Sunday, September 30, 2007

wrapping up the challenge

Today is the last day of September, and hence the last day of the September Eat Local challenge. The most interesting part of the challenge has been the realization that it is almost a moot point - we eat so much local food anyway! We didn't eat out (except for a couple of low-blood sugar related meals, when we had pizza from a local joint, or some sushi) and I didn't shop at any major chain stores. I'd say that 95-99% of our food came from farmer's markets; we did get bacon and Italian sausage from a local butcher (who has their own farm nearby) and local milk from either our co-op (we joined this month) or a local health food store. Rolls for burgers came from a local Italian specialty store. Bread came from local bakeries or bakers. Ice cream came from the magnificent local ice creamiere Jeni's (who uses some local ingredients.) We wasted very little food and composted kitchen scraps.

I learned how to make new things from scratch, such as grape juice and polenta. I approximated favorite processed foods (chicken and noodles and sloppy joe's) from local ingredients. I tried new fruits and vegetables, found local sources for many things that I will continue to use, and didn't miss much.

What have I actually missed? The convenience of opening a can of beans for dinner. Lemons. Rice. Indian food. Pizza. Burritos. Dry pasta (I've bought it freshly-made from a local Italian place.) Readily-available celery - I've had to hunt for it, and only found it twice. Spicy crab salad. The convenience of not starting each meal long before dinner time, or of being able to say screw it and get carry-out (I only missed this once or twice.)

I started shopping and eating locally this spring, and watching the seasons change in the markets and on my plate has been a wonderful ride. I will reminisce about the summer every time I defrost veggies or fruits for winter meals (I lament the fact that we didn't get a new freezer until well after asparagus season.) I am saddened by the fact that the season is drawing to a close (what will I do on Saturday mornings?!?!) and look forward to seeing some of my local farmers at the new winter market. And I definitely look forward to spring!

This weekend we have eaten the following: pasta in cream sauce with shiitake mushrooms and fresh herbs, with spiced pears in cream sauce for dessert (Friday); sloppy joe's, home fries and corn on the cob (Saturday's one big meal); raspberry pancakes with peppered bacon (Sunday brunch.) My end-of-the-month dinner, which I will begin preparing shortly, will feature pan-roasted chicken breasts with herbs and pan gravy, broccoli, mashed potatoes, and roasted squash (either delicata or kabocha.) Dessert will be an apple crisp (I'm going to try using honey as a sweetener so it will be all local, except for the cinnamon.)

I've had homemade yoghurt with berries, honey and locally-made granola most mornings. My yoghurt is still terrible, but I'm not giving up on it yet. On cooler mornings I've grated an apple into a cooking pot of oatmeal (now local, yay!) and drizzled it with maple syrup. Lunch has been leftovers or eggs or fried eggplant or zucchini, breaded with local wheat flour. Dinners have alternated between omnivore and vegetarian, and I cooked red meat and chicken about once a week each. I don't see any of this changing any time soon.

So while I'll be hitting my favorite Indian buffet for dinner tomorrow, and occasionally picking up bread or milk at Giant Eagle, I don't see the bulk of our eating habits changing. I imagine that I will purchase my first non-local head of celery or bag of frozen veggies with anguish in my heart.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fall feasting, and a recipe

It was a lovely market day today, and I came home with a number of fall favorites (as well as a few summer holdouts):

-apples (honeycrisp, empire, and golden something - not delicious)
-pears (bosc, I think)
-apple cider!
-fennel (I haven't tried this before, but I'm looking forward to it)
-leeks and yukon gold potatoes
-blackberries (only one box at market today!) and raspberries
-squash: acorn and kabocha
-spinach, lettuce, and heirloom cherry tomatoes (sungold and yellow pear)
-nectarines (they'd been in cold storage)
-turnips, broccoli, carrots, eggplant
-shiitake mushrooms and arugula microgreens
-fresh pasta and mozzarella
-amish--made egg noodles
-grass-fed ground beef
-whole chicken

You can see that some pasta and leek and potato soup are in my future. I'm sad that I can't find local cream - I may just use some local whole milk. The tomato plants are doing their thing so I will be making some fresh sauce this week. I'd like to do a pasta with cream sauce, mushrooms, and fennel as well.

Today's cooking endeavor included grass-fed burgers with gouda, peppered bacon, and arugula microgreens for lunch, and a new squash dish for a potluck. I'll attempt to recreate it below. It's my first attempt to write out a recipe.

Mashed squash and apples
2 acorn squash
2 crisp apples
maple syrup
coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half and remove seeds. Save at least 2 - 3 tablespoons of seeds for roasting. Place squash cut side down in a pan with a half inch of water and bake until the squash rind is easily pierced with a fork (for halves squash this may take about an hour; you can shorten the cooking time by cutting the squash in quarters.) Leave oven on.

While the squash is cooling, spread the cleaned seeds on a salted pan and toast briefly, stirring once when the seeds begin to brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Peel, core, and slice apples, then toss with a small amount of maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I like to microwave them for 1-2 minutes, but this isn't completely necessary.

Allow the squash to cool slightly, then hold the squash with a pot holder and scrape the flesh into a shallow oven-proof casserole or dish with a spoon. Mash the squash with a fork, potato masher, or immersion blender. Add 1 - 2 tablespoons of butter and salt to taste. Drizzle maple syrup and sprinkle cinnamon over squash and stir well, to taste. Place apple slices around edge of pan and over the top of the squash. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Return dish to oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove dish from oven and sprinkle with toasted squash seeds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Autumn is definitely here!

My trip to the small mid-week market confirmed it: autumn is here. It may be pushing 90 degrees F today, but the market was full of pumpkins! It's always a sign when the watermelons are replaced by pumpkins. I saw some indian corn as well, along with a few melon holdouts.

I purchased a few small zucchini (mainly for a freezing experiment), garlic, a tiny muskmelon, lots of basil (for pesto), potatoes (white, red, purple, and sweet), a stalk of brussel sprouts (I want to carry it around like a sceptre!) and a number of winter squashes. I almost bought a hubbard squash, but I think I'll need a hatchet to get through the skin. Apparently they keep very well, so I should probably invest in a few for storage.

I also purchased some grass-fed beef patties, maple syrup, maple granola, and a loaf of bread. I managed to avoid all of the pastries and the caramel apples.

I spent a long weekend in North Carolina, hence my lack of posts. I kept it local on the way there (packed a sandwich, apples, and edamame), found a place with local eggs for breakfast, and stopped for lunch at Tamarack on the way back (I also picked up some pear wines, local to point of purchase.) I was on a meal plan at the event in NC, so I ate whatever was put in front of me.

Last night's dinner was kind of lame but local: blue potatoes (done homefry-style with local red onions and paprika) and french-cut green beans, served with cooked honeycrisp apples with maple syrup. I may concoct some chicken stew tonight (still have some local celery and a carrot). I wonder how those leftover blue potatoes would look in chicken stew?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

sunday local eating report

Today was a light day by preservation standards, but I'm still tired!

Breakfast and brunch were resoundingly familiar (see last Sunday) but today's pancakes were made with local raspberries and nectarines. Nectarines in Ohio, who knew? They are from last week and still tasty. We had local peppered bacon this week, which was lovely. I bought a whole pound, so I should probably freeze some lest I eat it all.

After making brunch, I prepared the two chickens for roasting (chunks of onion in the cavities along with some herbs from the garden, the latter were also shoved under the skin) and into the oven they went. I should roast two together more often; the cooking time doesn't really increase, it only heated the kitchen up once, and it gave me more bones for stock. After they rested a bit I took as much meat off as I could and put the bones (and herbs and onions) to cook into stock. I also made salsa to snack on before dinner (the tortilla chips were purchased from before the challenge, but were from a local company at least) with tomatoes and jalapeƱos from the garden.

I put the bulk of my 10 pounds of canning tomatoes in the freezer. I just don't have the time for major sauce production this week, and it will be nice to have tomatoes for soup and stews this winter. They are easy to freeze - no need to blanch and peel, just freeze them whole on baking sheets then bag up (or use your handy foodsaver.) I also froze a pint of blackberries and some assorted raspberries, and the shreds of dark meat chicken.

Dinner was a glass of local white wine, roasted chicken breasts with gravy (made from drippings), mashed potatoes and french-cut green and yellow beans. The bean frencher isn't the most effective tool, but by running them through twice I had a lovely julienne thing going. It was a very nice change of texture. I had to vamp up my gravy with some powdered boullion because the stock wasn't cooked down yet, but it made it edible (and so good that we were nearly licking our plates.)

I'll have the rest of my plum/peach cobbler as dessert and call it a day. Well, after I cool the stock so I can pull the fat off the top and freeze it; cooking your soup/stew veggies in chicken fat is a good way to make a very local dish, and is darn good eats!

As a side note, I need to find some herb seeds. The cilantro went to seed and died, and the catnip plant just plain died (much to my cats' chagrin.) I tried replanting the cilantro seeds but nothing has sprouted.

Meals for this week will include burgers (grass-fed local beef) with corn and green beans; pasta with veggies (I'll make fresh sauce from the canning tomatoes that were blemished) and leftover chicken. I still have leftovers from last week for easy lunches: fried eggplant (breaded with local wheat flour!), sweet potatoes, and the first acorn squash of the season (cooked with local maple syrup.)

One of these days I will take pictures of the food before we eat it all!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

market day!

Another successful market day! Saturday is the biggest market day in Columbus; in fact, we go to three markets in a row which are conveniently all located on or near High Street.

At the North Market we met up with friends and had some coffee and ice cream (both from local companies) with our shopping. Here's the haul:

Fruit CSA share: small watermelon, 4 apples (2 honeycrisp, 2 cortland?), ground cherries (like little tomatillos, and totally new to us.)

Other North Market buys:
-italian sausage and peppered bacon $7.41
-rocket microgreens $3
-locally milled pancake mix $4.50
-raspberries $4.50
-blackberries (it's the end of the season, *sigh*) $4.50 each I think
-goat cheese (I think they are slightly out of my 100-mile radius, but it's still Ohio) $6.95 and worth every penny
-fresh angel hair pasta
-rosemary and cilantro $1 each
-mango ice cream to take home, and frosttop (local root beer company) and sweet corn with blackberry sauce to eat there. Jeni's Ice Cream is beyond fabulous!

Clintonville market:
Not a thing! 2silos wasn't there, so no eggs. Sippel was out of the amazing sun gold tomatoes (everyone was talking about how good they were, so no surprise there.)

-2 fresh pasture-raised chickens ($15.50 for the pair, which wasn't too bad a price. They are small, though.) No eggs, she had sold out. :-(
-6 pound bag of red ruby popcorn $6
-mixed beans (kidney, lima, green) $4.50
-edamame ($2 this week! I got 2)
-10 pounds of canning tomatoes $5
-green and yellow beans $2.25
-honeycrisp apples $4
-2 ears of corn $1

I've included the prices to help me keep track, and to let you know what prices are current here in central Ohio.

My plans for the next few days include roasting both chickens and making a huge pot of stock with the remainders, making pasta sauce, and steaming edamame. I will be traveling to North Carolina on the 13th, so I need to prep some snack foods and a lunch to keep me local (at least from where I started!)

Friday, September 7, 2007

humanely-raised food

I thought I'd talk a little bit about what I'm eating these days, with regard to meat and eggs.

Eggs and chicken - I buy local, pasture-raised eggs and chicken. Anyone who has read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan knows that "free range" doesn't mean diddly-squat in the world of food production. Birds can still be crammed into pens, only these pens have a little door leading to a very small yard. The door stays shut for the first two weeks while the birds learn their surroundings. After this time it is opened, but the chickens have already set their world boundaries in their brains - so they never go outside.

I buy eggs from farmers who pasture-raise them. The chickens get to run around outside, eating bugs (so they are not "vegetarian-fed" but they are certainly not fed chicken parts in their food!) and doing chicken things. Chickens are big fans of this. Trust me, egg production was one of my 4-H projects as a kid. I cleaned chicken (and duck and goose and turkey) coops for 7 years. Chickens aren't brilliant, but they can still experience enjoyment (as well as suffering.)

I don't buy meat at the grocery store anymore. I do not want to support factory farming, and I don't trust the labeling for free-range meats. Our meat is more expensive now, but we eat less of it - and I work hard to utilize every scrap and bone.

Beef - I buy grass-fed beef and only grass-fed beef (from local farmers of course.) While feeding cows grain will produce a nice marbling of the meat, it is at a terrible cost. Cows are meant to eat grass. Corn (thanks to the crazy-huge corn surpluses in the US, cows get fed corn) causes all sorts of health problems for cows, from bloat and gastritis and all the way to liver failure (they are usually slaughtered just as their livers fail.) Why do you think cows are fed so many antibiotics? It's because they are crammed together in feedlots, knee-deep in shit, eating acidic grains that destroy their stomach lining and liver. E coli loves shit and an acid environment, so CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations) are pretty much perfectly designed for that. And you know the whole mad cow scare? Do you know how cows get it? From eating the diseased tissue of other cows. There is now legislation that makes it illegal to feed the brains and spinal cords of cows to livestock. But everything else is okay, legally. What kind of twisted and, excuse me, fucked up world do we live in, when feeding animal parts back to animals is a common animal husbandry practice? If people deem this as acceptable, then the world of soylent green can't be far away.

I buy my beef from Ed and Nancy of Long Meadows grass beef or Dick from Flying J Farm. I like to be able to shake the hands of the people who raise my meat, and know that they care for, and about their animals.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why I shop at farmer's markets

I went to the local farmer's market today, and I spent 8 dollars on the following: a baker's dozen of sweet corn ($4), 2 cucumbers (50 cents each), 3 sweet potatoes and a small red onion ($2.89 for them all.)

Could I have gotten these items cheaper at a grocery store? I could have paid less for corn, that's for certain. As for the other items, it seems like I paid quite a low price. I'm not sure if a grocery store could beat that. But you know what? I don't care if they could. I shop at farmer's markets, and I am willing to pay more than the grocery store. I'm fortunate that I can afford not to worry about my food budget down to the penny. But even when I pay slightly more at a farmer's market, I still come out ahead.

For one thing, the produce is much fresher - and it tastes better! My corn was picked around 11 AM today, and the sweet potatoes were dug this morning. Fresh produce lasts longer! This means that when I've forgotten a lone zucchini in the depths of my refrigerator's produce drawer, the chance that it will still be good when unearthed is much greater than a grocery store buy. My vegetables were picked ripe, not shipped across the country - or international borders - while "green." They usually come to market in the back of a pickup truck. Shopping at farmer's markets keeps the money in the community, and supports local businesses. In this day of mega-conglomerates, the "little guys" need all the support they can get.

Also, I know where my food is coming from, and I am learning the farming cycles of my area. I've met the farmers, heard about their trials and tribulations, and rejoiced as each new type of produce ripens and comes to market. I look forward to seeing them every week. I know when my produce has been picked, I know when the chickens were butchered, when the eggs were laid, and I know what produce the neighbor has sent along to sell. Small farmers are more likely to raise multiple types of produce, practice crop rotation, and use sustainable farming practices. Their products often use less packaging than grocery store produce.

Farming is a very difficult profession, and farmers don't make vast piles of cash. They usually run in the red, and many of them can barely stay afloat. I am happy, no, overjoyed to give my food dollars to my local farmers. Driving through the country the other day, I saw a number of farms selling their land for commercial use. If spending money at farm markets can help any farmer stay in business, keep the land planted (preferably organically), and give me fresher, healthier food as well - well, it's certainly worth the price.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

eat local challenge - culinary update

Today has been mildly busy. I turned the sliced tomatoes into spaghetti sauce (note: do not attempt to puree them *before* cooking, it makes it kind of wonky) and received a present of an immersion blender right after I finished. So it looks like there will be more tomatoes in my future, now that I have a new toy. I also got a bean frencher and a french rolling pin. Let the good times roll.

Next I managed to turn a chicken breastbone into stock (with the help of other veggie scraps) which will become chicken soup very soon.

Then I made my second attempt at yogurt. It should be ready between 8 and 10 PM - I used a mixture of 2% and skim milk, so it's anybody's guess how long it will take. I have hung the grainy yogurt in cheesecloth in an attempt to make labneh (yogurt cheese.) It probably won't help the texture, but it was worth a try.

Lunch was a leftover pancake and a hard-boiled egg (made from these directions by The Foodist.) The egg was quite perfect, and the yoke remained beautifully yellow.

For dinner I made creamy polenta with Gouda from scratch (and in doing so learned how NOT to make polenta - add the cornmeal carefully or you will face indelible lumps) and Italian sausage with grapes. For a side dish I steamed pole beans and tossed them with shallots and butter. I've noticed that the more tired I get of a vegetable, the more butter I add. The shallots were a nice touch though.

The only non-local ingredients were seasonings.

I must confess that I am terrible about using recipes. I tend to look at them as guidelines, and often don't read the ingredients or the directions thoroughly before starting. I will also cook from two recipes at once, merging them as I go. So while I could attempt to record my cooking process, it would be less than informative for the average person. I imagine that I cook the same way my grandmother did, but she was much better at it (and made less mistakes.) The school of "learned it the hard way" is an excellent teacher in the kitchen. Just remember to keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Monday, September 3, 2007

September challenge progress report

The September Eat Local Challenge is off to a good start. There was a brief moment of weakness involving a pizza (from a local pizza place at least!) as I learned to not let my blood sugar crash, no matter how many tomatoes need blanching.

The challenge this year has an emphasis on preserving the bounty of September, and I have been working on this for the last month or so. The purchase of a chest freezer (manual defrost and energy star) and a Foodsaver vacuum sealer have been a big help. So far I have frozen a good 5 dozen ears of corn (cut off the cob, which is easier than it sounds), 5 or 6 pounds of green beans, 6 quarts of strawberries, 3 quarts of peaches, 1 quart of raspberries, 1.5 quarts of vegetable stock, 2 pints of sweet corn stock, and 5 pints of pasta sauce. Also freezer jam: peach, mixed berry, and strawberry. The most onerous task was the blanching, peeling, chopping and seeding of the 15 pounds of tomatoes. I love the resulting sauce, but the labor is extreme. It would be a great (read:easier) two-person job though.

You can easily freeze vegetables without a vacuum sealer - just use ziplock baggies, and smoosh as much of the air out as you can. There are really great directions for freezing, canning, and otherwise using fresh vegetables and fruits at The site has been a great help!

There are some good books out there for preserving food (by freezing, canning, and other methods.) These are a few I have picked up:

Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, and Preserving, and Drying What You Grow (by Rodale Food Center)

Putting Food By (by Janet Greene)

Stocking Up (by Carol Hupping)

Meals have been good, and I am learning new things. I have learned what not to do when making yogurt: over-incubating makes it separate, and not mixing it well enough makes it grainy (at least, according to some on-line troubleshooting guides.) My milk is non-homogenized from Hartzler Family Dairy. They don't make cream, which has foiled a number of meal plans. I may try skimming the milk to get the milk fat (being non-homogenized, the fat floats to the top.) It might work, and whole milk tastes like cream to me anyway (I have acclimated to skim.)

My kitchen currently sports the following, all local:

dairy/eggs: milk (skim and 2%), butter, gouda, eggs
fruits: plums, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, muskmelon, casaba, honeycrisp apples, grapes
vegetables: zucchini, pole beans, swiss chard, celery, carrots (from the farmer's market, but of possible dubious local origin), Italian eggplant, heirloom tomatoes
legumes: edamame, pinto beans
root vegetables: blue, red, and new potatoes, sweet potatoes
other: garlic, white onions, sweet onions
meat: Italian sausage, grass-fed beef, chicken scraps
herbs: my garden is sporting thyme, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, basil, chives
other: maple syrup, honey, soft wheat flour, cornmeal

I also have some local bread (imported wheat - hard wheat doesn't grow well around here) and pasta; locally-made ice cream, and locally grown red popcorn. I also have locally made maple granola (all ingredients are not local, but I can't face life without oatmeal.)

My biggest non-local ingredients have been: tea, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I have a jar of jam from that I will continue to eat; it cost a lot, might spoil, and falls into the "terroir" category as defined by the Locavores. (Terroir was originally a wine/coffee term, referring to the special properties that the earth in a certain place bestowed on the items grown there.)

So that's my latest. I'll update more about what we are actually eating; below I will list a few of our recent meals:

Brunch: pancakes (locally grown and milled flour and produced mix) with peaches, raspberries, and maple syrup. Plus bacon. All local, though some of the pancake mix ingredients are probably not local.)

Brunch: bacon, eggs, home fries. 100% local (except for salt and pepper)

Dinner: chicken breast with herbs, heirloom potatoes with garlic and chives, brussel sprouts. Non-local ingredients were olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Breakfast: homemade yogurt (local milk, non-local starter), locally-made granola (see above), local honey, local berries