Food Closures Lead to Pantry Raid

So this closed our beloved farmers market last Saturday:

Thanks for the graphic, Cliff Mass!

I shouldn't complain, really. That nice load of wind and rain recharged our reservoirs and brought the first snow of the season to the Cascades. Cliff Mass reports that reservoir levels added enough to supply the Greater Puget Sound for more than three months! Not bad, for a weekend's work. I'm only sorry that I had to go buy meat and eggs and carrots and apples at the grocery store, and I was amazed by the number of mushy apples Whole Foods had out. It's apple season, people! Where are those mushy things coming from? 2013?

To add insult to injury, Chipotle decided to start giving select customers E. coli, and has closed area restaurants while the matter gets sorted. Eek! I have to confess, at least one family member eats a Chipotle burrito or burrito bowl at least twice a month, so, between the Market and Chipotle, this is adding up to a real first-world crisis, here.

Tough times call for pantry raids. This week it was bean and bacon soup. Dried beans from the pantry and bacon from Sea Breeze Farm out of the freezer. Chicken broth from my last Skagit River Ranch chicken. I served it up with homemade bread and a truly disgusting salad composed of whatever I found in the "crisper" that wasn't wilted into molten goo. I'll spare you that recipe...

Here's to hard times, and hoping our Market returns this weekend!

Bean and Bacon Soup (adapted from Taste of Home)
2 quarts of chicken broth
1 lb of white beans, soaked overnight or quick-soaked
2 Tbsp chopped parsley*
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp salt
1 onion, chopped*
2 large carrots, chopped*
2 stalks celery, chopped*
6 strips of bacon, fried and crumbled*

Combine broth through pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Add salt through celery. Cover and simmer an additional 20-25 minutes, or until beans are tender. Stir in crumbled, cooked bacon. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Drought Report and Fig Jam

By now you've heard that the City of Bellevue has asked residents to conserve water voluntarily by 10%, and they offer these tips:

Ways to save water:
  • Cut back unnecessary watering -- consider letting your lawn go dormant.
  • Water plants deeply, but infrequently, early in the day or late at night. Mulching planting beds also helps with reducing watering.
  • Visit the Waterwise Garden at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, where residents can learn how they can save water in their own gardens.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry in washing machines or dishes in dishwashers.
  • Turn the water off. Avoid letting the faucet run when shaving, brushing teeth, and washing.
  • Take shorter showers -- even cutting your shower by 2-3 minutes adds up.
  • Wash your car infrequently, and when you do take it to a commercial wash where the water is recycled.
  • Fix leaks.
  • Order and install free water-saving items, including low-flow shower heads and leak detection kits, from Bellevue's water provider -- Cascade Water Alliance.
Handy graphic--did we skip over Advisory, or did I miss it?
Sadly, the only item on that list that my family isn't already doing is the "Take shorter showers" bullet point. And, apart from my husband in the morning, most of us are pretty brief going about our showering business.

But things aren't too bad in Bellevue yet! I was just visiting my family in California this past week, where they're very much in the MANDATORY wedge of the graph, and neighbors are turning like jackals on each other when someone is caught watering on one of the Do-Not-Water days. Being California, though, backyard crops still flourish under concentrated watering conditions. Consider these Asian pears from my sister's Davis backyard:

Sweet and crisp, rather like the yummy ones the Market used to enjoy from Rockridge Orchards. In addition to Asian pears, my sister and her hub planted a branch of the neighbor's fig tree and now reap the benefits.

Figs are an ideal fruit, and every time I fork out $8 for a jar of fig jam, I wish they grew more abundantly in Washington. After all, what other fruit can be chopped up coarsely, mixed with sugar, pectin, and lemon juice, left to stew for an hour, and then become easy freezer jam? No peeling, so seeding, no nothing. I entreated my sister to make a batch of fig freezer jam with her bumper crop, but with that California take-it-for-grantedness she only said, "Maybe next year."

Luscious, figgy innerds
Next year? Next year the drought may have reached beyond epic proportions, or whatever you would call a drought that's already designated as the worst in at least 150 years. This horrible drought doesn't even begin to approach what scientists call "Megadroughts," which last decades.

So the figs might not be there next year or ten years from now, which makes me glad I enjoyed them now.

Living for the moment
Washington might (should?) have longer, but we may all want to be looking toward snapping up real estate along a river in Northern British Columbia as the globe warms. In the meantime, enjoy those figs.

Earth Day Edition

It seems fitting that on Earth Day you should give the planet a present. But what do you give the planet that has everything? If you're struggling to come up with something, I have a few suggestions:

1. Take a shorter shower or skip your shower altogether! (If you've already showered by the time you read this, you could substitute "only flush the toilet selectively today" or "don't let the water run when you wash the dishes/brush your teeth.")

Here's our latest state drought map, after all, including the thirteen more river basins Governor Inslee has declared in drought conditions. Snowpack is at 20% of normal.

2. Consider installing one of these:

Look at these happy gentlemen from the King Cty website!

Not being the handy, installing type myself, I wish one of these rain barrels would magically appear outside our house, ready to go. But the County has an FAQ and tips for you more motivated types.

3. If you're under the gun timewise, consider the belated Earth Day gift. Bellevue's 2015 Spring Special Recycling Day is Saturday, May 2, from 9am-3pm in the Bellevue Presbyterian Church parking lot. What do they take, that you can't recycle curbside? Here are just some of the biggies:

Block styrofoam
Packing peanuts

And new this year...

Rigid plastics!!!

I'm pretty excited about the rigid plastics, since, like most Americans, I have a few of those $5 resin chairs in various states of usability cluttering up the backyard. Not to mention plastic buckets that used to contain something. There's only so many plastic buckets you can have around the house.

And you know, of course(?) that curbside recycling already can take household batteries now! The most recent flyer I've received says to place regular and rechargeable batteries in a separate, clear sealed bag and put it on top of the recycling bin for pickup. Strangely, King County has not updated its website to reflect this change.

Same goes for those fluorescent tubes and bulbs that I hate and refuse to buy any longer: wrap them in newspaper and secure with tape. Mark them "Fluorescent bulbs" and put them on top or beside your bin. (Bartell's will also recycle CFLs.)

4. And then there's always the "Reuse" option, for you serial re-gifters. I re-use freezer bags until they look cruddy or won't seal. I've re-used the thicker plastic bags found in cereal boxes for when I need a sturdier cover for things outside like the umbrella stand. I re-use plastic grocery bags to collect smaller recyclable plastic bags or to line the compost bin (but not to throw in the yard waste, of course). I reuse glass peanut butter jars to hold beans in the pantry or to refrigerate homemade yogurt. I reuse plastic trays and bowls and containers people have left after potlucks and such to serve my own potluck offerings or to send food home with others later--that way it doesn't matter if you ever get it back. And when the things aren't on condition to be re-used again, they can be recycled curbside or brought to the Special Recycling Day!

So no excuses, this year. Give our awesome planet a present and have a happy Earth Day.

A Glimpse of the Climate Future?

It was time for the yearly drive down to the Bay Area in California to visit my family, and we made a few alarming observations.

1. Lake Shasta was as low as I've ever seen it in my life! An article written in May noted a 90-foot drop in the water level, and I can just add that June, July, and half of August have done nothing to improve matters. In fact, if I'd seen the water at the level pictured in the May article, it wouldn't have freaked me out as much. Let's just say that if a drought like this ever hit Loch Ness, Nessie would have to evolve into a land animal.

2. California was importing cherries from Washington State! What the heck? My mom brought out a bag of Bing cherries from glorious Washington. Back when I was growing up, you could visit Bing cherry farms in San Jose, and now the cherries had to come from Washington? Drought drought drought.

3. The San Jose Mercury ran this graph in an article over the weekend:

The tan-colored bars are bad news. I remember those wet years in the 80s, and they were no picnic either, but mostly because drizzle depresses Californians even more than Washingtonians because they've developed neither tolerance nor secret love for it.

What does this all mean? I think it means two things:

1. Food prices will continue to climb. Our wallets have taken a hit these past couple years, and it's going to get worse. Even if you're a farmers-marketgoer, buying local as much as possible--if the rest of the country starts buying up Washington-grown foods, that means higher prices for all of us.

2. You'll want to hang on to your house and consider retiring in the Pacific Northwest because there are going to be more articles like this. Meteorologist Cliff Mass predicts that the PNW will fare way better than the rest of the country as the world warms, in terms of rainfall, rising ocean levels, heat waves, and freak storms. And even if you believe global warming is so much hooey, droughts are facts, and so far Washington State has shown more drought resilience:

It's relative of course. I think, no matter where you live in the country, people are going to have to get creative about getting and retaining water, but at least the PNW still gets plenty in Western Washington (take the crazy showers of the past day)--we just have to get creative about capturing all that wetness.

In any case, be sure to load up on our in-demand fruits and vegetables and farm goods at the Market this Thursday and Saturday, before the rest of the country cottons on to how spoiled we are!

And I leave you with a picture of much water, to relieve your mind. This is Crater Lake. Granted, it took thousands of years of snowfall and rainfall for the lake to reach its present depth (and last year they only received half of normal snowfall), but doesn't it do your heart good to see it? It was clean enough to drink, and we drank it!

Crater Lake National Park

Feeling the Food Price Pinch

I don't know about you, but in the past couple years, I've seen our average grocery bill increase by about 50%. Yes, my kids are bigger now, and the adolescent boy complains every night about how he's starving all the time, and his sisters have learned not to leave food they plan on eating unattended, but that can't account for the entire upswing. So I was glad to see some recent articles that told me the rising costs weren't all my fault.

The Wall Street Journal cites the unrelenting drought in California, which has gone on for three years, impacting the crops in the graphic below:

And USA Today expanded on the carnage at the cash register by looking at the 10 fastest-rising food costs:

1. Bacon. Possible explanation? The delightfully-named Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in hogs.

2. Ground Beef. Culprit? Drought.

3. Oranges. Blame: Citrus greening disease in Florida and drought in California.

4. Coffee. Guilty party? Drought and producer stockpiling.

5. Peanut Butter. Pointing finger? "Poor growing conditions" and possibly increased Chinese demand, for Pete's sake!

6. Margarine. The Reason Why: who cares! You seriously should not be eating this fake food anymore anyhow. Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter. And it was called just plain Butter.

7. Wine. Whodunnit? Drought in California and general demand increases. Apparently we're drinking more to comfort ourselves for rising food prices.

8. Turkey. For want of a nail...drought led to rising corn and soy prices, which led to more expensive feed.

9. Chicken. See Turkey. That, and the whole world is eating more and more chicken because agro-industrial practices have made it comparatively cheap.

10. Grapefruit. See Orange.

What does this mean for our farmers market? I expect we'll see higher prices. After all, a rising tide lifts all the boats. I know that Skagit River Ranch cut way back on their chickens because of the feed costs, especially since they can't make up the dollars lost by cramming chickens in crates on top of each other. It'll be interesting to talk to the farmers and ask how Washington's precipitation is doing, from their perspective, and what rising costs of their own they see.

I do have a couple money-saving reminders for you, though, so all is not lost. Remember, if you can find your vegetable or fruit on the "Clean 15" list, there's no need to buy organic.

Thanks, Mary Crimmins, for the cute graphic!

I've taken to stretching a pound of meat with a can or two of black beans, and remember that saturated FAT promotes satiety faster (and slows spikes in blood sugar). Add more butter. More cheese. More whole milk and cream. Slather those bagels and pieces of toast and what-have-you in cream cheese! As I mentioned last week, to everyone's relief and good health, fat is back on the menu.

So raise your milkshake to an end to the drought, and here's hoping prices come down soon.