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

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.

Friday, August 24

Slow to ripen

Here’s something funny about me:

I’m afraid to grow food. I mean, in my garden, like tomatoes and zucchini and strawberries. It scares me.

It scares me because while I can be a total diva in the garden when it comes to just about any other kind of flower or shrub (I even start from seed! Well, sometimes…) I am totally intimidated by the planting schedules, worrying about frost, and pests and all the other things that can go wrong with a plant. And, I am not the best at watering. It’s no big thing to kill a pot of pansies (there will always be more at the grocery store), but if I kill a pepper plant then all my farming genes (of which I have many) go off and I think we’re all going to starve.

I know this is ridiculous. I’m trying to get over this. I am making slow progress.

My parents didn’t grow food. My dad, the gardener in the family, grows flowers like he’s a retiree and has nothing better to do (he is and he doesn’t). He doesn’t even bother with design or ambience, he just grows as many flowers as he can get out of his dirt (and his Miracle Grow). My mom just puts things in pots and leaves them on her deep shade deck and doesn’t care what actually happens to them, though she does water religiously.

I am certain that they are the first generation in their respective families to not grow food. My maternal grandparents grew up on dairy farms in Cornelius, Oregon. My grandfather always had a kitchen garden in the parking strip in front of his house on Killingsworth Street. My dad’s family was always in some kind of farming, though not successfully, I’ve gathered. But that’s another story.

It’s not that I have a black thumb. I have a nicely landscaped yard that I did myself. Well, I used to. My yard is in a total shambles since we had kids.

But I have a gorgeous new garden plan (thanks to the incredibly talented Laura Baughman) and a designated section for food crops for next year (it involves sacrificing some roses, wah). Because, dammit, I’m going to do it. You can’t exactly advocate for local eating if you’re too chicken to grow tomatoes.

But I couldn’t wait for the big plan. So I went ahead and bought starts and took my first tentative steps at growing real, edible food.

So here they are. My first tomatoes.

Holy shit. I did it.

Thursday, August 9

Collard green soup

So that menu planning thing. It did work, mostly, in that two nights in a row I knew exactly what I was cooking for dinner and that I had the ingredients on hand. And, bonus, most of the ingredients were either grown locally or came from locally-based companies.

Except, I made a few erroneous assumptions:

1) I could get apples. Nope. There are no local apples this time of year (I think they’re about to come in). I suppose if I’d thought a little harder I would have realized this. I haven’t seen any apples at the farmers’ markets. But because apples and pears were the only local fruit I could reliable get at the grocery store all winter I didn’t even consider if they were available or not. They’re not. They only had Fujis.

2) I could get fresh green beans. Nope, not at my grocery store. The only ones they had were from California. This irked me. I know that I bought a bunch at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago. I emailed the produce manager and was told that there just weren’t enough to buy. The local producers were all growing specialty varieties. I would have bought those!

The other thing that derailed my efforts was a last-minute trip to Walla Walla (my second in a month) to see my sister while she visited with my dad. (He further lured me with the promise of picking pears from his tree, which I happily took him up on.) So after Wednesday I wasn’t even in town. I took the girls with me so my husband played bachelor all weekend, attending fancy Pearl District parties and a co-worker’s birthday celebration. This meant he did not eat any of the greens in the fridge. And they are starting to get that less-than-fresh feeling.

Thus, I made soup.

This is definitely a hearty soup and one that I would usually make in the colder months, but I had a bushel of collard greens to use up. And since I am this week a sales rally widow and my husband wasn’t home for dinner I had to choose a recipe that would use a lot of collards. The kids didn’t eat the collards at all since they were still a bit tough even after simmering in the broth for 20 minutes total. But this soup has so much else in it they were full and happy and went right to bed without much whining. Which, when you’re a sales rally widow, is a very, very good thing.

There was at least one time-out during the making of this dinner.

This recipe would also probably work nicely with kale or another sturdy green, and you could add potatoes or turnips or other root vegetables.

It's festive-looking, no?

(Gotta Use Up These) Collard Greens Soup

-3 tablespoons olive oil
-2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
-1 small (2 cups) white onion (I used Walla Walla sweet, since I’ve still got ‘em coming outta my ears)
-1 teaspoon fresh fennel leaves, chopped (see note)
-2 small carrots, chopped
-1 small zucchini, chopped into quarter rounds
-1 teaspoon dried marjoram
-3 - 4 cups beef broth (see note)
-1 15 oz can kidney beans (see note)
-1 cup cooked pasta, such as penne or macaroni (optional)
-3 cups of packed collard greens, stemmed, de-ribbed and sliced into 1 inch strips
-salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil on medium. Sauté the garlic for 1 minute. Add onion and sauté another 2 minutes.
2. Add fresh fennel leaves, carrots and zucchini and sauté for 1 minute.
3. Add stock and marjoram. Let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
4. Add collard greens and kidney beans and let simmer another 10 minutes. Greens may lose their brightness, but you’ll want to let them go the whole 10 minutes to soften them up.
5. If adding cooked pasta, do this now. Turn the heat to low (or off) and let the pasta heat up, about 5 minutes.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

1. I just had some fennel hanging around and wasn’t sure what would happen if I put chopped leaves in as I’d never put chopped, fresh fennel leaves in anything, and I think it’s technically a garnish. It worked! I tasted the soup as it simmered and I think the flavor was enhanced by the fennel. Not sure what would happen if you used dried.
2. For a vegetarian dish, use vegetable broth, but change the beans to a white or green bean.
She won't eat potatoes covered in her favorite cheese, but she'll *chow* on this soup.

I just scooped the whole parts out for her. This one will basically eat anything.

Tuesday, August 7

She *would* hate potatoes

Last Tuesday night’s frittata was hearty and delicious, though Clara boycotted the potatoes. I believe she does this to spite me. And I don’t care because potatoes are a neutral, like tofu, they’re gluten-free AND they’re easy to find locally year-round so I will continue to cook them. I believe frittata will become a regular in my repertoire and will up our weekly egg intake from three dozen to four. (This is not an exaggeration.) And it’s good for getting rid of vegetables.

(This seems to be a theme with me lately—getting rid of food, rather than cooking with it and enjoying it. But I am enjoying this food. Perhaps I'm just suprised by this fact.)

The prep.

Except for the zucchini, I'm still doing this all by hand. Can't get into the food processor.

The sauté

The food photography session at Blogher was exceptional, though it's only made me see how bad my photos are. I have a great digital SLR, I just haven't read the manual. How lame.

Does it look yummy? It was, depsite the moody photo.

It doesn't help that I have filtered daylight as well as all sorts of halogen light sources in my kitchen.

Again, really bad white balance. But I'd been at this for about an hour and was starved so I just snapped this and was happy that this one was eating, and eating happily. The other one didn't get her picture in this post, just to spite her.

Zucchini Potato Frittata

Serves 2 adults, 1 hungry toddler and a picky 3 year-old. Goes great with a sturdy green salad (think fresh Romaine and beefy tomatoes).

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 baby red potatoes, cut into thin slices
1 medium onion, cut into thin slices
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1.5 cups shredded zucchini
4 large eggs, beaten
7 – 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup shredded goat mozzarella (or swiss or feta, or skip cheese to make this dairy-free)

1. Heat the oil in a small oven-safe skillet. Add potatoes and onions and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.
2. Add zucchini, garlic and basil leaves and sauté about 2 minutes, until zucchini is soft.
3. Pour eggs over vegetables and tilt pan to evenly distribute. Add salt and pepper to taste then sprinkle cheese over the top.
4. Cover the pan and set heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Check it often!
5. When the eggs are set remove the pan from the stove and place the pan in a preheated broiler for about 2 minutes, until the cheese is just golden.
6. Cut frittata into wedges and serve.

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Muffins to the Rescue (of the aging foodstuffs)

Pamela’s Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix saves my ass practically on a daily basis. It does contain a little dairy, but I overlook this for the sake of my sanity. This fast and easy mix allows us to have (quick) pancakes and waffles on the weekends like normal people and I can whip up muffins for the kids when I need to use up some fruit, or veggies, as it were. And kill an hour or so. Clara is the perfect age for "helping" and Iris is happy if you give her a spoon to lick.

Now if you're a from-scratch muffin connoisseur, you may not be impressed with this mix. But if it means the difference between having or not having some of the foods so basic in our culture, you may find it more than adequate. And like I said, it's an easy way for me to sneak in more local foods.

Zucchini Muffins

This past week I still had a ton of zucchini left after the arm-sized zucchini from the farmer’s market. (Wish I had a photo of that monster.) (This will teach me to buy the biggest zucchini when they’re priced by the item rather than the pound.)

So I made zucchini muffins. Followed the instructions and added about a cup of shredded zucchini. Yum.

pick, pick

These went so fast I didn't get any shots of the full bounty. Clara is tired of waiting for me to take photos of this last muffin so she resorts to picking at the crust in the tin.

It's not gorgeous, but it was yummy.

At last, sweet success. (God, she looks like her father here.)

Raspberry Muffins

I also had a bit of frozen raspberries left over from last year’s crop. I mistakenly put the bag in the refrigerator instead of the freezer and they thawed so I had to use them up. Again, the magic baking mix to the rescue! I used about 1 cup of berries.

My favorite bowls

(That bowl in the lower right was a gift [part of a set] from a dear friend for my wedding. Every time I use them I think of her. Happily, she's recently come back into my life after a long absence. )

She's pretty good at stiring, if she can stop licking the spoon long enough.

Normally, you put the fruit into the mix while it's still frozen so that it holds its shape and doesn’t “dye” the batter. But we weren’t going for aesthetics.

Next time, no paper cups

I did bake these a few minutes longer than the recommended 18 – 20 minutes because of the extra moisture. This worked, mostly, but I wish I hadn’t put these in cupcake cups. They stuck to the paper a little. Still, no one around here cared.

Ah, who cares if they're magenta?

Thursday, August 2

10 Tips for Eating Healthfully on a Budget

Got this from Canadian Living via sk*rt. Original author is Cindy Burke who wrote To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food.

1. Shop the farmer's markets for food in season. The best prices and the freshest organic produce come from the farmer's market.

2. Buy seasonal produce in large quantities and freeze what you cannot use immediately. You can make shakes and smoothies all winter from a couple of flats of frozen organic strawberries or raspberries. The flavour is better, too!

3. Shop around at different stores to see where the values are found. Plan your shopping trips around your findings.

4. Join a food co-op. Members often receive a discount or monthly coupon for five to 10 per cent discounts.

5. Buy a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture). Shares are typically about $400 (you can pay in installments) for a weekly box of produce during the growing season. The cost typically works out to about $30 or less per week.

6. Use coupons. The best way to obtain coupons for natural or organic foods is to visit the website of the manufacturer, or use an Internet search engine and type in the words "grocery store coupons" and "organic" for printable coupons.

7. Buy from the bulk bins. Organic flour, sugar, cereals, pasta, spices and many snack foods are less expensive (and easier on the environment) if you purchase them from the bulk food section. Some stores even have peanut butter, maple syrup, cooking oil and even cleaning products available in bulk. Bring your reusable bags or containers and reduce your waste at the same time.

8. Grow your own healthy foods.

9. Shop the sales. Buy organic or shade-grown coffee beans on sale and freeze the excess. Organic meats, frozen foods, butter and bread products all freeze well for several months.

10. Practice cooking creatively. When you have leftovers from dinner, try to use them in another meal -- add them to a pasta dish, veggie burrito or omelet, or fold them into a soup or sauce. Don't waste food.

Meal Planning: I may have figured it out

I came home from BlogHer to a fridge full of mishmash and rotting vegetables. And while I was gone my dear friend, Leah, had her second baby boy so I could totally justify getting take-out from Thai Ginger my first night back. An order for the family with the new baby, and an order for my family while we’re at it. Thai is my weakness.

But I'm determined to be more organized in my kitchen. So Monday night I finally sat down to plan meals for the week. I do some form of this occasionally but I’d totally slacked in the last few weeks of constant traveling and work overload.

This time I approached it differently. Instead of wandering through cookbooks randomly, making long ingredient lists, and feeling deflated because I will never have the time to cook something fabulous on a weeknight (I have very aspirational cookbooks), I simply wrote down ingredients that are in season right now and easy to get:

yellow squash
green beans

And then I pulled out my beloved Moosewood Cooks at Home cookbook and just looked up dishes by ingredient. I knew this book, which is simple vegetarian recipes, would have recipes I could handle under duress. Here’s what I came up with:

Monday: Thai take-out, remember?

Tuesday: Frittata. Use some zucchini and potatoes that have been lingering. Serve dilled beans.

Wednesday: Cheese quesadillas with shredded zucchini. Use up the rest of the zuc from Tuesday. This is the perfect dinner for our picnic in the park at the free summer concert series. Serve with wine (just the grownups, of course).

Thursday: Chicken salad. Apples, celery, feta and greens. (I added the chicken to the salad.)

Friday: Fish in a packet. Dover sole, zucchini, mushrooms and Walla Walla onions from my dwindling stash. Serve with carrot and parsley salad.

I made my list and headed for New Season. Stay tuned. I may have just solved all of my dinner making dilemmas.

Wednesday, August 1

BlogHer 2007 Recap

So I’m back. And I loved BlogHer. All of it.

First: Hats off to the organizers at BlogHer for bringing 750+ blogging women together and making this happen. Did you know this is the biggest blogging conference in the world, regardless of gender? (And yet it gets practically no press coverage. Ask Punditmom.) The fabulous coordinators lined up generous sponsors (which meant lower prices for attendees) and we all got the best swag I’ve ever seen. (A groovy flash drive and a laptop tote without a logo! Thank you AOL! Seriously!) I will happily manage complex web dev projects with nervous clients any day but you couldn’t pay me enough to manage an event as big as this. You all have my undying respect and gratitude.

(And I’ve said it to you all directly and indirectly a hundred times, but thank you thank you thank you for the childcare. It made the difference between going and not going for me.)

The Fabulous Swag. Photo courtesy of

I even loved the sessions with speakers (and other bloggers) that made me fume, if only because I loved being in a room full of women who are as passionate as I am about this medium and for having a place to voice what I love and really don’t love about this craft. My only gripe is that I think there was too much emphasis on building traffic and not enough about good content, but Stefania has taken care of some of this here. I just think people are starting to get too caught up in stats and losing track of why people read blogs in the first place. The writing. (And many time the photos.)

The best part of the conference was this: I really felt like I was part of a community, even if I am certainly a newcomer. Her Bad Mother wrote a beautiful piece about how BlogHer is not like high school. It is not cliquish or catty or exclusive. And I wholeheartedly agree.

I went into this conference knowing that I would be the new girl, especially since this blog has only been up for a few months, and my old online journal (yes, that’s how old it is, it was before blogs) is long forgotten by the few who ever knew it.

I spent a lot of time introducing myself, repeating my 10 second pitch 25 times in an hour, and really, that’s my life anyway as I do all the sales for my design company. Everyone else was doing the same. It was thrilling to get all the positive reactions when I said, “I write about growing and eating local food.”

“That’s so cool!”
“Good for you!”
“You should really meet….”

And that’s exactly why I went. I wanted to see what other people are writing about, cheer them on, and see what kind of feedback I would get about this project (almost all positive, and at worst, surprised curiosity). I wanted to learn and I wanted to make connections and I wanted to get momentum.

Business Cards. Photo courtesy of
That's my card up there in the upper left corner! My designer really brought it.

But with a nursling in tow there was little drunken debauchery for me. And I was okay with that. Perhaps a little wistful, but I know I got so much out of this conference it doesn’t really matter. And next year I won’t be such the new girl. And I better not have any kids with me. (Though it was sweet to wake up to this:)

Iris' funny little morning face.

Here’s a little more:


Oh, Chicago.

(Did you ever have a perfectly fine boyfriend that you treated badly, totally dumped his ass, and then talked shit about him for 15 years? That’s how I’ve treated Chicago since I left in 1992 after living there barely a year.) (Jesus, I can’t believe it’s been that long.)

But oh, dear, Chicago. I’ve grown up. I promise I have. I’m no longer the kooky West Coast girl away from home from the first time wondering why you smell and why your water tastes funky and why you don’t recycle and why they aren’t closing school because it’s snowing and so freakin’ cold!

And you, Chicago, back then I tried to find your beauty but instead wearied of your constant dull-gray sky and frigid sub-zero winds. This weekend with your 75 degree weather and NO humidity to speak of and your unbelievably gracious inhabitants, you are now a spectacular hottie. (Though your water is still gross, you still stink a little, and you need to recycle more.)

I’m ashamed of all the lame things I’ve said about you over the years. I will stop now. Can we be friends?

The Nap Warden and me, with Iris in the Ergo

One of the best things about you, Chicago, is Cynthia (aka Nap Warden) who met me for a trip through the (still free!) Lincoln Park Zoo, site of many a sullen walk by me, the broke and lonely student of 15 years ago.

Thank you, Cynthia, for keeping up our game of email/phone tag all weekend and for showing Iris and me one of the many gorgeous sites of your lovely city.

Maya’s Mom Moms

Thank you, thank you Maya’s Mom ladies (especially you, Charlene, who organized the whole shebang). Though I thought we were meeting up for dinner and therefore it would be fine to bring my little Iris. (I called ahead! They had highchairs! I was stoked!) I thank you for going up to the bar to get me a drink since I was afraid if they saw my kid I’d be kicked out. (That was you, Kaleigh, wasn’t it? If not, my apologies. I’m losing track of the faces that went to the cards.)

Thank you P.J. Clarke’s for not kicking me out.

And thank you Mary, Slackermommy, Lisa, Kimberly, Lindsay, for humoring me through very fractured conversation while I frantically chased Iris through the legs of fellow drinkers and tried desperately to save her from the revolving door.

Mommy Bloggers

Back in the day I knew who all the cool women writers were. And then we all had babies. And I sought my parenting support via good ol’ fashioned discussions boards (and real life) and lost track of all but a few of them, who were then mom bloggers. And now there are so many of you! My feed is overflowing and I can’t wait to get reading.

If you’re not reading Ree go now and put her into your feed at once. She is one of the most talented, authentic and fuuuuniest bloggers out there. I only wish she wasn’t married so she could marry my brother and we could be BFF and sisters forever and ever. (She also has a very instructive food blog at The Pioneer Woman Cooks! )

Saturday I shared lunch with these two lovely ladies, Alana and Kyran and Kristen. No earth-shattering revelations here. I just really like these women. And I want to meet Kristen’s husband, who is into growing his own food, but only because he’s preparing for Armageddon.

Food Bloggers

I didn’t get to meet many food bloggers, funny enough. One of the best presentations was by Elise of Simply Recipes who had great tips for organizing content and driving traffic, but did not respond to my stalking. (I sat next to her twice and I think I scared her.) (Who am I kidding. She didn’t even notice me.)

I loved meeting Alanna of Kitchen Parade who discussed with me the upside of industrialized food, a conversation I hope to continue at a later time. (I want to noodle on her basic point, a good one, which is that this world has too many people in it, and Mother Nature is too unpredictable, to not rely on some kind of mass-produced food.)

I can say wholeheartedly that I adore Myriam, the woman behind Joy Spread the Word a fantastic new kids’ clothing company . She doesn’t have a blog yet, but I plan to help her fix that. She’s a personal chef and writes here.

So without a whole lot to go on, here’s my take: Food bloggers are a funny lot. They’re passionate, they’re persnickety (in the most charming sense of the word). But it was hard for me to get with them, at least harder than it was with the always-chatty mommy bloggers. I even went so far as to ask one of the more influential food bloggers to introduce me to some other bloggers and she seemed confused, or suddenly shy, and suggested I check out this URL . One decided that I’m not really a food blogger but actually a garden blogger, but this wasn’t the first time I’d been told this from a devoted foodie, and I’m undeterred.

But this woman. Oh, my, how I love her. I want to marry her and have all her babies (my single brother and, uh, biology, be damned). It helps that she loves Portland. Shuna is a chef who throws all of her being into her food and into her foodie relationships and into the entire food community. She is clearly adored and admired by all who know her and though I didn’t get a personal introduction (I was so crushed out I actually got too shy to approach her though I will be stalking her comments forevermore), I was honored to hear her speak.

And that said, here is my final thought on bloggers: Though they share their lives with the entire world they are, at heart, with a few exceptions, total introverts. Some are better at real-life interaction with others, but many are painfully shy. For some reason I missed this (arguable) social truth until the end.

At the final cocktail party, I had an enlightening conversation with [CRAP. I CANNOT FIND YOUR CARD! Please, if you remember talking about Myers Briggs and bloggers and all that at the Children’s Museum PLEASE EMAIL ME! I want to keep in touch.] We talked about online communities versus real life and this exchange put some of the confusing interactions I had with a few people into perspective. There was really only one person I expected to have a great connection with, and then didn’t at all, but there were a few times I wondered if I had spinach in my teeth. I had to remind myself that this is one of those communities where I am likely the only person in the room who loves nothing more than introducing myself and getting to know a new person and it’s not reasonable to expect that same enthusiasm in return.

But this doesn’t frustrate me or make me think any less of this community. If anything it makes me love it more. Because I know that for many people traveling a long distance to an unknown city and telling strangers all day who you are and where they can go read your most intimate thoughts can be terrifying. So I thank every one of you who made the trip, and shared your ideas and your writing and yourselves. I so can’t wait to get reading.

And there are so many more of you that I didn't link to here. I'll do individual posts after I catch up with your blogs!