Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why I need a chest freezer

Attack of the Killer Red Rounds
Hmmm...well, we got an email late last week from our CSA that extra tomatoes would be available for (discounted) purchase at the farmer's market on Saturday. So we planned to get a few.

We ended up with 1/2 a bushel of red round tomatoes (for $13.50).

This may not sound like a lot of tomatoes, but believe me, it really is.

I spent most of Saturday processing tomatoes for freezing. I've never frozen tomatoes before (except as sauce), so it was a learning experience. I followed the directions from Pick Your Own
(with illustrations!), so I hope they turn out okay. I kind of liked the process of boiling, ice bathing and then peeling the tomatoes - kind of like peeling a sunburn, but way less gross (but equally satisfying). Then I cored them, quartered 'em, squished all the seeds and liquid into a bowl (which I strained for the juice at the end), and then packed them into bags. I think we got 2 gallons and 2 quarts out of it - not packed full, but kind of flat in the bags so they don't take up lot of room in the freezer.

That only used about half the tomatoes.

Then I made another batch of tomato sauce. This time I used half dried herbs and half fresh. We cooked it all night long, and got it in the freezer today - 2 quarts, 2 pints frozen and 1 quart in the fridge.

We still have 16 tomatoes to deal with. AAAGGHH!

No, really, it's ok. A few will become salsa, because we have cilantro to use up from the CSA. I'm thinking of trying this weird tomato pudding recipe out of Passionate Vegetarian, but we'll see if I get around to that tomorrow. The rest? I don't know. Maybe we'll have a lot of caprese salads this week. Maybe we'll be passing them along to friends. Or I might be able to bring myself to freeze another batch on Tuesday. That is, if the fruitflies don't fly away with them first...

Colder Than a Witches What Now?
So as I was checking my email last night, I noticed that my desktop weather channel icon was blinking red in my taskbar, which usually means a thunderstorm watch or some such thing. I clicked on it, but instead of a thunderstorm watch I see that there is a FROST advisory. Yep. I snark about it to Chad, and then promptly pass out in bed with the baby before 8 p.m.

I woke up this morning to find all of the herbs in our basement, and our four tomato plants draped in lots of towels in the backyard.

Everything survived. Best. Husband. Ever. :)

Coming Soon:
Apples. We also bought a big bag of apples this weekend. So I'll be dealing with those soon, too. A few will surely end up as a crisp, and maybe we'll try to dehydrate a few, too. But the rest I think we'll par-blanch and then freeze.

We're seriously running short on freezer space.

ELC Menus, Days 13, 14, 15, 16

I've been behind on updating. I'm wiped OUT, so I'll try to keep this short:

Thursday, September 13
We ate out at The Flytrap, a local "finer diner." The owners used to be our neighbors! They are really nice. We rode our bikes even though it was in the 40's when we left!

Leftover Marrakesh Curry over couscous

Bag o' fettucine alfredo from the freezer (TJ's brand - so good, soooo not local)

Friday, September 14
Oatmeal with local pear, dried cherries (non-local maple syrup)

SOS (aka sh*t on a shingle) - leftover beef style seitan with leftover good gravy on local rye bread (the baby was kookoo for this today!)

Seitan and gravy (new batch!)
Roasted Acorn Squash (CSA; so good! Used Didi Emmon's recipe)
Garlicky green beans (CSA and local butter)
Garlic rye toast (local bakery bread, local garlic)

Saturday, September 15
We suck - there was a lot of back and forth about whether to ride our bikes due to cold temps and the possibility of a large Farmer's Market haul. We didn't end up riding; we usually stop at a local bagel shop on the way when we ride; we miscalculated our hunger and ended up at a non-local bagel shop for breakfast (Bruegger's). Blah.

Backyard tomatoes and basil on farmer's market rosemary and olive oil bread with local raw cheese from Lansing. YUM!
Apples (FM)

Pizza from local bakery (Because I was in the kitchen All. Day. More on that later.)

Sunday, September 16
Homemade buckwheat pancakes
Hashbrowns (from freezer - trying to use up and make room!)

Grilled cheese (local bread, butter and cheese)
Homemade tomato soup

Eh. We kind of suck a lot this weekend. We took a late hike at Kensington Metropark in Milford, MI which we love. It was a lovely walk, we saw heron, swans and sandhill cranes, really really close! So cool. Lots of critters, including a squirrel who was throwing walnuts at us. Lots of them.

Anyway, we found ourselves late (like 6:30) out in the middle of nowhere and really really hungry. Our options were extremely limited, but we really wanted something at least kind of local - so no Chilli's, Applebees, Quiznos, Subway, Arby's - which were the choices we had. Then we spotted a Leo's Coney Island, and if you're from Michigan you'll realize this isn't that local, but it's kind of regional anyway, right? They're basically diners. This one happened to have quite a bit of Greek fare on the menu, as well. We had really, really bad gardenburgers with even worse fries. Seriously. It was a lesson in why not to frequent these kinds of places.

But Silas got to visit a backhoe loader in the parking lot, which was like the baby version of crack.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ELC Day 12

ELC Epiphany
I've always been loathe to waste food that I made (not so much leftovers, but loaves of bread, jars of sauce, baked goods, etc) because, well duh, I put effort into. I saw it transform from raw ingredients into something else entirely, as if by magic.

But I had an epiphany this morning while eating breakfast. Maybe epiphany is too strong a word; let's say I had a sudden realization. When I know where my food comes from, I am loathe to waste any. I was inhaling my toasted peanut butter and local raspberry jam sandwich on rye this morning (I woke up ravenous, omg, thought I would die). And since I had toasted the bread prior to making the sandwich, all the pb&j were getting melty and squishing out the sides of the sandwich. And I thought, "I'm not wasting this jam! Someone made this jam with their hands. With real raspberries. In their kitchen. " So I started using my finger to mop it up and lick it off. Now, it might have been low blood sugar at the time, but thinking back on it, I really think that it's true: when you have a more personal connection to your food, you really want to, sort of, well, honor the food. And the people who made it/grew it for you. When your food isn't coming from a faceless corporate factory, the connection to other people becomes more transparent. I want to honor the farmer that grew the raspberries, the person who stood in the kitchen making jam, and poured it into jars, made labels and brought it to the farmer's market. It's easier to imagine human faces behind this food I'm eating, and that makes it more special.

Now, I'm not about wasting food in general, but it's hard to care quite as much about food that you know was mass produced. It's a little more soulless, a little less there there. I've worked in an industrial food setting before, and I know what that's like (I wasn't in the food prep areas, I was in admin, but believe me, I've seen what happens there). Underpaid people doing hard physical labor with few benefits and long hours. The cheapest ingredients. Giant giant giant vats of food. It's just plain creepy. I'm sure not all industrial food settings are the same, but I still contend that as the process of growing/cooking/packaging becomes further and further fragmented, the person-to-person connection to the food grows weaker and weaker. And we all suffer for it. It's like when Thich Nhat Hanh talks about interbeing:
"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are" (Essential Writings, p. 55).
Like seeing the cloud in the paper, eating locally is opening my eyes to the farmers and artisans in my food. It is a very peaceful realization. If I were a great buddhist, I would be able to see them in the mass-produced food, too. But I kind of have to wonder: are they even in there anymore? Does any love at all go into the products at the industrial level? If so, t's definitely harder to detect.

On a totally different subject: Making Seitan
For dinner, I tried making seitan using vital wheat gluten for the first time. Previously we had only had seitan purchased already made from the freezer case and we've always been sort of mediocre fans (a distant third to tofu and tempeh on the pseudo meat product scale). But since we can't find local tempeh in any shape or form, I decided to give it a go. I realize that the vital wheat gluten isn't local, either, BUT you can make seitan using just wheat flour. Which I can get locally, so there. But before going to the trouble I wanted to see if homemade would turn out at all.

So I followed the directions on the back of the box, but used a broth recipe from La Dolce Vegan ("beef" flavored). I realized after I started making the broth that it was probably for only half as much seitan, but I thought, it's just simmering in the broth, so there'll be enough, right? Eh. It looked fine when I dropped all my little seitan steak-lets in the broth, but holy crap, when I checked on it a few minutes later it had EXPANDED. Quite a bit. So I poured some more water in and added a little concentrated broth goop to make up for the diluted broth recipe.

And it turned out great! It seemed to be more strongly flavored than the store bought stuff - in a good way. We only used half of what the recipe made, but it keeps for about a week in the fridge, so we'll just use it up later in some other dish. And now I'm ready to try it from just wheat flour. The real scratch method. In a couple of weeks.

And with that I bring you our menu from today (I should note that I haven't felt well for a few days, but today I realllly got my appetite back!):

Peanut butter (from Costco, ack!) and red raspberry jam (from the Lansing City Market) on toasted rye bread (from Strawberry Moon bakery in Ferndale).
Yogurt with fresh peaches (from Lansing)
Strawberry kefir (purchased from the local HFS in Ferndale, Natural Food Patch)

Poor man's omelet: rye bread cubes toasted in local butter, with 2 local eggs poured over. And a little local gouda shredded on top.
Rye toast
Local apple

Chocolate with hazelnuts (from TJ's - I know, it's my weakness)
Kettle corn (from Lansing)
Mint tea (fresh peppermint and chocolate mint from the backyard)

Marrakesh Vegetable Curry (using local peppers, squash, carrots, onions, garlic, chickpeas, dried cherries, ginger juice, sunflower seeds; non-local spices, oil, OJ, raisins)*
Homemade seitan (using vital wheat gluten mix)
Whole-wheat couscous (purchased in bulk from local HFS)

Local cinnamon ice cream (OMG YUM!)

*Marrakesh Vegetable Curry is sooooooo good. This is the second time we've made it, and it rocks. Use whatever vegetables seem appropriate, it's a very flexible recipe.

ELC Days 10 & 11

I was feeling under the weather yesterday, so no post. I'm going to keep this quick!

Menu, Monday 9/10

Homemade granola
Pero (strange toasted grain beverage, sort of like coffee)

Tofu "egg" salad sandwich
Backyard tomatoes

Gnocchi (from Roma)
Homemade tomato sauce
garlic rye toast
slow roasted roma tomatoes

a couple pieces of hazelnut chocolate...mmmargh...

Menu Tuesday, 9/11
scrambled local eggs
Gatorade (to combat my dehydration/stomach cramp problem)

Disappearing pasta shells and zucchini
1 slow roasted tomato half (hurt my tummy)

Key lime pie bar from Pinwheel Bakery

Grilled cheese on rye (local bread, local cheese)
Tomato soup w/ chickpeas and fresh basil (just our tomato sauce thinned down; almost totally local!!!)

In other news....
We picked up the food dehydrator yesterday! It's a Ronco!!!! Haven't tried it ouy yet, but soon...very soon. As an aside, it appears everything we buy off of craigslist in detroit is available for pick-up on Prentis street. We bought a car from a guy on Prentis like 3 years ago, and yesterday, like 4 buildings down, a dehydrator. Strange, no?

Oh and we also picked up our CSA share yesterday (on foot! Go us.) Here's what's in store this week:

Butternut Squash

Acorn Squash

Green & Red Peppers (sweet)



cherry tomatoes

Macintosh apples (from Brozowski Farms)

Tomatoes-6 romas per share

More soon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

ELC Day 9

Sunday we did a bit of cooking. First thing, for breakfast I searched out a recipe for peach coffeecake, since we had quite a few tasty peaches begging to be transformed into something breakfast-y. The results were a little disappointing; I guess it just wasn't sweet enough, or maybe it was lacking in spices. I rated it a 3 out of 5 on anyway. Not great, not terrible.

Then a good bit of the morning was spent getting the next batch of tomato sauce in the crockpot - it takes a bit of time to chop all those cute little heirlooms up! But it is always, always, always worth it. I don't think Chad will let me cook a dinner this week that doesn't involve tomato sauce. We froze three quarts and have 1 fresh jar in the fridge. It's sooo good! I used about half as many onions this time and fresh herbs instead of dried (from the backyard! I love growing stuff to use in cooking). And it was interesting, the last batch of sauce used a lot of different colored tomatoes, and the sauce had a more orange-y hue. This batch was RED RED RED. Kind of neat how non-uniform cooking can be when the ingredients are just a little varied. ;) So we now have 5 quarts of sauce in the freezer. I know this won't get us that far, but it still makes me so excited! I hope we can get some more tomatoes this weekend at the farmer's market...

Oh, and speaking of tomatoes (god, do I talk about anything else?!?), I also slow roasted the romas we got from our CSA share last week. Cut in half, brushed with EVOO, sprinkled with chopped garlic and fresh backyard oregano, s&p and baked for 2 hours. O. Mi. Gawd. They are so good, like tomato candy. Rich and tangy and luscious.

AND, inspired by The Green Mommy I hit craigslist in search of a food dehydrator. And I found one! We pick it up tomorrow morning in Det-wa. Right before storytime at the lie-berry. I'm psyched, I've never dehydrated anything before. But I've got big dreams. Big dreams.

Day 9 Menu

Fresh Peach Coffeecake
Pero (weird toasted grain coffee-like beverage)

Tofu "egg" salad sandwich on local rye bread
Grassfield's local cheeses
Caramel Corn (from Lansing farmer's market)


Gnocchi from Roma Grocery
Fresh out of the crockpot tomato sauce (Lansing heirloom tomatoes, local onions, peppers, garlic, backyard basil and oregano. Non local tomato paste, salt, EVOO and sugar).
Garlic rye toast

The baby enjoyed some jarred baby food and cottage cheese that he fed himself. Weird.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

ELC Day 8: Lansing Day Trip

Yesterday we piled into the car (late) to head out for Lansing. Chad was attending the Michigan Policy Summit and Silas and I decided to tag along to see what fun could be had in the state capital. We explored the Lansing City Market, which was smaller than I expected but had a higher variety of food items than ours here in Royal Oak. By that I mean, Royal Oak has mostly produce, some eggs and chicken, and a few producers of bread (and one farm provides beans, flours, and seeds). Lansing hosted fewer produce tables, but more were organic; they have their own cheesemonger, for which I am eternally envious (they even sell local cheese!), and they had more types of flours available. Oh, and a couple who sells delicious popcorns. Anyway, if you combined that market and our market, most of my food needs would probably be met. I know that Lansing hosts several other farmer's markets throughout the week, but this one was the only one there on Saturdays.

Can I just say that Lansing has their own Locavores group? And that they are hosting a week-long Eat Local Challenge for the Lansing area?!? So so envious am I. Why not here, why? I should start one. Maybe soon.

Lansing was a cool town. Everyone was super nice and helpful - several mamas pointed me to fun things for toddlers (like the downtown Library, where Silas burned off a lot of steam) and one mom in particular pointed us to a very cool Italian grocery store, right near the city market, called Roma. We went there after picking Chad up from the conference, since even at progressive events in Michigan, vegetarians are left to starve (he said for lunch they served him a pile of white rice with some soggy baby corn and carrots. Swear to god.) What a score! Even though it was the end of the day, they still had delicious, fresh food. Chad had a veggie calzone while I inhaled the spinach pie. Oh, and did I mention dessert? Cannolis!!!! And a mini-eclair. Chad had some raspberry cream cheese pastry and an apricot bar (he's allergic to the chocolate, y'know). We also bought a huge tin of EVOO and some frozen homemade gnocchi. It was a good find.

So what all did I find at the farmer's market? I'll tell ya:
2 lbs Jennings Brothers Soft Wheat flour ($6)
Grassfields Raw Milk Organic Cheese (1/2 lb Gouda, 1/2 lb Cheddar) ~$13 for both
2 quarts organic heirloom tomatoes ($6)
1 dozen free range large eggs ($2.50)
1 quart organic Paula Red apples ($2.75)
1 pint dried local cherries ($3.50)
1 bag of baby rice popcorn ($2)
1 bag of kettle corn ($3)
1.5 quarts of local peaches (can't remember...)
1 pint local raspberry jam ($2.75)

A pretty good haul, all in all, for about $45. So what are we doing with it all?

3 of the peaches became Peach Coffee Cake for breakfast (which also used 2 of the eggs). The tomatoes are now in the slow cooker turning into some more delicious homemade sauce that well will freeze in quart bags. The cherries will either go straight into our bellies or into the next batch of homemade granola. The apples are almost gone. The cheese is outstanding! We just ate pieces of it today with lunch, it's great snacking cheese. I'm psyched to learn that I can buy it online! Although it's 165 miles away, I feel like it's worth the extra mileage because it's a)raw milk cheese b) organic c) really local otherwise, as in, they feed their cows with feed from Michigan. So it's worth fudging the mileage a little. Plus, it's so freaking tasty!

Day 8 Menu Wrap Up

Homemade granola
eden soymilk

Popcorn, an apple, some hunks of gouda (me)

Egg salad sandwich and Odwalla C Monster from Great Harvest Bread Co. (me)
DH: inedible conference food

Lunch, take 2 at Roma Grocery:
Veggie Calzone
Spinach Pie
Assorted desserts

Light Dinner:
Fresh tomato salad with local mozzarella, basil from the backyard, EVOO and balsamic reduction
Leftover rosemary biscuits

Not such a local day menu wise, but we increased our local food stores and spread some money around Michigan's local economy!

Friday, September 07, 2007

ELC, Day 7 Menu

Scrambled local eggs
non-local Yves veggie sausage patties
Rye toast (from local bakery, Strawberry Moon)

Tofu "egg" salad sandwich (local tofu, celery, onion, garlic and dill; non-local mayo, mustard, relish, turmeric) on local rye bread

Husband: Leftover swiss chard lasagna

Both: Disappearing zucchini orzo (made with veggie pasta shells instead of orzo). A tasty way to use up 2 zucchini and 1 summer squash!


Chicken fried tofu steak (local tofu)
Good gravy
Blanched green beans (local) with local butter and garlic
Tomato (backyard), mozzarella (address is local), and (backyard) basil salad, drizzled with non-local EVOO and balsamic reduction. Oh god.
Homemade rosemary butter biscuits (rosemary from the backyard, local butter, all other flours, leavenings and salt non local).

As an aside, this is what happens when you let a 14 month old loose while you and your significant other are too tied up in a discussion of the ethics of carnivory (inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) to notice what he's up to:

Luckily, he didn't eat any part of it, just piled it all neatly on the floor. Blargh.

ELC, Day 6 Menu

Food Consumed Thursday, September 6


Homemade granola (60% local by volume :D)
local blueberries
Strawberry kefir

Canadian bust. Terrible pizza. See previous post for a breakdown.

Swiss Chard Lasagna

Using no-bake noodles, homemade local marinara, local chard, and TJ's Quattro Formaggio cheese blend. And semi-local cottage cheese (150 miles). Not bad! A good way to use up chard. I got the idea from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Canada: A Total Bust

That pretty much says it all. After a horrible night of sleep (thank you, teething baby and humid weather!), we still made it out the door and under the river to Windsor, ON by about 10:30 a.m. on a search for local cheese that we thought only Canada could provide, what with its relaxed dairy laws (as compared with the U.S. anyway - there's no poutine here after all). After getting a little lost, we found our way to the farmer's market I had located online, only to find it empty except for some frozen pasta and meat. Ugh! Not one vegetable, not one loaf of bread, and certainly no dairy products. So disappointed. Apparently they had been busted by the food inspector semi-recently for lack of the requisite number of handwashing sinks and other bizarre rules. So very, very bummed were we. I also find this a little questionable since this market was supposedly an endeavor backed by the Downtown Development authority - don't they know their local laws on such matters? Perhaps the disorganization that plagues Detroit extends across the river as well.

We found our way to a used bookstore on Oullette St. and picked up a couple of books and chatted with the very friendly clerk about baby related things, which was the highlight of the whole trip (according to me, anyway. Silas would probably tell you [if he in fact talked] that the best part was watching the bulldozer and crane kick the crap out of part of Oullette St, which they are ripping up to turn into a pedestrian zone. It was baby boy heaven!).

This landed us about lunchtime driving to "little Italy" on Erie St. to forage some grub (thus partially breaking our rules about eating out, since we drove ourselves there. But seriously, we were just trying to salvage a wasted trip over the border, and the fact that we had to pay about $4 each way to cross over). We ended up in a dark pizzeria/trattoria called Spago's, and as soon as my iced tea arrived courtesy of a soda fountain, I knew we had made a mistake, but my sleep-deprived brain and crabby child kept me from suggesting that we leave. When our pesto pizza arrived with anemic looking tomatoes and no sign of fresh basil in sight, I thought I would burst into tears. Bland cheese sealed the deal. I don't know if it's weird that food is one of the things that can send me into a pit of despair quicker than just about anything else (I'm recalling a Christmas dinner in Tuscon where we were served rice and beans and tortillas and I could barely believe that this represented respectable holiday fare to anyone, but I digress). The fact remains: I was despondent. This was not helped by the fact that my darling husband was announcing that this constituted a "good pie" to him. About the only good thing about it was the crust, which had a nice crispiness to it courtesy of the woodfired oven.

Has eating local ruined me? Will I ever be able to peacefully consume restaurant food without tears threatening? All I know is that I could have made a pizza that kicked the sauceless ass of the pathetic excuse for a pie that we were served.

I don't think we'll be braving the bridge or tunnel again to grand old Canadia anytime soon. Although we had considered taking my parents over to a restaurant called The Cook's Shop when they visit later this month. I've heard nothing but rave reviews about that one. Hopefully my pizza wounds will have healed by that point.

ELC 9/07, Day 5

We're figuring this stuff out, I swear.

Homemade granola
(about 60% local by volume; local oats, butter and sunflower seeds; unlocal: coconut, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, canola oil and maple syrup)
Yogurt (nonlocal; can't find any local! help?)
Eden soymilk (local company)
Strawberry kefir (unlocal. Anyone have a local source?)

Hubby was sent to work with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on local bread, an heirloom tomato salad with local mozzarella cheese (non local EVOO, balsamic and salt), and a local Molly apple.

I munched on leftover tofu "egg" salad sandwiches (local tofu, celery, onion; nonlocal soy mayo, mustard, relish, turmeric, s&p) on fresh rye bread from one of our local bakeries, Strawberry Moon (they use organic flour, too, yay!; the ambrosial tomato salad from vintage cooking (so good!) with local cherry & pear tomatoes and oregano from the backyard (nonlocal EVOO, honey and s&p). Oh, and alert the media! I, Chessa, former hater of all things related to raw celery, at several skinny stalks of fresh CSA celery! Dipped in nonlocal peanut butter. But seriously, I don't think I've intentionally eaten raw celery since I was in 3rd grade. Always hated the stuff. I feel a little silly now, because mostly it just tastes like crunchy nothing. But it was my one holdout, immature "I hate you just because" vegetable, and I'm feeling pretty awesome about overcoming that issue. Could it have something to do with it being local, and not grown for the supermarket showcase? It makes me wonder.

For dinner, I was planning eggplant parmigiana, because we received two white eggplants in our CSA share. My recipe called for me to peel them and bake the slices for 15 minutes. I realized as soon as they were sliced and on the baking sheet that this was probably going to be far too little eggplant to make it. Hmmm. So I thought, maybe lasagna! I got out my no-cook lasagna noodles, the homemade sauce and the TJs cheese. But what about ricotta? We didn't have any, so I thought maybe seasoned tofu, but that would be a lot of work (what with needing to food processor and then having wash it). Then I realized that on a whim earlier this week I purchased some local-ish cottage cheese (funny story: I bought it because the brand was "Michigan." When I got home I checked the location on the packaging out of curiosity and found that in this case Michigan was in Ohio. Lame.) I checked in with the internet and found that yes, cottage cheese can sub for ricotta with no known issues. So in it went. About an hour later, I dug into our tiny 8x8 eggplant lasagna, and all I can say is, it was worth it. So good! The sauce was amazing, the eggplant tender and smoky, and the cottage cheese did just fine, thank you.

Oh and we also had some cherry/pear tomatoes that I intended to make into salad, but when the time came around to do it, I was too hungry so we just ate them plain. Still delicious. :)

And there may have been an ice cream run later in the evening, to a locally owned joint just a few miles up the road.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

ELC Day 5 Food Musings

So the local chickpeas cooked all night long in the crock pot and are now cooling on the counter (I read somewhere that a good trick to keep the cooked beans intact is to let them cool in the cooking water). The kombu strips have been pulled out, and the beans are pretty much ready to rock.

I made another great batch of homemade granola last night (recipe adapted from La Dolce Vegan's Simple Crunchy Granola). I can't believe how freaking easy it is to make granola, especially when considering what people will pay for it at a store (easily $6-8 per pound!). It is crazy. Although it's not 100% local, it is about 60% local by volume. I used organic local oats, butter and sunflower seeds, with oats being the biggest ingredient in the whole recipe (4 cups). Next time I could improve the local-ness by using local honey, but right now we are still trying to use up a giant bottle that we bought from Costco a year ago, so that was out. The other stuff (pepitas, sesame seeds, coconut, wheat germ, cinnamon) - I'm not so sure we can find local, ever. I've seen brans at the Farmer's Market, but not germ. Possibly pepitas will show up during pumpkin season? But I think we're out of luck when it comes to sesame seeds, coconut and cinnamon. Maybe over time we can replace these with other local ingredients. If anyone has any good recipes to share, please let me know!

Today at the local health food store, I restocked my supply of Vital Wheat Gluten, which I use when I bake bread. When reading the box later, I realized I can make seitan with it. Cool! I've never made homemade seitan before, so I'm anxious to try it out. I think we're going to do eggplant parmigiana tonight, but seitan will soon make an appearance on the table. After trying it out the easy, mostly instant way via the VWG, I'll be more willing to give it a whirl from scratch, hopefully using local wheat flour. Stay tuned for that.

This challenge is so great because it's making me try lots of new things: freezing tofu for chicken fried "steak", making homemade seitan, looking into making our own cheese, yogurt and kefir. It's also making me do stuff I should do all the time anyway: use our crockpot more, use the bread machine more (or just make bread totally by hand). Also, really appreciating our local farmers, both from the CSA and the farmer's market - they work their butts off year round so that we can have this bounty. Around this time of year every year, I start to get tired of the CSA share - it seems like we get the same stuff every week, and I get sick of trying to come up with new ways to use it all up. But this year, due to this challenge, I'm really appreciating the magic that is food like never before. It's amazing that tiny seeds can spend time in dirt, and magically become fuel for our bodies, sensory experiences for our minds. So, I may smirk when I see yet more green peppers in my box, but it turns into a grateful smile a few seconds later when I remember how hard won they are.

The Local Dairy Hunt
So after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and how impossible it is for small dairy farmers to sell their wares directly to consumers, I've been feeling pretty discouraged about finding good sources for local dairy. I mentioned this to our next door neighbor, Rick, and he said, "What about Canada?" DUH! Of course, Canada! Right over the bridge from Detroit, 14 miles from our house, is Windsor, Ontario. I checked out their Farmer's Market website, and although there was no specific mention of dairy products, we're going to check it out tomorrow, just for the experience. I'm psyched! It never would have occurred to me to check it out if Rick hadn't mentioned it; just another reason why it pays to be friendly with your neighbors.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

ELC 9/07, Day 4

Ok, not so local, but we're using stuff up!
Organic Yogurt (from TJ's - package says MA)
Organic Banana
Local blueberries (purchased at RO Farmer's Market)
Homemade granola (local sunflower seeds; everything else non-local that we know of)

BUT! I now have oats, sunflower seeds and honey to make more granola, now that we used up that last batch. I think I'll still add the non-local pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, although I'm not 100% on this yet; it would be really cool to have 100% local granola....except for the cinnamon anyway.

I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver right now (so good!) and I was reading the tomato chapter while nursing the baby down for his nap and starting to think about lunch. We had 3 plum tomatoes left from our Farmer's Market bargain box purchase, so I made the same marinated deal as the pizza last night (local garlic and basil, non local EVOO, S&P). We cut a baguette in half (from 11 miles away) and spooned this over the baguette and topped it with the TJ's cheese again. AAAGH! It was the most delicious thing ever. And even though my husband did set off the smoke alarm while broiling (something to do with a bamboo skewer being used to prop the bread up), it didn't wake the sleeping child, so all was right with the world.

I braved a new recipe from the Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook, Chicken Fried Tofu. It was a big hit! We served with "Good Gravy" from the same book, and it was delicious. Super simple ingredients (local tofu, plus a little flour, baking powder, oil, and s&p), the trick was freezing the tofu, thawing it, and then refreezing the whole mixture for another 1/2 hour before you can fry it. So just a little planning.

We also had some garlic toast with local sundried tomato bread, and a simple tomato salad that I read about at cooking vintage. Delicious!

Silas stuck with dried apricots, local apple, local cheese and some tomatoes. He's a good eater, that kid.

Preserving the Harvest
So we finished up the homemade tomato sauce yesterday, and it is sooooo good! After letting the sauce simmer for most of the day, I added 3 6-oz cans of tomato paste to thicken it up and blended it alllll together with my handy dandy immersion blender (how I love that thing!!!!). Oh, wow. The sauce is a light orange-y color, almost like vodka sauce, creamy and beautiful. After letting it cool down for several more hours, I bagged 2 quarts for the freezer, jarred another quart for the fridge and jarred another 3 or so cups to send home with Magnifico. Yay!

I can't tell you how wonderful it was to look lovingly on my beautiful crockpot of tomato sauce last night. My husband and I were positively mooning over it. We did some rough calculations and figured that although the tomatoes themselves were a deal, with all the other ingredients and electricity that went into it, it wasn't "cheap" sauce. But hey, that fancy Rao tomato sauce is like $10 per jar, so I think the effort, time and money are worth it. To see gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that are about to be chucked into the compost bin magically transform into a ton of delicious sauce that will feed my family (and our friends) for several meals? Priceless.

Random Musings

I'm on the desperate hunt for local dairy items. I have a source for (non-organic) butter, milk (which we don't drink), and ice cream, but not so much for cheese, yogurt and kefir. After having read A, V, M and about how easy it is to make homemade mozzerella and other soft cheeses, we defnintely want to give this a try. I know one can make their own yogurt and kefir, but I have no idea how complicated this is, and I don't want to bite off more than I can chew. But it would be pretty cool to make all this stuff myself. After the high of making tomato sauce, I'm anxious to find my next fix...

Garden Notes
We're growing 4 different types of tomatoes this year (Yellow Pear, one called Sunbeam, a Beefsteak variety, and a patio variety). They are all doing really well. The Yellow Pear is absolutely crazy! We're growing everything in containers, because we weren't sure about the trustworthiness of our soil (we rent, and we heard that it has a high mercury content). The pear is in a small garbage can, like the kind you'd use in the bathroom (with holes cut in the bottom for drainage). The sunbeam and beefsteak are in half of a barrel, and the patio is in a 12 " planter. There are 10 or so tomatoes on the patio plant, one is just starting to get ripe. There is one red tomato on the beefsteak plant, with about 3 green ones still growing. Nothing's turning on the sunbeam plant, but there must be 6 or 7 good sized green tomatoes ready to ripen. And I can't even tell you how many cute little pear tomatoes there are! About 4-5 that are just about ready to pick, and about a gazillion green ones (ok, maybe like 30?)

We've also got 5 basil plants (2 genovese, 1 opal, 1 ruffly opal, and 1 pesto - little green leaves with white edges). The ruffly opal almost died earlier in the season because it was too shaded by the tomato plant, but I transplanted it and now it's trying its darndest to make a comeback. The other varieties are all delicious and doing well, as long as I remember to water enough. ;)

We are also growing thyme, oregano and rosemary successfully. Cilantro was not such a success. That thing bolted straightaway and then just stopped. Lame!

We're also growing 4 types of mint: Peppermint and chocolate mint are growing well in a bucket together, 2 pineapple mint plants are growing successfully in another bucket, and the orange mint is in a cheap plastic planter off in the shade by itself (it's the only variety that wants more shade than sun).

It has been so fun to have a garden this summer. We also had several sugar snap pea plants that we grew from seed, and they produced really well for the first half of the summer. We planted them in a half barrel with petunias, and holy moly, the petunias were out of control crazy about them! I think they add nitrogen back to the soil and the flowers were diggin' it.

Other than the peas, nothing else was grown from seed, but next year, that's going to change! Watch out, seed catalogs. I'm comin' for ya.

What this week will bring

Week #13 CSA Box:

1 Summer Squash
2 Zucchini
4 Green Peppers
Purple Beans
Swiss Chard
1 Hot pepper
2 Yellow Onions
2 Eggplant (small, white!)
Tomatoes- 5 romas, 1 giant heirloom, 1 green zebra, 1 pint of yellow pear and cherry tomatoes

Oh the bounty! Seriously. I’m thinking eggplant parmesan for one night, with our delicious sauce. I want to oven roast those romas with olive oil, balsamic and salt and pepper. Green beans will be good sautéed slowly with the dill thrown in at the end. Zucchini and summer squash I’ll shred up for Disappearing Zucchini Orzo (note to self: buy orzo at HFS tomorrow, hopefully they have Eden brand).

Hmmm….I always have a hard time with chard and celery. And green peppers. Some of the peppers may end up in the freezer, because we are reaching our limit on pepper tolerance. Any ideas are greatly appreciated.

I am also soaking 2 lbs of locally-grown chickpeas right now, so that they can cook overnight and be ready by the morning. We’ll use up what we can and freeze the rest. When I was first buying them, I kind of reeled at the price. A $4 bag of hard little beans?!? But then I realized, they were only $2/lb, and that they expand A LOT when you soak/cook them – this 2 lb bag will be many, many cans worth, and those typically sell for $1.99 each, at least for organic.

So what am I going to make with the chickpeas? Well, probably a double batch of Cheezy Roasted Chickpeas (from Vegan Lunchbox). These are a great way to get Silas to eat protein. We just toss the chickpeas with nutritional yeast, salt and oil and roast them in the oven for a ½ hour. They’re like popcorn, but with protein! And nothing gets stuck in your teeth.

I’m also anxious to try Sunshine Burgers, from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson (checked out from the library, but I’m definitely going to have to buy it). They contain chickpeas, tofu, sunflower seeds, onion, pepper, bread crumbs and spices – all of which we have, and local!

We might also do a quick pasta dish with chickpeas and our fresh tomato sauce from this weekend.

Right now I’ve got some local tofu thawing from the freezer. I think it’s going to become Chicken-Fried “Steak” or Savory Soy Scrapple (from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook). Haven’t tried either recipe, but I’m on the hunt for meat analogues since the local diet pretty much excludes everything except for tofu. And seitan, if I can ever figure out how to make it from scratch.

Monday, September 03, 2007

ELC 9/07, Day 3

I really love this challenge so far. I know, I know, this is probably what Sharon Salzberg describes as "bright faith": falling in love with something in the very beginning. But I love learning about where my food comes from and thinking all of my food choices through a little more fully. Do we eat 100% locally? Hell no! Not yet anyway. But every time I make food now, I'm thinking about the origin of eat ingredient, which, in a way, makes me appreciate each one so much more.

Day 3 Eats

Berry Smoothie Pancakes with local eggs, raspberries, blueberries and butter (non-local flours, baking soda, salt, yogurt and banana).

These pancakes were delicious! Super fluffy and subtle. We had them with honey but maple syrup would be good, too. Silas pretty much stuck strictly to berries and a few pieces of tomato.

Scrambled local eggs (non-local s&p) - OMG Silas was in love with these today!
Rotini pasta with partially cooked slow-cooker tomato sauce with local heirloom tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic (non-local pasta, EVOO, sugar, salt and spices and parmesan)

The pasta sauce is cooking up nicely. I think the tomato paste is really going to thicken it up a bit, which is good, because right now it's pretty watery. But tasty!

We had a friend over for dinner (Magnifico!) so we made homemade pizza, yum! I made whole wheat pizza crust (with the help of my trusty bread machine), and marinated sliced local tomato wedges in olive oil, garlic (CSA), 3 kinds of chopped basil (backyard) and s&p. Then we spooned this over the partially cooked crust and topped it with TJ's Quattro Formaggio cheese blend (the BEST cheese blend in the world for pizza, I swear!).

We also had fresh watermelon slices from our CSA, and some local bread for an appetizer, dipped in the remaining tomato marinade. YUM!

Oh, and locally made Peppermint Ice Cream for dessert. OMG.

ELC 9/07, Day 2

What did we eat? Well, I'll tell ya.

Fried egg sandwich (eggs: 61.7 mi, garlic rolls: 11 miles - both purchased at the Royal Oak Farmer's Market)

Open-faced burrito (tostada?)
Eden black beans (20 miles*)
fresh heirloom tomato salsa (tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalepeno, cilantro - local; unlocal: lime juice, salt)
shredded raw milk cheese (40 mi)
TJ's whole wheat tortillas (non-local, but perishable in fridge)
TJ'sVeggie & Flax tortilla chips (non-local)

*We are suuuuper lucky that there is an organic source for convenient food like canned beans, canned tomatoes, pasta and lots of other things located here in Michigan. Read more about why Eden is a good company here. We know for sure that the tomatoes are grown within 100 miles of here, but other sources are at least on U.S. family farms. And they're organic. So a good choice for the cook in a hurry.


We had dinner at a friend's house, which was super fun. We brought Marinated Veggies and Tofu and an Apple-Raspberry Crisp, and they provided some Veggie Italian Sausage (Whole Foods Field Roast brand, Apple Sage Potato flavor - OUTSTANDING!!) and an edamame wild rice salad, also very yummy. I have no idea how local their contributions were, but here's how ours broke down:

Marinated Veggies and Tofu
Eggplant, summer squash and garlic from our CSA share (65 mi)
Tofu (3 mi)
EVOO, Balsamic vinegar, white wine, lemon juice, Braggs, dried basil, oregano and marjoram (non-local)

Apples and Raspberries (purchased from Farmer's market, 3 miles away; not sure where the farms are, but probably well within 100 miles)
Butter (3 miles)
Oats, flour, cinnamon, salt (non-local)

In Other Local Eating News
This is just another dinner we had last week that featured mostly local ingredients.
We had sauteed summer squash, corn and peppers (sweet and hot) with dill (all local except EVOO and s&p) and pasta with seared veggie kielbasa, green bell peppers, onions and jalepeno (veggies local) with tomato sauce.

Preserving the Harvest
On Thursday I spent most of the morning de-seeding jalepeno and serrano peppers from several weeks of CSA shares for freezing. Don't worry - I wore gloves. :) It was a lot of work, but now we have "fresh" peppers every time we need them for salsa, soups, sauces, etc.

Right now in the crockpot we are simmering a ton of cheap local heirloom tomatoes, some onions (150 miles away - oops, an oversight. Should have bought more at the FM, but we've never done this before, so you live and learn. We bought them at our local health food store, so it is a local business.), local peppers and garlic from the CSA, and non-local EVOO, sugar, salt and spices (and tomato paste will be added at the end). But soon we will have transformed tomatoes that were not pretty enough for market into something delicious that will see us through several meals of pasta, pizza and other delicious italian things. We're planning on freezing at least 2 quarts and eating the rest. I can't wait!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Eat Local Challenge September 2007


It's been forever, summer, busy, teething, blah blah blah.

Instead of concentrating on veganism, lately we've been inspired to become wannabe locavores. We've found that labels are not good at describing the way we eat. If asked, and someone had 10 minutes, I would describe it this way: "We're vegetarians that limit the amount of dairy and eggs we consume to local sources and humanely treated animals, trying to eat as locally as possible." Right now we are consuming local eggs from pastured chickens, and locally produced dairy products (including cheese, butter and ice cream). Not so vegan, but hey, we roll with the punches.

We are participating in the Eat Local Challenge of September 2007. Check out that link to learn more! It's really cool, and from the local eating we've been doing, it really helps you to get an idea about how food is grown and when, lets you get to know and support local farms and families and forces you to try new things.

Of course, there are exceptions and caveats to our ELC. In a nutshell, this is the Locavore pledge:

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.

But there are things we know we can't get local, yet we're not (at this point) willing to live without. These include:

olive oil (and the other oils that we own), salt, certain spices (those outside of the basil, oregano, and thyme that we're growing and will eventually dry), black tea, perishable items in our fridge that would go to waste (some fake meat products), yeast, and we're going to use up our dry stores that we have and replace with local as possible (we have a source for local flour, oats, barley, dried beans, sunflower seeds, lentils), sugar.

Other caveats: we like to support our local businesses, so we will continue to buy fresh baked bread and sweet treats from our two local bakeries (that we walk to, go people power!), and we are permitting ourselves to go out to eat at a locally owned business once a week BUT we have to get there some other way than driving.

Also, we're having out of town guests starting September 21, so our challenge ends then, because, well, let's just say it'll become impossible. But we'll do what we can.

So, what have we had so far?

Saturday September 1
Breakfast: Homemade granola with yogurt (ok, not local, but in our defense we had forgotten about the challenge!)
Lunch: Heirloom tomato, basil and local cheese sandwiches on fresh rolls from a local bakery (at the farmer's market). Apples. Non-local ingredients: olive oil, salt and pepper, onion rings and an elephant ear (from the State Fair, so local business?)
Dinner: Scrambled eggs with fresh heirloom tomato salsa, garlic bread and Bibb lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes. NLI: salad dressing (trying to use up), buttery spread (also trying to use up), lime juice for salsa, salt.