Archive for July, 2009

Food Sourcing

Strawberry fields in Watsonville from Kelsey Parker's Flickr stream licensed under the creative commons

Strawberry fields in Watsonville from Kelsey Parker's Flickr stream licensed under the creative commons

There are many wonderful things about eating local foods, but I’ve always wondered, product by product, if it really is better for the environment to be a localvore. See, we only ever seem to take transport costs into consideration when we think about this, but there are really so many other factors. For example, natural gas is primarily used to make fertilizer. If a region grows more pounds of food on less fertilizer, it could have a higher enviromental benefit than a plant grown locally, that doesn’t want to grow there and needs more fertilizer. Or think about lamb. Some places you can raise more sheep per acre because of how well grasses grow. I’m not sure where this is done best, but if you need a ton of land (which must be fertilized) to raise fewer sheep than it might make more ecological sense to ship in lamb from somewhere else.

But I don’t know. I don’t know all the variables and I don’t know the numbers that go with each one. Some economists would argue that if there were not outside incentives (but there always are) than the products that are the cheapest use the fewest resources and are best for the environment. I can think of arguements against this, but there is a generalized point.

This question is why I found this article in the Toronto Starso interesting. It tracks a batch of strawberries from its begginings to its ends while comparing them to local Ontario strawberries. To start, the process of breeding strawberries is amazing as each strawberry plant has 8 distinct cromosons. Wen you go read it make sure to check out the comments. I swear some of the commenters didn’t read the article. They rail about how this is genetically modified fuit, when what it isĀ  breed fruit, just like all our other food, local organic or not. Saying this is genetically modified is like saying that a german shepard has the same genetic manipulation as a glow in the dark bunny.

I found two of the comparisons to Ontario strawberries interesting. First “On a per-pound basis, an 18-wheeler emits one-fifteenth the carbon dioxide of a delivery van heading to a local farmers’ market.” I’m not sure if that is mile for mile or in total though I’m guessing the first, meaning its probably still better in this part of the equation to buy local. Second cooling strawberries in Ontario takes 3 days in a fridge in California they have a super cooler that takes an hour and a half. Again I’m not sure how much energy both systems draw except that the 1.5 hour method uses 1/5 the energy of the 3 hour method.

So I still don’t really know which is better, but if we really want to know- here’s a sample of everything that would go into it.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies- Thank you Cook’s Illustrated

I’m a pretty simple girl when it comes to home made cookies- I just want them to be good and in my book the tollhouse recipe is good enough. Unfortunately the tollhouse chips have been hard to come by for me in Canada and with it the recipe. (who would write down a recipe when you have known where to find it your whole life?) So I was pleased as punch that Cook’s Illustrated came out with an improved recipe in this months magazine. I’m not going to give it away because I appreciate the work Cook’s Illustrated does and I want you to go buy the magazine. If you are not familiar, its the one that always has the hoity toity paintings of veggies or fruit on the cover. But what they do is remarkable, it’s like a cooking magazine for scientists. In each article they have a goal of something they want to make or make better. They do research start with a combo of recipes and test them on food testers all the way along. When they have made 1200 cookies and are satisfied, the recipe is done. You get the recipe and the story of how it came to be.

So back to the cookies. The main move in this recipe is melting and browning most of the butter which gives the cookies a really deep nutty flavour and it you bake them right away they get this awesome crust. They are not as amazing when you freeze and then cook the dough, but I’m sure experiments could be done toward that end as well. The down side is it took a bit more hand beating in intervals, but more importantly the opportunities to surreptitiously eat cookie dough diminished. My favorite part (like everyone else) is licking the “empty” bowl, spatulas and beaters. Here the melted butter made the the dough stick together better and be more greasy so if you wanted to eat cookie dough, you had to just admit it to yourself and take a wad off the giant ball (I did).

All and all, better that the recipes of Canadian chocolate chips and probably better than tollhouse.

Planting strawberry runners

My happy strawberry plant started sending out runners last week and I stared at them for a week growing longer and longer before I bothered to look into it. See I knew the plant was looking to expand, but the real estate market on my balcony is tight so the runners just hung sadly over the pot, using up good strawberry making energy and finding nothing except that it made a good cat toy. However, once I bothered to look on the internet I saw how easy these buggers would be to transplant.

They had reached the stage where little root noduals (they look like tiny nipples) were starting to emerge so I stuck them in two small transplant pots, weighted them down with bits of terracotta so that they stayed where I wanted them andv voila. Apparently I can cut them loose from their mamma’s umbilical cord once the settle in, or so says the internet. I’ll let you know if that is not the case.

Garden not so succeses

I have a close friend who has recently started indoor herb gardening and has run up against some trouble. She also seems to think that I have a perfect garden, which, looking back at my posts it does appear I have. Frankly my gardening is going better than it’s ever gone before, but I’ve had my share of failed gardens, like my first attempt at 13 when I spent a week digging into our tiny back yard trying to till and improve the soil after which I tended a bed of plants for weeks with nothing to show but one lousy pepper, and in Southern California no less where no one can ever complain that an early frost got the crops. This garden too, is not without its share of not quite successes. So today we’ll have the gardener’s lament.

First both of my strawberries have survived, but when one is really happy, you can see how unhappy the other is. This little guy gave us a strawberry or two, but just hasn’t grown at all. You can compare its lack of growth with the giant leaf of the other strawberry plant’s leaf poking into the picture. I don’t blame mysel here, except that I must have been greedy and bought a plant that already had strawberries on it. Also known as, has been in the tiny nursery pot too long.

Last year I planted this lettuce and nothing ever got larger than the plant on the right so I’m not complaining too much, but you should know that I planted more than twice as many of these guys and this is all that bothered to grow.

Spinach has been a perpetual problem for me this year. I thought I was maybe doing all right with my slow growing spinach until I got the giant spinach from Ward that I photographed a couple of weeks back. Then it started to yellow so I started another batch. Spinach is not supposed to be this small for this long and no suprise, it has already bolted. Maybe if I learn to spell the word on the first try…

We got this crazy little green zebra tomato plant to fill in when the fava beans fell over and quit, but it’s just not too happy. It’s growing really slowly in the pot that has only made other plants gloriously happy. Plus the stems keep wilting and breaking off. My other tomatoes are doing well except that the bottom leaves keep turning purple. I am currently picking them off and hoping it’s not a problem.

And finally, downy mildew on the sage. I plucked it all feverishly before deciding to blog this so here it is in the trash. I see a little on my cucumbers too. I hear milk and water work so I’m going to try that once we get some milk back in the house.

Oh, and how could I forget, squash. This little guy looks fine, but he’s my second attempt and it may be too late. I nutrure a few little squashies under a lamp indoors for a few weeks. The ones I gave away to friends are not huge, but mine really never got much larger than this one should be in a week. Only one sorry leaf. Looking closely and worrying one day I thought it might have mites so I sprayed it with a home made solution. Too much for the little guy, after a few more days I just pulled it out.