T Minus 33 hrs to Local Food Year 2010

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

In my preparation for Friday (Jan 1st, 2010!!!), I’ve been doing a little shopping.  I went to Cork Market last night and picked up some whole milk from Trickling Springs  and eggs from The Hen’s Nest (Windsor, MD).  The milk was $2.50 for the quart (plus a $2 bottle fee, which you get back once you return the glass bottle) and the eggs were $3.50- that is the same or less than I’d pay at Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter!  I was, however, a bit saddened to see that the TS milk was homogenized (because I had read somewhere that it wasn’t  and that it had a luscious layer of cream on top… alas, not so much), but even more bummed to find (once I got home, naturally) that the sell by date was Dec 24!  I drank some of it before noticing the date, and thought it tasted a bit off… but honestly for being 5 days past due it was doing pretty well.

I will be taking it back to Cork tonight, but the folks working there were so nice I’m sure it won’t be a problem.  It’s a small, brand new market, so I can hardly blame them. It’s my own fault for not checking the date… I regularly buy out of date products from my sketchy corner store, but when I try to return it they look at me like I’m an idiot.  Doubtful I’ll face that problem from the nice folks at Cork.

It really is cute little market, and I’m sure as they grow they will start to carry more local items.  Sadly they only had one bottle of Virginia wine (a summery rose pouting in the corner) and I was hoping to get some sparking for NYE, but they do have local milk, eggs, award winning Cherry Glen Monocacy Ash cheese (who also sell at 14th and U market in season), and Dolcezza gelato (which is freaking amazing and made with Trickling Springs milk and often some local fruit- and veggies!)  While I don’t think I can pass off their authentic Argentine Dulce de Leche as local (but oh how I wish I could), I did see a Bartlett Pear flavor that I’m betting comes from local pears (maybe Toigo Orchards?)  I’ll do a little investigating and find out.  That would make me a very happy girl. 

I also placed my first order today with the Star Hollow online CSA program.  I ended up with fingerling potatoes, carrots, garlic, lettuce, fresh thyme, yellow hothouse tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, a large frozen stewing chicken, organic sweet potatoes, shallots, butter, and two kinds of cheese.  All for just under $48.00!!!  It took me all of about 7 minutes to grocery shop for the week, and it was about half what I would spend at the conventional grocery store.  Plus, i think i probably way over-ordered, but my excitement (and WWII-style impulse to stock my house full of food) got the better of me. 

I’m feeling very optimistic (today) about this whole thing.  Jodi Lehr from Santa Lucia Estate Coffee was at the Kitchen today and I had some of her heavenly coffee again.  It both reminded me I need to place an online order for coffee ASAP (because when you order in bulk it comes out to like $6.50/lb- which I think is less than like, Folgers- ew- and Santa Lucia is normally $10/lb at Whole Foods) and that it really does make a difference who you buy your food from.  Jodi and her husband started Santa Lucia 15 years ago in DC.  There are 3 employees.  All their coffee is grown on estates in Nicaragua by people they know.  They are “sustainable, Rainforest Alliance, farm direct, estate coffee”, and I don’t care what the naysayers say… knowing my morning coffee  wasn’t picked by slaves does make it taste better.  And let me tell you, it does taste goooooooood.

I Will Not Starve to Death! Hooray!

December 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

I am now officially signed up with Star Hollow Farm’s CSA program. *does a little happy dance*. I can order online and they will have my box waiting in Adams Morgan every other Saturday morning until April. Hoorah! They have a greenhouse, so I won’t be subsisting on just winter squash and bacon (though I have to admit, i WAS kind of excited about that prospect).

Thanks to Greg Plotkin for hooking me up with them. This just made my whole week. I woke up this morning to realize that I had eaten the last of my local eggs and was nearing the end of my potato stash and had a near meltdown. I’m still planning a trip to Whole Foods and Cork market today to glean whatever local items I can, but knowing I’ll have veggies on Saturday is keeping at bay the nagging voice in my head that tells me I can’t do this (hush, you).

And so, dear friends… I shall not wither and die without the flourescent glow and processed foods of my corner store habits. A new day has dawned! A new year! I shall succeed!

(maybe. oh god I miss avocados already. oh shut up, nagging voice. )

Local Lemons?

December 26, 2009 § 6 Comments

It’s Christmas, and of all the foods I should be craving right now, I’m thinking about lemons.  Thinking about how just a bit of zest or a squeeze of juice can transform a dish from ho-hum to bright and flavorful.  Salt does a similar thing, as well as red pepper (for me). It wakes up your taste buds, balances sweetness and cuts through oil and fat to wake up the flavors underneath.

Can I therefore consider lemons a kind of spice, a condiment, a flavor enhancer? I realize this sounds like I’m trying to rationalize citrus as a local food in the Mid-Atlantic… and perhaps I am a little.  I know lemons will never be local here, but in the same way that it would be a serious detriment to my food life to be without olive oil, so it would to be without lemons.  So the lemons stay. As an enhancer, not as a main ingredient. As it goes now, I only use 1 or 2 a week (if any) so it’s not as if I will have a huge impact.

Since this is supposed to be a permanent change, and not a year long gimmick, I’m giving myself a little slack.  And in the spirit of transparency, I want to be honest about these things.

And besides, a life without lemons is just hardly worth living at all.  Everyone needs a little sour to their sweet 😉

Merry Christmas to all!

Snow Day in DC

December 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Yesterday it snowed over 2 feet in DC, which means I basically did not leave the house all day… which means I cooked, a LOT. There were 3 girls and a miniature poodle all huddled up in my apartment, and the only things that kept us sane were Christmas movies and the glorious smells coming from the kitchen.

We woke up early and, after the full pot of coffee was on and we’d had the first sip, we started on breakfast.  Fried New Morning eggs and Bev’s bacon, with toast and homemade warm pear/applesauce from Toigo Orchards fruit.  It was a bit indulgent, yes, but it was 8am and there was already a foot of snow on the ground. It was clear we were in for a long day and no one felt the need to be prudent. 

Around 1pm we managed to be hungry again, and the lone butternut squash in my fruit bowl was called in action.  Alli whipped up a gorgeous soup, all golden and shiny, and paired it with a grilled cheese made with chevre, mozzarella, and Dubliner.  Of all the incredible things Alli makes that I am blessed to eat, her sandwiches may very well be my favorite. Once she made a midnight snack for us out of some leftover bread, goat cheese and a juicy yellow tomato slice lightly fried in butter. After 8 months of her delicious, inspired food, that late night open-faced sandwich is still at the top of my favorites list. 

As we were eating lunch we were already thinking of dinner, though we had mostly cleaned out the fridge by that point.  Two half empty, week old bottles of wine languished in the fridge, along with some slightly soft carrots and an onion or two.  I remember a small brisket in my freezer I had bought around Thanksgiving from our friend Daniel, who own Pecan Meadow Farm, at the 14th & U St Market.  Having grown up in Texas, the only brisket I ever ate was my father’s slow smoked version.  And though that remains my favorite way, Alli took the little brisket and the remaining contents of my fridge and made a boeuf bourgognion even Julia would have been proud of.  

We started it around 2pm, and by 7pm the house smelled like a French bistro and my mouth was watering.  To work up our appetite a bit, and to ward off the cabin fever, we took Oliver for a walk around in the snow.  I’ve never seen DC so peaceful and quiet.  No cars on the road, just a few other brave souls with their pups out for a snowy stroll.  By the time our noses started to get too cold, we were on our way home for dinner. The wonderful aroma of dinner on the stove warmed us immediately.  Some local baby yukon gold potatoes were added, and we tucked in to the glorious thing.  I can’t imagine a more comforting meal on a cold winter’s night.  

I hope everyone stayed safe in the storm, and that you made the most of your snow day.

Bread and Wine, Milk and Butter

December 17, 2009 § 2 Comments

I had drinks last night at the Darlington House cantina with Greg Plotkin, a grant writer for American Farmland Trust/Sustainable Food and Poverty in America blogger for Change.org/all-around food and farmer lover (which makes him an instant friend in my book).  The following things came up:

1. Starting this year of local eating in January was a rather terrible idea. 

2. What was my plan for alcohol? God knows I’m not going dry. Is there local beer around here? Wine for sure I could do (thank you,Virginia). Though the thought of a year without my beloved tequila makes me sad inside. (note: need to find someone who is going to Mexico and will smuggle me back some. anyone?!?)

3. I should consider joining a CSA to keep costs down and make my life easier on Sunday mornings when I can’t get to the Dupont Market. Greg is a part of Star Hollow Farm, which conveniently has it’s drop point within spitting distance of my house in Adams Morgan.  They also have an online ordering system so you only get what you want (it’s a super high-tech CSA, if there is such a thing).  Wrote them an email, waiting to hear if I got in!! Feels like college applications all over again!

4. Is bread from a local bakery good enough, or will I need to make my own? Will need to research ingredients of breads at the markets.  If made from organic, American flours, may buy from them.  I would like to try to make the majority of my food from scratch though… so perhaps just one loaf per week?  I’m fear dying of starvation if left to my own bread making skills.  (Update: I’m saved!!! Atwater’s Bakery is delicious, sells at Dupont, and is the perfect example of what a sustainable, local food business should be- check it)

So I definitely left this conversation with some questions, but also a lot of answers. Greg is a veritable fount of resources for local food, so I’ll be adding many of the places he gave me to my lists of Where to Eat and Where to Find Food.  For instance… did you know the new Cork Market sells Trickling Springs milk and butter?  I’m saved!!  Local bacon, eggs, bread, and butter and I’ll live through this winter yet.

Amber Waves of Grain

December 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

As I move closer and closer to my official start date, realizations about how I will be eating next year begin to creep up.  It occurs to me that starting this experiment in the dead of winter without having stored up anything from the summer was probably not the smartest idea.  But I’m all in now, so I’ll just have to figure it out.  There is still winter squash out there, and some greenhouse lettuce, and stored potatoes, cabbage, and apples. And meat. Lots of meat. I have a sneaky feeling I have inadvertently put myself on the Atkins Diet until summer.

Which leads me to this issue… What grains do I eat, in any season? What grains even grow in this foodshed?

I know one place that sells whole wheat flour and wheatberries (Moutoux Orchards), but i haven’t seem them at the Dupont Market in a while. And I’m betting I’ll go through that pound of Moutoux flour I have in my freezer pretty quickly.  I’m wondering if I can get rice, oats or corn grits (polenta) anywhere around here, because if it came down to it i could happily survive on polenta with local goat cheese and cream for… well forever probably.

I have decided that I will probably need to have some not 100% local white flour in my pantry, because you just can’t do everything with whole wheat. BUT, it will be organic and will only be used sparingly, not as a main component of a meal.  White flour is terrible for you anyway, so I’ll be better off with out it.

Even if I can find my own grains, what about legumes? I love lentils and beans, and they are so good for you… is it even profitable for farmers to grow such things for sale? There are so many huge operations out there.  I have seen lima beans and such during the late summer at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, so I might just have to wait until then.  But even if a bean crisis does arise, you can be rest assured I will not be using canned beans.  The whole bisphenol-A leaking into my food from the can thing turns me off. Rather a lot.

And so it seems that I am desperately searching for those two staples of most of the world- beans and rice.  The fact that I am complaining about only being able to eat grass-fed meat and organic vegetables, while missing out on beans and rice, would probably get me shot in most countries. I spent some time staying in orphanages in the Dominican Republic many years ago, and it was there I first learned about the realities of food shortages, and how cooking for others was truly an act of love and hospitality. I lived on red beans and rice.  Then the women slaughtered a goat, and served it for supper, braised and soaking in its own delicious juices.  I’ve never felt so honored, or so humbled.

Living on an island takes food security to another level.  As a young woman who had never thought about where food came from (except the grocery store of course), it amazed me that they raised their own chickens and goats, and could feed themselves off their own land.  Living in DC, i can’t quite do that yet… but someday I will.  I can visit the place my food is grown and raised, spend time there, and absorb the place that nurtures the food that nourishes me. At least for now, knowing that the food I eat is grown by the land and hand of people I know and trust will have to be enough.

The Experimental Year of Local Food

December 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Well, here goes… something, i hope. In an effort to eat and live more consciously (and deliciously), I’ve decided to take the whole of 2010 and make it an experiment. Is it possible, for a young woman living in a city, on a nonprofit worker budget, who loves food more than anything, to eat completely locally and sustainably, and still maintain her rather high quality of life?

Well, I think so… but I’m about to find out.

I know I’m not the first to take on such an experiment (Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was life-changing for me)… but for each of the books and stories i read, there was this nagging voice in my head that said “oh sure, of course they can do this. they are writers by profession and sit at home all day thinking about what local food they can have for lunch and then wax poetic about. i’m lucky if I can remember to grab a pop tart while i’m running out the door to the Metro every morning, much less where that pop tart came from, what its made of, is it healthy, real food, who made it and were they paid fair wages and how is this pop tart affecting my local economy and surrounding farming community and are these even real strawberries and if so how did they get here it’s the middle of December and does this pop tart have a bigger carbon footprint than my morning metro ride and will it actually fill me up me until lunch, oh i wonder whats for lunch at work today….”

I live in urban Washington, DC, in an apartment, with a roommate and a dog, and work full time at a local nonprofit.  I have a pretty crazy busy life (like most people), so I have no advantages there, and am fairly awful at time management.  While my job is extremely fulfilling, it also keeps me on a tight budget at home. Food and entertainment are one and the same for me, so those categories get merged. But my rent is ridiculously high (like half my paycheck), so believe me when i tell you… my budget is probably not higher than yours, or if it is, not by much.  I am also not great at sticking to plans, so this is a serious test of will for me.  I’ve never stuck to a diet for any longer than the time between meals, so a full year of successfully being hyper-conscious of everything i put into my body may take an act of God… but i’ve taken this challenge and I’m determined to stick with it. I’m hoping the structure of writing this blog will help.

So yeah. Conscious living in the midst of chaos hasn’t been my strong suit. Until now. (I hope?)

Some simple rules for this experiment:

– All food eaten must come from local sources. This means I am giving up avocados for the entirety of this year.  Which was the one realization that made me seriously reconsider this whole thing.

– As much as possible, i should directly know and trust the people growing my food.  I’m lucky to already know a few folks at my farmer’s market, but I’m going to need a lot more farmer friends if i’m going to survive this year.

– I’m not allowed to eat anything that I couldn’t plausibly make in my home kitchen (If there is an excessive amount of work involved to get the food from ground to mouth, chances are it’s not longer food.)

– In the spirit of Barbara Kingsolver’s year of food life… I am allowing myself a couple of exceptions. Like coffee. If i stopped drinking coffee you really, REALLY wouldn’t want me to write this blog. I’ve tried. It’s not pretty. But the few exceptions i do have all must come from local businesses and originally from sustainable and fair-trade sources (I’ll be fully switching to Santa Lucia Estate Coffee… i know, such a hardship. I just discovered it and it’s AMAZING. And such a great company. But more on that later…)

– I’ll be trying to stick to traditional foods as much as possible, and cutting out corn and soy products.  This means grass fed meats, pastured chickens and eggs, cheeses from grass fed animals, and if I can find it on the black market… raw milk.

I’m sure more things will come up as I’m writing and discovering new things, but for now, those are the main goals. Oh, and I’ll also be documenting my health along the way.  I am really curious to see if eating this way, which is contrary to pretty much everything the USDA nutrition guidelines tell you, is actually better for your health.  I’ve read accounts of dramatic changes… but i’ll have to see for myself.  Will eating more butter and bacon grease really be good for me?  I’m (very) wiling to find out.

At the end of the day, i just want to eat great food. Grown and raised by great people, people who deserve more recognition than they get.  I want to be able to highlight farmer heroes, and chefs that care about food and where it comes from, and local businesses that take the harder road and use local food and sustainable practices.  I want to give the people living in my foodshed a resource to find and support these people and places.  I want this real food movement to grow and become standard.  I’m hungry for change in my community using delicious, healthy food as a way to get us there…

And right now, I’m really hungry for breakfast.  And more coffee.

xoxo Erin

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