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Archive for the ‘failures’ Category

Today marks my defeat. It’s happened every year since I started being locavore-ish. This year, because I didn’t have my act together in August, it happened a little earlier.

I gave up.

At the Whole Foods, I contemplated another meal that involved zip-tops of frozen (freezer burned, at this point) greens with eggs and I rebelled. $100 later, I had yellow peppers, snow peas, dried fruits, and rhubarb in my bag, not to mention granola that I didn’t make, yogurt that I didn’t ferment, and a box of the super-expensive but really lovely Republic of Tea Rooibus.

There are people dedicated enough to put up all the veggies you’ll need for winter, even a long, dragging New England winter. I am not yet one of them. Last year, thanks to a massive tomato canning session, I lasted until the end of March. But even then, two months until the first produce happens.

So I’m back eating fresh veggies trucked across the universe on $3/gallon gas. I feel mixed about it — like it’s a good idea that my family is eating healthier (it’s been a little lean on non-root veggies since January), but it’s not so good that my food comes from Chile or California or Florida. But, in the mean time, i’m thrilled to be eating snow peas, raw, by the handful.

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Last month, Amanda brought us some quinces grown here in Massachusetts; then almost immediately, before I even picked them up from her, they started going bad. We managed to rescue enough of them that hadn’t rotted yet and I quickly got to work on my project – kotonjata, a quince candy made from a Croatian recipe; it’s much like the membrillo they serve at Dali. It turned out they were starting to rot because some small insect had gotten to them on the tree, but we were able to cut out the sections with problems and salvaged about a pound and a half – enough for a successful batch.

Because they’re a traditional Christmas treat in Croatia, we snacked a bit mostly on the scrapings from the pot, brought some over to Amanda, and saved one big one to serve at holiday time and a few small ones to send to the inlaws.

And that was when disaster struck. If we’d only had less self control to save them for Christmas… Instead, the rodent population we didn’t know we had found the plate stacked with saran wrapped goodies in the pantry and gorged themselves. Small bites taken out of every square inch of every piece, bits spattered on the wall, a few mouse droppings to be sure we knew who did it.

We went out immediately and bought a) mousetraps, and b) more quince. This is an emergency; if the quince had to come from California so be it.
That same night we caught the mouse (although he’s probably got friends), and today we’ve got a replacement batch of kotonjata. I think the local one was better – but there’s always next year.

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Good fail, bad fail

A lot of people seem to be afraid to cook because they’re worried about making some awful inedible thing.  Me, I know I’ll make awful stuff… but it’s all part of the learning process!  And really, it takes a lot to make things really inedible.  And there’s the other side of failures too.  Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but you get something you’d never have thought to make.

Just recently, I had an apple jelly adventure.  Actually I had several apple jelly adventures, which were a whole series of different failures, and I almost ruined a pot in the process.  I still have no apple jelly.  Actually this is fine with me, I don’t like apple jelly.  But apple picking makes me want to make jelly for some reason.  However, that wasn’t the point.  The point was that the last failure involved cooking far past the point of jelly, well into the soft-ball stage.  I could’ve sworn the apple bits would have burned by then, but they didn’t.  So I have a moderate amount of absurdly sticky but not quite hard apple candy.  You can’t eat it, I tried.  Too much sweet, too much sticky… well ok, you can eat it.  You just have to use a spoon.  BUT!  It turns out that if you tear it into bits, it’s a really excellent addition to spiced waffles or muffins!  The waffles were the best, but cleaning the waffle iron afterwards was not the best, so muffins it is.

But for the record, most of my fails are just fails.  I made coconut macaroons the other day.  They were so bad I don’t know when I’ll bring myself to try again.  That one was the recipe’s fault, but I should’ve known better than to try the one recipe that didn’t contain egg whites.  I burned our Halloween pumpkin seeds, those dried cranberries I mentioned before ended up only half usable, and when I tried adding buckwheat flour to my bread last week it was terrible.  I like to believe I learn valuable lessons from my mistakes.  But sometimes the only lesson is ‘sometimes you just have to toss it.’

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Local bolognese …. fail

(This is Amanda, btw.)

On Tuesday, on the way home from preschool, I decided I really wanted lasagna with bolognese. I stopped at Dave’s Fresh Past and picked up local eggs, got some handmade mozzarella, and some fresh noodles. Then I hit Sessa’s, a local Italian import shop, and picked up some very non-local Parm and their handmade ricotta. I had put-up tomatoes in the “root cellar” (aka my basement) and it was all good.

Then I forgot to take the good local beef out of the freezer.

I tried a speed defrost but it was still a meat-sicle at 4:00 and I need to have dinner on the table at 5:15 (three-year-olds like routine. At least mine does). So I made potato soup instead and left the frozen meat in the fridge to defrost for dinner on Wed.

Well, life happened and it wasn’t until Sunday night that I got around to making lasagna. By which time, you can imagine, the meat had gone off. So I sent my husband, C., out to the store to pick up some very non-local, non-organic, non-humane meatloaf mix (with veal!) from the local Shaw’s. Then I realized that, in fact, I was out of tomatoes after all… so could he pick up some of those, too? Oh, and our daughter had eaten all the mozzarella, so we needed that and I’d used all the onions in the soup….

The ricotta was still local, but the milk that it was made from wasn’t. The egg was from my dad’s chickens, in Connecticut, which isn’t really local, and the pasta was made locally, but obviously the wheat wasn’t local…. The garlic was the only thing that was entirely local.

I had originally conceived of talking about this dish as an example of how, when you’re cooking from scratch and from raw agricultural ingredients, you trade consistent mediocrity for the chance to get great (or terrible) food. But it turned into an example of how my best intentions crumble in the face of reality.

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