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

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


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)

-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