Veggie tales, and a garden

The vegetable situation is grim here. We have extra people for dinner tonight and need to stretch what we have to feed everyone. Since the weather is so warm, we decided to cook out on the grill, and use up the rest of the Father’s Day barbecue meat — hot dogs and burger patties, plus a roasted vegetable medley — aka what’s left in the fridge. The vegetable medley consists of the last 4 potatoes, a really sad red onion (see photo — at least half was slimy or foul), a handful of wrinkled cherry tomatoes, two unripe green tomatoes off our own plants that got knocked off by a clumsy gardener (me), the last of some very, very sad-looking mushrooms from 2 weeks ago that need to be eaten today or thrown out, the rest of our celery (mostly leaves and a little bit of the heart), and some random green garlic from our neighbor’s garden. I tossed all of this in some vegetable oil, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of horseradish sauce from my vast condiment vault. It marinated all day and was grilled in a battered aluminum pan that will be recycled.

The fruit situation is dire as well. I mentioned yesterday about fruit flies doing the groove thing on our last stone fruits. I put all the fruit in the refrigerator to preserve it a few days longer, but this ruins the flavor (it also wrecks tomatoes, too). I hate refrigerated fruit — too cold for my teeth, and the flavor goes off. The only way, in my opinion, to eat a piece of fruit is at room temperature, so you can smell it as well as taste it. Regardless, the plums are goners. The few remaining nectarines won’t taste good but they still have structural integrity. The strawberries had a last hurrah this morning at breakfast, when the elder daughter salvaged a few and The Boy ate two. The rest they snubbed. I’m reviving the plums and the rest of the strawberries one more time by making dessert for tonight — an old standby, fruit cobbler. (There it is, in the photo, before sugar and topping.)

If you don’t know from cobbler, it is sliced fruit, stirred with sugar and a sprinkle of spices — cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg, maybe (and I’ll bet you could experiment with fresh lemon balm, lavender, mint or basil, if you have it). I used a pinch of allspice, since we have a lot of it, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Toss the fruit in the sugar and spices, and top it with biscuit dough. You can use those little pop-up biscuits in a can, or mix flour and baking soda and a pinch of salt. Bisquick or pancake mix will also do the trick. If you don’t have the makings for biscuits, make it a fruit crumble — top the fruit with a mixture of oatmeal, cinnamon and sugar. A little coconut or chopped nuts in the topping are a nice twist, if you like or can tolerate them (for some reason, coconut seems to excite the same kind of pro/con passion as the raw vs. cooked oyster crowd. Don’t ask me why.) If you’re really low on ingredients, go back to those leftover cookies or cookie crumbs and top the fruit with that.

In any case, I’m serving the plum-strawberry cobbler for dessert tonight (there it is before baking). I used a scant 1/2 cup of sugar plus a sprinkle on top, for those of you counting calories or cavities. You can gild the lily by serving it with whipped cream, heavy cream or ice cream, but plain and simple is mighty fine, too. My personal favorite is blackberry cobbler; nothing beats blackberry in my book (drool…).

While I’m using the oven for the cobbler, I might as well do a two-fer. Daughter the Elder likes breakfast bars for work. They’re expensive at the store, though, full of the demons high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and white enriched flour. I also have a rule about NOT buying individually wrapped *anything*, because of the amount of packaging and garbage generated. (I buy larger sizes and use small containers to serve, take to work, etc.) I found a recipe online for breakfast bars that mixed together in 5 minutes. It called for white flour but I swapped in whole wheat. Rolled oats (my beloved oatmeal) are another key ingredient, and I added some of those flax seeds my parents left here.

The fruit portion could be anything from raisins and dates to dried apples, cranberries, blueberries or prunes. We had about a half-cup of dried apricots in the way back of the fridge, and threw in another half-cup of mixed dried fruit that I found. They bake in a large pan like brownies and can be sliced, wrapped in waxed paper (I don’t buy plastic wrap, but waxed paper is compostable) and kept in an airtight storage container (Tupperware, etc.).

Since I already have basic baking supplies on hand, the only expense would be the dried fruit — frequently on sale in $1 boxes at Walgreen. I can probably get 12-16 bars out of the batch, which would equal 2 full boxes of (name your favorite) cereal or breakfast bars. At $4 a box, I would have spent $8, but saved on the packaging and poor ingredients. My cost is perhaps $2 for the batch.

Good news for gardeners

Did you know that food stamps can be used to purchase vegetable seeds and starts for your garden? True — so if you receive food stamps, you can also buy what you need to plant some tomatoes, radishes, lettuce or other garden goodies. You can’t buy dirt and flower pots, but a little ingenuity will take care of that for you.
Witness our garden transformation a few months back, from the pile of tired old dirt and random lumber to a space with reclaimed wooden planter boxes. Our garden didn’t cost us a penny this year, and over the last few years has cost us very little, thanks to Freecycle, curbside scrounging, elbow grease (there it is again!) and a green thumb.
The garden has resulted in lots of fresh vegetables to eat, fruit and veggies in the freezer, a plethora of sauces and soups, dried plums, sunflower seeds, jams and jellies, cobblers and cakes, pickles, sauerkraut, giardiniera, salsa and much more. If you’re lucky enough to have a place to plant something, anything, I encourage you to do so. If you are on FS, take advantage, if you can, of the potential of growing your own, in a curb strip, center street island, a community garden, an empty lot. If it’s possible to get together with your neighbors and plan a community garden, I wish you many hours of happy weeding, planting and harvest to come. This is one way in which all people, hungry or not, can take a step toward  their own food security.

As for us, it is convenient that the JFSC is ending soon, because our garden is getting ready to pop with ripening tomatoes, green beans and zucchini. I know that lots of FS recipients don’t live in houses with yards, or even apartments with a balcony or patio, and in other parts of the country the growing season is curtailed by snow and cooler weather than we in sunny California enjoy. It won’t be possible for us to maintain our attempt to live on a food stamp budget when the produce starts falling off the bushes. Just wanted to point that out for the locals who know I’m an avid green gardener and who often share in the garden goodies.

Sunday Menu
Breakfast: coffee. Julia: raisin bran, milk. Austin: waffles (frozen leftovers from last time we made waffles), strawberries. Ana: pastries (bread site, free); Simone: banana bread, strawberries. Patrick: coffee.
Lunch: Julia: plain yogurt with nectarine, half pb&j sandwich, lemonade-iced tea (both homemade); Simone: leftover mac&cheese with hot dogs, lemonade-ice tea; Ana (packed for work): Hot Pocket, banana bread, water.
Snackin’ (while watching World Cup/Oakland A’s/SF Giants games): peanuts, tortilla chips and salsa (from last wknd BBQ), lemonade-ice tea, ice cream cones.
Dinner: Hamburgers/hot dogs/veggie patties on buns (from freezer, all left from BBQ), with lettuce, tomato and pickles, condiments; roasted vegetables, 3-bean salad (still more), plum-strawberry cobbler.

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2 Replies to “Veggie tales, and a garden”

  1. Just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed your blog this month. I discovered it from the Food Stamp Challenge.

    I hope you’ll continue to write often, and not completely stop writing about food, money, sustainability, green living at home, the politics of food, etc. Yours is one of the most engaging blogs I’ve read on this subject. No, make that the most engaging, and thought provocative.

    One question about your comments on gardening and food stamps. Why would eating from your garden not be appropriate for a food stamp challenge?

    While someone with a highly self-sustaining homestead writing about a food stamp challenge might be a little irrelevant, I’m curious what the issue is with suburban back yard gardening.

    I know a lot of FS users don’t have the opportunity to garden, but many do, and as you say you can use FS to get your garden planted.

    I hope you’ll say more about this.

    I was curious through the month that I didn’t notice anything about your family eating from your garden or any eggs from the chickens you mentioned. Was that on purpose because of the challenge? You mentioned eating from other people’s gardens when the food was a gift or a gleaning.

    Anyway, awesome blog. Glad I found you.

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