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Picking a CSA & Road Trip to San Antonio

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I am delighted to have two articles in the Fall edition of Edible Austin.   The first recounts a fantastic weekend in San Antonio exploring the real food scene on the River Walk.  I was amazed how each place had such unique character – I felt like I was walking into a completely different city with each new venue. And, more importantly, the food was fantastic. If you haven’t been to San Antonio lately, I highly recommend it for a weekend away.

The Embracing Local article explains how to pick a Community Supported Agriculture or local produce delivery service.  Many farms are still taking members for the fall season and this article can help you narrow your choice to the service that will work best for you.

You can view the entire issue online or pick up a copy at a local farmers market, restaurant or store.

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Unprocessed Food Challenge Wrap-Up

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No Processed Food ChallengeWell, I did it (mostly.)  One month with almost no processed food.  With the exception of the Diet Coke slip-up and the Frito temptations, I managed fairly well and I’m proud of myself for pulling it off.

I discovered a few things a long the way.  At first, I was mildly panicky about having enough time to cook at home during a busy month.  I quickly stepped back and reminded myself that I didn’t need to make elaborate meals, I just needed to make something healthy to eat.  This mindset gave me permission to do simple stir fries or vegetables with pasta.  I also ate a lot of salads and sandwiches – not fancy, but satisfying and unprocessed.

On those days when I didn’t have time to cook at all, I explored some of the healthy take-away options around town.  I’ve used Central Market and Whole Foods for healthy take out meals for years, but I also discovered a growing number of outlets for healthy meals to go like  Snap Kitchen, My Fit Foods and Mel’s Meals.  My lunch of bison quinoa hash from Snap Kitchen was packed with flavor and nutrients while keeping the calorie count to a dull roar.

Most importantly, my month of reading labels carefully taught me that even seemingly innocuous looking products can contain ingredients you weren’t expecting.  (Can someone please tell me what PGPR is in a Hershey’s plain milk chocolate bar and why it needs to be there?)  Maybe all those things aren’t bad for you, but if I don’t know what it is do I really want to be eating it?  I don’t think so.

My hope is to keep this new found awareness front and center in my daily life.  I’ll probably still have Fritos on occasion, but it will be the exception, not the rule.  After all, if I can make it through a Halloween party surrounded by chips and salsa, I can do anything!

Thanks to Andrew wilder of Eating Rules for the inspiration and the encouragement.  I’m looking forward to continuing my less processed life.

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Living Local: A Year Without A Grocery Store

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21310_1Many of us are buying more local produce and meats, frequenting the farmers markets a little more often than the grocery store.  My friend Carla Crownover has taken her locavore lifestyle to a whole new level.  She challenged herself at the beginning of the year to go one year without shopping at a grocery store.

To give you some perspective, Carla, co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens, is a foodie.  Central Market was one of her favorite outings each week, exploring new foods and tastes as she shopped.  When she told me of her new undertaking, my first question was “How are you going to go a year without Central Market?”  Carla apparently has greater resolve and discipline than me.
I recently interviewed Carla to see how it was going.  You can follow Carla and her daily updates on her “No Grocery Store Challenge” on her blog
AF2T: Why did you decide to start the “Year with No Grocery Store Challenge?”

Carla Crownover:  I was inspired to start the No Grocery Store Challenge for a Year, after seeing the movie “Food, Inc.” It was quite an eye opening look into our food supply and it disgusted me. I already had a substantial garden and shopped at Farmers Markets, but not exclusively. I’m learning every day how much I relied on the grocery stores for more than I realized.

AF2T: If you aren’t shopping at the grocery store, where are you shopping?

Carla Crownover: I am shopping at Farmers Markets and occasionally Boggy Creek Farm. I have relied heavily on Richardson Farms for beef, pork and chicken; Kocurek Family Charcuterie for prepared sausages and bacon, and Countryside Farms for duck eggs.  I’m looking forward to the opening of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop so that I can get Pure Luck Cheese there, since they aren’t at the farmer’s markets. [Note: Antonelli’s opened on Thursday, February 11, 2010.]

AF2T: Are you growing any of your own food and, if so, what?

Carla Crownover: Currently in the garden I am growing broccoli, several varieties of lettuce, carrots, onions, fennel, garlic, shallots, strawberries and watermelon radishes. I also have a most of the herbs growing in pots in the greenhouse.

AF2T: What do you do about essentials like toilet paper, shampoo and soap?

Carla Crownover: I have always bought shampoo from my hair salon. I get soap at Tarrytown Pharmacy when I pick up my prescriptions, and toilet paper, toothpaste, and actually some spices at CVS. Home Depot has toilet paper and cleaning supplies as well. I get Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning supplies at Breed and Company.

AF2T: You’ve made it through the first full month, what has been the biggest challenge so far?  Are there any foods that you miss?

Carla Crownover: The biggest challenge is planning ahead. I’m learning to think several meals ahead, when before I would just pick something up. I’m learning to plan ahead more in the garden as well, so that it can be more productive all year round. 
I miss lots of things: avocados, canned beans, canned tuna, rice, the tarragon chicken salad at Whole Foods, salmon, fresh jalapenos, garlic, already made tortillas, and Costco coffee, because it is good and so much cheaper. I loved the deli sandwiches at the Fresh Plus on West Lynn. I still eat out, so I’m not really deprived.

AF2T: Have you had any surprises or revelations in your first month?

Carla Crownover: I didn’t realize how often I went to the grocery store, and sometimes several different ones in one day for different things. I also did not realize how often I’m not in the mood for what I’ve got planned for dinner, so I would run out and pick something else up.

AF2T: Have you been tempted to go in a grocery store?

Carla Crownover: I had lunch with a friend at the Cafe at Central Market. I did peer into the store before I left and was tempted to go grab a cart and fill it with lots of fun stuff, but then I realized I didn’t really need anything.
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Living Local: Farmers Market Shopping 101

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Maybe it’s everyone’s New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier or buy local, but lately I have been invited by a number of friends to join them on their first trip to the farmers market.  I always say yes to such an invitation; after all, it’s sort of like asking Imelda Marcos to go shoe shopping with you.
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Inevitably, they ask me if there is anything they should know before the shopping trip.  Like all good outings, preparation makes it more successful, so I have a standard list of tips I share.

Bring cash, preferably smaller bills.  Showing up with a wad of $20 bills to buy $2-3 produce items can make the transaction more difficult.  I typically start using larger bills to pay for items early in the week, so that by Saturday I have a collection of $1s and $5s for the market.  

If you forget cash, the larger markets like Downtown and Sunset Valley have ATM machines close by.  The Sustainable Food Center, the organizer of the Downtown and Triangle markets, also has a debit card machine at their information booth and for a small transaction fee they will give you wooden market tokens that you can spend like cash at any market booth.

Bring a bag (or bags) large enough to hold your purchases so that you don’t have to try to shop while juggling small plastic bags, which is what most of the vendors give out.  I have a fantastic market bag that my friend Claire gave me as a gift or you can buy reusable bags at most grocery stores.

20210_2I also highly recommend the reusable bags from Blue Avocado, an Austin-based company, that designs the stylish bags with grocery shopping in mind.  I also recommend leaving the bags in the trunk of your car so that you don’t find yourself bag-less at a market.  I hook mine over the front door knob as soon as I unpack them so I can don’t forget to put them back in the car.

Wear something with pockets.  Since you are fishing out money at every booth, it’s easier if you can pull your budgeted cash out of a pocket rather than digging through your wallet every time.

Wear comfortable shoes.  Several of the markets are in grassy areas and this is not where you want to test out those new kitten heels.

Come with an open mind.  I posted about this recently, but can’t emphasize it enough.  Showing up at the market with your detailed grocery list won’t work and will probably frustrate you.  Instead, come to the market, find what looks good and maybe pick out some things you’ve never tried before.  I bought my first Rutabaga Wednesday night and can’t wait to try out a new recipe.  

Several people commented on the last Living Local article that they are big planners and aren’t sure if they can come to the market without a list.  Being a reformed planner myself, I totally respect that have a suggestion.  When making your plan for the week, first review the list of what’s in season now (available on the Edible Austin and SFC websites) and subscribe to the e-mail list for your favorite markets and vendors.  The weekly e-mail updates often include a list of what to expect that week and for vendors like Dai Due and Kocurek Family Charcuterie, you can pre-order items to pick up at the market.   

If you have a smart phone, I also highly recommend downloading a recipe application or two, so that you can look up possible recipes for an unexpected find while you are there.  I save interesting recipes to a database/note application called Evernote and tag them by key ingredients so that I can find them easily.  I also use the Epicurious app to find new recipes.

Give yourself plenty of time to explore. While it’s possible to blaze in and out of the market in 30 minutes, I suggest giving yourself at least an hour the first few times you visit so that you can get the feel for the market, visit with the farmers and vendors and even enjoy a bite to eat or a cup of coffee.  Remember, as much as you are there to buy food, the market is fun!

I hope to see you at the market soon and, if you need a shopping buddy, let me know – I never turn down a good market day!
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