Preserving Strawberries

20130510-161548.jpg

I love strawberries. Love, love, love them. Strawberries and asparagus are my two harbingers of spring. When you see them at the farmer’s markets, winter is over fo’ sho’. Like many of the most precious things in life, strawberries are fragile and temporary. Fresh strawberries are so far superior to their hard, dry grocery cousins that I will usually forego buying strawberries at the grocery and instead, wait until I can eat them to my heart’s content, fresh from the fields. But if you are eating (mostly) local as we are, how do you continue the strawberry love all year? There are lots of ways to preserve your berries so you have some wonderful flavor all winter long. Canning preserves, of course, is a great option, but don’t forget freezing and drying as well!

Your freezer is probably your most overlooked ally in reducing food waste and stalling the effects of time on your precious berries. Last year, we purchased a second freezer and we used it all summer to pack away berries, peaches, tomatoes, figs, corn, beans, okra–pretty much anything that was plentiful and at the peak of the season. Our freezer is running low now, but we’ve had a winter’s worth of wonderful meals and we’re getting ready to stock it up once again! With strawberries, you can make freezer jam or just freeze the whole berries for use later.

One of our favorite restaurants, Lucky 32, has a great Farm-to-Fork blog about preserving strawberries HERE. Check it out! I’m definitely trying the vinegar idea this year–not only does it sound delicious, it uses up those bruised berries that sometimes get put in the compost (well, not in our house–they usually end up in my mouth).

Here are some other ideas and resources:

Put ‘Em Up and Put ‘Em Up Fruit by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Put ‘Em Up was my canning and preserving bible last summer. My copy is so dog-eared, stained and sticky that it’s a surprise I can still turn the pages. One aspect I really like is that her jam recipes use Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is a bit more expensive, but allows you to decrease the amount of sugar you use without compromising the texture of the jam. I just ordered her new fruit book and can’t wait to try the recipes. Strawberries are so fresh and sweet, why mess them up with more sugar than needed? I love this book so much more than the Ball canning books because the recipes are creative and absolutely spot on with measurements. Also, she includes other preserving methods, such as drying and freezing, so if you don’t can, you can still find lots of useful ideas.

Consider buying a dehydrator. This is my summer project. Have you ever had dried strawberries??? Holy moly! They are amazing and last a good long while. Wonderful on cereal, in granola or just as a snack–nature’s candy, indeed! You can dry strawberries in your oven as well–just takes a little more attention on your part, but completely do-able!

Make fruit leather. Once you make homemade fruit leather, you will never touch that pre-packaged stuff from the grocery again. And you kids probably won’t want to either. We made homemade strawberry fruit leather last spring (read about it HERE)and we all agreed it was so strawberry-delicious that we needed to make more. Immediately. Except then, we ate all our strawberries. Oh, well, we will try again this year!

I’ll be sharing more of our berry recipes as we head into high season! I just need to remember to sock some away for November and December, when we are feeling deprived of fresh berries!

Quality of Life and Health–Two Points of Comparison

20130418-084033.jpg

While on vacation in Paris last week, we stayed in an apartment rather than a hotel, which gave us a different perspective on what it feels like to really live in urban Paris. The differences between urban Paris and the quasi-urban town where I work in North Carolina are astounding. I thought I’d share them with you because they really point to the fact that our obesity problem is one that includes food, but is much larger than the issue of food itself. Sometimes, being in a new environment can help you see your usual environment in a whole new light. Here are some thoughts on how the supporting infrastructure for healthy food and transportation are wildly different between Paris and the city where I work, Raleigh.

Food Access

While Paris is mostly a concrete jungle, Parisians have ample access to fresh fruit, vegetables and freshly prepared foods day and night. Although we saw a Subway restaurant on our street, there were no other fast food restaurants in our neighborhood (yes, there are McDonalds, but mostly in the high tourist areas). Even the little grocery around the corner had a higher percentage of fresh food and very little processed, packaged food (and no malt liquor). On our street, the Rue Vavin, we had the following within in a one block radius of our apartment:

  • 12 cafes and restaurants, most of which offered outdoor seating

20130418-083710.jpg

  • 1 primeur or fresh fruit and vegetable shop

20130418-083816.jpg

  • 1 boulangerie or bread baker

20130413-095817.jpg

  • 1 boucherie or butcher

20130418-083840.jpg

  • 1 patisserie or pastry shop
  • 1 sandwicherie or carry-out sandwich shop

20130418-084033.jpg

  • 1 general grocery
  • 1 wine shop
  • 1 flower shop

20130418-083934.jpg

  • 1 fromagerie or cheese shop
  • 1 pharmacy
  • 2 subway stops
  • 4 bus stops

I work on a main street in “downtown” Raleigh, where within a one block radius of my office I have:

  • 6 restaurants, one of which offers outdoor seating; none open after 4:00 pm and only two are open on Saturdays
  • 1 pharmacy (which does not sell any fresh food)
  • No access to fresh fruits or vegetables or groceries
  • 2 bus stops

Actually, no where in downtown Raleigh is there access to groceries or fresh fruit and vegetables. While we do have a seasonal farmers market on Wednesdays, it is only from 10-1 and runs April to October. The State Farmer’s Market is not within walking distance and as far as I can tell, no city bus runs directly from downtown to the market.

Navigation

Most people in Paris walk, ride the subway or take a bicycle/scooter where they need to go. There are very few cars because (like most large urban areas) there is no parking and driving in the city seems more of a nuisance than a convenience. All around the city, there are bike racks where you can deposit a few Euro and rent a city bike for a while. You just return it to one of the racks when you are done. We saw many people running errands on these bikes, so they seem to be in good use (see the rack on the left of this photo?).

20130418-122508.jpg

Even children walk or ride their razor scooters to their local schools–I never once saw a school bus (even field trips were conducted via the metro and walking rather than by bus). In the mornings, I often saw small groups of elementary and middle school age children lining up at the local boulangerie (bread baker) or fruit vendor to get a snack on their way to school. In the afternoon, young people walked home, met friends in the plaza on our street and generally seemed to be happy and relaxed kids. My child was a bit jealous that French schools start later (9ish) and finish later (4ish) than American schools, which means children can walk while it is light outside instead of getting up and waiting for a bus in the dark. We saw parents all over the place walking children to school or strolling them to child care in the morning.

Here in NC, almost no one walks to school because it is almost impossible. There are very few areas around schools with good sidewalks and traffic areas (and specifically drivers) are not pedestrian friendly. In France if you hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk, you go to jail. In North Carolina, you get a ticket. Hmmm.

I saw no overweight children outside of tourists and no overweight French adults. I didn’t hear any children whining or complaining that they were too tired to walk or needed to sit down. It was amazing. I’m sure Paris has its share of problems, too, but it is an active, thriving city with a wonderful energy and clearly a commitment to serve the people who live and work downtown. That visit really opened my eyes to what a city can be if it focuses on ensuring people can live healthy within it.

Raleigh likes to think itself an up-and-coming city. But a look at a real city shows that this little kid on the block has a long, loooooong way to go before it is really grown up and ready for prime time. I hope it can get a bit closer by encouraging more actual downtown living, boosting meaningful public transportation and offering people who live and work downtown with the amenities people need to stay downtown. Building luxury apartments isn’t enough to make a town into a city, especially if you stop thinking about the residents as people and only think of them as property owners. Who never walk. And only eat in restaurants. And don’t have children.

Week 16 Budget and Menu

Well, while I was gone last week, spring finally arrived in North Carolina! When I left, the trees just had little leaf buds and nothing was blooming. I came home to green, green, green and beautiful spring flowers everywhere!  What a glorious time of year!

In addition to all the flowers, our farmers markets are showing signs of spring as well. We have asparagus, strawberries, lettuce and onions! Yay!!! And our Produce Box deliveries start this week as well. Double yay! We are a bit over budget at $106.60 and interestingly, we are not eating much meat this week, but we are eating more seafood, which tends to bump our budget up a bit.

This week’s menu is taking advantage of our spring crops as well as the delicious salads we had in Paris last week. Now that we have reworked our menu for spring, I need to find time to rework my closet!

What’s fresh at your farmer’s market this week?

Budget [$106.60]

  • Rare Earth Farms (buttermilk, mozzarella, eggs): $14.28
  • Locals Seafood (shrimp): $10.00
  • The Produce Box (organic kale, organic cucumber, organic hothouse tomato, organic radish, organic pea tendrils): $22.00
  • Various farmers market vendors (asparagus, greenhouse tomato, strawberries, romaine lettuce): $19.00
  • Trader Joes (chicken thighs, mushrooms, salmon, lemon, frozen fruit, yogurt, Ezekiel bread):$41.32

Menu

  • Wednesday–Power Salad (kale, lettuce, tomato, avocado, pine nuts, egg)
  • Thursday–Slow cooker cashew chicken, rice
  • Friday–Pasta with shrimp, asparagus, mushrooms
  • Saturday–Salmon with veggie risotto and citrus beurre blanc
  • Sunday–Egg salad on toast
  • Monday–Tomato and cheese pizza, salad
  • Tuesday–Omelettes, salad

French Pastries–Eating Local Is So Good

One of my treats this week has been to walk to the boulangerie on our street each morning and pick up our breakfast. Oh, the choices!!! They have lovely, hearty multigrain breads, fluffy-as-clouds pastries, the staple flaky croissants and tartines (small baguettes served with butter and jam). What you won’t find here are eclairs, napoleons, or any other French dessert pastry–for those, you go to the patisserie, or pastry shop. You won’t find coffee, either, so for that you go to a cafe or, in our case, Starbucks. While this means we have a divide-and-conquer strategy for petite dejeuner, it also shows that people have a great sense of pride in doing one thing and doing it well. If I go to the local grocery store at home, odds are pretty good that no one working in the bakery section can answer detailed questions. Go to a boulangerie, and they can tell you where the flour comes from, who makes the baked goods and all the differences between the breads. Of course, the assortment of goods in an American grocery is so huge that one person couldn’t possibly know all of it well. In our little boulangerie, we have fewer options, but it doesn’t matter because what we have is enough.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be tackling these at home, but here is an assortment of the kinds of pastries available at our local boulangerie! From the top, they are:

Pain aux raisins
Pain du chocolate (accompanied by a rogue pancake from Starbucks)
Croissant au beurre

20130413-095817.jpg

20130413-095851.jpg

20130413-095942.jpg

Salads, Oh La La!

Ok, since coming to Paris, I have eaten, well, a LOT. I have been trying to eat healthy (croissants are healthy, right?). But, really, I’m on va-ca-tion. If I want a macroon for breakfast, I’m eating it.
Still, I have found some lovely spring salad ideas that I plan on exporting back to North Carolina. The French may have duck confit and boeuf Bourgogne, but they can also rock some lettuce and fresh veggies. Yum! Here are two of my new favorites:

Salad Avec Chèvre Chaud

This salad was AMAZING! Spring field greens topped with small amounts of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, golden raisins, chopped apricots, and roasted cherry tomatoes. The whole thing is topped with thin slices of prosciutto and two little toast triangles with warm, bacon wrapped goat cheese circles. The dressing was a very light vinaigrette. I had this at Le Preau in the Marais, and I will think of them when I make this at home!

20130412-203319.jpg

Salad Marche

This market salad was delicious and nourishing on a cold, windy, rainy Paris afternoon. I had this at the restaurant Le Week End, just off the Champs-Élysée, which sounded like a place no decent food would present itself. We were all incredibly surprised. Romaine lettuce with a light vinaigrette was topped with a thin slice of cheese and a thin slice of prosciutto. The salad was surrounded by a stack of thinly sliced tomato, toast with a small chunk of Brie, a fried egg and some fried potato slices. No need for dessert or anything else. Just this salad and a glass of wine. I can totally do this at home and maybe sub asparagus for the potatoes. Yummy, yum, yum!

20130412-205451.jpg

Poached Salmon and Citrus Cous Cous at the Musee d’Orsay

20130510-160916.jpg

I’ve worked in museums my entire career and no matter where I have lived, one thing remains constant. Art museums tend to have the best food. Typically, though, American museum dining is a very disappointing option. Designed to serve the masses quickly, American museum food service tends to fall back on a fast food model of prepackaged foods or hamburgers, pizza and fries. I’m not sure how much of that is to keep the profit margin high and how much is because we don’t think people will want anything better. Clearly, we don’t see food as a source of national pride. I usually stay away from these places unless I am desperately hungry.

But France is another situation entirely. Food has a place of prominence here, although obesity is rare. Quality over quantity.

We visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris yesterday and I think it is now one of my favorite museums. Not only is the art in this renovated train station absolutely lovely, the building itself is an architectural gem. I heard that the restaurant in the museum was beautiful and quite good, so we decided to give it a try. Oh. My. Goodness. It was pricey, but that is probably the second hallmark of museum dining, so not a surprise.

20130510-161135.jpg

I had “Le plat” (special of the day), which was described to me as “salmon”. That waiter was a bit understated. What showed up was a plate of loveliness–that would be a better description. A generous fillet of the silkiest poached salmon I have ever had was perched on top of a bed of Cous Cous with minced carrots and other vegetables. All of it was laid on top of a citrus beurre blanc that I could have licked off the plate. On a chilly, rainy spring day, this was nourishing and delicious. Not sure I can replicate most of what I am eating here, but this is one I have some confidence about.

Sometimes the best things you bring back from vacation aren’t souvenirs, they are ideas!

New Favorite Place in the World–Le Parc Aux Cerfs

20130510-160422.jpg

Oh, duck confit, I love you.

Seriously. Eating on vacation, especially in a new country, can influence you and bring you new surprises. Like oxtail and escargo, and really high dining bills. Thanks to Trip Advisor, we found a wonderful, family-owned restaurant on rue Vavin in Paris (2 blocks from our apartment) that is both amazing for the quality of its food and for the fairness of its prices. Le Parc Aux Cerfs is one of those cozy bistros you hope to find in Paris–great food, comfortable environment, staff not afraid of poor French language skills–you know, all the things that make great memories! We were hungry after a day of museums and walking, so we each ordered the three course dinner–entree, feature and dessert for $37.00 per person. That might seem like a lot, but in Paris land, that is extremely good. Fifteen minutes into our dinner, Ellie declared, “Well, looks like we’ve found a new favorite place!”

I started with an artichoke heart and tomato couloirs salad that had Gorgonzola cheese sprinkles over top. It was delicious–light and refreshing. The tomato coulis was spread on a home made cracker-like wafer and served on top of the salad. Soooo good. Not sure I’ll be able to replicate this at home!

20130410-223832.jpg

My plan was to be more adventuresome with my feature, but the daily plate du jour was my favorite–duck confit with duck fat potatoes. Sold!!! The crispy duck and potatoes were decadent and flavorful. This is not fancy pants food–it is bistro cooking at it’s best.

20130410-224021.jpg

While my tummy was urging me to skip dessert, of course I did not. I had a crumble of seasonal fruits with a struesal topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!!!

20130410-224117.jpg

I have a lot more walking to do to walk all that off! I was glad to be eating seasonal foods that are also traditional. And wine. We had a lovely cotes de rhone wine that was far superior (and less expensive) than what I’ve had in the states. I have some serious penance to do, but I’ll save that for next week 🙂

Paris and Food Access

My first post from Paris! How is food access different here than in the states? Well, for one thing, fruit and vegetable stands are everywhere!!! All over downtown, there are little fruit stands, like this one that is just across the street.

20130410-175905.jpg

Also, in the subway!!! We came out of the Montparnasse station to find not one, but two fruit vendors!

20130410-180125.jpg

We have a lot to learn about access to fresh fruit and veg. And, well, a lot about pastry, too, but that is another post 🙂

Au Revoir!

%d bloggers like this: