Most gardeners don’t want to think about starting new projects when it’s 110 degrees outside. I talk to home gardeners all the time who think the growing season ends after school is back in session – but nothing could be farther from the truth. Here in Oklahoma we’re fortunate to have a wonderful fall growing season. The summer heat carries through into September, giving us the opportunity to double crop many summer favorites, such as tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant. And even if you’ve never grown fall vegetables before, it’s not too late. You can also start as late as August or September by growing some of the more traditional fall crops. Kale, lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard and turnips all love the cool fall air. Many greens can last well into winter and actually taste better after first frost.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at the Food Bank is delivering the fresh food grown in our own gardens to some of seniors we serve. This fall we’ll be taking our produce out to senior housing communities and feeding programs in some of the highest need areas in the metro. This distribution of fresh, healthy food is made possible by our wonderful Senior Mobile Pantry program as well as our partnerships with the Oklahoma City Housing Authority and the Oklahoma County Senior Nutrition Program.
Growing your own food, and growing food for others will change the way you look at the meals you and your family eat. Start small, take it slow and remember these two things:
1. Don’t plant things your family won’t eat.
2. Don’t plant more than you can use.
(Unless you’re growing extra to donate to your local food pantry, in which case plant as much as you can tend!)
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has a great fact sheet to help you get started on your own fall garden. Get it here.
If you’ve never gardened before, a single raised bed is the best way to start. Check your local library for books on simple raised bed gardening.
To find out more about growing for donation or how you can help in our gardens, please contact Mason Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-600-3142.
Hoop House Strawberries are here and the kids are going mad for them!
I took our first bounty of strawberries from the hoop house stacker system (good job Bruce!) to Lambuth JETS Kids Cafe yesterday after school. They didn’t know I was coming, so it was a real surprise when I showed up with 12 pounds of fresh picked strawberries. We went on a strawberry eating bender, played freeze tag (I lost), had a talent show (I was the judge) and got some great pictures of it all. We talked about how fruit grows, where it comes from and why strawberries from the store are sometimes very sour. Between a dozen kids they ate through about four pounds of strawberries! Site director Donna Jones kept 2 pounds to eat fresh the next day, froze 4 pounds and divided the rest into baggies for the kids to take home. Thanks to the magic of our passive solar hoop house and Bruce’s amazing stacker pots, the Lambuth JETS had the earliest strawberry festival in Oklahoma this year.
*10 year old Soli took all the pictures – She’s pretty good at it.
Hello again and Happy New Year friends. As there’s not much in the way of seasonal produce to discuss this month, I’m intently focused on sandwiches right now. In a former professional life, I was something of a giant-sandwich folk hero. My ability to plan and construct complex, densely layered meals inside grilled ciabatta bread made me very popular in an incredibly odd and limited way. Anyone who’s been around me at all has assuredly been informed that I, Mason Weaver, made a sandwich for Andre 3000 from Outkast. A tofurkey sandwich, no less. (He’s kind, humble, gracious and low-key, in case you were wondering.) So in that spirit of hip-hop celebrity-sandwichry, here are three zany combinations to put between bread.
Mildy Mediterranean Sub
-Caramelized Onions (I add a little brown sugar and white wine vinegar – champagne vinegar is better, but it’s expensive)
-Thinly Sliced Roasted Portobello Mushrooms (salt, pepper, olive oil and an oven at 500 degrees for 5-10 minutes will be perfect, let them rest 5 minutes, then slice as you would tender meat)
-Diced Black and Green Olives
-Sundried Tomato Pesto (you can make this yourself with a food processor, a handful of walnuts, a pinch of salt and a jar of sundried tomatoes in oil)
-Split, Toasted Crusty Bread (it couldn’t hurt to brush a little olive oil on before you toast it)
The key to a beast like this is THIN LAYERS. Don’t glop everything in sections. Take your time and spread each layer thinly over the entire length of the bread. If you have extra left after the bread is covered, save it and add more layers on top. I usually try to pull some of the spongy middle out of crusty bread before I toast it – it gives you more room to add the filling. If you really want to get “Krunk” on this one, after you’ve filled it, foil wrap it tightly and bake on 400 for another 10 minutes – the flavors will meld together nicely. For the truly daring: make a couple of entire foot longs and cut them up for the whole family.
Crunchy Spicy Hippie Heaven
-Sriracha (Thai pepper sauce – you know… it’s red, has a green twist top… picture of a rooster on the bottle)
-Unsweetened, Natural Peanut or Almond Butter (I buy Snider Farms Peanut Butter from the Oklahoma Food Coop)
-Roasted Sunflower Seeds
-Hearty Whole Grain Seed Bread (preferably Big Sky – locally baked and unmatched in flavor and texture)
Spread the nut butter on both pieces of bread. Squirt an appropriate amount of Sriracha on the nut butter. A little goes a long way, so it’s better to start with 4 or 5 drops per side and go from there (I use a lot, but I have a high pepper heat tolerance). Sprinkle the sunflower seeds next so they adhere to your spicy nut butter. Pile the fresh spinach and sprouts on one side and top with the other piece of bread. Smash it down. Cut it in half and serve it with a glass of flavored iced tea – maybe an unsweetened Mango tea?
The New Tea Sandwich
-Sliced Roasted Red Peppers (I use the cheap jarred kind when I’m in a hurry)
-Light or Non-Dairy Cream Cheese
-Fresh Arugula (or roquette for our British friends)
-Pickled Carrots (if you’re industrious, these are amazingly easy to make and keep in the fridge, you can also buy them at most nicer grocery stores)
-Light Wheat Bread (again, Big Sky all the way)
Slice the Red Peppers super thin and lay them on the bottom piece of bread, atop the cream cheese. Lay the pickled carrots sticks the opposite way so they create a checked pattern against the peppers (this builds a more stable base for the greens). Arrange the washed and dried arugula on the carrots and drop the other piece of bread (already spread with cream cheese) on top of the whole thing. Cut diagonally. No seriously if you slice it square, everything will fall out of the bread. Trust me, I’m a professional.
Good sandwiches use good ingredients. Great sandwiches are good sandwiches thoughtfully executed.
You too can be a master of the worlds between the bread. Email me with questions on sandwiches, seasonal foods, getting kids to eat veggies, vintage English 3speed bicycles, analog tape recorders, disposable cameras and whole host of other things.
3:03 PM on Thursday, July 15th, 20103 Comments
I work with kids. I talk to kids about food, healthy eating and cooking. I ask more questions of them then they ask of me, and I often get answers I don’t expect. My project this month has been VeggieDillas (or vegetable quesadillas, for readers born without a compound word gene). The thrust of the activity is getting a group of 6-12 year olds at our Kids Cafe program to name fruits and vegetables that are different colors. I often start with green and immediately tiny hands reach for the sky.
“Uhh…. I forgot…”
Peals of elementary laughter.
When I get to white or brown, groups often get stuck. We always have to stop and go over why eggs and milk (though both white) aren’t a fruit or vegetable. Milk comes from cows, not the ground. Therefore, not a fruit or vegetable. Eggs come from chickens, so also not a fruit or vegetable. Eggs are NOT a dairy product because they’re not made out of milk (don’t laugh, when I worked at a high-end natural grocery store, people got this wrong constantly – eggs are next to the dairy, but guilt by association does not extend to that end of the agricultural rainbow).
I’m used to kids (and grownups) getting foods and food colors wrong, but last week I was thrown by this exchange:
ME: (pointing to a small girl, about 8 ) OK, what brown or white vegetable did you think of?
GIRL: (putting her hand down and smiling brightly) A hamburger.
ME: Well, a hamburger is mostly brown, but it’s not a fruit or vegetable, is it?
A second of silence.
GIRL: (looking down, in a quietly defiant tone) but they taste good…
Uproarious laughter from thirty-five 2nd graders.
I had a second to think while the raucous subsided. I weighed my options, and choose to sidestep the taste issue and tackle the logic of her argument.
ME: You know, Ding-Dongs taste good too, but they’re not a fruit or vegetable either, are they?
Less laughter this time, but enough to afford a smooth transition into the next color and allow me to finish the activity unscathed.
I tell this story to help you understand the need for basic culinary education in our youth. When most of a generation of people grow up believing that food comes from the grocery store, not the soil – we’re all in trouble. We’ve backed ourselves into an agricultural corner by distancing ourselves so extravagantly from the sources of our most basic necessities – food, water and shelter.
If the thinking of your average western 6th grader is applied to a teleological view of humankind as a species, then the capstone of our 70,000 year journey out of sub-Saharan caves is playing Call of Duty 4 and eating microwave Pizza Rolls. But it’s not their fault – they don’t know any better. The lynchpin of what I do is closing the gap between what my great-grandparents knew about food and what our kids know now.
That’s why I work with kids. That’s why I love what I do. Keep your ear to the ground next month for more from me on farm fresh food, why we eat so little of it and why you can’t buy a good tomato at the grocery store.
Nutrition Educator, Americorps Member, Aspiring Farmer
I spend a lot of my time thinking about food; professionally and personally. Professionally, my focus is concentrated on teaching people how to eat healthy food that still tastes good and helping them make sensible consumer decisions at the grocery store. Personally, my interest is in historical foodways, traditional preparation methods and how what we eat has shaped our culture. The recipe I’m making this month with the children at our Kids Cafe afterschool programs rolls all of these subjects, plus a little food science and human nutrition, into a very neat (please pardon my pun) ball.
You: “What are you talking about?”
Me: “Recipe first, science and history second.”
Peanut Buttery Oat Balls
1 large jar of Crunchy Peanut Butter (40oz)
½ box Whole Grain Breakfast Cereal Flakes, such as Total or All-Bran (16oz)
3 cups Rolled Oats
1 cup Raisins
1 cup Dried Plums (Prunes), chopped
1 cup Sunflower Seed Kernels
¼ cup Honey
Pour ½ box of cereal onto a cookie sheet and crush with a rolling pin or your hands.
(Should be well smashed up, but not a fine powder.)
Combine all other ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until stiff, but not dry.
Roll into small balls (½ the size of golf balls), and roll in crushed cereal.
Place on wax paper covered cookie sheet and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Makes 30 servings of two balls each, with 342 kcal/serving. Retail price using store brand ingredients: $0.32/serving.
You: “Where is he going with this?”
Your Mom: “Honey, I haven’t the faintest clue.”
Amino Acids. They’re these little molecules that build proteins – our bodies make most of them for us, but there are nine that we only get from food (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, and lysine – you don’t need to remember that, there’s no test). Lots of foods are missing some of these, so combining foods lacking in opposing aminos make complete proteins. One of the best ways to eat complete proteins is combining whole grains and legumes. Why? Because they’re cheap, tasty and healthy. Beans and corn tortillas. Lentils and brown rice. Peanut butter and whole wheat bread…or oats.
Oats (even rolled oats) are whole grain. Yup. When you’re eating your bowl of morning oatmeal, you’re consuming one of the tastiest whole grains on the grocery aisle. So adding peanut butter to whole oats? Cheap, healthy, tasty and a complete protein with a full complement of amino acids!
You: “How is he going to tie this into food history?”
Your Dad: “Huh? Oh yeah, it looks good.”
Farming and agriculture were key components of our development as civilizations. About 10,000 years ago we stopped wandering around looking for berries and started planting seeds. We were able to grow more food than we needed at any given time, allowing us to store some of it for times of cold or drought. Preventing mass starvation was a crucial step in societies flourishing. Food surpluses also afforded people time to think about things like wheels, buildings, science, art, music and the internet (much later, obviously). In what is now central Mexico, rows of corn were staggered with rows of beans, and their combined eating (after soaking the corn in wood ash – a fascinating conversation for a different time) led to one of the most advanced cultures in human history. Several hundred generations of those lovely complete amino acid chains stoking our muscles and brain structures helped us to build cities, sail oceans and commit our exploits to written words.
You: “How is he going to tie this all together?”
Me: “Like this:”
Eating well on a budget seems incredibly daunting to a lot of people, but once you know where we’ve come from culinarily, a clear path forward starts to emerge. Starting with the basics, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Lean Proteins and Whole Grains; nearly infinite combinations open up – the majority of them healthy and affordable. Peanut Buttery Oat Balls are an iceberg’s tip; keep your RSS readers tuned to this station for more from me on food, history, science and how we can all be better people.
- By Mason Weaver, Nutrition Educator & Americorps Member
It’s fall, and blissfully, that means it’s apple season. How many different varieties of apples have you eaten in your life? Sadly, most people could count them on one hand. A century ago, backyard orchards were as common as vegetable gardens, with many families cultivating heirloom strains to call their own. Prior to the Second World War, there were more than 7,000 apple cultivars flourishing across our nation. Of those, as few as 150 remain, only 15 of which are grown on a large commercial scale. The rest… extinct. Today, many grocery stores carry just 3 or 4 varieties. How did we get from there to here?
Fruit trees run the length and breadth of human history, but were of particular importance in the economy and palate of Colonial America. Our founding fathers, chiefly Washington and Jefferson, were avid orchardists, planting vast tracts of their estates with hundreds of unique cultivars. It would surely sadden Thomas Jefferson to know that his prized Newton Pippin is today both unavailable in most supermarkets and almost wholly unknown to the majority of the current population. The primary culprit in our loss of variety is, unfortunately, us. We spent the better part of the last 70 years buying apples based on how they looked, not how they tasted. As a result, the Red Delicious variety had completely taken over by the mid 1970s. Bred for color and travel hardiness, it had the kind of shelf appeal that has all too often trumped taste in the modern supermarket. In the late 1990s, after twenty years of commercial dominance, the once sought-after Red Delicious was gently nudged aside to make room for its tastier relatives. Since then, consumer demand has brought a few heritage apples, along with recent innovations, back to our shelves and given us at least a small glimpse of our former apple diversity. New cultivars such as Honeycrisp, Jazz and Cameo are bringing discerning shoppers back to fold and whetting the appetites of the latest generation of apple enthusiasts.
In light of all this, and to strengthen the roots (pardon the pun) anchoring us to our Pomological Heritage (that is, our tree fruits of yester-year), I’m on a sort of Apple Mission. This fall, I’m taking 10 different kinds of apples to many of the Regional Food Bank’s Kids Cafe elementary after-school programs. Kids Cafe provides food, mentoring, tutoring, and a variety of other activities to approximately 850 at-risk children at 16 sites in central and western Oklahoma. We’ll be touching, smelling, and, of course, tasting each variety. We’ll then be rating them, discussing which are our favorites and why. I’ll be talking about where apples come from, how they grow, why they’re different from each other, the history of the apple industry and why it’s important.
To better educate yourself about apples, get down to the OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market this fall and pick up some Oklahoma Grown apples. They’ve got Mollies Delicious, Gale Gala, Honeycrisp, Valstar, Fuji, Albemarle Pippen (another name for Jefferson’s favorite), and Northern Spy to name just a few. They’re all grown right here in our state, and they’re all delicious. You owe it to yourself, and to Thomas Jefferson, to eat a fresh, handpicked apple this year.
- Mason Weaver, AmeriCorps Member/Nutrition Educator