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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Foraging for nettles...and other Earth Day challenges!

I used to just love to cook. Then I learned to love to cook healthfully. Now, as we celebrate Earth Day, I'm trying to learn to cook more responsibly -- both for the Earth, and the health of my family! I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I've picked up a few ideas this week that I want to share with you. Please feel free to share your thoughts on how we can all be a little bit greener in the kitchen!

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of doing two cooking demonstrations at Charleston County's Earth Day Festival. I showed a very health-minded audience how to make TSG Creamy Broccoli Soup and TSG Chicken and Snow Pea Salad with Yogurt and Tarragon (recipe in the cookbook!). What shocked me the most was the difference in eating habits and palates between the attendees at the festival and those I encounter in my every day life. Let's just put it this way -- I had children asking me for seconds and thirds of broccoli soup and discussing the flavor of tarragon. It was thrilling!

Now, as I said, I have a lot to learn. In my quest to use and eat whole foods, whole grains and ingredients that pack a nutritional punch, I'm now putting a lot more stake in sustainable agriculture. Not only is it better for the environment, the food is so much healthier for us! And while cost is a concern for many, especially in this rough economy, the good news is that the prices seem to be coming down as sustainable and organic food become more ubiquitous.

Now that spring is upon us and summer is just around the corner, it's so much easier to be a "locavore." Eating locally in Charleston isn't too hard this time of year, with home gardens sprouting, farmers markets buzzing and the ocean's bounty right here. I want to eat more fruits and vegetables, so I've been experimenting with some new recipes that will come your way shortly! It's also a great time to stop eating the processed foods from your freezer section -- for good! What I've learned recently about processed food, what's in it, what's not in it, and what it's doing to us and to the environment is enough to make me want to avoid it altogether.

I'm also going to try to reduce my footprint in the ways that I cook, too. I've always known that raw food retains more nutrients than cooked food, and I happen to love raw veggies. So that's one way to reduce the energy I use in the kitchen -- don't cook! I'm also going to start using the toaster oven when I cook for just Keith and me. In my house, the ovens run overtime, so hopefully this plan will cut down on the energy I use -- and save me some money on my electric bill!

Cut down on "disposables." Use the money I save on my power bill to buy more sustainable food. Eat from my garden and the gardens of local farmers. So what else can I do?

Now here's where I draw the line...

Foraging for nettles. Specifically, stinging nettles.

Over the past couple weeks, I've become obsessed with two great food sites -- TasteSpotting.com and FoodGawker.com. Really, these are foodie sites that are more interested in the photographs than the food itself. Food as art. So I've started cooking during the day so I can photograph my food in natural light, playing with my photo editing programs, and really getting my creative juices flowing to turn my food into art! And it worked! I've had five food photos published on the sites, driving hundreds of new readers to the blog. Hooray! Welcome, new readers!

But in the meantime, I've discovered that there are food bloggers of all kinds out there -- including those who forage for food. And it seems that you can cook and eat stinging nettles! Who knew?! Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the plant that I used to avoid as a kid because it stings you when you touch it? I think we used to call it "burn hazel" growing up, and I recently introduced it to Keith and the kids during our hike in Pennsylvania. Ouch! And people are eating this! You have to wear gloves when picking it, but apparently it's great when boiled -- and makes a really pretty picture! Amazing.

Foraging is one of those things that I just won't do. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but because I'm certain that I'll poison us. At the Fox residence, foraging in the woods is in the "do not try this at home" category. So I'll leave foraging to the more adventurous foodies! In the meantime, I'm going to be more mindful of the effect that food has on not only my family, but also the environment. Any suggestions? Happy Earth Day!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!


Amanda said...

Haha, believe it or not, I just picked some stinging nettles this weekend to make a spring detox tea!! :) I'll write about it soon. I'm just getting started with foraging, for herbs at least, I don't have enough of a garden yet!

The Svelte Gourmet said...

Ha! Good luck with that -- you're a braver woman than I! Let us know how it turns out. What else do you forage for?

Frau Nelson said...

So funny to read about stinging nettles today, as Dave made soup with them last week (our local organic farm had them). It was YUMMY!

The Svelte Gourmet said...

OK, so maybe I'm in the minority here! I still don't trust myself to decipher non-poisonous from poisonous...but I love to hear what everyone is doing. Exciting!