Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Is anyone else as incredibly excited as I am that the first Hoch Orchards apple cider came in today?!  It's the first batch, so it's a little tart...but it's incredible as always.  

I keep pouring myself a little jelly jar of it (you know, so I don't drink it all tonight).  But then I keep refilling my little jar. So far I've had 3 and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

The home stretch

So we're down to the last week.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm losing a little bit of steam on my local challenge.  I'm not necessarily eating less locally, but I'm just not blogging about it as much because I'm not thinking about it as much.  

 I really had no clue that I'd be able to eat so local for so long without feeling deprived.  When we started this back in June I thought I'd fall way off the wagon by the time the official local challenge started.  And I've certainly not eaten 80% local the entire 3 months, but it's been pretty close.  And all in all, it's not as hard as I thought it would be.  I mean, sure, I miss avocados and bananas.  But I'll  eat all the apples and raspberries I can while they're local.

I think I'm worried that if the challenge is not in the forefront of my mind (like it was for the first few months) then I won't stick with it.  It's sort of like when I first became a vegetarian back in 6th grade and used to have nightmares about eating hamburgers because I my dream I'd forget that I was a vegetarian.  But just like I rarely think about not eating meat now, I'm thinking less and less about eating local...even while I do it.  

Like today I barely cooked anything.  I grabbed a few berries from the backyard this morning before heading off to meet some friends.  I had leftover roasted baby red potatoes (from WI) with homemade hummus (MN chickpeas) for lunch.  Then I snacked on some homemade salsa and chips in the middles of the day and stopped at the Wedge while in Minneapolis for my dinner (Their deli's collard greens are awesome!).  Not too shabby.  

So I think local might be a long-term partner of mine now.  We've passed the lusty obsessive phase and have seen each other with ratty hair and morning breath...and we're still together.  

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Anyone Else Feeling A Little Fractured These Days?

I've got to admit, the turmoil of our normally pleasant city this week has really distracted me from eating locally.

Not that I'm not eating locally, but I haven't found myself focusing on it with my usual gourmet gusto. Trying to keep groceries on the shelf at work (apparently, a fair amount of "anarchists" are omnivores) & spending my free time watching live feeds of citizen journalists being stomped & regular citizens terrified (not to mention a fair amount of internal conflict as to why I wasn't out getting stomped) has kind of... dampened my enthusiasm. It's hard to eat when you are angry.

So it's been a lot of local hot dogs & salsa, of late.

I did find time to wrap up the beef stock saga with a tasty soup made with leftovers & bulk staples, however:

Local beef broth & pastured lamb, with kale & barley.

The broth & bits of tender lamb were leftovers, the onion & kale were from my last allotment of farm goodies, & the barley is just one of many local items in our bulk bins at the Market (& a very useful thing to have around the house).

It has certainly been a wild, & often disturbing, week. But at least soup is non-partisan & good for you!

-nano out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cheese &... Dog Biscuits, Anyone?

As some of you are aware, I've been talking some smack about baking my own crackers from scratch. Crackers are important to me. I love crackers & cheese. We sell an awesome array of cheeses at the store, many of them local in origin. & as we know, eating locally often requires us to make our own convenience foods for those times we just need a simple snack. & as far as I know (someone please, please correct me), we don't have any local crackers to go with our nifty cheeses.

So I took it upon myself to make manifest my own cracker destiny.

& I failed miserably.

Witness the results of my hubris:

What are those, cat turds?

These misshapen spawn of lofty good intentions are my first-ever attempt at the fine art of cracker manufacturing. I was hoping to use local buckwheat flour alone, in order to make my crackers gluten-free-friendly (although the chilled butter kept them from Vegan status). Boy, did that not work!

Perhaps the dearth of buckwheat cracker recipes to be found online should have clued me in.
But the real blame rests solely on yours truly. Despite roughly a decade spent in professional kitchens, I have practically no baking skills, whatsoever. Too much math, too much precision measuring, & too much faith in chemistry & temperature. I simply don't feel comfortable when I can't meddle in the process after it's started.

But one of the main benefits I think we can all recognize from our various Challenge adventures is that even when we stretch farther than we can reach, we learn valuable things about our relationship with our food.

So, I'll lick my wounds, eat my leaden, soggy crackers (they go particularly well with the Pastureland herbed gouda, thankfully), & survive to bake another day.

-nano out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good-Natured Ribbing.

If you are of the omnivore persuasion, perhaps you've noticed that the Market has Shepherd Song Farm (WI) pastured lamb loin & rib chops on sale during the Eat Local period.

Being as I'm the meat buyer for the store, I thought I might take a moment to highlight the rib chops, as well as show one of the possible end uses for a stock such as the one I've been blathering about recently.

I'm a big fan of braising, a cooking technique closely related to stewing, but with a bit more class. Both methods produce intensely flavored & richly sauced dishes, often utilizing tougher & cheaper cuts of meat. But braising allows for the use of the whole cut in the final dish, whereas stewing requires cutting it into pieces. Additionally, any bones can be left intact, enhancing the flavor & final presentation.

The first step is to brown the meat in the pot (or deep pan) that you'll be braising in. The object here is to color & flavor the outside of the cut, not cook it all the way through:

Once the meat is nicely browned, it is removed & kept warm while the vegetables (in this case, onions, carrots, roasted garlic & the rest of my homemade tomato paste) are caramelized in the same pan. Vinegar or wine can be used to deglaze the pot, & aid in the eventual softening of the meat's tissues. The cooking liquid is added to the veggies & brought to a low simmer. A stock made from the same animal, or one complimentary to it, is the best bet. Obviously, having devoted my free time over the last 24 hours to making beef stock, that's what I went with.

The resting meat is then added back into the mix:

I upgraded my cell phone in May, in part so I could take nicer pictures
of things like food. Now I need to find one that takes pictures of smells...

After about 30-45 minutes of low, low covered simmering, the lid can be removed & the cuts of meat turned every 10 minutes or so, to help build a glaze on their surfaces. This should continue for at least 30 more minutes, until the meat slides right off of a fork when pierced. Meanwhile, any side dishes can be completed. When the cuts have finished braising, they are removed & kept warm, along with some moistening cooking liquid. The liquid remaining in the pot can be skimmed of any fat & strained of vegetables. I reduced mine a bit further to concentrate the flavor, making a partial demi-glace, & then thickened it just slightly with a little roux.

Local pastured lamb rib chops with demi-glace,
gruyere mashed potatoes, & wilted red mustard greens.

A word of warning; Beware the power of the red mustard greens! Seriously, they don't mess around. They certainly served their purpose as contrasts to the intense flavor of the beef stock-based demi-glace, but if I were to use them again, I'd probably seek to mellow them out somehow...

Overall, though, this was a great meal & well worth the wait. I've still got plenty of stock left over for other projects, as well.

It never ceases to amaze me how much better food is when we are deeply involved in its production. It looks better, smells better & tastes better. Is it a placebo effect brought on by the feeling of "I did that"? Is there some sort of actual metaphysical cause?

Does it matter?

-nano out.

When life gives you squash...

What the heck do you make?

I am the lucky recipient of a whole case of locally grown, organic yellow summer squash. I need to preserve it somehow. I've read that summer squash and zucchini are best preserved in the freezer, but I just don't believe that they won't turn to mush. And I don't want to can just plain ole squash in water/lemon. I'm not sure I'd ever use it. So what should I make?

Last night I used about 1/4 of the squash to make 5 quarts of summer squash soup. It's just a simple soup of onions, garlic, squash, and veg. broth. It's light and summery- I think it'll be perfect for a quick meal this winter.

But summer squash preserving recipes are few and far between. And making sweet jam with them doesn't appeal to me (plus, I have a lot of jam!)
I'm thinking about a corn/summer squash salsa because you can never have too much salsa.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is It Over, Yet? [stock, post 2]

Well, it sure looks pretty.

For those of you new to making your own stocks, I'd love to give a play by play, but I don't think it would fit in a normal blog post. I can try &, um... boil it down, though. Basically, if you are making a meat stock, you first brown the cleaned & dried bones in the oven for roughly 40 minutes. After browning, the bones are submerged in water in a stockpot & simmering is commenced. Meanwhile, a simple mixture of onions, carrots & celery (or celery equivalent) are essentially caramelized in a sturdy pan, & as they're turning a rich brown color, the tomato paste is added. This is then cooked along with the vegetables, caramelizing somewhat itself. The pan is deglazed with a bit of the simmering bone-water & set aside. The bones continue their simmering...

Then, you might want to take a 7-odd minute break to put together a simple meal, in order to keep from going crazy with impatience &/or dying of starvation. In this case, I whipped up a toasted local sandwich with gruyere, 1-year cheddar, Schultz chicken andouille sausage (new in the Market- Try 'em!), tomatoes & some micro greens. While you can't exactly leave your house, or go to sleep (sadly), making stock is pretty low-impact from here on out, & you can wander around doing other tasks.

After several hours of simmering, the vegetable-tomato mixture can be added in, along with classic seasonings such as garlic, cracked black pepper, thyme, & bay leaves. The simmering continues...

After at least another hour of this (probably long past your bedtime, if you have a meat department to open the next morning, say), sea salt can be added to taste & the whole thing skimmed, drained, & cooled.

If all goes reasonably well, the next day finds you with a richly flavored stock for use in soups & sauce. I'll be reducing a portion of mine to make a demi-glace for use in braising some local lamb rib chops (ON SPECIAL THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15TH!). The rest I'll probably freeze for later adventures...

-nano (really) out.

* Please consult your favorite cookbook for detailed stock-making instructions. Techniques & results may vary from those described in this post. Not responsible for lost or damaged time, ego, or sanity.

I'm Such An Idiot.

No pretty pictures for this post. I'm in the middle of the beginning of making some beef stock. Roasting the bones in the oven as I type, actually.

Like the clever fellow that I am, I decided to start this 5-odd hour process at around 8 pm.

This is what my uber-expensive tomato paste is destined for. One could very well ask what might be wrong with a handsome young single fellow, to make him stay home on a beautiful summer evening (& late into it, no less) making a reduction of animal & vegetable juices. Well? I guess it's just something that holds a deep, basically spiritual power for me.

Plus, a guy's gotta eat.

& when one is eating locally, & one desires a beef-based stock to complement a meal (or several), one simply must make the stock.

Although, come to think of it, there actually is a pretty decent, locally-made all-natural (& MSG-free, for those concerned) line of stock bases. We use it regularly in deli at the Mississippi Market. I used it to some degree practically every shift I had making soup there for the last two flippin' years. Oh, for crying out loud.

I'm such an idiot.

-nano out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Yeah, I finally got around to it.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that nature finally got around to it. I've been waiting for some time for the magical conjunction of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, & peppers that means gazpacho season.

Let us not forget garlic!

As fond as I've become of my new willing & adaptable friend, green garlic, I am so happy to see local clove garlics coming onto the scene.

The tomatoes are just the usual locally grown hydroponic variety. I'm pretty fancy, but I'm not yet ready to spring for heirlooms until they are really "there", to my taste. Anyway, the vine-ripe ones are, if not squish-ably ripe at the time of purchase, then easily ready after a day or so in a paper bag.

Of course, those of you with gardens don't have to worry about this economy of tomatoes; you'll be desperate to implement them all, I suppose. I certainly found myself envying you as I reduced the world's most expensive tomato paste, this evening. At $4.99/lb, I spent about eight bucks making roughly one cup of paste, simply to spread on beef bones for a stock. Not my most economically brilliant moment, although that money will be spread back out by the volume & utility of the end product. Score one for Mr. Gourmet McShowoff, right?

For bell peppers, I went with one of those neat-looking purple ones. I found it to be somewhere between a biting green & a sweeter red, which was just what I wanted. Also included was a gift pepper from fellow Challenge participant, e__ly, given to me quite some time ago. Yes, I am starting to wonder about the magical properties of my refrigerator. Although it doesn't even seem to be on when I open the door, it keeps food for bizarrely long periods of time.

The picture was taken on the night I made it, & I do suppose a picture of gazpacho should have been posed on a sun-dappled patio, but I tend to get around to cooking rather late in the day. Eating it that first night, I wasn't overwhelmed, but the thing with soups is to, whenever possible, allow them a day or two of rest before consumption. I find this to be especially true for gazpacho. & tonight, after some four or five days of juicy mingling, the final bowl was fantastic.

So simple, so pure, so encapsulating of the idea of summer. There are few things better.

-nano out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Steak for Two

We made this last week and it was so good, but I forgot to mention it. I had a hankering for steak. I wanted a cut that was high quality, and settled on a sirloin. It was from 1000 Hills Beef Company and it was pricy, as in $10, but I figured that steak dinner for two at a restuarant would have been 2-3 times as much for a lesser steak.

I started the coals and ran back inside to cut potatoes. I tossed some local reds with some local rosemary and garlic in some olive oil with salt and pepper. I wrapped it up in tin foil and when the coals were white hot I put the potato package right over the heat.

I sliced a large onion into a pan and sauteed them over low heat in canola oil. It took almost 25 minutes for them to carmelize! I added balsamic vinegar to the pan (not at all local)and a sprig of rosemary and I left it to reduce. In a medium pan I brought some water to a boil and added these tri-color string beans that I found really cheap at the farmers market.

The steak was simple. I let it rest at room temperature for an hour, sprinkled both sides with salt and pepper, and put it on the grill -right over the coals- for about 3 minutes per side. I brought it in an let it rest for 5 minutes. I added the juices that collected to the pan with the balsamic vinegar.

Somehow it all came about pretty well. By the time the steak was done resting, the potates were cooked through and a minute or two later the sauce was nice and thick. It was a great accompanyment for the steak- sweet and savory. I cut the steak in two and plated both with the balsamic onions on top. The potatoes were a great side. Unfortunately the beans were a little bit over-cooked, but I ate them all anyway.

Here's my cost breakdown for a summer steak dinner for two:

Sirloin $10
Onion $0.50
Potatoes $2
Rosemary $1
Beans $1
Garlic, Salt, Pepper, oil, vinegar- maybe $1

That's a $15.50 dinner for two, and worth every bit.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Whole Slew of Localness

Here's what's been going on in our kitchen lately:

When we bottle up soda, the kitten likes to try to attack the brew as it bubbles through the tubing!

This latest soda is Maple Rhubarb. It uses 1/2 maple syrup and 1/2 sugar to sweeten it and rhubarb to give it some tartness. As you can see, it has some serious carbonation after 36 hours! (The leaves are some mint and lavender I had in my glass- not part of the original recipe).

I was delighted to see these blue/purple potatoes are the cheapest potatoes at the Selby store right now. They're local, organic, and crazily colored- You really can't beat that. I used some yogurt/mayo mix and last year's sweet pickles to whip up a potato salad. It was super good today after it had marinated overnight.
Today was the Sustainable Farming Association's Garlic Fest out at the Wright County Fairgrounds. Sure, I added some food miles onto this garlic by driving out there all by myself, but it was great talking to the folks that grew the garlic! I picked up the following:

  • 2 heads Chesnok Red and 2 heads German Extra Hardy from Sunfresh Foods in Preston, MN. These guys are certified organic.
  • 2 heads Chesnok Red and 1 head Russian Red from Coffman Garlic in West Concord, MN
  • 2 heads Merrifield Rocambole and 2 heads Northern White from Hawk's Brain Garlic in Red Wing, MN
  • 2 heads Armenian and 4 heads Music from Living Song Gardens in Crow River, MN
  • 2 heads Polish Jenn and 1 head Polish White from StoneHouse Farm in Miltona, MN
  • Garlic powder from Girardin Gourmet Gardens in Cannon Falls

I also scored a great deal on some little potatoes from Earthstar Farm in Hickston, WI. They're not yet certified organic, but working toward it.

Then on my way home I saw Apple Jack Orchards and decided to see if they had any apples yet. Sure enough, they had some early crop apples for super cheap. And they're Midwest Food Alliance Certified!

I can't wait to try all the different varieties!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

For better or for worse, in local or global..

Today my partner said he's thinking about doing the Eat Local Challenge. I can't even convey in words how excited I am that he might take the challenge. While I love all of my local-eating coworkers and they are super supportive, I would really like to have someone at home join me in this challenge- because honestly, it's when I'm home that I'm tempted to eat chocolate bars, basmati rice, and all those cans of pre-cooked beans for dinner.

What my partner might not realize is that he's been eating pretty darn local since June. As the primary grocery shopper, I've just stopped buying non-local produce, grains, beans, soymilk, etc. So while we still buy gluten-free pasta and sugar for our mostly-local cookies, our staples are very close to home. So he doesn't have very far to go to be at least 80% local.

Like tonight:

The first of our tomatillos were ripe, so I cooked up some salsa to go on some fabulous local nachos. There were no complaints from the kids!

Included: Whole grain milling chips, homemade local black beans that I canned a week ago, Gardens of Eagan sweet corn, homegrown tomatillo salsa (green onions, garlic, poblano chile, jalapeno chile, tomatillos, vinegar, salt, cilantro), Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cheeze (not local), and my pickled jalapenos from last year.

On nights like these eating local is quick and convenient, and no one even missed the guacamole.

But there are nights when my partner comes home with Cascadian Farm Spud Puppies and Banana Fudge Rice Divine ice cream. And it's mighty hard not to grab a spoon and dig in. (Or I'd imagine it's hard. So far I've not resisted.) When the whole family is eating a non-local meal, I usually just eat a small portion and make myself something else later if needed. But it feels wrong to not enjoy the food the rest of the family is eating. I've tried not to be preachy about eating local or to talk everyone into going along...but it sure would make it easier on me!

Is anyone out there eating locally while your partner is eating globally? Do you have any tips?

Monday, August 11, 2008

[in which nano has a] Slack Week.

The above photo is probably my Eat Local highlight, this week. It's a local apple that my coworker in the meat department, Tim, picked for me on his way to work. It was fairly sour, but not the crabapple that some asserted that it was. Just not ripe quite yet.

Please note the spot of Local Bird Poop, located on one of the leaves. I'm afraid this might throw off the percentage of this particular meal's locality. After all, who knows where that bird has been...?

Yeah, it's been something of a slack week for me on the local front. My usual overall 80%+ has probably dipped into the 60's. I have no fancy meals to crow about. Hell, a few nights ago, I had Amy's Deluxe boxed mac'n'cheese. Sure, I cut up local Thousand Hills ballpark-style hot dogs & threw them in there, but still. Last night, I had local veggies... Tossed with not-local capellini. Let there be no doubt- I'm still in the game, but I guess I needed to take a little breather & eat some flippin' pasta, already! It's been months!

Here's something fun & kinda junky one can do when one isn't feeling like making a fuss about eating locally. It's a recipe my paternal grandmother used to make for me as a kid, probably in order to gradually trick me into eating eggs with a properly runny consistency. It worked. My Grams was both classy & crafty.

First, one cuts a hole in the center of a piece of bread (buttered on both sides). Then one side of the slice is toasted in a frying pan. After flipping the bread over to toast (well, fry, honestly) the other side, one breaks an egg into the hole. One then cooks the egg somewhat & flips the whole mess back over to cook a little longer. At this time, some good cheese (in this case, Grand Cru gruyere) can be grated on top. For this version, Pastures A'plenty Canadian bacon was also applied. The end result should be a nicely browned piece of fried/toasted bread with a pleasantly gooey egg in the middle, which can be handily mopped up by the bread as one eats it.

Another relatively lazy thing I whipped up in the last few days consisted of some more 100% grass-fed hot dogs, & spicy tempura-breaded zucchini & squash from the farm I keep mentioning in passing (but not posting about).

Well, at least there was something green in that last example. It turned out pretty good, considering that I don't remember ever making tempura before, & the recipe I found in my battered (yet unearned) CIA textbook was intended to serve ten full meals & needed to be rapidly, randomly reduced to serve just one. Just goes to show you that the Culinary Institute makes a damn good cookbook, I guess.

Really, I have no clear idea why I felt so unmotivated towards anything but carbs, protein & fat in the past week. My hypothesis is that, having shed some 8-10 pounds simply by eating locally (primarily through quitting my 6 cans-a-day energy drink habit, & eating many more vegetables than usual), my body was concerned that I might accidentally starve it to death.

-nano out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Adventures in Local Shopping

My car is on its last leg, or wheel, or whatever. I took it to the doctor and the prognosis was that it had somewhere in between one to two months before it became a danger to me and those I share the road with. Eventually I will have to take my plastic blue beast out back ol-yeller-style. For now I am in denial.

While the car was at the doctor I decided to play at being super-green. On Saturday Morning I rode my bike down one side of the bluffs and up the other. I tied my bike to a parking meter (are there really no bike racks at the Saint Paul Farmers Market?) and went about shopping for a weeks worth of produce. I had $22 dollars and this is what I was able to get.

1 Big bag of Potatoes
3 Heads of Lettuce
4 Heads of Garlic
1 Bunch of Radishes
1/2 Dozen Ears of Sweet Corn
6 Tomatoes
1 Bunch of Scallions
1 Big bag of Mixed Beans (yellow, green and purple!)
1 Big bag of Bacon (Otis Farms- the best bacon we've found yet)

Not Too Shabby.

I stuffed it all in my backpack and pedaled very slowly back across the bridge to the West Side. I decided I had to stop by Burrito Mercado since I was a handful of cilantro and one jalapeno away from some local Pico de Gallo.

At Burrito Mercado I was happy to discover that my herb and pepper were locally grown by a group of kids at a nearby community garden. Well, that's what my half-assed spanish told me anyway. I acknowledge that the sign I was reading may very well have said something different but I was feeling like a good green consumer so that's what I took away from it. I found La Perla Flour Tortillas (complete with local hydrogenated oil, I'm sure) and a 6 pack of chicken tamales that I've been having for lunch ever since. That was another 15 Dollars.

Then I had to pedal with a huge, heavy backpack and a plastic bag dangling from one hand up Cesar Chavez Blvd. When I finally got to the top of the hill I considered throwing up and throwing my food and bike over the bridge and crawling home. I decided that just for that day Mother Earth owed me one.

Tonight I made BLTs and I consider us even. A haiku:

Bacon sweet Bacon
Crispiest Love of my Life
Be mine Forever

The fine line between canning and...

I'm wondering if I've crossed some sort of line between cooking from scratch and... crazy.
I was standing over my new 18 quart pressure canner, carefully adjusting the heat between 11 and 12 pounds of pressure when my mother in law asked, "Why are you canning your own beans?"

I have to admit I was a little stumped. Of course I was canning my own beans. Why not? These Whole Grain Milling Co. black beans are good and I can now safely precook and preserve them for years at room temperature! Do I need more of a reason than that to spend 5 hours in the steaming hot kitchen on my day off?

Then my partner pointed out that organic beans are cheap and are often on sale for less than the cost of the canning jars, not to mention the cost of the fuel used to cook them.

Darn! If I don't can to save money, then what's my excuse? Because I'm preparing for holing up in my basement for a month and being perfectly well-fed on wholesome locally grown foods during the apocalypse? Because I'm bored? Because I've been reading too much about urban homesteading? Because I'm paranoid about BPA lining aluminum cans?

You know, a few decades ago I wouldn't need an excuse. Everyone would be too busy canning to ask.

Monday, August 4, 2008

slugs and green beans

I've been out of town for a few days, so here's a quick recap of the past week in my challenge.

One of my favorite local authors (and my former girl scout troop leader, randomly enough) just wrote a book called The Compassionate Carnivore. It's a great book for many reasons, but for me it was especially exciting because it tackles the subjects that we've been having discussions about here - about awareness and choices and connecting communities with food sources. It resonates for me partly because she's from where I'm from and she's talking about people and places that I know and love. But that sense of dialogue, engaging each other and growing both individually and in our capacity to create change, that's what it's about for me.

On Thursday, I spotted a ripe tomato. Now, we're not talking a cute little cherry tomato, that's old news already in my garden. We're talking fist-sized, bright yellow, can-smell-it-from-here tomato, heirloom, the kind you'd be paying $6.50 for at the co-op. I about fell over with excitement. This tomato was on a plant in the farthest corner of my garden, so it had gone unnoticed as it ripened, and then one day there it was. So I wade through the overgrown potato plants and back to that corner tomato. I pick it. It's perfect to the touch. But that's just the half that I can see. The bottom half of this gem looks like the compost does when you forget to take it out for a few days. My heart sank. I asked the father-in-law, and his answer was simple: slugs. My squash got sick too, so instead of having more squash than we know what to do with come September, we get nothing. But the beans! The beans are perfect, five inches of crispy freshness.

I had a few other points, but I think I'll leave you with this for now: I just finished munching on 3rd St. toast with strawberry jam (which mysteriously appeared in my box at work, confirming my belief in the jam fairy) and some local goat cheese just for kicks. Quite nice.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

[I'm not going to make any puns about] Beets! Beets! Beets!

I can't claim to have been a big fan of beets, growing up. There was something about their deep, sweet, earthiness that my young palate found... unsettling.

Years later, I'm finding them to be a highlight of my Eat Local Summer, both for their flavor & the intense color they bring to dishes.

Local 100% grass-fed round tip steak with tarragon compound butter,
green beans, & golden beet-purple potato medley.

Seriously, I've been going crazy with these things. A few days ago, I came back from my day volunteering down on the farm (which really deserves its own post, or two) with a paper bag full of onions, carrots (finally!) & beet-parts.

While I was stripping & reserving the tender, mild greens for later use, I started nibbling a stalk on a whim. This led to a very interesting discovery; I noted a fairly strong taste of naturally occurring nitrates & a crisply fibrous texture... like celery! Could it be, the long sought local substitute for celery? I tried it out in a stock, along with some imported celery, & it seemed to work just fine. I haven't died yet, anyway, & there was no unpleasant taste. Beets may be a completely perfect vegetable.

I'll get to the main (meaty) course in a second, but first some hot veg-on-veg action:

Local double-roasted beets & "Japanese" eggplant with mascarpone
& farmstead feta, on a bed of wilted beet greens & shaved garlic.

This tasted absolutely sublime. I roasted the beets with the skin on, to intensify their natural sweetness, then rubbed the skin off & sliced them to roast again (briefly) with the eggplant. We may have reached the end of the green garlic season, so I found myself forced to buy "Spice Island (TM)" conventional garlic cloves at the last minute... from the convenience store. Not my proudest Eat Local moment, but I'll admit that it was nice to taste normal garlic again (even though it was in terrible condition). Anyway, I almost forgot about cooking the rest of my dinner after eating this. It was that good, & a lot easier than it might appear, as well.

I'm well known back home for my obsession with our humble friend, the green bean casserole. I always make my mushroom soup from scratch, use fresh beans, & fry up my own Durkee's-style crispy onions (usually shallots). Yes, this takes forever, but it's worth every second. Not that I have any problem at all eating the all-from-a-can variety when someone else makes it, mind you. Don't get it twisted.

Local pastured pork "sirloin chop" with wilted beet greens,
maple-glazed young carrots, & green bean casserole.

Obviously, this is really a "green & wax bean" casserole, but my clever little menu listing was running on a bit. The maple syrup was given to me by the woman who oversees the farm program I keep mentioning, & is made by a member of the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Pretty good stuff. Sometime soon I'll have to do an official taste test to compare this one to the Wild Country I've normally been using. I certainly never would have predicted that one day I would have two different high-grade maple syrups in my fridge simultaneously. My life is so hard, right?

Along with my current infatuation with beets, I think it's fair to say that the local food stock is really picking up steam. It feels like forever ago that we started this Challenge back around June-ish, with little more than salsa-makings available. Now the bounty is almost paralyzing. & it's just getting started.

All I know is that I'm thoroughly hooked & head-over-heels. What a great experience.

-nano out.

PS: For dessert, I boiled off some beet sugar & made my own homemade cotton candy... No, I'm lying. I totally didn't do that.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

How To Eat Local

So by now we're all pro's at eating local, right?
I'm looking for some folks to help out with our "Surviving the Eat Local Challenge" class on August 14 from 6-7:30pm. (Anyone who wants to take the class can sign up by calling 651-310-9499. The class is free, but you'll need to register in advance).

So comment or tell me in person if you want to help out!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Great Crepe-tastic Disaster!

Well, I've been yakking on about crepes for long enough & I suppose it's time to share the actual fruits of my labors. Honestly, it's been a mixed bag. I had forgotten just how frustrating the process of making crepes can sometimes be, especially since it has been years since I actually made any.

The first attempt was a cinch. I simply thinned out the dregs of a batch of local buckwheat pancake batter (using plain old milk & water) until it was about the consistency of heavy cream, then cooked them up on my recently acquired cast-iron griddle pan. Easy as pie (well, actually, considerably easier). Then I made up two different savory fillings, rolled them up in the crepes, & dug in. The only real shortcoming of this particular attempt was that I sort of forgot to make any kind of sauce to compliment either of the fillings, which while not exactly required for a crepe dish, certainly would have made them more memorable. & moist.

Anyway, not too shabby. The crepes lent their typical light sweetness to contrast with the salty, meaty & cheesy flavors of the fillings. My first memory of a savory crepe was one I had at a restaurant attached to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, as a kid. It was filled with a simple (canned) tuna salad & drizzled with hollandaise sauce. Totally awesome, & something I've replicated many times in various restaurants, with a fair amount of success. Due to locality issues, of course, tuna was out, so I grabbed a few things I had lying around instead; some grass-fed beef (MN), farmstead feta (WI), cherry tomatoes (MN), & spinach grown on the farm I've been volunteering at (MN), among others.

Here was the result:

Local buckwheat crepes filled with 100% grass-fed beaf, cherry tomatoes,
fresh basil, & a touch of balsamic vinegar (foreground) & spinach, feta & bacon (background).

A number of days after this relative triumph, & flush with cocky confidence, I decided to get serious. As soon as the Door County Cherries made their first appearance in the store, I snagged a little cardboard crate of them & got to work.

The scene of the crime...

Big fancy cook that I am, I somehow have gone throughout life without a cherry-pitter. I regret this, now. I also regret that I ate a cherry for every two I pitted for the sauce. Not that they weren't insanely good, but it made the process take forever. After pitting, I reduced the fruit & their juice with nothing but a couple of pinches of salt. No added sugar was needed, at all (although it could be included for a sweeter sauce).

So far, so good.

The same night, I made up a new batch of batter, this time being all scientific & following the directions precisely (this is why I don't gravitate towards baking). The first batch of crepes had come out pretty good, by gut instinct, but I wanted these to be perfect. They had to support the best cherries in the known universe, after all. I let the batter sit overnight & got up early the next morning to make sure I had time to make breakfast. This is where things started to go badly awry.

I'm not sure what was to blame. Perhaps the condition of my griddle, which although relatively unfamiliar to me, I had thought I'd been taking pains to treat properly. Or maybe my meticulously assembled batter was off just a pinch of something. But the damn crepes just burned to the pan, leaving the top surface raw. I scraped the first attempt into the trash, scrubbed the pan, & started again. No luck. Now dangerously close to being late for work, & not wanting to ruin my day before it even began (I do not take well to kitchen disappointments), I shelved the project & bitterly scarfed down some toast.

I tried again that night, with similarly annoying results. Finally admitting that this particular batter & this particular cooking surface simply weren't going to cooperate this time around, I eventually just used a non-stick pan. It was still a struggle (leading me to put the ultimate blame on my batter), but I managed to make two more crepes:

Local buckwheat crepes with mascarpone cheese & Door County cherry sauce.

Unfortunately, a friend called just as I was plating this for the picture. He responded to my explanation as to why I couldn't talk just then by saying, "What, crepes again? Man, you're such a foodie!" I tried to make it clear that, while I understood he was trying to pay me a compliment, the term "foodie" is considered to be something of an insult in the professional cooking world. He insisted on not understanding me, & fueled perhaps by my sneaking suspicion that I had no idea why I was posing as anything (considering my recent string of failures), I lost my cool. As a direct result, the plating was sloppy as hell. & I had to call him back later & apologize.

But it tasted fantastic.

Not that I have any intention of trying this again, anytime soon.

-nano out.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Drinking Local

Just about everytime an Eat Local Challenge comes up in public conversation, someone mentions upping their percentage of local beer or vodka to meet the challenge guidelines. It's true- we have a decent number of small breweries and even some hard liquor made nearby, I'm told. But I'd be hard pressed to name a single local alcoholic beverage.

The only alcohol in our house is a 2 oz. mini-bottle of tequila I use for making margarita cupcakes and some vanilla extract- neither of which are local. My partner is straight edge, so no alcohol for him. And me- I come from a long line of alcoholics (recovering, thank God) and keep my drinks to about one per year. So I won't be kicking back with a cold local brew anytime soon.

I will, however, be kicking back with a cold Mulberry Root Beer, though!

We started making our own root beer a few years ago. It's not hard to do and the supplies are pretty cheap. Northern Brewing on Grand Ave. has everything you'll need as far as equipment goes and the roots/herbs can be procured at your local co-op. There's a gazillion combinations you can use, but we thought it'd be fun to use up some mulberries in this one.

Mulberry Root Beer
1 quart mulberries, washed (sub any berry)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup date syrup (sub 1/4 cup raisins if you don't have this)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tbsp. sarsparilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped and the remaining pod
2 Tbsp. licorice root
2 star anise
1 Tbsp. juniper berries
2 gallons filtered water
1/4 tsp granulated ale yeast or champagne yeast

Stir together all fruits/herbs and 1 gallon of the filtered water in a large stockpot. Bring to a simmer and boil for 30 minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Prepare a strainer over another larger pot, carboy, or empty bulk peanut butter bucket. Strain the mulberry-spice liquid, gently pressing the mulberries to get the juice out. Discard strained solids. Add the remaining gallon of water to the jug and stir. Make sure the temperature is lukewarm- no hotter. Then stir the yeast with 1/4 cup of water in a little cup. Add to the jug and stir vigorously. Your brew is now ready to bottle.

It takes some strong bottles to package this up as the carbonation can get pretty fierce. I really recommend only using bail-top bottles designed for this purpose. These should be sterilized with hot water and soap before bottling. We use a spigot rigged up on an old 5 gallon bucket and put a plastic hose over the nozzle that attaches to a bottling wand. But you can get creative about how to get the soda into the bottle- just keep it sterile.

The soda needs to stay in a warmish place (no problem in summer) for a few days. Usually they take about 48 hours for the carbonation to build, but we check after 24 just in case. You might want to open them outside as they can be lots of fun to open- like champagne that's been shaken up.

Once you know they're at the right fizzy consistency, bring them into the basement or a refrigerator to stop the yeast and get those brews ready for drinking!

PS- I can't really guarantee how this brew will taste when finished because it's still sitting on the kitchen floor growing bubbles. But my temperature-test taste was rockin good- kindof like a spiced cherry vanilla soda.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Strawberry Jam Forever

So while I shouldn't have been excited (actually, thrilled) over the 16 quarts of slightly mushy, overripe local strawberries sitting in the buddy (free) bin on Wednesday, I was.

I snagged all those strawberries in a heartbeat and promised I'd bring people jam the next day. I decided to use a "Basic Strawberry Jam" recipe from a book called something like "The busy person's guide to canning" (I'm just busy because I'm canning, so I don't know if this book is for me).

I thought it was odd that the recipe didn't call for pectin, but it called for astronomical quantities of sugar, so I figured that would help it set up once it reached the jelly point (220F). So I purchased 36 cups of fair trade, organic cane sugar, 3 more cases of canning jars (I had one) and high-tailed it home. At this point it was 6pm. Probably a little late to start a quadruple batch of jam, but nevermind that.

The jam went according to plan until I had it all sealed up and processed. It had passed the "does it run off a cold spoon in single drops or sheets" test decently. It was a little thinner than usual, but I figured it would just be a softer set kind of jam. Wrong. More like a not-set-at-all type of jam.

So my 42 jars of strawberry jam were delayed until last night. I opened each jar, resterilized the jars, reboiled the jam, and added plenty of pectin this time. Bingo! Forget any risky low acid fruit jams without pectin for this girl. I'm sticking with the sure thing.

As I was eating the jam straight-up out of a spoon last night, I realized that I'd never had homemade strawberry jam. Usually I'll try something before I make 42 jars of it. But, really, who wouldn't like homemade strawberry jam?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I will play devil’s advocate here on what I think some perceive is a touchy subject, but which I find to be a natural and refreshing.

In my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with being a food snob or even a food “elitist”. I guarantee you that the best tomato you will eat is the one that you grow from seed and wait through all of May, June, and July to be able to eat. If you are willing to share it with me, and if you can put up with the half-assed one I grow next year when my wife and I break ground on our new garden, then I say you have every right to be elitist about your tomato. I think that your passion/geekiness/snobbery regarding your food (or music or comics or politics or baseball or books) makes you interesting. (BTW, I’m totally up for a Local Blogger Dinner)

I want the farmers who grow my food to feel the same way. I shop at the farmer’s market because I get to meet them and hear them tell me just how good it is. If I had a CSA this year I would want the farmer to feel like they were doing me a favor by letting me pay for my share of premium produce. I love that the Door County Cherry grower that Nick works with at our Co-op pushed his delivery to the market back a week. After driving 90 miles he turned his truck around because he wasn’t proud of his product. I proudly state that the best Corn Tortilla Chip comes from Whole Grain Milling and I’m proud to buy it. I think that the Castle Rock Ice Cream I ate today was some of the best Ice Cream I’ve ever had, and totally worth the $4.99/pint that I paid for it.

Here’s the catch: I work very hard not to let my elitism turn into exclusivity, and I’m way over judging someone for their foods. Why, do you ask? Because I eat Hot Dogs. Not the co-op’s all natural grass fed humanely -raised hot dogs (though I’m sure they’re good). Nope, these were those Vienna beef red-hots, complete with casings and sin. I have broken my eat-local diet for Chicago-style Hot Dogs (complete with neon green relish) and Tater Tots. My excursion to the dog house wasn’t the slightest bit local, but it was damn good. Who am I to judge?

I’ve gone to Dairy Queen twice since I started my challenge. The Butterfinger Blizzard wasn’t the quality product that the Peach Ice Cream was, but it sure did taste good. BTW, I will argue for the legitimacy of Dairy Queen as a local company. It is Minnesota owned, probably franchised locally, and I know that it employs the neighborhood kids. Most importantly I will say that part of eating local for me is about building a community around food. Waiting in line at the neighborhood Dairy Queen on a hot July night with a dozen other people is as “local” an experience as buying parsnips at the Farmer’s Market.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

this omnivore's dilemma

Don't worry, this post is going to be much lighter than my last one (but not necessarily shorter...)

I'm planning on borrowing my roommate's camera and taking some pictures of the garden so you all will finally be able to see what I've been talking about this whole time... so get excited.

Today, Ms. N and I went out to eat. Now, we're trying to maintain a small vacation fund, and in the past would spend a lot going out to eat, so when we decided to start saving some money, that was one of the first things to go. Alas, today I was tricked into running errands and we ended up at Midori's Floating World, which is right near our house. I just wanted to give them a quick plug, because it was so good and simple and (in my opinion) exactly what food should be. Every bite was savored and we sat there lingering over it for a good hour. So yay for local businesses!

My latest exercise in food awareness has been to ponder the amount of processing that things undergo before they end up in my kitchen. I've been focusing lately on eating "real food" instead of processed things, which is turning out to be a bit more economical, in addition to being quite tasty. It also makes me wonder if there's a lot of energy spent producing tasty, faux-meat morsels at, say, a big Boca factory. Liz, you might know more about that sort of thing. Here's where this thinking has lead me, though:

Is eating meat better or worse than eating fake meat?

I'm considering these things-

1) processing- I happen to love Morningstar's veggie nuggets, but
there's not really all that much veggie involved...
2) cost per ounce- I'm going to do some digging on this one and I'll
get back to you
3) ethical arguments pro or con- I can respect that some people don't
want to eat something that has a face
4) carbon footprint/food miles- which I know you're considering anyways

And finally, I wanted to bring up the idea of having a blogger gathering of some sort. I have a pretty accommodating back yard, complete with fire pit and picnic table, so if y'all are interested let me know. If I may suggest a couple of potential dates... August 8th or 22nd (both Fridays) would be ideal for me, or we could plan it for the end of the official challenge sometime in September... I bet with all of us contributing we could have a pretty fantastic 80% or better pot luck! Comment here or catch me at the market.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Not all that glamourous

I usually post my really pretty meals and leave the more homely ones for the eyes of my family only. But really, that makes it look like I spend way to much time cooking each day (okay, I do). Here's a perfect example of a breakfast I would usually never dream of posting. This is a desperate attempt to find something local to eat in the morning.
This is a La Perle (MN) tortilla, leftover marinated & baked Wildwood tofu, french fries from Shish, and Silver Springs (WI) mustard. It's not the prettiest dish, the tastiest, or the most nutritious, but it held me over until lunch.

And this proves that you can prepare pretty local breakfast in under a minute.

It's Gettin' Hot In the [proverbial] Kitchen!

It's great to see an increase in involvement in this blog from various Challengers, especially (as Liz points out) because it brings different perspectives & approaches into the conversation. I'm also grateful that the exchange has, so far, been respectful & honest.

Putting on my thoughtful face...

In particular, well put, e__ly. I'm referring to your post immediately before this one, in which you succinctly outline many of the challenges, perceived & real, posed when considering a more locally-based diet. Indeed, it can be argued that those of us posting here are to some degree living in a bubble. It's also unlikely that our efforts this summer will sway anyone towards local food sourcing who wasn't already considering it.

With this in mind, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to this NYT article from earlier this morning. I would be very interested to hear other Challenge participant's opinions on the issues it raises, especially in regards to how we, as natural food store employees, fit into the picture. &, for that matter, how said "picture" is being framed by national media such as the NYT.

I can really only speak to the "elitism" problem from my own experience. Although I've long had an interest in quality food, if you had suggested just a few years ago that I would be working at a co-op (& enjoying it), I would have either laughed at you, or taken offense. See, I looked at people who did all their shopping (or working) at natural food stores as being pretty silly. Sure, I understood their reasoning, & I often picked up the odd item at my local co-op, myself. But shopping there exclusively, let alone only for local foods? Preposterous! I considered myself to be a pragmatist about this. Yeah, you could find some good things at the co-op, but anyone who shopped there for the bulk of their food simply had more money than common sense. I certainly didn't think that I, as a service-industry wage-slave, could have ever afforded to do so.

I press the fast-forward button & find myself working, completely by chance, at the Market (a newcomer to the Cities, it happened to be the first place that I applied to & the first to offer me a job). I find that I really care about the products I'm selling & that many of the customers do, as well. Further, I find that someone making at least a "living wage" can indeed afford to shop there almost exclusively (but that, yes, it would be daunting to attempt it at, say "minimum wage"). The fact is, none of us is independently wealthy. We make a "fair" but very modest living, & our wiggle-room is as tight as most other Americans. We all have differing amounts of time to devote to this project & differing outside expenses. In my particular case, I do have a fair amount of time to spend playing around in my kitchen, but the fact is that I would make that time a priority, regardless. & yes, e__ly, I did literally tear up a bit over my pork. I'm a big geek.

I hope we can keep digging into these issues surrounding the local/sustainable food question. It's great to put up handsome pictures of the food we've cooked or grown, but these sorts of discussions are the real "meat & potatoes", if you will (or "TVP & potatoes", if you won't).

Ready for yet another trip...

-nano out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I wasn't tired when I started writing...

Nano, my friend, I don't know you very well, but it's pretty clear from your recent post that cooking like this gives you joy (I really want to know if you actually cried over pork). You cook for the sake of cooking, and you do it with style. You have the time and energy to do so, and you would probably be eating pretty similar meals without this challenge, so stick that nose up in the air and be proud of your justifiably beautiful creations.

Now, on to the heavy stuff.
I think the perceived link between elitism and sustainable living (including eating and shopping locally) stems from our consumer culture. It's easy for us to think of ourselves as simple, reasonable folks making decisions that jive with our views of the world, but the knowledge and abilities we have aren't necessarily common or even "common sense" to many in today's world. There is a huge amount of knowledge relating to food that the average person doesn't know (or care to know) and doesn't have to know because other people are happy to grow food for you (for a small fee). To invest time and energy to gain specific skills, like gardening, aren't necessary or possible for many folks, especially in the city where productive green spaces are somewhat scarce. To invest time and energy to make a beautiful meal from scratch using fresh, local ingredients isn't reasonable or economical for many folks either.

So: bridging the gap between our happy little co-op world where eating the way we do is possible because we make it work in our own ways and the world where people choose foods based on their wallets, not based on their impact on their bodies or other people or the environment. Is it possible? Yes, I think. Is it going to happen because we do this challenge? Not 100%, but primarily because there will always be people who don't want to know, who want the most bang for their buck, who don't find value in the things we find value in. And that's ok. I watched a friend eat an Arby's sandwich the other day, and I wished I could unknow what I know for just a minute and eat one too. But really, I'm glad I can't.

I'll leave you with a few non-fast food meals that have crossed my plate in the past week:

Risotto with mushrooms (not local) with freshly shelled peas and young onions (backyard local) = 25% (not my best work, but extra credit for weeding)

"Coleslaw" which started out as shredded broccoli stems (the tops went into stir fry) and kohlrabi (both backyard local) plus carrots and onions (not local) and quickly accumulated buddy beans from the deli (quasi-local, mostly just free) and walnuts (from Bergin) and the remainder of that feta cheese from Wisconsin from a few recipes back and topped off with some apple cider vinegar and olive oil (not local) = 90% due primarily to the absurd quantity of kohlrabi we grew accidentally because the seedlings look just like broccoli...

The Cycle of... Soup?

Oh, dear. I feel a soup coming on...

As I've mentioned, one of the things I've been honing as I eat my way through the Challenge is my ability to utilize various leftovers. I have a tendency to buy food for meals without much (or at least without enough) thought given to what I might do with the remainders. As a result, I've historically wasted ungodly amounts of food. But without the option of cheap Chinese take-out, or pizza, when I realize that the bits & pieces in my 'fridge are past saving, I've had to really start thinking more long-term. Not to mention that, while I'm finding that eating locally is fairly affordable (at least for fairly minimal me, on a fairly minimal budget), it isn't exactly free. How can I stretch the ol' dollar?

One result, as I've displayed over & over again, is omelets, omelets, omelets. Another is soup.

Barley, potato & tomato soup, with Canadian bacon,
green garlic & mushrooms

Those who know & work with me are probably aware that soup is my so-called thing. It's probably, hands-down, my favorite thing to cook. This one is the offspring of my delicious pork country rib, turnip & tomato experiment. I had to make a stock to braise the pork & complete the tomato-flavored sauce, so I figured, "Why make a little stock, when I can make a lot of stock?" With this in mind, I made sure to obtain some bulk barley & extra potatoes for a later recycling into soup. I happened to have some white mushrooms that were teetering on the edge of slimesville, so into the soup they went, as well. Also on hand (& nearing the end of their useful life) were some scraps of Canadian bacon. All told, I managed to efficiently re-use the varied components of something like 4 separate meals, all in one dish. Locally made A Toast to Bread "petit petit pains" (aka "small, small breads"?) completed the picture. Gotta sop the soup, after all.

A later visit to pork-land left me with a goodly amount of mashed parsnips & potatoes. I was simultaneously sitting on a piece or two of rapidly "aging" cheese, & some milk that needed a home, sooner than later. My direction seemed clear. Or, rather, creamy:

Cream of parsnip & potato soup, with crispy bacon,
cheddar & gruyere cheese, & purple onion

This was a pretty tasty result, as well, especially with the addition of those gorgeous purple-tinged green onions that have started making the rounds. Just throwing a few slivers on top as a garnish took the soup to a higher plane.

I know, I know, there's a whole lot of bacon being thrown around here, & neither of these examples are exactly ideally suited to the dog-days of summer. The point is, soup is by nature virtually limitless in its possibilities, economical, & amazingly simple. Why, one could almost define it as a "free lunch".

& having recently spotted local cucumbers in the produce section, I know it's only a short while before we're all guzzling that highlight of summertime... Gazpacho!

-nano out.

Mid-July and the eatin' is good

Strange how my fervor for eating local has suddenly kicked into overdrive. I figured it was time to get serious...and not to mention more local produce is in season! I'll admit that there are times when I'm so ravenous and broke that I really can't discriminate between local and non-local, but as Liz pointed out I'm more conscious of what I eat now and where it comes from.Since last fall I have been waiting for berries to be in season so that I could participate in an activity that I had not in my 23 (and 11/12ths) years ever participated in: large scale strawberry picking. I say "large scale" because I have gathered berries from my community gardens little patch, but that was just a had full. Never before had I picked 8 pounds of strawberries! A friend of mine went with and with our two boxes lined up the backseat of the car looked simply delicious!
While picking the berries was fun, it doesn't compare how great it is to make tasty treats with them. The same night I made strawberry daiquiris with the fruits of my labor. I cut up about this much:
(Looks like about 2 cups)
I blended the fresh berries with 1-2 cups of lemonade, a certain amount of vodka, and a couple of cups of ice. You could of course make this virgin for all the kiddos or teetotalers out there.

Yesterday I thawed out some of the berries I froze (about 2 cups) and made a delicious local shake with Cedar Summit Farm's vanilla ice cream (1-2 cups) and milk (~3/4 cup). It made enough to fill two tall glasses with a delicious dairy beverage for two thirsty ladies.
I still have berries left but oh how that stash is dwindling. It hurts to see it disappear but I know the berries will be back next year (and their seasonality only serves to make them more scrumptious and desirable the next time around).

The past couple of weekends I've made it a mission to go down to the local farmer's market to scout out the haps on fresh produce. This weekend I hit the local produce jackpot.
I gobbled one tomato down all by itself and I relished for the first time this summer that delicious fresh picked tomato flavor which cannot be packaged or preserved. Then I took a bit (or most) of the other veggies and chopped them up; tossed them with olive oil (unfortunately not local, but you could use local butter as a substitute), salt, pepper, and thyme (wasn't local, but can be procured locally via my garden or the farmer's market). Then we spread them on a pan and baked them at 375 for 40 (or so) minutes.We had the veggies with fish but they could easily be paired with a local meat product, wild rice or on their own. Mmm!

That's all I have for now, but I plan to be bringing in more pictures and stories soon. My tomato plants have lovely tomatoes that are growing ever bigger by the day and as soon as they've turned red I'll post pictures of them (and perhaps me ravenously consuming them, with juice splattered all over my face and all!).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eat Local Newbies Enter the Race!

The TaterTot Lovers have made it through their first week of a mostly local diet, and so far so good! Breakfasts have been hard for us. I get up REALLY early most days, so fast and convenient is my norm. My wife gets up a couple hours later but doesn’t generally leave herself a lot of time for breakfast. Even if I did have time my options are limited because I don’t eat eggs. My breakfasts have been mostly Nature’s Hand Granola.
My lunches are comprised of leftovers from dinner the night before or sun-butter sandwiches. Ho Hum but okay.
For dinners we’ve gotten quite lucky. I make a wicked Cauliflower Bacon Salad. Since we didn’t have local cauliflower last week I doubled the broccoli, changed out parsnips for carrots, and used that thick Farm on Wheels Bacon. It wasn’t the same, but we ate it all.
We’ve had a lot of salads, courtesy of the fresh greens at the farmers market. Kohlrabi sliced thin is an excellent addition to a salad. The Salad Girl dressings are quite nice too, but my wife is skeptical of flavors like “blueberry maple” and “pomegranate pear”.
I prepared a bunch of local chicken and shredded it. We’ve used it on the salads, but one night I grabbed sautéed a couple handfuls with green garlic and spring onions, and then added a half cup of Salsa Lisa. Once it all cooked down a little it made for great tacos.
Our big success was Pizza on the Grill. We might just have Pizza every night of this challenge. We used Swany White Flour and Ames Farm Honey in the dough and I made enough for 4 pizzas. In the humid heat the dough doubled in 20 minutes.

We started the coals and when they were white we moved them to one side of the grill. Inside we rolled out the flour in cornmeal. We did it by hand and our pizza came out rectangular. We oiled it up (If local olive oil was available we would have used it) and put it on the side of the grill opposite the coals. We put the lid on for 4 minutes, rotated the crust 180 degrees, and cooked it for another 3 minutes. We then took it inside and flipped it over so the grilled side was up.

We added more oil, yellow hydroponic tomatoes, fresh basil, green garlic, and local mozzarella cheese. It only needed 4 or 5 minutes longer on the grill to become golden and delicious.