Why I love craft beer.

I feel the need to explain why I’ve been so interested in local craft beer after seeing some lists and examples of craft brewed beer in recent articles, like The Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Drink Craft Beer and 10 Great Beers Brewed In Unlikely Places .

These articles highlight a few of the reasons and craft beers without covering my reasons for loving it. Those that read my infrequent posts, will know I’m big on local food. While I’m far from new to good beer, I’ve liked ‘microbrews’ or imports for a long time, the interest or better yet fascination with local craft beer is fairly new for me. I can’t pinpoint when the light bulb went off, but I think I became more aware the craft beer movement. Things like this video

 and these interviews


Have solidified my interest.

Hearing these brewers talk about their commitment to brewing, their craft, and sustainability, it’s not hard to see how it meshes with my values. This is something they need to do, as they just can’t out cheap, distribute, or advertise the beer water makers. Which is fine, they can do something things the big guys can’t, be local, fresh, unique, and small. This is their differentiator.

Pretty much anywhere you where you go, you can find a local brewery. When I was on a trip to Long Island this past weekend, there were no fewer than 4 breweries with a reasonable drive. Near our home in MA, as you can see on this map (beermapping.com), there are a significant number as well. What I’m getting at, is that you can get local beer everywhere. Not only are you shortening the distribution chain, so you get fresh beer, you are also supporting the local economy. These smaller local brewers can also partner with local purveyors, like Cambridge brewing company (Cambridge MA), using Taza chocolate (Sommerville MA) in it’s Chocolate milk stout. It is that sort of double rainbow that you never see from the big guys.  

Even if local does not matter to you, craft beer has much more to offer the beer fan. You can get your traditional pilsners and lighter lagers, if that is what your pallet prefers, but you can also get double imperial stouts, black ipa’s and wild sours, interesting and unique variations that you may not find else where. The reason why craft beer can offer the variety, and the The scale at which craft beer operates means they are faster moving, they can try the newest variety of hops, or offer wet hopped beers, that operations of larger scale just can’t do. They offer something for everyone, and a beer for every season. I personally can’t wait for the release of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale every holiday season, but also look forward to the next iteration of Alagash’s Fluxus which is different every release.
This variety and scale means that fine craft beer is really approachable.  Unlike wine, where you may find premium wines starting at 50+ a bottle, going into many thousands. Unique rare beer seems to be much more available . Don’t get me wrong, there exceptions, like Portsmouth brewing’s Kate the Great, or Pliny the elder, that the average consumer can’t get. However, I find this is the exception, you can get a great six pack for under $10.  A unique limited release bomber for as little as $5-7. Rarely do you find a sku that breaks the $20 mark for a single unit. That makes even a very special craft beer accessible to the new comer, who wants to try it all like myself. That’s why I love craft beer.

It’s on like donkey kong; CSA round 2.

We really enjoyed the CSA in 09, found it made us use a lot more vegetables than in the past. The variety and quantities were good for a family of 2, and we decided to do it again in twenty ten.

    Dear Aaron,
    Thank you for signing up with the Dragonfly Farms Community Supported Agriculture program this year!  We look forward to providing you with fresh produce during the 2010 season.


    You are signed up for a half share of vegetables at our pickup location in Pepperell, Mass at the farm.  The pickup starts June 24, 2010 and ends October 30, 2010.  

    Your pick up day will be Thursday between the hours of 5pm and 7pm.   Please note that the pickup hours will be changed to 4pm – 6pm in October as the daylight hours get shorter.


    We have received your                 _ X__ Full Payment of $300 for the vegetable share
    We will be sending out a FAQ as we get closer to the start of the season to give you more details on the CSA program.

    Thank you again!

    Sue and Frank Ventura

    Dragonfly Farms

    40 Prescott St.

    Pepperell, MA 01463


Just a reminder if you have a local farmer tis the time for sign ups, so get out there and get your share early. They need the money now, to ensure a stable year. Think of it as a future investment in summer meal diversity.


PS. We are still around, just busy with a family addition, that’s kept us from doing all sorts of stuff, not just blogging. :) Look for more from us in the coming weeks.

CSA: Week Two

Week three is bearing down on us, and I’ve still got most of week two items.It’s time to get a move on! I’ll start by reviewing last week’s goals:

Take photos of the contents. Check!
Take photos of the prepared goods. Eh.
If I have time, see if I can chat up some of the other CSA members. Eh.
Make at least one recipe I’ve never made before. Eh.
Write blog three before I collect bag 3. Check!

I did not shoot any photos of prepared vegetables, nor did I prepare a recipe I’ve never made. However there is still time!

So, what’s in the bag?

A head of red lettuce, a bag of snap peas, broccoli, and a bunch of baby yellow onions with greens. We’ve also got some lovely beets and greens to use, which I think I’ll find a new recipe to make and take a photo of. Along with some of the broccoli, I’ll steam the snap peas, and serve with some raddish green pesto

Week one with the CSA

I figured I should try to write up week one before we go and get week two’s goods. Tasha had to pick up this weeks items, as I was some where between Littleton NH and Lebanon NH on my bike when it came time to retrieve our reusable bag from Dragonfly Farms this past Saturday. The week one newsletter stated it was going to be a bit lighter than planned due to a bought of cut worms that took down much of their greens. Instead they were able to acquire some local strawberries, and supplemented the vegetables with them. Our first bag contained a bunch of baby red onions, a small bundle of garlic scapes, a bag of the freshest snap peas, a head of green lettuce, a small head of golden cauliflower, and a quart of strawberries.
Not bad for a ‘light’ bag. I estimate the retail value of this to be around $10.
The first thing we did with our bounty was snack on strawberries and those amazing peas. I made a large fritatta using 1/2 the onions, a garlic scape, some green and red pepper. This was followed up by a meal of a sausage w/ peppers and onions, served with mashed cauliflower. The recipe was provided in the newsletter, and surprisingly rich. We had the last of the strawberries macerated w/ local honey, myer lemon juice over a biscuit w/ whipped cream. Last night we had a big salad, finishing off the onions, using 1/2 the lettuce, the last of the beans, it was much like the god salad from river gods. For the last bits I’ll make a pesto to freeze with the remaining scapes, and the last of the lettuce will be used in sandwiches or a salad. I’m glad we were able to use all of week one’s goods, and even made a recipe or two we wouldn’t normally make.
Here are my goals for next weeks bag:
Take photos of the contents.
Take photos of the prepared goods.
If I have time, see if I can chat up some of the other CSA members.
Make at least one recipe I’ve never made before.
Write blog three before I collect bag 3.

Time to start storing up…

Amazingly, and probably in part due to the fact that I didn’t want to eat much for 3 months, we saved enough berries last summer to get us through the winter. We have two small bags of blackberries, half a gallon bag of strawberries, and a small bag of blueberries we are finishing up.
But with the arrival of pick-your-own season, it is time to start thinking about the upcoming winter, and with a little one on the way I want to have some extras on hand. Although the baby won’t be eating foods right away, knowing we have a good amount of fruit saved up will be a big morale booster for the middle of winter.

Today, I put aside our first two trays of fresh strawberries. I’ll go picking at least two more times for strawberries, but coming soon will be blueberry, raspberries, and blackberries. Not to mention the produce that will begin to ripen soon now.

We did plant strawberry plants of our own, and I have gotten one small berry, but I don’t expect much from the transplants other than to settle in for next year.

CSA post number 1

This is the first post that I hope will become a series of posts about our CSA share. Tasha and I are buying a 1/2 vegetable share in a local CSA. What is a CSA you ask? It is when a farm sells shares of it’s harvest for a fixed price at the beginning of the season. The farmer gains financial stability, and the share holder gets weekly boxes of fresh vegetables for a reasonable price.
We are fortunate enough to have a Dragonfly farms very close to the house. The farm / pickup spot is about 2 miles away, so I plan to pick up our box via bike. I’ve already exchanged emails with the owner, and they seem very friendly. They grow everything from potatoes and onions to melons and garlic scapes. The CSA lasts for about 19 weeks starting mid June.
This has been a tough decision for us. There is so much to consider about a CSA. It is an unguaranteed commitment of $275, there’s no telling what could happen this year on the farm. You have no choice in what you get each week. It’s a lot of vegetables, and sometimes you get ones that you have no idea how to cook. Other times you maybe getting beets for the 4th week in a row.
Even with those ‘downsides’ I look forward to the challenge of using a random box of veggies each week, and I really like the idea of supporting a supporting a local farm.
Don’t worry, we still plan on patronizing the farmers market, shopping at Lull, and picking in season local fruit, as this is mainly vegetables. Also how else would we get our regular Bagel Alley bagels?
So for those of you keeping score at home, we are still enjoying are own eggs, locally grown beef and chicken, and our own black berries. You can now add a seasons worth of local vegetables to the list. We’ve still got a lot of food miles in the other foods we eat, but this is another step towards eating more local goods.
Next up, I’m going to get some local honey, and see about finding a more local source for organic dairy products.  

Homemade pasta in just a few minutes

This isn’t a recipe for pasta, we’ll post that some other time. I can say that we used ingredients we had around already for this dinner; flour, eggs, lemons, some parsley, garlic, tomato paste, and pine nuts for added crunch. However, I found the process of making the pasta very easy and enjoyable, which I wanted to share. I did make some of the pasta, but Aaron was showing me since he’s made it before. We had enough to save and freeze what we didn’t eat, for some other day.
First, you start with the appropriate dough pieces. This shows the before and after states.

We have a Kitchen Aid mixer, and the corresponding pasta roller and cutter attachments. Pasta can be rolled out by hand or dedicated machines as well, but the mixer attachments made this quick work. This picture shows rolling out the dough. You start at the widest setting then gradually get to the thinnest one or two settings. As you go through this process, you need to add flour on the noodle surfaces periodically so the dough does not stick to the rollers.

You catch the pasta as it flattens out and carefully feed it back in. Be careful the motor is not taxed too much by feeding in dough that is wider than the current setting will allow.
As we were doing this, we had a nice hot pot of water heating up to boil the noodles.

we dressed the noodles with: lemon zest, pine nuts (slightly browned first), garlic, parsley, and a little bit of tomato paste (not shown).

It is finally time to swap to the pasta cutter attachment; here is a picture of the fresh pasta after slicing.

Next, we boiled and drained it. We combined with our ingredients, and it was time to eat the fresh pasta. It was delicious!

The big business of organic food…

I’ve been thinking a lot about organic food recently, as several topics have crossed my path over the last week or two. On a mother’s forum I read the views of moms who buy organic milk versus moms who do not. A farmer friend sent me a concerned email about the recently introduced bill to remake the functions of the USDA and FDA into one concentrated food safety agency. One of the main fears around this bill is how it will affect small scale producers and organics. And just today, Aaron sent me a report of different organic milk brands, painstakingly rated by the Cornucopia foundation on criteria such as involvement in dairy operations, pasture available to cows, herd cull rate and more. This led me to do some checking out of the Cornucopia site and other information available there.
There is no mistake that interest in organic and local food is increasing, and overall, this is a great development. However, certainly for most consumers buying organic doesn’t mean they have any greater transparency about where their food is coming from, or that it is being produced with any of the notions often attributed to organic food, notions such as production resulting from a small family oriented farm, free roaming happy animals, and so on. This is not to disparage the organic industry, because there are many small scale farmers doing exactly what we as consumers associate with organic farming. But as this market sector has grown tremendously, big food companies haven’t wanted to miss the boat. One of the ways they’ve protected their economic interests is by getting involved – buying or creating organic brands, and lobbying through industry associations to alter standards that ostensibly will favor their interests more. Over at the Cornucopia site, I found this graphic to be particularly compelling. Many major organic brands have been acquired by a top 25 food company (such as Coca Cola, Kraft, Heinz and Cargill), and many organic brands are private label brands of larger supermarkets and food distributors (such as WalMart, Safeway, and Whole Foods). With the interest in and consolidation among organic food producers, it is nearly impossible for a consumer to really know what kind of entity is behind the food in question. Amazingly, at least as of 2007, there were a handful of brands that have held out as independents.
My own revelation was that of the organic milk brands we prefer, only one rated 3 cows in the survey. That brand is owned by HP Hood, not by the company we thought it was (they licensed the name). I am not totally dismayed by this; both are New England companies that I think have reasonable business practices, but there is still some level of deception here. The others rated no or one cow due to lack of information on the actual production methods. I still believe in and prefer organic milk, but this certainly removes any idealistic impression of who we are supporting when we buy these brands.
This in turn brings me back to the localvore movement. I know where I am now getting most of our meat and produce from – real people we have talked to, real farms we have visited that are nearby, real relationships we will cultivate this year. Before we’d really started this effort, about this time last year actually, I didn’t even think it’d be possible to get half of what we’ve found locally or done ourselves. It’s been an incredible journey and one in which I keep looking for the next steps.
Got milk?

Martha’s cooking school mac and cheese.

As some of you know, I’m a mac and cheese fanatic. I love it in all forms, I some how manage to enjoy it even when it’s bad. Something comforting about cheese and pasta, with a bubbly crispy crust.
I’ve been collecting mac and cheese recipes for a little while now. I have yet to make half of these recipes, because I’ve got the standby recipe that my mom always used to make. I decide to switch it up tonight, and make the recipe from Martha Stewart’s new book, Martha’s cooking school.
While I’d love to post the recipe, but I’m sure there are rules against it. So, I’ll just say this

Winter herbs

I love fresh herbs. Over our first summer here, we did manage to keep a fair number of herbs growing in our garden, in spite of the thunderstorms and fencing project (which for those who don’t know, meant the removal of the raised boxes – to be relocated next spring). But, by August or so most of the herbs had bolted (a fancy way of saying they started making seeds). So we were left with no more our own, and the prospect of a long New England winter before we could get more. I began looking into ways to grow herbs indoors. Somewhere in the back of my noggin I’d heard about Aerogardens and that was one of the possible solutions I looked into. Most of the reviews seemed positive.
A short time later, my parents gave us a gift and I used it to get the Aerogarden Pro 100. The Aerogarden is a small hydroponic system with pre-designed kits for herbs, veggies, or plants. It comes with a power compact growing light, nutrient tablets, and needs some water.
With the amount of cooking we do ourselves, fresh herbs can make a big difference. However, when we buy them, at least half goes to waste and the idea of being able to just take what we needed, when we needed it was very appealing. I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, if it was more gimmick than reality, but we were willing to give it a try.
We got our Aerogarden set up around October 11th. The Pro comes with an herb kit for growing Thyme, two types of Basil, Mint, Chives, Parsley, and Dill. There are many kits available on the Aerogrow site, and the reviews available on them will help me decide future kits to try. Anyway, we got it all set up within a few minutes, and the next few days were spent peering eagerly to try and see any hint of a seed coming up. In just two or three days, all of the seed pods had started growing, and it became a wait until the plants were established enough for some light use.
By early November, we had good plants established and were able to do some careful harvesting of a small amount. We even had to raise the lamp up (there is an adjustable arm). We’ve since had prolific growth with regular harvests and no sign of it letting up.
Oh, and the power loss which meant no light or flowing water on the roots for 3 days did wipe out both basil plants, but the Italian (green) basil is amazingly sending up new leaves. I am pretty sure in no time we’ll be harvesting it again. The routine upkeep is minimal and foolproof. While it was designed for people with apartments and no space to garden, for our winter needs it is doing a great job!
The only negative comments are two: one, the light is very bright. Even in our kitchen it lights up all the way to the bedroom. But it is in the best place to be convenient for cooking. Also, I’m also sure it’s not a cost savings between the kit price and electric, however I don’t have to go anywhere for herbs and don’t waste any, so maybe it balances somehow…
All in all I’d give the Aerogarden a 4.5 out of 5!
Here is our Aerogarden as of a few days ago; it’s been running for a few months and I’m expecting to get to March with these herbs.