Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Food Philosophy...

... and other thoughts about going green, going organic and carbon footprints.

Prepare yourself for a deep post.

Lately I've been inspired by my recent trip to Italy and my friend Rebecca's post about going organic. It has made me think more about where my food comes from, what happens to it along the way, and what that means to me and to the planet. It's part of the reason I started a garden. I want food that is fresh, delicious and doesn't send me on a guilt trip when I eat it.

Rewind a few weeks to my triumphant return from traipsing through the Italian peninsula. I've got news for you: Those Italians know how to eat. Everything was so damn delicious! Even more than that, it was fresh! We visited the farmer's market each morning prior to setting out, and everything was picked at it's peak and ready to be eaten immediately!

This wasn't just something quirky tourists do on a low-budg trip to Italy. Farmer's markets are EVERYWHERE over there, and everyone gardens. Every yard, balcony, porch, stoop or windowsill had flowers, herbs and produce growing on it. It's a quintessential cultural phenomenon over there, and people are incredibly aware of where their food comes from and incredibly discerning about food quality. As a result, you don't need fancy ingredients to make a stellar meal, just a few fresh, high quality ingredients.

Alright kidz. Let me connect the dots for you.

This got me to thinking about how we get food to our table in The States. It travels hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from Chile and Argentina, picked before it is ripe, sprayed with wax, preservatives, pesticides and hormones so that when it arrives, it looks appealing. Even so, unless it's in season it just doesn't taste that way it did in Italy. And innumerable gallons of petrol went into bringing it to me.

The eat local movement is gaining momentum here, and there's a reason: It makes sense. Eat what's in season, and eat what was harvested nearby so that it is picked fresh and doesn't expend as much gas to get to the grocer. It tastes better, it's better for you and it saves Mother Earth a little headache in the process. It supports local business and can even help to build a better community. Done! Sold! I'm on board!

I intend to start shopping local at the Reading Terminal Market, the Italian Market and the farmer's market on our corner of Lancaster Avenue whenever I can. Even more than that, I'm going to grow food for myself in my own backyard. Take that, gas-guzzling tractor trailers! And I'm going to try to be as green about it as I can. But I'm going to do it on my terms.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Teeeeny, tiiiiny tomatoes

There was a tomato sighting this morning!

Two in fact. One on my Goliath's, and one on my Better Boy Hybrids.

This is the earliest in the season I've ever had tomatoes. In part I believe this is due to the fact that I started from nursery-grown plants vs starting from seed. Also, the plethora of pollinators attracted by the honeysuckle growing nearby certainly helps.

If you look closely you can also see there is a bit of an insect problem on this plant. I'll be addressing that in a post later this week.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Today I Made...

... ravioli with butter & sage.

Ingredients: fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes, red onion, zucchini and capsicums from Reading Terminal Market

fresh spinach ricotta ravioli from the Italian Market, as well as basil and sage grown by yours truly

A little cheese and crushed black pepper and voila! This may seem labor intensive, but I assure you it is not, and I have made the same dish with just some pasta, sage leaves, butter and crushed black pepper and no one complained.

Granted, there's butter in the title. Clearly this does not constitute "diet food." Nonetheless, it only calls for 1 tablespoon of the artery-clogging offender, and if it really gets your panties in a bunch you could substitute olive oil and use whole wheat pasta. But WHY WOULD YOU? It's just so good. And it's full of veggie goodness.

Boil water with a pinch of salt. Toss in some ravioli's or pasta and let cook for 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter on low heat. Add onions and some garlic if you like. When onions soften, toss in some zucchini slices and chopped capsicum. When these soften sufficiently, crumble some sage leaves and basil in that bad boy. Cook for a few minutes until everything is tender and delicious. Slice some tomatoes on top.

When you've done all that, toss the rav's in with the veggies and sprinkle some cheese on top. BAM!

I highly recommend noshing on this with some vino.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tryna Eat Right

One of my aims in growing a garden is to eat better. I'm not a huge fan of dieting-I think denying myself the foods I crave only leads to ultimate failure. I can't keep it up forever and eventually I end up binging. :: sad face :: Wholesome foods and exercise are where it's at.

However, I do try to keep the amount of processed food in my diet to a minimum. I like knowing everything that's on the ingredients label. Propylene glycol? Glycerol triacetate? Xylitol? Do you know what that stuff is? I certainly don't, and I've even got three semesters of organic chemistry under my belt! So why would I want that stuff in my body? Especially considering the FDA classifies most food additives as "generally recognized as safe." Generally? I'd like a little more conviction when you say that!

I believe that if I start with some basic ingredients: pasta, rice, fresh fruits & vegetables, spices, I will know what I'm putting into my body, it will be more nutritious and I can cut down on the things we all know we shouldn't be eating. You know what I'm talking about-cheese puffs, Twinkies, etc. I'm convinced there is a direct connection between orange food coloring and food quality!

I also think that fresher ingredients mean better taste. And if it starts out tasting better, I can cut down on things like butter, salt and even meat. No I'm not going veg-although I have mucho respect for those who are. However, I know meat production eats up a vast amount of resources and has a proportionally larger carbon footprint than many other foodstuffs. Red meat especially is bad for the environment-cattle farms are simply not sustainable. So even though I'm not cutting meat out of my diet entirely, cutting back even a little bit helps.

So those're my thoughts on eating right. Anyone else have any thoughts to share?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diving off the deep end...

...headfirst, in true Tony style.

This represents my first foray into urban gardening. It may ultimately end up a flop, but if so it will be a delicious one.

Growing up, we had a rather large vegetable plot, and I even experimented with growing herbs and flowers of all sorts. However, we also had almost an acre of property to play around with-not something you can expect from a city garden.

Fast forward to moving back to the city and starting my adult life. I have lived in a high rise dorm and rented two houses. The first of which had a concrete backyard and a large overhanging tree, leading to perpetual shade. Our current abode boasts a large (by Philly standards) grassy yard that faces southwest and gets some really good sun in late afternoon. Since we have decided to stay an extra year at this house, I've got the whole summer to play around with gardening, and I've gotten myself off to a fairly decent start.

Hopefully these photos can give you some idea of exactly what I'm working with here.

Sidenote: I have a real talent for unwittingly sneaking my finger or thumb into photos. The bane of iPhotos.