Friday, November 13, 2009

Falling for fall

Even though the sun is shining and it is a balmy 60 degrees here, it still feels like autumn. The changing of the season signals a change in our appetites and I crave root vegetables, pumpkin dishes and apple-ladened desserts. These foods taste better because they are in season. The spotlight shines on them because this is exactly when we are supposed to be eating them. With the new food technologies we have today, we can eat just about any fruit or vegetable we want any time of year. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Out-of-season foods can be genetically modified, full of chemicals and artificially ripened so that they can make the long journey from places such as New Zealand and Chile to our local supermarkets. Local fall harvests produce the sweetest and crispest apples, richly colored root vegetables, pomegranates (my favorite!) and cool season squashes and pumpkins(Click here for a wonderful pumpkin waffle recipe). Look for them this month and you will find that they are economical as well as tasty. The photo above was an organic mixture of red and gold beets, orange and yellow baby carrots, rutabagas, turnips, onions, garlic and celery roasted with olive oil and salt. The juice from the red beets tinted everything with a rosy blush and the mixture was delicious. Is it weird to find vegetables so beautiful that you want to take their picture? Probably, but I am past the age of worrying if people think I am weird.

The chickens are getting very close to egg-laying age and I was delighted that our local feed store ordered organic chicken feed for me. As much as a desired to be able to label my eggs "organic," I now realize that their truly is no such thing. Chickens eat bugs. For some of you that may be disgusting but it actually makes for better quality eggs in flavor and nutrition. I cannot guarantee that these bugs are only consuming organic food and not all fruit and vegetable scraps I throw out to the girls are organic. They also require ground-up oyster shells for calcium and I have yet to see organically-certified oysters. I will do my best but unless I lock them in a hermetically sealed container, they will continue eating any insects that come in their path and that is just another perk of having pet chickens.

This Veteran's Day we took a day-trip to a working date farm. I have never cooked with dates and hardly even tasted them but it did inspire me to make some date-nut bread and to learn more about their nutritional benefits. There are so many good things about dates that I don't want to bore you by listing them all here. If you are curious to see what is so good about them, click here. I will say that they are a good source of fiber, loaded with vitamins and minerals, used as medicines in some cultures and are in season right now. The date-nut bread was well-received by my family and friends and I have added the recipe for you below.

Since I began this journey, I have noticed that organic products are more prominently featured in regular supermarkets and the prices are dropping. The more we buy, the more the stores will respond with variety and sales. When I was watching a bonus feature with Michael Pollan on the "Future of Food" DVD, he was asked why organic food costs so much. He responded, "What you should be asking is why the other food is so cheap." Americans spend less of their income on food then they ever have but have no problem with spending hundreds of dollars a month on cell phone and cable bills. We have become complacent with food quality standards and rely too much on the government to protect our food supply. I highly recommend watching "The Future of Food" and "Food, Inc." which is also on DVD. It's time America knew what we are really eating and the long-term consequences that will result from it.


3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, pour hot water over dates and butter. Stir and let the mix sit until lukewarm. In a food processor, puree 1/3 of the mix to make a paste. Stir it back into the bowl full of date mix. Add the brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the date mixture. Mix together and and fold in walnuts. Pour the batter into a butter-greased loaf pan.

Bake for 60 minutes or so; loaf is done when the top has risen. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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