Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Kitchen Toy

I'm the person in the family that likes to cook...not the only person...just the person who talks about it a lot. I tell extended friends and family about our trips to the CSA farm for U-pick in our Christmas letter. I relate the details of my latest meal to my parents when we chat and I tell co-workers (and occasionally bring proof to work to share) of my latest meal created from my CSA share or other exciting local food find. So it was no surprise that among the few gifts that we exchange for Christmas one of mine was food related. I was asked ahead of time if I would use a bread maker. My reply was that the real things that I would use are the mixing and kneading and that a stand mixer has attachments to do that plus it would allow me to purchase the pasta attachments to allow me to make my own pasta, another thing I have been telling everyone about. So come present time the last box was my very own Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer. Woohoo! I haven't had time to play with it yet, still entertaining guest, in fact taking one to the airport this early am. I am really looking forward to saving my joints and letting the mixer do some of the hard work for my next loaf of bread.

Dark Days Challenge Weeks 2-5

Though I haven't found the time this winter to blog about it, I have been very successful adding local meals to our week.
Most recently I hosted my parents and sister to a thanksgiving-like Christmas dinner and a great post-present breakfast. My turkey was a frozen local 20 pounder from Elaine at Fields of Athenry that has been hogging my freezer since it was butchered at Thanksgiving. I am so glad to have that space back. I roasted it simply on a rack, stuffed with local apples and onions and rubbed with home dried herbs from my self-watering planter boxes (all I can do in an apartment) and local butter. I tossed a few bits of carrots, celery, and local onion underneath the rack to bake down with the juices for gravy. Next was a Food Network inspired roasted garlic mashed potatoes with local potatoes and 2 garlic heads from the farmers market and a dash of organic but not local heavy cream. I served my home canned whole berry jellied cranberry sauce. I canned up several jars at thanksgiving with the closest cranberries I could find, Orcranics from Buzzards Bay MA. With company's tastes to consider I opted for a store bought dressing mix but the best local dish was a butternut squash soup made with the last few squash left from my CSA and local honey.
Butternut Squash Soup
*Quarter 2 butternuts lengthwise, lay on foil covered pan and brush with 2 tbsp. butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
*Roast at 400 degrees till tender ~45 min. but depends on size of butternuts.
*When cool enough to handle remove flesh into soup pot and heat till just bubbling with 3 c. broth, 1/4 c. local honey, 1 tsp ginger (fresh or powder) then blend using immersion blender
*Remove from heat, add 1/2 c. heavy cream and dash of nutmeg, blend to distribute cream and serve
For Christmas Day breakfast I pulled together pumpkin pancakes with my frozen CSA pumpkin puree, local whole wheat flour, and local milk, local thick sliced bacon and local eggs fried to order.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week #1

During week #1 I stocked up on winter root vegetables, dairy products, and some frozen poultry from the farmers market and flour from Wade's Mill but to complete a meal I made a trip to wander Whole Foods looking for local products. While they do an OK job of marking products they deem as local there is still not enough information provided or variety for me; 98% of the produce department came from California or Chili. What I walked away with was some fresh angel hair pasta from La Pasta in Silver Spring, MD, some yellow summer squash from Lady Moon Farms location in Chambersburg, PA, some Oak Barrel Stout from Old Dominion Brewing Co. bottled 1 month ago just down the road in Ashburn, VA, a glass bottle half-gallon of Trickling Springs Creamery Whole Milk for K's consumption, NJ IPA Ocean Spray Cranberries (the closest I've been able to find) and some locally made salsa and hummus for snacking.

Through out the week I have enjoyed many local items as part of other dishes but this is the only dish I was able to do to meet the Dark Days Challenge.I quartered a yellow squash and sauteed it with 1 minced clove non-local garlic and a dash of salt. Next i added some oven roasted tomatoes which had I picked very green the last week of my CSA and have been slowly ripening them in paper bags in my laundry room. I boiled the pasta and added it to the saute. I also prepared a small side salad of mixed lettuce, local mozzarella cheese, sliced pears and a local vinaigrette. I also enjoyed a bottle of the Stout. The squash with the pasta was a perfect with the tomatoes and the pear was just right.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Honey Wheat Bread

The only thing better than making a delicious loaf of bread is being able to duplicate that success on subsequent loafs. I did it! This week I again tried making the honey wheat and it came out as good as the last loaf. The recipie calls for a half cup of honey and I have been using a local honey that I found to be a little bland compared to my favorite local lavendar honey which has already run out for the year. I plan on stocking up on next years flow if it has the same great flavor. But for this year there are still a few vendors at the farmers market who carry honey. I guess I better stock up if I plan to keep making this as my weekly bread.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back on the Breadwagon

Inspired by A Foothill Home Companion's Pumpkin Bagel post I surfed on over to the One Good Loaf blog and I must confess that I have decided to join the bandwagon. Or rather, that I'm already on the wagon and I'm ready to commit. For the past few months I have returned to baking and though not always successful I am improving. It all began with the fall influx of apples which necessitated a pie. After negotiation with my toddler we worked out a deal where she agreed to not burn herself on the stove while I tried to make a real crust, not a Pillsbury pre-made, and in return she could have ice cream and sprinkles on her slice. The edges were a little dry but the rest was quite good. Then came the inexplicable urge to bake bread again.

My very successful attempts at a Dutch Oven Crusty Bread gave me much needed confidence and so, after trolling some of my favorite mom blogs (I'm afraid I cant remember who now) I printed out a few of their favorite recipes and went to work. First was a very successful sweet potato bread made with leftover sweet potato mash and King Aurthur All Purpose flour followed immediately by a disastrous whole wheat version made on a very unexpectedly cold day during which the bread failed to rise well and I failed to judge the cooking times properly. Not to be dissuaded I switched to another well recommended honey wheat, this time with wondrous results. Even K was asking for another slice without the copious amounts of my homemade jam that is usually required on top of all bread.

Baking another loaf is on my to do list but since I ran out of time to start a yeast loaf last night and I have been needing to add a health but satisfying snack to my morning or afternoon routine I decided to give bran muffins a try. I had a small bag of Bob's Red Mill Wheat Bran sitting on the shelf with a molasses bran muffin recipe on it so with molasses, flour, home-made applesauce, and Bob's bran at hand I tried it out. What I got didn't taste bad but the tops were flat and it lacked something. I enjoyed my muffin but I didn't crave it. I think I will try again once these are gone. After all, in addition to my one local meal a week I will now also be trying to bake something each week.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Search for Local Flour

One of the most difficult and frustrating things about starting to eat local is all the work involved in trying to find out what local products are available from who and especially searching out some of the staples that should be available but are not easily found. I figured that for the first week of the Dark Days Challenge I would focus on my most perplexing ingredient, local flour. The lack of small mills is not surprising in given the ease of quick, cheap world wide shipping. Mills generally operate on the principle of economy of scale. The more grain they can convert to flour and other milled products the less expensive it is for them to operate and the cheaper they can offer their products to consumers. Therefore it is natural for larger mills to locate closer to the mid-west's prime growing areas and near railways where the cheapest grain can be shipped in, converted and shipped out at the lowest cost. A few small operations continue to function but I have found that they are often historical mills which operate on a small scale mostly for demonstrations to tourists and not to produce enough quantity for locavore consumption. One disappointing feature of some of these smaller mills is that while the grinding is done locally, they may ship in the raw grain from other regions.

At first this realization made me sad. After all, northern Virginia was home to many of the agriculturally minded founding fathers and I distinctly remember the pride of this fact displayed prominently as I toured Washington's Mt. Vernon on the Potomac back in the 7th grade. Many of the historically minded locations in the DC region mention mills of old and describe the trials of taking grain to be milled. I found one example of this while flipping through some tourism material I have laying around as I prepare to host guests at Christmas. It is a map (link is to a pdf file) of the grounds at the the living history Claude Moore Colonial Farm and the closest mill is 3 days one way on foot. Still slightly disappointed I turned to google and began searching in earnest.

For those closer to PA there are several readily available options in the Lancaster area and I'm sure a few more that I didn't find because I wasn't looking up there. McGreary Organics' Daisy Flour brand fit my preferences as did the spelt wheat flours from Small Valley Milling but both are just at my 150 mile (driving distance not crow flight) limits. I continued my search for something closer, or at least in my own state and somewhere I might have a chance of visiting someday soon. I located a few more small mills in Maryland and Virginia that offered either limited quantity or not enough online information for me to justify a trip to try their flour. Just as I was giving up hope, I stumbled onto Wade's Mill, located in Raphine.

Wade's Mill has a nice website and even offers online ordering, in addition to a 1-800 number and its catalogue. They have a wide variety of milled grains, flours, baking mixes in addition to jams, syrups, hams and gift baskets. Family owned for a long time and now run my Jim and Georgina Young this mill, while still over my 100 mile preferred distance was worth making an exception at 163 miles. Not 1 day after I had decided to order some flour and give the mill a try I got my monthly email from the Virginia Tourism people and saw a picture of the Young's and a link to a video featuring them talking about their mill and their products. I was sold. I ordered a 30 lbs of flour and some maple syrup immediately. The box arrived quickly, was carefully packed and as I put each pack of flour away I smiled, knowing that I had achieved my goal and would soon be enjoying the fruits of local labor.

I've created a google map of the sources I found during my search: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=105998941988210614683.00045baf78e917bcac07a
I welcome comments and additions and will be updating if I find out any now information.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

To Market, To Market







$75 Dollars worth of responsibly produced, locally grown food and a morning chatting with my favorite local farmers market vendors- PRICELESS

Its been a few weeks since I've been able to get away and also afford to shop for food. We've been eating out of the pantry and freezer for the past month with only milk and cheese being added. I did this for two reasons: 1. I had plenty of stuff I've stocked away and it was time to rotate some out and reevaluate what was in there so I could stock up for the winter. 2. I wanted to use up some of the conventional and non-local things I had so that I could make room for local and organic alternatives in preparation for the Dark Days Challenge. So with $75 dollars in one pocket, my big purple market carry-all (and I do mean all) bag on my shoulder and K on my hip/holding my hand/running away from me as fast as she could while giggling I headed to the Leesburg Farmers Market.

So what did I get for my money? For fruit I stocked up on 1 peck of Jonagold apples from Bigg Riggs for $12/peck. It weighed in at 10.5 lbs so at a regular $2/lb I saved $9. For some variety I got 3 lbs Bosc pears from C.Hess Orchard & Produce at $1/lb. While I was at Hess's stand I also picked up 3.5 lbs sweet potatoes and almost 3 lbs of beautiful fresh turnips for $1.99/lb. Then I picked up a bag of the Loudon Lettuce Mix from Endless Summer Harvest for $5 for salads. Next came the 2 lbs of unshelled black walnuts for $4 from Onyx Hill Farm and a hefty 5 lb frozen whole chicken for $25 from Haskins that I plan on turning into both dinners and stock later this week. Finally, I took a quick detour to Millcreek Farm for eggs, passing on their delicious beef because I was now short on cash, and dolling out the last few dollars to Blue Ridge Dairy for their jersey cow whole milk honey yogurt for K and a splurge on their butter because I am too lazy/cheap to go get some local milk and make my own this weekend.

No clue what I'm going to do with this fall bounty but that's the rest of the fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Looking forward to Dark Days

So its almost time to start Laura's Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. This Saturday, November 15th through March 15 I have agreed to blog about my attempts to cook one local (90% of ingredients) meal a week. My definition of local will be 100 miles except for hard to get items for which I have no problems extending the mileage a little as necessary. I have herbs which I grew and dried, lots of frozen pures, stocks, soups, and vegetables, a small amount of canned local fruits, and lots of my hand-picked self-canned berry jams. With several year-round farmers markets I expect to be able to source root vegetables, meats, eggs and some dairy throughout the challenge. One other exception I will be making will be to include anything given as a gift that came from the givers local food shed. This is primarily because my family is coming for the holidays and I fully expect to receive the canned fruits of their garden. And it would be rude to not taste them. The full Dark Days Rules are here.
I'm looking forward to seeing just how much I can do...a full meal with all the trimmings?...a full day of meals?... multiple meals during the week? I guess we will find out. I'm also hoping to find a few local dishes that K will eat. Perhaps that is the greater challenge.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Strange Morning

Oldest equation in the book: A toddler fighting naps equals a stressed mom. A day with out naps means that by dinner time my K has turned into a two headed monster. On moment shes playing happily and is politely asking for a tissue but as soon as I say "OK, let me get it" she collapses on the floor screaming that she wants a tissue but refuses to take the one I'm holding for her. Poor kid. By 8 she passed out in my arms and I felt almost as bad as she did. With the time change it seemed like a good night for us to both turn in early. However, I woke up the next morning with no clear sense of time, order or orientation.
I wasn't hungry but K was so out came the frozen waffles and syrup with a glass of milk. Once in the kitchen I had an overwhelming desire to get things done but without needing to cook anything for K or myself I turned to food prep and preservation. Yesterday chopped, boiled, and stored 2 of our pumpkins, destined for frozen puree, but I hadn't done anything with the seeds. I pulled out my Roasted Vegetable Cookbook, my holy guide to oven roasting just about anything, and found the procedure for making pepitas. Mix seeds with oil, salt, and desired seasoning and roast single layered at 300 for 25-30 minutes. I did 2/3 with just salt and the last 3rd sprinkled with paprika. They are cooling in bowls right now and I cant wait to taste them.
Next on my list was to prepare the mix for my favorite fall/winter breakfast treat, pumpkin pancakes. With the pumpkin puree frozen I can pull out a cup at a time as I need it and enjoy this treat all the way 'till Easter, if I have the discipline. The total quantity of dry ingredients was too much to store in any of the glass jars I had on hand so I measured the basics and spices into Ziploc baggies.
Needing to use up the final remnants of my CSA share, a few leeks, potatoes, opinions, and a few little butternut squash, I pulled out my handy cooking magazines of seasons past, mainly last years fall and winter months of Cooking Light and Cooks Illustrated. A winter soup article caught my eye and in it was my answer: French Potage. A basic leek and potato soup that can support variation and manipulation and be on standby to go with other dishes throughout the week. I've started the chopping and peeling and hope to have the pot on the stove and ready for lunch.
The last of my pre-breakfast chores is to prepare and roast up the peanuts that I dug and, based on the quantity decide what to do with them. There are numerous online resources for my peanut endeavor but none take you from digging to final product. Most start with pre-bought raw peanuts from a producer. Now that the oven is free, we'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apple Update

Well, almost half a month down and so far I've been able to keep up with the apple a day challenge. I finished up my apple crisp for dessert for the remainder of last week and thanks to a timely trip to Bigg Riggs booth at the Leesburg Farmers Market I have been enjoying my all time favorite apples Jonagolds strait from the fridge. I have always liked apples but have never really had a favorite until last year when, on a very, very cold day at the market I tasted each and every apple sample Bigg Riggs had out and bought several of each of my favorites to take home in its own labeled bag to finish the taste test. The crisp but mild sweetness of the very cold Jonagold stayed with me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

End of the CSA Season

Change is hard but brings new opportunities along with the challenges. Next week is our last week of CSA shares from Great Country Farm and I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I'm a little excited that I wont be buying all that gas or having to do the long drives to the farm but that was my choice and sacrifice for the the fresh vegetables, fresh air, the chance to show my daughter where food comes from and the all around good fun of a half day picking and playing. I'm sad that I wont be getting an assortment of fresh vegies but that means that I can pick and choose what I want from the year round farmers market and not feel any guilt at trying out a local business resturaunt knowing that I have another 4 tons of tomatoes/kale/squash/... (fill in your most abundant vegi of the season) that I should be eating at home. It also means the opportunity to do other things on Saturdays, like explore some of the local living history parks and take advantage of all the wonderful holiday open houses.

I have been stocking up on the more hardy vegetables like apples, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. I have been using the swap out option of my u-pack to get a double portion of apples or squash instead of the end of season, oversized tomatoes or less than storable tiny potatoes. I plan on making these last as long a possible and after halloween I want to can up the pumpkin mash for use throughout the year. Last year I froze most of my left over pumpkin cooked mash and enjoyed weekend pumpkin pancakes into the spring. But this year the freezer wont be an option.

This year, with my family joining me for Xmas I have decided to do the turkey then. I'm purchasing a fresh bird for Elaine @ Fields of Athenry when she does all her birds but putting it on ice to enjoy with the family. That will take up what little freezer space I have. Oh, how I long to have a big freezer...and a backup generator to go with it. Thus the other reason freezer is not an option,the fear of loosing all my hard work to a power outage. Last year I lost some fridge stuff but no freezer items to a brief power outage but it was a very, very mild winter and we were very lucky. Im not so hopeful this year and since I have the ability to can, why not.

I've also been spending alot of time searching around the net for other winter options including winter CSA shares, year round markets, stores that carry local products and growing my own winter greens. I just found that the newest farmers market group in town, Smart Markets Inc., will be running thier Oakton market as a year round. If I can find seeds I might start some winterable rutabegas or turnips or maybe kale for soups. I also hope to start baking more breads but first I must find a better source of grains than the supermarket.

The Greatest Birthday Gift

Birthdays are tough but not for K. In K's world every day is a birthday complete with birthday cake and presents. It means coming home from daycare with goody bags filled with stuff I wouldn't normally let her have and lots of stickers. At 2 years old with her 3rd birthday less that a month away she doesn't understand the time concept of months let alone years and suffers from none of the other baggage that we, as adults, tie into our birthdays. And yet, for 2 days on my birthday weekend, she got it and what I got was the gift of Peace!

Saturdays during the summer and early fall mean Farm and Farmers Market Days. I decided to go do everything even though I am still suffering from an annoying cold and cough that I can't seem to kick completely. We get a hurried start out the door at 8:20 for our 35 minute drive to Leesburg to the year round Leesburg Farmers Market, which is only a .5 mile detour on our route to the Farm. Once the shopping and "sheep" petting (one vendor has pelts on display) is done we load back up, usually with a locally baked muffin, scone or even cookie, for the remainder of our drive out to Great Country Farms in Bluemont. We spend the morning picking up our CSA share, pick the u-pick bonus, bouncing on the pumpkin bounce, sliding down slides, playing in the play area, feeding the goats, petting the animals and generally running around. K sleeps the entire trip back while I drive. This leaves her refreshed as we arrive home but me exhausted.

Yesterday, I offered her a movie while I checked my email and tinkered with my blog reader and she picked Ice Age. Once it was on I decided to sneak into my room for a 5-10 minute nap; essentially however long it took for K to notice my absence and come jump on my back demanding I get up. In true form after 10 minutes she wandered into my room. My covers were pulled up in a fashion that caused her to not be sure if I was in bed or if it was just the blankets so she started patting down on them looking for me. She found my leg with a rather hard pat, leaned over, hugged my leg and said "good night mommy" then walked away. Deep sigh of relief. After another 15 minutes or so she came back in, this time climbing up on the bed. I thought my nap was over for good but all she did was place several of her favorite stuffed animals beside me, cover them with blankets, give me a kiss on the cheek and walk away.

Through my exhausted nappy slumber I could here her moving throughout the house sometimes laughing at the movie, sometimes in her room playing with her play kitchen, sometimes knocking down her blocks. The movie had ended a little time ago when I finally felt rested and got up. Looking at the clock I found she had let me rest for 2 hours! This peaceful time was just what I needed. Thanks for the early birthday present.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Apple Week 2

With fall in full swing I met the morning with my best shawl collared deep red sweater and a killer sore throat. That meant lots of tea, which meant getting out the local honey, which lead to a plate of golden delicious apple slices to dip is said honey. Work was agony but early to work equals early home so I had some extra time to tackle the pile of dishes, start the belated laundry cycle, move the old ill fitting clothing out of the closet and onto the to-be-donated mountain that is taking over one corner of my room. Except for one instance where she bolted behind the fish counter at Whole Foods, K has been mostly cooperative and a good sport with only minimal bribery. She whined a little about dinner but then settled for coloring at the table while I managed to not only cook whole wheat pasta (always takes longer) and reheat the chicken but also put together an impromptu apple crisp loosely based on a recipe in the Whole Foods coupon flyer I was browsing at stoplights on the drive home.

Starting with 3 of my CSA Red Rome apples sliced and lightly sugared covering the bottom of my favorite blue 9" square Pyrex I tossed in a couple of handfuls of frozen whole cranberries. Next I mixed 2 cups of some long forgotten Trader Joes blueberry muesli (which is nicely preseasoned with cinnamon) with 2/3 cup flour, drizzled with oil and honey (can be adjusted to taste but I used 6 and 4 tablespoons respectively) and tossed with 1/2 walnuts before pressing on top of the fruit. Baked covered w/ foil at 375 for 45 minutes and then another 20 uncovered produced a very nice impromptu crisp.

For both lunch and dinner I enjoyed a portion of the 4 boneless whole chicken breasts(not half breasts like you positioned in nice little lines on a tray at your grocery store) I picked up from Fields of Athenry at their booth at Great Country Farm on Saturday. I breaded and finished them with tomato sauce, but no cheese using the chicken Parmesan directions from the Cooks Illustrated 08 Cooking Light issue and I will never do breaded chicken any other way. The breading stayed on, cooked to a golden brown w/o burning and stayed crisp, not soggy even 2 days later. I cut a few bite size bits off to give to K as "chicken nuggets" and served them over the bed of whole wheat penne and more sauce. A delicious dinner that would have gone great with wine but alas it was water for me and apple juice for K.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

An Apple A Day

It seems that October is the wrong time for me to start challanges. For the past several years I have been aware of, inteded to be involved in, but unable to keep up with the various October Eat Local Challanges. Not for lack of trying but October is a bad month to scale back on anything. Yes, local produce is in abundance, the change of weather makes me yearn for homemade soups and my intentions are always the best. Then life gets in the way. Job changes, impending holiday expenses, unexpected medical bills, metal fatigue and a sudden onset of cooking apathy. What happens next is that I suddenly find myself at the end of October eating convenience food manufactured in hong kong and yearing for the fancy produce shipped in from a land far, far away even as the freshly picked local produce sits languishing in my refrigerator crisper or the bottom of my pantry.

This year was shaping up to be much the same. I was already in a no clean dishes when I need them equals no time to cook mood and had let several bunches of late summer spring onions dry out and get tossed when I ran across something that reinvigorated my will to source local and organic. It may not live up to the average Eat Local Challange participants standards but its a start and even something I know I could do. Eat an apple a day every day in October. Simple, right? Im too lazy to try to track down who started it but I crossed it on a Farm to Philly post late last night when I was too tired to be reading anything but to awake to be sleeping, the best time to aimlessly browse the internet. My take on this challenge will be to eat a local apple each day in some way shape or form without prejudice to the nutriousness of the dish; raw apple, last years canned applesauce and apple pie all being equal.

The frist thing I did with our first CSA provided crop of local Gala and Golden Delicious apples from Marker Miller Orchards and the Braburns from Bigg Riggs was to make the apple pandowdy from Cooks Illustrated. I used a mix of all the apples and I dont remember which I used or which worked best but they all were delicious. I had that for desert every night until Wednesday. Didn't eat any local (only the ones in the Starbucks pack) on Wednesday but Thursday, Friday, Saturday and today I finished off the Braburns in raw slices and whole. DD has been demanding the canned apple sauce from last years crop almost every day too.

I pack my own share from the CSA and with the new delivery of Red Rome apples I choose apples over my portion of potatoes (since I already have many), pears (not a big hit with DD) and green beans (had them continuously for a month) [note to self: next year blog about share w/ weight and totals]. Now I have of 20 green, red and golden apples packed into the crisper, some as small as 1/2 my fist others the size of almost 2 fists. I'm sure I'll be able to find many ways to use them and in a pinch a raw apple makes a healthy dessert.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Simple Eating

I have had many meals over the past few weeks that have incorporated great local fruits, vegetables and meats. I have local fruits and vegetables that K and I picked last summer, canned and frozen, I have the last stores of apples, tubers and winter squash and I have great local farmers who butcher and deliver fresh meats to the farmers market. It is always difficult to eat local in the winter and I envy those in mild climates for their winter abundance. However, like many of my fellow locavores, the real crux of eating w/in our 100 miles, or however you definie local, is getting the things that take more than just a garden or land to obtain. Baking and cooking essentials like salt, baking soda, yeast, spices, coffee, some herbs and even flour are difficult to get local. It is possible but takes much more work and time than I have to spare right now. (I have been looking into grinding my own flour and making my own cheese but that will take some time to figure out).

These key ingreedients are often what keeps my dishes from being completely local. I have another problem becuase I like to try out new recipes and cooking techniques that often have me searching for ingredients that I have never used before or havent regularly kept stocked in my pantry. I have had to concede that in the winter in order to eat what can be obtained locally with little extra effort I have to learn to eat simple. Simple eating does not necessarily mean giving up good food or sacrificing taste but rather keeping the ingredients list short and letting the natural flavors do the work.

This morning I had my first "truely" local meal in a while. 3 local eggs (whites for me, yokes for K) and some home-canned local corn made a great simple omlet. My coffee was bought from a local framers market that locally roasts beans grown on a Hondouran coffee farm that emphasizes good growing practices, fair wages and great coffee. Simple and good. All that was lacking was some salt but I can easily do w/o. Im going to be looking at other simple dishes in the future.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Another of my recent attempts to relearn the art of cooking and Im happy to report that it turned out great!

I have a short history with bread and most of it is unpleasant. Somehow, no matter what I did, I would end up with bread that was less than the perfect warm loaf I had imagined or seen in pictures and more in the vacinity of either a pile of steaming goo or a rock. I could never get it to rise, rarely get the inside cooked before the crust turned to concrete, and often ended up with part of it burnt. All this despite trying different yeats, ovens, sides of the country and amounts of patience. So what made me think that, with all of the things I had on my plate and K running around like a typical two year old demanding my time and attention every time I tried to do something constructive, I would be able to bake a noteworthy loaf now.

Enter a random copy of Mother Earth News pulled off the rack at Whole Foods in a weak moment of yearning. I normally shop with a list, especially at Whole Foods where even a single deviation can push you way over your budget, but with all of my introspection and soulsearching this blast from my childhood hit my weak spot and it was soon in my cloth bags and one its way home. It just so happened that this months Real Food article highlighted a way to cook a moist crusty loaf of bread in a dutch oven of all things with very little interference from the breadmakker. It seemed too good to be true but since I had been eyeing a new Le Creuset Dutch Oven and this seemed like the excuse I had been looking for. So after a stop at Williams and Sonoma and Harris Teeter for some fresh yeast I was on my way to trying this promised miracle recipe.

Yes it really was as easy as it touted and, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. K gobbled her first slice w/o waiting for me to spread on her butter.

Semi-Local Chili

Last week I defrosted some local ground beef and canned tomatos and whipped up this delicious chili. It went perfect with the cool temperatures. The beans and some of the spices were organic and I topped it with local organic cheese and onions. What a great way to eat local. Now if only I could get some local salt and learn to make my own crackers....

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Movie Time

One of the treats that we got on our trip to the Co-Op was good old-fashioned popping corn. I'm a sucker for kettle corn and spent way too much on it last year since they cooked it fresh at the Farm and nothing beats the sweet-salty taste after a long morning of harvesting. But the next best thing to kettle corn is fresh popped corn. I've gotten tired of the artificially buttered packets that you nuke and almost always burn or are left with half of the kernals unpopped. So I splurged and got a large bag of multicolored popping corn kernals from the bulk bins. When we got home I got out my biggest pot and pored in a few handfulls with just a little canola oil and got to shaking. In no time at all it started popping and I began to wonder if I should have started with just one handful, as it seemed to be filling up the pot rather fast. The jiggling kept the popped corn rising and the unpopped kernals would fall to the bottom. Going by instinct I took it off the heat and let it sit for a few while I melted some the creamery butter. I thought it was delicious and K agreed. Amazingly not a single one was burnt and only two kernals were left unpopped.

In Search Of Milk

K is small. She always has been. She was born late, practically had to do everything under the sun to prusuade her to come out w/o a c-section and even then she wasnt quite ready. Perfectly health but certainly petitie, we went out to the store on her third day to buy some premi clothes because she was just swimming in her newborn onesies. She has continued to develop ahead of her age and she is growing but just not a much as other children. It's not really a suprise since my sister and I were both small babies and kids. However, our pediatritian remains cautious and is working to rule out any other potential causes before he resigens himself to say that this is just the way she is going to be. I serve all of her food with butter, she still drinks whole milk and I take any chance I get to offer her healthy (but full fat) alternatives to your average toddler fare. We eat whole wheat bread with the crusts on, her dairy is organic (mine is soy), and the local year round farmers market is our first grocery stop. This is how I found myself on a small country pike in south-west Maryland looking for milk.

I have always paid the extra $ for commercial organic whole milk from the store. In California, it was abundant and since we moved to Virginia most of the main stores, and all of the specialties like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, care a few organic options in addition to their own store brand. In the end its worth it to pay more for organic milk than the standard commercial practices that I know they use for regular milk. But there is something about actually being able to see where your food comes from that brings true peace of mind. For some time now I have been looking for a local source of milk for K. We get local cheese and yogurt from the farmers market but milk is harder to find.

Thanks to the internet a few searches on creameries brough me several options. I limited my search to w/in 70 miles, this being the max distance that I would drive for a 1x month pickup. Ideally I would find someone that did home delivery. I found just such a place and it happened to be less than 10 miles from a co-op I was hoping to checkout. So a few saturdays ago when the ice and snow was off the roads we bunddled up and headed over the river. K slept for the entire drive and thanks to my iPod, archives of Geek.Farm.Life podcasts, and the idillic scenery it was quite enjoyable. We stoped at the co-op, stocked up on lots of good organic, natural, and local stuff (more on that later) and then headed out to find the creamery, give it a look and pick up some milk and butter to sample.

Thanks to my good navigational intuition I made it there w/o the map and we got out to look around. Went inside to thier little store and was pleased at the selection of dairy, meats, bread and ice cream products. K spotted a kitty outside and spent her time glued to the door watching it lounge on the patio. I picked out a gallon of whole, no hormons milk in a glass jar, a tub of butter, some rasin-walnut wheat bread and some cheese. The prices are comperable to other local milk producers. I found out that the dont have delivery available in our town yet but a few more people and they would add it. I put my name on the waiting list. When we got home K had a glass of the milk and didn't reject it so I guess thats something. Overall it was a fun trip and I enjoyed pointing out the cows and listening to K "moo" and giggle in the back seat.

Homework and Blogging

I started to keep track of my daily meals and had a running list in a draft post for the better part of a week before I realized that I was having a hard enough time keeping up with K and all of my other responsibilies that trying to track every bite of every meal was unrealistic. My biggest conflict is computer time, or more accurately, getting distracted while I'm on the computer and not doing the things Im supposed to or being on the computer instead of doing something else. Let me explain:

I left college after 3 years and two associate degrees to join the military. Post military I took a civilian job that sent me overseas. When I began to contemplate my return to the states and started to look for a new job I knew that one of my biggest stumbling blocks was my lack of credentials. However, the few attempst at returning to school had always been interupted with moves and differing transfer policies.

I was still struggling with what to do from my computer in Iraq when I decided to research online options. I found a brick and mortar professional geared university that also offered a good selection of curriculum in an online, asynconous format. That way I was free to move and pursue wherever my job took me while still continuing to make progress on my degree. I started immediately, continued through my pregnancy and the first year when I stayed home with K and I'm currently taking the last few courses toward my bachelors degree. I have had to slow down my progress as I only have time for 1 course at a time...and even that is a streach some weeks. Eventually, within the next year, I should graduate but from here it still looks so far away.

Since all of my tests, lectures, discussion threads, and research are online and assignemnts are due each week, my first tasks should be to do homework and get it over with instead of checking email, blogs, searching the news, playing video games, and all of the other time-wasters that I participate in on a regular basis while avoiding the necessary. Unfortunately, this means that blogging is less of a priority and consequently, likely to get bumped due to my procrastination.

I'll try to sum up things in the next few posts.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Difficult week

This week has been a difficult week for my diet. Last week I didn't go to the farmers market due to the weather and some other projects going on but I had my meals planned out and had everything I needed on hand. Since Tuesday I have found myself drained of energy as I drive home, feel so worn out but unable to fall asleep weather early or late, woken up the next morning more tired than I was the night before and that just makes for a miserable morning. Not to mention that I have had to be to work early 2 days and eat out 3 times and that threw off an already difficult schedule. So I have not eaten very much local or organic food and in my sleep deprived state I found it very hard to even keep eating healthy. I think that in the future I will need to have some frozen meals on hand to keep me from eating out when I feel like it rather than just when it is absolutely necessary. I also think that I have some sort of mental block against my cooking/freezing abilities which keeps me from craving my own home froze meals when I'm stressed; that's when I seem to want to eat out. I will post our food logs when the week is over.

Today I also got some mixed news about K. The Dr. called to say that her blood work looked fine but that because she was still failing to thrive and was having poor wt gain that we should visit a nutritionist to do some calorie counts and look closer at her diet. If that doesn't work than its time to see the specialists. Ks wt gain problem is at odds with my obesity and quest to eat lean. Its so hard for me to see her size as a problem when my sister and I were both extremely small, low wt babies and kids. I find myself wishing I had her problem. But I also try very not to project any negatives on her and her eating habits. I don't want to push food on her all the time or pressure her to do anything that she is not already inclined to do for fear of doing some harm or instilling habits in her that will not be helpful in the future. If I give her the idea that she has to eat a lot now, when she is skinny, she may carry that into her adult life, when there is not a wt problem, and that would not serve her well. I would rather teach her to eat at meal times if she is hungry.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weather Report

Last week we came off of the warmer, spring-like break in the winter weather and were hit with snow and ice all Thursday 4-6in. Friday morning things were still frozen and the intersections difficult but by afternoon the roads had cleared and were fine. Saturday was up to the 40s and but cloudy and just felt dreary. Last night temperatures dropped and it has remained in the teens though with the winds it feels like 0. It should warm up overnight and for the rest of the week we are expecting sunshine and little precipitation with high temperatures in the 30s.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Local Food in my Pantry and Dish #1

In preperation for my participation in PTF's 100 FOOT Challange I decided to take stock of what local food I have in my pantry. Most of this would be stuff that I canned this summer or have gotten recently at the Leesburg Year Round Farmers Market. I have:
  • Pork Chops from Baker
  • Ground Beef patties from Mill Road
  • Chicken from Fields of Athenry
  • Strawberry Jam with fruit from Great Country Farms, home canned
  • Strawberry Jam with fruit from Great Country Farms, home froze
  • Creamed Corn entierly from Great Country Farms, home canned
  • Corn entierly from Great Country Farms, home canned
  • Apple Sauce with fruit entierly from Great Country Farms, home canned
  • Frozen blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and black raspberries from entierly from Great Country Farms, frozen
  • Bean soups with local stock and vegetables, frozen

Its not much but its a start and until it starts to thaw out here Im going to be heavily reliant on food I can purchase at the farmers market or other local producer. My biggest challange is going to be sourcing the spices, condiments and basic pantry items when the run out; all the things that I have taken for granted up. I buy most everything I can in organic form but still reach for the convenience item if an organic althernative is not redily available.

The good news is that I had my first local dish last night with out even realizing it. I sauted a cut of pork tenderloin I bought from one of the local farmers market regulars and did a rasberry port and balsamic vinigar reduction for the sauce. The port came from a near by vinyard, the vinager from a local business and the whole raspberries from this summers crop. It was quite delicious. I'm looking forward to grilling some local burgers and pulling out some of my soup and corn.

Found a path to follow

It may seem odd, but the more I look at my life, the more I wish I was living another. Its not that I want to be skinny and fit and popular (Don't get me wrong, I do want those things) but more that I want to be living the life that my parents lived when I was growing up. I want grow my own garden, hang my clothes out to dry, I want to raise my own animals...I want to have the energy and freedom to things on my own and be at least a little self sufficient. I feel trapped in my modern role and unable to make peace with my ideals. I enjoy my work and the flashy, glamorous proximity to the heartbeat of the nation but for every yearning to make a difference on a national scale I am hit with an equal if not more powerful yearning to take off into the country and do my own thing. I desire to walk in the path of Jeanne Tetrault, author of Country Women, and homestead with confidence. I want K to experience the joy of munching on green tomatoes, digging funny looking carrots, eating raspberries off the bush, sunflowers towering over her head and having fond memories of bee hives and the pay off of hard work.

In my Internet wanderings I have come across many sites. I have read countless 100 mile blogs and organic movement pages and while I agree with and take something from each of them nothing has struck a cord quite like Path to Freedom (PTF)and their 100 FOOT challenge. "The challenge is simple. Beginning as soon as you can, prepare a meal at least once a week with only homegrown vegetables, fruit, herbs, eggs, dairy products or meat, using as few store bought ingredients as possible." Since I currently live in an apartment where are rather restrictive about the visible space (my patio) this challenge may impossible. However, their guidelines have some slack that fit my situation. "A meal must be comprised of food grown on your property or garden plot (literally or figuratively within “100 feet” of your front or back door). If non-homegrown ingredients are needed, then we suggest following these modified locavore guidelines: If not from BACKYARD, then Locally produced (PTF’s addition). If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade." I had a strawberry pot of herbs last year that I hope to resurrect and I also wanted to do another pot of something to supplement what I get from our CSA and local producers at the Farmers market. And now I think that I have found a source of inspiration.

The good folks at PTF are living their own solution and are so successful. But more importantly they started with taking a step, or as they say,a step backward toward creating a better life for themselves. One step became two, two became three and three became many. Even as I find myself in despair, torn between two parts of myself this gives me comfort that others have found a path and that there may be one for me to where ever I am going.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


What do I hope to accomplish? Given that this is the beginning of the new year it is a natural time to reevaluate what hasn't been working over the past year and set some new goals for the new year. Although my weight is the first thing that I would like to change about myself this has not made it directly into my goals. What I hope to do is change other aspects of my life which will indirectly but cumulatively help me burn more calories, free up time and money, get out more, and get unhealthy concerns off my mind so that next year I will be ready to tackle my weight more directly.

A few months ago when I took a look at my work performance, behavior and appearance I realized that I had to get rid of my old ratty day planner binder and go for something a little less poor college undergrad and a little more multi-tasking professional. It just so happened that I would be running out of weekly planner pages at the end of the year and they were running a sale to give you $-off of a binder/planner/book combo. So with my new black leather binder I purchased a years worth of daily planner pages and an organization self-help CD designed by Julie Morgenstern. Over the last month I have used her CD to help me refine my goals and learn to focus on what had to be done.

My biggest problem with organization stems from K. I want to be responsive and attentive to her but as a single mom there is only one of me and some things have to get done in what little time I have at home and sometimes that outranks time with K. Not that I'm ignoring her but my attention has to be on something else even when I'm with her. So by setting long term goals, short term goals, defining activity areas where I need to focus, and listing tasks to complete those activities I hope to determine what is really important and what is just busy work that I do because I feel I have to do something when I have some time but that doesn't really accomplish anything.

I have initially divided up my goals into categories like Work, Family, Home, Knowledge, Self, and Financial. My Work actives are almost on autopilot since all I have to do is keep up on the daily tasks and remember to update my resume. My Family and Home activities are going to take much more conscious action. It involves setting and maintaining behaviors that will make our interactions much more meaningful, and also bring some order and sanity to our household schedule (or lack there of). I subdivided Knowledge into 3 sub-sections: Work-related, Formal Education, and Personal Interests. I have no problem exploring my personal interests but they often are more fun than the formal educational activities that I have to do to complete my degree. My main activities there centers on setting myself up for success my making the Formal Education a priority when I am home. This includes putting off my personal reading until after homework is done and reducing my Internet activity to school related until I feel ahead of the class. Obviously my family goals are necessary to support this effort.

I resisted setting any concrete activities for my Self, partly because I didn't want to start of the year failing at my most important goal and partly because of what I described at the start of this post. To start with I need to find a primary physician, want to keep my room and bathroom orderly and clean and make some (read at least 1) scheduled time for exercise. Finally, I put down that I want to spend time stretching with K.

I have done yoga on an off since I graduated from High School but I have never been extremely consistent in my practice. I decided that I want to teach K how to do some of the calming moves to help her deal with her frustration and that I probably need them as much as she does. Besides, stretching is a good first step to prep me for more activity and eventually more targeted exercise. So I told K that I was going to do some yoga and got her to help me to clear her toys off the floor. Then I showed her cat/cow--my back was aching so this was the only stretch I could think of that had a name she could remember, a pose that she could try and something that would work on my back. A few days later I added downward dog to the short routine. She can do the cat part and then giggles as I try to get her into down dog and she gets ticklish and collapses in a somersault. Since then she has repeatedly asked me to do "cat-dog" with her and is getting better at cow. She even sat through a video podcast of YOGAmazing so I could look for another pose to teach them and commented on the poses she knew. So far so good. I hope to keep this up this month.

Now that I have just finished writing that I didn't set any typical fitness or eating resolutions here is my two exceptions: make a weekly meal plan and go for 10 minute walks during lunch, regardless of weather or location.