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Archive for the ‘locavore’ Category

My counter in January

No, I don’t mean to talk about the crumbs, the rubber bands, the empty lunch containers, or even the assorted bits of plastic associated with having a baby who has required his mom to produce some of his food with a breast pump. We’re not so great at keeping our kitchen clean and uncluttered. (Did I mention the baby? Who also requires some additional and time consuming help getting his food into him?)

but this bit of clutter has been staying on the counter in the past 2 weeks on purpose:
the salad spinner living on the counter

That’s because I keep getting the opportunity to buy *this* fresh salad. In January. Grown in a greenhouse in Westport, MA.

Northstar farm salad

Thank you, Northstar Farms and Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market!

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So, I started this little project (and cajoled Jen and Abbe into participating, too) because I was curious. How much time and energy and forethought did it take for me to do my cooking-from-scratch-with-mostly-locally-sourced-food routine? All the moms I know (except my two sisters in arms here) think that it’s insane! Clearly, I’m demented to spend that much time and energy in the kitchen.

I even thought so, too. I figured it must not seem like such a chore to me because I enjoy cooking.

But as I kept track of everything I was cooking, planning, buying, etc., my mind kept circling around to the quote I started this project off with: “Spending an hour a day making dinner is…just not realistic if all the adults in the household work outside the home. And if they don’t like cooking, it’s just oppression.”

Okay, I agree that if you don’t like cooking, it’s opression. I don’t like housework so even just a weekly clean in the bathroom feels like torture. But…. I don’t think I ever spent an hour cooking all at once except for the big feast for Pumpkin Day and the great applesauce/jelly preserve.

Instead, I’d wander into the kitchen, stir together a biga and dump some beans in the water to soak and wander back out five minutes later. A few hours later, I’d put the bread ingredients in the Kitchen Aid and turn it on and go read a few chapters until the dough was kneaded.

This is not to say that I didn’t occasionally spend a good chunk of time in the kitchen — chopping veggies usually is good for several NPR stories, about 15 minutes. But I really wasn’t chained to the stove like my ancestresses. Part of that is just technology: slow cookers, the Kitchen Aid, and a well-stocked freezer really make a world of difference.

(Jen and I, someday, will do dueling posts about Kitchen Aids. You’ll be entertained, I promise.)

It also helped that I made big batches of things and we ate leftovers. Leftovers, as Jen pointed out earlier, are the least amount of cooking possible. Just reheat and eat. It’s like Trader Joe’s only it tastes like I want it to taste.

I also want to admit that I picked October to do this log because October is the best cooking month. My CSA box overflowth with the good stuff and it’s not too hot so long and slow braises are easy and appropriate. Also, I don’t have to think about the holidays yet so there’s none of that “oh, god, I am sitting down. I must make a batch of cookies!” I picked the sweet spot and I know it. In August, there are plenty of weeks where I don’t cook at all because of the heat. And in January, there are plenty of weeks where we don’t get nearly enough vegetables.

Also, I think I may need to seriously consider a more thoughtful approach to menu planning. The nights I found the least stressful were the nights when I knew exactly what I was going to make. The nights that I panicked were because I had no clue what to make.

I‘ve talked about this before — it was an art that my Aunts Thelma and Gail mastered. I usually try to have a sort of rhythm but it often falls apart. But a recent post on one of my favorite locavore blogs, Fields and Fire, had a lot to say about it and she has me thinking hard about it. Maybe setting a firm menu on a two-week rotation, with lots of wiggle room of course, would be the thing to do.

Part of this is because of the last thing I noticed writing the blog. Thinking a head is vital.

Modern convenience foods have gotten us used to the idea that we can walk into the kitchen at 5 and have dinner on the table by 6. Or even 5:30. Or, hell, with a microwave, by 5:05. We’ve been trained to laziness by the freezer case.

In fact, if you want to cook from scratch, you have to start way earlier than merely one hour ahead. Sometimes you have to think a whole day ahead, or several days. There’s shopping to do and prep.

And if I know what I’m cooking ahead of time, I can really spend a lot less time cooking (and shopping). Beans and whole grains — always tops on nutritionists’ lists of foods we should eat — take time to soak and then cook. Locally sourced ingredients take planning to buy. Frozen caches of food take time to defrost.

So, my final words to you, my hypothetical reader. You can do from-scratch cooking without spending tons of time in the kitchen if you plan and think ahead. In fact, from-scratch cooking (with technology) is sorta easier than convenience food cooking… if you plan ahead. If you don’t, it’s a huge pain in the ass and of course you don’t want to do it.

I’ll report back on my menu planning later.

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Breakfast as usual.

Lunch was at Jen’s house — we had some of her leftover chili. It was good. She also made Seven Layer Bars, which I ate too many of. Eerrr… feeling slightly bloated.

Dinner tonight will be the same as dinner last Friday (and before that and so on). Lamb sausage and some roasted vegetable. I should crack open the CSA box to find out what the veggie will be. I’ll do that after May and I take our afternoon walk.

Thinking ahead, I need to pull a lamb shank out of the deep freeze for a special pumpkin carving lunch with the BFF on Sunday. I’ll also do that while I’m pulling food out of the CSA box.

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I planned to do this for a week but the holiday weekend was non-standard, so I though I’d continue another week to give you all a better idea what a non-holiday week looks like.

Not that Monday was standard. My family plans our Columbus Day outing very carefully. It’s Applecrest Day! Often the best day of the year.

Breakfast: The usual. Then cleaning up the post-canning kitchen. Then we hit the road for Applecrest.

Applecrest is an orchard in Hampton Fall, NH, and we’ve been going there for our scheduled apple day for most of a decade. They sell unpasteurized cider! And grilled corn! God I love the grilled corn.

(For literary types, Applecrest is the orchard where John Irving worked as a teenager, going to Phillips-Exeter, just down the street. It’s the basis for the cider house in “Cider House Rules.” It’s got history. And grilled corn.)

We were a little surprised, when we arrived, to be told that they only apples still picking were Red Delicious (ick! the only apple I won’t eat) and Fujis. Apparenlty, there was a late-May frost that didn’t hit Mass. but wiped out 70 percent of Applecrest’s crop.

Then the hot dry summer made the whole season start early. “We’re the only orchard still offering pick your own.” Oh, dear. It’s a bad year to have a failed crop. Applecrest offered us a coupon worth $5 off next year’s harvest. We tucked it away and picked a half peck of Fujis.

(Seriously, who eats Red Delicious? They are so gross.)

We put the apples in the car and hit the farm stand where we bought a full peck of Honeycrisp utilities, half a peck of Cortlands, and 8 bottles of cider.

For those who aren’t as enamored of apples as I am (which is to say, everyone), I should explain some things.

First, utilities are the ugly apples. They have deformed shapes, strange colors, dings, blemishes, etc. They are not bruised or bad or anything, just ugly. And they are half the price of pretty apples. Since I don’t care about how the apples look, just how they taste, I often buy utilities.

Second: Unpasteurized cider is very different from the stuff you get at the store. It’s, quite literally, alive. There are yeasts and bacteria in it that change the flavor and composition as they eat the sugars. The same bottle of cider tastes radically different every day you drink it.

It’s GOOD.

But, for a variety of reasons, it’s hard to find. More on that later. But that’s why we were hauling 8 bottles. We got two gallons for ourselves and then brought back more for friends who have gotten addicted to the stuff. (Jen, I’ll bring yours on Friday.)

Finally, something you probably wouldn’t know was weird: I didn’t buy any Baldwins. If I can be said to have a favorite apple, it’s the Baldwin. They are true New England apples and I buy lots. But the poor harvest mean that Applecrest was OUT! This rocked my world for a minute.

I also bought some heritage popcorn. I’ll report back on that, later, too.

Then we had ears of grilled corn, dripping butter and leaving flakes of charred husk all over our hands, washed down by bottles of cold cider.

THEN, we went to lunch at Brown’s Lobster Pound, a small fried-fish place in Seabrook. It’s literally on the water — the tide came in while we were on the deck and May loved to watch the rocks under our table get covered with water. It’s one of those local places where presidential candidates go to shake hands and kiss babies during the primaries. It’s the Republican option, apparently, because I got some nasty looks when I went in two years ago wearing my “Another Mama for Obama” T shirt.

There’s a place across the street that has pictures of Clintons, not Bushes, on the wall. We tried it one year but the food’s not as good, so we stick to Brown’s.

We got back to the house and hauled our apples and cider up the stairs and I started to contemplate dinner…..

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Repeat from yesterday. The only change was that I also made May a snack for school. While I was making Christopher’s GORP, I made a double batch and slipped it into May’s snack bag, along with an apple (honeycrisp), and a thermos of cold milk.

On the way out of the house, I grabbed an apple for myself, too.

Thinking ahead: I’ve got chicken breast, mayo, and bread at home, so chicken salad for lunch. I’ll roast some veggies and serve them, alongside some leftover soup for dinner.

Also, a friend of mine went into labor yesterday, so I’m thinking about a big batch of soup and a loaf of bread for her family once I hear when they are coming home.

Finally, I need to pick up that pork roast today for while I’m out in Lincoln. But I forgot a check! Damn! Must pick up cash…..

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8 a.m., Sunday morning in Davis Square: Yuppies with small children in tow wander around the square looking bereft, holding our reusable mugs, looking for somewhere, anywhere, that will serve us our morning cup of over-priced beverage with wi-fi and soft jazz. The local independent, Diesel, isn’t open for another hour. Starbucks will sell you only iced chai, without ice. Dunks is just dark, no sign, no lights, no life, no coffee. We have no where to go — we are caffeine refugees.

“But,” chirps the Starbucks barista, who I know by first name, “you can go to the Cambridge stores. They are open as usual.”

You get the feeling the poor man has said this a thousand times this morning and every time he does, there’s a smallish stampede for the door and the T and the refuge of a bare-brick coffeehouse in Harvard Square. That’s where we go, at least, and stand in line for a very long time to get our drinks, our daughter’s warm milk, our ritual greasy Egg McMuffin. It’s like a benediction and all the other yuppies around us are sighing in deep contentment. We got our ‘Bucks, all is well in the world.

Why all the sturm und drang? Because one pipe broke.

I don’t know how the news is playing in non-New England parts of the world — I don’t know if anyone from outside of New England reads this blog — but the greater Boston area is under a boil-water order and has been for 48 hours. It’s likely to continue for at least two more days. This is because a pipe — a 10-foot pipe — in the aqueduct that brings water from the Quabbin Reservoir to Boston failed, catastrophically. We still had water, it was just from the back-up reservoirs and therefor untreated — hence the boil water order. Also, a water conservation order because the back ups were just not equipped to handle a modern city.

It’s a wonderful analogy, actually, about why we need to eat locally, if you’ll pardon a jaunt into badly strained similes.

First, I have to tell you that, some years ago, my husband and I wrote a fictional blog about, among other things, the collapse of modern society. We wrote it one year in the future — so entries dated Oct. 2008 were written in Oct. 2007.

My husband took the political side of the story — discussions of laws, legality, protests, real politik, and military matters. He researched cyber wars, submarines, laws, and other related topics so that we could get it as close to real as possible. Every time we thought we’d come up with some dark plot twist, we’d do some research and discover that the facts of the matter were so much worse than anything we’d thought of that we’d have to change the plot. The whole thing was much much grimmer than we’d intended. (But it’s a rollicking good read, if you’re interested.)

I took the “home front,” and started looking into things like our agriculture, our food supply lines, and related issues. And that is when I started to get really scared.

First, you need to know that, if you’re a typical American, the vast majority of your food comes from a handful of producers using a handful of crops. I won’t throw stats at you, but you can find the information pretty easily if you Google. Mostly, that food is coming from factories that are pretty far away, too.

Thanks to things like on-demand shipping, our grocery stores don’t stock a whole lot of … anything. There are no warehouses of food, no supply in the back room. If something is out and they can’t get a truck into the city, then they are OUT.

So imagine, please, that the four or five food producers are the Quabbin Reservoir, way far away. And the aqueduct is the constant stream of trucks into the city. (Imagine Boston represents the majority of Americans, buying their food at local megamarts.) And the back up reservoirs are the handful of local farms and suppliers.

One disruption — in this case a 10 foot pipe breaking but it could have been a failure in the water processing facility or at the source in the Quabbin or at a million points in between — and the whole damned city is fucked. To extend this analogy way way past any reason, let’s imagine what could possibly disrupt America’s food supply:

  • Gas prices skyrocketing (because of, maybe, a giant ass oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that might, possibly, block traffic to Chemical City, Texas?) could put a serious kink in the pipeline
  • A case of a particularly vicious black stem rust could wipe out, oooh, all of the wheat in America.
  • A major economic collapse (had any of those lately?) could monkey with one of the four companies, which could cut our food supply in 1/4.
  • An earthquake in California (which is entirely unlikely, right?) could wipe out so much of our produce that it would make your head spin.
  • As it turns out, a volcano could mess with air travel, which wouldn’t muck with America’s food but apparently left much of northern Europe without fresh vegetables….
  • A cyber attack could mess up our communications systems and no one would no where anything was going.
  • The coming phosphorus shortage (or peak oil) could create a choke point in the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and whatnot that create the outrageous yields we’ve gotten used to.

I could go on and on and on. But the point I’m trying to make is that our infrastructure is old, wobbly, and very vulnerable to any minor disruption, whether we’re talking about water supply or food supply. We lack resiliency — that’s a big buzzword in national security right now.

And all of these disruptions are entirely predictable! If all your water comes through one flipping pipe, it’s not hard to imagine that that pipe might fail. So maybe we should have a back up plan? Is that too much to ask? Apparently.

What we really need to do is to start decentralizing — get our water from lots of places, get our food from lots of places. And those places should be nearby.

Because I’ve been a foodie for yonks, everyone assumes I got into the locavore movement for culinary reasons. And certainly that was part of it. But another, just as compelling reason, is because I see how fragile our world is and I need to fix it. One way to fix it is to encourage sustainable food (and water!) from a wide variety of sources, most of them nearby.

Wow, that was a long rant. So sorry.

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I hear that in Massachusetts our days have officially surpassed the 12 hours of daylight mark yesterday, and boy am I ready. The sun is out, we’ve switched to daylight savings time, it’s the season for planting pea seeds (this week), the crocuses are in full bloom… and the farmer’s market won’t be starting up for a good 2 and a half months yet.

But… just when we need a little something else to get us eating the way we’re feeling – I just heard Somerville is having an indoor “winter” farmer’s market.
Saturday, March 20th, 12-5pm, Somerville High School Gym. Woohoo!

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