Eating Local for Urban Families. Gluten-free and Dairy-free, too!

Tuesday, October 23

How Do You Get Your Food?

Last night I told Aaron we're in a new eat local challenge and explained the rules, the main ones being we do one 95% local meal per week. We kind of chuckled because this isn't much of a challenge for us. This is how we've been eating for a year.

Then today Alisa and JB from from 100 Mile Diet fame had a blog post about getting to the sources of local food. I've heard from lots of readers about how they would love to eat locally but they just don't have farmers markets nearby, don't have access to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and the supermarkets don't display place-of-origin labeling (which may change sometime next year, at least to display country-of-origin).

The transportation piece of eating locally is something I've been thinking about a lot as I make changes in how I get around. Yesterday I took the girls on a bus-riding adventure to the co-op, something we've been doing a few times a month. This was a two-hour trip that normally would have taken about 45 - 60 minutes by car (I'm including the shopping time in there, too). But it was a glorious sunny day, unusually warm, and a great way to get through the witching hour after I stop working and before Aaron got home from work (though Clara still whined endlessly for some stupid red thermal bag she spied when we got to the market).

It wasn't an easy trip. On the way home I was carrying Iris in the sling, had my overstuffed diaper messenger bag over the other shoulder, and was shlepping two full shopping bags, one containing four dozen egg cartons and the other a giant container of honey, in addition to various produce and household items. Imagine if one of those had dropped or opened up!

Still, I carried all this through rush-hour bus time, happily. But would I have been so happy if I *had* to take the bus to the store every time we needed food? Would I bring the kids with me, considering this a lesson in alternative transportation and developing street smarts? Or would I be bitter and resentful and just give up and go to the Kroger-owned Mega Store 5 blocks away?

And if this was three years ago, this wouldn't have happened. I had a full-time job and worked in an office downtown. I couldn't even take the bus then, unless I was willing to trade my 20 minute commute for a 1.5 hour one, bussing the triangle from work to daycare to home.

Now, I have so many choices.

And then there's my favorite market, New Seasons. All the produce has state labeling, sometimes a label that tells you the name of the farm that grew the food. They mark processed foods created in Oregon, Washington and Northern California (the latter doesn't qualify as local to me, but I'll choose Cali before, say, Maine in most cases). The co-op does an even better job of this by including bulk foods.

I just re-checked the farmers market schedule and in October I still have a half-dozen farmers markets I could easily buy from. Next month I'll be down to about three that are still convenient, there will be two through December, and one is year-round.

I have so many options. This is all so easy for me.

But I've heard that it's not so easy for everyone. If you want to eat locally but find it's a lot of work, what are the challenges that you face? Are there ways to make small changes, like doing one meal a week that's mostly local, or does that feel like more effort than is feasible and worthwhile?

I think Alisa and JB's suggestions are great but I'm also keenly aware, as I was when I read Plenty, that they are childless freelancers in good enough shape to ride their bikes everywhere. Not everyone is in that boat; even now I'm not and I have more flexibility in my life than a lot of people.

So what *would* make it easy for you? What could you commit to? Or, if you have made small changes, what *does* work for you? And please understand, these questions are not rhetorical, nor are they meant to induce guilt! I really am interested in what's working for people and what are the roadblocks to local, sustainable eating.

One-car Family Update:
So far, so good. I haven't driven my Subaru for over two weeks, instead driving the BioBeast, walking, taking the bus or train, or using Flexcar, which I mostly use for work. So far Flexcar has cost me about $75 this month (all expensable), much less than the Subaru costs, which is close to $200 per month (only mileage is expensable). Aaron did drive the Subaru to Burgerville last weekend when I had the truck, but I contend that had he not had that option he would have walked to one of the many restaraunts in our neighborhood. Or just made some food at home.

I think it's time to just bite the bullet. I want to sell the Subaru while it still has some value. I think it's time for a tune-up and detailing. If you're in the market for a sweet, low-miles (65K) '98 Impreza, let me know!

Monday, October 22

Dark Days Challenge

Oops! I missed posting for the first week of the Dark Days Challenge hosted by my fellow Northwesterner, Laura from Urban Hennery. This is another eat local challenge for the months out of the year when it's not quite as easy to find as much fresh, local variety as it is in the summer months.

(from Laura's rules)

1. We have to cook one meal a week with at least 90% local ingredients
2. We have to write about it - the triumphs and the challenges
3. Local means a 200 mile radius for raw ingredients. For processed foods the company must be within 200 miles and committed to local sources.
4. We're going to keep it up through the end of the year, and then re-evaluate on New Year’s Day.

And I like these rules so I'll go with them, too. The 200 mile radius is a new one for us, but one meal a week, 90% local? I checked Google Maps and this radius includes a good portion of the states of Oregon and Washington so I'm not too worried about that restriction. I'm pretty sure we can pull this off.

Last week was a four-day-long recovery (really, still not caught up) after my Bay Area trip, followed by a funeral for my Uncle Floyd this past Saturday. (We're very sad to have lost him--achingly sad, really--but glad he is finally at peace after a long illness.)

Anyway, I've learned a lesson: pre-order an online grocery delivery before I leave on a trip to be delivered the day I return. I spent most of last week slapping together random meals, and local many were not. Observe: for lunch one day, the kids got gluten-free tuna noodles made with CoffeeMate instead of milk. And then they got it again at dinner.

This week we are all prepared. I did a huge grocery shop at the big store on Sunday afternoon and a little shop at the co-op this afternoon with the girls. I'm working on a series of meals that go through a week, made easier with a little pre-cooking on Sunday and then incorporating the leftovers into meals throughout the week.

Sunday I cooked up two chickens, though one was intended to be dinner that night. We had a birthday party, then I did my shopping, so I didn't get home in time to make the chickens for dinner and instead roasted them after the kids went to bed. We had sausage patties and a ton of veggies instead. I also cooked up a bunch of roasted potatoes that we used in a frittata tonight (totally delish, like souffle, probably the best one I've ever made, and I have no idea why).

Having all this food, much of it already cooked up, in the fridge feels like wealth.

Friday, October 19

To The Bay and Back

I hadn’t been back to my alma mater, Mills College, since I packed up my dorm room, stuffed it all into my dad’s van, along with Aaron’s motorcycle (seriously, we put the bike in the van) and headed north to Portland. But this past weekend I headed down to the Bay Area for a journalism department reunion and finally saw the campus and all of its gorgeous Spanish architecture, inhaled the scent of the eucalyptus trees (I think this is what made me go to this school—that smell lifts you up and make you feel like you can do anything), and met up with a group of women I didn’t actually know (no one from my class was there) but all shared this campus, a beautiful and maddening little world all of its own.

I’d been back to the Bay Area many times, even to my old haunts in Berkeley, but not to campus. There are lots of reasons, too many to go into here, and as time goes on most of my old disappointments with Mills seem too inconsequential now to hang onto. For a few years I’ve wanted to renew relationships with the people and the professors I knew then, partly for your basic career networking, partly out of a desire to make connections with new graduates and help usher them into the working world, but mainly because they were such a big part of my life, they taught me so much, and I missed them.

I was on campus for a very short three hours, so I really didn’t get to see much of anything. And that was because I had to head across the Bay to see…


…Shuna!

Ok, really, you have to believe me. That white blob in the middle really is Shuna Fish Lydon. The LitQuake Lit Crawl reading was totally packed into at Laszlo’s, a skinny, dark bar in the Mission. When I first got there (sure that I’d missed her entirely because I’d had to drive around for 20 minutes looking for parking) the place was packed to the door and even when I stood on my tiptoes in the entry way I couldn’t see anything. I held my camera over my head and tried to hold really still, but as you can see that didn’t work out very well.

No matter. Shuna read her piece on recipes, which I knew well. It was lovely to hear her sweet, clear, sometimes creaky voice read her words aloud. This was a warm and witty Shuna (with just a smidge of bitterness thrown in there, which is her way). It wasn’t the Shuna of raw emotion I saw speak at Blogher when she spoke about the impact the words—the good and, especially, the bad--of food bloggers can have on an eatery, how they can make or break the fortunes of so many good people. If you’re not reading her series on opening a restaurant, which addresses this here (though somewhat cryptically) follow the series by starting here.

At the reading I ran into Jennifer Jeffrey, who has just published her crab book. We talked a bit about her two-part piece on feminism and cooking (part 1 here, part 2 here). This issue is one I’ve been contemplating for a long time, before and after Jennifer wrote on it. I keep thinking I need to write some kind of response, but…I keep running into work deadlines, field trips, housework, a funeral, dentist appointments, trips to the co-op where the damned local eggs still haven’t come in, coffee dates with friends I haven’t seen in months… I keep running into all the real-life craziness that women juggle when they devote themselves (by choice or for survival) to work and family and friends.

For Jennifer I think the food probably suffers before the writing. Though I only assume this because she’s published two books. For me, I know the writing suffers first. I could easily choose convenience food and have more time for writing, or anything. Right now I have to trust that the food has to come first, because that’s where the writing starts. The problem is I always feel like I’m stuck at the beginning and not making much progress.

Back to food…

Iris and I stayed with my cousin, Laura, and her sweet little family in San Jose. Sunday morning we headed up the street to their fabulous little farmer’s market. I didn’t buy much since I would be leaving the next morning, but now, looking at these photos, I wish I’d bought a little of everything and just ate my way through the rest of the day.

Laura, who’s lived most of her life in the Bay Area, chuckled as I went on and on about how lucky they were to still have green beans! And tomatoes! And eggplant! And strawberries! To her, this is all commonplace.


Monday, October 8

Sell your car, plant a garden

It's official: I'm a member of Flexcar!


After reviewing some material I picked up at their booth at the Green Sprouts festival a few weeks ago I did the math and realized that my 10-year-old, paid off, totally reliable Subaru Impreza, which I drive about 100 miles a month, costs me about $200 a month in gas, insurance and maintenance. Imagine all the local eggs I could buy with $200 a month...

One of the ways Flexcar make membership attractive to me is the gas is free! You're expected to fill the tank if it gets below 1/4 tank, but they provide you with a gas card so you don't pay anything.

So we're in the midst of a little experiment: Can I go without the Subaru and rely our on our BioBeast (the Ford F250, which runs biodiesel) and alternative modes of transport for a month or two? If yes, we'll sell it. And I like extra money so I'm determined.


This is the Scion I drove on my Flexcar maiden voyage.

Truthfully, it drives like a tin can and the instruments are poorly designed. But it got me there.

Aaron bikes or takes the train to work so the BioBeast is home all day. But it's huge. Last week I had a meeting downtown where I knew the parking situation was going to be tight. Not wanting to risk circling until I found a spot big enough for the BioBeast, and then having to parallel park, I reserved a Flexcar. There's one parked about three blocks from my house--totally convenient. I gave myself about 15 extra minutes to walk, picked up the car without incident and made my way downtown without fear of sideswiping anyone!

So far, I've only driven the Subaru when I'm being lazy, I've been too sick to walk (like this week) or I haven't planned ahead. For example: I was all set to meet a friend down on Mississippi for dinner and could take the #6 bus almost door to door.

But Iris hadn't nursed for most of the day and I didn't think about this until it was almost time to leave. I nursed her...then Clara had a meltdown and didn't want me to leave. By the time I got out the door I saw from my porch the bus pulling away from the stop.

Not wanting to make my friend wait 20 minutes while I took the next bus or got on the laptop to reserve a Flexcar, and not wanting to parallel park the BioBeast, I drove my car. But looking back, had I not had another choice, I would have driven the truck, it just would have been a pain.

Don't know if this is Flexcar art or if it's from the city, but I love this sign


I'm not sure how often I'll use Flexcar so I bought one of the low-use plans. My ultimate goal is to use public transport or walk/run/bike as often as possible, but with my tight work schedule sometimes that just doesn't work. And as much as I am a believer in alternative fuels, that gigantic F250 just isn't always practical for urban driving. I'll likely only use Flexcar when I'm going somewhere by myself, such as work meetings, because I don't want to constantly change out carseats. When the kids come with me, we'll drive the BioBeast.

If this works, and so far it seems like it will, we'll have an extra $150 bucks or so in our pockets at the end of the month. This will come in handy when I start on next year's vegetable garden!

To the Pumpkin Patch



Not our first visit of the year to Kruger's Farm, but the first for pumpkins.




Somehow, they still have strawberries. Sure, half of them were moldy the next morning, but at a buck a pint, and in October, you can't really complain.





There's more than pumpkins over in those fields...a sign of healthy, clean soil.






Who is that big four-year-old in the back, there? And maybe if that baby would quit fighting sleep she'd not be dozing on her feet like that.




That's the spirit, little R! Now Iris, if you would please just let us all get some sleep you might feel this chipper, too.


In case you can't already tell, Miss Iris, formerly The Best Sleeping Baby in the Universe, is turning us all into zombies by exercising her toddler will. Please pardon signs of sleep deprivation such as misspellings, poorly worded directions, and mistakenly omitted ingredients until further notice.

Sunday, October 7

From eggbeater: Pastry Chef Am I. Moderne or Old-Fashioned? This is an example of why I'm madly in love with Shuna. God, I love indignant, passionate, slightly cranky and inspiring food writing.

I first heard her speak at BlogHer in July when, as the subject of scathing restaurant reviews came up, she gave an impassioned, teary request to food writers to remember the folk who are pouring their hearts and souls (and their bank accounts) into the food we eat and how our words can determine the fate of their livlihoods and their lives. I was smitten.

I am a complete sucker for an artist, which is why I've worked with them for the last 10 years (but oh, thank the heavens I didn't marry one). And I absolutely believe chefs are artists as they use all the same parts of their brains and bodies as any painter or designer. And I love anyone who is as devoted to her craft and her brethren as Shuna is. That passion and commitment is intoxicating and I love being around it (in the case of Shuna, reading about it).

Most of all, I love the product of that passion. I'm going to be in the Bay Area next week and I am so hoping I get to taste that "crunchy & sumptuous" chocolate cake!

Friday, October 5

Linky Love - Local Eating in the News

Psssst! If you look over on the right-hand column of this page and scroll waaaaaay down you'll see the Google supplied news for local food issues. I always find interesting stories from around the world on local eating and food supply issues.

Food is the mega trend of 2007

The U.S. is easing up on its practice of selling surplus commodoties to NGOs at low prices, possibly opening the door for small farmers worldwide to get a more fair price for their crops. From The India Times:

The virtual disappearance of dumping is great news for farmers across the world who can now expect to receive the real price for their crops from the world market. Unfortunately, the downside is that for the world’s 850 million hungry people, often concentrated in countries ravaged by war and famine, the decline in food aid also means plunging further into hopelessness.

Related to this, last August U.S.-based CARE, one of the largest international aid organizations in the world, announced it will turn down 46 million dollars in food subsidies from the U.S. government.

***

Just as I was realizing that there were no presidential candidates that have local food on their radars, I read that it's an actual campaign issue in Ontario, Canada:

All parties polish apple to promote local foods; Ontario farm aid now yields city votes, too

Depending on the day on the NDP campaign bus, Howard Hampton might be munching on a strudel with organic Swiss chard grown near Hamilton or Italian sausage from a King City pig.

It's part of a plan to promote the local food movement, underscored by a radical platform to pass a law, if the NDP were elected, that would require grocery stores to reserve shelf space for Ontario produce.

The four biggest parties have platforms to provide a boost to local farmers and get more of their products into our bellies.

It's a sign that politicians have realized agriculture is also an urban issue. City dwellers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, and how it is grown.


***

I may need to go visit Fran Clemetson in Maine. She writes about her book group reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and how it inspired her to plan local meals for her family of six. I need a book group that helps me plan dinner!

Eating Exclusively Local; Well, Almost

We have a rather proactive book group and had been discussing ways to promote the local food economy when some of us decided to create a challenge by eating exclusively locally grown food for at least one meal and reporting back to the group about our experience. We had a good discussion around the challenges of meal planning.
***

And it's that time of year again: Thanksgiving! This is a special food holiday for me because this will be the eleventh anniversary of holding it at my house (except for the one the year I was pregnant with Iris because our kitchen was under construction and I had morning sickness from hell). I love the week-long ritual of planning, shopping and cooking. Oh, and the eating, too.

The 100 Mile Diet people are getting everyone ready for a local Thanksgiving. I encourage anyone who is on the fence about eating locally to try out the 100 Mile Thanksgiving, or, as we do it, eating from your region or state. Given that the traditional Thanksgiving dinner draws from seasonal foods in North America, it's really not that hard. For most people it's pretty easy to find turkey, pumpkin, potatoes and other vegetables from close-by. LocalHarvest is always a great place to start.
***
We just finished the last celebration of Clara's Birthday Week. I'm beat. But we've got an old friend (and her we-haven't-met-yet husband) coming for brunch tomorrow and I've got to get planning. The Tipping Tree eggs hadn't shown up at the co-op as if 6 PM last night (gah!) but I've got tons of apples from Kruger's Farm and the farmers market, plus local sausage, so I'm thinking...I have no idea. I have to get on the recipe sites and figure this out.
I seriously want a book club that will brainstorm meals with me.

Thursday, October 4

Fred's Roses

My husband rolls his eyes when I tell people this: I can read the personality of a house. Sometimes. If I really want to. Some houses, I don’t want to read. There is too much sadness, anxiety or a sense of resignation. We once lived in a new apartment. It was a like a baby, excited to see what we’d do next. My uncle once lived in a house that hated children.

Our house has always been a house of possibilities. Of invention. Of dedication and perseverance and optimism. Sometimes I think this house has made us who we are now (I’ve essentially lived here my entire adult life). We loved this house from the moment we walked in the door, almost exactly ten years ago. True, we were living in a broken-down, worn-out and totally apathetic 93-year-old townhouse with the most maddening, pothead liar for a landlord. Just about any dwelling would have looked better.



But that’s not true. We did look at other houses, after this one (it was the first). And we just loved this house. It’s a 1912 Craftsman bungalow, wide, with a full front porch, and four dormers. I especially loved the kitchen (it seemed huge then, before kids). It had solid bones, a proud character, and we could afford it (we actually rented it for almost a year, then bought it). And we wanted out of that crazy townhouse.

Fred

It wasn’t until we’d been here a few months that I started to think about Fred. We pieced together, from stories we were told, that he probably grew up in this house, and lived most of his adult life here. We don’t know much else about him, except that he was frugal and self-reliant, handy and committed. We could see it in the things he left behind.



I started to read this house, once we’d settled in and arranged our ratty towels in the linen closet, organized our cheap cookware in the white melamine Home Depot cabinets our landlord installed. Fred had left a deep impression here, from the jar lids nailed to the rafters in the basement (presumably to secure containers that held small items, such as screws and nails, up out of the way) to the old hybrid roses that lined the driveway. And when I read this house I knew it was ready to be ours. Fred was leaving, knowing that his home was in the care of people who truly loved it and would care for it.


I don’t remember when I really began to think about the garden. I do remember, after living here a year or two, Aaron said something about taking over all the yard work knowing I was bored by the whole idea. He was tired of the unwelcoming juniper in the front, the suffocating hedge in the back, the mishmash of immortal calendula and random, forgotten perennials in the driveway beds. I’d done some of the basic maintenance here and there, and I’d worked very hard at taking out the blackberries at the behest of the mortgage company; they could attract pests, you know. (Incidentally, this company also made us exterminate a bumble bee nest under the porch, which I will always regret, much the same way I wish we’d just tended down the brambles.)

Later we learned that Fred was out practically every day tending those blackberries. “To keep active,” the lady next door explained. Now I know he probably enjoyed a bumper crop of berries, too. I’ll always wonder what he did with them. Eat them? Give them away? Did he bake? Make jam?


Gardening to distraction

Though my container garden at the townhouse threatened to take down the whole dilapidated balcony with the weight of clay pots, I was uninterested in the garden here. Until, that is, about 2001, after we’d lived here about four years, when the economy was in shambles and no one in this town, who worked in marketing or design at least, could find a job. We were chronically under-employed and, for a few months, lived on the equity in this house. At the end of the summer I took over the struggling web design company Aaron started and he got a job in web analytics. Then September 11th happened and things went for horrible to, well, a blur.

Landscaping the yard was our escape. That summer we pulled out the juniper. We put in a basalt rock wall and planted native shrubs. We weeded. We fertilized. We shoveled dirt, a lot of dirt. We thought about anything but our derailed careers and our shrinking bank account. Don’t ask me how we paid for all this gardening. Or all the cocktails we consumed.

Still, as far as maintenance went, I mostly ignored the roses. Because I could. They were old and healthy and unfussy. They simply asked for water, a lot of water. And I didn’t mind if they were a little blackspotty, or if the aphids sucked the life out of their buds. I just pulled off their fungus-infested appendages and stuffed these colorful long-stemmed beauties in vases I set around my house and enjoyed their charm.


A garden designer told me that I should break them up and move them. “You’ll enjoy them more,” she said. I was shocked. As a native of the City of Roses I always knew roses in rows. I would not move them. And what if they didn’t survive the trauma? This is when I knew I loved these rose bushes, all twelve of them.

Clearing out the old

Earlier this year, when I started to crave space for growing food, we consulted a garden designer, Laura Baughman. She advised us to take out three of the rose bushes, the peace roses close to the carport. I knew she was right, though I felt horribly guilty at sacrificing these old bushes for this new project. A few weekends ago we decided we would take them out as part of our big three-day yard maintenance marathon.

That Sunday morning I heard a commotion on my porch.

“Anybody home?” It was Neighbor Joe, delivering more plums. He’d never stopped by here before; I always met him while visiting my friend, who lives next door to him. We chatted a while. I promised him jam. He looked over the railing of my porch toward the driveway. “Do you still have those roses?” he asked.

“Yes, they’re still there,” I said. In a few hours I wouldn’t be able to answer this question the same way.

“That old man, you know, he used to be out here every day taking care of those roses,” Joe told me. “He was real old, you know, about 90.” (Joe is 89.) “Then he’d invite me in for a drink…” He laughed his dirty-old-man laugh.




I hadn’t thought about Fred in a long time. Little by little his imprint on this house has faded and our family’s has settled in. Our modern ways, or at least our sense of aesthetics, necessitate making substantial changes to this house. He probably wouldn't recognize the kitchen with it's shiny steel appliances. The (sort of make-shift) office where I write this, and where my home-based business is headquartered, was once his basement workshop. Soon we’ll put in a master suit in the semi-finished attic. And we've brought back the old things he tried to do away with. The year Clara was born we re-installed the period moldings around the doors and windows, bringing back the “old” look that Fred no doubt tried to remove sometime in the 60s in favor of something modern.

But that Fred. With Joe’s out-of-nowhere comment, he just had to make sure I knew how much he loved his roses. I didn’t tell Joe that I planned to take out three bushes, the peace roses, that day. When the time came I watched Aaron unceremoniously stick a spade under each plant and scoop it out, practically without effort, which surprised me. Did they know their time was up? It happened so fast I didn't even get a picture. I'm kind of glad. It's makes it easier to move on.


The blessing
But I made sure Fred knew I’d gotten the message, just by speaking this story. And I told him the other roses were staying and that I intended to grow food in this newly cleared bed. I imagine he’d grown tomatoes and zucchini and lettuce somewhere on this lot or perhaps in the once empty lot next door where the 1950s cottage now sits.




At the end of the day I think I got another little sign from him. Clara appeared at the front door dangling a bunch of blackberries in her fingers. Aaron took out a fence and all the brambles around it and gave this to her to bring to me. These were the progeny of Fred’s blackberries at the peak of their season. We went to the kitchen where Iris was perched in her highchair and the three of us ate them all in about thirty seconds flat.

“Mmm, they’re sweet,” Clara said. “And this one is sour.”

A little snack, courtesy of Fred. I think he approves of our new garden plans.

Chicken Soup with Rice


The first night after the Eat Local Challenge was over, I got a nasty cold. I was achy and cranky and not up to cooking.

So I ordered take out. Thai Food from Thai Ginger, one of the best-loved Thai places in North Portland.

And, it was…salty. That’s what I noticed first. The vegetables were quite cooked and salty. But then the Pad Thai was super sweet and oily. Before I could bring it up Clara noticed, too. “Salty,” she said, with a bit of surprise. (She’s getting a very keen palette, that one, though it doesn’t often seem to be working in my favor.)

After a month of eating food that was either my own local “good grub” or fancy Northwest Palette, this food that is usually one of my favorites seemed really foreign and off.

But I appreciated the leftover white rice the next night when I made chicken soup. I’d roasted a whole chicken over the weekend to carry though the week, something I’ve been doing often. The only problem I’ve found is that these organic chickens I’m buying barely have enough meat for two meals. I need to find some local farmer with fat chickens.

lemon thyme (I really love this photo)

Hopefully, enough rosemary

These are yet two new additions to my herb garden. I’ve been blowing through the rosemary so fast my little plant was about down to stumps and I was going to have to start wandering the neighborhood with scissors. I fell in love with the lemon thyme in the garden of or cabin on Orcas Island. Both go great stuffed under the skin of roasting chicken.

Anyhow, we had leftover chicken and this white rice and I had a container of frozen stock I’d made previously thawing in the fridge. After we eat all the meat off the carcass I make stock and freeze it, then bring it out as we finish the next roasted chicken to make soup.

I’ve included measurements in this to give you a place to start, but they’re all approximate and totally open to adaptation. This is one of those dishes you can tailor to whatever you’ve got in the pantry, which is pretty much how we roll, if you hadn’t noticed. Edited to add: My friend, Leah, pointed out that celery is always a good addition to chicken soup and I totally agree. In fact, I prefer it with celery. I just haven't accepted that I have to start buying Cali-grown veggies yet.

This soup was a bit thick since I had relatively little liquid and the rice with potatoes made it starchy, but I liked the heartiness. The tarragon was a nice change of pace, though the next day I had the leftover for lunch and the nutty, garlic flavor had intensified significantly.

There is just no way to make roasted chicken look good in photos.


Chicken Soup with Rice

2 - 4 cups of chicken stock, depending on how thick you want your soup
about 2 cups of chopped roasted chicken (or ½ cup per serving)
2 – 3 carrots, chopped
3 – 4 potatoes, cubed
½ cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
1 tsp. dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked rice; white, wild or brown, depending on taste


That's the rice. And veggies, of course.

The Knob Creek is my "cough medine." Add hot water to a shot for a soothing nightcap.


1. Heat the stock in a sauce pan on medium heat until just steaming. Add garlic and onion and let warm for a few minutes.

2. Add carrots and potatoes and let simmer, covered, for 5 – 8 minutes, until just tender.

3. Add chicken and tarragon, then salt and pepper to taste and stir. Next add the cooked rice. Simmer 5 – 15 minutes until flavors meld to desired taste.

Mmmmm.

Wednesday, October 3

ELC: The summary

September is over, the leaves are yellow and collecting in my flowerbeds. And the Eat Local Challenge is over.

How’d we do?

1. As much as possible, eat produce grown and meat and eggs raised in Oregon and Washington.

Grade: B

Of course, we strayed here and there, but for the most part this is what I bought at the store and markets. And it was easy! Our dinners were almost always all local (except for spices and condiments) and we ate well. Sausage, potatoes, veggies, chicken—all easy to get here. Breakfasts were second-best with eggs being the main player, rounded out with local fruit and accompanied by gluten-free pancakes (not at all local) or Bob’s Red Mill Rice Cereal (local company, rice from Cali).

Lunches were another story. See below for how well I did at making Aaron’s lunch (I made two, then not at all). And I had a lot of business lunches, though those really couldn’t be helped. Even the good days were a little dull with random leftovers. In fairness to myself, that’s how I always do lunch because I work at home and barely have time to eat. But I would like to make more interesting and satisfying lunches with local foods. I’m thinking soups this winter…

2. If it’s not local ingredients, buy from a local company.


Grade: B+

There are lots of local food companies here and our neighborhood grocery store, New Seasons makes it easy to spot local foods with their little shelf tags. They also make it easy to discern which is local produce by displaying place of origin labeling on prices signs.

We ate a lot of Kettle Chips, Kettle cashew butter, and Bob’s Red Mill products. All yummy.

3. If not locally produced nor a local company, then organic.

Grade: A-

This was pretty easy. The only thing that wasn’t local and wasn’t organic was the gluten-free pancake and cupcake mixes.

4. Bring lunch to work.

Grade: F

Totally flunked at this. Mainly I just forgot about it. And Aaron always likes to have a lot of food so our meager leftovers wouldn’t work for him. Sometimes he made his own sandwiches, I noticed. But I’m certain he ate out a lot. Not his fault, I’m the one who didn’t buy the right kinds of foods. But I still don’t know what those are.

5. If we eat out, eat at locally-owned restaurants that use locally-grown ingredients.

Grade: A

Again, this is easy. Portland is bursting with fabulous local restaurants and cafes (even the NYT think so). There were times when I was eating out and I felt guilty when I was eating something totally delicious because I knew the meal wasn’t entirely local. But I know a good chunk of at least the in-season ingredients were local, and I kept the dollars in my local economy, creating a bigger channel for local producers to sell into. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

6. Stick to the average American food budget. In this case $144 per week.

Grade: C+

Oh, I tried. And I got close. But I know just eating out one night a week through us over, and even without that, we were usually a bit over. There were a few things I could have done differently but chose not to: 1) bought cheaper eggs that were local but from a big chicken factory; 2) skipped the chips, as they’re not a necessity (we just wanted something snacky); 3) bought less fruit and more vegetables; 4) gone without the gluten-free products (if you don’t know, they’re $$$).

But then there are few things I did that I don’t normally do: 1) bought a lot of ground meat because it is always cheaper and bought whole chickens instead of parts; 2) bought the bare minimum of veggies except when it came to potatoes, which I bought a lot of; 3) when and item of produce was at its peak, bought a lot of it.

I do know how to buy food when you have no money, because I’ve done it before. But wow, after too many years of black beans, cheap cheddar, and ramen, I found my limits to deprivation. I really wanted the nectarines and the neighborhood-grown grapes and the strawberries and the cantaloupe. I knew if I didn’t indulge now they’d be gone for a year. So I indulged.

So could you feed a family of four on $144 with local food? Yes, but it might suck.

7. Start a garden.


Grade: A-

I did it! I bought starts and we have greens!

What I didn’t do is plant seeds. It's late but I may do it anyway to see what happens.

8. Preserve.

Grade: B-

I really didn’t do much beyond freezing a few things. Work was crazy and I didn’t have extra food prep time. And, with the self-imposed budget constraints, I didn’t want to buy more than we could eat. Will I regret this in February? I don’t know. But next year I’ll definitely do more.

Our exceptions:


1. Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix – Oh, yes, lots of this. And Bob’s Red Mill’s Rice Flour (the rice if from California) – Didn’t use this at all.

2. Gluten-free pastas. Skipped these completely! Shocks me. We just ate potatoes instead. I don’t think we’ll go back, either. Too expensive.

3. And along those lines, if I can’t find a local or organic or gluten-free or dairy-free version, I’ll buy whatever. Yep, we had lots of Cherrybrook chocolate cupcakes. Someday maybe I’ll get creative and make a tower of pears or something and stick candles in it.

4. We’ll eat whatever is already in the house, wherever it came from. Amazing how much food is always in this house. And how sad is it that I had to throw away two things of CANNED soup? Who has canned soup so long that it goes bad? Me, apparently.

5. And the ones that gets everyone: coffee and olive oil. As expected. We bought organic olive oil (though I may be narrowing in on a totally US grown olive oil) and fair-trade coffee from local companies. I’m starting to look at shade grown. Any opinions?

Some other challenges we took on again, because this isn’t just about the food:


1. Bike, walk, or train as often as possible.

Grade: B+

We did really well on this! I walked to preschool most days, or drove what I’m now calling the BioBeast (the F250 that runs on biodiesel—its freakin’ huge). Aaron only drove a few times—he even brought home Clara’s new pink birthday bike on the train! Hung it from the commuter hooks and everything. He got some looks. Oh, I wish I had pix of that.

But we wanted to do more. So we signed up for Flexcar, a service that lets you rent a car by the hour (you go to where it’s parked and then park it in a designated spot when you’re finished). The thought is that we’ll go down to a one-family car. When walking or pub trans won’t work, and Aaron’s got the BioBeast, I can use the Flexcar. We’re still in “test mode” on this and I’ll blog more on this.

I’m also eyeing this little girl:



Trek Bike 7300 WS.
So. Cute.


2. Buy (almost) nothing new.

Grade: A-

We bought new stuff for the yard, like lumber, soil, and some tiki torches. And it was all pretty much new, as I expected.

But I haven’t seen the inside of a Target in over a month. Didn’t buy new clothes, though I did buy some tops for Clara at a second-hand store, Tickled Pink on Killingsworth.

What did I do about gifts? This was harder. For a friend of Clara’s I bought a handmade stuffed animal from Tickled Pink. New, but not mass produced or imported. And for my brother I actually bought him local food—two cheeses, mustard and bread from the New Seasons bakery. He loved it.

3. Tell friends about what we’re doing.

Grade: B-

I’m still a little shy about this. But we did have a potluck and asked people to bring local food, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. There were lots of Kettle chips, tomatoes, cheeses and potatoes salad, all delicious. But I didn’t speak up about our experience. I still fear appearing preachy.

And…


I dropped a dress size.

We’re totally off packed snack food. Not sure why we thought we needed those at all. Though Clara actually asked for something “that comes in a package.” And she keeps asking about all the cereal with cartoons on the boxes. Damn marketing.

Even though there were moments when I felt guilty because I was sure we weren’t local enough (my husband assures me we are), I’m glad I made this sustainable for us. Because I think we can keep this up. I just have to figure out the lunch thing.

Edited formatting because Blogger is puking all over my code.

Friday, September 28

Summer goodbye, summer goodbye

Summer goodbye
Summer goodbye
You can no longer stay
Autumn is on its way
Summer goodbye
Summer goodbye

That lyric is from a melancholy song the kids at preschool sing this time of year. It’s like a lullaby that sings you into the quiet, dark days of winter.



Melancholy me


This past Wednesday was the last market day at the Interstate Farmers Market, the one closest to our house. Like every Wednesday before (at least the ones when we made it) we met up with old friends, new friends and “market friends." The kids climbed on the park's new play equipment while the moms and dads obediently pushed swings “HIGHER!” and caught squirmy, squealing toddlers at the end of slides.




Our neighbors, two doors down. Silas, Clara's best playmate,
was coming down with an end-of-summer cold.


My girls always gravitated toward the samples, especially the berries and peaches. And when I was brave (stupid) enough to let Iris out of the stroller or backpack Clara dutifully guided her grabby hands away from the Roma tomatoes. Iris, however, did not appreciate this.





Now that it’s over for the season, I think more than the food I'll miss the farmers. I'm still a little shy around them--I feel like sort of a groupie. But I learned so much in even the shortest conversations. And farmers are always excited to tell you about their crops and what they love about them. After selling, that's the reason they're at the market.

See those squashes? I refuse to buy squashes
this early.
There's plenty of time for squash.

Five minutes before this picture was taken she'd been stung, twice, by a homocidal yellow jacket, right on her eyelid!. She was fine, obviously. A honey stick seemed to take the sting away.


I stuck to my budget on this market day, but it meant being very frugal and not getting a lot of fruit. Saturday I got a little panicky and had to get some nectarines at the grocery store. (Next I'll tally up the costs, and do my official retrospective of the Eat Local Challenge.)

No one can deny those yellow-gold leaves.


Autumn is here. But the season isn’t totally over, of course. The Hollywood Market goes for a few more months and the Portland Market in the Park Blocks goes ‘till December. I can still get my farmer fix.



Clara and me in the parking lot next to the Interstate Farmers Market, overlooking the Willamette River and the city of Portland.

Edited for formatting.

Thursday, September 27

Seasonal Transitional Dinner

The kind ladies at Enviromom, Renee and Heather, whom I met at Green Sprouts last weekend, gently pointed out that I haven’t been posting a lot of recipes. And they’re right. It’s been so hectic around here I haven’t been taking the time to make notes and take photos. But last night I did, and here’s a great example of what we’re eating for dinner these days.

This meal is “seasonal transitional,” meaning it’s taking the best of the end of summer and the beginning of fall. It has a few non-local (to me) ingredients but most ingredients can probably be found just about anywhere in North America right now.

Potatoes have become our new pasta. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. I appreciate that they’re loaded with good vitamins and minerals. Clara is still boycotting them, but everyone else seems to like them fine. I used to dislike potatoes, too, because I thought they took too long to cook (they don’t if you slice them thinly) and they’re high on the glycemic index, something I try to avoid, at least at dinner. I think I also wasn’t storing them correctly and that affected the flavor. Now I keep them in a paper bag in a cupboard and I’m enjoying them much more.

Fennel still feels very exotic to me as this is the first season I’ve ever cooked with it. I know! I love the licorice taste and Iris devours the celery-like stalks. Even Aaron, who dislikes licorice, likes it. Clara hates it. Shocker!

Chop the fennel bulb like you would an onion. Chop the stalks like celery.

Apple Fennel Salad

-1 fennel bulb, chopped in half and then into thin slices (See Note)
-1 Granny Smith apple, or any variety of your choice, chopped into 1” chunks
-1 small carrot grated, more if you like
-1/4 cup red cider vinegar
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-2 tsp. local honey

1. Toss together fennel, carrot and apple in a salad bowl.
2. In a separate bowl combine oil and vinegar and stir in honey. Whisk or stir briskly with a fork. Toss with salad to coat.

Note: You can dice the ends of the fennel stocks like you would celery.


Apple Fennel Salad


What do you call this kind of potato dish? It’s not casserole, it’s not a hash (though if you diced the potatoes it could be, I’m just too lazy to go to that much work). So I’m just calling this a “Fry Up.” Because that’s just what you do—throw potatoes and meat together and fry it up. This will not win any culinary awards. This dish is pure sustenance. Given our budget constraints with the Eat Local Challenge it works because it's a filling, nutritious and tasty, cheap dinner.

I seriously made this up as I went. That’s how I cook most nights. The beauty of cooking with fresh, whole foods is that you know the flavors will be strong and present and the texture of the foods will be at their best. If you've got those things, you don't have to do much else to the food.

In the case of this particular potato dish I wanted it to complement the salad, since that was the dish with the strongest flavors. I didn’t want to add onion or garlic, like I normally do with my staple potato dishes. And I certainly didn’t want to add anything too sweet. So I decided, as the potatoes were cooking, to chop up a carrot and toss that in. Then I actually added a few sprinkles of dried fennel seeds. I know that seems like fennel overload but the dried seeds are considerably less potent and have an earthy flavor. The flavors just faded into one another, like different hues of the same color. And Clara ate the carrots.

The Fry Up


Potato and Ground Pork Fry-up
-1 lb. of ground pork (or turkey or beef)
-1 tbsp. olive oil or butter
-2 red potatoes, cut into 1/8” slices
-1 small chopped carrot (more if you like)
-Dash of pepper and salt
-¼ tsp. of dried fennel seeds

1. Sauté the meat in a frying pan until cooked but not browned. Set aside in a separate bowl.
2. In the same frying pan heat the oil or butter on medium heat about 30 seconds. Add the potatoes and carrots (see note). Cook covered about 4 minutes, separating frequently. Add ground meat to potato mixture. Cook 4 more minutes or until potatoes are tender and meat is browned.

Note: Add the carrots later in the process if you like a really crisp carrot.

And there you have it. A simple, flavorful salad and a total peasant dish, literally meat and potatoes. Virtually all local and pretty cheap, too.


Edited for picture correction.

Wednesday, September 26

Keeping Perspective

What happened to September? Oh, I know: school started, clients came back from vacation, and I had to get back to work. I love my work and I’m so lucky to be able to do it at home and spend so much time with my kids. But it interferes with my blogging.

Last Saturday, while Clara and Aaron were off at a birthday party, Iris and I took the bus up to Peninsula Park for the Green Sprouts Organic Baby and Family Fest. We ran into our Alma midwives, Cynthia from Zoom Baby Gear Cloth Diapers. I will always be grateful to the women at Alma for supporting me through my pregnancy and to Cyn for loaning me the cloth dipes that got Clara potty trained. I also made friends with a woman at the Flexcar booth and signed up for a membership! I’m thinking of selling my car. More on this later.

One of the best parts of the event was meeting Heather and Renee from EnviroMom. They've got all kinds of ideas and insights that make your life a little bit greener. I’d heard of them a few months back when they got some local press and loved their style. As I’ve written about before I can become obsessed and single-minded about my food values, despite what I preach: Every little bit helps. I truly need some like-minded friends to help me keep my perspective!

How have we been doing with the Eat Local Challenge? Still, pretty good. I mean, I’m sticking to the plan and not buying much that isn’t absolutely local. All of our produce, meat and eggs are from Oregon and Washington. I tried to go a little while without corn tortillas and gluten-free bread, and I may have been able to live on wild rice and potatoes, but this wasn’t working with Aaron’s or Clara’s bag lunches so I bought more today.

I’ve also been out on business meetings and kid outings quite a bit and I know not all of what I’m eating is locally made. Still, I’ve stuck to local companies, keeping the dollars in the community. I think my biggest transgression was buying corndogs for the girls and me (I know, likely not even gluten-free) at the Oregon Zoo. We joined friends there in the morning and I really didn’t think the kids would hold up long enough for lunch. But they did, little buggers, and I had to feed them. We’d already polished off the cheese and strawberries I’d brought along. I admit those dogs were yummy. But! The Zoo did offer local apples, which we happily munched.

Some days I feel like we’re not eating any more locally than we were before the challenge. Then I realize that we’ve done fine without packaged pasta, tuna fish, and rice bars for the kids, which is new for us. (Although today, at New Seasons, Clara specifically asked for “something that comes in a wrapper.”) And while I haven’t taken meticulous notes on my spending in the last 10 days, I only spent about $12 at the farmers market last week, and about about $80 at New Seasons. We’ve done a good job of working with what we’ve got. And less is going to waste.

I tried to make our exceptions workable for our family so that this could be a sustainable practice, not just a one-time challenge. We may be getting there.

Wednesday, September 12

Gah

According to the exceptions we claimed for the Eat Local Challenge we can use up whatever was in the house when we started.




This is how much salt we have left.


I feel like I've taken so many more exceptions that most people because of food allergies and such, that I can't make an exception for this. We can live without table salt, for sure. It's just that it makes everything taste so much better.

Tuesday, September 11

Too Much of a Good Thing

As part of this month’s Eat Local Challenge we pledged to try to limit our spending to $144.00 per week, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I’m trying to find the exact citation of this). I was worried about sticking to this, because I regularly spend that much or more in one trip to the store, and I go a few times a week.

And…we did go over by a good chunk, mainly because of poor planning and actually over-buying. But we still have spent much less than we normally do and eaten really well. I wonder what the hell I’ve been spending my money on all this time.

I started the tally on August 29th because that was the day I did shopping at the farmers market for food that would carry us through that first weekend. By the end of the week we went over by $27.00 on groceries, mainly due to the sweet generosity of my husband (more on that later). And there was one desperate trip to Burgerville, a fast-food joint dedicated to local foods, to the tune of $11.50.

Then that Sunday evening Aaron and went to dinner at Pizza Fino, a locally-owned Italian place down the street from us, but that was not family food, that was marriage maintenance. (I am a huge believer in date night.)

Also, my loving husband, bless his heart, ran to the store to get wine for our dinner that first Friday night, which happened to be our 11th wedding anniversary. I gave him a budget of $8 per bottle, but he assumed I’d want Pinot Noir, my favorite type of wine, and it’s hard to find a good Pinot under $20. He did find one that was pretty decent, if a little simple, for about $15 on the Jezebel label from Daedalus Cellars in Dundee, Oregon. He also bought their Pinot Blanc, which was also nice and dry, very refreshing after a long weekend of yard work in hot weather. And local! Though around here local wine is pretty commonplace.

This second week I went to the farmers market and automatically got $40 in tokens. I can see now that was a mistake. I bought $40 worth of food and now I have to frantically figure out what to do with it all before it goes bad. It’s too much, even though I’m freezing some. I have to cut back.

Then, at the Alberta Co-Op, I was starting to feel deprived of quick, protein-rich snacks and bought too many hazelnuts and this super expensive trail mix. All local! But more than we needed. And just too expensive.

Here’s our breakdown for the first two weeks of the Eat Local Challenge:

Week One:
Veggies & fruit from the Interstate Farmers Market: $40.00
Groceries from Alberta Co-Op: $43.53
Groceries from New Seasons: $23.71.
Groceries from Fred Meyer (owned by Kroger): $33.82
Lunch at Burgerville: $11.50

Total: $152.56


Week Two:
Veggies & fruit from Hollywood Farmers Market: $40.00
Groceries from Alberta Co-Op: $55.00
Groceries form New Seasons: $71.00

Total: $166.00

I'm super glad that our problem is buying more than we need rather than feeling deprived and going over budget. This next week, I'll be a lot more on top of the planning.

Food dreams

I am dreaming about food. Almost every night. I fall asleep to visions of tomatoes hanging heavy off of jungles of vines, more than I know what to do with but I want to cook and preserve them all, as if the salvation of the human race depends on it. In my dreams I wander abandoned roads deep into forests, searching, my feet sinking deep into mud, winter sun keeping watch through the skylight in the canopy. I wake from non-sensical discussions about the scarcity of blackberries wondering how it is that I haven’t bought any this year, though I’ve eaten a few picked from overgrown brambles, perhaps even in my own backyard.

Every aspect of this project speaks to the prominent, if conflicting, aspects of my personality: my sense of artistry (the writing, the photography), my perfectionism (it must be purely local), my controlling nature (the deep planning and sourcing required), my contrasting tendency to just wing it when I can’t be bothered to come up with a plan (dinner most evenings), my idealism (eating local will save the world), and then my pragmatic side (Ovaltine will not bring down civilization). Thank god for my pragmatic side. Imagine what I would be without it.

It doesn’t help that the idea of eating local is on NPR all the freaking time. And this topic isn’t really new in the Northwest. Five years ago my friend, Erika Polmar, started Plate and Pitchfork, an evening of gourmet food smack in the middle of the field where it was harvested. (We had our anniversary dinner at their last dinner at Gaining Ground Farm in Newberg weekend before last.)


Dinner at sunset in the field at Gaining Ground Farm


And Portland is filled with people who are growing food and canning food and making jam and keeping chickens. Just the other day I met with my business attorney and when we finished the biz part we talked about the new vegetable garden he’s putting in his new house, complete with greenhouse to grow citrus. Oh, citrus. I’m so jealous. I may have to get a greenhouse.

Some days what I choose for each meal weighs on me, every time I eat that day. I imagine where this food began back up the chain, and I think about what will happen if I consume it. This is where I start to drive myself crazy. Most days, I’m relieved to say, I stick with my mantra: “Every little bit helps.” And most days, I’m also relieved to say, I realize that we are getting the bulk of our calories from Oregon and Washington.

This is all sounding so dramatic. I have to stand back and giggle at myself sometimes.

Saturday I had a major stress freak out about getting to the farmers market because we were completely out of fruits and veggies. Somehow it got to be 12:30 PM and the market closes at 1 PM sharp and shoes weren’t on and sippy cups were lost and everyone was melting down. And then it seems I overbought because it’s Monday night and I’ve got several days of food left, and I’m over budget, and I only needed food until Wednesday, when the farmers market down the street opens.

But then I’m beside myself because New Seasons didn’t have Oregon Jewel Wild Rice and the grocery people seemed to think they didn’t carry it anymore. When they told me this I had to remind myself this did not mean anyone would starve.

And then I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is a process. We are moving toward a goal, not failing. And that I don’t believe in being perfectionistic about this local eating project because I would just drive myself and everyone else crazy.

As you can see, I have a lot of inner dialogue. A lot.

My updates this week were few because I had a lot going on with work and we’ve had glorious weather every day after a pretty cold and soggy summer (and no, that’s not normal for Oregon). When the work was done I had to get away from this computer and get out. We planted greens in pots from starts I got at Garden Fever and we’ve been seeing where in the yard they’re happiest so we know where to put the seeds in the spring.

Even though I stressed and fretted a few times, we’re doing well with our local eating. I even got a bunch of corn and beans blanched and frozen for later, and a few more batches of plum jam made up. (And I seriously will get a recipe posted soon, I promise.)

Things I’m missing:-sparkling water (seriously jonesing for this now)

-crackers!
-starting to miss chocolate

Items I’m trying to source:

-local vinegar in quantities for pickling-affordable local goat cheddar cheese
-oats (they’re not usually classified as gluten-free because of contamination in the fields with wheat, but we eat some anyway)

What I’m loving about this/not loving about this:

-I’m loving that I made this reasonable and sustainable because we’re doing this and not really thinking that hard about it, but it also makes me feel guilty at times because we’re still eating non-local foods.
-That there is so much freakin’ good wine around here. Without the wine I may go insane.







Tuesday, September 4

Day 4 Eat Local Challenge: Going Strong

We’re on Day 4 of the Eat Local Challenge and we’re doing pretty well. Much of what we ate this weekend was from our local region, if not our metro area. When we sat down to dinner last night—pork loin with plum sauce, beet and cucumber salad, and Oregon Jewel wild rice-- we realized that all the food was local, save for the salt, pepper and vinegar. In fact, most of our meals this weekend were farmers’ market veggies, friends' gardens and locally-grown meats.

Picky, picky

The part that feels like it’s not going as well as I hoped is the fact that Clara is really missing her favorite foods, like freezer waffles and our usual pancakes. Quick treats are a problem, too. I’m hurting for a replacement for our gluten-free rice bars, the snack of choice in our household. And she is still hating tomatoes (gah!!!why???) and turned her nose up at my lovely, chunky salsa fresca. That is, until I pureed the hell out of it. Then it looked normal to her. Normal as in mushy and runny like the pre-made salsa you buy in the grocery store.

I made gluten-free baking mix one of our exceptions but we ran out last week and I wanted to see if I could find a way to work around it. I haven’t. And with all the jam I’ve been making (plum jam recipe to come soon!) I’m missing something to put it on. I did find a loaf of rice bread in the freezer, allowed under our exceptions, and this morning I made French toast for the girls using local eggs. It had been so long since I’d made French toast Clara had forgotten what it was. She loved it and all was right with the world again.

Fresh Eggs!

And that leads me to our biggest success so far this week: Finding farm-fresh eggs. I checked in at the Alberta Cooperative Grocery and it turns out they get fresh eggs Fridays and Mondays, each day from one of two farms. The girls and I made an adventure of it and we took the bus to the co-op and picked up two dozen eggs from Tipping Tree Country Eggs (they don’t appear to have a web presence). They weren’t as fabulous as the rich and filling eggs we got on Orcas Island but these eggs had tons of flavor. I think we’ll put these on the regular menu.

The literature posted at the market says the hens are free ranging and lay wherever (I guess this is where the idea of an egg hunt comes from!). And they obviously have several different types of hens because the eggs were all different colors and sizes. Clara especially loved the tiny green eggs.

At the co-op we also found honey from a neighborhood beekeeper, bulk granola-like cereal from an Olympia company (forgot to write the name down), and some varieties of apples not usually found in our regular grocery store.

What wasn’t fun about this whole outing: schlepping an impossibly heavy grocery bag, including fragile eggs, with a sleeping baby on my back and an understandably worn-out Clara on the bus. Nor did I appreciate the boys peddling weed at the bus stop in front of the co-op. I’ve got to put a little more planning into our bus trips.

Local Lunch

Another big success is the lunch I made for Aaron to take to work this morning. The fact that I made lunch for him at all is a success. Last night I roasted an organic chicken from Coastal Range Organics and cut up the breast meat this morning. I mixed the chunks of chicken with some canola mayo, a little pickled relish, some chopped up blanched almonds and a little dried thyme then spread it on some organic flaxseed bead (the store was out of the local brand I like). I threw in a chicken leg for a snack, leftover beet-cucumber salad, a handful of backyard tomatoes and a few plums from Neighbor Joe. Aaron, who claimed this was the first time in fourteen years I’d made him lunch (not true) just IM’d me and said it was all delicious.

I’ve never bought from this Coastal Range Organics before, and I need to do a little more research on them, but I was pleased to find this option at the giant chain grocer. Time was tight this weekend with gardening projects and since I had to go there to buy cat food I checked out their meat section to get a head start on dinners for the week. It wasn’t cheap—over $10 for a four-and-a-half pound chicken, three times the price of the conventionally produced chickens right next to them, though those were also local. It was one of those moments when my values and my budget were in conflict. This time, values won. We’ll see if I regret that choice when I add up our expenditures tonight.

Things I put in our exceptions but I’m trying to live without:
-Kettle corn tortilla chips (a local company)

Things I’m missing:
-rice bars
-sparkling water (I’m eyeing seltzer bottles)

Items I’m trying to source:
-local vinegar in quantities for pickling
-affordable local goat cheddar cheese

What I’m loving about this:
-finding inspiration in the quirky recipes in my 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking, as well as useful techniques
-the excitement of finding new local food resources, especially Alberta Co-op

Wednesday, August 29

Eat Local Challenge is almost here!

The Eat Local Challenge is upon us again and we’re going to take this opportunity to step up our game a bit. It’s summer and it’s been easy to eat mostly local since the farmers’ markets opened but we know we can do a little better. I’ve been meaning to search out local providers of some odds and ends—like vodka and vinegar, goat cheese and farm-fresh eggs—but I’ve needed a kick in the pants to get me going. This is it.

And since eating local, for us, isn’t just about what we eat, but about keeping dollars in our local economy, reducing our usage of fossil fuels and building community, we’re going to add a few other commitments to our September Challenge. Because I’m totally insane.

Here’s what we’re committing to:

1. As much as possible, eat produce grown and meat and eggs raised in Oregon and Washington. I thought about doing the 100 mile thing, but the kind of research involved is just not realistic for us right now (though I'm finding in my prep that I'm still doing plenty of Googling as it is). This regional approach isn’t going to be all that different from what we’ve been doing but I’m going to do my best to find some local suppliers so I’m buying from them and not the grocery store. This, I’m sure, will be my biggest challenge given the time involved, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to do anyway. I especially want to find farm-fresh eggs. After eating local, fresh eggs on Orcas Island, we’re all totally hooked.

2. If it’s not local ingredients, buy from a local company. We want to keep those dollars in our own economy.

3. If not locally produced nor a local company, then organic. Now if you’re familiar with Jamie from 10 Signs Like This and her tips for eating local published on the Eat Local Challenge website you know that her #2 is if not local, then organic, and following that if it’s not organic then buy from a local company. For us, we’ve reversed these and here’s why: the vast majority of organic products in our local grocery store are made by companies that are owned by giant conglomerates [see a chart here] and I’m not convinced they’re committed to sustainable farming or reducing their carbon footprint. So most non-local organic is low on our list.

4. Bring lunch to work. This mainly applies to Aaron, since I work at home, but realistically it’s going to be up to me to make it possible, since I do all the food shopping and cooking. hopefully, Aaron will be happy with local leftovers.

5. If we eat out, eat at locally-owned restaurants that use locally-grown ingredients. We usually do this anyway. Portland is pretty anti-chain. Though this may mean neither Thai Ginger nor any Fire on the Mountain Buffalo wings this month.

6. Stick to the average American food budget. We need to do this anyway, and the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge of last April is a great inspiration. Our budget, according to their guidelines (from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau Statistics): 2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week. This will definitely be a challenge. I often spend twice that.

7. Start a garden. I’ve got the tomatoes going. Now it’s time to get going on those late fall crops. Did I tell you that recently I was mistakenly referred to as a farmer? And it was better than being told I look like Gwyneth Paltrow?

8. Preserve. I don’t know if I can commit to any more than the jams, butters and straight freezing of fresh produce I’ve been doing. I just commit to keeping it up.

Our exceptions:

1. Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix. I justify this because it’s not going to do us any good to hunt down a local supplier of wheat; we can’t eat it. I do have a local supplier of wild rice – Oregon Jewel -- but at $6+ for 4 servings we can’t afford to buy this to mill into flour. I don't even know if wild rice can be used as flour. And I already use Bob’s Red Mill’s Rice Flour (the rice if from California). The Pamela’s mix is the product that helps me incorporate a lot of leftover local produce into our diets.

2. Gluten-free pastas. Again, if I can find a local supplier, or local ingredients, I’m there. But this is a staple that makes the local stuff come together.

3. And along those lines, if I can’t find a local or organic or gluten-free or dairy-free version, I’ll buy whatever. We’ve got a lot of birthdays coming up this month and I think I’m going to have to buy a lot of margarine for baking so no one gets a horrendous exzema breakout from butter.

4. We’ll eat whatever is already in the house, wherever it came from. I’m not letting perfectly edible food go to waste.

5. And the ones that gets everyone: coffee and olive oil. We already either buy coffee from a local company and/or fair trade. And I buy olive oil that’s produced in California rather than Italy. I wish I could use butter for sautéing, like the 100 Mile Diet folks did, but that’s too much dairy for Aaron and Clara.

Some other challenges we’re taking on, again, because this isn’t just about the food:

1. Bike, walk, or train as often as possible. Again, we do this already, but we’re going to really try to stay out of our cars as much as possible. This requires a lot of planning ahead and takes extra time. But since I’ve been walking Clara to preschool a few days a week and walking or taking the train to the farmers’ markets I’ve managed to work off the final pounds of pregnancy weight. Aaron recently started biking to work a few days a week, too, and loves it. He’s committing to taking the train, instead of driving, on the days he doesn’t bike.

2. Buy (almost) nothing new. This is just for me, and there are going to be a lot of exceptions. We’ve got some remodeling projects going on and I’m going to try to get a lot of materials salvage, but I won’t be able to avoid Home Despot, I know. I’m talking about clothes, random things for the house and kitchen--the little things you can go without for a few days (or forever) until you find a used version or make it yourself.

3. Tell friends about what we’re doing. I feel like I must talk about local food constantly and I’m boring everyone. Actually, I don’t. (I just think about it. Sometimes, obsessively.) The best way I can think of to do this is have a potluck with all of my favorite people. Oh, yum.

In my head this all sounds easy and only a step-up from what we’re currently doing. And now that I have it all down on paper I’m, uh, panicking.

Can we really do all this?

If you're taking the Eat Local Challenge, even if you're just committing to one local meal a week, let me know in the comments below! I need all the company in this that I can rally.


Tuesday, August 28

Not-so-roasted tomatoes

So this wasn’t my most successful venture and I think I know why. After a little random poking at favorite blogs I happened to come across Alanna’s post at Kitchen Parade on slow roasted tomatoes. I didn’t put the tomatoes face DOWN! Aaaaaaggghhh. I wonder if that’s why the tomatoes, after 16 hours, were still mushy.




That’s what they looked like when I pulled them out of the oven at 2 AM. (Oh, well. Since I was up I got to see the lunar eclipse. Check out these supercool photos.)



And this is what they look like now, after 12 hours on the counter. I’m just gonna chop ‘em and freeze ‘em, which is what Alanna recommends. Maybe I’ll try another batch with the cut side down. Think I’ll make salsa instead, though, to get ready for the September Eat Local Challenge.

So I'm not even going to bother with my recipe. Go check out Alanna's recommendations. She has great photos, too.

Monday, August 27

If this is the end of the world, at least we're eating well

Back from our annual pilgrimage to Orcas Island and my head is full, so full. I’d like to say it was a relaxing trip but I was actually on the verge of an anxiety meltdown most of the time because I’d decided that Armageddon is actually here and we’ve brought it upon ourselves.

And I’m not at all exaggerating.

I’m feeling a little more even-keeled now that we're home. I'm hoping daily distractions and writing will keep me from going to the dark place again.

I’ve got lots of “real work” to catch up on first, then I’ll get back to the documenting of all the food and cooking and parenting and gardening and farm policy ideas I've got swimming around inside.

But for now, I can leave you with this, which has been going on in my oven all day (and is still going on as of 10:44 PM PDT):



This is what tomatoes look like after they’ve been drying in the oven at 170 degrees (the lowest setting on my electric oven) for four hours. They’ve got about eight more to go. I’ll report back and supply the recipe, if it all works out.

Because I still haven’t had the guts--ahem--time to can anything yet (I've actually never done it--this is another of my food fears), I decided I’d try this method of preserving. Our tomatoes are finally truly in season here, red from the vine and not from the greenhouses. Though I’ve happily eaten those, too, as they have infinitely more flavor that the square hybrids you get from our friendly neighbors to the south. It’s just been so wet and cool here since June that no one’s tomatoes have done well. Until now, at least.

I didn’t grow these tomatoes. I bought these at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market on Saturday (not sure the farm or the variety—must start keeping track). Knowing the tomatoes were finally in this weekend I went to buy a ton and see what I can do to preserve them. If this drying thing works I may dry the lot of them and perhaps share them with friends (and encourage them to do some of their own preserving) or make sauce. I have to say I’m more tempted to make sauce since it will keep for months while my recipe says the dried tomatoes will only keep a month or so.

And here’s a note about costs, since people are talking about the cost of local foods from the farmer’s market vs. buying from the grocery. (Check this out, if you’re in the mood to be stunned, or if you just want to see a fabulous food blog, Becks and Posh.) These tomatoes were $1.79 per pound, the best deal I found at the market. My grocery store had local tomatoes advertised for $1.99 per pound. I saved $1.20 in total and the farmer got all my money, about $11.50, instead of a smaller percentage (stats I've seen estimate that growers get anywhere from 3.5 cents to 18 cents per retail dollar price when their food is sold through grocery stores, rather than directly to the consumer).

And here’s what else is on my counter this moment (if the kids haven’t eaten it all in the time it took me to write this entry, which is entirely possible):




--Juicy plums from the garden of my 86-year-old neighbor, Joe.

--Ripe and flavorful pears from Leah’s garden, my dear friend and neighbor.

--Tomatoes from the garden of my friend Kim Gaffi, of GRuB fame in Olympia (we stopped there on our way back from the island).

--And those pear-shaped tomatoes are actually from my garden. Go, me!


All foods that were picked either within a block of my home or with my own hands.

Don’t those pears just look so bossy?

“Us first! Look at us! Oh, please please please work your simmering magic and make us into peaaaar buuuuuttterrrr.”

Mmmm. Sure thing.