So Happy Together

Following is my Yardavore column for November 2017 in Country Wisdom News. I've started a list of local organizations and activities that support the "4 Cs" approach to wellness at the end of the article. Please comment with your own ideas--l'd like to create an accessible resource for us to grow. Thanks!

So Happy Together

This month, I'm giving thanks for a new book that rocked my world. It's not news that Americans are growing less healthy, that we are the first generation that will have a shorter lifespan than our parents, and that obesity is epidemic. Surveys show that we are also less happy than our parents. Given that we live in one of the “best” nations on earth, how can this be so?

Dr. Robert H. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist and obesity researcher who became freaked out that so many of his young patients were sick with type 2 diabetes and hypertension—illnesses previously found only in adults—and that he was having little success in treating them. Rather than despair, he researched and analyzed—his results are astounding.

In The Hacking of the American Mind, Lustig shows that unhealthy children are the canaries in the coal mine. Fully 75% of U.S. health care spending is on “metabolic syndrome” diseases: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia and 75% of these cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes. Almost $1.8 trillion a year is wasted—and we pay for this through our health insurance and taxes!

In just a few generations, what has caused this health crisis? Lustig discovered that there's a crucial, biological difference between pleasure and happiness, and that marketers are exploiting our natural desires, making us sicker and sicker.

How is this known? Brain Science!

Our brain’s limbic system is a set of specialized, interconnected structures our where our emotions are formed. Different chemical neurotransmitters are generated in response to the events of our lives, and they each travel different pathways, giving rise to our moods and feelings. The two pathways we're mostly concerned with are the Reward (pleasure) Pathway, which runs on dopamine and the Contentment (happiness) Pathway, which uses serotonin.

Dopamine is triggered when we partake of many pleasurable things like sweets, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other drugs, surfing social media, shopping, gambling, watching porn, playing video games and shooting guns, and each gives us a short-term rush of fun. Serotonin is generated by more subtle behaviors and foods (about which more below) causing a wide variety of feelings of happiness, serenity, satisfaction and love, and mitigating depression and anxiety.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Both dopamine and serotonin make us feel great, that's for sure, and humans are made to enjoy both of them. But here's the problem. As Lustig explains it: “Pleasure is the emotional state where your brain says, This feels good—I want more, while happiness...says, This feels good—I don't want or need any more.” However, overdoing pleasurable things for the dopamine rush interferes with serotonin's access to the Contentment Pathway. Too much pleasure makes happiness impossible on a physical level, is addictive and often has terrible health effects!

Lustig shows that we Americans have been hijacked by pleasure pushers, companies that consciously exploit the addictive qualities of substances and behaviors that produce dopamine. These bad actors include corporations, the processed food industry, pharmaceutical companies, government programs, Silicon Valley, and more. As our traditional cultures have been melted into one big consumer culture we have become enthralled by things that designed to appeal to our very biology—we are almost helpless to resist them. Delicious, cheap processed food stuffed with government-subsidized sugar, unrestricted, constant advertising for ephemeral products, ever-more-attractive video games, ever-kinkier porn, more ways and places to count your “likes,” a gun culture that equates them with patriotism and freedom, insurance companies that want you to die fast—it goes on and on. All of these things contribute to making us fat, sedentary, depressed and sick, and Lustig documents it thoroughly.

BUT. There's an amazing antidote, and it doesn't cost a dime. Lustig has developed a science-based program to nurture physical and mental health, to generate serotonin and all kinds of happiness and it's pretty simple, even kind of retro. He calls it the 4 Cs.

Connect: reach out to fellow humans, in the flesh. Join in groups—family, civic groups, social groups, hobby groups, church communities, political campaigns, social dances, board gaming, singing. Looking in others' eyes actually generates serotonin!

Contribute: do some work toward the greater good, contribute money to a good cause, volunteer to help others.

Cope: take care of yourself. Not getting enough sleep (at least 8 hours) and too much stress will both lower your serotonin. Practicing mindfulness and getting plenty of exercise is good for the parts of our brain that are the home of happiness. Avoid multi-tasking like the plague.

Cook: (now we're getting to eating locally grown food!). Lustig says, “Based on the science presented throughout this book, I offer to you my single most important key to happiness: cook real food for yourself, for your friends and for your family!”

Science shows that sugar is at the root of many of the metabolic disorders, including many cancers. The American Sugar Association and other vested interests subverted important studies to this effect starting in the 1970s. Government subsidies have made sugar, once a luxury ingredient, even cheaper than grain. Processed food contains lots of obvious sugar, but half of it is hidden in savory foods.

We can avoid almost all of this sugar by cooking for ourselves—and still have a sweet at the end of the day. But cooking does so much more. Cooking includes the other 3 Cs: it connects us with others, it contributes to the health of our family and friends, it makes us focus. Cooking with food that we grow yourselves, or forage, or get from local farms and friends is even better because we get exercise, join with friends, get out in nature.

In The Hacking of the American Mind, Lustig presents a much broader and more detailed case for an unfortunate combination of corporate and governmental factors setting us up to fail. (To write it, he even went back to school and studied law.) In the current political climate, we may not be able to create the regulations that would reign in these forces for ill, but we can change our own lives and support change in our communities. The Mid-Hudson Valley is rich with many ways to practice the 4 Cs—there's Hudson Valley Community Dances, Weston Price pot luck dinners, the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association, organized hiking at public parks, game nights at public libraries, choirs, and many more opportunities to to get together an amp up that serotonin.

Here's a link to a video interview with Dr. Lustig:

Please add your suggestions in the comments below.

Dutch Baby with Apples

Three hundred years ago in the Rondout Valley, perhaps the Dutch settlers made this delicious dessert. It's great for brunch, too! 


  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup white or whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ tablespoons butter


  • 3 medium-sized tart apples, peeled or not, cored and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • Powdered cinnamon and nutmeg


  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Beat together the eggs, milk, flour and salt until smooth. In a heavy 12-inch nonstick or well-seasoned oven-safe skillet, melt about 1½ tablespoons butter. When it is hot, pour in the batter and put the skillet in the oven. After 15 minutes, pierce large bubbles with a fork, then lower the oven temperature to 350ºF and continue baking for another 10 minutes until light brown and crisp.

While the baby is baking, in a medium or large skillet, sauté the apples in ¼ cup melted butter for a couple of minutes stirring to coat, then add syrup, honey or sugar. Season with cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook until just tender.

When the pancake is done, slide it onto a large plate, fill with apples, then flop over to fold in half. Drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot!

2 to 4 servings

From the Stick to Local Farms Cookbook.

Creamy Gazpacho

Adding bread to a cold soup may seem weird, but it's traditional and it works. Another secret—the flavor of tomatoes is amped up if you salt them ahead of time—it's a magic molecular thing. I do it whenever I use raw tomatoes.

  • 3 pounds (about 6 medium) tomatoes
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled if necessary
  • 1 medium bell pepper of any color, halved and cored
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1 hot pepper, halved and cored if desired
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 3 slices of day-old bread, crusts removed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar, sherry vinegar is good
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Minced fresh herbs: parsley, basil, chives, tarragon, etc.

Roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and onion and place in large bowl with the garlic, hot pepper and 1½ teaspoons salt. Toss until well combined. Set aside for 30 minutes, if possible, to develop amazing flavors.

Add bread, torn into small pieces. Using a stick or countertop blender, purée mixture until smooth. With blender running, slowly drizzle in oil and continue to blend until completely emulsified, about 2 minutes. 

Stir vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to chill. Serve, topped with minced herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

4 to 6 servings

Spicy Korean Style Dressing for July's heartier greens

Spicy Korean-Style Dressing is wonderful on July's heartier green salads with baby kale, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, etc.

4 scallions or a fistful of chives

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 garlic clove

½ teaspoon fresh ginger

¼ teaspoon dried, crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper

Roughly chop the white and pale green parts of the scallions. Peel and roughly chop the ginger. Combine all ingredients and purée using blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

About ½ cup

Stock Talk

You can make a good soup with water, but stock or broth can enrich the flavor very nicely, so it's great to keep it on hand in your pantry or freezer. Veggie stock concentrate is easy to make—below is a no-cook, no-strain fantastic recipe.

If you have the time, it's easy and cheap to make great meat broth by simmering leftover bones and aromatic vegetable bits for a couple of hours and then straining and freezing the stock.

It's shocking, but almost all store-bought stock has a minuscule amount of meat broth, according to research by America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Beef stock is required by law to have only one ounce of beef in a gallon, but chicken stock has no minimum requirement at all! Not only that, virtually all packaged stocks and broths are reconstituted from concentrate that mostly comes one factory in Missouri. Welcome to 21st century processed food. The umami, meaty, flavor is generated from a combination of amino acids called glutamates and nucleotides, chemicals extracted from soy beans, yeast and other foods. Off-the-shelf stock is undeniably convenient, and if you are going to use it, ATK recommends Better Than Bouillon concentrate—it's the same thing as what's in a carton at a fraction of the price, plus you make only as much as you need, it keeps in the fridge forever, and it's almost vegetarian. But it doesn't have the nutrition of the real thing.

Amazing Vegetable Broth Concentrate

This adaptation of a Cook's Illustrated recipe is fantastic. Instead of cooking pounds of vegetables in water, only to have to tediously mash, strain and discard them, you can make a kickass uncooked soup base from mostly root vegetables and keep it in your freezer to use any time.

2 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and chopped roughly

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

½ small celeraic root, peeled and chopped

½ cup chopped parsley

3 tablespoons dried minced onions

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons soy sauce

Put leeks, carrots, celeriac, parsley, onions and salt in a food processor and create a paste, scraping sides frequently for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomato paste and process and scrape for 1 minute, add soy sauce and process and scrape one more minute.

Store packed in a wide-mouth jar in the freezer. It doesn't get hard so you can use 1 tablespoon per cup of hot water to make any amount of great veggie stock.

The Art of Cooking Local

(Following is a longer version of the 12/16 Yardavore column, printed in Country Wisdom News. There are additional recipes at the bottom. Lisa Jones' website is:

Yardavore12-16 LisaDJ.jpg

Although the path was winding and sometimes narrow, in hindsight, it seems inevitable that Lisa Derosby Jones' life mission is cooking and serving fresh, healthy locally grown food to both family and community.

In person, Lisa is vibrant with energy, with clear skin and a mellifluous voice that's often sharing some fascinating tip or fact. Her interest in healthier food began in college with side effects her husband David Jones faced after taking lots of steroids for asthma. His immune system had collapsed and to strengthen and detoxify him they decided to try a macrobiotic diet, in which a largely vegan, whole foods diet is balanced to provide optimum health. Lisa, who was studying art history and studio art in Portland, Maine, and New York City, learned to cook and discovered that the joy of working with her hands to make art could also be found in cooking. As David's health improved and her own struggle with weight became a thing of the past, she developed a private clientele, eventually cooking for over 70 families who were also pursuing a more sustaining diet.

Macrobiotics, although stressing seasonal and organically grown food, didn't really address sourcing food locally. In the 1990s Lisa and David opened a restaurant in New York City and were members of an early CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, but it wasn't until the couple migrated north to the Hudson Valley that their awareness grew. It was a gig for an Appleseed Permaculture workshop that jump-started Lisa's locavore consciousness. Ethan Roland, the director, challenged her to feed the 25 attendees meals composed of 90% locally grown food. “I was just floored by the idea,” Lisa says, remembering that day. “I asked Ethan, 'are you going to care that for five days we eat only four different vegetables?'” She did her best, surprising herself by achieving about 60% local ingredients and gaining kudos from the students.

Lisa's next project, cooking for the High Falls Food Co-op, benefited greatly from this experience. From about 2001 to 2015, if you picked up soup, baked goods or other prepared food from the coop, chances are Lisa made it. I still dream of her tahini brownies! Working with the coop was a great for connecting with local farmers and Lisa's locally grown repertoire grew. She was channeled inspiration from farming family members—an uncle with a 400-acre vegetable farm, another who was a chicken farmer, and dairy farmer grandparents. Lisa had been using only organically grown crops, but after learning about Integrated Pest Management (IMP), practiced by almost all local non-organic farmers and combining the most effective organic techniques with low-impact conventional strategies, she reversed her priorities. Organic is still her gold standard, but she now favors locally grown IPM crops over non-local organic.

These days, Lisa is focusing on private catering and on her studies at Cornell University toward a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition at the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. The coursework has been a revelation. “The biggest nutrition study ever done is known as the China Study*; it's a ten-year project by an international panel of doctors and scientists of 6,500 people,” she explained. The New York Times called the China Study “the Grand Prix of epidemiology.”

“Here in the US, a high-protein diet is promoted because people want to gain lean muscle mass, but what animal protein does for muscles, it also does to cancer cells,” Lisa adds. “In a nutshell, if you consume more than 12% of your calories from animal sources, you're basically providing fertilizer for cancer cells. If you consume 80% of your calories from plant sources, the complex mechanisms of the plant biology effectively shut off cancer. These two critical pieces of information have been suppressed by the meat and dairy lobbies in the US.”

Lisa's a passionate advocate for a more vegetarian-leaning diet and encourages an incremental approach like Mark Bittman's “Vegan Before Six” diet, which suggests a strict vegan diet the first part of the day, then whole foods as desired after 6:00 pm.

To add more locally grown foods to your life in a quick and affordable way, Lisa recommends keeping it simple. “Don't aim for that Instagrammable result,” she laughed, “for example, a great dessert is fresh or stewed dried fruit topped with cream.” She points out that when whole, local food is prepared simply and carefully the results are usually delicious on their own.

Lisa Derosby-Jones Dishes Tips for Local Food

“There are a growing number of New York State producers bringing shelf stable foods to market and I have a particular interest in supporting these emerging ventures. Pumpkin seeds and buckwheat, for example, should be embraced as part of our regional cuisine heritage and are extremely nutritious—buckwheat is a gluten-free, super heart food and pumpkin seeds are high in protein and rich in the correct ratio of Omega 3s and 6s. Try Farmer Ground Buckwheat Flour and Stonybrook Pumpkin Seeds and Pumpkin Seed Oil, both of which I have found at Adams Fairacre Farms (and which are available from the company by mail). They are economical and shelf stable. My favorite use of buckwheat flour is in the traditional, nutrient-packed buckwheat crepe. I love to fill it with kale and garlic stewed in fresh or canned rough chopped tomatoes! When the kale is tender, drop an egg on top, cover it and poach it then wrap the egg and kale mixture up in a buckwheat crepe. Try topping it with one of these variations on a sauce made with Pumpkin Seed Cream.”

Pumpkin Seed Cream

Soak 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds over night in 1 cup water (or pour boiling water over seeds in a mason jar and soak for 3 minutes). Drain and rinse seeds. Blend or process with 1 cup fresh water until very smooth. This cream can be used as the base for savory or sweet sauces. Try adding a blend of garlic, ginger, lemon and tamari or of cilantro, garlic, chilies and lime. For a sweet variation, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.  

Lemon Pumpkin-Seed Dressing

2 T Dijon Mustard
1/3 ci[ pumpkin seed cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon grated horseradish or minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon Pink Sea salt
Herbs such as parsley, chives, basil
Blend or process until smooth. Serve over cooked or raw greens and top with Tongore Brook
Farm Microgreens.

Ginger Garlic Lemon Sauce

1-inch piece peeled ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 cup Stonybrook Roasted Pumpkin Seed Oil
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons pumpkin seed cream
2 tablespoons tamari
Blend or process until smooth. Makes 1 1/3 cups dressing. This is a versatile and addictive
sauce, I use it on rice and vegetables, baked sweet potatoes, as a salad dressing and as a
sauce for roasting chicken or tofu.

Cilantro Chili Cream

1 cup pumpkin seed cream
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
3 garlic cloves
1 jalapeño chili
Juice of 3 limes and 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Pink sea salt
1/2 cup Stonybrook pumpkin seed oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon honey


1/2 cup pumpkin seed cream
3 threads saffron
Juice of 1 lemon
Pink sea salt
Pinch of nutmeg

Maple Cream  - terrific over stewed apples, peaches and pears

1/2 cup Pumpkin Seed Cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon Bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla and a dash of cinnamon

*The China–Cornell–Oxford Project was conducted throughout the 1980s in rural China, funded by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the government of China and led by T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell.

Lisa Jones' website is:


Ancient Cultures

Pickles galore in a variety of vessels.

Pickles galore in a variety of vessels.

On these fabulous summer days in the Hudson Valley, we live in a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables. Out in the garden, in farm fields, stands and markets, I feel giddy with delight—the colors, scents and flavors are so exciting! Lately, I've been experimenting with pickling—especially with the simple, ancient method used to make delicious, crunchy, kosher dill pickles. I've been making pickles from other vegetables, too: baby zucchini, pattypan squash, green, yellow and purple beans, brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, and all kinds and colors of eggplant and peppers. It is amazing that you need only two ingredients to produce a major transformation: salt and water—and no cooking in a hot summer kitchen, either! The vegetables will be preserved for months.

This incredible alchemy is a process called lacto-fermentation. It all happens on a microscopic level with our friends, bacteria, which you'll be growing right on your counter top, yes, on purpose! When you submerge a vegetable in brine it creates an anerobic environment—the vegetables are sealed off from the germy air of the outside world and protected from undesirable microbes that would spoil them. The benign bacteria that create yummy fermentation are already living inside the vegetables. Safe in their salty environment, these bacteria chow down on the vegetable's sugars and produce a bunch of antimicrobial substances: lactic acid (it's sour), carbon dioxide, alcohol, and a few other chemicals. All this happens without damaging the plant material or most of its vitamins, plus lacto-fermation creates lots of B vitamins and natural chemicals that enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

And we're learning now that there's all kinds of good pro-biotic effects—these pickles are great for digestion and for the health of all the good biota that live inside of us. Nicci Cagan, a Stone Ridge healthy food advocate, says, “Fermentation is about creating healthy cultures. It's something we can do together.” I'm not sure if by “together” she means her and you and me, or me and my bacteria.

It's kind of creepy and kind of magical. I have to admit that culturing bacteria on my food didn't feel comfortable at first, even after I reminded myself that some of my favorite foods are the result of bacteria and fermentation: cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, miso, soy sauce, kimchi and hard cider just for starters. But after I made my first batch of cucumber pickles and tasted how good they were, I've gotten braver—and more hungry.

Here is a basic recipe for lacto-fermented pickles from the Stick to Local Foods Cookbook. You can make great pickles with these simple instructions, as long as you pay attention to the important detail

Traditional Pickles

1/3 cup kosher salt, or ¼ cup plain or sea salt (don't use iodized)
1 cup boiling water
2 lbs. fresh vegetables, cut up as you wish
crushed garlic cloves or sliced onions, if you like
a handful of fresh herbs, as desired

Mix the salt and water until dissolved, and let cool to room temperature (you can add a couple of ice cubes). Put the vegetables and herbs into a glass or plastic container that's wide enough for a weight (see below) and pour the brine over, adding enough water to just cover the vegetables, which will tend to float.

Put a small plate on top of the vegetables to push them down. If necessary, put another weight on the plate—you want those veggies to be below the surface of the brine, even if the plate is submerged, too. Cover with a clean tea towel.

Begin sampling after several hours and refrigerate the pickles when they're as sour as you like--it may take several days. If any mold is floating on the surface, just skim it off. Top off the brine with water if you need to.

Keep your pickles very cool or in the fridge. They'll continue to ferment, but more slowly.

If your pickles smell bad or get slimy, don't eat them—they might have gotten contaminated somehow or some veggies, like garlic scapes, just don't pickle well.

Nicci's expert tip: she likes to start with chopped or shredded cabbage, then adds other vegetables like cucumbers, peppers and onions.

There are plenty of resources about fermenting pickles with history, more detail about pickling containers, types of salt, effects of water, and many ways to tweak your pickle-fermenting practice. Here are a few that I find most helpful:

The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz's magnum opus, the lacto-fermentation bible .

Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes, by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante, a fascinating source of traditional European recipes.

Nicci Cagan, pickler extraordinaire, is Director of From the Ground Up, a farm-to-school organization in Stone Ridge.


Black Walnut

Black Walnut

It's looking like a decent year for black walnuts, which come from a tree that mysteriously produces more nuts every second year. The black walnut tree is best known for its beautiful and expensive wood, but I love the taste of black walnuts—they are the essence of spicy, warm, walnutty flavor, the way that marzipan or amaretto is the essence of almonds.

If you don't have your own black walnut tree, you're sure to find one not far away, covered with bright green tennis ball-sized globes. The first nuts of the year, in August, tend to be empty, but the ones on and under the trees now are mature. Even the husk is fragrant, but beware—this plant is called black walnut because the husk is infused with a brownish-black pigment so potent and permanent that it was commonly used as hair dye.

Black walnuts are delicious toasted and sprinkled on ice cream or on sweet potatoes, used in baked goods, and, my favorite, sprinkled on whipped-cream topped pumpkin pie. I tend to use them sparingly, more like a spice than a food ingredient.

Preparing black walnuts is a bit time-consuming, but their flavor is so powerful that you'll only be using a few per serving, so it won't take long. If you've got a sink in the basement or garage, you might want to set up there. Don a pair of rubber or gardening gloves. Use a vise, hammer or large pliers to crack the husk, then remove it with your hands and toss it out before it stains anything. Sue Bruck, who's been experimenting with black walnuts this fall, recommends cleaning the nuts under water with a steel or heavy duty brush to get the husk fibers out of the shell ridges. After they're cleaned they are good to crack and eat or to dry and store to eat later (they'll be good up to New Year's if you keep them in a cool place).

If you'd like to grow a domesticated nut-bearing plant, I'd recommend the hazelnut, an ancient source of nutrition, and a delicious one. We planted a tiny hazelnut on Homegrown Mini-Golf five years ago and it's a beautiful, full, seven-foot tall bush bearing nuts every year. Hazelnuts, sometimes called filberts, look kind of like tiny savoy cabbages, wrapped in a cowl of leaves. They have a wonderful umami richness and are great with chocolate (think Nutella) as well as savory foods. Chopped finely or ground in a food processor, they make a crunchy crust on fish or chicken.

This is also the time of the year to look out for chestnuts. I've never found a chestnut tree, since most of them died from a blight that swept the county in the 20th century, but last year my neighbor Cynthia kindly shared some from her tree and they were amazing! If you've never had truly fresh chestnuts, you're in for a real treat. They are kind of like those yummy Lunar New Year cookies that are sold in Chinatown—sweet, fragrant, rich, and almost cakey in texture.

Preservation Hall

September is when it seems that everything is ready to harvest at once and it's impossible to go to the garden or farmers market and not return without baskets full of fruit, herbs and vegetables.

How can we save some of this bounty for those frozen months when a ripe tomato seems an impossible dream? I admit that I'm pretty daunted by the demands of most food preservation—I've tried making jams, jellies and pickles and my hat is off to those who can cook at the height of summer. In this case, when the kitchen is too hot—I'm out of there!

But there are some homegrown foods that can easily be preserved using no additional heat, and it's very satisfying, in the middle of winter, to be able to eat something I grew in my garden last summer.

It's a cinch to dry herbs, and they'll smell so much fresher than what comes from the store in a jar. Herbs are best harvested before their flower buds bloom. But even if yours have bloomed, bruise and smell the leaves—if they still have plenty of aroma, they're fine to dry. And if you've grown mint or anise hyssop, you've probably got enough for tea for the entire winter!

To prepare herbs for drying, cut the stems at the bottom and remove any withered or yellowed leaves. Give them a good rinse with cool water and shake out the excess. Then, using string or wire twist-ties, bundle them loosely at the bottom of the stems. Hang them upside-down in a dry, warm area.

Krista Oarcea has discovered a great way to dry herbs (and fruit)—by using her car as dehydrator. She simply hangs her bundles from the handy clothing hooks. It only takes a day or two of parking in the sun with her windows cracked. Herbs are dry when the leaves are crunchy and the stems snap easily. Now you can remove the leaves from the stems and store your herbs in jars or zip-lock bags. (Toss out your older herbs and reuse the jars for freshly dried!) If you can avoid crushing the leaves completely, all the better, since crushing releases more of those volatile oils.

Krista shared another interesting method to preserve the tender herbs like parsley, basil, and cilantro that are best used green. She takes clean, fresh, leaves and stuffs a jar with them—she said to really pack them in, pressing down and adding more after you think the jar is full. Then screw the lid on and freeze. Herbs stay green and fresh-tasting and you can then easily scrape off as much as you need throughout the winter.

Many fruits and vegetables need preparation before freezing to maintain their flavor and texture. But berries can be popped right in the freezer. Clean and pick over the berries, then wash and drain them in a sieve. My favorite way to freeze berries is to spread them out on a cookie sheet, one or two layers thick, and freeze completely, then put into labeled, dated freezer bags. This way, you can use just as many as you need at a time. You can also pack berries into freezer bags or containers and freeze them in a block. There's nothing like a blackberry crisp in the middle of January to remind you of summer sun. Green peppers and leftover cooked corn (cut off the cob) can also be frozen without additional prep.

Another great way to preserve fruit is with alcohol. You can mix cut-up fruit, like peaches, berries, even melon, with bourbon, vodka, rum or other liquor about half fruit and half liquor by volume. You can add sugar or other flavorings (like herbs) to taste. Let the mixture macerate for 5 to 7 days (tasting every day) then strain out the solids. The fruit liquor lasts for a up to a year. Fruit liquors with a homemade label make great gifts, too.


Putting Food By, by Greene, Hertzberg, Vaughan. A terrific book in its fifth edition.

Well-Preserved, by Eugenia Bone, and Gena's blog:

Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen. A more general book with some good fruit syrup recipes and techniques.

Put 'em Up, by Sherri Brooks Vinton. Great recipes for fruit liquors.

Stick to Local Farms Cookbook tasting at Saunderskill Strawberry Fest

The next tasting will be at Saunderskill Farms in Accord on June 20--that's when they have their fabulous strawberry festival. We'll be wearing two hats: sharing a table with the Rondout Valley Growers (to whom we're contributing 5% of the cookbook profits). At our last tasting, we served Bright Greens Soup with croutons, and weren't sure whether anyone would even go for it--green soup being "alien food" to some. But it was pretty popular, and since greens are so abundant this time of year, we'll do it again! Also Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with tiny shortbreads. Join us and have a taste!

Bright Greens Soup

A recipe for a wide variety of spring greens, such as Swiss chard, watercress, sorrel, beet greens, spinach and lambs quarters.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks or onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
6 cups chopped greens, thick stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices bread
1 garlic clove cut in half
Grated Parmesan cheese or local aged, hard cheese (optional)

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens; stir until they begin to wilt. Add 1 ½ quarts of water and salt to taste; bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the greens are very tender and the broth sweet. Add pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.
Toast the bread. Trim crust off if desired. Rub with the cut side of the halved garlic clove and drizzle with a little more oil, then cut into crouton cubes. Place some croutons in each bowl. Ladle in the soup, sprinkle with some cheese, if desired, and serve.
8 servings

Our Stick to Local Farms Cookbook Test Tasting

We had our first event of the year at Country Flowers Greenhouse and it was great! We had tastings of recipes from Stick to Local Foods Cookbook: Asparagus Lemon Salad, Bright Greens Soup and Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with tiny shortbreads. The setting was beautiful--the weather was gorgeous, we were surrounded by flowers, and Drew and Robin Andersen were wonderful hosts. I was lucky to have the help of Jemma Rose Brown, who I call my "fairy goddaughter." I've known Jemma since she was born, we share a birthday, and now she's an accomplished young woman--in fact, she interned at Martha Stewart and now is the social media pro at The Moth. Her experience and skills were so helpful on our test tasting! Thanks Jem! Next up: Strawberry Festival on Saturday June 20 at Saunderskill Farms Market in Accord.

Locally Grown Goodness

Eating delicious food is one of our primal drives, and good food makes me very, very happy. That said, my definition of “good food” has been evolving quite a bit. I used to love munching treats like cheese doodles—and sometimes I still do—although in recent years I’ve stretched: I’ve opened up to a much wider variety of gastronomic delights.
It started when I was living in New York City and decided to quit smoking. It took me years, and when I finally quit, the effort was rewarded with a weight gain of almost 25 pounds—for the first time I needed to think seriously about my diet. But the onslaught of advice out there was conflicting, complicated and sometimes just weird. And I hate dieting. 
At the same time, a farmers market opened in my neighborhood. Every week, the street filled with aromatic fruit, gorgeous vegetables, delightful flowers and friendly farmers with commonsense guidance. Farmstands and farmers markets are a great place to hang out, do a little taste-testing, run into neighbors, meet new people, share recipes, even hear live music and get other locally made products. And being around all those amazing shapes, colors, scents and textures is exciting in a very elemental way—we are hard-wired by our genes to be happy around good, healthy nourishment. I was seduced. Soon I was carrying home bike-loads of juicy, fresh, seasonal bounty and inviting farmers, fishermen, foragers and other hungry pals over to my loft for enthusiastic group dinners. 
To find out what to do with produce I’d never cooked before, I researched. Michael Pollan’s books awakened me to the idea that a great diet can actually be simpler that what I had been eating. Eating and cooking with unprocessed ingredients (old school: “from scratch”) is surprisingly easy, and whole foods naturally have much more balanced nutrition (less of the bad stuff and more of the good) than food made in factories.  I doubled up on the amount of vegetables I ate, began discovering the world of whole grains (which are just as varied and interesting as pasta), and cultivated a sweet tooth for fresh fruit. 
Wonderfully, I have found that eating seasonal, locally grown food, is way more luscious than anything whipped up by food engineers. The freshest and ripest fruit and vegetables are also the most tasty because that’s when they’re at their peak of sugars, aromatic oils, and juice.  Local fruit and veggies are varieties that are grown for taste, fragrance and texture rather than a long shelf life or durability in shipping. 
I’ve discovered that when I stick to locally grown food I experience and enjoy the seasons of year way more. If I haven’t had fresh asparagus for ages, I look forward to the first asparagus of the season—it is exciting and precious. And later, if there’s plenty, there’s even time for a hedonistic gorge or two. Every season and every crop ripening is a little holiday to celebrate!
Over several years, making the shift to eating more local food changed my life. I had a posse of new friends in well-grounded places, an exciting culinary life and even though I had given up trying to lose those post-nicotine pounds, the extra weight had gradually just melted away and I felt fantastic. Since then, I've become compelled to share this wonderful “new” world and have become a dyed-in-the-wool (ahem) local farm and food activist. 
Now, I'm super-pleased to share that the Stick to Local Farms Cookbook, which I've been working on for years, is out this month. It's a good companion to Stick to Local Farms, an annual sticker adventure I launched in 2014 to share the fun and adventure of visiting farms in the Rondout Valley, a lovely part of Ulster County.