Sunday, June 29, 2008

Local: Not just for humans

Billie Cat is no newcomer to eating local. He's been chasing local ants and enjoying free-range basement mice for years. But Billie's favorite local delicacy is catnip. Three years ago I planted some catnip in the corner of our garden for Billie. As soon as he discovered it, he rubbed his [large] body over the plant until it was dead. The next year it came back and he did the same thing. This year I planted a ton of catnip so that he would have plenty and it has taken over the chard's space. So what does Billie do when I weed out his catnip?
He rubs himself all over the ground.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Well, I haven't been tracking my local consumption very religiously but I'm fairly sure that I've been eating more local things. My dinners have consisted mainly of local or free things, with a sprinkling of non-local/bought things.

I had a mini-discussion with Liz about non-local/questionable things that are free. We both agree that it's okay to include free things in with the eating local thing. We also coined a term for it: FROCAL (free and local, duh).

So if you see that term in my blogs in the future, you'll know what that means.

Also, yesterday I made an 80% local salad, with the main components of the salad being the first harvests of my lettuce crop and strawberries from the community garden patch.

When I have a 100% local salad I'll take a picture.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Local Pops

Nothing is better than a popsicle on a warm summer day. Especially when it's a pretty darn local popsicle!
These pops are made with some unsweetened soy yogurt (I used Wildwood brand), strawberries from the backyard, and maple syrup from Wisconsin. Sure, they got a little more ice-crystally than commercial popsicles, but no store-bought popsicle can beat homegrown strawberry flavor. The kids (and I) gobbled these up in no time. Next I promised them some decidedly non-local peanut butter popsicles...but who knows what it'll be after that! I can't wait to make some Door County cherry popsicles!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mayo Clinic

I said I was going to start making my own mayonnaise, & I'm a man of my word:

Please note the absurdly yellow color. It isn't from the smidgen of mustard, my friends. That's the hue of Larry Schultz's awesome organic eggs, in all their Technicolor glory.

I thought it might be nice to describe the process, in case anyone else wanted to add (somewhat) local mayo to their arsenal. I don't tend to write down what I'm doing as I cook, but here's a basic recipe that can be tweaked to suit one's individual taste:

Basic Fresh Mayonnaise:

3 Schultz organic egg yolks (that's the local part)
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard, or to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
Extra Virgin olive oil, or preferred high-quality oil (I'm not sure how much I ended up using, honestly)

Makes about 1/2 cup.

Naturally, many different ingredients can be used to make the mayonnaise more uniquely suited to it's intended use, from capers to chipotle peppers.

After separating the yolks from the whites, place them in a small food processor bowl, along with all the ingredients except the olive oil. Of course the truly hardcore are welcome to whisk this up by hand, I suppose, & if handled properly, a good blender would also do the trick. Pulse the processor blade in short bursts until the ingredients are smoothly combined. Then, pulsing in longer bursts at full speed (if possible- mine doesn't allow this function), add the oil in the thinnest possible trickle. Whenever the blades are stopped, the oil should not be added further until motion is resumed.

Something to watch out for while doing all this is that some food processors accumulate heat either from the friction of the blades in the bowl or from the motor. This can sometimes actually cook the egg yolks, causing them to clump up & ruin the mayo. This is the reason I suggest pulsing the blades instead of running them full-out the whole time.

After a short time, the emulsion will start thickening & smacking wetly against the side of the bowl. Continue running the processor & adding more oil until the desired thickness is reached.

After the mayonnaise is done, use whatever you can, right away. This isn't the store bought pasteurized stuff, after all, & even though it will keep for a reasonable amount of time if it's well covered & refrigerated, homemade mayo is basically just raw egg yolks & oil.

Yeah, at the end of the day I know it's not much more local than any other mayonnaise, but it makes me feel better. Also, it's just gorgeous to look at.

-nano out.

Local Leftovers: An Omelet Solution

One of the problems I run into as a single person who, Local Challenge or not, cooks the majority of my own meals from scratch (& tends not to plan ahead), is that of leftovers. Scraps of bacon, the odd half an onion forgotten in the back of the Fridge, slowly mummifying mushrooms, all these unused remainders of former meals weigh on my mind. They also take up valuable storage space, better used for the fresh ingredients of my next few local meals.

One excellent solution is soup (which I'll post on sometime soon). Another is the versatile omelet.

Omelets are good at any time of day, but they naturally shine at breakfast or brunch. They make it much easier to eat locally in the morning because it's assured that the ingredients are really local (after all, one picks them out oneself for that purpose), unlike trying to determine the locality of "local" granola (somehow I doubt that the coconut is from around these parts). Further, they make eating local more affordable.

This specimen features Schultz's organic eggs (MN), Pastures uncured bacon (MN), organic white mushrooms (MN), organic green garlic (WI), & Grand Cru Gruyere (WI). The English muffins, while definitely not local (but definitely leftover), are spread with Hope Creamery butter (MN) & Red Lake Nation chokeberry jelly (MN).

Here's a more substantial example, with the addition of local hydroponic tomatoes (red & yellow, MN) & not-really-Fancy Brand sharp cheddar, as well as the last heel of the local bread I picked up during the pizza farm excursion:

Both of these omelets took around 30 minutes to prepare, what with all the chopping & grating, but the time could be reduced if the leftover ingredients were dealt with at the time of being left over, or otherwise prepared in advance. Even so, I reserve my omelet eating for my days off, as it's so tempting to just lie around contentedly afterwards.

-nano out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Went to the Magical Pizza Farm! Nyah Nyah!

This past Tuesday, a friend let me in on a little secret. There's this farm in Wisconsin that serves pizza featuring their own home-grown ingredients. It's not exactly a real secret (clues can be found online), but the operation is basically word-of-mouth, with no advertising.

After more than an hour's drive through hilly country, with the final stretch consisting of graveled rural roads, we came to the farm itself. The below-the-radar policy was understandable; cars belonging to hardcore fans filled both sides of the road for some distance. Depending on the time of year, the farm serves pizzas to about 200 people, once a week, in the course of just a few hours.

After consulting the menu board, we placed our orders. Not all of the options were 100% local (my pizza had olives, which unless I'm mistaken are rarely found in this part of the Midwest), but certainly enough of them came straight from the farm to make this a local meal. The proprietors make their own meats, including a pretty good sausage & a very tasty pepperoni, & it looked like the fresh mozzarella was made on site as well. Many vegetable toppings were canned from the previous season. The homemade pies are baked in two wood-fired ovens, as they should be.

After a roughly 20 minute wait, we got our pizzas & dug in. Please note the fully decorated table, complete with freshly dry-cleaned tablecloth & candelabra, in the background. Some people take this place very seriously.

Many people we spoke to had been coming here for years, passing the tradition to trusted friends one at a time. Along with families of all ages, there were not one, but two separate groups of "Red Hat Ladies" (& if you are unfamiliar with this subculture, I really can't explain it in the context of this post). Sadly, no rumble ensued between the factions. Perhaps the pizza acted as a pacifying influence.

Ah, yes, the pizza. Not bad at all, although, if removed from it's setting, I might have found it about average. I think part of the enjoyment of the pizza stems from the difficulty of obtaining the pizza in the first place, as well as the knowledge of the year-round hard work spent in creating it. Sort of like how the meal at the end of the first day of a hiking trip is the best damn meal in the world, despite (& perhaps because of) the sand & bark mixed in. No grit in the pizzas, mind you, but there were quite a few farm-cats who really, really wanted to be our friends.

All told, a truly awesome, magical & unique local eating experience. Even better, there was enough leftover pizza to snack on for days (still working on it). The farm also sells actual local bread featuring the following ingredients; "Stockholm wheat flour, fresh ground corn, sea salt". That's it, other than (one assumes) starter, & everything but the salt grown on the farm. Sweet!

-nano out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Casual localvore

My entrance into this challenge has been a bit of a slow meander (in comparison to Liz's full sprint). There is an ever constant prompting in the back of my mind to buy/eat local. I'm finding that my motivation is a bit off--especially considering the lack of local produce to choose from at this time of year.

So far I am regularly buying (when I actually buy food) local cheeses and eggs. I also bought local corn tortillas when I made tostadas a week or so ago. And if we are considering buddies (or other free food stuff) as local, then I'm not doing too bad in the produce department either. I have also purchased asparagus from the farmer's market for two weekends in a row and it has been delicious.

So my experience so far has been gradual but good. Any local produce I've had has been spectacular (especially the strawberries from the patch at my community garden!). There's nothing quite like knowing that the fruits or veggies you are about to consume or have just consumed were still growing just a few hours ago. As the summer progresses this challenge is going to be easy as pie. Now for figuring out what to do in the interim.

I've been growing a garden too! I anxiously await the time when I can have my own fresh tomatoes and peppers. Right now my herbs, especially my cilantro, is out of control. So much so that I picked a nice bunch today:There will be no shortage of flavor in my dishes this season!
The rest of the garden is coming along nicely. I should be able to harvest some lettuce in the next couple of weeks and one of my hot banana pepper plants is flowering. I'm impatient right now but I know good things with come to those who wait.

In the meantime, I'll keep chugging along with the challenge. I think I can, I think I can...

My salad is better than your salad, and other snobby thoughts

Is it possible that I've become more of a food snob than ever? I've long been a label-reader, a shunner of artificial additives, and a turner-down of conventional produce. But now, with the local requirement on top of my existing litany of requirements... my snobbiness is larger than ever.

These last few days I've been attending a Sustainability Summit put on by the Food Marketing Institute. Now you'd think there would be some awesome sustainable food at this event (I certainly had my hopes up), but alas, there have been Fritos, Pepsi, and cinnamon buns at nearly every meal. Today I was pleasantly surprised to have a vegan salad (they added cheese to others) and hummus with pita bread. While these options are probably not organic and of questionable quality, I would normally load up my plate because at least the ingredients are relatively simple and visible for these foods. But no...

I unpacked my backpack filled with containers of greens, radishes, and strawberries from my garden, baked tofu, and homemade salad dressing. I'm quite confident that my salad tasted better than the mass-produced one and was undoubtedly fresher and more nutritious. I know exactly how it was grown and I'm sure my salad's carbon footprint was more like a thumbprint.
But I couldn't help but feel a bit snobby as my table-mates watched me pass up one salad for another.

Has anyone else felt a little weird about passing up non-local food, especially when dining with others?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Holy Buckets, That's A Good Burger.

I am a huge fan of Thousand Hills Cattle Co. The concept of 100% grass-fed beef was unknown to me until I started selling meat for a living, but now I honestly have a certain amount of trouble eating any beef I know to have been finished on grains (especially conventional corn-fed). I have to psych myself up, & even then the "normal" taste seems "off" to my adjusted taste-buds. What really clinched the deal for me was attending a tour of their operation a couple of years ago. There's much to praise about the grass-feeding system of cattle raising, touching on issues ranging from animal well-being to environmental benefits. But right now, I want to talk about hamburgers.

Look at that. Oh gawd. I guess I'll take a moment to apologize to my fellow challenge participants who are of the Vegan/Lacto-Veg contingent. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but just look at those beautiful hamburgers. Seriously, I want to go back in time & eat them all over again.

This meal took about an hour to prepare. I used MN-grown red potatoes for the fries (non-local canola oil for the frying). The buns are from Saint Agnes Baking Company, which while not my favorite local bread (Rustica & A Toast To top my list), do seem to contain the highest percentage of local ingredients
.* They also happen to be perfectly acceptable hamburger buns.

Here are the all the eventual hamburger parts, previous to assembly. The local buns (MN) spread with local Hope Creamery (MN) butter for browning, the local Pastures Aplenty (MN) uncured bacon, a tuft of Dragsmith Farms (WI) micro-greens, & peeking out from under some paper towel, that titan among local cheeses, Roth Kase Grand Cru Surchoix Gruyere (WI). Oh, & crazy ripe hydro tomatoes (MN). The patties include Thousand Hills ground beef (MN), some kosher salt & cracked pepper, & the ubiquitous green garlic. Some hamburger purists might scoff at these patty additives, but I'm not listening.

Grass-fed beef is very lean, so when gently pan-searing them, one has to lubricate the pan with some sort of shortening agent. I knew I was going to use up most of my non-local allowance with the frying oil, so I was forced to use some leftover bacon drippings. Oh, shucks, right?

I must cop to also spreading both a little mayo (I hope to make my own with local eggs, when I have the spare time), & a dab of mustard on the buns. By volume, I'd say this meal weighed in at well above 80% local, though. One thing I found interesting was the effect of the micro-greens on the flavor of the burgers. Because of the random mixture of greens, each bite was unique. Pretty neat.

-nano out.

* According to the research done by Liz (& Dave?), who should consider making a post out of the findings (hint, hint).

Unintended Side-Effects!

When I began the process of more consciously eating locally, I imagined that there would be several hurdles to overcome. I had considered the potential difficulty & frustration surrounding finding the right ingredients, or their analogues. I had realized that I wouldn't be able to snack much at work (free leftovers make up an alarming ratio of my daily food consumption). As I've mentioned, I prepared to spend more on my food in general. Actually cooking the food wasn't such a big deal; I'd been a long-time professional cook, previous to working at the Market, & I already cooked about 75% of my own meals at home, mostly from scratch.

However, there's a big difference between 75% & 99%. By cutting out prepared items almost entirely, & without the option to just order in when I don't feel like cooking, I found myself face to face with an old enemy...

I really, really get tired of washing dishes. My first serious kitchen job was as a dishwasher at an Irish-themed pub. I'd get into work in the afternoon to find corned beef encrusted hotel pans stacked 6-7 feet high, & keep going until 2 in the morning. When I'd get home, I'd refuse to do my own dirty dishes, on principle. Sometimes, disgusted friends would wash them for me. More often, they'd just sit & fester, smelling increasingly sinisterly sweet as various molds formed & tiny civilizations rose & fell, until I couldn't take it anymore & furiously washed them. Quite regularly, I'd just throw a bunch of them out.

So, here I am years later, staring at piles of bewitched dishes that reappear as soon as I wash them. Breakfast means a pile of dishes. Lunch, an addition to that pile. Dinner means washing the previous dishes & then dirtying at least half of them before they're even dry.

If there is one thing that derails my attempts to eat locally this Summer, it probably won't be the virtual ban on pasta, nor the allure of a late night meximelt (tm). It will be the tedium of washing all these damn dishes.

-nano out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm Noticing A Trend...

Salsa. I made salsa, too.

We are so screwed.

For my first official local meal, I went with the chorizo sausage nachos. &... salsa.

I've tried a few local chorizo, & so far my favorite is from Beaver Creek Ranch (WI). I would imagine that my recipe for the salsa isn't going to blow any minds; hydro yellow & red vine tomatoes, that green garlic as a substitute for imported onions & garlic (sliced paper thin to cut some of the fibrousness), plentiful amounts of cilantro, with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper & habanero pepper, to taste. Other than the last 3, all the ingredients are from either MN or WI.

The blue corn chips are everybody's favorite, Whole Grain Milling Co. (who get grain contributions from Beaver Creek's fields, as well), & the cheese is Fancy Brand sharp cheddar. I wanted to look further into the cheeses for something a little, well, fancier than Fancy Brand, but I was starving. Maybe I'll try it with Eichten's Gouda, or something else a little less sharp next time.

The whole process took about 40 minutes, & made enough for about 3 solid servings. I think I have mentioned that I was really hungry, but I still have some makings left for another day. I found I could go easy on the non-local salt, because when combined with the pleasantly salty chips, fairly salty chorizo & surprisingly salty tomatoes (a byproduct of hydroponics?), there was just enough. All told, when including the 3 non-local ingredients, plus seasonings in the sausage, I'd put this meal at about 90-95% local.

There are still some uncooked sausages, leftover salsa, local Schultz (MN) organic eggs (deserving of their own post, or twelve), cheese, & Hope Creamery unsalted butter (MN), so I think I know what I'll be having for breakfast soon. I'll have to cheat a little & use up some regular-old english muffins.

In the interest of looking at costs, here's what I paid for my food today:

Org. Eggs $1.56
Green Garlic $1.29
Blue Chips $3.49
Cheese $3.98
Org. Cilantro $1.69
Habanero $.10
Tomato $7.49
Butter $3.79
Chorizo $6.49
TOTAL: $24.94

As a co-op employee, I saved $4.92. If I had been a member, I would have saved approximately $2.46. Had I received no discount, my total would have been $29.96. Not cheap, exactly, but not too bad, for enough food to stretch over at least 6 reasonably sized meals (providing one has other basics already in stock, & providing there's no one else in one's family).

I'll be back soon with something that is not in any way related to salsa.

-nano out.

Lazy Local

It's hard to eat locally when you feel lazy and under the weather. Today I ate hunks of Rustica bread (from Minneapolis) while camping out on the couch with a pounding headache. I didn't really mean to eat the entire loaf, but I was hungry and not in the mood to cook.

So as soon as I started to feel better, though, I knew it was time to actually cook something or else I'd resort to eating the rest of that pint of Oatscreme sitting in my freezer for dinner.

This meal was super simple and really good. And it even looks kinda fancy.

I roasted the potato wedges and seasoned them with salt and pepper. While they were cooking, I wilted the spinach and dressed it in a simple salsa: MN hydroponic tomatoes, green garlic, jalapeƱos from last year's garden, and vinegar. The potatoes surprised me by being so sweet- but they were a great compliment to the bright sourness of the salsa.

The spinach and salsa were so quick and easy that I still had time to lounge on the couch while the potatoes finished cooking. Too bad there aren't any leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Here goes nothin'

So, this little project of ours has been on a back burner for me as I try to eat through the food that currently resides in my kitchen. I've decided that if it's food that otherwise would go to waste, I'll eat it even if it isn't local (buddies, food prepared for me by others) and like someone else already mentioned, I am also considering locally produced foods as local but trying to limit those if there's an acceptable, affordable local substitute. That way I can still have Bergin walnuts and Peace coffee and such.

The produce in my garden isn't quite up yet, but we have been eating some spinach and other green leafy things. Here are some things I'm looking forward to eating straight from my yard: broccoli, tomatoes, peas, beans, carrots, beets, radishes, peppers, potatoes, squash, and a variety of herbs.

I also have the benefit of living blocks from Seward Cafe, where you have to work to get food that isn't 80% local, and also that dreaded competitor of ours, Seward Co-op. This way, I can eat local without using fossil fuels (bus or car) since I'm not quite a real biker like some of our comrades. I also haven't been to my neighborhood's farmer's market yet, but I've heard the Midtown farmer's market is quite wonderful.

I think, for me, this will be an exercise in awareness. Rather than choosing the cheapest option or whatever I'm craving, I hope to come out of this project with an appreciation for where my food comes from, and also an increased ability to make the most of the food I have through planning and creativity.

Some favorite local foods in my kitchen at this very moment: Thousand Hills Grass-fed beef hot dogs (I don't normally eat much meat, but they called out to me), Montchevre goat cheese from Wisconsin, and cute little yellow tomatoes, also from Wisconsin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oh, Wait- We've Started?

When I found out about the Eat Local Challenge, & my chance to participate in an online fashion, I was very excited. As I have become more immersed in the world of local, small scale food, I've developed a nasty habit of arguing with people in online forums regarding the concept.

Unfortunately, I really had very little idea what I was talking about.

While a lack of concrete knowledge isn't really an impediment to "successful" intraweb debate, my gaps in understanding (not to mention experience) made me feel like something of a fraud. So, I couldn't wait to get down to the actual challenge & start learning more about my local sources of food. Except, I didn't get down to the actual challenge right away, & now I'm behind.

Be that as it may...

One question I wanted to answer to my own satisfaction was, is eating local really affordable? I've certainly had no qualms about saying it is, & assuming one lives in an area with a farmers market & one or two natural food stores, it certainly should be. But what if one doesn't have a reliable source of transportation to get to the food (like me)? How much extra time & money would that mean expending just on acquiring the food? I can't just zip down down to the farmers market or out to the farm after work, nor can I stock up on large amounts of bulk staples at once. Further, how much do I rely on my employee discount when shopping at work? Not that I'll be forgoing it, but I'll be keeping an eye on the savings I get & comparing them to what a co-op member or non-member might expect. &, of course, I'm just a single guy, living on a modest income, so I can't determine how feasible such a diet would be for a full-sized family. Hopefully, some of the family-having posters can speak to that.

I personally feel that answering this question is key to the successful promotion of even a moderately local diet, as so many people begin to feel the squeeze from all sides. Whether paying real costs at the gas pump, or real costs for our food, people are feeling torn between making ends meet & "doing the right thing" in ways we haven't been forced to examine before. It will be all too tempting for many who supported local foods when living was cheaper to abandon them for lower prices & convenience.

Anyway, please bear with me as I get up to speed. As I get my bearings in the world of all-local, all-the-time, I'll probably be operating on some sort of hybrid plan. My natural inclination is to get all hard-core about something & then get frustrated, so I'm hoping a more measured approach will work better. &, unless the infrastructure completely collapses, most people who adopt a local-friendly mindset will likely do so for some items & not for others, anyway. Let's be realistic (I'm already in a panic about how to phase out my beloved conventional-corn-syrup-loaded energy drinks). Well, off to research my options...

-nano out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A few of my favorite things

If you've spent more than an hour talking to me, you probably know that condiments are some of my favorite things. Barbecue sauce, vinegar, mustard, salts, spices, hot sauce...I love them all.

But finding local condiments can be challenging. I had mostly given up on local condiments until I found these guys.
From left to right: Silver Spring Organic Dill Mustard from Eau Claire, WI; Zalta Green Garlic Infused Sea Salt from Spring Green, WI; White Wine Vinegar with Thyme from the East Side Garden Corps in Saint Paul, and Renaissance Farm Lemon Basil Infused Olive Oil from Spring Green, WI. I found these at Lakewinds Co-op- except for the vinegar. The vinegar came directly from the Garden Corps (651-228-7073).

My favorite has to be the green garlic sea salt. I know the sea salt isn't really local, but at least it's a local business!

Tonight I made some pizzas for the family. We used the Gluten Free Cooking School's pizza crust recipe with locally grown brown rice flour. Instead of tomato sauce, I used some pesto still in the freezer after last year's basil and garlic harvest. Toppings include green garlic from MN, cherry tomatoes from MN, and cremini mushrooms from WI. I used non-local Vegan Gourmet cheese, but dairy-eaters could easily find a local cheese to use.

The salad is just local lettuce with some ranch dressing. The dressing is made with some homemade soy yogurt (from Organic Valley soymilk- more on the yogurt later) and herbs from the garden. Yum!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A change of perspective

I think the reason I love taking food challenges is because it provides a change of perspective. Most days I eat whatever I crave. If I want tacos and don't have the ingredients at home, I'll just go buy some tortillas, avocados, and salsa and make it happen. I just expect that whatever I want to eat will be available to me.

But when I place rules on what I am "allowed" to eat, I'm forced to rethink my food. And I stop taking it for granted. In only 5 days of eating locally, my thoughts about what to eat have changed. Instead of asking myself, "What do I want to eat", I think "What is there to eat".

While voluntarily taking an Eat Local challenge and choosing to be picky about our foods might be a very privileged action, I think it provides an opportunity to experience how those with less food choices live. Plenty of people in this world don't have choices about what they eat- they eat what is available. Whether taking an Eat Local Challenge or a Food Stamp Challenge, learning to make do with what is available is valuable lesson to learn.

But even with some serious restrictions on what I "can" eat, there are plenty of food choices and privilege in my diet right now.

For lunch I had some great leftover MN-style Sweet and Sour Tofu and this lovely sprout and cucumber salad with homemade hummus. Normally if I wanted a salad I'd pick out some favorite greens and some carrots maybe. I wouldn't usually choose to have a sprout, cucumber, and raw sunflower seed salad- but that's what's local, so I'm very thankful for these veggies (even if they aren't my favorites). For dinner I made a creamy green garlic, cremini mushroom, and yukon gold potato soup.
Creamy Potato and Mushroom Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil (CA)
3 stalks of green garlic (MN), thinly sliced
2 yukon gold potatoes (WI), diced
1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced (WI)
3-4 cups unsweetened Organic Valley soymilk (Midwest region/WI)
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the green garlic and saute until beginning to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add potatoes and mushrooms and stir to combine. Lower heat to low and add the soymilk, just enough to cover. Simmer about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the mushrooms have released their liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

They don't call it a challenge for nothing...

This challenge will be a bit of a--well, challenge because I live on a very tight budget. Perhaps because of that I'll be able to provide some interesting and perhaps useful insights.

Right now my challenge is in the planning stages. I've been trying to decide whether to do the 80% or start off slow with the 50%. I think I'm leaning towards the latter. Most of the produce that I eat currently is the bruised and broken produce that won't be sold and that I don't have to pay for. It cuts down on my personal costs but I'll have to make some sacrifices in this challeng in order to cut down on environmental costs.

My first question in this challenge was how should I measure the 80% or 4 out of 5 things that are local. Should it be by weight, volume, item? I initially thought item for item but that's not practical since a dash of cinnamon is not exactly equal to a head of lettuce. In the end I'm going to use volume to measure my 4 out of 5 (or 1 out of 2) things. That way I can still have a latte: espresso (obviously not local) counts for about 1/4 of the volume of the latte, milk takes up the rest of the space and the milk used at the juice bar, where I work, is local.

I've also put a lot of thought into what is considered local and not local. Must the item be locally grown or just locally processed/produced? I think if I really want to be true to the ideal of eating local, then I'm going to strive to eat locally grown and produced things. That basically eliminated coffee, chocolate, tropical fruits and most spices and teas. It puts into question honey (although, I don't think I'll be a stickler on that), locally produced bread and chips, oils, and some grains and beans.

I can, however, find local eggs, cheese, corn tortillas (is the corn used locally grown, though?), various meats (although, I don't eat red meat), in-season veggies, and wild rice. That's all I have written down so far. I think this list will grown once I actually take my first shopping trip as a local-vore.

While this will be a challenge, I'm up for it. Especially since this year I will be growing some of my own veggies and herbs at my local community garden! I'm excited to share my experience with everyone on this blog too! It should be a fun ride :)


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to do it???

I always tend to make fun of these things and be a bit of a  nay-sayer when it comes to "foodie" passing fads, but I have decided to take the Local Challenge because I truly believe in the importance of keeping it as Local as possible!  I think it is better for not only the environment, but for workers, producers, and consumers, too....So, with that I begin my attempt at rising to the Local Challenge 2008!

Well, luckily, I have always been a "localvore" when it comes to my beers, so, no problems there!  The challenge for me will be adjusting my standard lunch diet of 'grab-n-go' fare such as sandwiches, wraps, chips, etc....Man, I love me some Kettle chips, but they are off the menu!  Today was a pretty easy....Cheese from 'Sconni, some locally made chili w/1000 Hills Grass Fed beef, my coffee was imported by my friends at Peace Coffee....not bad, for me!  The only slip was a bag of buddy Newman's Pretzel sticks with the cheese....

The Local Challenge and the idea of putting my money where my big mouth is also prompted me (along with my wife and our neighbors) to join a CSA for the first time ever!  The Women's Environmental Institute will be, god willing, keeping me in local produce for the season and forcing me into new ideas about my food....Hopefully a farm visit will be in order, too!

Was this a good idea?

So, I made my first shopping trip yesterday to get some local foods. This might be harder than I thought to execute! When I started looking at local foods, I began to realize that even though a product may be locally owned, that doesn't mean that the ingredients are all local.

For example, I can't imagine living life without Salsa Lisa, which is a local company. Just because it's made in the Twin Cities though doesn't mean that the tomatoes or peppers are locally grown--or any ingredient for that matter. So--what to do? I decided that for the purposes of MY Eat Local Challenge, I would allow for locally produced products in my diet. Maybe as I get more adventurous, I will start to cut these things out also.

I also decided that I am going to have to beef up my kitchen appliance collection unless I wanted to spend all my free time cooking. A pressure cooker is the next thing I need. No one wants to spend 3 hours cooking beans when they could be done in 30 minutes with a pressure cooker. Could a yogurt maker or soymilk maker be next? I think I will just see how Liz does with her homemade tofu first before I buy any of these items.

The end result of my shopping trip was this: Whole Grain Milling corn chips, a jar of Salsa Lisa, some Organic Valley Soymilk, Fancy Brand Shredded Cheddar Cheese, Labore Farms lettuce, local mushrooms, Naked Carrot Juice (not local as far as I know anymore), and some HolyLand Hummus. Next time I will dive into the grains in the Bulk aisle, but for now I am happy with my local junk food.

The secret to success?

I think the key to success in this challenge might just be planning ahead. I know there's enough locally grown food available for me to eat very well...but not when I have 30 minutes to pull together a local meal for 4 people and get to a baseball game!

Today's menu started off strongly local and declined into global:
  • Toast from 3rd St. Bakery (Duluth, MN) with leftover potato salad (WI, MN, IA, backyard)
  • Leftover roasted parsnips, beets, and ramps (WI & MN)
  • Leftover beet greens and cremini mushrooms (MN & WI)
  • Leftover barley salad (MN)
  • Country Choice cookies (MN owned)
  • New French Bakery roll (MN owned) and leftover beans with pesto (backyard pesto)
  • Tofu tacos (IA grown soybeans, far away lettuce, taco shells, salsa, onions)
  • Spud puppies (WA)

Here's my lunch box for today filled with leftover barley salad, beet greens, and roasted beets and parsnips. Yum! When I plan ahead, it's easy to eat local!

Monday, June 2, 2008

The first few days

The first few days of this challenge have been...well, challenging. I started off this month with forgetting that it was June and eating a ton of organic grapes for breakfast- Definitely not local! But then I snacked on some homemade chicken-style seitan (a.k.a. wheat meat or mock duck) made from locally grown wheat gluten to kick off my local menu.

I think the hardest part of this local challenge is going to be finding enough variety at this time of year to keep the whole family happy- It will be much easier in August! We've come to expect strawberries in Spring (even if they're usually not ready in MN until Summer) and carrots year round (but we don't have root cellars!).

This Sunday was our dog Hannah's 3rd birthday and the kids really wanted to have a party for her. So the boys helped me bake a little "canine cake" for her (recipe is in My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky) out of locally grown flour. For dinner I wanted to make something that the whole family would love and would meet my local criteria. We had some Wisconsin red potatoes, local ramps (wild leeks), chives from the garden, Gedney pickles from right here in Minnesota and Wildwood plain soy yogurt that is made from Iowa grown soybeans that became a potato salad. I pressure cooked some barley from Whole Grain Milling Co. in Welcome, Minnesota and mixed it with some cherry tomatoes and basil both from Living Waters hydroponic farm in Minnesota. A little umeboshi plum vinegar and flax oil made a great dressing for a cold barley salad.

{I should insert here that I can find no vegan fats that are locally produced except sunflower seeds, so I'll continue to use flax and olive oils. Little condiments like salt, pepper, and spices will stay, too, because I can't imagine they make up too much of a percentage of my diet by weight. When possible I'll use fresh local herbs, though.}

I thought that my cannellini beans were local, so I cooked those up in the pressure cooker with some homemade garden pesto left in the freezer from last year...but alas, those beans are not locally grown. The black beans, chickpeas, split peas, soybeans, and many others are, though.

Here's a picture of the potato salad and barley salad:

Everyone ended up loving it! And Hannah loved her cake, of course. We had enough of these salads left over for me to have them for lunch today.

So here was my menu for today:
  • Steel cut oats (Welcome, MN) with SunButter sunflower seed butter (Fargo, ND) and maple syrup (Cumberland, WI)
  • Leftover potato salad (WI, MN, IA, backyard)
  • Leftover barley salad (MN)
  • Leftover cannellini beans with pesto (far away beans, with backyard pesto)
  • Corn chips (MN)
  • Roasted parsnips, beets, and ramps (WI & MN)
  • Sauteed beet greens with crimini mushrooms (MN & WI)
Not bad!