Monday, May 24, 2010

"I'm strong to the finich cause I eats me spinach.."

We're now knee-deep in spinach season, so I'd like to share my latest experiments with this leafy green. For the most part, my spinach consumption was relegated to the Baby Spinach Salad (topped with wheat berries and dried fruit, it's delish), and only recently had I ventured into the Sauteed Spinach arena. However, eating seasonally means you need to get creative, especially when there's still only a few veggies available. Here's two of my new favorite ways to eat spinach:

Spinach Pasta
This is an adaptation of a recipe I found in the New York Times (mine is better)

A bunch of spinach (like, literally, a bunch of it)
1/2 onion, chopped
garlic, a few cloves, minced, or chopped, if you're lazy like me (I like to call it "rustic")
a protein -- chicken is good, and even sardines are yummy in this, trust me on this one
lemon (for the juice)
whole wheat spaghetti

1. Boil the pasta. Soak your spinach (it not only needs to be clean, but wet, so just let it sit in a bowl of water until you're ready).
2. In a pan, in a little olive oil, saute the onions, then garlic and capers.
3. Throw in your protein and cook it up.
4. When everything else is pretty much cooked, drop in your spinach directly from the bowl of water into the pan (the water will help steam it). Keep flipping it over into all the yummy stuff until it just starts to wilt, then immediately remove it from the heat, before it turns into black mush.
5. Toss it all with the rinsed pasta, squeeze some lemon juice over it, sprinkle some parm, and you're good to go.

* Don't skip the capers, they really make this dish!

Sausage Soup (or Cheater's Italian Wedding)
This is a twist on a soup my mom makes, using spinach instead of kale, and leaving out the cream. You could use whichever green you happen to have on hand (I just always have spinach in my fridge).

1 cup brown rice, uncooked
a link or two of sausage
spinach to taste (you can use frozen in a pinch)
1/2 onion, chopped
a box of broth (I used organic veggie, but chicken broth would work too)

1. Cook the rice according to your package. Make sure it is very saturated with the water (if it's dry, it'll soak up all your broth!) DO NOT cook the rice in the soup, if you want any broth left.
2. Saute the onion in a little olive oil, then toss in the sausage (take off the skin and break it up first). Cook the sausage through until done.
3. Pour in the broth, add about a cup of water, and bring to a boil. Toss in the spinach and let it wilt in the broth.
4. Turn down the heat, stir in the rice. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and some hearty bread. I guess you could use something healthier like chicken, but I think it would be boring then, the sausage really adds delicious spiciness. My mom's variation uses kale, chopped potatoes instead of rice, and she puts a splash of cream in at the end. You're welcome to try that out too.

Happy eating! And please let me know if you try (or adjust) any of the recipes I share!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb is a summer staple that is already available in markets. Growing up, my dad would just pick it right from the bush, peel it, salt it, and snap right in. The tarter, the better. And up until now, that's pretty much the only way I'd ever eaten rhubarb besides the random jam or pie. Jam seems like a lot of work, and those of you who know me, know I can't bake to save my life (except for the occasional banana bread...). Therefore, when I bought a few stalks of rhubarb at the Carrot Barn in my enthusiasm for local food, I found it wasting away in my fridge, with no idea what to do with it.

As usual, saved the day. This afternoon, my rhubarb dying a slow, cold death in my fridge, I searched for recipes discovered this gem for Rhubarb Crumble. It looked super easy, and I didn't need to buy any additional ingredients, which is key. So with my rhubarb lying limply on my refrigerator shelf, and a hungry boy coming over for dinner, I decided to give it a try.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that my three stalks of rhubarb did not equal the called for three cups of rhubarb, so I substituted in some sliced apples. Never be afraid to experiment! In retrospect, this was a blessing in disguise, because I think a solid rhubarb
crisp would have been too tart for my taste; the apples cut the tartness and added a little extra sweetness-- a berry would have been even better (mental note for June when strawberries are ripe!). Also, my crumble didn't get quite so crispy as it should. This could be due to my lack of baking skills, but in the future, I think I'll add a little more butter to the crisp than the requested 1/3 cup. However, after all was said and done, I would call this recipe a success. It is a yummy dessert that includes several local or whole ingredients (rhubarb, apples, oats), it is fairly healthy (except for the cup and a half of sugar...), and it satisfied a hungry man with a Tart Tooth, who ate half of it himself.

Give it a try if you're a fan of rhubarb (or even if you're not-- don't be afraid to try something new!)

Monday, May 17, 2010


Before asparagus season leaves us for good, I want to share a couple ways I like to eat it!

First of all, as a side dish, there's little better than roasted asparagus. After washing, drizzle it with some olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at about 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. The spears get dark and caramely and crispy...mmmmmm.

However, recently with my purchase of seasonal farm fresh asparagus, I wanted a recipe that would bring out the sweetness, rather than overwhelm it. I found a recipe for an asparagus sandwich on (my fave recipe website) that I tweaked to make easier, and I think, more delicious.

A half a pound of asparagus made two sandwiches for me...

1/2 lb. asparagus
butter, or butter substitute
salt, pepper, garlic powder (all optional)
good whole grain bread, like homemade or from a bakery
cheese (I like sliced muenster for this)

1. Saute the asparagus in the butter until it is tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper if desired.
1.5. Meanwhile, toast the bread.
2. Spread mayo on the toasted bread and sprinkle on the dill, as much as you like, to taste. You can also add some garlic powder, if this tickles your taste buds.
3. Layer on about half of the buttery asparagus, add the cheese, cover, and eat!

It's super simple, and incredibly delicious. The butter and dill really bring out the spring sweetness of the asparagus, the whole grain bread gives it some texture and nuttiness. I'm not gonna lie, I ate both sandwiches myself (and yes, that was a lot of asparagus in one day...).

And for any of you asparagus-phobes, my father never touched an asparagus in his life until I roasted some for him, and he loved it so much, he planted some in his garden this year!

So get out there and get some asparagus while the gettin's good!

Troy Waterfront Farmer's Market

The final stop for the week was Troy's Waterfront Farmer's Market on Saturday. We got there bright and early at 9AM, right as it was starting; people were still setting up their stands. We first made a beeline for the Spill'n the Beans coffee stand to wake us up for our morning of market shopping (did I mention it was early?).

After the coffee, I was able to make my rounds to see what was available, and for how much. There are were so many kinds of products, from carrots, radishes, and bag-your-own-lettuce, to artisan cheeses and fresh baked bread, to flowers, soaps, and even wine. There are also several restaurants vending their foods; the smells so mouth-wateringly delicious, it's difficult to resist. Interesting about the farmer's market (and the part that makes me both excited and uncomfortable) is the competition. There is likely more than one vendor selling the same item (especially in Upstate New York, where in May, there are only about three or four products available to begin with). I was looking for a leafy green of some sort for my salad lunches and ended up with a bunch of green leaf lettuce for $2 (after stopping at a couple nearby vendors and awkwardly walking away because I wanted the cheaper lettuce...). There were a couple vendors who allowed you to bag your own salad mix for about $6. There were also a few different varieties to choose from, including arugula. The item of the season seems to be radishes, but so far, I'm at a lack about what to do with them (besides put them in salad, which I don't like, yuck). Unfortunately we seem to be heading out of asparagus season; I couldn't find any at the market.

Next on my list was eggs. I bought a dozen large eggs for under $3; there were all sizes at varying prices, which was helpful. I also ended up with a loaf of crusty French bread for $4.

However, my favorite purchase so far was my feta and Greek yogurt from this nice woman at Argyle farms. Feta is my salad cheese of choice (just ahead of Chevre, which I can never say), and she let me try a bit of their homemade feta cheese. It had a little less zing than what I usually have, but was amazingly creamy, and in my opinion, not very expensive
at all-- I got a quarter of a pound for $2.75-- not bad as cheeses go. I also bought a small tub of her Creamy Vanilla Greek Yogurt for $3. I got two servings out of it, so I would price compare it to buying Chobani at the grocery store. Except Argyle's really was the best, creamiest, most delicious yogurt I've ever eaten (though a bit of a calorie splurge, since it was made with whole milk). I'm sad that I've already eaten it all. I will have to buy the large tub next week; I've decided it's totally worth the $9--a serving is a meal in itself. I also hear their smoothies are delicious...

So far the Troy market is the only one I've been to in the Capital Region, but it's one of my favorite places to shop. There's something about food out in the open air rather than in shrink wrap that makes it that much more appealing. And then there's the view of the river-- it really is scenic on a warm spring day like Saturday. The Farmer's Market is open 9AM - 1PM all year round. In the winter (November through April) it is indoors, inside the Uncle Sam Atrium in downtown Troy, NY.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Green Grocer

It's been a busy week in the Green Scene! First off, on Wednesday, my friend Erin introduced me to a natural foods store in Clifton Park called the Green Grocer. She hadn't been there before, since she's just recently moved here, so we decided to check it out.

The Green Grocer is a small store in a plaza off of Rt. 9 in Clifton Park. They refer to themselves as an "organic grocery store," but in my opinion, I would categorize them as a small specialty natural foods store. It contained most of the products that you would typically find in the latter: honey, some of it local, natural cereals and crackers and pastas, vitamins, frozen foods, etc. The produce section was quite small, and though they offered
organic foods, little of it, if any, was local, and that has been more my goal lately. They also had a small section of whole foods and grains by the pound, but again, nowhere near the selection of a co-op. Also, in general, prices were average to expensive, so overall, I wouldn't suggest this place to do any major household grocery shopping, maybe just as a quick stop for a natural food product. An exception to this is their offering of local meats; there were a few different kinds (chicken, pork, beef, and even buffalo...), and the prices were decent.

Also, if you're looking for a present for someone, there was a nice variety of beauty products, soaps, chocolates, etc., you know, gifty things. There was also a whole shelf of glucose-free products if you happen to be in need. But easily my favorite part was the Wall of Tea. If you don't go there for anything else (and really, you probably don't need to), you should at least go look at the wall of tea. There is a very impressive selection, including my favorite Choice brand! (Although I didn't see my favorite flavor..) Erin ended up leaving with a yummy box of tea; I held back since I had already spent my week's allotment at the co-op and farm stand.
Final recommendation: stop into the Green Grocer to try a new tea or buy some organic chocolate, but buy the majority of your groceries somewhere a little bigger and cheaper (and more local).

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Carrot Barn

Today 's adventure started with my recent birthday gift from my aunt-- an immersion blender... yessssss. In my excitement to blend things ASAP, I asked around for some recipes. Heather's quick and simple potato leek soup seemed right-- with just a few ingredients, I could whip it up quickly and cheaply for dinner tonight. She also suggested a local market that was sure to have all the ingredients. Just the thing!

So, on my way home from work, I veered off my usual path to stop at The Carrot Barn, a greenhouse/farmstand/market on NY 30S in Schoharie County (just a few miles off exit 23 on Rt. 88). Knowing Schoharie as the farming stronghold that it is, I was pretty excited. A cornucopia of vegetables danced through my head as my little Civic weaved down the country road. I had been here once before, about a year ago, with some co-workers to buy baked goods (as their name might suggest, they're known for their carrot cake, cookies, and muffins), but at the time, I hadn't paid attention to whatever else they'd had to offer.

The Carrot Barn is an interesting combination of venues. First of all, there are the baked goods, and they all look amazing; fortunately, my willpower was strong today and I was able to resist. Secondly, if you are a small-scale farmer (i.e. a person with a garden), you can buy all kinds of flowers, herbs, and vegetable plants, as well as "starters" for potatoes, onions, garlic, etc. (Mmm.. someday...) Then there are the typical "little country store" goods like honeys and jams to fill in the nooks and crannies. But foremost, I would say, TCB is a market, and this is what I was here for.

I went straight for the potato stand, and I was impressed by the selection and the prices. I ended up buying a small mesh bag of Gold Yukon potatoes for $2.50. I'm not sure on the weight, but it was enough to make a large batch of potato soup for dinner, and there was a significant improvement in quality, texture, and flavor over any grocery store potato I've ever eaten.

This success was followed by a disappointment: they were all out of leeks. However, I didn't leave empty-handed. In fact, I eventually left the store with the following: potatoes, fresh spinach, new asparagus, and rhubarb. Unfortunately, not enough to make a meal unless I was cooking for rabbits; I was going to have to make another stop, but still, it was pretty exciting.
One precaution: read the signs around here carefully. Not all of the produce they sell is home-grown. There are two types of signs: "Our Own" or "From the Farm" meaning they grew it, or "Market Fresh." Confused, I asked the owner what was the difference. Apparently, "Market Fresh" means they send their son to the market in Menands to "hand-pick" the fruits and veggies that they will sell here. The benefit, as compared with super markets, is that he personally selects every item sold, so it is all fresh and beautiful (and I will vouch for this-- I saw a perfectly artful stand of tomatoes that I just wanted to take a picture of). However, it is
not necessarily local.. according to her, the market gets food from all over the country (and I assume all over the world, since there was a stand of bananas, too), and there's no mention of organic anywhere. So it is beautiful mystery food.

I didn't buy any of this ambiguous produce, I wanted local today, so I was initially disappointed by the lack of local selection. However, The Carrot Barn isn't to blame. According to, a website on natural and local living (and who gets their information from the government), the only produce in season right now in New York is asparagus, radishes, spinach, broccoli, and rhubarb... ALL of which was available here, as well as spring garlic, leeks, and various potatoes. And it was reasonably priced, which was even better. I assume as more produce comes to harvest, their shelves will be much fuller. And going by the potatoes alone, I imagine the rest to be amazingly delicious, too.

Lessons? 1. Eating green and locally is not one-stop-shopping. You have to look around for price, selection, and availability, buying a few things here and a few things there. This is becoming easier and much less overwhelming as I become acquainted with the various venues around the area, yet I'm still slow to give up convenience, and have to start meal planning, for sure.
2. Eating in season is a challenge. We are used to having any food available at any time. What do I eat when the only things available are radishes, spinach, and asparagus? It will be a test of my planning, storage, and cooking creativity, but I think I can learn.
3. Definitely make The Carrot Barn a stop in your shopping routine. The drive isn't bad, especially on a sunny spring day like today, the produce is yummy and inexpensive, and you can pick up some carrot cookies for dessert!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Honest Weight

I seem to be on a co-op tour this week. Next stop: Honest Weight Food Co-Op on Central Avenue in Albany, a little closer to home (this time "home" meaning my apartment in Albany, just to be clear). It is a different experience: Honest Weight is the foil to Community. I can't say that it has the low prices of the Mohawk Valley, but it far exceeds the Community's selection of goods. The outside wouldn't suggest anything special; in fact, I wouldn't go to this neighborhood alone at night. However, once inside, I was amazed by how big it was... room after room of local, organic, and specialty products. Oh, the beautiful cheeses! The lovely pies! The wall of dried fruits! Yesterday was actually my third or fourth visit, and I didn't need anything in particular, but it's fun to look, and I always find something new to try.

Here at Honest Weight, the dry goods (fruits, nuts, grains, etc.) are in self-serve bins, with a scale and baggies nearby. Keep in mind that you are charged for the bags ($0.02-$0.05); however, on the same token, you are credited a nickel for bringing your own reusable shopping bag.

My staple purchase has become the half-pound bag of baby spinach. At a $1.99, it's at least fifty cents cheaper than Price Chopper's spinach on sale. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the natural peanut butter; I'm not good at math, but it's either the same price or a bit more expensive than my Natural Smuckers and Jiffy. At least, however, it's local, so I can feel that my extra fifty cents or a dollar supported a local business. And might I add, it is delicious-- better than the chain brands. Meats and cheeses here are also very expensive, but of top quality. I haven't purchased either yet (due to my frugality), but I did have a sample of some cheese and it was one of the best I'd ever had-- and I know my cheese. My splurge this trip was a dozen natural, local, "farm-fresh" eggs, which I haven't yet tried, but look delish (and they should be, at $3.25!)

Also not to miss:
Choice brand organic teas (my favorite is the Toasted Brown Rice Green Tea)
BWC organic aromatherapy Rosemary Mint Tea Tree Shampoo

One really nice touch is that Honest Weight clearly marks all local goods with a sticker so they're easy to find and identify.

If you can spare no expense, you can do all of your shopping here, it really has almost everything (or the materials to make it if you can't find it). For me, Honest Weight is a good supplement to grocery store shopping. I will buy many items from the co-op, due to it's lower price or better quality, but there a few things still, like my meats, that I won't buy there, unless I'm in the mood for a splurge. Now that I'm thinking about it, I do need to find a good place to buy meat...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

First Stop: Little Falls Community Co-Op

One of my favorite stops when I'm home for the weekend ("home" = my parents' house = the Mohawk Valley) is the Little Falls Community Co-Op. I've been to a few other co-ops in my time, and although this one is small, it holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps it's the QT I get with my mom each time we peruse their selection of natural soaps, or the addictive unsweetened banana chips I purchase by the bagful, or the lowest-priced Burt's Bees stock I've ever seen.

Here are some items not to miss (pricing is approximate since it depends on availability, season, and size):

unsweetened banana chips <$1
local honey (great for allergies) <$3/lb (a steal, really)
loose spices (great for an experimental cook) <$1/oz
Burt's Bees Lemon Poppyseed Face Scrub <$7
local sweet corn (my parents' summer fave) about $4/dz

These are only a select few of the bountiful selection of dried goods, fruits, vegetables, grains, and toiletries that they squeeze into this little one-room shop. There are also amazing Amish baskets for sale that I'm still trying to convince myself I need.

It's tiny, local, and cheap-- a great way to support local farmers and artisans (lavendar soap, anyone?), and a store that's one of it's kind in the Mohawk Valley. It's a must-stop if you live here in the valley, or even if you just happen to be passing by Exit 29A on the Thruway.

The Community Co-Op is located on Albany St. in Little Falls. They are open Tuesdays-Fridays until 5 (Thursdays until 8) and on Saturdays until 1.

Above is a snapshot of my mom's purchases of the day: unsweetened banana chips, sugar snap peas, local honey, and local sweet potatoes.


Hi there. My name is Danielle, and I'm a "twenty-something" living in Albany, NY. Over the past year or so since I've moved here, I've become very interested in trying to live healthily and more environmentally savvy. Though it is rarely cheap or easy (there is much more cooking involved), so far I've found it to be a very satisfying choice... my meals are much more interesting as well as healthier (I often use this as my excuse to exercise less), and overall, I've felt much better about my lifestyle. I've already changed quite a bit, from my breakfast food to the cat litter I use. However, I know that getting started is the hardest part. The "Natural Foods" section of the grocery store is expensive and overwhelming, which can easily become a deterrence, but I've found in my travels that there are many "hidden" treasures of homegrown natural goodness locally that make earth- and body-friendly choices cheaper and much more fun-- you just need to know where to look. So I'm here to share my adventures in local and "green" as I explore what the Capital Region (and beyond) has to offer. Along the way I may veer off the trail to share a recipe or mention an other-than-food discovery, but what's a good road trip if you don't stop to smell the flowers every so often?