All Posts Filed in ‘ingredients

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Spice it up!

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I love spices. Combing through my spice rack to create new flavor combinations for my meals is always a fun and interesting challenge. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have a pre-made blend to jazz up what I’m cooking. Picking a particular spice blend for the night will often help shape my entire meal.

A couple years ago, I was at an event when I stumbled on a booth covered with different kinds of spice blends. The shop, Auntie Arwen’s Spices, had blends for almost anything you could imagine. (Some of the blend titles are admittedly problematic.) I had fun digging through different crates of spices, looking for some that would work well with the kinds of food I like to cook.

I’ve seen Auntie Arwen a couple times since then, and I always try to pick up a jar or two of her great blends. This past weekend, I ran into her booth at an event I was attending and decided to splurge. I picked up five new bottles.

When I started searching through the numerous crates, I decided that I wanted to pick up something for fish, something for pork, something for winter vegetables, and something that generally sounded interesting. Both the Pigs in Paradise Citrus-Ginger Rub and Malay Pirate Nonya Seafood Blend smelled super aggressive and I was instantly intrigued. Both smell spicy and tangy, and I can’t wait to try them out.

I ended up asking for a recommendation for a spice blend to use on vegetables I get a lot in the winter (squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, etc.), and was given the Mahout’s Joy East Indian Pilau Blend. I think the blend of cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and coriander will go terrific with roasted, puréed and mashed winter veggies.

Lastly, I picked up the Ultimate Garlic Insanity blend, which work with pretty much everything, and the “Around the Corner” Shawarma Spices, a pretty complex but harmonious blend of fifteen different spices.

All-in-all, I think I scooped up a great batch this weekend. I can’t wait to start cooking!

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Livin’ in the CSA

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Since gaining the autonomy of post-college adulthood, I’ve tried to make very conscious decisions about what kind of food I put into my body, and where that food comes from. I grew up eating very poorly — lots of frozen meals, hamburger helper, cheap cuts of meat slathered in sugary marinades — and when I found myself with the opportunity to control my dietary habits, I leapt towards local, fresh, and organic.

Starting post-college adulthood in Western Massachusetts was a blessing for someone interested in these three food traits. Western Massachusetts is dotted with small farms, making it easy to find local produce at farmers’ markets and the numerous “health food” stores.

It wasn’t long before I learned about CSAs (community supported agriculture, where you essentially buy a share from a farm for a season). My partner and I bought a winter share from a local farm, which kept our pantry stocked with vegetables all winter. We sorely missed having those vegetables every month after our share ended, but we weren’t able to find a convenient spring/summer vegetable CSA. Competition for CSAs is particularly stiff in Western Mass.

What we did find, however, was a local farm, Chestnut Farms, which provided a meat CSA. Each month, we could pick up a 10lb share of local, sustainably raised livestock: beef, lamb, chicken, and pork.

When we moved to Boston, we were delighted to discover that we would be able to continue our meat CSA, which has pickups all over Massachusetts. Every week, our farmers load up their refridgerated truck with coolers of meat and trek across the state to different towns. You bring your cooler from the previous month and swap it out for a new cooler, full of goodies.

It’s a real joy meeting with Kim and her family every month. I appreciate having a real, human connection when I buy food. There’s something much more intimate and personal about having a CSA that you don’t get from going to a grocery store. Plus, you get cute pictures in your email when a new calf is born:

calf

Every month is also an exciting surprise. You never know what you’re going to get! We always get ground beef, and we always get bone-in chicken breasts, but aside from that, every month is just a little bit different. Some months we’ll get different kinds of sausage (sweet italian, spicy italian, chorizo, or breakfast), or different cuts of steak. In the winter, we get more lamb. I’m always excited when we get a packet of bacon. They’ll usually have eggs for sale when we pick up our cooler, alongside various organ meats, liverwurst, and bacon ends.

There’s always this great feeling of anticipation when we pick up our cooler, get it home, and crack it open:

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This month was especially exciting. In addition to the eggs and bacon ends we picked up, we received two huge pork chops, a packet of chicken wings, a whole leg of lamb, some ground lamb, top round steak, and our customary 2lbs of ground beef and chicken breast on the bone.

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In addition to our meat share, we started ordering from Boston Organics when we moved out east. Every two weeks, they deliver us a big green box full of produce. It’s super convenient — they drop it off right outside our door! There are a bunch of different boxes to choose from, but we’ve been sticking with the “local” box.

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Like our meat CSA, every month is a little different (though easy to predict, based on the season). We’ve been getting stocked full of winter veggies in the past couple weeks. Most of the veggies come from within MA, but we can get some from as far as Quebec.

I’m incredibly thankful that I live in an area where local food is valued so highly, and that I have the extra money necessary to be able to afford such a lifestyle. It’s an incredible privilege.

As the local movement grows, I hope that it becomes easier and more affordable for people across the country to have access to fresh, healthy food. Many farmers’ markets, especially in Massachusetts, now accept SNAP benefits. In Massachusetts, some markets even double your SNAP benefits so you can spend even more on food.

How about you guys? Do you buy local food?