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Homegrown Diet Diversity (And a Recipe)

An experiment - Ricotta Crust Fig Tarts - recipe below.

One of the challenges of relying on a diet of homegrown food is variety. Over the years I've tried to grow as diverse a garden as I can, but truth be told, some things are easier to grow in any given climate than others. If all I had to do was the garden, maybe I could succeed. As it is, we've got too many other things needing tending, so my gardening time and energy are limited. Instead, I focus on growing things that I can count on to do well in our region. Even then, there are no guarantees. I just have to take advantage of what produces well, and at the very least, hope I can get a seed crop out of what doesn't.

Mostly, our diet diversity is seasonal. Meals focus on whatever is producing well at the time. I do shop at the grocery store, but my shopping list is pretty basic. It sticks to staples we can't or don't produce ourselves such as olive oil and unbleached flour, a few particular favorites like black olives and bananas, and sometimes items to fill in a nutrient gap, like carrots for vitamin A after we've eaten up our own. I also shop for good deals for stocking up.

When it comes to meal planning, I focus on using what I have the most of. And that often means day after day of pretty much the same things to eat. When our chickens are laying well, we eat eggs every day, usually for lunch. But how many ways are there to eat eggs? A lot, actually, but before the summer is over, I still get tired of eating them. Zucchini is another "when it rains, it pours" kind of food. My solution to zucchini fatigue is to not plant it!

For the past several years I've been experimenting with trying to find diet diversity through creativity. I've also been trying to transition to substitutions for store-bought items with things I have readily available. Salad dressing, for example. I love ranch dressing, but dislike its ingredients. Dan likes oil and vinegar, but I have to buy those too. After experimenting a bit, I figured out that plain kefir on my green salads is just fine! Or I can easily add something like Cockeyed Jo's homemade Not "Lipton" Dry Onion Soup Mix for a flavored dressing if I wish. (And check out Jo's other recipes while you're there. She has a lot of homemade substitutes like that). Another dressing or dip we like is to mix kefir with salsa. Sometimes I add leftover home canned dried beans (black turtles are especially good). Former junky foods become tasty and healthy.

Kefir makes an acceptable substitute for sour cream on baked potatoes, and with baking soda for an excellent leavening agent. We also use it in smoothies, to top a bowl of canned fruit, and as a milk substitute on cold cereal (a rare treat, but when I find a good deal on Nature's Path organic cereals at the discount grocery store I stock up.) As you can see, we're finding a number of ways to incorporate a healthy probiotic food into our diet while eliminating several commercially processed foods.

Another one I've been experimenting with is ricotta. I have a lot of whey from cheesemaking, and making ricotta is one way to use it. It's usually used in lasagna, but I've experimented with other ways to use it.

It was the gnocchi dough that got me thinking about pastry crust. Since Dan likes pastries, that led to another experiment.

Ricotta Crust Tarts

For the crust:
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix with a fork. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into 12 squares. Line muffin cups with pastry squares.

For the filling:

Use with your favorite pie filling. I used fig that I canned previously.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

The crust wasn't flaky but it was good. I think I'll try it with baking soda and whey as leavening and see how that changes the texture. I'd also like to try these with a custard filling, for which I'd have to bake the crusts as empty shells. So, more experimenting and I'll have an update one of these days.


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