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Cathy Erway's Posts

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From scratch: Maple-glazed sweet potatoes [RECIPE]

Grist / Shutterstock

Candied yams -- those deep orange, overcooked tubers that were too sweet and too uniform in texture -- were never a favorite of mine. Topped with marshmallows, the dish is often made with canned yams, earning them a comparison to candy. But the nuanced flavor and crispy skins of real yams or sweet potatoes can get lost in this "traditional" mid-century preparation -- not to mention many of the vitamins you get from the fresh, unpeeled version.

Cathy Erway

Sweet potatoes, or “yams” as they’re often called in the U.S. (true yams are something else entirely), are easy to find in most farmers markets this time of year, and I tend to prefer the soft, orange-fleshed varieties to the firmer yellow or white ones. Also in season in many parts of the country is maple syrup, nature's candy-like glaze -- and it's better than marshmallows. With the skins left on, real sweet potatoes can be sliced on the bias, basted with maple syrup and oil, and roasted until they are slightly crispy on the edges with an irresistibly soft orange interior. Unlike their canned counterparts, these treats are perfectly natural and pretty good for you too.

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From scratch: Pumpkin pie [RECIPE]

Grist / Shutterstock

If you're accustomed to roasting a winter squash and then scooping out the soft flesh to make soup, then you can create a pumpkin pie easily without canned pumpkin. You can roast the squash and let it cool while you're working on the crust. I won't lie; making an entire pie from scratch can take some time, but it gets easier with time.

Cathy Erway

The best thing about using fresh winter squash instead of the canned puree is variety of flavors. In my opinion, just about every other type of winter squash is better for pie-making than classic round pumpkins. Butternut, acorn, kabocha (the nutty Japanese variety), and most any other deep orange-fleshed squash works beautifully. Actual pumpkins tend to be fairly watery and stringy once cooked. For this pie, I used a carnival squash that had been adorning my apartment since the beginning of October -- it had green and white speckles on orange skin, and looked a bit like a fireworks display.

In the end, no one could tell what type of “pumpkin” I'd used in my pie, least of all that I had salvaged my Halloween decoration for this dessert. With a bit of caramelization, that roasted squash tasted much better than the average can o' pumpkin mush, and required less sugar than most recipes, too.

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From scratch: Green bean casserole [RECIPE]

Cathy Erway
Grist / Shutterstock

The processed food industry has shaped our holiday meals in more ways than we'd probably like to admit. On Thanksgiving, in particular, you can find nearly every aspect of the feast inside a can or box in the supermarket: from cranberry sauce, gravy, pie fillings, stuffing, and canned pumpkin to instant mashed potatoes. But how satisfying are these substitutes for truly homemade comfort food?

Since we're all about going without processed food here at Grist (for our health and the health of the planet), we decided to put some classic Thanksgiving dishes to the test by making them without any canned or instant fixes. First up is the green bean casserole, traditionally made with a can of condensed mushroom soup. This dish was popularized in the 1950s, just as Magic Chef ovens, Corningware casserole dishes, and the all-American Campbell's soup were gaining popularity.

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NYC’s urban farms face a climate reality check

When Sandy hit BK Farmyards' youth farm site at a school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it was especially frustrating for the site's farmers. The foursome of young women are committed to providing fresh food alternatives in an under-resourced community, and they had already weathered what they'd thought to be their toughest obstacle: a Department of Education-mandated freeze on selling the produce they'd been growing all season long, right at the height of the harvest.

According to BK Farmyards' co-manager Bee Ayer, the sales freeze had wiped out the majority of their proceeds for the year, and might force them to cut positions. But they had worked with the Department of Education on new standards for school garden food, and managed to pickle and preserve some of the produce, hoping for a better year ahead. So when Hurricane Sandy blew over the kale and collard beds in their school garden, it was yet another strike to bear.

Not everyone might demonstrate the same courage and creativity given the circumstances. Although the harvest season had just come to a close when Sandy took its aim at New York City, many gardeners, beekeepers, and urban homesteaders suffered damages. Unforeseeable weather challenges have always been an inevitable part of the farmer's job. Add to that slim proceeds, institutional interventions, limited space, and soil quality questions, and the future of city farming may be thrown into question for some.

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Eggs: The poor man’s protein [Recipes]

This story is part of our Protein Angst series. See more stories on the right.

I don't need to tell anyone that eggs have cholesterol. That's a birthright in this era of No-Yolk noodles and Egg Beaters. What might need remembering, however, is that chicken eggs are the most affordable source of pasture-raised animal protein (Even if you buy a dozen for, say, $8 at the farmers market, that's still less than 75 cents a portion). And they’re good for much more than breakfast.

As a thickener and binding agent, eggs were around before newfangled starches like soy lecithin or xantham gum. And they’re also available year-round (just in smaller quantity in the winter, when most hens' laying slows down).

One egg has about six grams of protein. But they are all too often seen as an accompaniment to another fatty, cholesterol-rich protein (like bacon, sausage, or ham) when they could instead be the rich complement to a plant-based dish.

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With meat, absence makes the taste buds grow fonder [RECIPES]

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here. "I am in burger heaven!" exclaimed a friend of mine who, after six years of being a strict vegetarian, had recently moved away from the diet. It was the end of an era for her, and her taste buds could no longer remember what a juicy patty made with good ground beef tasted like. Hallelujah. She never went back to being …

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