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Preserving Herbs

Preserving Herbs:
Prepare now for adding flavor to the colder months

bigstock_oreganoLet’s go outside, spade and scissors in hand, and pay a visit to that patch of ambitious herbs. It’s time to start the process of collecting and preserving before Minnesota’s bullying frosts set in. We don’t have to say goodbye to the herbs that give our food so much flavor—we can keep their integrity intact over the colder months by drying them or freezing them. It’s easy, it’ll save you money when you’re stocking your spice rack, and you’ll know for certain the origin of the dried herbs in your food.

All right, first things first: take a trip around your garden and snip your choicest herbs. Remember, basil won’t survive a frost and herbs like cilantro can only withstand a light dusting, thus you should collect your herbs when they’re still at a healthy peak. And for this step—the harvesting—timing is everything. It’s best to gather your herbs late in the morning, just after the dew is starting to evaporate. Don’t wait too long in the day because if the sun starts to beat down on the leaves, the volatile oils diminish and you’re left with less flavor. After you’ve clipped all the herbs you want, be sure to wash well and blot dry.

Now, you’ve got a choice: do you want to dry or freeze? If you opt to dry them, the easiest way is air-drying at room temperature. If you’ve got whole branches or stems of herbs, gather them into bunches of 5 to 10 and tie them at the base. Another option here is tray drying: use an old window screen (for maximum ventilation) and arrange the herbs on top. Whether using the bundle method of the screen method, the herbs should be dried in a dark, warm place. Attics, pantries, and sometimes basements work well for this.

You should expect to dry the herbs for 3 to 5 weeks. If the leaves crumble when you rub them between two fingers, then you’ll know that they’re finished drying and ready for storage. At this point, keep the leaves whole or crush them and then put them in tight-lidded glass bottles. (If you choose to crush them, however, attempt to use them within a week; the flavor doesn’t last as long when crushed.)

Another way to preserve your herbs is by freezing them. For this method, soft-leaf herbs like basil, tarragon, and parsley work best. Either strip the leaves and tuck them in a freezer bag, or you can try my personal favorite: the ice cube tray method. Purée your herbs in a food processor, then fill each section of the ice cube tray with a ratio of 1/3 chopped herb to 2/3 water. Freeze these herb-cubes and pop one out over the winter to add zing to a sauce or a soup.

Of course, most of us prefer fresh, live herbs—but keeping a few jars of dried herbs can tide us over to the next growing season. Remember when using your dried herbs, however, that they are much more concentrated than freshly cut herbs (1 teaspoon dried herbs is equal to 1 tablespoon fresh herbs).

There’s one egg recipe I find irresistible: it’s a frittata with loads of herbs and Parmesan cheese. I made it once with fresh herbs and once with dried (whatever herbs I had on hand in my kitchen). Both times it’s gotten good reviews. I recommend making this dish on rainy weekend mornings.

Herb & Parmesan Frittata
(feeds two very hungry people or three sorta-hungry people)

1 cup minced or dried herbs (try parsley, dill, basil, or chervil for 3/4 of the cup, then add others like tarragon, oregano, marjoram, or chives)
2 Tbsp butter
6 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Beat eggs, then add herbs, cheese, salt, and pepper to the mixture. Melt butter in a medium-sized, ovenproof skillet on stovetop over medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, pour the egg mixture into the skillet and let this cook for about 10 minutes, or until the bottom of the frittata is firm. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake. Check every 5 minutes and remove once the eggs on the top of the frittata are fully cooked (not runny). Expect to bake 10-15 minutes total. Carefully remove from oven and serve hot. Delicious with whole wheat toast and fresh fruit.… Read the rest

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Hot Planet

Blinded by the Bite:
Five Reasons Why We’ve Missed the Food and Climate Change Connection

by Anna Lappé

Adapted from Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (Bloomsbury, 2010), Anna Lappé

Book Cover: Hot Planet

In 2006, Henning Steinfeld and colleagues at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a dense 390-page report called Livestock’s Long Shadow. Get past the mind-numbing figures and you’d absorb the report’s startling conclusion: Livestock production—especially the pressure on forests for pasture and crop production and the immense waste of industrial feedlots—contributes more to global warming than every single car, truck and plane on the planet. Move over, Hummer; say hello to the hamburger.

The entire food system—from seed to plate to landfill—is responsible for an estimated one-third of the escalating greenhouse gas emissions leading us toward climate catastrophe. About half the sector’s impact comes indirectly as agribusiness giants and large-scale producers slash, burn and carve up the world’s last remaining rainforests, especially for grazing, livestock feed and palm oil production.

Despite the overwhelming evidence about the climate toll of global industrial agriculture, most of us are missing the story. When we think about climate-change bad guys, we would probably point to BP and ExxonMobil, before naming ADM and Cargill. Most of us are also largely unaware of the potential that sustainable, small-scale farming holds to both help us survive a climate-unstable future and mitigate global warming.

This lack of conversation and consciousness of industrial agriculture’s impact as well as the potential of a sustainable food system to heal the climate prompted me to pen my new book, Diet for a Hot Planet.

In part, I wanted to explore what had become a nagging question: If we are speeding along toward an ever more energy-dependent and energy-intensive food system, why aren’t more of us talking about its impact on climate? And, if supporting sustainable food systems, which require less fossil fuels, produce less waste and build healthier carbon-rich soils, can help us address the climate crisis and tap the potential of the billions living close to the land, why don’t we see these benefits, either?

For the more we learn about sustainable farming practices, the more we realize they’re climate-friendly practices. In other words, right beneath our noses is what they’d call in business school a “win- win”: Healthier farms equal healthier foods and a cooler climate.

Despite this good news, we’ve been missing the story.

Mind the Gap

Ask a roomful of people who care about the environment how many have seen An Inconvenient Truth and nearly everyone will raise their hand. That, at least, has been my experience as I’ve traveled the country speaking to audiences from a 600-person packed Seattle Town Hall to Solomon 001 at Brown University. Sure, this isn’t a representative sample of the population—let’s just say the climate skeptics haven’t been coming out in droves—but, still, the responses say much about the film’s influence. Yet, watch the film and you’ll be no wiser about food’s role in the climate crisis.

But times are a-changing. In the past two years, food finally has begun to get the attention it deserves.

Environmental action groups from Greenpeace to Rainforest Action Network have launched campaigns about food and climate change. The Center for Food Safety, Humane Society, Institute for Food and Agriculture Policy and other food-focused citizen groups have debuted initiatives on climate change. In the media, we’re seeing an uptick in coverage, too. From a 2008 Los Angeles Times op-ed on emissions and meat to a New York Times article that same year “As More Eat Meat, a Bid to Cut Emissions,” which landed on the grey lady’s front page.

While the conversation may be shifting, we are still a long way from the average Jill not being astonished when she learns her burger might be a bigger threat to global warming than her Buick. And that’s a shame, because food is not only a huge contributor to our ecological footprint, it’s also one thing we ourselves can actually do something about. The choice is clear: Either we continue to support—through our food dollars and our tax dollars—a food system that is undermining our health and the climate, or we start throwing our weight, and our wallets, behind one that’s good for our bodies and the planet.

If food holds such power why have the media, educational institutions and policy makers been so late to the food and climate-change story?

1. Carbon-Centric
When you hear “greenhouse gas” what comes to mind first? If you answered, “carbon dioxide,” you’d be answering what most people do. It is, after all, the most prevalent human-made greenhouse gas, responsible for roughly three-quarters of the global warming effect. Yet, it’s not the only greenhouse gas we need to worry about. Methane and nitrous oxide, with 23 and 296 times more heat-trapping potential than carbon dioxide respectively, are also significant.

While it makes sense that carbon dioxide has been the primary preoccupation of policy makers, it’s time to widen the focus. Turn the gaze to these other key gases and food jumps to the forefront: Globally, agriculture is responsible for 90 percent of nitrous oxide emissions—mainly from synthetic fertilizer use and soil deterioration on industrial farms—and two thirds of methane.

2. The Nature of Food
Walk into a modern-day supermarket and the forests of Frosted Flakes and rows of Doritos don’t conjure thoughts of nature. One challenge in getting people to see the connections between global warming and the food on their plate is that our Western diet is, by its very design, many steps removed from the farm. We’ve first got to get people to remember food doesn’t grow in Aisle 8. That can be the first step in helping people connect food to the climate.

3. Systems, Oh My! The Complexity of Food
When we pick up our fork, we don’t imagine greenhouse-gas emissions steaming off our plate. That’s in part because we’ve lost the connection between food and our environment, and in part because we rarely think about the chain of events that brings us the food on our plate. Even if we do, the emissions are still exceedingly difficult to parse out: The global food system is vast and complicated and much of the sector’s emissions are indirect.

“There is a clear line between stationary coal-combustion plants, carbon dioxide coming out of smokestacks and global warming,” said climate-change expert Thomas Damassa, of the World Resources Institute, when I asked him why he thought food was missing from the public conversation. “With food, there are so many different components; there are so many different source points to latch on to. It’s much more complicated to conceptualize, to explain and to create policy around it.”

4. Farmer vs. the Planet: The Ultimate Matchup?

The subject of food and climate change within environmental circles has also been far from center stage; it hasn’t even been in the dressing room. Part of the sidelining has had to do with a historic gulf between advocates of sustainable farming and mainstream environmentalists. “As recently as five or 10 years ago, the conservation community was sharply anti-agriculture,” explained … Read the rest

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