The Smoothie that Keeps on Giving

Last year I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. In it, the author details the journey her family took in living a year of eating only locally grown and raised foods. Of course, each family member was allowed to pick a food item that would be their “exception food”. Mine would for sure be coffee! Being a mom of 2 boys, I cannot function without coffee. Reading this book made me wonder what changes my family could make to eat “closer to home”. I admit, the winters are difficult when we have a picky eater who actually likes raw, fresh veggies and turns his nose to steamed or canned veggies.

My husband and I decided we would stock up on whatever we could when things came into season, and stored these for the winter season. When I compared prices to what we could pay in the grocery store, I found the prices we paid at the grocery store were actually about the same as buying direct from the farmer.

 

We started with picking strawberries from Scholl farms in Montague. Since our boys tapped out early while strawberry picking, we ordered the rest through Stibitz farm. We ended up with 7 flats of strawberries in the freezer. The next fruit in season was cherries and we picked 60 lbs of cherries at Gavin Orchards in Coopersville. Last we picked blueberries at Palmer’s in Whitehall. Okay, the boys didn’t last long enough for us to pick a years supply, so we went back to purchase prepicked blueberries. I have to say, it’s March now and we still have a great supply of those fruits, plus the jams we made from them.

How does this make for a smoothie that keeps on giving? Because when we chose to buy all our fruit local, we helped the families who own these farms. When they make money, they have the opportunity to spend their money in our community as well. Buying from local sources also gives local farmers more money to possibly expand their operation, hire more employees, or update their equipment. The money stays here in our community, building up a healthy local economy. Everyone wins.

We didn’t stop with these fruits. We also stocked up on peaches, pears and apples, green beans, broccoli,corn, tomatoes and cabbage for sauerkraut, and even plums for a canned Asian plum sauce.

 

You might be thinking,”How much did that cost upfront?” Yes, buying 60 lbs of cherries at once isn’t cheap. But when my husband and I committed to buying this way early in the year, we also decided on ways we could cut back so we would have room in our budget for the bulk purchases. For example, not eating out as much, making more foods from scratch, eating simpler meals and learning to use what we already had in the pantry.

Even though we spent a lot of money up front on bulk fruits and veggies, we found our grocery bill during the winter went down considerably. We weren’t making as many trips to the grocery store which not only saved on gas, and time, but also meant we weren’t wandering around the grocery store,buying things we didn’t need. And you know what that means? We don’t have to cut back as much this year as we prepare to shop this way again! Now we have MORE money available to eat out at our favorite local restaurants! Which means an even bigger local win!

Come back throughout the year to follow my family as we once again buy as much local produce as we can, and share ways we put up the food for the winter when local food is hard to find.

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In the meantime, let me entice you with this “rainbow smoothie” using the cherries, strawberries, blueberries and spinach we have in our freezer from last year’s growing season. Even in writing this, I’ve decided to make changes. I’ve come across a great family farm called Small House Farm that makes their own ground flaxseed meal. I plan to swap out my store bought flaxseed with their ground flaxseed. Oh, and I should say, I say “recipe” but it’s very versatile, based on whatever fruit we have left. I do, however, stand firm in using a juice that’s acidic like orange juice for the base. Otherwise you get a smoothie that’s a little overwhelmingly sweet. I will let you know if I find a good substitute for orange juice. I also don’t skip the frozen banana. I’ve tried other foods, but the smoothie is much creamier in texture with the banana in it. Until then, for me it’s worth it to keep those non-local ingredients since my kids will actually drink it.

Rainbow Smoothie Recipe

(makes 3-4 servings)

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup cherries
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • A handful of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup other liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk, or other juice)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 2 T. Ground flaxseed
  • 1-2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Blend until desired consistency.

Notes on kitchen products:

We love this blender. We tend to destroy our small appliances since we use them so frequently. I like that this one has a glass pitcher that won’t stain. And you can buy replacement pieces easily online. It made this blender a good economical purchase for us, especially compared to the much more expensive blenders you can find on the market these days. This one is awesome for the price. Best part is the “Frozen drink” setting. You know, just for the smoothies. (Wink wink, nudge nudge).

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I recently purchased these straws from Seraphina’s kitchen because I hate using disposable straws and it drives me batty when my kids chew on and ruin straws. These straws are awesome because if you’re kids do chew on the end, you can cut that part off! If you don’t like the bend in the straw,you can cut the bend off. They also come with little brushes to clean the inside of the straw!! Then you know the inside is actually getting clean.

This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you should make a purchase, at no cost to you. 

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Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Am I the only weirdo who craves pumpkin pie all year round? I mean, there’s the obvious “pumpkin spice everything” period where everyone’s sprinkling pumpkin pie spice on their lattes, mixing it in with their cupcakes, and adding it to their oatmeal. But after Thanksgiving, poor pumpkin and it’s trusty sidekick pumpkin pie spice get no love. Except from people who have such an affinity for pumpkin, they name their blogs after it. Not to mention any names or anything.

Funny story about pumpkin pie (well, it’s funny now. Not so much in the moment): when I was pregnant with my second, I developed gestational diabetes, which is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and results in mama-to-be watching carb counts like a hawk. Which sucks unbelievably when you are pregnant around the holidays and everyone is eating cookies and candy, and for goodness sake…the PIE. The pumpkin pie! How in the world do you have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie?! It’s like summer without baseball, Easter without Peeps, Winesday Wednesday without wine (It’s a thing, people. You should try it). They just go hand in hand. But that Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie was off limits to me. “That’s okay. I’ll just nibble on these no carb celery sticks. No biggie.” I had hoped the hubs would be like, “If you can’t have it, I won’t either. Strength in numbers.” Oh no. Instead, he sat down right next to me with the biggest, most glorious looking piece of pumpkin pie, topped with a ridiculous amount of whipped cream, gobbled it down and said, “Sorry, babe”. The response he got from me was nothing short of the world’s scariest “You’re dead to me” eyes, because denying a pregnant woman pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving is just plain wrong.

Fast forward a few years to a husband who will never live down the Pumpkin Pie Incident of 2013. Now he’s learned that when I say, “I want to grow ALLLLL the pumpkins”, he should say, “Yes, dear, how many rows would you like” and get to work rototilling. This past year we grew several varieties of pumpkins, but one in particular won over my pumpkin loving heart: Winter Luxury. These rather small pumpkins produce the most amazing puree: brightly colored, not too watery, all around perfect puree. Now, I thought to myself, I can have pumpkin pie ANY time I want.

((CHECK BACK IN THE FALL FOR THE “HOW TO PUREE AND STORE” PUMPKIN POST))

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Winter Luxury Pumpkins

There’s this minor thing though: seriously, who makes a pumpkin pie just because they want some for a snack? Enter the pumpkin pie smoothie!! I played around with the ingredients I normally use for smoothies until I got this one just how I like it. Like a pumpkin pie you can drink. And a LOT fewer calories, mind you. I use my frozen pumpkin puree for this, but you can use canned if you’re dying for to try it and pumpkins aren’t in season. If you’re reading this and it’s fall and pumpkins are ready, ask your local farmers which ones they grow for pies. Not all pumpkins are created equal, you know. Another ingredient that’s a must is PURE maple syrup. Sorry, but you can’t call it maple syrup if it didn’t drip out of a maple tree at one point. You just can’t. And while you’re add it, buy maple syrup locally. Yes, it’s more expensive, but a little bit goes a long way and oh MY does it taste so much better than the watered down stuff you get at the store. And as long as I’m talking “musts”, you seriously have to try the smoothie straws in the pic. Best. Purchase. Ever. If you have kids who mangle all your straws by chewing on them, try these! Even if they gnaw on it, you can actually cut that part off. In fact, if you don’t like the bend in the straw, you can cut that off too. Say WHAT?

Alright, I’ve held you in suspense long enough. Thanks for indulging me in my ode to pumpkin pie. Let’s get to that yummy goodness!

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • one frozen banana
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 T. pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 T. ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or regular milk, if you prefer)
  • 1 T. pumpkin pie spice (more or less, depending on taste preference)
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder (optional but it add flavor and protein)
  • ice cubes

Directions:

Put all the ingredients in blender. Blend to desired consistently. Enjoy the wonderful goodness of pumpkin pie……whenever you want.

Enjoy!

Please post a comment if you love this recipe!

Maple Balsamic Roasted Carrots

One vegetable you can buy from a local source year round is the humble carrot. Head out to the Muskegon Farmers Market on a Saturday morning (YES! They still have the market in the winter. Inside, of course) and you will be delighted with the variety of local produce available from one of our favorite vendors, Crisp Country Acres. Luckily for me, my children can’t get enough carrots, so we love the year round availability of this tasty and versatile root vegetable.

One way to turn carrots into a delicious and nutritious weeknight side is to prepare maple balsamic roasted carrots. Roasting carrots with balsamic vinegar and pure maple syrup brings out the sweetness in the carrots, almost resembling a sweet potato, minus some of the carbs. I will tell you this:my youngest gobbled these up at dinner, disregarding table etiquette and eating them with his fingers. He even said,”Yum!” People, if this picky eater says,”Yum!” I’m pretty sure they will please every palette imaginable.

To get this side dish on the table faster, I prep a bunch of veggies on the weekend. This also makes packing lunches and making dinner salads a lot faster. A tip for keeping the prepped veggies fresher for longer: these Rubbermaid Freshworks Produce Saver containers. By some packaging miracle (that I’m sure my packaging engineer husband can explain a whole lot better than I can), the veggies really do keep for longer. Better on the wallet and better on the garbage can. If veggies are prepped in the fridge, my family actually eats them. It’s an amazing thing.

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Once you have grabbed your carrots, toss them in the balsamic vinegar, pure maple syrup, and olive oil.  Using good quality pure maple syrup really gives these carrots a special flavor and sweetness. Spread the carrots on a foil lined pan and pop them in the oven at 425 degrees for 15 min. After 15 minutes, flip them over and let them cook for another 10-15 min or until cooked through.

These carrots are great with pork chops or ham, and even better with some homemade apple sauce or warm cinnamon apples. You can even use this recipe around the holidays in place of your calorie laden sweet potato recipe, since they offer that same sweetness as a sweet potato, but are easier on the waistline.

Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Medium Carrots
  • 1/4 Olive Oil
  • 3 T. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 T. Pure Maple Syrup
  • Salt to Taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Peel and cut carrots into spears (if you haven’t already). Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup to a bowl. Add carrots to the bowl and toss in the olive oil, vinegar, syrup mixture until evenly coated. Place carrots on the lined pan. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cook for 15 minutes in the oven. Remove the pan from over and flip the carrots over. Return the pan to the over for 10-15 more minutes, or until carrots are cooked thoroughly.

Enjoy! 

Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you loved this recipe.

This post may contain affiliate links which may earn me commission if you choose to make a purchase, at no extra cost to you. 

Balsamic Maple Vinaigrette

A few years ago I had an amazing salad at a restaurant that I just had to recreate so I could eat it any time I wanted. I played with a basic vinaigrette recipe until I got just the right amount of sweetness without being too overbearing. This salad is very versatile. Dress it up with feta or blue cheese and some grilled chicken to be a meal. Or forego the meat and dairy and pile on the veggies. Today I went for dried cranberries, but this salad is amazing with dried Michigan cherries! Fortunately we have a local sources of cherries here in West Michigan (we cherry pick at Gavin Orchards in Coopersville) and it’s very easy to make your own dried cherries. Unfortunately for today’s salad, dried cherries do not last long in our house.

Directions:

This dressing takes all of two minutes to make. I mix it up in a Ball Canning Jar and use a plastic Ball Canning lid to store it in. (Sidenote: If you do any canning or have canning jars around, you must get these lids. They help save your bands when you open a jar to put in the fridge. I also use them on canning jars in the pantry. Super useful. But I digress). Start with 1/3 cup each of two oils. I used olive oil and vegetable oil because that’s what I had. But you can use peanut oil, canola oil, whatever you have on hand. Add 2 T. Balsamic vinegar and 1 T. Pure maple syrup. Last, add 1t. Dijon mustard. And shake it up. That’s it! It’s that simple!

Recipe:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (can use peanut or canola oil)
  • 2 T. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. Pure maple syrup
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard
  • Dash of salt (optional)

Shake and pour over salad. For this salad I used mixed greens, walnuts, celery, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries (better with dried Michigan cherries). Other toppings that would go well would be blue cheese or feta, grilled chicken, cucumbers, grapes, pecans, mushrooms. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy!

Please leave a comment below if you loved this recipe.

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase through the link, at no cost to you.

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My Promise to My Readers

My passion truly is for eating as much locally grown and raised food as possible. However, there an instances where this may not be possible here in Michigan (i.e. finding a locally grown banana = impossible.) Here is what a promise to my readers:

I promise:

  • To showcase as many local producers as I can. I love learning about new local businesses and farmers. If you have a suggestion, please contact me and I will get in contact with the business. Even if it’s just a roadside stand you buy apples from and you want everyone to know about it, then really contact me. There’s a special place in my heart for roadside stands.
  • To show you how to make, preserve, freeze, etc, foods for yourself, if at all possible If I know how to make it, I will share recipes or directions with you. If there is something you want to see on the blog that I have not yet posted, contact me! If I don’t yet know how to make a certain food, I will either learn how (challenge accepted!) Or find someone who DOES know how (can we say guest contributors?!) I want this blog to be a collaborative effort, a constant learning experience, not just for my readers but also for myself.
  • To give credit where credit is due If the recipe is not my own, I will always site my sources. I respect that family recipes are personal and held close to the heart. I ask that if you share recipes found here, you have that same respect for the creator of each recipe.
  • To be respectful of the way you feed your family When it comes down to it, if you have food to put on the table each night, you are lucky! Will it always be locally grown, organically raised, made from scratch goodness? Even though I wish EVERY meal could be that way, I have to admit, some days my kids eat chicken nuggets and french fries because…well, because life happens. I ask that my readers also respect my food choices and the choices of others. We all do the best we can with what we have.

Thank you for joining me on this local food journey! Please contact me with suggestions, recipes to share, or a just a high five for a job well done.

 

Maple Syrup Season

 

February in West Michigan begins maple syrup season. Also known as the month we eat a LOT of “brinner” (breakfast for dinner, for those of you not down with the cool kids lingo).  This is our second year tapping the few mature maple trees on our property, and it’s already been a productive year. We have 6 trees tapped, two of them tapped twice. On a good day we can collect up to 5 gallons of sap. Last year, our first year tapping trees, we saw that 5 gallon bucket full and were elated. Hip hip hooray, maple syrup for days!((Cue screeching halt sound)) For those of you who don’t know, 5 gallons of sap, when boiled down, gives you roughly a pint (16oz.) of syrup. Now you understand why pure, rich, wonderful maple syrup from small producers costs more than you would pay in the grocery store. But, let me tell you, there is absolutely no beating really good quality syrup. High quality maple syrup has a variety of flavor notes, and those flavors even change throughout the season. Our first batch of syrup this year had an amazing vanilla taste to it, so tasty it took every bit of willpower in me not to just drink it straight up.

Here is where you can “Choose Your Path” in this story: if you’re super pumped about trying your hand at syrup making, read on for some simple, easy to follow instructions on tapping trees and making syrup. However, if you’re one like, “MMmmm….maple syrup. Where can I buy some local yummy goodness. Because a) I have no maple trees to tap or b) “Kristin, you’re crazy. Ain’t nobody got time for that”, then check the links on the bottom and in the Honey & Syrup tab. If you know of any other places to buy local syrup, use the CONTACT tab to contact me and I can add that business.

RECIPES: If your mouth is drooling thinking about pancakes, waffles and french toast, you should try out other recipes using maple syrup. Why use maple syrup just for breakfast when you can enjoy my yummy Balsamic Maple Vinaigrette over a fresh green salad, or add it to your stir fry sauce, for a sweet and salty stir fry everyone will love!

Tapping Maple Trees 

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Step One: Drill Hole

Step One: Find yourself a handsome man with a fabulous beard, a drill, and a 7/16 drill bit to help you out. Okay, so maybe locating a bearded woodsman isn’t necessary, but it certainly is helpful. First step is to locate the maple trees you would like to tap. This process for us actually started in the fall when my husband spray painted a dot on each maple tree we wanted to tap, this way when the leaves fell, we would know which ones were the maples. The tree should be at least 12 inches in diameter to be tapped. If the tree is 21-27 inches in diameter, you can tap the tree twice. If you have a tree greater than 27 inches in diameter, first, give it a big ole hug because that tree has lived a long beautiful life. Second, you can tap that tree up to three times. The best time to start tapping trees is when the day time temperatures above freezing and the night time temperatures are below freezing.  We started our trees in February, but I heard of some people beginning in January. It all depends on the weather in your area.

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Step 2: Tap in the spile (tap). We found ours at Tractor Supply,  or you can buy them here, Tap My Trees Spiles Pack. 

Step 3:  Hang your bags. Now this is where you can get creative. We chose to use Tap My Tree holders and bags. But there are many different ways to collect the sap. With this spile, you can hang a variety of small buckets. For trees that are big producers, or that you don’t have frequent access to, some use 5 gallon buckets with a hosing system. We chose to use the bags when we first began since we didn’t want to invest too much money, not knowing how our trees would produce. This also works given the trees are right in front of our house and it doesn’t take much effort to empty the bags daily. I quite enjoy the task, actually. Start small and you can always change up your method the following year.

Step 3: Collect the Sap. Some days we get 5 gallons or more of sap. Some days we get nothing. It all depends on the temperature and overall weather. I found using my handy dandy garden cart makes this chore easier as 5 gallons of liquid is quite heavy. I empty the bags right into the pot we are going to boil the sap down in. We have a refrigerator in our garage that I store the sap until we have enough to boil it down. Depending on the temperature,  you could leave it outside. But then you risk critters and bugs getting in it. You should ideally boil the sap down within 7 days of collection.

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Step 4: Boil Down the Sap. If you search the internet, there are a ton of different ways to accomplish this task. Traditionally this would be done in a “sugar shack”, over a fire, with the sap in a metal tray that allows the water to evaporate and leave behind the sugary delicious goodness we call syrup. Since we don’t have too many trees tapped, we use this set up (which also doubles as our setup for making pickles in the summer time). We use this canning pot for the job. Make sure you are using a pot that is suitable for such a high temperature. We also use a 5 gallon pot marketed for brewing beer (and yes, we also brew beer with it). Fire up that flame and watch it boil. For a long time. Like really. Make sure you have a few hours blocked out to tend to your pot.

Step 5: Wait for the syrup to be at the correct temperature We use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the boiling sap. When it reaches above boiling (212degF) it is almost ready.  We pull it off the heat when the thermometer reaches 217degF on the thermometer.  You can let it go longer and reach a higher temperature, it will result in a thicker syrup.  We left one batch on too long this year and it reached a texture that is more consistent with honey than syrup.  It still tasted amazing!

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Step 6: Filter the hot syrup. We like to keep items around that are multipurpose. For filtering, we use a canning funnel over a canning jar with filter paper . It’s best to filter the syrup when it’s hot, as it’s thinner and passes through the filter easier. There are many different kinds of filters on the market. Find something that works for you. This method works for us since we only process our syrup in small batches.

Step 7: Process/Store the syrup. How you process and store your syrup depends on preference and what you intend to do with the syrup. We keep one jar in the fridge for day to day use and we use small plastic containers to freeze the rest. If you are interested in processing your syrup to be shelf stable, especially if you intend to sell your syrup, I suggest checking out the MSU Extension website.

For Information on Buying from maple syrup producers local to West Michigan, click here or Click on the Honey &Syrup Tab on the top of the home screen.

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. 

 

…And So It Begins

Welcome to A Pickle and a Pumpkin, where I will take you through the seasons of fresh and local foods you can find here in West Michigan, and inspire others around the country to seek out, enjoy and hopefully preserve the amazing, seasonal, local foods in your area.

Here in West Michigan, winter snow tends to be measured by the foot, not the inch. This past winter found us with a few feet of the white stuff on the ground around Christmas time, which was great for a White Christmas, but was brutal for driving. During the cold, unforgiving winter season, my family enjoyed all the delicious goodness we worked hard all spring, summer and fall to “put up”: frozen strawberries, blueberries and cherries, canned and frozen green beans, frozen broccoli and celery, canned sauerkraut, canned tomatoes, homemade pizza and spaghetti sauce, flavorful jams and even home raised chickens. And our most abundant, home grown delights: Pickles and Pumpkin!

Check back frequently to A Pickle and a Pumpkin as I take you on a seasonal journey through local foods, teach you how and where to get the best deals on bulk produce, how to preserve all that local goodness, and how to use the food you’ve saved to feed your family all year long. I will share with you the essential kitchen tools for “putting up” food, and even introduce you to some of my favorite local farmers. Also, as I learn more about growing my own food, I will impart my gardening wisdom on you all as well.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me!

-Kristin

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants” -Michael Pollan