A Young Child Adapts

Something we were worried about when we were contemplating going local was how our son would handle the loss of some of his favorite foods. When we began this adventure he was approaching five years old and had clearly established tastes and preferences for particular foods. As we examined our cupboards, countertops, and refrigerator, several items stood out as potential challenges. A few of those that we remember include ketchup, bananas, and peanut butter.  What child doesn’t love these three comfort foods?

For us, these foods provide examples of three different ways in which we have dealt with a non-local food item. We decided to deal with our non-local ketchup by simply making our own. We painstakingly ran pound after pound of tomatoes through a food mill to make our first batch of ketchup. Seven pounds of tomatoes as well as onions, garlic, and a variety of other ingredients yielded a meager four cups. When presented with the opportunity to try this batch, our son claimed it was far too spicy and didn’t taste like ketchup as he knew it at the time. Undeterred, we made another batch.     This one was less spicy and surprisingly our son liked it immediately. Today he has become so used to this ketchup that he favors it over ketchup from the store. We consider this to be one of our greatest successes in pleasing the palate of our child.

Bananas. You just can’t make a banana out of local ingredients. At this point, we have not given up bananas. They are far too valuable in their gift of adding a smooth texture to our daily smoothie and far too flavorful in adding sweetness to baked goods. As a result, they have remained a constant on our (hopefully ever shrinking) list of non-local foods. Our son has been spared from suffering a loss of one of his favorites.

At first it might seem cruel to deprive a child of peanut butter. Afterall, what is childhood without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? We did some research hoping that we might discover that there are peanuts being grown in California. As far as we can determine, however, all domestic peanuts are grown in either Texas or Georgia. We made the tough decision to eliminate peanut butter from our kitchen. Our saving grace is almond butter. As it turns out, almond butter is extraordinarily tasty and healthier than its peanut cousin. Despite all that almond butter has going for it, we were still worried that the transition would be tough for a five-year old. One morning at the breakfast table, his toast showed up with a different topping. His initial reaction was not favorable. We braced ourselves for a struggle but stuck with the plan. Amazingly, after about a week of protest, our son announced that he actually preferred almond butter to peanut butter. Now the existence of peanut butter seems to be forgotten and almond butter spoons are the norm.

These experiences have provided us with some unexpected benefits. We have learned that our son is more adaptable than we had originally thought, and, as a result of witnessing our son’s positive response to consistency, we have gained confidence that we can make changes in other aspects of our parenting.

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Mustard In The Making

Usually, local food is healthier and tastes better. This is also typically true of food made from scratch. In addition to the environmental impact, these are two of the major reasons we eat the way we do. There are times however, when neither of these is a factor.

In our house, we love mustard! We have tried mustards from all over and especially enjoy French mustards. We used to have our favorites shipped from France. These mustards taste great and many of them are perfectly healthy. Our desire to find mustard made locally, from locally grown seed, was based purely on the environmental aspects of our local eating plan.

There are quite a few companies in Oregon making mustard, but as far as we can tell, none of them use Oregon grown mustard seed. We know that lots of mustard is grown in Oregon, so we decided to find some seed and make our own. We already make our own ketchup, so it only seems right that we should expand our condiment repertoire.

Our friends at Hummingbird Wholesale were kind enough to give us some Ida Gold yellow mustard seed grown in North Powder, Oregon. We set to work researching various mustard recipes.

It turns out that mustard is incredibly simple. At its core, it is merely ground mustard seed mixed with liquid. Many recipes call for all sorts of additional ingredients, but we decided to start with a basic recipe. The first issue we had was grinding the seed. Since we don’t have a spice grinder, we used our teeny, tiny, mortar and pestle. Taking turns, we spent an hour grinding half a cup of mustard seeds into powder. Even then, the seeds were more crushed than powdered.

We mixed up half of our ground seed with white wine and half with water. We added some salt and some vinegar and let the mixtures stand overnight in the refrigerator. According to our research, freshly made mustard must not be eaten immediately because it is very bitter. The bitterness is supposed to disappear after several hours as a result of the chemical reaction between the mustard and the liquid. In the case of our mustard, this didn’t seem to work. Both batches had a bitter taste and still do. Our theory is that this is a result of incomplete grinding. We’re planning to buy a spice grinder before our next attempt.

Waiting For Tomatoes

We just used up our last can of home preserved tomatoes and it’s only the beginning of June! Tomatoes are a staple in our kitchen. Not fresh tomatoes, but various forms of preserved tomatoes that we feverishly can in late summer. Obviously we eat fresh tomatoes when they are in season, but the season is short and there are so many recipes we love that call for tomatoes in one form or another.

At the end of last summer we had at least five dozen quarts of canned tomatoes on hand. We had also preserved about 20 pints of tomato sauce and about 10 jars of ketchup. The sauce was used up months ago, but this didn’t impact us much as we continued to make it as needed from our canned tomatoes. We used the last jar of ketchup a couple of weeks ago and our son seemed a bit perplexed when his grilled cheese sandwich was placed before him without the usual side of this delicious homemade condiment.

We usually purchase our tomatoes through various farmers over several weeks in late summer. Our strategy is to go from booth to booth at the farmer’s market checking to see if anyone has sauce grade tomatoes that they will sell us at a reduced rate. These boxes of tomatoes typically include some with imperfections that render them unsuitable for display at the market, some that are damaged in transit, and some that are overripe. However, they are just perfect for canning. We’ve never had to source tomatoes any other way. This is the beauty of preserving a food during its peak season.

While we are disappointed that we are losing a staple we rely on for many favorite dishes, at the same time there is something satisfying about it. We put up enough tomatoes to feed our family through the fall, winter, and spring. With the absence of any form of tomato in our kitchen for a couple of months, we’ll surely appreciate the return of delicious, fresh tomatoes in mid summer!

Planning Our Meals

It would be nearly impossible to eat locally without preparing almost everything we eat from scratch. This is typically the only way that we know the source of our ingredients. You may think that preparing everything from scratch is a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive, but it does require careful planning and organization. During the weekdays especially, when we are all busy with work, school, errands, and other household chores, we have to know exactly what we’ll be eating at each meal.

In addition to planning what we eat, we plan any advance preparation that may be required.  This typically includes thawing, soaking, or cooking certain items a day or two in advance.  When it comes to the preparation of local beans and grains, soaking is fundamental. Most of our grains and legumes come from either our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Lonesome Whistle Farm or from Camas Country Mill. These resources were not available in the Willamette Valley until a few years ago and eating locally then would have been much more difficult. If we want to eat beans as part of our dinner on Tuesday, for example, we will usually place them to soak on Monday before we go to bed. If we want the beans for lunch instead, we soak them on Sunday night and cook them on Monday night so that they are ready to enjoy without any preparation for a quick lunch on Tuesday.  As you can see, this requires some planning, but not much labor.

The cornerstone of our way of life is our written meal plan. Perpetually front and center on our refrigerator is a list of upcoming meals.  Sometimes, but rarely, this list extends for an entire week.  More often it is four or five days in length.  As we approach the end of a list, we create the next one. The list includes every lunch and dinner we are planning to eat as well as notes reminding us of necessary advance preparation.  For breakfast we rely on staples that we always keep on hand. When we first began making these lists, they were always made in conjunction with our grocery list – we planned the meals while recording what we needed to buy. During CSA and outdoor market season, the order often flips.  We plan our meals based on what we find in our CSA box, or at the farmer’s market and fill in any gaps after the fact from the grocery store.

Constantly going through this planning process can be a challenge. We occasionally resort to writing “fend” for a particular meal when we lose creativity. We laugh as we do this, knowing that somehow we’ll be able to put something together from what remains in our refrigerator and pantry towards the end of the week.  It is also very satisfying and gives us the comfort of knowing we will be eating well even during the busiest of times.  Meal planning motivates and inspires us to relentlessly explore our cookbooks for new ideas.  It is a platform for both predictability and inspiration.

Here is a hypothetical meal plan that includes meals we are eating during this time of year (following as closely as possible the handwritten format that we use):

Sunday Lunch

Salad

Fried Eggs

Sunday Dinner

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Purple Barley

Roasted Carrots

*Make hummus

*Cook minestrone for Monday dinner (soup needs to simmer for two and a half hours)

(Garbanzo beans for hummus and Orca beans for minestrone were both soaked on Saturday night. Chicken stock for soup and lamb for tagine were brought from freezer to thaw also on Saturday night.)

Monday Lunch

Hummus

Salad

Monday Dinner

Minestrone alla Romagnola

Tuesday Lunch

Leftover Minestrone alla Romagnola

Tuesday Dinner

Roasted Potatoes

Egg Frittata

Sautéed Kale

*Thaw ground pork

*Soak Rio Zape beans

*Soak purple barley

Wednesday Lunch

Veggie Quesadillas

Wednesday Dinner

Grilled Pork and Apple Burgers

Steamed Broccoli

*Cook beets

*Cook beans

*Cook barley

Thursday Lunch

Beets, Beans, and Barley Bowls

Thursday Dinner

Spring Vegetable Braise

Lentil Sautéed with Thyme

*Thaw Sausage

Friday Lunch

Fend

Friday Dinner

Sweet Italian Sausage

Beet Green Sauté

Wild Rice

Fish Fiasco

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the way we have chosen to eat is searching out individual food items that we want to eat and suspect could be sourced locally, but for which local varieties are not readily available in our grocery stores.

Since our son loves to eat sardines and other small fish, we set out to find a source of locally caught and locally processed sardines. As you may know, sardines are experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity due to their reputation as a healthy fish that can also be sustainably harvested. Perhaps this would make the search easier for us.

We noticed that our favorite local grocer carried a brand of sardines that was labeled something like “caught off the coast of California”. Excitedly we brought home a can and tried it. While our son polished off the full contents of the can, we took a closer look at the label. In the fine print on the back of the package, we saw the dreaded words “packaged in Vietnam”! These tiny fish, caught only a few hundred miles from our home, were transported across the largest ocean in the world and back again just for our enjoyment. These sardines were clearly unacceptable and the search for a local source began anew.

Our initial plan of action sent us to the web in an attempt to find Oregon caught and canned sardines. While we discovered lots of information about Oregon’s sardine fishery, we couldn’t find anyone who was processing the fish in state. Next, with the memory of the “California” sardines fresh in our minds, we searched for sardines from Washington – no luck – back to California it was.

The search revealed the same sardines that we already knew had their passports stamped prior to arrival on our plates. After a little more digging however, we found something that seemed really great. A company had recently been started that marketed itself as reviving Monterey’s cannery row. They had a charming vintage label and had received some really good press for their efforts to breathe new life into California’s once-storied sardine canning industry. They were available only via direct mail order from the company, so we ordered up a case. We waited patiently.

When the box arrived we didn’t immediately notice that the return address label listed a distributor in the Midwest. We tore open the box, peeled open a can, and discovered the fish to be delicious. Again, as our son packed way a few whole fish, we read the label closely: “Product of Morocco”. Again, we had suffered a total failure in our attempt to eat this simple fish. This time, our little omega-3 laden treats had been caught across a continent and an ocean, shipped to California to receive fancy labels, and then trucked halfway across the country and back.

Our search is on hold until we consume the rest of our carbon-spewing case, but it will resume. Another failure may finally inspire us to learn pressure canning.

Young Root Vegetable Braise

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Not only do we love to support our local farming friends, we feel so satisfied coming home from the market, spending a couple of hours washing veggies and fruits, and making a dish (or an entire week’s meal plan) from what we have discovered that day.  More often than not, we come home (via bicycle) with our baskets and handlebars loaded down with amazing, locally grown Willamette Valley produce.  We are fortunate to feast on these treasures until our next trip to one of many farmer’s markets in Eugene.

For those of you living in Eugene, you only have to go as far as the Eugene Saturday farmer’s market to make this delicious, seasonal offering.  Cheers to a taste of spring and this charming young root vegetable braise.  You will not be disappointed with this dish!

Recipe:

– 4 slender leeks, including a little of the pale green, or 1 bunch scallions

– 6 carrots, yellow and/or orange, 3 to 4 inches long

– 12 little turnips with their greens

– 1 bunch radishes – pink, red, or purple – with 1/2 inch of their stems

– Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (you may omit this if you can’t find local salt and pepper or include it if you aren’t too much of an extreme localvore)

– 1 pound fava beans, if available, shucked

– 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

– 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

– 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon

– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1.  Slice the leeks crosswise about 1/4 inch wide, then rinse them in a bowl of water and drain.  Cut all but 1/2 inch of the carrot greens off, peel the carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise.  Leave 1/2 inch of the turnip greens attached.  Peel with paring knife up to the shoulders.  Leave smaller ones whole and cut larger ones into halves or quarters.  Halve the radishes lengthwise, soak them briefly in a bowl of water, then rinse, especially the stems.

2.  Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Blanch the carrots, turnips, and radishes for 7 minutes, then scoop them out and set aside.  (There’s no need to rinse them).  Drop the fava beans into the water for 1 minute, then scoop them out, saving the cooking water, and rinse to cool.  Pop them out of their skins.

3.  Melt half the butter in an 8 or 10 inch saute pan (preferably a dutch oven for ample space).  Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add 1/2 cup of the vegetable cooking water, the banched vegetables, half the herbs, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Simmer until the vegetables are fully tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adding water in 1/3 cup increments so that the pan doesn’t dry out.  There should be a little sauce.

4.  Add the fava beans, remaining butter, and lemon juice.  Raise the heat and swirl the pan back and forth until the butter has melted into the juice.  Remove from the heat, add the zest of the herbs, season with pepper, and serve.

*This recipe is from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison.

Welcome!

Dear Friends,

We are excited to share our adventures in finding local food with you!  The purpose of this blog is to tell stories about our experiences in sourcing food for our family from our local region.  We will also be posting information about backyard farming, food preservation, and urban foraging.  In addition, we will share recipes that highlight what we are cooking as the seasons change.  Learn more about our story here.