Category Archives: Eat Local Challenge

Dark Days, Week 20: the last dinner!

This meal was a long time in the making.  Months!

I was a studio art major in college, and I stuck basically with two dimensions because the priest who taught the ceramics and sculpture department was terribly intimidating.  Ever since then, I have been a frustrated potter!  I finally tapped the urge last summer and took my first ceramics class at the local museum.  It’s been a blast, most especially because I AM AWFUL.  Truly.  Being absolutely bad at something yet still being able to enjoy myself immensely…all new territory for me.  No perfectionism, no fear of failure:  embrace the suck!  It is so liberating!

My first teacher asked us what we were expecting to achieve in her class.  “Making a cassole,” I said, when it was my turn.

I never did accomplish that, so I bribed my second teacher into making one for me.  Although he didn’t completely follow my exacting instructions, it’s a beautiful pot.  And tonight’s meal?  Cassoulet, bien sur.

Precooking the big beans:  big limas, small limas and runner beans


  • Four-bean, three-meat Cassoulet:  King of the Garden Limas, Henderson’s Bush Limas, Scarlet Runner beans, and flageolets precooked with a smoked ham hock from Providence Farms, a Lancelot leek, garlic, and bouquet garni (even the  bay leaves were local).  Seared, smoked duck legs and breast from our farm.  Potato sausage from my friend’s farm smoked with the Easter ham in our smoker (his potatoes, pig, salt/pepper)
  • Sorrel Soup (sorrel, homemade chicken stock, carrots, potato onions, a potato, a bit of garlic, finished with goat milk)
  • Leek galette (galette dough:  home-ground flour from Ferris Organics wheat berries, Creswick Farms lard; one monster Bleu de Solaize leek sauteed first in bacon grease)
  • Greenhouse salad (mache, spinach, kale, lettuces, green onions, shallots and garlic croutons from Friday’s bread; homemade buttermilk dressing
  • Apple galette (our apples, the above galette dough, nonlocal spices, Michigan sugar)
  • Local wine, a lot of it!

Ready for the oven

Notice the Most Excellent chicken pot holder my mother-in-law whipped up for me (atop the soup pot)

Served on my own dishes and bowls and wineglasses.  How’s that for homemade??

Dark days, Week 19

I am a bit confused:  it appears the Challenge ends on 31 March.  I thought it was a by-the-week thing, therefore ending at week 20.  I had big plans (BIG!) for the last week’s meal…the last of the Dark Days Challenge of eating sustainably, organically, locally and/or ethically for one meal per week all winter long.  Maybe I will post the meal next week anyway:  it has a lot of wacky goodness in it.

So I thought for this week’s Week 19 I would simply feature a meal sourced from home ingredients grown JUST this year (2010) but…inspiration hit me.  Literally!  My bag of saved corn husks from our home-grown popcorn dropped on my head from the top shelf when I was adjusting things in the pantry.  Luckily, corn husks aren’t heavy.

Brown paper packages tied up with string:  not pretty, not numerous, but…tasty and mostly home-grown

When I was in college, one of my best friends was a first-generation Mexican American whose people hailed from Oaxaca.  Homesickness for his mother’s Phoenix kitchen had us trolling for chow in the local Mexican restaurants…but he assured me the comida plated up in our Midwestern college town was but a simulacrum of honest food.  Well, I visited him, often, and he was so right!  And once, just once, I was fortunate enough to sample the tamales lovingly (painstakingly) made by his Mama and Abuelita.  “Labor of love” barely describes the ordeal undertaken by these women, both tiny things, in Mama Maria’s small un-airconditioned kitchen.  They would make 250 in a day, some for family, but most for their church…and they did this twice a month!

I can’t begin to scale up to that level, but with home-grown and local ingredients I can make an attempt at making at least a few.  I did have some cinnamon-laced Mexican chocolate brought back from a friend; why not make mole as well?


  • Tamales (our homegrown, home-milled Calico popcorn, with Creswick Farms lard, homegrown chicken stock, meat fillings, and wrapped up in homegrown corn husk wrappers) with either
  • Chicken (our chicken breast, poached and dressed with a garlic/Mexican oregano mash) and served with our canned Tomatillo Salsa (tomatoes, tomatillos, green bell and jalapeno peppers, vinegar, garlic, onions) with greenhouse cilantro and green onions or
  • Pork (shoulder roast from Providence Farm, braised in a bit of the above salsa and tomatoes; pulled, chopped) with Mole Sauce (mine didn’t have the usual 25 ingredients, more like 10:  the cinnamon/chocolate, ground/roasted local walnuts, bread crumbs from Wednesday’s bread, onion, garlic, more of our tomatillo salsa, dried homegrown paprika and jalapeno peppers, greenhouse thyme, oregano, and nonlocal cloves, salt, and pepper)
  • Greenhouse salad (of course)
  • Vanilla souffle (our eggs, someone else’s milk 😦 with Michigan sugar and nonlocal vanilla…no pics because my camera battery ran out

Okay.  That WAS a bit of a labor of love.  But:  I made the mole last weekend, the pork was leftovers from Wednesday night, and the chicken is terribly easy to cook.  With able small hands to help stuff and wrap, this was a fun meal to make and eat.


Dark days, Week 18

With a nip in the air but a Spring jig in my steps, I prepared a rib-sticking meal for St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday.  Slainte!

The greenhouse side of the meal:  clockwise from bottom, thyme, parsley, turnips, leek, carrot, and some gorgeous chives


  • Irish Beef Stew with Parsley/Chive Dumplings: Stew meat (Providence Farms), our Purple Top and Gilfeather turnips, Mokum carrots, russet potatoes, Bleu de Solaize leek, wine vinegar and herbs; dumplings of Ferris Organics wheat berries, Creswick Farms lard, our milk, our parsley/chives
  • Colcannon: our potatoes, Des Vertus savoy cabbage, lacinato kale, fresh onion greens, garlic and goose fat
  • Greenhouse salad (mache/spinach/Brune d’Hiver lettuce) with buttermilk/herb dressing, Mokum carrots and Golden Self-Blanching celery
  • Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout beer for me!

Dark days, week 17

All that’s left is soup for today

Two more weeks in the Challenge!  And I am beginning to see the end of the Dark Days, myself; harbingers of spring are everywhere around me now.  There’s no denying it (and Daylight Savings helps).

This week’s meal was fairly boring, but:  if my husband and daughter had their way, we would have this every. single. day. and not just every week.  And excepting the flour in the bread, everything else was grown and raised on this little piece of land of ours.  We had a friend over and there was much wine involved so no photos were taken of the spread itself; luckily, dinner tonight is soup from last night’s carcass…all the better to cure the hangover I truly have right now.  Ay.


  • Butternut squash soup (one squash, one onion, our herbs)
  • Garlic-roasted chicken (our bird, garlic, and herbs)
  • Roasted root vegetables (carrots, turnips, beets, leeks from the greenhouses)
  • Mashed potatoes with chives and pan gravy (Burbank potatoes, garlic and regular chives, our milk(!); our cider vinegar to deglaze the pan; flour from Ferris Organics)
  • Whole-wheat sourdough bread (Ferris Organics hard red spring flour, my starter)

Dark Days, Week 16

Monster leek, lacinato kale, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme…

Busy life tending busy lifeforms:  one still needs to eat!


  • Savory Bread Pudding (ends of two homemade loaves from berries ground from Ferris Organics wheat; our eggs, the last of the milk share milk (hooray!); Bleu de Solaize leeks, garlic, thyme, sage, parsley, salt and pepper)
  • Herb-encrusted roast chicken pieces (our bird, our herbs) with pan gravy
  • Crunchy Kale Salad based loosely on this recipe (greenhouse Toscano/lacinato kale, mashed garlic, toasted bread crumbs from the above loaves; nonlocal EVOO and lemon from our lemon binge)
  • Vanilla pouring custards (milk share milk, Michigan sugar, our eggs, nonlocal vanilla bean)

Forgot to take a pic of the custards!  So quickly eaten…

Dark Days, Week 15

Five more weeks to go in this challenge! I am wondering if the Dark Days will truly end then…and is spring truly around the corner?  With new snow falling daily here, I am highly dubious.

To fit with the stereotype that all that can be eaten in winter are dull root veggies and cabbage, this week’s meal features…cabbage!

Slug-tattered but highly edible

In my quest to end root-cellaring certain items, I planted cabbage seedlings into one 3’x6′ greenhouse bed in early September.  I had just cleared it of its blooming lettuces, so I figured I would transplant about 12 and see if they made it through the winter.  (The twenty-odd other seedlings got transplanted outside and harvested while still small (3-4″ diameter) until the snow came and stayed in December.  This size, incidentally, is perfect for our small family:  not practical for kraut, maybe, but no waste.)  Well, the greenhouse cabbages did make it.  In fact, they continued to grow throughout the winter.  These were Des Vertus Savoy, a somewhat crinkly cabbage that can reach 5 lb. easily.  So, my root cellar this year houses ONLY potatoes!  No root veg, no cabbage.  Apples and pears on the back porch.  Whew, that was easy.


  • Bubble and Squeak (Mashed Burbank (russet) potatoes, Copra onion, Des Vertus Savoy cabbage, salt and pepper, fried up in homegrown goose fat)
  • Round Steak (Tenderized, marinated in salt/garlic/water/homemade red wine vinegar all day and then pan-seared; from Pekel Farm in Shelbyville)
  • Bitter greenhouse salad with roasted foraged walnuts (Giant Winter spinach, mache, mustard, Triple Purple orach, Italian Dandelion, arugula, red and green lettuces; chopped shallot and greens; buttermilk dressing from our milk share)
  • Pumpkin bread (Triamble squash, home-ground hard red spring berries, our eggs, buttermilk, Michigan butter, Michigan sugar, nonlocal baking spices and leavener)

Dark days, week 14

Tasty if not pretty

A bit of Michigan on the plate tonight!

Half of my family hails from the Lake Michigan coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Both sides of my dad’s family had long history up there, mainly on islands of both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as they were all fisherfolk if they weren’t lumberjacks. This is knowledge that comes to me, incidentally, from my own genealogical research and not family yore: Dad wanted nothing to do with his family and died when I was 13, so all tales and secrets and recipes died with him. Suffice it to say I have since filled in a lot of blanks, and I would hope that at least one or two of my ancestors had a recipe for pasty up their sleeves. If not they, then loads of other Yoopers know how to make them.

These are basically meat-and potato-filled turnovers. The typical recipe includes rutabagas, and so I did as well; carrots, celery, onion…no other spices other than salt/pepper is customary but, well, I adore my spices and so added a few. Supposedly these lunchbox pastries hail from the Cornwall-born coal- and copper miners who worked the U.P.’s northwestern mines in the late 19th century. Now you cannot drive 30 miles on any major road in the whole peninsula without hitting a tourist-y eatery that sells PASTIES (all caps always).


  • Pasties (crust:  home-ground hard red spring berries from Ferris Organics; lard and bacon grease from Creswick Farms; ground beef from the Pekel farm in Shelbyville; chopped side pork from Creswick Farms; Carola potatoes, Atomic Red carrots, Laurentian rutabaga, Clear Dawn onion, Golden Self-Blanching celery, sage/thyme/savory/parsley from greenhouses; salt, pepper.
  • Greenhouse salad with homemade buttermilk dressing (milk share milk, our shallot/garlic/parsley)

Dark Days week 13: we (heart) local

Blueberry waffles with blueberry syrup is a great way to start the day

I’m posting this before I even make the meal:  is that cheating?  No, it’s beating the posting deadline!


For Valentine’s Day, the girl and I got up early to harvest a Monster Carrot.  It’s been a gorgeously sunny weekend, so the greenhouses are quite warm:  warm enough to pull off the Reemay covers and let that sun shine in.  (I spent a lot of the weekend just puttering around in there:  who can blame me, working in a t-shirt in February?)  This carrot, a Long Keeper storage carrot, is the main ingredient in tonight’s carrot cake.

Don’t discount fresh herbs:  they add a substantial kick to what I consider The Good Life.  Par-cel cutting celery (a nice cross between parsley and celery) grows nicely year-round in the greenhouses

And while we were in there, I harvested a bunch of different herbs for the marinade for the evening’s main course.  Morning is often when I start making dinner. When the girl and I made the waffles, I also started a batch of no-knead whole wheat bread, thawed the roast, and started a new batch of buttermilk.  Then, with our carrot and herbs all cleaned up from the greenhouse, she peeled a head of garlic while I stripped the thyme and rosemary from their branches and pounded them, along with a large bunch of the par-cel cutting celery, salt, pepper, olive oil, and homegrown paprika, making a nice paste to coat the pork loin roast.  Fresh herbs are marvelous, and thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, and savory keep green and ready all winter in the greenhouse.

Alice Waters has a wonderful method for braising those tougher cuts of meat like a shoulder or loin roast.  Including the long marinade, the roast is cooked in a low (350 degree) oven and flipped quite often in its half-bath of cut-vegetable filled broth.  It alternately caramelizes and tenderizes the meat that way, and the resultant pan juices make a wonderful gravy.

The greenhouse’s leeks are thickening rapidly and are quite sweet, so lots of them are finding their way into most savory dishes lately.  Tonight’s treatment was in a milk bath with radicchio.  The milk calms the bite of these chickory hearts, and sweetens the leeks.  Two leeks and one radicchio are halved, quick-seared in brown butter in a skillet, then baked in a casserole and bathed in an herbed cream.  A quick trip under the broiler at the end caramelizes their tops.


  • Blueberry waffles with blueberry syrup for breakfast (Ferris Organic flour, our eggs, homemade buttermilk from our milk share, nonlocal butter, and blueberries from a half mile away; syrup made from the same batch of blueberries with Michigan sugar)
  • Greenhouse salad with homemade buttermilk dressing (milk share milk, our shallots and herbs)
  • Braised loin of pork (Amish-raised piggy, above marinade from greenhouse herbs, Copra and red onions, Chantenay carrots, red potatoes in the broth)
  • Oven-braised Bleu de Solaize leeks and Treviso radicchio in cream
  • No-knead sourdough whole wheat bread (Ferris Organic flour, my sourdough starter)
  • Carrot cake (Ferris Organic flour, our eggs, our buttermilk, our carrot, Michigan sugar; nonlocal spices and cream cheese for the frosting)
Sue J. Smith / LeAnn Morales
Environmental Sciences Technology Program / Calhoun Area Career Center
475 E. Roosevelt Avenue
Battle Creek, Michigan 49017
(269) 968-2271 ext. 5254
(517) 712-8097 cell

Dark Days week 12

Serious child minding the crepe.  It’s a glorious, wonderful, spectacular day when your child becomes tall enough to reach the stove unassisted!  It also means she can turn on the kitchen faucet and load the dishwasher.

Illness has visited our house this week, so Saturday night it was just the girl and me eating solid foods.  And, as is typical, I revert to my vegetarian ways when I don’t need to feed my husband, so…the girl and I made crepes.  Crepes are wonderful.  They can be savory, they can be sweet, they can be in-between.   And they hide all manner of leftovers, should you have them.  Leftovers, or food failures, as was the case with the feta I made this week, which came out decidedly unset and lumpy (oh it tasted fantastic, the texture was off), so melted with a little butter and milk, it became the topping for the crepes.


  • Whole-wheat crepes (milk share milk, our eggs, Ferris Organics wheat berries, Michigan butter)
  • Choice of fillings: our leftover oven-roasted chicken with sauteed Bleu de Solaize leeks for the girl; Grex beet greens/Bleu de Solaize leeks/white onions for me
  • Feta/cream sauce topping (milk share milk)
  • Big greenhouse salad (carrots, turnips, lots of arugula and mache; homemade yogurt/shallot/parsley dressing)
  • Applesauce for dessert (our apples, Michigan sugar)

Cropped photo so you can’t see the unpretty feta sauce

Dark Days, Week 11

Bean carnage

Let’s just say our meal this week is terribly…beany.

Gosh, I think I have even posted about beans, what, twice before for this challenge?  Three times, maybe?  We do love our beans, it is true; probably one dinner a week is Beans.  That leaves six other meals per week that I could choose from that are Not Beans, pretty good odds!  I have a couple of things to say in my defense, though.

Mainly, it’s a bit of a crazy week.  Our daughter turns 6, and every day, it appears, there’s something else to be done to aid the celebration.  There are at least three meals that are directly birthday-related (food is love) and sadly not all of them will be Dark Days-worthy…or they would be if Michigan grew chocolate.  But!  My husband wanted to cook (is the sky falling?  was that just a pig I saw flying?  did hell freeze?) and he said he wanted to make some beans.

A LOT of beans, it turns out!  And:  I was so shocked I forgot to photograph it.


  • Cuban Black Beans: our Black Turtle beans, Turino red (sweet) pepper, Hungarian (hot) ground red pepper, Copra onions, garlic, nonlocal cumin/pepper/salt, and greenhouse thyme and my friend’s greenhouse bay leaves.
  • Baked Beans: our Navy beans, Copra onions, garlic, Golden Self-Blanching celery, smoked pork belly, local honey, and a friend’s maple syrup.
  • Biscuits: home-milled hard red spring wheat, butter, home-made yogurt from our milk share.
  • Greenhouse salad with homemade, homegrown yogurt dressing (yogurt, shallots, apple cider vinegar, parsley, applesauce with Michigan sugar).

Dark days, Week 10

I’m cheating this week by showing you something I made for dinner last week.

Oxtails:  The majority of Americans just have never eaten them, despite their high overall beef consumption. As a newly-returned carnivore, I was shocked by how much meat cost, even the “cheap” cuts of meat!  Sixteen years of not having a “meat tax” on my budget…let’s just say life as a veg was cheaper.  S0 as a carnivore I’m predisposed to be cheap, or, rather, thrifty. Well.  This means I’m not afraid to try new-to-me cuts, and oxtails were a revelation.  So much flavor!

Of course by cheap I don’t mean cuts from cruelly treated feedlot animals.  Nope.  We buy our beef and pork by the quarter and half, respectively, from small farmers who pasture their animals, raising only a few per season.  By ordering these quantities, you can usually have your say about how you want the meat processed (lots of chops, say, or more ground) AND if you are adventurous, you can request the odd bits that the butcher usually just takes as his, er, cut of the cuts.  Like oxtail, which is simply the tail of a steer.  In my last beef order, I asked for it: and got all 3!  It seems nobody else wanted it so the farmer sent all the tails to my order, gratis.

So maybe Americans don’t eat it much (hey: more for me at the butcher), but leave it to thrifty folks like the French (indeed) and Koreans (among others, of course) to really know how to use oxtail.  Pot-au-feu is a double dish:  a beef broth, then a meat dish; pho, likewise, often utilizes oxtail to give it its strength.  Many French recipes do suggest oxtail be used for two meals.  Gotta like THAT kind of meat thrift.

Singularly unattractive photo


  • Gnocchi in Oxtail Ragu: Russet potatoes, winter white flour in the gnocchi.  Roasted cut-up oxtail, braised in red wine then stewed in our tomato sauce with our celery, onion, garlic, and herbs.  Recipe very loosely based on this one.
  • Mokum Carrots, julienned and pan-roasted in brown butter and thyme
  • Greenhouse salad
  • And the rest of that red wine, a Meritage.


Dark days, week 9

Throughout this Dark Days challenge, I never go into each week thinking:  Tonight’s dinner is IT!  Time to post! Nope; it’s more like, what’s photogenic? I have, quite honestly, tried very hard not to show off for this challenge.  No real food pyrotechnics or frankly anything terribly difficult for someone with less-than-average kitchen skillz; what’s the point?  There’s enough to do just growing all this stuff, people!  AND:  that’s what I am trying to get you all to do:  get out and GROW IT!

bread and buttah

Tonight’s fare is, again, very simple.  This morning, I started the bread on a fast no-knead schedule (normally, 12-18 hours, I went with 6: just up the yeast!) so I could take advantage of the sprouting spelt berries I had growing on the counter.  Thinking, “what goes well with bread,” I retrieved a can of “bean starter” from my stash of canned goods and started some soup.

I’m always so happy when I can my dried beans for quick meals:  there are jars of black bean/carrot/onion, black bean/tomatoes/peppers, lentil*/kale/carrot/onion, and white bean/kale/onion, as well as just plain jars of beans downstairs.  I canned them in my pressure canner:  I would make the bases when I was making some other bean-y dish; I would chop a whole bunch of stuff and then, in a couple wine-besotted evenings with a friend, canned them all.  All I need to do now, then, is harvest something to augment one of those jars, or…open more of my own cans to create soup, chili or whatever.

Makes dinner really a no-brainer on those days I have no brain.


  • No-knead loaf: half winter red, half winter white wheat ground up in my brand-new mill (!!) with sprouted spelt berries
  • Stew-y soup:  Black bean/carrot/onion starter, canned from our produce last October; one Mokum Red carrot, one Chantenay carrot, Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, Par-Cel cutting celery and one Bleu de Solaize leek, all from the greenhouses; garlic from storage; homemade red wine vinegar to finish, with butter.
  • Salad:  Lots of reds in this salad, mostly lettuce.  Vinaigrette made with our vinegar, herbs, shallot; nonlocal olive oil (duh!) and mustard.  Nonlocal but home-sprouted alfalfa.

*Lentils are the only thing not home-grown.  With only 2 beans per pod, good golly who has that kind of time to shell them!

Dark days, Week 8

Today we put our muscles into our dinner!  This dinner illustrates three things:  one, how to feed a family of 3 on one little chicken breast; two, how delicious a non-rice pilaf can be, and three, how sometimes it’s too cold to go outside to fetch a salad.  Thus, the pantry/freezer meal.

She’s wondering if she can make dimples with the end


  • Chicken breast prosciutto-free saltimbocca (thin-sliced chicken breast smashed into submission with rolling pin, dredged in flour and quick-sauted in butter; gravy from the drippings of garlic jelly, homemade white wine vinegar, hard white wheat flour and thyme)
  • Blue Coco green beans from the freezer
  • Spelt berry “pilaf” (butter, Copra onion, Golden Self-Blanching celery, Par-cel cutting celery/thyme/sage/oregano, in chicken stock)

Dark Days, Week 7

One thing you need to realize about dinner in this house, ANY dinner, is that it’s a bit of a process.

First, there’s the harvest, then the impromptu semaphore dance with the leeks.

Then, there’s the lengthy discussion about meat or no meat in this dish:  we went with meat.

Then, unseen, the kitchen fairies made pate brisee.  Salad.  Soup.  Galette, and pie.


  • Mache salad with Long Keeper carrot, toasted scavenged walnuts and non-local but homemade mustard vinaigrette (our herbs, shallots)
  • Chicken soup (our bird, Scarlet Nantes carrot, Golden Self-Blanching celery, Copra onion, our herbs)
  • Leek galette (2 Bleu de Solaize leeks, one cube smoked pork belly, thyme; spelt flour/butter crust)
  • Pumpkin pie (spelt flour/butter crust, Amish Pie pumpkin, our eggs, cream from our milk share, and nonlocal spices)

Dark Days, Week 5

I looked forward to posting this week’s meal because I figured it would well illustrate two things:  one, what it is I eat when I eat alone, and two, how much of a glutton I can be on really simple peasant fare.  You see, I planned on telling you all about a lovely vegetarian dinner of polenta with foraged wild mushrooms:  both main ingredients being things verboten, nay, HATED by my family…thus, best to eat when they’re away.  And:  it’s a meal I *crave* for them to leave so I can make it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to dinner.

I had to dig, deep, in the bigger chest freezer to retrieve the last two-pound bag of Bloody Butcher cornmeal from a grower in Nashville, MI: wonderful meal that yields gritty, deeply-flavored polenta or cornbread; cornmeal well worth digging to the bottom of a freezer for.  But, with each successive layer of frozen items I dug through, the angrier, and colder, I got.  And:  what I was digging through was so much more…in the way of instant gratification (i.e., steaks) that I finally said SCREW IT!  gimme some MEAT!

So, here’s the meal:

And it went down well with two glasses of red wine put up by a friend of ours in honor of his son’s birth, six years ago.

Dark Days, week 4

For this week’s Dark Days dinner, the selected meal was a pantry-raided, complex-carbohydrate-rich affair.

We were itchy for something toothsome the night before, so the next day I baked some beans and bread.  Baked beans, bread and salad:  simple, hearty fare that was so welcome on this, the first harsh night of our winter season.

  • Beans: One cup of our cranberry beans, one Copra onion, two cloves of Big Stinky (an unknown but huge hardneck garlic), with dried sage and other garden herbs; two chunks of smoked pork belly (Hopeful Farms pork from Ligonier, IN; smoked at Miller’s Smoke House of Middlebury, IN: both these are Amish-run, so, no websites), and honey from Honey Hound Bee Farms, Eau Clare, MI.
  • Bread: Whole-wheat boule with 50/50 spelt/hard red spring wheat from Ferriss Organics;  butter made from cream from the school’s cow share
  • Salad: greenhouse goodies

Dark Days, Week 3

I confess we’re not much for leftovers here.

It has been argued that making “extra” food might save you time later:  that, say, doubling your rice means you have enough to quickly make a stir-fry, or pudding.  Knowing me, knowing my family, knowing the Black Hole of Shame that our refrigerator becomes if I actually SAVE leftovers, I have been making a huge effort over the last few years to Never. Ever. Have. Them.

That never quite works out around Thanksgiving, though.

If I were ever to teach basic cooking, I would teach two things:  pate brisee (piecrusts), and biscuits.  [Both make you quickly familiar with a pastry blender (two butterknives also work) and heartily at ease with a rolling pin (excepting drop biscuits, my personal favorite).  Both, too, make you a genius as far as disguising leftovers, if you have them, and hey, even fresh food is special with a crust of browned buttery bread!]  As it is, I teach my kid instead.  And she’s becoming a whiz with a piecrust.

The meal:

  • Turkey pot pie (crust: spelt flour from Ferriss Organics; home-rendered leaf lard from Creswick Farms; filling:  our own Bourbon Red turkey, two Carola potatoes, one Scarlet Keeper carrot, one Gilfeather turnip, one Bleu de Solaize leek; home herbs (sage, thyme, oregano, garlic), bechamel sauce with turkey gravy, spelt flour and milk).
  • Salad (raw sunflower seeds from who knows where, but home-roasted; greenhouse salad of arugula, red and green lettuces, shallot greens; homemade yogurt/garlic dressing)

good enough for leftovers of leftovers!

Dark Days recap, week 2

Our Thanksgiving was fabulously local, and mostly home-grown.  But I’m not going to blah-blah about Thanksgiving for Week 2.  Nope.  Saturday night’s dinner will be discussed instead.

The Dark Days Challenge was put together by Laura of (not so) Urban Hennery to get people to try to eat locally at least one meal per week.  Her encouragement also went so far as to challenge us to source that food within the guidelines of SOLE:  sustainable, organic, local and ethical.  She asked me to join because Michigan is not exactly a hothouse of fresh produce in winter, but she knew that we eat as fresh as we can, thanks to our greenhouses and root cellar.

Steering away from turkey and fixings, then, we barbecued a pork loin roast from the now-defunct Providence Farm, serving it with steamed Red Norland potatoes (gotta hurry and eat this crop, as it’s one of the first to sprout) in a butter/parsley/chive mix, as well as Marconi strain Romano beans from the freezer, a greenhouse salad of cold-hardy lettuces (Amish Deer Tongue, Brune d’Hiver, Forellenschuss, Grand Rapids, arugula, mache and others) with Red Beard bunching onions, a gigantic Scarlet Nantes carrot, and a medium-sized Zefa Fino fennel bulb with some fronds thrown in.  Buttermilk/yogurt dressing (our cultures of both) with lots of garlic.  And, yum, Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin custard for dessert!  Local wine too:  Round Barn Red Demi-Sec.

On high holiday preparations

Tick tock, big roof bird:  Thanksgiving dinner

For a nonreligious family whose head cook is admittedly a bit food-mad, Thanksgiving remains THE holiday of the year.

We’re on track (again) for an all-local meal, with about 85-90% of all the ingredients grown and raised right here.  Cider and wine from 5 miles away, cranberries from 15, wheat from 80, dairy from 100.  I adore this holiday.  Admittedly, I am a bit of an overachiever and I allow nobody to help me in the kitchen…except for washing the dishes.

And admittedly, as far as food goes, there’s really not that much that’s taxing about your typical Thanksgiving spread except for the sheer quantity of food that gets made.  That’s always made me pause:  I used to do a spread with 15, 20 items, 5 courses, for three people and though it was wonderful it was REALLY over the top, all for comfort food that tastes the same!  So, every year, I have been chucking one dish to see where the “heart” of the meal truly lies.  This year, I can’t reduce further:  no stuffing?  no gravy?  gotta have the Brussels sprouts…so it’s going to be a grand total of 7 items (3 courses) plus dessert.

It’s still a lot of work, but…it’s The holiday, after all…

Dark Days challenge, week one

To start off this challenge with a big bang, how about a local dinner for 50?


Granted, this dinner was in the works long before I signed up for the Challenge.  As some of you may know, I am very involved with food and food issues at our daughter’s school.  We have a garden, we source local foods, we spend the entire summer (or so it seemed) picking and freezing fruit, canning jams and salsas and pickles for the school’s Slow Snack program.  This dinner was a big “thank you” for those intrepid tomato-stained volunteers as well as for our darling teachers and students.  Mid-morning every day, the classes have Snack as an appreciation of sharing, the courtesy involved with it, and the appreciation of food.  It’s really just a bite or two of something good, but the big news this year is  Snack now includes Friday Classroom Snack.  On Thursday afternoon, the teachers come to our full pantry to get the foodstuffs and equipment (electric skillet, crockpot, toaster oven, bread machine, etc.) to prepare the day’s snack with the children.  Stone Soup is often an option.  Dal, chili, applesauce; corn pudding, whole-wheat bread, pumpkin cheesecake; zucchini muffins, colcannon, hummus have all been made in the classrooms this fall.  Whew!

_DSC9943We held the party at a 1930s lodge in a local park.  Beautiful day in the 60s, everyone played until supper

This dinner was a bit more simple.  Mostly, meat was on the menu.  I roasted one each of our geese and chickens, a friend roasted a local organic turkey.  For the vegetarians, I made two frittatas with eggs and goodies from our home gardens (red pepper/potato/garlic with Wisconsin cheddar, leek/chard with EverGreen Lane Farm goat cheese).  Kielbasa sausage from an Amish farmer across the border in Indiana went on the grill.  Two butternut squash got sacrificed for some soup.  I made two loaves of whole-wheat bread (hard red spring from Ferriss Organic Farm, Eaton Center MI) and the middle schoolers made rosemary foccacia with flour from the same place.  Salads weren’t local but were made in the spirit of “Slow Snack,” as were the roasted sweet potatoes and cornbread.  Local wine, some even homemade, for the adults; local cider from Grandpa’s.

I’m sure I am forgetting something!

But…it was tasty.

On chicken meat

img_0978Phyllis, our bearded lady Ameraucana: definitely not for dinner

I love my chickens.  I love them even if I am going to eat them:  I am just that kind of person.  As a child, I always envisioned myself as a veterinarian, or maybe a zookeeper.  Life intervened and now I am simply a chicken rancher.

The Eat Local Challenge for October was fun, though I did kind of drop the ball about foodstuff.  Call me fickle, but…well I have 15 posts saved in my drafts folder, all about things like chicken and millet and squash and the importance of eating salad (or raw food in general) and I never did get around to posting them.  Maybe they will see the light of day here sometime; maybe not.  One of the things I mentioned, though, was meat thrift.  How many meals can I squeeze out of one chicken?  Or, in the instance below, out of half a chicken?

Chickens, though.  Being a recent convert to carnivory, and being a general tightwad, it’s not like we binge on flesh around here.  In most cultures other than the big-slab-of-critter-on-the-plate U.S., meat is used as a condiment, as a flavoring, and as such gets shoved to a small portion of one’s plate.  I take that example as a model.  It makes the creature’s sacrifice seem more worthy.

Last Saturday I thawed a chicken half (about 3.5 lbs.) while we worked on the greenhouse.  That evening, the child chose a pumpkin to roast and we halved it, scooped out the seeds, and roasted the seeds while the bird was in the oven atop a bed of carrots and celery.  (I roast the bird on a large saute pan:  I want the drippings, see, and it’s easier done in a pan.)  When the bird was roasted, the pumpkin halves went in on their cookie sheet, and I turned the oven down.  The roasted seeds went atop the salad.

This was something of a special meal, so I made mashed potatoes and pan-roasted greens too.  I lifted the bird off the saute pan and placed it on a platter, covered with tinfoil, to rest before carving.  Dang:  I didn’t have any white wine to deglaze the pan, so…I improvised by whizzing about a cup of green tomato chutney in the food processor, and used about a quarter cup of that to deglaze the drippings in the pan.  I put about a half cup of the potato water in a cup and added about 2 tablespoons of flour to it, stirring well; I added this to the drippings.  Over a low heat a nice rich gravy formed.  I added more potato water to thin it.  The rest of the potato water would be saved to make bread the next day.

We didn’t eat the whole half a chicken.  In fact, we ate maybe a third of it:  mashed potatoes with gravy, the greens, and a huge salad with those roasted seeds was the majority of what we ate.  In point of fact, meat is never the center of our meals.  Vegetables are.  Anyway, when we cleaned the table after dinner, I pulled some of the meat off the carcass and put all of it, and the cooled, scraped-out pumpkins, into the fridge for tomorrow.

On Sunday morning, then, I made stock with the carcass, made two pie crusts with leaf lard and butter, and made bread with the reserved potato water.  I let the stock cook all day:  two celery stalks, their leaves, two chopped carrots, thyme, sage, salt and pepper; water to cover.  You barely let it boil:  one bubble every 10 seconds or so makes a very clear stock.  I went about my day from there and later made a leek galette for dinner with a salad and pumpkin pie for dessert.  After about 7 hours of cooking, I strained the stock, picked the carcass clean, deposited the bones in the trash, and reserved the stock for later.  Bread and pie smell pretty good when they bake together.

Monday’s dinner is somewhat sacrosanct:  it’s an office day for me so we always have pasta with tomato sauce.  The kid got chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy in her lunch, though.

Tuesday:  Election night!  Time for some comfort food, so I made biscuits and gravy.  Used some of the meat, added milk and flour, sage and red pepper flakes to the sauce.  Nothing like it!

Wednesday:  chicken tacos!  Yum.  Some Green Zebra tomatoes on top too, along with my black bean/corn salsa.  Lots of lettuce and shallots; no cheese.

Thursday:  Pumpkin soup with half of that chicken stock; cornbread, salad.

Friday:  Beet risotto with the other half of that chicken stock; braised chard, salad.

So:  One half of one chicken, five meals, two child-sized lunches.  Not bad for one little birdy.  Thanks.

On walnuts

The kid and I went exploring in the 100 Acre Wood on Saturday.  I swear I have seen an abandoned stand of apple trees on the property, but despite hours of bushwacking, we failed to find it.  All, however, was not lost.  We found walnuts.

These are black walnuts.  I had another batch of English walnuts: they are about half the size.  Note the dye on my fingers:  through the gloves even!

People have remarked, both in person and on the blog, that I appear to be a rather collected, cool person, someone with her proverbial head screwed on straight.  I dunno.  I wouldn’t say I am so even-tempered.   But I do think I have found the secret of my relative sanguinity:  lots of the stuff that I do on the farm allows me to blow off steam!  Case in point (or, case du jour):  shelling the walnuts.

The slag on the driveway is a great aid in shelling.  I visualize the bad things in this world being crushed under my heel as I do it.

If they’ve fallen from the tree, they’re ready to go.  One needs to remove the husk before curing and storing.  In days of yore, the husks were used as a furniture stain:  it is a ready dye that will just as readily go through gloves and stain your fingers and clothing, so…get out the barbecue tongs to handle them, and wear junky clothes.  I step-stomped on these things to crack the husk then rolled it toe-heel-toe to dispatch the rest of the husk.  Moving the husked nuts with the tongs, I agitated them further against the pebbly drive with the boots and a bit of water from the hose.  A final spray-off,  then I picked them up and set them in the shed to dry for a few days on a screen.  I will further store them in some old onion mesh bags, hanging them in the somewhat moist, not-too-warm basement.  Then I will shell them as needed.  I love toasted walnuts atop my salads!

Hosed off and ready for curing

More humble grains: Buckwheat

three forms of buckwheat:  dark-seeded Japanese for green manures, light-seeded Common Gray kasha groats, and buckwheat flour

Shchi da kasha pishcha nasha:  A Russian proverb loosely meaning “We need nothing more than cabbage soup and porridge for our food.”

So, this local eating thing has boosted my decades-long interest in la cucina povera (peasant food).  By looking at my own little warm patch of lakeland-Michigan soil, I have often wondered how colder, less sunny climes have fed their people.  Onward to Russia, my friends.

When I was a poor grad student, my boyfriend and I trolled the Polish and Russian eateries in our Chicago neighborhood.  These places, of the banquet hall, all-you-can-eat variety, were true vendors of stick-to-the-ribs hearty fare.  It was in one of these places that I discovered buckwheat kasha, cabbage soup, and borscht.  (Oh and pierogi: those little savory pies would really tip you over the edge to gluttony.  We were always thankful we had no car and were forced to walk home.)

Kasha simply means porridge, and it does not necessarily have to be made of buckwheat.  Buckwheat is a small pseudograin (unlike other cereal grains it is not a grass, but instead part of the polygonaciae family, which includes bindweed, rhubarb and sorrel) that’s fairly easily grown because of its short growing season.  I plant buckwheat in my gardens to act as a green manure; it’s a tap-rooted, fleshy plant that’s easily frost-killed and is actually rather pretty with its white flowers.  The name “buckwheat” comes from the seed’s resemblance to miniature beech nuts:  Buchweizen, in German, or “beech wheat.”  Its botanical name is Fagopyrum (fagus=Latin for beech, puros=Greek for wheat).

Like most cereals, though, buckwheat groats (grains) have a tough shell that is usually removed before making flour.  The shell is removed by crushing with a roller and sifting/blowing the remainder to separate the seeds from the shell before milling.  Some of the dark shell usually cannot be removed and shows up as the darker flakes in buckwheat flour.  One doesn’t have to remove the shells to make kasha, though.  (Thankfully.)

To make savory buckwheat kasha: In a deep skillet, lightly toast 1 cup of buckwheat groats (the caramelizing process of browning the groats adds a nice taste to them) over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Remove from pan, and brown a medium chopped onion in about a tablespoon of butter.  Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 cups vegetable, beef or chicken stock and salt/pepper to taste; cover and bring to a boil.  Add the buckwheat, stir well and replace the lid.  Cook over medium/low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from pan onto a platter and fluff with fork; taste for seasonings and adjust.  It starts out kinda sticky but when it cools it separates.

To make buckwheat crepes: Combine in a blender 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup buckwheat flour, and 3 tablespoons melted butter; blend until smooth.  Remove lid and scrape down sides and blend some more, about 5 more seconds.  Cover and set in the refrigerator to rest:  I make mine in the morning then use in the evening; the all-day rest gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid; I rebuzz the batter before using.  Heat a small nonstick skillet (up to 10″) or crepe pan, then brush with a little oil or butter; when it sizzles, it’s ready.  Pour about a scant 1/8th cup of batter into pan and swirl immediately to coat the bottom of the pan.  Cook until golden on bottom (about a minute) and flip, carefully, with your fingers or a flexible pancake spatula; cook another 30 seconds or so until finished.  Remove, stack on plate and keep warm and repeat; you will have about 14-18 crepes when finished.  Fill with anything:  melted cheese, sautee’d spinach or beet greens, leftover meats; drizzle with some lovely sauce.  Crepes are mutable, crepes are infinite.  Make a crepe cake!

Thank you Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone for the backbone of these recipes.

On humble hominy

End of harvest soup, salad, half cornmeal biscuit, local wine:  my idea of a decent worknight meal

Would that I had a real tractor.  I might just bust up some sod and grow some grains here.  Of course, had I a tractor with tiller attachment I would need a thresher too.  I am not there yet, I guess…and probably never will be, knowing how rough our clay soils are.

Two roadblocks in the Eat Local Challenge involve two big food groups:  grains and dairy.  Granted, you might be able to do without dairy altogether for a month’s challenge, but what about grains?  The staff of life?  Many people have therefore excused flour for their Challenge.  But flour isn’t the only way one can eat grains.

What about corn?

Most everyone has access to corn.  (You can grow your own even.  Corn is pretty easy to grow, and as long as you can keep the corn borers and pesky raccoons away…)  I made posole, or hominy, recently and it was fairly easy, though a bit time-intensive.  What I love about grains is that a little bit of corn puffs up to a lot of hominy. Four cups of kernels made nearly 7 cups of the stuff.  I froze what we couldn’t eat for future meals.  I also plan to throw some in the food processor and make us some mmm-mmm grits; I could dry it and grind it further and bang I have some masa flour for yummy tasty tortillas and sopes and tamale filling.  In other words, the humble corn kernel is very versatile.

Nixtamalizing (note the word “tamal,” as in tamale) is the process of chemically separating the corn shell  from the edible part through an alkali soaking.  This soaking has the added benefit of releasing niacin (B3) from the corn in a readily digestible form.  Pellagra is what occurs when folks eat lots of corn that hasn’t been so treated.  Nixtamalizing also gives the corn that nice lime-y, corn-y taste: think fresh corn tortillas on a hot griddle and you probably know what I mean.

Rinse and sort four cups of dry corn kernels (I used yellow dent corn from my corn/buckwheat source), then soak overnight in water to cover.  Set in a nonreactive (enameled, pottery or stainless steel) deep pot with 1/3 cup of baking soda and more water to cover and begin boiling.  I used my ancient Crock Pot for this.  What you’re going to do is remove the pericarp and tip cap (tough shell and shell attachment to the cob) by soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution to loosen the hulls.  The typical alkali used is lye.  Lye scares the hell out of me personally, though Mrs. Wages’ makes a pickling lime that is a bit less scary.  I couldn’t find any in time so I resorted to the more time-intensive but easier-found box of baking soda.  (Next time, I will try lye.  The baking soda kind of dissolved the hulls.  I do need to get over my fear though first.)

Boil, rinse, boil, rinse:  eventually you will find that the kernels are poofing up and the hulls are coming off.  (The alkali is only in the first go-round of boiling.)   While rinsing in the sink in a colander set in a deeper bowl, I scrub and pinch off the hulls.  They float, and with a bit of work you can figure out the easiest way to separate them.  Note, this process does take time, so…prepare yourself mentally for what the task is at hand.  Separating the little floating boogers of pericarp is kind of annoying.

The reward was yummy though.  I made a nice soup with the winding-down tomatoes, peppers, onions, celery and garlic, and scraps of a pork picnic (basically the “arm ham” or bicep of a pig) that we roasted in a low barbecue all day, then separated the somewhat stringy tasty meat for future meals…lots of future meals as it turned out; that “picnic” was 4lbs, bone-in.  The hominy is destined for another spin with Thursday’s meal:  nice, buttery grits as the side dish.  It’ll show up in a couple other forms too.

How to start local eating (and avoid the grocery store)

Scrounged apples from one of 9 neglected trees on neighbor’s land:  spotty but delicious Jonathans

How to do it?  How to do ANY changing in terms of one’s habits?  Well, don’t jump in feet-first.  Start small.  Remember, this is what I am trying to do with the Eat Local Challenge:

My goal, again, in taking this challenge was not for me, but rather as a tool of conversion.  If others of you start gardening, or gardening more, or getting a greenhouse, or buying a freezer and starting to can stuff, I will feel so gratified!

Start gardening: it’s now autumn in this hemisphere.  Now’s the perfect time to bust some sod to build some garden beds!  Not so strong?  Well, you probably can lift newspapers or flatten old cardboard boxes, and rake up bags of leaves or lawn clippings.  Read up on lasagne gardening a la Ruth Stout.  Even if that’s not the way you envision yourself gardening (I don’t garden that way), it is a sure way to start making garden beds this fall.

Gardening more: Make new beds now!  Also, look at what it is you had been growing if you were a vegetable gardener.  Is there anything you LOVE that you hadn’t bothered to try this year, like broccoli or beets?  Make some space next year and promise yourself you’re going to grow what you know you will eat.  Chuck the things you wasted, like all those zucchini.  Consider the idea of succession planting, instead of that one back-breaking spring planting day you did this year (you know who you are).  Spring/summer/fall (and even /winter) is a lot of growing.  This could mean three crops of lettuce, two crops of summer squash, five crops of carrots…all in the same space in one “growing” season.

Buying a freezer: Well, this is a big step, financially.  However, if you are in the habit of shopping weekly and picking up, say, one cut-up chicken, one package of ground beef, and one package of bacon I have news for you.  You are wasting money.  Instead, you could hook up with a local farmer and buy 20 chickens (whole or cut-up), a quarter of beef and a half a hog and your meat needs would be met for most of the year.  Don’t think you can do half a hog?  Find a friend, or two!  Start a buyers’ club!  Again, this is another big bite in the wallet:  start small, save now, and consider all the gasoline and TIME you will save next year.  (Plus, learning what one can do with half a hog can be quite fun.)  Half of my freezer is devoted to frozen fruit, veggies, meat stock, and flour, so it ain’t just about the meat.  And chest freezers are a lot more energy-efficient than upright ones:  they don’t dump their cold air out every time you open the door.  Sears is the best nation-wide store that offers the most types.

Starting to can (or freeze) stuff:

  1. Sourcing: Your biggest friend in the world of preservation is your local farmer’s market or U-Pick farm.  For regular vegetable eating, you can also join a CSA (again, worried about “but that’s too much stuff for our house” then find a friend) and ask the CSA farmer if you can help them glean at the end of a crop’s season:  you can get the stuff they can’t give away (like spotty tomatoes).  Also, canning or freezing is usually the response one has to bounty.  Having a CSA share does not mean one will have “bounty,” but…do you know of any untended fruit or nut trees near you?  Ask the owner if they wouldn’t mind sharing.  Is there anything that your neck of the woods does comparatively well, like oranges or maple syrup or peaches or corn?  Then go nuts and get a bunch of it.
  2. Equipment: Go to Goodwill and pick up used canning equipment.  Garage sales are likewise great places to find things, especially the jars themselves.  Old-time hardware stores and even some grocery stores sell boiling-water bath kettles, and canning equipment like the jar lifter and jar funnel you’ll need.  Canning jars are easily found, luckily; but make sure you have lots of sealing lids; you will go through a lot.
  3. Great equipment: Really seriously consider purchasing a pressure canner (quite different from a pressure cooker):  unlike the pickles and jams and fruit your boiling-water bath can do, all low-acid stuff can be put by via the pressure canner.  Soup to nuts, I kid you not; you can even can milk, or meat!

Getting a greenhouse: This is a big step, but not if you are a gardener itching for a winter salad.  I had been dreaming about a greenhouse for YEARS before mine came to be.  Start small by doing a PVC hoop house or a cold frame with a bunch of used windows.  But if you really do want to dig in and get a big one, by all means DO IT.

SO get busy and start gratifying me!

On extreme local eating (it’s rather boring, sorry)

What’s that about the legislative process and sausage-making?  Breakfast sausage

I signed up for the Eat Local Challenge this month.  Now I am wracking my brain trying to come up with exciting foodstuffs to write about to show how we’re facing that challenge.

You see, I feel quite fortunate in living where we do.  It took me awhile, but I was able to locally source many things that most parts of the country do not grow at all (sugar, grains, oil; see Food:MI tab above).  My own foray into carnivory and The Year of the Meat Bird has also filled out the protein end of the family palate.  And in all honesty, at this time of year, most of what we eat comes right out of the garden or right out of the chickens.  So yes, how boring, no challenge!  Here’s the typical fare:

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and spuds, applesauce.  Eggs and breadstuff, grapejuice.  Eggs and homemade sausage.  We sure like our eggs!
  • Lunch:  Leftover dinner, plus fruit.
  • Dinner:  Gigantic salad (even the kid puts away about 2.5 cups of salad a night), potato or breadstuff, green vegetable, and “main course” of chicken or a big vegetable dish (last night it was shell beans and chard with cilantro and cumin; the night before was a winter squash curry).  Or, gigantic salad, soup, and breadstuff.  Or, gigantic salad with stuff on top of it.  Or, gigantic salad and eggs!

I will say that, for this challenge, I am trying to steer clear of the two problem areas that most places have in terms of local eating:  grains and dairy.  Dairy-wise, the kid drinks milk, and I loves me some butter, but my husband hates cheese (really, and despite this I still married him) so it’s not eaten readily in this house.  And grains are a whole subject to themselves:  I will cover this, especially the more kooky local grains we get to eat.  So we do eat breadstuffs, as I mentioned, but they are spare:  lots of crepes, lots of polenta, grits, cornbread.

So, instead of talking about typical meals (and thus boring you silly) I would like to talk about approach for this challenge.  How does one avoid the grocery store?  What in the world do I do with half a hog?  How does one use a whole chicken to feed the family for the better part of a week?  How DO you eat all those eggs, and not drop dead of coronary artery disease?  (My cholesterol numbers are stellar, incidentally.)

My goal, again, in taking this challenge was not for me, but rather as a tool of conversion.  If others of you start gardening, or gardening more, or getting a greenhouse, or buying a freezer and starting to can stuff, I will feel so gratified!

On autumn olive berries

On Sunday, my mom came up to pick some autumn olive berries (elaegnus umbellata).  These tart little red berries are found on a shrubby tree that grows with some profusion around here.  These shrubs are not native, and reproduce with great readiness, and thus have the reputation of being “invasives.”  There are many things, native or not, that I personally consider more invasive on my land (thistles, poison ivy, wild roses, silver maples) so I kind of give these trees a pass.  Wildlife and human life at least can eat these berries.

Little yellow seeds, clear juice, thin skins

The berries are about the size of peas.  They are round and spotty and they’re a wonderful rusty red color, contrasting nicely with the dark green of the tops of the leaves of their shrub/tree.  The “olive” in their name comes from the leaves’ passing resemblance to the shape and color of that of olive trees…but only the underside of the leaves.  The underside leaf color is a lovely light sage green, and, in the wind, the tree’s leaves do change color.  The berries have a small yellow seed inside.  It’s entirely edible, lending a bit of crunch to the berry, and a bit of a tang.  They start tart, end sweet.  The closest thing I can say they taste like is perhaps unripe gooseberries.

Mom is a bit of an Atkins nut.  I suppose every family has a member who has fallen into a cult at one point of their lives.  You still love them.  My point of mentioning this is that the freezer jam she makes with these berries and that godawful poison Splenda is her favorite jam, so when I told her the berries were ripening, she completely juggled her schedule to come up and pick.  And pick she did.  She picked about six cups of the berries for me, too.

I have made jam with the berries, too, and not with Splenda (shudder).  I like it, but not as much as other jams I make, so this year I decided to make a fruit chutney with them.  Chutneys are so versatile, and their sweet/tart/salty/spicy mixture is such a great foil for the blandness of cheese and crackers or the predictability of all those chickens in our freezer (30+, plus 6 birds still running around).  Chutneys are also a great way to use up all the stuff still coming out of the garden (orange and green tomatoes, sour apples, carrots, celery, hot and sweet peppers) or still taking up valuable space in that freezer from last year (cranberries).  So I got creative last night and made some berry chutney.


Eat Local Challenge

One empty shelf left for applesauce and grapes.  Then, no more canning until June!  Woot!

Today, October 1st, is the fourth anniversary of buying the farm.  Last year on this date I posted a picture of my groaning shelves of canned goods, and asked myself a question:

What would the ideal be, I thought to myself. The ideal, of course, is what most everybody has now: the denial of the seasons that our first-world global-access grocery stores offer us. But what would it truly mean, that is, to deny the seasons and STILL do what I am doing on my 100-Foot Diet?

Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle documented her own family’s local-eating journey.  The book worked around the construct (fairly arbitrary if you ask me) of eating locally for a year.  The start date for the beginning of that year was squishy: they picked asparagus season.  Like her family, I suppose I can’t really account for when we truly began our local eating here.  It may have started after we signed the papers that day four years ago.  We came back here and ate some of our apples.  (It’s addictive, eating your own.)

I will say this, should I have a food audit:  at this point in the journey, 95% of what is consumed is either produced on this farm or produced down the road from this farm.  Most of the remaining five percent is local stuff, mostly Michigan made.

Am I a zealot?  Have I gone door-knocking in a dark suit? Do I think a buzzer will go off if I eat a Twinkie?  I think the answer to all of these is “no.”

Our future on the farm is fairly clear, even if I do really worry about the rest of the world.  Local eating, even as the extreme sport as we tend to practice it, is the way we will go.  I answer my own question:  with the aid of the greenhouses, and that seasonal deniability machine called the freezer, I know what it means to be a complete locavore.  And I have never eaten better in my life.

I am participating in the Eat Local Challenge for October of 2008, and this is the first post of that challenge.  I have done these challenges before, most recently in September of last year when the challenge involved food preservation, and also the summers of 2006 and 2007, with the One Local Summer challenge.  The challenge for this month is to eat local for 30 days.

  1. What is your definition of local? For me, I copped out to look to what I eat that comes from furthest away: in this case it is dairy, which our place sources from Michigan and northern Indiana.
  2. What exemptions will you claim? The usual:  olive oil, salt and pepper, some foreign spices.
  3. What is your goal for the month? I would say my goal is not one of personal challenge, but more about sharing what I have learned.  If it gives even one other person the impetus to try to DIY then the challenge will be successful to me.

One Local Summer 2008

Pizza on the grill last August: homemade mozzarella, crust; homegrown eggplant, garlic, onions, tomatoes and basil

For the last two summers, I have participated in this Challenge. The idea behind it is to create one completely local dinner per week, and post about it (or take pictures of it and email your regional round-up person, if you don’t have a blog). If you even have the slightest interest in the local food movement, this is a great way to get started yourself.

I will not be participating in the Challenge this year, so I won’t be rounding up for the Midwest either. The OLC Challenge host has also changed: Liz of Pocket Farm is no longer blogging, so the torch has been passed to Nicole of Farm to Philly. Please participate, should you feel the urge. It really is a great way to get a grip on your foodshed. You will push your cooking skills in new directions, and you will learn new recipes and get great ideas along the way!

The Challenge starts the last weekend in May, ends the last weekend in August. Learn more about it here.

Thoughts on how far we’ve come…

…and how far we have yet to go.

So, today is October 1st. Three years ago today we bought this house and came here, with our eight-month-old daughter, directly from the closing, to start to pull up carpeting, shovel out old furniture, and pull down curtains…all to prepare it for the floor refinishers, the electrician and the drywaller. Whew.

I am showing you a picture of the shelves of canned goods. I have a slowly filling root cellar elsewhere, and the chest freezer is nearly full, and there are at least 15 pounds of dried beans that need to be shelled in the potting shed…and the gardens are still full of goodies, including about 100 pounds of potatoes. There’s a good three pounds of garlic braided and hanging in the kitchen. My mention of these things is really simply a wrap-up of September’s Eat Local Challenge. And I have a long way to go.

But the recent Harvest Moon got me in mind of this whole “eating-in-season” idea. What would the ideal be, I thought to myself. The ideal, of course, is what most everybody has now: the denial of the seasons that our first-world global-access grocery stores offer us. But what would it truly mean, that is, to deny the seasons and STILL do what I am doing on my 100-Foot Diet?

I am going to seriously look into this. I have a feeling the greenhouse will help.