative word when it comes to me and recipes.) The bad news when it comes to pickling is that you cant eat your wares for 3 to 4 months! Since I was itching to know what my product might taste like down the road, I cooked a few spears in the remaining pickling brine. They were good. Difficult to describe, but I could definitely taste the cinnamon and the coriander, which I think sort of gave the asparagus an extra earthy and smoky flavor.

And last but not least, I made Cream of Asparagus Soup which, much to my pleasure, has less cream than Id feared. My father is a self employed painter and illustrator. When I was a kid I would often spend holidays and summer days at home with him in his studio while my mom was at work. Our standard lunch was a can of Campbell’s Soup and a sandwich. On occasion we had cream of asparagus or cream of mushroom soup. Although Campbell’s may have been the chef I thought these creamy soups were fit for a Queen.  As an adult, I admit to food snobbery and so I don’t buy Campbell’s.  You’d think Id have made my own soup before, but I haven’t. The process was pretty easy and I followed this recipe (although I added a shake of cayenne & paprika, and a cup of sauteed mushrooms). The soup is very good, although not quite perfect. Ill have to play with the recipe (or if you have a divine one, please share)!

In conclusion, my asparagus adventure ended with 5 ways to eat fresh asaparagus: raw (sweet & crisp); sauteed (yum); quiche (divine); pickled (wait and see); and creme of asparagus soup (perfect for our cold and rainy weather this week).

We love the Farmers Market!

When we bought our home two years ago we didn’t realize that we were just down the road from the local Farmers Market, which sets up on Saturdays at the County Fair Grounds. However, since we discovered the market and have gotten into the habit of visiting, it is our favorite Saturday activity. We did not buy much in the way of greens or any eggs for two reasons. First we have a bunch of green lettuce, spinach and arugula in our very own yard. And second, we wanted to save some room in the crisper for eggs and whatever else that we find at the Ollin Farms grand opening this afternoon!

This week we were fortunate to have a few extra stands in town that decided to try out the Longmont Farmers. Normally, these stands visit the lucrative Boulder Market, which is home to the Boulder Creek Festival over Memorial Day weekend. We were also very thankful to see Hazel Del Mushrooms and the Windsor Dairy cheese folks, since they were both in the line of the huge tornado that came through the area on Thursday. The cheese folks are actually still assessing the damage, but Hazel Del came out fine.

This week our food basket is filled with:

Applesauce and pear-apple butter from Ela Family Farms on the Western Slope

Pea Sprouts from an unidentified local seller

Bok Choy from Ollin Farms

Horseradish from Mountain Valley Canning

Tomatoes (green house) from Honeyacre Farms

Aged Colona cheese (organic, raw from 100% grass fed cows) from Windsor Dairy

Organic Multigrain Bread from Styria Bakery

Mixed Mushrooms from Hazel Del

Red popcorn from Boulder Popcorn (grown on Munson Farm nearby)

Dinner tonight? I thought Id saute up some mushrooms and serve it with seared bok choy, as that was a big hit last weekend. And, perhaps I will also make an asparagus quiche with some aged colona and eggs that we plan to pick up from the Ollin Farms Farmstand grand opening later this afternoon!!! For lunch we already had some of the bread, tomatoes and pea sprouts on chicken salad sandwiches.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and come back on Tuesday for the conclusion to my Asparagus Adventure!

My Asparagus Adventure

This morning I woke up to low clouds and high humidity. If I hadn’t known better I might have thought I was on the Oregon coast and not the Colorado plains. After a nice walk around the neighborhood I got in the car and headed east to pick asparagus at Monroe Farms our CSA. As I drove east the clouds began to lift and the wind picked up. By the time I reached Monroe (about 40 miles and 45 minutes away) it was partly cloudy with a gentle wind blowing. In about 45 minutes time I picked enough asparagus to complete a row and fill my yellow bucket to the brim. Indeed, I think I may have picked a peck of asparagus.

By now it was fairly windy and dusty, so I didn’t dawdle around visiting with the chickens or even a goat! Instead, I packed up my peck of asparagus and headed homeward. As I was driving west towards the mountains the sky began to darken and the wind continued to grow stronger, while dust from plowed fields filled the air. Soon the horizon took on a grayish green sort of look. To the southwest (the direction I was headed) there were some wispy clouds fingering towards the earth. Goodness I thought to myself It looks just like they say it does before a tornado and I blissfully drove on. Id checked the weather before I left and I was listening to the radio and there was no mention of bad weather in the air.

Not five minutes later I reached an intersection with a stop sign. The wind had really picked up and suddenly the dust was so thick I couldn’t see. At first I wasn’t worried, because I was already stopped. The wind then started to smack the car and I REALLY couldn’t see anything beyond my windshield the worst black out that I have ever experienced. A few huge rain drops fell and then all at once it was clear, the dust settling, blue sky and sunshine peeking out. As the blood pulsed through my veins, and my heart thumped, I made my left turn onto HWY 85 in Gilcrest and headed down the road. I then started to notice chunks of metal, road signs and various other detriment scattered in the roadway and neighboring fields. Traffic came to a stop and upon surveying the land to the left and the right of the car I identified large trees missing limbs, power poles without power lines, a barn missing a roof and a horse trotting down the road followed by a group of men.

I pulled off into a gas station (where there was no power) and asked the perhaps silly question was that a tornado? Indeed, it was. Holy cow. All I signed up for was some asparagus! Thank God I was okay and my son was home safe. My heart goes out to the truckers just up the road who’s semi’s were rolled, and the farmers and families who lost barns, parts of their homes, fences and who knows what else.

For more on the tornadoes that touched down in Gilcrest (my tornado), Miliken and Windsor, Colorado around noon today follow this link. (Update: video of the tornado.) I apologize that I don’t have more pictures to share, but alas I didn’t take my camera. And, even if I had, I am not a photo journalist.

My Asparagus adventure will continue over the next few days, as I follow up with canning, pickling, blanching and or freezing. But for right now, I think Ill make a cup of green tea and thank the stars that I made it home in one piece!

Update: The worst news from this Tornado episode is that it has supposedly devastated the Windsor Dairy, which I believe to be the dairy that provides milk to Organic Valley in our area!

Living local: what does it really mean?

Recently the NY Times and the Guardian (UK) have published articles purporting that locally grown foods are often worse, or at the least no better, for the environment than ones flown in from places like Kenya. Frankly, I don’t really think their argument holds water other than pointing out that nothing in life is black and white. Nonetheless, these naysayers have given me pause, pause to think about why my family has chosen to live the way we do and what it has done for us. When it comes down to it, the changes that we’ve made (or are working on) have served to connect us to our community and build relationships (including our marital one). We’ve become more mindful of what we spend our money on, what we bring home and what we put in our mouths. Perhaps we have failed to reduce our carbon imprint as much as wed like, but we have lived a richer and fuller life.

There is no denying that our initial motivation was to save the planet. However, planet saving is a non-scientific, non-measurable goal without any prizes for the diligent. And so, there must be some other reward to keep us (and others like us) on track. In fact, these little changes have resulted in an ever growing pile of locally grown organic carrots, while the imported stick market has crashed. Our family doesnt just buy local and or organic food or locally made goods because we want to save the planet, but because when we buy local we feel connected to our community. We feel part of a larger plan and we like it that way.

Local food: This category has probably been the most rewarding. My husband and I first signed up for a CSA when we lived in a Condo in the middle of a smallish city that was big enough to make us feel cut off from our food. Our weekly ventures to the farmers market to pick up our box of produce made us feel like we belonged to a community. We chit-chatted with the farmers, shared their recipes, and generally ate healthier than we would have otherwise. We also expanded our horizons, learning how to cook fennel and fava beans. Unfortunately, despite force feeding myself kale numerous times, I still think the stuff is wretched (although not as bad as cilantro) how do I wish that kale was not a CSA staple. My husband continues to enjoy the home-cooked meals that I prepare (and he has even ventured to cook a few of his own) and an unintended bonus, is that eating all that fresh produce, he has lost weight gained during his Lean Cuisine bachelorhood.

Two years ago we moved to a town of about 80,000 with a lingering connection to its agricultural roots. Our home is less than a mile from the Boulder County Fair Grounds and the Longmont Farmers Market. In nice weather we ride our bikes or walk, returning home loaded with fresh food and good spirits. My favorite farmer to buy from is an elderly man who runs a very small scale operation. While some tables are covered by tents and sell rows of food, this man has an umbrella and bar table with a few baskets of strawberries, tomatoes, bundles of lettuce and so on. He reuses containers and charges very fair prices. His success reminds me of my own efforts as a pre-teen selling bags of lettuce to the neighbors for a $1.

If youve been reading Green Me for long you already know that I think goats are fantastic. Thankfully, we live just a few miles from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. When I buy goat cheese, I buy Haystack, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling because I can picture the baby goats romping. Plus, I know that this is a small local operation run by folks with big warm hearts. Ive also recently found a REALLY small scale goat dairy that sells milk which I will be buying for my son to drink as he nears the weaning age. He doesnt seem to have any problem with cow milk, but the two milks do have different nutritional profiles and since he wont be getting the benefit of his own mamas milk, I figure it is good to diversify. I might even try to make my own goat yogurt, sweetened with local honey. Yum!

One of the easiest foods to find locally is honey. Despite the national decline in the honey bee population our local bees and beekeepers appear to be prodigious. Weve got numerous apiaries in our neck of the woods, some of which border local organic farms and or open space land. Our favorite can only be found in the early fall and is made in south Longmont, not far from where we live. Ichiban honey is raw and so delightfully creamy that you might think there is butter mixed in, but it is simply pure honey. Nectar of the Gods may be a reference to mead, but I think that it should extend to honey. My husband would probably do anything for a slice of warm baked bread, slathered with butter and honey. Really, it is the simple pleasures in life that make it so sweet. And, for our family, those simple pleasures dont come in boxes imported from China or India or just about anywhere else. (Although after reading Three Cups of Tea, the next time I eat apricots, I will think fondly of the apricot farmers in the highlands of Pakistan.)

Artesian made goods: My husbands family lives in Michigan and we make an annual pilgrimage around the holidays to visit the Michigan folk. For the last few years weve been making and sending along Colorado gift baskets. This past Christmas we came across mini cheese trays. The trays were handmade locally from reclaimed hickory with beautiful variations in color and grain. So often in my life have I purchased presents, simply because I felt that it was the socially responsible thing to do, but the purchases never set right with my conscience. However, over the last few years I have found that buying local gives me the sense of supporting my neighbors. Sharing goods made in my hometown gives me the sense of sharing my life with friends and family. So, on our holiday trip to Michigan, we took along gifts of local goat cheese, handmade cheese trays and other locally made treats. I am not sure these gifts are better received than any other, but it certainly feels better to me to give items that I personally would use and cherish.

Normally, I wouldnt quantify myself as an artesian, but for our wedding in 2005, I made several hundred paper cranes to use as decorations and party favors. I wanted to do something beautiful and I wanted to create a keepsake, that wasnt sold for cheep and made in China. Ill admit to using real Japanese origami paper, but in such a situation, I believe that being authentic is just as important as being local. There are certain things in this world that are identified with particular cultures or regions of the world, and I think that the beauty of our modern world, is that we can all share in these experiences. I like to think of it as taking the local and sharing it on an international level. Origami paper falls into this category. Childrens books written in English, but printed in China do not. Back to the cranes, my original goal was to be genuine, cheap, and pretty, but in the end it turned into much more. Our upstairs neighbor had made Peace Cranes at the start of the Iraq war, and she gave us these to add to our mix. My hands started to give out and a dear friend came over and helped for a few hours even the cat got involved in the funbirds? Many of the cranes went home with guests, but we kept a collection that we now use as Christmas Tree ornaments. And, to this day I have fond memories of the experience.

Craigslist: Our household is addicted to Craigslist, so much so that our friends and relatives probably dread the stories. I think my favorite all-time Craigslist purchase is my food processor, which was 8 years old, but came packaged in a never opened box. More recently Ive been selling off baby items, such as a Svan Bouncer, that Id picked up used on eBay. Just yesterday I purchased two soccer balls for $5 (I joined a womens soccer league and severely need to practice). When I buy off of Craigslist, I get the same rush as I would bargaining in a foreign bazaar. Plus, I get to buy things from real people, some of whom seem a lot like me and others who are quite different. Either way, a Craigslist purchase is ultimately way more satisfying than a trip to a big box or the mall.

Natural Toys: When it comes to plastic, I was among the first in my social circles to push the panic button when it comes to toxins in kids toys. I am genuinely concerned about PVC leaching dioxins, BPA and phthalates, but I must also admit that I also fall into the snooty camp that thinks plastic toys are simply ugly junk. And, although I love my son, I also love to keep ugly junk out of my house (that exersaucer you see, is not really there). So far, my son seems to enjoy his hand made rattles from Vermont, his wooden blocks, and other not-plastic toys. On the other hand, yesterday we went on a play date to a friends house that has a 2 year old little girl. Their play area is filled with plastic toys that have flashing lights and make noise. And, although it was my sons grumpy time of day, he was in heaven. You dont believe me? When was the last time you saw a 9 month old with separation anxiety crawl around for over an hour with ZERO adult interaction exploring plastic toys, pushing buttons, chewing on plastic apples and banging plastic toys? Maybe it was because these were different toys than the ones he has at home, but maybe it is because they are made out of brightly colored plastic that DOES stuff. I mean if kids didnt like the stuff, people wouldnt buy it, would they?

So, although non-plastic toys make me FEEL good, I am not sure that they really make me a better parent or improve our quality of life, other than keeping our aesthetics in place. However, I will say that petroleum based goods, imported from overseas, should cost more. As the Story of Stuff relates, the actual cost to the planet and society, is not reflected in the price paid to bring these cheep and non-durable goods home.

Composting: Like you, I was raised to abhor waste. And so, I always feel guilty, when I waste produce. To make things worse, I am a bit of a health nut, so I am always trying new things or buying produce (like kale) for its nutritional virtues, even though I know its likely to never make it in my pot. In the past, Id let unwanted produce sit in the produce drawer until it was slimy and most definitely not edible. There is no way to rescue produce that has hit the slime stage, but yet I always felt guilty on the trip to the garbage pail. With a compost bin, I realized that I have the freedom to send unloved produce back to its maker, before it gets to the slimy stage and be guilt free. Sure Ive wasted another kind of green, but that grows on trees, ne? I may not live on a farm, but the compost bin (our house came with two) makes me feel like I am part of the system. Another bonus to composting? Supposedly a huge percentage of the landfill is filled with food scraps, but ours is not. At this point, we often dont fill a medium sized kitchen bag in a week, but every other day (or more often) I empty a full compost pail outside. Chock another one up for improved quality of life.

Walking to the store: Big deal you say? Well, clearly YOU do not live in a state that is about the size of Great Britain, in which sprawl is the answer to everything and cities actually have rules about how tall you can build. Where we live, the few people who walk or bike to the store only do so because their car has broken down or they are unfortunate enough to not to own a car. So, when we show up at our local Super Box (a mere 4 blocks from our home) and push our mega jog stroller through the aisles we get looks. In reality, it is smaller than those shopping carts with the plastic car on front for kids to drive. However, in our car dominated world, we feel twice as good when we walk to the store. We feel even better when we hit three stores (Big Box, Grocery, and the corner Liquor Store) and we load up with much more than the clerk thought we could fit inside. When we walk to the store, we also have time to talk, breathe some fresh air, and get a little exercise. All around, a better experience than driving, and a definite quality of life improvement. My only regret is that we dont live walking (or even biking) distance to my husbands office, my school or the library. Someday.

Reusable Bags: Ive used reusable bags on and off for years. As a college student and in my early twenties, I was a bike commuter, so I crammed what I could in a backpack or messenger bag. When I lived in Boston, I shopped at Trader Joes and used two of their canvass bags (that was all I could carry on the T). Somewhere along the line I also picked up a Whole Foods mega canvass bag an invincible bag that could hold at least 3 paper bags worth of groceries, and had an extra long reinforced strap. The negative aspect of this bag was its ability to be filled so full (and heavy) that it became a hazard to my health. I remember slinging it across my shoulders and trying to bike homethe thing nearly got me killed! Eventually, my canvass bag collection became smaller (read shrunk, because I washed them) and funky with strange colors and stains. Then came the Chico bag. At the time we were still shopping at the Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers in Boulder. They are staffed by a healthy percentage of earth lovers, so when I offered up my canvass bags for free, I was mobbed with takers. Free from the canvass, I was able to buy a few Chico bags guilt free, and I am never going back. They are actually fun to use (seriously!) and I can fit 3 or 4 in my little purse, in addition to my wallet, shades, and phone. And, that is exactly what I need to do our weekly food shop. Over time we have picked up a few more, so we can do multiple errands in a row and never need a plastic or paper bag. This year we gave them as Christmas gifts and we had a great response. For me using reusable bags starts out as a challenge, but eventually it has become an obsession. I might forget to wear mascara 3 days out of 5, but I dont forget my Chico bag. And, I am proud of it!

Ultimately, all the green things we do on a regular basis are easy to do, because they improve our quality of life. If you are like me, you are willing to pay a little more in some instances, because you’d rather have a quality experience than a cheap experience. And, other times you’d rather save a few pennies or maybe a wad of cash to buy something used, when you really don’t need it to be shiny and new. So, I ask you, would you rather shop at your local big box retailer or your local farmers market? Would you rather shop at the same big box or your local artsy thrift shop? Would you rather your trash can be half empty or overflowing? In life, it is the small things that count and the experiences that add up to a lifetime. We only live once, so make the best of your time here on Earth and leave it a better place than you found it.

Ecological Cooking

Ecological Cooking, by Jo Stepaniak & Kathy Hecker is a mini-encyclopedia of Vegan cooking. The book may not sport glossy pictures, but it is filled to the brim with instructions, ideas, tips and recipes that should help even a kitchen novice to start cooking vegan. In fact, the book is a veritable Joy of Cooking for the vegetarian chef. Technically, the recipes provided in the book are purely vegan, meaning that zero ingredients that contain animal products or foods that are made using animal products can be found in the book. Nevertheless, Ecological Cooking is a useful resource and guide whether you are simply looking to cook a few vegetarian meals or become a full blown vegan.

The first section of the book is filled with useful tips for an earth friendly kitchen. To start the authors provide a list of recommended kitchen gadgets and basic ingredients to have on hand in the vegan kitchen. Many of the suggested ingredients are standard pantry items, such as beans, flour and baking powder; however, other ingredients such as tahini, barley and miso may be less common. Next in line is a thorough glossary of special ingredients, such as agar gar, nutritional yeast, Seitan, Tempeh and TVP.

Suggested ingredients and the glossary of vegan foods are followed up with an inclusive list of Natural Foods Substitutions. As an experienced cook who is nevertheless terrible at stocking my pantry, I am always thrilled to find substitutions, as they often mean I can make a dish without an extra trip to the grocery store. This list is especially good for vegans (and some vegetarians) who avoid a variety of plant based foods that are made through the use animal byproducts. For example, bone char is used in the whitening process of commercially available white sugar, and according the list of substitutions, a vegetarian chef might substitute ½ cup maple syrup or 1 cup apple butter in a recipe that calls for ¾ cup processed white cane sugar.

Once you have read through the first section and stocked your pantry the aspiring vegan chef should be ready to cook. The recipe section of Ecological Cooking is chocked full of delicious recipes that range from variations on standard American fair to traditional ethnic recipes and everything in between, including a few recipes that must have been invented on accident. One recipe that is surprisingly good, but definitely not traditional, is the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole on page 163. I must confess that I only made this recipe, because I could not believe that it would taste good – but it did. Somehow, the combination of tomato sauce, tamari and cooked pecans makes a filling dish with a meaty texture. I am not sure exactly what this dish reminds me of, but perhaps you could think of it as similar to a spaghetti pie.

A perfect accompaniment to the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole is the Daily Bread, found on page 84. Most bread is vegetarian; however, as mentioned above, processed white sugar is generally made using bone char. And, although many bread recipes are vegetarian, they are generally not vegan. The Daily Bread recipe is indeed vegan, using Sucanat instead of sugar and a mix of whole wheat and white flour. The recipe made nice heavy bread that was both filling and chewy. As I only have one loaf pan, I only made 1/3 the recipe, but this should not have affected the quality of the bread.

Ecological Cooking provides a variety of other bread recipes in addition to the Daily Bread. The recipes include: Chapatis, Anadama Bread, pita bread, sweet breads, pancakes, muffins and more. For anyone who wishes to eat more healthfully, while avoiding unnecessary processed foods and nasty ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, I highly recommend learning how to bake bread. Bread making (muffins and sweet breads included) is really quite simple, and once you have it down, takes very little time.

My favorite recipe from Ecological Cooking is the Alu Mattar on page 138. To make a complete protein out of this meal, I would recommend serving it with Chapatis. I am a succor for Indian food, but I am also lactose intolerant, and many Indian restaurants use cream or milk in their sauces. Consequently, I was thrilled to find this dairy free version of one of my favorite Indian dishes. I followed the recipe to a T except for the suggestion to garnish the dish with Cilantro, as both my husband and I abhor Cilantro. I enjoyed our Alu Mattar dinner so much that I found myself craving the stuff the next morning. We had leftovers, so I ate some with brown rice for breakfast. Tasty and much healthier than a slice of cold pizza!

Okay, so I have shared with you the gist of the book and a few of its best recipes, but you might still be wondering why vegan? If so, this excerpt from the back cover of the book should answer your question:

A meat-based diet affects:

The quantity and quality of our water supply

The worlds forests

The amount of fossil fuels consumed

Human hunger and health

The cruel part of this review is that the book is out of print and I plan to keep my copy, which Ive used and loved for nearly 10 years. You might be able to pick up your own Ecological Cooking second hand at Amazon or your local used book store; however, dont despair as the author does have a variety of other excellent vegan cookbooks. Vegan Vittles: Second Helpings is the best substitute of Ecological Cooking. Please visit Jo Stepaniaks website for books and lots of excellent vegetarian tidbits.

The recipes below have been reprinted with permission from the author.

Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole
Serves 8

1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
2 C chopped pecans
1 C cooked potatoes, diced small
1 C chopped celery
½ C sliced mushrooms
1 (4 oz) can tomato puree
1 C fresh bread crumbs
2 T tamari

Sauté onion in 1 tsp. olive oil until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Combine with remaining ingredients. Place in a lightly oiled casserole (I used a pie dish) and bake, covered for 30 minutes at 350 F. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.

Daily Bread
3 large loaves

4 C warm water
3 T (3 pkgs.) active dry yeast
½ C Sucanat
2 tsp. salt (optional*)
1/3 C safflower oil

Dissolve yeast in water. Add Sucanat, salt and oil. Stir well. Add flour, alternating whole wheat then white until you reach desired consistency [until dough pulls away from your hands without sticking]. Use as little flour as possible, since a soft dough will yield a moister bread. Knead 10-15 minutes on a floured surface. Form into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Turn dough to oil top and cover bowl with a damp cloth. Set in warm place for about 1 ½ hours, or until dough is doubled. Divide into 3 equal pieces. Form into loaves and place in greased pans. Let bread rest ½ hours, covered with a damp cloth. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

* The recipe says that the salt is optional, and as one who has recently baked bread without salt (as infants are not supposed to eat added salt), I do not recommend salt free bread, as it is rather blah.

Alu Mattar
Serves 6

3 T vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. tumeric
1 T Curry Powder (page 209) – I used premade Indian curry powder
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
½ C water
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chunked
4 C cooked, peeled, diced potatoes
1 ½ C frozen peas, thawed under hot tap water and drained
3 T fresh cilantro, or 1 ½ T dried cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onions for about 10 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add spices and stir fry for about a minute more. Remove from heat and place in a blender along with ½ cup water. Process until smooth. Poor back into skillet add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and peas. Cook for 10 minutes more, until hot. Garnish with cilantro before serving. Is delicious rolled up in Chapatis.