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.

Hardcore local

Read Nano's previous post to find out where I'm coming from with this one. After he brought up the idea of elitist local eating, I just had to share what I've been thinking about lately. I think it's connected...or maybe just a scary glimpse into my psyche.

I've had to take a lesson from my yoga teacher and try to let go of my attachment to this Eat Local Challenge. It's easy to get down on myself when I feast on pistachios, boxed crackers, and Washington cherries while at a music festival (yesterday), but the point of all this isn't to feel guilty- It's to eat amazing food and think about where it comes from. It's to make changes in your life where you can and accept where you can't (can you tell my whole family goes to AA?).

I've found myself watching someone eating an avocado and thinking, "Jeez, doesn't that person know how far that traveled?", like I wouldn't be slathering it over my toast if I weren't doing this challenge. I tend to do this when I'm trying to make a change in my life- I get all snobby about it in my head. I think it's a protective mechanism of sorts, like a way to cheer myself on. "You wouldn't eat an avocado or drink those imported sodas, either, Liz. You would have grown your own raspberries and drunk filtered tap water," the voice in my head says. This method doesn't work so hot, though. Instead, I end up too proud when I eat local and too guilty when I don't. And years of therapy have taught me nothing if not to avoid attaching your self-worth to what you eat.

So I'm trying to let loose a little (this doesn't come naturally to me) and be more forgiving. So what if I was eating out of a cooler yesterday and ate cherries from far away? I did drink Pepin Heights sparkling apple cider, made in Lake City, MN. And I brought along some Holy Land hummus and Whole Grain Milling Co. chips, too. Not 100% local, but not too shabby for a quickly thrown-together picnic.

And today's another day of eating and another chance to work as much local food as possible. It might be 50% or it might be 90%, but I think the point of this challenge is that we're all trying. Our intention is in the right place and we're gaining insight into how we eat, our expectations about food availability, and how challenging it can be to change our habits. So whether it's a fancy-schmancy gourmet meal or a bag of chips, we're doing awesome.

Having everyone's different experiences on this blog is super important and makes it so much more interesting. So don't forget to post, everyone.

E__ly- this means you! We want to see those onions!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lofty-Minded Local (I Just Can't Help It).

As I was leaving work today, I got into a local-blog conversation with fellow Challenge-taker e__ly, who was excitedly telling me about pulling & eating her first onions from her garden. Midway through her description, however, she stopped & said something to the effect of, "...but that's probably not very interesting to someone as hardcore as you..." I protested, & we laughed it off, but this exchange is still bothering me somewhat. Are people getting the wrong impression, here? Am I coming off as some sort of haughty purist who doesn't have time to listen to apparently pedestrian stories of the simple joys of the garden? True, I'm consistently eating above 80%, without too much bother, & I'm loving it quite vocally. But isn't it also true that I wish I'd thought ahead (let alone really desired) to plant my own garden? Isn't it possible that I sometimes regret that my adventures in eating locally are almost entirely of the consumer, rather than producer, variety?

So, in order to reestablish my street cred as a simple, salt-of-the-earth kinda guy, I will now show you a bunch of pretty pictures of totally awesome high-end gourmet meals that I've made recently, like it was no big thing:

Local braised pastured pork country rib with turnip-potato mash,
wilted turnip greens, & tomato veloute

Making & eating this meal was almost enough to make me cry. The flavors were so pure & well-matched that I had to reassure myself that I'd actually made it. It's entirely possible that in my 10-odd years of restaurant work, I rarely came close to creating a plate like this, even with entire walk-ins full of ingredients to play with. Like any pioneer of Electro or Hip Hop music could tell you, sometimes the magic is in the minimalism.

I wasn't sure at first how to work out the percentages on this one, since for the stock I had to use imported celery & carrot (CA), plus Beeler's smoked ham shanks (IA), which fell close to the limit of my personal distance guidelines. But with the revelation that Iowa falls within the Market's definition, combined with the fact that only a fraction of the plated meal actually uses said stock, I'm going to put it at a solid 75%. See, guys? I'm no stick-in-the-mud! Best of all, the leftover stock was very useful in making some great soup, which I'll post on soon.

Local grass-fed beef with mushroom compound butter,
3 cheese potato gratin, & micro greens

Yep, just some down-home steak & potatoes. I didn't grow up eating my steak on the rarer side of medium rare... Well, actually I didn't grow up eating steak at all (well-meaning mothers of the world, take heed). But because I was using the cheapest (& most sensibly small) cut that Thousand Hills offers (Round Tip), it was necessary. Grass-fed beef is so much leaner than conventional that eating it closer to raw than most people deem normal is no big deal. It doesn't have that same bloody, rust-tinged taste that we associate with rare beef, & it makes for a pleasantly tender steak. Due to the fact that after the picture was taken, I chose to drizzle some non-local Cardini's Italian dressing on the greens, I will score this one as 90% local.

Local pan-seared pastured pork loin chop with maple-thyme glaze,
parsnip-potato mash, & red kale with caramelized cippolini onion

I hesitate to claim that this dish was completely incredible, as I was slightly unimpressed with the way the kale behaved while I was preparing it. Apparently, the red-veined variety of kale does not turn vibrantly green & crimson when blanched. At least, not when I blanched it. It still tasted pretty wicked, though. I'm not sure how I'm going to deploy the leftovers from my parsnip mash, but I'm leaning towards making some kind of savory crepe, as I've hypothesized in the past. By the way, if we don't count the vinegar, sea salt & pepper, this one was 100% local.

Removing my tongue from my cheek, & granting that my nose may still appear to be high in the air, I do hope that people understand that I don't want to come off as having any better of a grasp on this Challenge thing than anyone else. Like all of us (when I'm not gleefully showing off, that is), I'm highly likely to be snacking on local chips & homemade salsa in order to put off doing the dishes, or trying futilely to make an 80% local bowl of cereal magically appear through a careful combination of Rice Chex & locally-made granola, in order to avoid getting greasy before work. & by all means, friends, please tell me about your garden escapades; I may not show it, but inside I'm wildly jealous.

Well, not of the weeding, anyway.

-nano out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mulberry Madness!

Every summer our family turns purple. The color stains our hands, clothing, hair, teeth, and the stepping stones in our berry patch. The color remains in the cracks in our cuticles for days and never really comes out of our clothing, but we've come to accept the purple spots as the one drawback to having a very productive mulberry tree.

Before moving to this house, none of us had eaten mulberries before. All we saw was a little tree shading the overgrown area we planned to turn into a berry patch. After clearing the land, mulching, and planting blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, we left the little tree for another project. We planned to take it down.

Imagine our surprise when that little tree seemed to sprout fat, juicy berries overnight! From that day on, we've been mulberry harvesters, mulberry jam-makers, mulberry-juice-drinkers, and mulberry-pie-bakers. It's true that the little pseudo-berries don't have a ton of flavor on their own. They do, however, have plenty of sweetness and juiciness.

They pair well with tart rhubarb in a pie and are so colorful when juiced & paired with maple syrup to sweeten lemonade. Lately, I've been baking with mulberries and oats for hardy treats. This week it was Sunny Mulberry Oat muffins and Mulberry Oat bars.

Mulberry Oat Bars

*Modified from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's Raspberry Oatmeal Bars from The Joy of Vegan Baking to be wheat free, use of lots of mulberries, and not need pre-made jam.

3 cups mulberries, freshly picked
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup oat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 cup Earth Balance or butter

Wash the mulberries. There's no need to remove the stems. In a small saucepan, heat the mulberries and maple syrup until simmering (the juice will be released from the mulberries). Using a potato masher or fork, mash the berries until there are no whole berries remaining, but the mixture is still chunky. In a separate bowl, mix the water and cornstarch to form a slurry. Stir the cornstarch slurry into the mulberries and stir to combine. Turn heat to low and stir frequently for about 5-10 minutes, or until thickened to a jam-like consistency. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 8"X8" square glass baking dish. In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, oats, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt. Add the Earth Balance or butter and rub the mixture together until it forms a crumbly consistency. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the mulberry jam over the oat crust. Top with remaining oat crumbles and bake for 30-35 minutes. The bars will cut best if you allow them to fully cool first.
*Note: If you don't have oat flour, you could also use rice flour. Or you could use a food processor to whiz rolled oats into oat flour. Or you could use wheat flour instead of oat flour, and omit the xanthan gum. I'd like to try it with cornmeal!

By the way, I still sing the little nursery rhyme:

All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun.
Pop! goes the weasel.

in my head when I pick mulberries.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'll have the "tuna" melt

These are the kind of meals that are meant to be eaten outside in the shade on a beautiful sunny day. I just don't think they'd be the same indoors.

First up is a Chickpea Melt. You can make this exactly as you would a tuna melt, only soak, cook, chill, and mash some chickpeas to use instead of tuna. The chickpeas are locally grown, you see, and tuna is not. So even if you're not usually a veg-type person, this is a great substitute. This chickpea salad has chopped pickles (sweet & spicy freezer pickles I made with last year's harvest), grated baby onions, and fresh dill. Non-local ingredients include lemon juice, kelp powder (for iodine and that "fishy" taste), and Veganaise. If you're down with eggs, though, you should make Nano's mayo.

I used 3rd Street Bakery bread, Living Waters hydroponic tomatoes, and non-local Vegan Gourmet cheese in the assembly of these open-faced sandwiches. The best part is that I could broil these in my toaster oven, so the house stayed nice and cool!

The house did not stay nice and cool when I made these, but it was SO worth it.

These are Sunflower Sage rolls, recipe taken and modified from the Moosewood New Classics recipe for Three Seed Whole Wheat Rolls. I chopped 7 or 8 sage leaves from the herb garden into these babies and the flavor really came through. The sunflower seeds give them a great crunch. But really nothing beats the chewy whole wheat insides.

I paired my lunch roll (as opposed to my after-lunch roll and before dinner roll...) with a homegrown salad. I just got my first cucumber and little broccoli head from the garden, so I paired them with my lettuce that is quickly growing bitter, more hydroponic tomatoes, and leftover Chickpea Salad. And I topped it with ranch dressing, of course.

Back on the Brunch Shift, Or, A Pancake With Promise.

Back when I was a full-time professional kitchen monkey, I worked many a brunch shift. Unless one is being hired in at the top of the kitchen hierarchy, it's common for an employer to try a new employee out by giving them brunch duty. It's a good way to size the new hire up, check out their speed & precision, & determine their dependability. After all, if the new guy can consistently make it into work early Sunday morning, ready to go, after being out all Saturday night partying...

Somehow, I was able to do this alarmingly well (probably because I just kept partying, with maybe a brief nap, right up until it was time to get to work), & I often found myself in danger of being stuck making gussied-up home-fries & omelets indefinitely.

That lifestyle is now well behind me, but I still find myself cooking & eating breakfast at all times of the day. As I've mentioned in a previous post, brunch-type dishes are great ways to use up leftovers from other local-eating endeavors. Part of this stems from the brunch concept itself; the ability to use ingredients in a breakfast dish that usually would be used for meals later in the day, but another reason is that it allows the cook a more leisurely pace to work at & prepare more time-consuming components.

Take this, for example:

Local chorizo & potato omelet, with Widmer one-year cheddar, Miereke's gouda, & two-tone salsa.

I don't know about you, but I would never be able to make time for this sort of meal, while simultaneously trying to get out the door to work. It's straight-up day off fare, my friends.

Something considerably quicker is local buckwheat pancakes, provided that the batter is made the night before (which is, in fact, recommended by the pancake experts). The beauty of these pancakes is that they can serve in their normal capacity as a solid, energy-packed breakfast food, but by thinning the batter they can be made as crepes. This allows them to accommodate any number of garnishes & additions & be served 24 hours a day.

Local buckwheat-mulberry pancakes, with maple syrup.

I unfortunately used up all my batter gorging myself on regular pancakes, so I'll have to wait for my next batch to play around with crepe combinations. I kind of forgot to get buttermilk, too, so these pancakes were a little less fluffy than they could have been, but I was already expecting a heartier version based on memories of childhood buckwheat 'cakes. Another neat thing about this general recipe is that it can be adjusted to be gluten-free, for those with an adverse reaction.

Okay, it's early in the afternoon on a Sunday, & I'm starving. Time to get to work...

-nano out.

A tip o' the nano-hat to Nora & her next-door neighbor (who, knowingly or unknowingly, provided the delicious mulberries).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just A Little Sumpthin' for the Veg-heads...

Often, when I'm arguing with anonymous people on internet forums about the concept of sustainable, non-industrial meat production, I like to key in on the idea that Americans do indeed eat too much meat. It's true, we are a meat-happy country. People from other cultures are often appalled by how much (& how often) meat is consumed in a typical American's day. As part of my defense of the sort of small, humane producers I do business with, I'll often stress that a key part of reforming (or even eventually eliminating) the undeniably awful large-scale meat industry is for people to eat less meat in general. We need to reduce meat from the center of nearly every meal, I'll say. It needs to be used more often as a flavoring agent or condiment, & less often as the main attraction, I'll stress, aping Pollan. If we all make an effort to do this, I'll opine, then a patchwork of smaller, more ecologically & humanely operated farms can supply a greater portion of our nation's meat fix.

In my mind, this is the best way (outside of the unlikely event of mass Vegan conversion) to solve the obscenity that we call industrial meat.

The only problem with my argument is that I do a fairly crappy job of actually practicing it.

I eat meat at least once a day, although perhaps not in the same proportions as many Americans do. & I more often than not make my meat the focus of the meal, as anyone can observe just from reading my posts on this blog. & if there's anything in this world that consistently gets me heated... it's hypocrisy.

The other night, my unwillingness to truly practice what I preach was really getting to me, so I whipped up a relatively rare vegetarian dinner with some leftovers;

Local zucchini & yellow squash cakes, served with a tomato, thyme & white mushroom ragout.

Honestly, this recipe needs some tweaking. I was pressed for time & short on ingredients, so the cakes didn't turn out quite as I imagined them. Despite expressing what I thought was the bulk of the water in the shredded vegetables, the cakes were still pretty wet when they hit the skillet & they needed more breadcrumbs than I was able to toast up, so they didn't cook up as pleasantly browned & firm as I'd hoped. The ragout was awesome though. Through the magic of food science, it almost had the taste of the wine I would have added, had I been in the habit of keeping wine in the house. & disregarding my disappointment with the texture of the cakes, all the flavors worked together very nicely. The dish wasn't suitable for Vegans (as it contained eggs, milk & a little butter), but it was a great change of pace for me. Not to mention that it was virtually 100% local.

I doubt I'll change my omnivorous ways as a result of taking the Challenge, but I hope to do more of this meat-free cooking in the months to come. The meat case I preside over at work is a great place to find local foods & it will continue to provide me with many meals & ideas for meals. That's not even a question for me. But if I can alter the ratio of meat-based meals in favor of meat-accented or meat-free meals, I'll be just fine with that.

-nano out.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Would You Like Your Receipt?"

...Um, yes. Yes, I would like my receipt, actually.

It's been a bit of an adjustment for me to remember to keep my receipts, let alone keep track of them. A little over a month ago I promised I'd keep the intrawebs appraised of my eating-local costs. I did my best to compile my receipts, so while this summary won't include such nebulous items as time & energy, it will at least be a fairly accurate snapshot of a poor-ish, young-ish single guy (with somewhat expensive tastes) trying to eat 80% local in the month of June, 2008. Obviously, someone with a family to feed, or more skill at buying in bulk, or better farm connections is going to have a different cost-to-benefit ratio. & again, it would be great if someone with a more complex living situation or buying approach would tackle this topic too. I doubt I'm really representative of the average natural-foods consumer.

Here is what I spent on local food & local food related items in June at the Market:


If I wasn't the happy recipient of an employee discount (-
$59.39), my total would have been more like $266.57, for a co-op member, & $296.26 for a non-member.

It should be noted that I didn't eat out at all, besides the Magical Mystery Pizza-Farm Excursion & the occasional morsel that someone else treated me to. In other words, the above total is essentially the cost of nearly every bite of food I've had in a month. Also, while this estimate includes various non-food items (such as a pitcher to steep larger quantities of my coffee/energy-drink replacement) purchased through the Market, it doesn't include other Challenge-related purchases (such as a cast-iron griddle, or a large set of plastic storage containers) made at other stores. Further, I tried to avoid free stuff from work (& no, I didn't cut myself any special deals on meat, either), other than a couple of loaves of locally-made bread. Well, I must cop to snacking on a few leftover Deli scraps, from time to time. I mean, seriously, they're just sitting right there! Overall, though, I've been pretty strict with myself in that area.

Other things aren't being factored in here, either. Things like the large tub of mulberries that a certain thoughtful Health & Beauty Counter-person kindly picked for me, or various bits I cleaned out of my freezer. My overall goal in the first phase of the Eat Local Challenge has been to get an idea of what the costs of eating local without having my own garden or having a lot of free/barter connections in place would be. As time goes on & the growing season continues, I'll be taking more advantage of such money-saving & community-building options, I assure you.

Yes, that is a hint to those of you who do have gardens.

All things considered, I find myself to be fairly pleased with my first official 80% local month, both cost-wise & otherwise. I've been learning a lot, stretching myself in the kitchen somewhat, & finding ways to economize. Not bad for a guy who generally buys food on a French-style "what do I want to eat tonight?" sort of basis!

-nano out


It seems I have done it.

Last night for dinner I cooked up some beans that had been hanging out in my cupboard for a while and I'm pretty sure everything I added was local (with the exception of a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt...)

Starting with our bulk department's 10-bean blend, I added Holy Land cucumber sauce (local business, but probably not locally sourced, eh?), feta cheese and tomatoes from Wisconsin, and fresh broccoli and kale from my garden. Served cold with butter lettuce (also from my garden) it turned out to be a simple, fresh tasting meal. Dessert was a handful of raspberries, bravely collected by Ms. N from the bushes in the backyard. Plus, I made enough to last for a few meals, so I can take my time scheming about what to make next! Now I just need to track down a bottle of good local wine...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back on track

I feel like I've been off track from my local challenge for the last few days. Sure, I've been able to pull off a local lunch everyday (I can always count on salad!), but breakfast and dinner have been tougher than usual- Probably just because we've been busy and I haven't planned ahead as much.

It started with a bite of chocolate here and a handful of almonds there. Then my sweetie knew I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday and knew that I wanted some Banana Fudge Rice Divine ice cream more than anything, but I wouldn't buy it for myself. So he bought me some and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I felt some local guilt, too, because I've done really good with avoiding tropical fruits (even if I've splurged on other very not local items).

Anyways, tonight is my evening to myself- no family, no classes, just whatever I want to do. So I cooked a great comfort-food meal for myself.

I had barbecue tofu, my mom's yellow squash recipe, and some awesome green beans.
The green beans are super easy to make and the flavors don't overpower the sweetness of the beans. These green beans are local because they're from my garden, but I hear the local green beans should be at the co-op very soon! I included red pepper in these because when I was out at The River Market Co-op in Stillwater today I found Wisconsin hothouse-grown red peppers. But you could leave it out and they'd still be awesome.

Seared Green Beans

2 Tbsp. olive oil
about a pound of green beans, trimmed
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced thinly
1 head of green garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
sprinkle of salt and pepper

Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is my fave) over high heat for a few minutes. Add olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the green beans and stir frequently. They'll only need to cook until they are bright green and browned on a few edges- just a few minutes. Just before they are done, add the red peppers and minced green garlic, tossing to coat. Before the garlic browns, remove from heat and drizzle with vinegar and maple syrup and stir to coat. Last, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

By the way, the local raspberries from Hoch Orchard are AWESOME right now. I've been eating them over plain soy yogurt with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Not the coolest place in the world...

Where do I like to spend a hot Saturday night? In the kitchen, of course.
How ironic that canning or preserving needs to take place during the hottest summer months, when the garden is overflowing with food. This task, while enjoyable, heats my kitchen far beyond lasagna-baking or soup simmering temperatures. It is nearly unbearable.

So today, while making mulberry-honey jam and jalapeño jam (that's two kinds, not mulberry-jalapeño...although that might be good), I took breaks in the kiddie pool in the backyard and sipped ice water.

And then, after heating up the kitchen to unbearable levels, I figured, "Hey, why not make some pasta?" Nano and I have lamented over the lack of very local pasta here in MN. I rely on the Dakota Grower's pasta from North Dakota when I need a quick pasta fix, but there's nothing like homemade pasta.

Tonight I decided to make a tortelloni pasta with 1/2 my dough and some fettuccine with the other half.

The pasta itself is pretty darn local, with flour and water being 99% of the ingredients in this recipe. The filling is as follows:

Herbed Sunflower Seed Pasta Filling

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, toasted in a dry skillet (MN)
1/4 cup water (MN)
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
10 stems from cremini mushrooms (WI)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme (backyard)

After toasting the sunflower seeds until beginning to brown, add 1/4 cup of water and let them soak for about an hour. Go do some yoga in the meantime. Then whizz around the sunflower seeds, soaking water, and remaining ingredients in a food processor until finely minced, but not quite smooth. Use about 1/2 tsp. per 2" round of pasta dough. This would also be super good as a spread on crackers, inside a tortilla, or just off a spoon.

The sauce for this pasta is a white sauce made with Earth Balance, flour, Org. Valley soymilk (WI), salt, green onions (MN), cremini mushroom caps (WI), parsley (backyard) and blanched snap peas (backyard). I didn't measure anything for this recipe, sorry.

Even though it was 9pm before I got to eat dinner, it was damn good. And the best part is, I have fettuccine in the freezer for another day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Thoughts on the Burning Questions, Or "HOW Many Miles Did You Say?!?"

Silly me, I've been trying as hard as I can to stay within roughly 100!

Ruminating on Liz's post about our varying concepts of & approaches to the subject of "locality", it seems obvious to me that we really need to clarify our guidelines for this project. Of course, we'd have about as much luck in trying to come up with a unified stance on our position regarding our construct of God, or Goddess (or Nothing, for that matter). Perhaps the best way to tackle this is to clearly state, on the record, our individual guidelines & how we formulated them.

Here's more or less exactly how I'm doing the challenge:

I'm eating locally (80% or more of a given meal), more than 80% of the time. Well more, as far as I can tell. Almost all of my food is currently coming from the shelves of our own store, with the exception of a few side adventures to other locales. I have a couple of "tiers" that I use to determine the (sometimes fuzzy) percentage of my meals, as well as a couple of allowable "cheats" that I'll get to later.

The first tier, which makes up the bulk of my food choices, I'm calling "Real Local". This means that the food was grown & processed within approximately 100 miles of the Twin Cities, as far as I'm reasonably able to determine. I know with some certainty that if I buy something with a local label from my meat cooler, then it comes from somewhere within a (roughly) 100 mile radius. I fully realize that there are hidden miles in many of these items (from the farmer to the processor, perhaps to a warehouse, & then to the store), so sometimes that 100 miles is really 150, or even more. My absolute outside boundary in defining "local" could be considered something like 250 miles.

Honestly, we're all flying partially blind, here. We are involved in a system of trust, between us & our suppliers, & between us & our customers. None of us has the time to individually Googlemap every single one of our ingredients before we make our purchases, although kudos are due to Liz for trying. We have to take it on faith that the "Local" sticker on the product actually means that said product is reasonably local. Quite frankly, I'm dismayed that something with an 800-odd mile itinerary was even up for debate in the first place.

The second tier consists of foods that are processed within 100-300 miles, using at least a healthy portion of actual local ingredients. I'm guessing that Whole Grain Milling products & Salsa Lisa might fall under this category. Various locally baked breads would be included here, too. Because these sorts of items fulfill at least some of the requirements for inclusion in the first tier, while still supporting local small businesses, I'm likely to shift them towards the local group when figuring out percentages for individual meals.

Only slightly beneath is the third tier, which I define as basically any meal component I make myself (like Liz's tortilla example, or possibly my mayo recipe), with a mix of local & less-local ingredients. If I don't feel comfortable with the subjective mix, I'll be honest & shift it towards the non-local percentage.

As for seasonings, if we're talking fresh herbs & they're not in tier one, I'm not making that dish. Basics like salt, pepper & vinegar (or oils) aren't being counted any longer, because to do so would drive a man insane.

Cheats include certain specific things that I simply "can't" live without, things that if our civilization crumbled tomorrow, I'd be willing to trade dearly for (one example might be the occasional scraping of Parmigiano-Reggiano). Or if someone offers me a piece of their birthday cake. Another acceptable cheat is yerba mate, since I gave up energy-drinks & coffee for the challenge & I still have to make it to work in the morning (I use the St. Paul brand, Nativa, for what it's worth). Oh, & cigarettes.

So, that's the basics of my "how". As to the "why", the more experiential & philosophical aspects of the Challenge (as I see them), I'll post on that soon enough, as well as provide an update on my first month's costs.

-nano out

The question burning a hole in my mind

So here's the dilemma I've been wrestling with the past few days:

I realized that I have held off on making some of my favorite homemade treats because the ingredients are not locally produced- For example, our co-op's masa harina is not local and I use it for tamales and corn tortillas. In lieu of making my own, I've purchased corn tortillas that are made at a local business.

Now, is it really all that different to buy from a business that gets the corn shipped from somewhere else in the country and makes the tortillas in MN than to buy my own corn shipped from elsewhere and make them myself?

The answer I've come up with is that it depends on why you want to eat local.

If it's about supporting local businesses, it's great to buy the local business's tortillas from the neighborhood co-op (double local business points) rather than just buying the corn from the co-op.

If I'm eating local to reduce carbon emissions and conserve resources, I'd have to know exactly how far away their corn was grown and how far away my corn was grown and what form of transportation each used to arrive in Minnesota. Plus, I'd have to know how each type of corn was grown and what kind of petroleum input that took (pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.).

If it's about freshness and taste, I'd much prefer to make my own tortillas and eat them hot off the skillet with Earth Balance and salt dripping down my face. I'm a spoiled Texas girl who likes her tortillas fresh. As far as I'm concerned, they're practically ruined after being refrigerated.

So, basically, there's no easy answer.

I think this dilemma is one that has been at the back of my mind for a while and it's rooted in the debate of how we should define local. While it makes our Eat Local Challenge more accessible to folks and supports local businesses (undoubtedly a great thing), it just doesn't sit well with me to count locally made goods as equal to locally grown/produced goods.

One thing I loved in Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is that she ate locally without using processed, packaged goods (mostly). So she didn't just find salsa that was made at a factory the next state over, she actually grew (or met the person who grew) the tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc. While her experience is definitely outside the realm of what most people can achieve while working full time and having hobbies other than canning, I like the simplicity of it and the purity of her definition of local. It feels authentic and trustworthy.

There's something just a little weird about my Sunbutter (which I love dearly, mind you) counting as local when it comes from the processing plant in North Dakota to the distribution warehouse in Iowa and then to our co-op in Minnesota on big trucks. Dave and I have been wrestling with this in our conversations lately and I think we agree that this one is pushing the limits, despite the fact that all the stops on this 841 mile journey (yes, I tracked the path on google maps) are within the 5 state area. Keep in mind that this doesn't actually include the miles from where it was grown to the processing plant. I'm not sure of that information.

So what's a girl to do?

I think my focus on this challenge needs to be using products grown as close to home as possible, with locally made foods filling in the gaps or helping me out when I'm short on time. When I look at my food values, I feel most passionate about eating sustainably grown, organic, minimally processed and vegan foods. Coming in at a close second are eating locally grown and homemade foods. While it might not be popular (considering I'm writing this on an Eat Local Blog), eating locally at the expense of sustainable/organic production just doesn't jive well with me. In the same way, supporting a local business doesn't win out over homemade food for me. But I think I'll hold off on making the corn tortillas and just be happy with the flour ones that ARE from locally grown flour!

One thing I love about this challenge (that Emily pointed out already) is that I'm forced to stop and become more aware of my food. Despite what you might think, I wouldn't normally get this introspective about my food at 5pm on a Wednesday night. Thanks to the local challenge, I'm sitting at this computer, thinking about where my food comes from and trying to figure out how I'm going to prepare those garden snap peas tonight.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Em's Zen Garden

The time and energy this challenge takes is crazy. I've been doing... well, not so hot. I'd guess that I'm averaging about 50%. The one thing that is going well is that my garden is coming along splendidly. My lettuce looks... well, pretty much just like Jess's lettuce. I was harvesting a bunch yesterday and a couple things really struck me. First, I saw a tick and got really freaked out and I had to take some deep breaths. Then I saw a little tiny worm in among the harvest and lost my appetite. Suddenly, the clouds parted and all those Michael Pollan books I've read clicked into place. Food doesn't spontaneously generate in those big UNFI trucks. Food comes from dirt. Food was once part of a habitat, and in some places (like my garden) food still is habitat. Just ask my cat, she hangs out in the broccoli.
So my point today is that even though I'm not meeting my percentage goals for this challenge (yet), I have managed to make some progress on that other goal: awareness.
PS: I have tiny tiny tomatoes.