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:
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.