Tag Archives: vegetable

CSA #11 and the Pursuit of Purslane

Because I’m still getting settled into the new place and into a new routine (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to say that this past week was back to normal, but it was about as normal a week as I could ask for. There was some cooking, some cleaning, some errand-running. There was a pleasant and inclement-weather-free evening trip to Kennywood. Some bike riding, some strolling. A couple of notable restaurant trips which I will write about in coming entries.

Two not-so-mundane things this week: On Friday, there was a giant storm that flooded various regions of the area, sweeping away cars on the street and knocking out power in many neighborhoods. I know this is a food blog and I don’t pull too much focus on local news, but I would like to extend my sincerest sympathies to all those affected by storm, especially the families and friends of the four people who lost their lives in the flash flood that occurred near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Allegheny River Boulevard.

The lesser news was that this week was another pick up for our CSA through Garfield Community Farm. The bounties have been consistently solid throughout the past few weeks, and if volunteering on Thursday evening was any indication, there is still a lot in store for both the subscribers to the CSA and the many other people and organizations the farm benefits.

I’m not exactly known for my gardening skills. My one gardening claim to fame was when a giant pot of basil that I had been tending all the sudden disappeared from the front steps of my Dormont apartment building. I come home one day and it’s gone. Just vanished completely. I mean, I get that stuff that isn’t locked down is ripe for theft, but basil? A big planter full of it? Was someone just strolling through the neighborhood with a hankering for pesto and criminal activity?

The truth was both more complicated and far more plausible. Our across the street neighbor, Val, had come by to visit our neighbor in her first-floor apartment, noticed that the basil was looking a little beat, and took it back to her place to nurse it back to health. She had rectified my gardening negligence by adopting the plant as her own, for which I can only be thankful. I’m sure that the plant and planter live happily over at Val’s place to this day, booming and blooming for the adoptive parent that rescued them from their former desperate station.

Over the years, I have tried my hand at quite a few herbs, with mixed results. Seemingly unable to grow even my own chives, I have stayed away from larger gardening experiments, like growing actual vegetables, even though the process has not seemed that difficult when I have observed other gardeners at work. This hesitancy led me to believe that I might not be such a great volunteer for the Garfield Community Farm, but as is usually the case in these matters, I was wrong.

Let me say very simply that farming is hard work. Anyone involved in a moderate-scale agricultural project could tell you that there are infinite tasks to complete on any given day, much of the tasks being something that a trained monkey or diligent child could perform, let alone an adult with some capabilities toward rational and reasonable thinking. While there are many, many farming skills that must be honed over time, a lot of farm work is grunt labor. So my concerns were completely for naught, because though I feared accidentally destroying an entire crop of one thing or another, I was set to work on basic tasks that fairly insured my potential damage to the far would be slight. I watered crops, picked several containers worth of little orange tomatoes, and carefully weeded, trying to avoid any unpleasant surprises like unearthing a share’s worth of onions.

And I became better acquainted with that incredible edible weed, purslane. As noted in previous weeks, purslane is an edible weed that is both cultivated and wild-growing. Its little leafy greens offer substantial texture and flavor, a little sour, a little salty, and with the right amount of crunch to the lighter ends of the stem.

And it wouldn’t be my typical endorsement if I didn’t tell you how ridiculously nutritional purslane is. Namely, it contains a higher count of omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable, in addition to its high levels of potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins. It can be cultivated but is also, as stated before, a weed, so look for it growing wild on the side of the road, in the cracks of sidewalks, and verdant vacant lots.


Purslane, peppers, salad mix.


Cauliflower, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes.


Kale and beets (!)

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Goodbye Food Pyramid!

This past week, the USDA announced that it would be retiring its longstanding symbol of healthy eating, the Food Pyramid, in favor of a new, more family pleasing graphic, MyPlate.

In addition to the obvious shape and structure changes, the new MyPlate emphasizes fruits and veggies over the former Pyramid’s favoring of grains. The identifiable breakdown of a balanced meal relegates protein to side dish status and pushes the dairy component off the plate entirely. While exact serving size and categorization of food items is not immediately available on the new graphic, additional information is available on the USDA MyPlate site.

Proponents of the Plate criticize the Food Pyramid as incomprehensible to the average consumer. Translating the densely packed pyramid required a food preparer to pay strong attention to serving size, as well as keeping track of servings within servings of dishes. Translating the basic dietary guidelines to serve the average family allows everyone to understand the language of healthy eating.

Indeed, the plate is simple to understand, perhaps too simple, say some critics. How can the plate support healthy eating when little information beyond colorful blocks of generalized food groups are identified on the image? Criticism of the plate includes the complaint that the plate image gives no better understanding of what is considered healthy within each food group. Nutritious eating is far more complicated than its general categories may indicate, they argue, and the plate only misleads consumers. (Fruit juice, for example, contains natural sugars that metabolize in the body at rate similar to soda pop. Yet fruit juice can be considered a part of the “fruits” food group.)

Both sides make fair points. While daily nutrition is a far more complex issue than reflected on MyPlate, the new image is a step in the right direction for the USDA. They’re not claiming that this is the be-all, end-all of healthy eating directives. They simply wanted an image that would resonate in the kitchens of average consumers. While the Food Pyramid is something learned as a child and quickly disregarded, the Plate is a fairly easy ideal to put in place for every meal.

Still, I find myself agreeing mostly with USDA critics who dismiss the image of healthy eating as a minor issue in the fight for healthy eating. Even with a revitalized healthy eating campaign, the fact remains that for many, many Americans, a nutritious diet is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of economic status.

A great quote from Hank Cardello (and quoted in an opinion piece about the Plate in the LA Times) calls for a solution to one of the biggest obstacles in bringing fresh, healthy foods to populations who need them:

Perhaps there is another way to address the food desert dilemma. Instead of prompting grocers to enter unprofitable markets, why don’t we bring the inner city residents to the grocery stores? After all, there are over 30,000 supermarkets located in nearby suburban and non-rural areas. It’s just a question of finding an easy way to transport the shoppers.

Cardello’s point is apt: What good is an image defining a healthy manner of eating when the products themselves are not available to consumers? And encouraging grocery stores to open locations in markets that are financially unstable is a fool’s errand. But is the answer as simple as busing people out of the inner city to suburban markets? Would their income level jibe with the average prices in a suburban supermarket?

What do you think about the new MyPlate? Is the new image a tremendous step forward for healthy eating or is it missing the larger issues entirely?