Local Culture – Yogurt


We went on a trip to our local health food store the other day to take advantage of their bulk beans and spices.  Buying staples in bulk lets you avoid excess packaging and is therefore often cheaper than branded goods.  Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case if you compare the per pound cost of dried beans from the health food store with a bag of Goya beans, but at least we’re supporting a local shop.  And for some reason, our local supermarket only sells candy, cookies, and peanut butter in bulk.

Anyway, while we were there, we also wanted to pick up some plain whole fat yogurt, which is a surprisingly elusive product in stores around us.  Our standby is Seven Stars, which is made just under 200 miles away in Pennsylvania.  This time, however, we noticed they also carry Trimona Bulgarian Yogurt, which is made in Chenango County, NY (though the company is maybe based on Long Island?).

Apparently, Bulgarian yogurt has some particular strains of beneficial fermenting bacteria.   If you want to read a detailed and extensively footnoted article about it (and about the advantages of organic dairy) by a nutrionist/microbiologist, this link’s for you.  Health benefits aside, the Trimona yogurt cuts about 50 miles off our yogurt’s travel for an extra 30 cents ($5.29 for a 32oz container as opposed to $4.99 for the Seven Stars).  Not a huge difference in either distance or price, really.

And (to play devil’s advocate) if you compare this to the $2.78 you’d spend on a 32oz container of Dannon plain whole fat yogurt at Walmart, you’re clearly still investing more in your yogurt by buying a local (and organic) product.  No surprise there.

There are indication here and there that the Hudson Valley Fresh dairy coop started a yogurt line, but it’s not listed on their website and we haven’t noticed it at the supermarket.  If it’s out there, that might be the most local option.  We’ll have to be on the lookout.

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DIY Calendula Oil

Calendula Flowers

Fresh calendula flowers.

A few weeks ago, our little guy got a rash all over his body. It wasn’t bothering him (it definitely bothered us!) and his pediatrician suggested it was a viral and it would go away with time. He also suggested a few things that could speed up recovery: sunlight, aloe, baking soda baths and calendula oil or cream.

Calendula is also known as “pot marigold” and is a hardy perrenial (something else for our herb garden?). Oil or tincures are used topically for treating acne, reducing inflammation, controlling bleeding, and soothing irritated tissue. While poking around the Poughkeepsie Farm Project‘s herb garden, I found a stash of the flowers and decided to try and make calendula oil.

This is a pretty easy DIY if you have lots of time. Most herbal oils are made using the “cold method.” You put dried herbs in a jar and cover them with a carrier oil (olive oil, grapeseed and almond are all recommended). Shake the jar every day for 2-4 weeks and then sieve the herbs, making sure to press them to release every bit of extract. I didn’t have that long to wait, so I decided to use the heat-infused method with our yogurt maker.

I first dried the calendula flowers in our dehydrator. Wet flowers would cause the oil to go rancid!Dried Calendula

I then put it in a jar and covered with olive oil.

Flowers in jar

And then I let it hang out in the yogurt maker for a few days.

Strained and pressed – the finished oil!

Finished oil

I doubt it was just the oil, but as soon as we started using it, the rash dissipated. Definitely looking forward to making more oils in the future. Sage, anyone?

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Floor lamp, actually.  For some time, we’ve needed a floor lamp to replace a duct-taped-together piece of junk that serves as the primary light source in our office since we moved in.  Yesterday, I  happened to  see a tweet from our county executive announcing a local lighting company was opening a new factory just a few miles away.

To be honest, I hadn’t considered the possibility that there might be local lamps, but now I know.  And not only is Hudson Valley Lighting local, they have really beautiful stuff.   and while they don’t have their own showroom, their website pointed us to another local business, Route 9 Lamp and Lighting, that carries their products.

Unfortunately, when we got to the store and started looking through the options, it turned out that a Hudson Valley floor lamp was clearly out of our price range for this particular purchase (over $600).  But while our dream of a local lamp has been deferred, we were able to do the next best thing  – we got a restored antique lamp from the local lighting store.

It’s a really beautiful 1930’s piece and while it wasn’t what I’d call cheap (about $250), it’s clearly built to last in a way that some $40 faux bronze thing from the big box store would never be.


We’ll definitely go back to Route 9 Lamp and Lighting again.  As for Hudson Valley Lighting, we’ll want to check back on pricing for smaller fixtures, like wall sconces we’ll eventually need to replace in the upstairs hallway and potentially add to the kitchen when we fully renovate it next year.

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Let Them Eat Cake

It doesn’t seem like there anything about bread that should make it difficult to get farm-to-table local bread around here.  And yet.

We’ve purchased a couple of loaves from local bakeries – the most recent being a loaf of tasty whole wheat made by All You Knead bakers down in Beacon – which have been very enjoyable, but have led us into two familiar stumbling blocks in our localism challenge: it’s not always clear how many of the ingredients are local and it ain’t cheap.

The website for All You Need says they make their products with “locally-sourced” ingredients.  Good to know, though some of their breads include olives or pecans and at least one features grains “from across New York State”.  So, how much of what goes into the bread we bought is as local as we’d like it to be?

Then there’s the issue of cost.  The All You Knead loaf was the cheaper of the local breads we’ve bought recently at $5.  Not outlandish, but more expensive than our prior habit of sticking exclusively to the day-old rack or the 5-for-$2 Portuguese rolls at the supermarket near our house.

So how do we ensure we’re getting bread from truly local ingredients and that we’re not finding yet another way to increase our food budget through localism?  Well, we could make it ourselves.  We just picked up  a couple bags of flour from Wild Hive Farm, which is based a mere 14 miles away in Clinton Corners.  They sell their local flour  either by special order or at a number of local shops (we picked it up at a local farm store/gun shop).

We got two 1.5lb bags – one of corn meal and one of whole wheat – for $6 apiece.  We used it to make some really tasty cornbread, but at $4/lb, it was definitely a pricier flour than the King Arthur we often get, not to mention the supermarket brand.  And if a loaf of bread uses about a pound of flour, we’re already pushing the cost of the store-bought in cost of flour.  Even if the costs of the other ingredients (local salt, anybody?) are marginal, we’re not saving any real money against the nice artisinal stuff from the store.

So then the next question is whether we can save significant money buying the local flour direct from the farm and in larger quantities and store it over a longer term.

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A Mostly Local Grocery Trip

Yesterday I took my first trip to the grocery store where I was trying to shop as exclusively local as I could.  We’re lucky to have a locally-owned grocery store chain – Adams Fairacre Farm – that stocks a pretty good amount of local goods.  Up until now, our grocery strategy has generally been to shop at Adams for produce (aside from what we get from the CSA), dairy, eggs, and bread and then to one of several supermarkets for the few canned goods we buy and dry staples like beans, rice, and flour.  Adams sells all this other stuff as well, but in our experience all lot of it tends to be “gourmet” brands that are significantly more expensive.

Our pantry is pretty well stocked right now and we’re still flush with CSA veggies, so this wasn’t going to be a huge shopping trip.  Here’s how we got:

Three and a half pounds of peaches, which were marked “Local” but I don’t know where exactly from.  There are a few peach orchards nearby, so…here’s hoping.

A dozen eggs from Feather Ridge Farm in Elizaville – about 30 miles north of us.

A gallon of apple cider from Minard Farms in Clintondale – right across the river and not 10 miles away.  This is a replacement for the Apple & Eve organic apple juice we were buying for the kid before.  I turns out the Apple & Eve Corporation is based in Port Washington on Long Island, but from their website FAQ it seems like they have a global supply chain:

At certain times of the year, our apple juice is made from apples grown in the United States. At other times, when domestically grown fruit is in short supply or the quality is not up to our standards, we use apple concentrate of the highest quality made in the United States or imported from one of several countries.

So, Minard is a lot closer although sort of a trade-off in that as far as  I can tell they aren’t organic.  I guess this is kind of a classic conundrum in terms  of sustainable eating.  We’ve never been exclusively organic shoppers, but we do try to head in that direction for stuff the kid is eating.

A loaf of rye bread from Silver Bell Bakery in Queens. 82 miles away and probably not a safe bet that it’s made from locally grown ingredients.

A small piece of cheese from Sprout Creek Farm, which is very local (and a nonprofit) and makes really terrific cheese.  But at $21/lb, it ain’t cheap.

Since all three of us like our cheese, I decided to supplement with some less expensive cheddar.  Adams sells Adams New York Farmstand Cheddar for $6/lb.  This I asked about and it turns out that it’s not a store brand – it’s made in Adams, New York which is about 25o miles from Poughkeepsie.  Not really our ideal in terms of local, but if the average meal travels 1,500-ish miles, I guess 250 mile cheese isn’t the end of the world for now.

And…a bunch of bananas.  The kid eats one pretty much every day and they’re the only food he asks for verbally at this point, so that’s an area of compromise for us.

$32.77 total spent and definitely not a full week’s worth of groceries even with the CSA veggies added in.  I’m not so sure whether buying local made too much difference in the pricing on this trip.  I think I just bought a bunch of stuff that’s sort of expensive by nature.  For example, the Sprout Creek cheese was the most expensive item ($7.26) but I think that’s more about quality than location since imported artisinal cheese is often just as expensive.

It also wasn’t difficult to source what we needed locally, though that’s probably going to change when the veggie growing season is over, when we need to buy staples like oats and dried beans, and if we look for bread that isn’t just baked locally, but also made of local ingredients.

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Local Sugar Substitutes: Looking at Stevia

In our last post, commenter Theresa asked “have you thought about growing (or using locally grown) stevia?” Well, it just so happens that we have access to some stevia that our CSA grows in their meditation herb garden! In addition to some rhubarb, nasturtiums and lemongrass, I cut a bit of stevia to play with at home last weekend.


Stevia is typically grown in South America, and while its extract is about 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, it does not raise blood insulin levels. According to Wikipedia, it has “been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America, who called it ka’a he’ê (“sweet herb”). The leaves have been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines.” I also learned that it was banned in the U.S. for a while and the FDA still does not approve of using “whole-leaf Stevia or crude Stevia extracts.” This post via FoodBabe goes into a lot of detail about what the FDA deems “safe” in Stevia on the market, so I’m not going to go into the politics. I’m gonna trust that it’s been used for a while elsewhere and just leave it at that.

Stevia is pretty easy to grow and is a perennial, so we could even add it to our herb garden if we can find a good way to use it because it is SWEET. Like crazy aspartame sweet. I took a nibble of a raw leaf and thought I had just eaten about 5 packets of Sweet n Low straight. Luckily, I was able to get Phil’s reaction on camera.

A video posted by Minnisingh (@minnisingh) on

Since I already got the leaves, I figured I may as well dehydrate them and grind into a powder. The smell of the drying leaves was pretty awful — like hanging steviadryingout in a closet full of mothballs. This post doesn’t really give this plant too many kudos, does it? Anyways, I am now in possession of a tiny amount of dried stevia leaves. Researching this stuff some more, the amount of dried stevia varies widely. One site says 2 tablespoons equals 1 cup of sugar, another says 1 tablespoon and another says one teaspoon will do the trick. I suspect I will have to play around to determine how sweet my leaves are and see if I can find any good recipes, because it does have a funky taste. A lot of places recommend making extract or a liquid sweetener, as it reduces the funky bitterness. I think that’s what I’ll attempt after gathering more leaves. For now, I’ll just gaze at this jar of powder and ponder.


All of those leaves and smelliness and THIS is what I get.

Does anybody have recommendations for recipes using powdered stevia?

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The Price of Sweet

Within the first five pages of Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s locavore memoir, Plenty, there’s a rueful exchange about what the authors will do without sugar where they unconvincingly telling each other they’ll just use honey.  Though we’re not planning to cut ourselves off from sugar altogether, we’re confronting a similar dilemma about finding an affordable local alternative for more of our sweetening needs.

At a trip today to our local organic market, we picked up  some of the local maple syrup that they sell in bulk.  We weren’t under any illusions that maple was going to be anywhere as cheap as sugar, but ideally being able to skip the packaging might bring the price down somewhat.

We ended up with a majestic quarter milk bottle of Grade B for a little under $6.

mapleThe bulk syrup was selling for $11.25/lb, which sort of seemed like a lot, but is actually considerably cheaper than the cost for a small bottle from Crown Maple, the area’s most high-profile syrup producer.  They sell a 375mL bottle for $17, which comes out to about $15.20/lb.   Crown also sells syrup by the gallon for $95, which comes out to $8.41/lb. – a clear winner in the price department, assuming you’re willing and able to shell out $95 for maple syrup.

But then what does a pound of sugar cost?  We often get a 4lb. bag for between $3 and $4, so that’s about $0.87/lb.  I’ve read in some places that when using maple as a replacement for sugar, you cut the amount by 25% (you supposedly get a less sweet recipe, but with a richer flavor), but even if you get more bang for your buck with each ounce, that still leaves you paying at least seven times as much for local maple.

Depending on how much baking or jam-making we’re doing, we can go through a 4lb. bag of sugar in a month.  Assuming for the moment that maple can always be an appropriate substitute for sugar we would potentially be spending $302 each year on maple syrup instead of $42 on sugar.  While the extra $260 a year wouldn’t be the end of the world in and of itself, but it doesn’t seem like a great idea to increase our food budget so much just for sweetener.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a compromise.  For example:

  • We aim to cut our sugar purchasing in half (no more than one 4lb. bag every two months)
  • We buy a gallon of maple syrup to get the better price and use that in place of sugar whenever we can (and also honey, which is produced by several local farms and seems to sell for $6-7/lb)
  • To avoid breaking the bank we just use less sweetener in our food, we use less sweetener overall.  We probably need to set a clear budget for this to actually make it work.  Could we make it through the year with only one gallon of maple, five pounds of honey, and eight pounds of sugar ($132 total)?  That budget would halve our annual sweetener use from 48 pounds to 24 while more than tripling our current sugar spending estimate.

This is one of the no doubt many situations where the “easy” solution to buying local is going to mean paying more.  Those dollars will support a better kind of economic system and often mean buying better quality stuff, but it won’t be sustainable for our household budget to just keep taking on increases in our living expenses.  We’ll have to find the right mix of strategies that allow us to save money by buying local (like our CSA) and ways that we can just buy less stuff to offset the places where local products are going to cost us more.

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What’s There to Eat?

The most obvious place to start for figuring out the rules of our localism challenge is food.  First, there are plenty of resources out there about how to maintain a locavore diet.  Second, the Hudson Valley is flush with local agriculture.  And third, we’re already members of a local CSA where we get essentially all of our produce during the growing season (being vegetarians, produce makes up a big part of our diet).

Even so, becoming a 100% locavore household is hard to envision.  Our weekly shopping isn’t heavy on packaged or processed foods, but there are still  all sorts of things that are part of our regular diet that can’t be grown locally (until climate change makes the Hudson Valley subtropical).  For example: coffee, olive oil, citrus, bananas, peanut butter, sugar, rice, mango, and avocados.

And then there are things like pasta where the raw ingredients probably are grown around here but the finished product you find in the store is never made nearby.  So we’d have to either find out where the couple of pasta companies that are relatively local (it seems like there are at least two) or make our own, assuming we can get local local flour (the one local grain mill I knew of is now closed).  And there are no doubt dozens of challenges like this.

All in all, taking on a cold turkey 100-mile diet would likely be a difficult and short-lived project for us.  Since we’re aiming for more of a long-term lifestyle change than an endurance test, we’re going to take a gradual approach in shifting more of our dollars toward the local food system.  We’ll figure out case by case how to substitute local alternatives for the long-distance food we buy now and try to find reasonable compromises for some exotics we feel we can’t do without (like coffee for the adults, and bananas for the kid).

Since we’re at the height of the growing season, our big push right now is to preserve as much of our CSA bounty as we can so that we can continue to rely on local produce through the winter.

PFP peppers

Today’s take included pounds of hot peppers and tomatoes.  The tomatoes ended up as 4 quarts and a pint of sauce, plus 6 pints of tomato jam.  The peppers are going to turn into sriracha and maybe some homemade pepper flakes.  We (Tina, really) also made tomatillo salsa and baba ganoush, but those things aren’t shelf stable so they won’t last us into the winter.

More updates soon on home preserving and trying to figure out how to get local flour and pasta.

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After a few failed attempts at jump-starting this site as a home renovation blog, we’ve decided it’s time to move on to something different.

While we’re still doing a lot of work on the house, much of that work is extremely slow moving and difficult to pin down in a way that was easy for us to keep writing about.  Not to mention that while the ins and outs of our duct insulation is a gripping topic for us, it’s likely not such a relatable topic if you’re not going through a renovation project.  On top of it all, having a kid and starting a small business have made it difficult for us to find time to update regularly.

Still, we did at one time successfully maintain a blog with a pretty active readership so it seemed like we should be able to figure out something to do here.  One thing about 30 Bucks a Week that made it easy to keep writing was that we were challenging ourselves to change a part of our everyday lifestyle.  The project required consistent planning, which it turn gave us fodder for blog posts.  A new personal challenge seemed like a good place to start for the future of this blog.

Building on the elements DIY and sustainability that were part of 30/Week, our plan for Minnisingh is focused on localism.  In short, we’re going to try to engage as much as possible in local systems, institutions, and people to provide the goods and services we need.

There are a lot of advantages – economic, environmental, social – to turn to local resources first, but it’s not necessarily a straightforward path. Unlike 30/Week, this isn’t a project with one simple rule (don’t spend more than $30/week on groceries).   This challenge has the potential to touch essentially every part of our lives and a big part of this new challenge is going to be figuring  out what we want the rules to be.  There are all sorts of criteria we could use to evaluate the things we do and don’t want to buy.

How much do we care whether the locally-made bread we buy at the locally-owned market is made with flour from halfway across the country? At the moment, the idea of cutting coffee, chocolate, citrus, and olive oil out of our diets seems pretty much like a non-starter, but maybe if we challenged ourselves to use local alternatives for a week we might learn something.  And there will almost certainly be times when we have to figure out how we want to weigh local provenance against other important criteria – not least of all cost.

And how close is local? Fifty miles from home?

We have a lot to figure out.

We do have a couple legs up as we get started.  We’re members of an amazing CSA whose farm is located a 10 minute bike ride from our house and we’re looking forward to diving back into writing about cooking as we enjoy the season’s harvest and work to preserve as much of it as we can so that we can rely on this ultra-local fruits and veggies as much as possible over the winter.

There are also a bunch of folks focused on building local economies nearby, including groups dedicated to supporting local agriculturerevitalizing downtown Poughkeepsie, building a local currency, and encouraging localism generally.

We’re excited about this new experiment.  We know it’s going to be a long-term project and it won’t always be easy, but we’re looking forward to finding out what we can learn from the challenge and for the prospect of connecting more with the community we joined when we moved here three years ago.

Stick with us!

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Garden Fence!

Our first big garden infrastructure project is done!  We now have a split rail fence surrounding the north half of the property, which includes our main garden area as well as the little strip behind the house where we eventually want to put in a patio.

We had been thinking this could be a DIY project, but given how visible the fence is for us and all our neighbors, we didn’t really trust ourselves to be able to install it as neatly as we would have liked and still have it done in enough time to get some use out of it this year.  Plus, fence rails and posts are not cheap even for a DIY project.  So we ended up going with professionals and we’re pretty happy with how it turned out overall.

The rear gate at the site of our future patio.

The rear gate at the site of our future patio.

The primary purpose of the fence is critter control, though to that end it doesn’t offer much of a physical barrier.  Our fence is only 3′ high – mostly because town code only allows a 3.5′ tall fence anywhere between the front profile of the house and the street frontage, where about half our fence is located.  Definitely jumpable for a deer if it really wants to get in, but our hope is that the fence will still work as a psychological deer deterrent given that there are plenty of other ways to cross through the neighborhood without hopping a fence.  Anyway, we wouldn’t really have wanted to install at 10′ deer fence even if the town allowed it – or we could afford it.  If it turns out deer are jumping the fence, we can always attach some tall trellising (or tall stakes with wire run between) that can be easily removed if somebody complains.

Attached to the wooden rails, the fence has welded wire (like vinyl-coated chicken wire) that keeps smaller critters from coming through and also makes it a relatively effective dog fence so Penny can have a place to run around outside without being hooked up to a lead.  Again, she could probably jump it if she really wanted to, but so far she hasn’t tried.  Also, we’ll eventually want to dig a little trench along the fence line and lay down some additional wire to keep critters from digging under.

The front gate - easy access from the Bilco.

The front gate – easy access from the Bilco.

In addition to a pest and pet barrier, the fence is also the first big design element of the garden and I’m finding it makes it easier for me to visualize how to lay out the rest of the space.


The edge of the driveway, where we’ll eventually have some deer-proof hedges on the outside of the fence and some currant and gooseberry bushed on the inside.

Next up – soil improvement and planting some edible shrubs (i.e. berry bushes) and a fruit tree.

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