Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dark Days week 11

Most of the local eating this week has featured local foods combined with leftovers from family gatherings (making it difficult to stick to the 90% rule, but wasting food seems silly.) Mothers will send home leftovers! I've noticed that some of the people around me have started taking notice of where there food comes from, and I am quite happy with that.

For Christmas eve I roasted a chicken from Speckled Hen Farms (38 miles) and braised some rainbow chard and leeks with butter and apple cider vinegar (all local.) I made stuffing from scratch (locally baked but not ingredient-sourced bread, non-local celery, local butter, stock, and onions) as well as pan gravy, and heated up leftover mashed potatoes from a family gathering.

Other partly-local meals included chicken curry (with the leftover chicken and local onions and carrots, non-local chickpeas and sauce), steak and noodle salad (local frisee, radicchio, shitaake and chives; non-local soba noodles and sauce; leftover steak from mom's house.) I have to say that local eating has made me more creative in the kitchen!

Today we had another brunch of local eggs, bacon, and hash browns with purple potatoes and red onions. The red onions scorched a little, so it wasn't quite the interesting colors I was hoping for.

Monday, December 24, 2007

polycarbonate water bottles in the news

Polycarbonate bottles were in the headlines in Yahoo health news today.

I switched to a Kleen Kanteen a few weeks ago, and I do like it. I noticed a metallic taste in the first or second use but it hasn't returned (and I use it almost every day). I especially like the sturdiness of it - I almost bought a Sigg water bottle, but I didn't think it would hold up to the kind of abuse I'm likely to dish out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dark Days week 10

Ten weeks already! Hard to believe that it's almost the end of December.

This week I tried my hand at making meatballs. They were "mostly local," containing some parmigiano reggiano cheese and bread from the grocery store bakery. The meat, eggs, and milk (used to soak the bread) were all local. The mixture ended up being way too mushy, but the extra moisture did ensure that the grass-fed beef stayed nice and moist. They were too soft to hold a "ball" shape, so they were promptly dubbed "meatlumps." I served them with locally-made pasta and my homemade spaghetti sauce. I believe that "spaghetti and meatlumps" will become a new family favorite. Hopefully next time they will evolve into actual ball shapes.

Other local meals for the week included brunch of bacon, eggs, and purple potato pancakes. Next time I make them I am using red onions with the purple potatoes, just for more fun color.

Tonight I was eating alone so I had a plate of potato pierogi (locally made, from the church up the street), which I cooked up with local onions and butter. They weren't quite as good as my grandma made, but it's nice to have homemade pierogi again after all these years.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dark Days, Market update, local holidays and caturday!

It's a snowy, snowy day here in central Ohio. I'm glad we made it to the market early; sadly the trip to the tree farm will be postponed until the roads clear up.

I was hoping to find Xmas trees at the North Market; instead I found two of the organic farmers and the honey guy were there! I got some rainbow chard, purple potatoes, eggs, arugula, and a frisee/raddichio blend. I bought a number of small candles from the honey guy, mostly for holiday gifts. Inside the market I couldn't resist some peppered bacon and cottage ham slices, and also the Kentucky Bourbon Eggnog ice cream from Jeni's.

Next we headed to the Worthington Winter Market, just as snow began to fall. There I bought a ton of maple sugar (which is made from boiled down grade B syrup which gets put into a mixer until it crystallizes), grass-fed beef, scallions, sweet potatoes, cider, shitake mushrooms, and baked goods.

Ah yes, the meals! I roasted a pork loin this week, and it was the main protein at both of our local meals. On the first night it was marinated in a non-local pomegranate syrup, and served with chard and leeks, as well as mashed purple potatoes with garlic and leeks. I served it with the unadulterated pan juices, and boy was it good! For the next meal I sliced the remaining pork loin and warmed it with more pomegranate glaze, and served it with green beans with peppered bacon and delicata squash with maple syrup. I think I'm now down to 17 squash. Non-local ingredients for both meals were limited to the pomegranate glaze and a little olive oil, as well as salt and pepper. The green beans tasted just like summer, so I am glad that all the hard work of putting them by has paid off!

On local holidays: holiday gift baskets for my mom and my partner's mom will include locally made apple cider vinegar, maple sugar, honey, walnuts, maple syrup, popcorn, and beeswax candles. I thought about including cheese and grass-fed beef, but I didn't want to deal with the logistics of refrigerating them. Maybe next year! I really wanted to give them a taste of how good local products can be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dark Days challenge: week 8

Two meals this week, to make up for last week's busyness!

On Monday I made a lovely dinner of pan-roasted chicken breasts with gravy, mashed potatoes, delicata squash with butter and honey, and Brussels sprouts with leeks and butter. (Non-local ingredients were seasonings, olive oil, and a little flour and bouillon for the gravy.) I have to say that the Brussel sprouts with leeks were brilliant! The leeks gave them a wonderful sweetness.

Tonight I attempted short ribs, and they were very good. There was a lot of gristle and fat to work through, but I braised them for a couple of hours (in water and red wine with onions, garlic, carrots and celery) and they were amazingly tender. I decided to strip the meat off the bones while waiting for the cooking liquid to cool, and I served the meat shreds with the carrots and gravy (made from the reduced cooking liquid.) Rainbow chard with leeks (another great pairing - the leeks work so well with slightly bitter veggies!) and spaghetti squash completed the meal. Non-local ingredients were a little heavier this meal, and included the seasonings, olive oil, celery, wine, flour for thickening, and brown rice (to serve the beef over - I could have used local noodles but we'd recently had (90% local!)turkey noodle soup.)

Both meals were served with a blackberry wine, local to point of purchase in Morgantown, WV (and left over from Thanksgiving.) I'm also enjoying a pear wine that was local to point of purchase in Beckley, WV. If you are ever driving through West Virginia be sure to stop at Tamarack near Beckley. They had quite an assortment of West Virginia wines and food products (next time I'm buying the ramp wine!)

I am now down to 18 squash. I'll have to cook the giant marina de chioggia pumpkin this week as it is starting to mold in a couple of spots. In the fridge I have a little chard and plenty of leeks and carrots. (And a ton of eggs! I need some egg recipes!) In the cupboard I have some assorted potatoes (I'm rapidly running out of them, which makes me very sad.)

I also have a box of apples in storage (individually wrapped in newspaper; they are indoors right now because of low temperatures), along with my root cellaring project of carrots, turnips and potatoes (they are stored in a cooler full of sand in the garage.) We'll see how that goes!

The High Cost of Bottled Water

Think about all of the bottled water that you see for sale in the stores. Now think about the fact that all of those bottles are manufactured, shipped (using a great deal of fossil fuel), and usually tossed in the trash. About 10% are recycled, but recycling requires a great deal of energy – which usually comes from fossil fuels. Bottles thrown into the trash are either burned (releasing toxic chemicals) or buried (taking up to 1,000 years to degrade.)

So why do we drink so much bottled water? For one thing, it’s pretty darn convenient. People feel that it tastes better and is more pure than tap water, though this is often not the case. Bottled water has fewer regulations and safeguards than tap water. Many brands, including a few big-name best sellers, get their water from municipal sources – that’s right, it’s tap water. And blind taste-tests have shown that people often prefer tap water to the bottled stuff.

So what are our greener options? Treat yourself to a nice, reusable water bottle. (Bottled water bottles are hard to clean and the plastic degrades with repeated use, so reusing them is not recommended.) Plastic sports bottles made of polycarbonate (marked with a #7) are the cheapest option, though polycarbonate has been shown to leach a compound called bisphenol-A (when exposed to hot water and heavy detergents - so avoid washing them in those.) Nalgene is the most well-known brand of polycarbonate bottles. A better choice may be a bottle made of aluminum (the inside is coated to prevent the water from contacting the metal) or stainless steel. Sigg ( and Klean Kanteen ( are reputable brands of metal water bottles. Some larger natural food stores carry metal water bottles.

But what about the taste of tap water? Here in Columbus the tap water reeks of chlorine. A water filter will help remove the taste, as will letting the water to sit for a few hours (this will allow the chlorine to dissipate.) Affordable water filters do create landfill waste, but my carafe water filter can process 40 gallons of water before the filter needs to be replaced - and that is the equivalent of more than 300 half-liter bottles of water.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

dark days

I missed the recap this week, and since I was incredibly busy I didn't do much in the way of cooking this past week. I did learn how NOT to make curried pumpkin soup: don't experiment with the whole batch; don't toss in too much Thai red curry paste; don't add an apple, thinking that sweet will counteract the hot; and definitely do not add some heavy cream to try to save it. That last step really killed the soup, sadly. If you're going to use Thai curry paste, make sure you have some coconut milk on hand (I think that would have saved the soup.) Ah well, live and learn.

This past week I have been enjoying a new product: maple sugar! I got it from the maple syrup folks (Pleiades Maple Products, Mt. Gilead, Ohio) and I am in love. I'd noticed that putting maple syrup in my oatmeal wasn't working out so well - I had to use a lot of it, and the texture/taste was a little off. The maple sugar works like a dream! I use less of it than I would of brown sugar, and it gives a wonderfully sweet maple flavor. With it I can make a bowl of 100% local oatmeal (with local oats and a grated apple.) It's so good that I could eat it by the spoonful, so thank goodness it came in a shaker bottle (and I've only pried the lid off two or three times! :-)