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…


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.


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.


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.


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.