For a few weeks in a row, during my trip to the farmers' market, I made sure to pick up a bundle of rhubarb. Its tangy flavor pairs well with berries, and makes for delicious, often loaded with plenty of sugar to balance out the tartness.
While baking a pie sounded like a nice idea, I don't have the time or patience these days to make a pie. With an eight month old who's getting more wiggly by the day (and almost crawling!), muffins were the next best thing to pie. They're a cinch to make, they last a few days, and with some cornmeal mixed with the flour, these muffins are a little bit savory and have some added whole grains.
With the weather warming up, I try to do my baking in the early mornings or in the evenings, during the coolest part of the day. These muffins are perfect to enjoy with a cup of coffee, or a big glass of rice milk.
LOCAL FOOD GUIDE
I've also been spending most of my free time writing a local food guide!
Those of you who know me know that I'm crazy about farmers' markets, farm stands, and farms. Having worked in agriculture and the local food world for over 15 years (what?!), I love to share my passion with others, whether through delicious recipes, how to shop at the farmers' market, and ideas on how to make cooking with local produce as easy as possible.
I am so excited to share seasonal recipes with you in one single (FREE!) guide, and I'm including all kinds of tips and pointers to shopping at the farmers' market, especially for those of us on a budget. The guide will be out at the end of June.
HOW TO SELECT + PREPARE RHUBARB
Rhubarb, like asparagus, is a perennial. Once planted, rhubarb is left alone for one year, and can be harvested every year afterwards.
Rhubarb season runs from May through July. Choose stalks without blemishes (though they can be cut out once at home). Rhubarb can range in color from red to green, but the color does not affect the flavor. Only eat the rhubarb stalks, as the leaves are poisonous. If any leaves are left on the rhubarb you buy, make sure to cut and throw away the leaves.
Rhubarb can be eaten raw, but because it's so tart, people who eat it raw usually dip it in sugar, honey, or maple syrup to sweeten it up.
Otherwise, rhubarb can be prepared in all kinds of desserts that include fruit — pies, crumbles, or crisps, for example. It also can be stewed, roasted, or baked, and then topped with some yogurt or whipped cream. Rhubarb can be cooked down with some sugar to make a sauce as well, which makes a lovely sweet-tart ice cream topping.
With any rhubarb dessert, try adding some berries in too, especially strawberries, since the rhubarb and strawberry seasons often tend to overlap.
RHUBARB CORNMEAL MUFFINS
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons canola, sunflower, or safflower oil
1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk (I used rice milk)
1 cup rhubarb, chopped
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Then add the oil, egg, and milk. Mix until dry ingredients are just moistened. Add rhubarb and stir until ingredients are mixed and the batter is lumpy, not smooth.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about 2/3. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The muffins are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
It's asparagus season! That means it's spring, and for many of us, it's also the start of farmers' market season. A few farmers at our local market were selling asparagus last week and I knew I had to buy a bundle, since I often find the season to be quite short.
I'll be honest. I've been into buying, cooking, and eating local food for many years, and I love all kinds of vegetables. But asparagus? I'd say I finally started liking it about a year ago.
Now that I'm into it I've learned to pick some up when I see it grown locally, and I try to make something new with it each year.
HOW TO SELECT + PREPARE ASPARAGUS
Asparagus has a strong, nutty flavor, is crunchy, and is mildly sweet. It takes several years between planting asparagus in the ground and actually having the vegetable available to pick. Once it is ready, it is harvested once a year, in the spring.
When selecting a bunch, the thinner the asparagus stalks, the more delicate the flavor, the more tender they are, and the easier they are to cook. There are a few types of asparagus, including green, purple, and white. White asparagus are not exposed to the sun during the growing process, so they lack chlorophyll. The purple and white asparagus tend to be more tender than the green, and they can all be prepared in the same ways.
Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, sautéed — believe it or not — even raw. When steaming, try finishing it with a squeeze of lemon juice. It's delicious cooked on a grill or campfire. If preparing it raw in a salad or mixed into pesto (try subbing some asparagus for the basil), choose the slimmest stalks for the most tender flavor.
It's also delicious paired with eggs and some garlic, like the delicious spring garlic we're finding these days at the farmers' markets. Also called green garlic or young garlic, it's the young version of a garlic plant. It has a more mellow flavor and looks a lot like a scallion, and can be chopped up and added to any dish just like regular garlic. If you don't have spring garlic on hand, use regular garlic cloves instead.
This is a quick and easy recipe that's perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and by lining your pie plate with parchment paper, even clean up is a breeze.
And a bonus? All of the main ingredients for this recipe — the eggs, asparagus, garlic, and milk — can be purchased at the farmers' market. Local food meals for the win.
ASPARAGUS + SPRING GARLIC FRITTATA
12 stalks asparagus, chopped or cut to size to fit pie pan
1/2 cup spring garlic, chopped (or use 2 cloves, minced)
splash milk or non-dairy milk
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease pie plate with oil, or press down piece of parchment paper large enough to cover pie plate (as shown in above photo).
Crack eggs into bowl. Add garlic, milk, salt, and pepper, and beat well.
If using chopped asparagus, add in and mix. If using pieces cut to size to fit the pan, place pieces into egg mixture gently.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve hot. Or enjoy cold the next day.
After having a baby this fall and wanting to get back to wearing regular clothes again, three things happened:
1. I went out and bought a few cheap clothing items to get me through the winter as my body adjusted.
2. I watched the documentary The True Cost, which is about the fashion industry, particularly fast fashion.
3. After watching the film, I immediately regretted those fast fashion items I had purchased. They were already wearing out, and I not only felt guilty right away, but I knew that those purchases would probably not be worn by next year. (Granted, I only bought a few things and wore them all the time this winter -- a sweatshirt and two pairs of leggings from Target, and a flannel button down shirt. The flannel will probably last a long time, but those leggings and sweatshirt are already worn and pilled. Boo.)
Granted, I am not a big shopper. Not for clothes, anyway. (Take me to a food coop or a farmers' market and that's a whole different story.) I'm more of the type to know exactly what I want to buy, and I'll look for it in my few favorite stores. Browsing through clothes exhausts me.
My main takeaways from the film were that the main effects of the fashion industry are on the environment, and on people's lives, particularly women who put their health at risk through working in dangerous factories, surrounded by toxic chemicals.
Many of these factories are in Bangladesh, where a horrible factory fire killed over 100 people in 2012. The factory conditions are often atrocious, the workers make pennies for their work (and even though their cost of living is much lower than ours, they are still not earning a livable wage), and many women have to bring their children to work with them, where the babies are exposed to noxious fumes. Or the women head to the cities for work, leaving their children behind with family to watch over them.
Environmentally, we are polluting the air and waterways, and we are creating waste from all of the cheap clothing we buy. Though much of the unworn clothing in this country gets donated, most of the clothes cannot be used in the United States, so it gets shipped to countries, including Haiti, where even there the people do not have a need for it. Sadly, it becomes waste.
To me, one of the biggest issues isn't that we're buying clothes or that we're even buying cheap clothes (though neither is great) -- it's that we are buying so much cheap clothing.
I want to do what I can to break the cycle of buying cheap clothing, but I also want to be practical and figure out what works for me. We all have different preferences for clothes and how much to consume, but I figure that every purchase we make has a small impact on the environmental and society.
While it's pretty much impossible to buy nothing, there are steps we can take to make better choices, if we choose to.
Here are five ways to shop smarter and move towards a more ethical fashion lifestyle:
Buying less clothing (and stuff in general) is at the heart of improving the fast fashion industry. When I search through the back of my closet, I'll find clothes I forgot about, and they often become my new favorite pieces. It's helpful to go through everything you own once a season.
Buy used clothing.
Back in high school and college, I was all about shopping for clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops. Any time we went into New York City for the day, we made sure to stop at this place called Canal Jean Company, which had an entire department store sized floor devoted to used clothing. I bought some great pairs of jeans there that got tons of use. And I still own an incredibly warm and cozy Norwegian wool sweater that I picked up for eight dollars many years ago.
Since I'm not big on shopping, these days I find browsing through used clothing quite tedious. But when I announced on social media that I was pregnant, a colleague of mine offered me all of her old maternity clothes. Yes! I jumped on it, and the next time I saw her she handed me a big bag of clothing. I loved having a bunch of clothes to wear, I loved saving money, and I loved that I didn't have to go out and buy lots of clothes that I would only wear for a few months.
Try a capsule wardrobe.
There are lots of thoughts on capsule wardrobes, but basically, you choose a set number of clothing items as your wardrobe for a season, and put the rest away and out of reach. By having less to choose from you have more time to focus on other things, like creative pursuits, and often stress is lowered by having less stuff filling your closet.
When you do want or need to shop, buy fewer items of higher quality.
When I am in search of a new piece of clothing or a new pair of shoes, I am trying to pay more attention to where I shop.
One of my favorite companies, Patagonia, is still a top choice for me. They have great environmental and ethical practices, and are humble enough to admit that for as much positive work they do, they are still part of the problem. They are still a clothing company that relies on sales, but they're doing the best they can to be sustainable and provide transparency to their customers. are a company that encourages sales.
I also look for clothing made in the United States, companies that use recycled or organic materials, and products that are of a high quality that I can hopefully wear for a long time. The True Cost has great lists of sustainable and transparent companies, plus tips on how to shop smarter.
Do the best you can.
The fashion industry is huge, and the companies that are trying to do the right thing are small and just gaining momentum. Instead of feeling guilt, or wanting to pitch all of your clothes away and start all over, we can all do the best we can. We can wear what we already own, buy a little bit less, buy better quality, and think about where our clothes come from the next time we do shop.
Awareness is important. Every small step helps.