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For several years now, Rob and I have been involved with the Three Rivers Sustainable Food Group (or just the Food Group for short). Our friend Karla started the project as part of her doctoral work in spirituality and sustainability and it's continued as a point of connection for sharing meals, local food resources and advocacy concerns.

One of the group's advocacy projects over the past couple of years has been encouraging legislation for a cottage industry law in Michigan. Cottage industry laws, like those already in place in Ohio and other states, allow people to prepare foods in their home kitchens for sale up to a certain amount of income every year.

While we were in Shickley, Nebraska last week, we got to see a cottage industry law at work, as our friends Elizabeth and Kate prepared homemade breads, muffins, pies and granola bars to sell at the farmer's market in York. They baked, printed labels, created attractive displays and prepared some of the produce from their large backyard garden for sale. As a cottage industry, they're required to display a sign that specifies that their baked goods were not made in a licensed kitchen, but that didn't seem to stop the person who wanted six of each kind of granola bar.

I'm a big fan of cottage industry laws. As Kate and Elizabeth attempted to work out post-college summer income in a small town with cleaning, mowing and grocery store jobs, being able to bake good food to sell at the farmer's market seemed to give them a different kind of delight and sense of creativity and agency. For such micro-enterprise entrepreneurs, cottage industry laws mean that if they can find a market for quality, home-baked goods, there's an instant source of income.

And for eaters, in an age when "food security" is driving food sources toward bigger, slicker, more processed, less humanized operations, being able to buy something at the farmer's market that was made from whole ingredients in someone's kitchen is a refreshing alternative. All around, cottage industry laws seem to create space for good relationships, good work and good food.


Kate & Elizabeth's Chewy Granola Bars

Adapted from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank

1/2 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. light corn syrup or honey
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla

Mix together until well blended. Stir in:

3 c. quick oatmeal.
1/2 c. coconut
1/2 c. sunflower nuts
1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries
1/3 c. wheat germ
2 Tbsp. flax seeds
1 c. chocolate or butterscotch chips

Press mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely. Cut into 24 bars.

One of the things that's accompanied us these 1,300 miles so far is a crate of food-related resources, including two cookbooks created by the Mennonite Central Committee. One is Extending the Table, featuring recipes from around the world and stories to connect cooks to other cultures in meaningful ways. Another that we have with us is Simply in Season, which organizes recipes according to vegetables that are in season simultaneously. Simply in Season has been getting rave reviews by everyone we know who owns it.

The inaugural collection in the MCC series was More With Less, which we don't have in our crate because we don't own it, though we really should. Released in 1976, More With Less has been hugely influential for people of faith who seek to cook simple, healthy dishes not just for health reasons, but for reasons of Christian stewardship. We've heard from many folks who refer to their tattered 30-year-old copy or have bought a second copy because the original was falling apart from so much use. It's amazing how the creation of these three cookbooks, beginning with More With Less, has proven such a subtle, powerful act of culture making. Blessings, stories and tips help contextualize a way of cooking that values a fully formed sense of justice, offering both an outlet for and a means of shaping good cooking. I think it would be great to see more cookbooks from churches, Christian schools and other faith-based groups reflecting the holistic Christian consciousness of the MCC cookbooks, as opposed to just random collections of easy, overly processed foods.

If you don't have these cookbooks yet, I'd highly recommend them. They make wonderful wedding, graduation and housewarming gifts as well. You can purchase them online or at your favorite local fair trade or independent bookstore. By way of whetting your appetite, here's one of my new favorites from Simply in Season that I made this afternoon for our dinner tonight. Admittedly, it's slightly out of season, as this one is from the winter section, but in Grand Rapids, we can still buy Michigan apples from last fall at our local grocery store.


Apple Lentil Salad

  • 1 c. lentils
Soak 15 minutes in hot water.

 

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
In large sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add salt and curry powder and heat until bubbly. Drain lentils, add to saucepan, and fry briefly.

 

  • 2 c. water
Add and cook until absorbed (adding more water if needed to cook lentils until tender), about 20 minutes. Drain any excess water. Cool.

 

  • 2 tart apples (cored and diced)
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice or cider vinegar
Combine to prevent browning. Mix with cooled lentils.

 

  • 2 potatoes (cooked, cooled, peeled and chopped)
  • 1/2 - 1 small onion (thinly sliced)
  • handful of fresh or frozen parsley (chopped)
Mix in with salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

My notes:
  • Leave the extra liquid in the lentils when done cooking, which makes the salad a little more saucy and eliminates the need for extra salt at the end.
  • Definitely go with the cider vinegar.
  • Forego the potatoes to save a little time. Replace their bulk with things like fresh, chopped asparagus, zucchini or summer squash depending on the time of year.
  • Instead of or in addition to the parsley, use a handful of fresh cilantro.
  • Can substitute green onions for white or yellow.

Wow! The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of preparation for the first two-week leg of the food tour. We have stops confirmed in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. If you haven't checked back lately, see the schedule for stops near you or folks you know and help spread the word.

I said to Rob the other day that it's kind of ironic to be eating hurried meals in front of my computer while organizing a food tour. Thankfully, however, we've still been able to invest significant time and energy into preparing some wonderful seasonal meals with our housemate and other guests. The other night, we hosted nine people in our dining room, including the couple with whom we split a farm share, for what will probably be our last asparagus meal of the season. The Michigan asparagus season, which we longingly anticipate all spring, has almost wound all the way down. But, for next year or if you're still lucky enough to have some asparagus around, here's a wonderful recipe, which is our amalgamation of two similar recipes from Simply in Season and Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.


Lemon Asparagus Pasta

Serves 6
  • 1 1/2 pounds of asparagus
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. fresh dill, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Bring to boil a large pot of water for the pasta. In the meantime, rinse the asparagus, trim 1/2 to 1 inch from bottoms and discard the bottoms. Cut off 1 1/2 inches of the asparagus tips and reserve. Chop the rest of the stems. Steam the tips for 4-5 minutes until bright green and set aside. In the same pot, steam the chopped stems for 6-7 minutes until tender. Set aside separately.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, use a food processor or blender to puree the asparagus stems, lemon juice, olive oil, dill and nutmeg until smooth. If needed for consistency, add a little bit of the pasta water. Stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the asparagus puree and the asparagus tips. Eat it while it's hot and enjoy!