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.