First Bite

Can Cheap Food Be Delicious?

Considering the amount of money (not to mention time) my hub spends putting in and tending his garden every summer, I'm pretty sure home-grown food doesn't beat farmed in price, only in enjoyment. We also tend to eat much more of the home-grown produce because--well, you know--when the harvest arrives, it arrives.

Despite two tomato sauce batches, one tomato soup, five Caprese salads, five batches of baked tomatoes, one recipe of bruschetta, tomatoes added to other kinds of salad and soup and Spanish rice, and countless bowls of pico de gallo, we still had plenty of crop left on the vine when it was time to tear the garden out.

The dregs

Thankfully, tomatoes continue to ripen after harvest, albeit not as deliciously as on the vine in hot summer sun. So our little troops are lined up on newspaper in the garage, to extend our season into late fall.

I don't have high hopes for the little green guy

Because I hate to waste food. My kids are regularly subjected to "Clean-Out-the-Fridge" soup, and no chicken bones ever pass through the kitchen without being simmered for stock. (If you don't have enough for a stockpot or time to process them, just throw them in a freezer bag and keep collecting until you do.)

I was pretty excited to hear about this book, you might imagine:

Not only does the publisher promise affordable yumminess, but they also "donate a book to someone who needs it" for every copy purchased! Awesome idea. How it plays out in practice remains to be seen, however, because the book contains recipes that even ardent foodies might hesitate over, like "Mashed Beets" and "Broiled Eggplant Salad" and "Barley Risotto with Peas." Look--I cook my own food and I shop at a farmers market regularly, but there is no way I could get my kids to try 60% of the book's offerings. It might be better to bundle the free book with free copies of

to help "someone who needs it" find the confidence to cook at home, and then throw in

to help all of us get our kids to try more foods and flavors. This one would also work:

All that said, giving Good and Cheap away for free is a great start. Just don't expect it to change the way America eats.

Since my hub and I like vegetables, though, and since his ripping out of the garden filled our pantry with butternut squash, I tried out a recipe from Good and Cheap and found it luscious! (Our squash wasn't as ripe as I would like, so the sweeteners added were my own idea.)

As promised, this recipe was cheap and much more than good.

The main ingredients

Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Good and Cheap; Market ingredients "*")

1 butternut squash* (about 2 lbs)
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion*, chopped
1 bell pepper*, chopped (recipe called for green, but I would use red or orange next time, so there isn't a bitter note)
3 cloves garlic, minced*
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup brown sugar, optional
dash maple syrup, optional
salt and pepper

sour cream for garnish
chopped scallions for garnish*
chopped cilantro for garnish*

To make my life easier, I halved the squash, seeded it, and threw it in a crock pot on LOW for a few hours until it was cooked. Then I scraped out the flesh and added to the soup later.

Melt butter in soup pot over medium and saute onion through garlic until tender. Add spices and cook another 2 minutes, stirring. Add cooked squash, coconut milk, sweeteners, and 3 cups of water. Stir.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Blend thoroughly with immersion blender. Serve with dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of garnish.

I plan to try several more recipes in the book and will report back. In the meantime, just two more Thursday Markets, and this will be Skagit River Ranch's last Thursday. Be sure to ask about signing up for there Bellevue Buyers Club, if you still want to order meat in the off-season.

Last Night My Kids Ate Beets

May I have your attention, please! Dinners at our home are rarely newsworthy events, but for the past two days, they have been. Not because of what was served, but because of who ate it. Seriously, I rank this right up there with Queen Elizabeth II achieving the longest reign--last night I served roasted beets with a yogurt dipping sauce, and all three of my kids ate some. Not a lot, but some. Meaning, in the case of two of them, a chunk of beet the size of a pea.

You might be thinking, So what? I love beets. Or, like many people I know, you might have read that last paragraph and shuddered inwardly because you hate beets.

What I've learned this week, is that we can actively work to expand our taste likings and the likings of even the pickiest of eaters.

I'd enjoyed Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork, a history of cooking implements, so I picked this one up--a discussion of how we learn to like the tastes we do, and what can be done for those picky eaters, old and young. (Note: after hearing some of the case stories in this book, I will never call my children "picky eaters" again. I now realize they're comparative omnivores!)

What Wilson discovered is that, while there is a genetic and an in utero element to what tastes we like easily, much more of our tastes develop from how and what and when we are fed in the early years afterward. We have such thing as a tasting window, when we're open to new flavors. (Sadly, this window doesn't correspond with the current guidelines and timeline on how to feed babies.) But even after the window of our greatest tasting openness has slammed shut, there are techniques to increase our liking of other foods and flavors.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has to feed anyone or who is looking to expand his own limited palate. Wilson also discusses some of the food-liking limitations of autistic kids and treatments that help!

Even if you're not someone crippled because you can only stand to eat a handful of things, there's much to be gained from expanding our flavor horizons. Limited foods often equal limited nutrition. And the rise of processed food consumption has led to people developing "uncannily homogeneous tastes, markedly more so than in the past." What are these homogeneous likings? Well, for sugar, fat, salt, and refined carbs.

Now that "half of adults in the U.S. have diabetes or pre-diabetes," it's looking like a great time to reform our palates. As Wilson points out, it's no use threatening or advising folks. Much more useful is actually getting people to enjoy a healthier, more varied diet because they discover they like it and start to prefer it. Hence my exercises in beets (and green beans the night before). Multiple exposures can get people over the I-don't-like-beets hump into the familiarity camp, and then into the tolerance camp, and then--possibly--into the liking camp! That's the plan, anyhow.

It can happen. Over the years I've grown to like beets, cilantro, cooked spinach, fish, kale, mushrooms, and onions--all things I disliked as a kid. Who knows what more lies out there?

Speaking of new flavors, did you notice our new Thursday vendor?
and The Box's flavor explosion: Kahlua Pork Bao

Get to the Market this week and try at least one new thing. Prepare just a little bit. Try it a couple different ways. Get everyone in your home to taste a pea-sized bite before they chow down on old standbys. Let me know what you find!