January- A Local Food Month in Review

February 4, 2010 § 7 Comments

I can’t believe my first month of local eating has already passed.  I had great success, and a few failures. 

One of the biggest rookie mistakes was my primal fear that I would starve to death.  This caused me to buy an inordinate amount of food that I did not need.  Did I eat well? Absolutely. Did I need that much food in my fridge? Probably not.  I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on my spending this month, and tracking my total weekly food costs. 

It’s not that what I was buying was terribly expensive on its own, it’s just that everytime I saw anything anywhere that was made in the Chesapeake Bay watershed I bought it…. regardless of whether or not I actually needed it.  This may have also been because it was the first month though.  Stocking my pantry is a necessity, and nothing makes me happier than a full refrigerator and a bowl of fruit on my table.  I did to well with not wasting food though.  Working at DC Central Kitchen as made me hyper aware of wasting anything, and it physically pains me to have to throw away food I’ve let spoil.  I saved tiny bits of everything and made soups or pizzas with it; I even used the chicken bones left on my plate after a meal for stock (Oh stop with your germaphobia, I’m the only one eating it!). 

Overall, I feel healthier and have much more energy.  The best thing though, is that I have a greater connection to my body, and am in tune with what it craves and needs.  I can acutely tell when I’ve eaten too much meat, or dairy, or need to add more fiber to my diet, or green leafy vegetables.  Meal by meal, I assess how I feel, and it helps me consider what I’ll eat next.  I’m sure this is something most health-conscious people do, but for me, it’s pretty new.  Before this experiment, my menu choices were based solely on taste and what sounded good.  Now I go for what feels good.  I listen to my body.  What it craves changes based on the weather, and I fully expect that as certain foods come into season, I will suddenly start to crave them.  I don’t crave strawberries or asparagus right now, all I want is dark, nutrient rich kale, and warm, filling meals.  Come May, I imagine I won’t even be thinking about kale, but instead trying to figure out how to include as much asparagus as humanely possible into my diet.  That’s the good thing about eating seasonally, you stuff yourself with what it’s seasons to the point where, once it’s gone, you don’t even want to look at it for another year.  I don’t think I could ever feel that way about kale… but ask me again in April.

Here is where I went right (and wrong):

Eating More Fat, Losing Weight– No low fat anything here, what’s the point? I have been deliciously subsisting on butter, creamline whole milk, bacon, cheese, crispy roasted chicken, hamburgers and even pasta.  Obviously, I’ve also been eating lots of winter fruit and veg (kale, potatoes, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, apples, and the occasional hothouse yellow tomato), but I certainly haven’t been trying to limit my calorie intake.  And yet, from January 1st to February 1st, I have lost exactly 10 lbs.  Frankly, I had it to lose, but it’s not like I was drinking soda and eating fast food right up until Dec 31st, 2009.  My eating habits haven’t changed all that drastically, but I do know I am eating more fat, and because of that, smaller amounts of food fill me up.  Also, I haven’t seen the inside of a gym since August and it being January and rather frigid, I definitely wasn’t outside romping around, so truly the only thing I have done is focus on the food.  It’s quite remarkable really.  A traditional diet really is the healthiest!

Eating Meat– I have decreased the amount of meat in my meals, mostly because of the expense of sustainably raised animals.  One roasted chicken can last me for a very long time.  The breasts are generally so big that I can easily get two or three meals out of each one, as long as I use the meat as a component of the meal and not the centerpiece (which makes more sense anyway).  I will usually have one or two meals per week that focus on the meat as the center of the meal (like Friday roast chicken- leg and thigh, and a grass-fed hamburger at Cafe Saint Ex), but everything else will focus on vegetables and grains, or other protein sources like cheese and eggs.  Bacon has become a great source of meaty flavor for my meals, and gives you the impression of eating lots of meat when really it’s just a few tablespoons scattered in pasta or in an omelet.

Cutting out refined ingredients and preservatives– I believe this may have had the biggest impact on my overall health.  Nothing I eat has artifical preservatives, and I now eat very little refined sugar or flour.  I have about 1/2 tsp of raw, organic sugar in my coffee each morning, but I use honey and maple syrup to sweeten anything else.  Most of the bread and pasta I eat is whole wheat, and I’ve included new grains such as wheatberries and buckwheat (which is actually not a wheat at all, and therefore gluten-free!).  I don’t ever have rice anymore, but I do eat a fair amount of polenta/grits. 

Star Hollow CSA– I think everything went right with this one. I spent about $45 every 2 weeks on local, and often organic, fruit, vegetables (including mushrooms- a great meat substitute), cheese, butter, eggs, and a stew hen that I used for stock.  The fruits and veg I buy are usually used up within the 2 weeks, but the butter/cheese etc always last me longer.  Read about my first order here.

Stocks– Making a weekly batch of chicken stock has been essential for my success.  For the chicken bones, I’ll get a little stewing hen from my CSA ($5), or some cheap/free chicken backs from EcoFriendly, and always save the carcass from a roast chicken.  Then I throw in saved vegetable scraps, a few of the cheap “juice” carrots and onions from my CSA, and whatever herbs I have (dried or fresh).  Then just fill the pot with water, bring to simmer, and leave it all day (or overnight like I often do).  I freeze the stock in 2 or 4 cup containers, and just throw it in the microwave to defrost. Good chicken stock with random bits of veggies, meats, or noodles makes an easy, healthy dinner (and lunch the next day!).

Whole Foods Market– Surprisingly, WF proved to be a great source for certain items, but also a trap for overspending.  They carry Homestead Creamery milk in glass bottles, but you have to remember to bring the glass bottles back or you won’t get your $2 back! (just take them to the Customer Service counter).  The half gallons are about $3.50, which is about the same as the Organic milks (many of which are ultra pasteurized- yuck, owned by multi-national corporations, and not nearly as “organic” as one might think.) They also carry some local produce (for CSA-off-week emergencies), cheeses, beer, and my newest favorite find- bread from small local bakeries.  They also carry Bell & Evans chicken, which is a local, large-scale chicken processing company. As far as bigb meat operations go, they are one of the best… and they are located in central PA, so it’s local for DC and NYC.  When I want a chicken and can’t get one from EcoFriendly, I’ll get a Bell & Evans. It’s not the MOST ideal (the chickens are barn raised, not pastured), but it is a good company and, since it’s a big company, it’s less expensive than other sustainably raised meats.  I usually get 1 whole bird per week (or every 2 weeks) and can make it stretch a long time.

Bread– I came to the decision that it just wasn’t feasible for me to be baking all my own bread (though I do buy only local flours from Wade’s Mill for other baking) so I’ve decided to compromise and buy my weekly bread from local bakeries.  There are rules though- no obviously exotic ingredients (like kalamata olive bread or something), and no weird modified corn or soy based ingredients (like soybean oil, which is usually genetically modified, or HF corn syrup).  I try to buy from Atwater’s Bakery at the Dupont market, but sometimes I just don’t make it on Sundays.  Whole Foods has been great alternative source- I buy organic whole wheat pitas and barbary bread from local bakeries right in their bread aisle.  Barbary bread is a fantastic pizza crust, and a flatbread pizza with whatever I have in the fridge makes for a delicious and quick supper.

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Friday Roast Chicken With Fingers

January 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

No, not chicken fingers… or even chicken with fingerling potatoes… I’m talking about roast chicken with your fingers. This is perhaps the best of all possible ways to eat a roast chicken, or anything for that matter.  In the pursuit of getting closer to your food, I advise two things: Know your farmer, and eat with your hands.

Truly I tell you, there is no way to get physically closer to the food you are eating than to get right in and tear it apart with your bare hands.  It sounds rather beastly, but I find it terribly sensual. Scooping up polenta and garlic with a torn piece of succulent chicken with crispy skin, the juice running down your hand, licking your fingers to not miss any stray bits… sigh… that is pure happiness.

I will recommend, however, that you only do this when eating alone or with someone who loves and understands you.  I prefer the former.  When I sat down at the table, I had a knife and fork in hand.  But suddenly I realized- I’m alone… I can do anything I want!  I can eat this meal with my hands and fill my wine glass all the way to the top!  It’s really quite liberating, I highly encourage you to try it 🙂

Roast Chicken with Blue Cheese Polenta, Caramelized Onions and Wilted Spinach

Preheat oven to 400. 

Ingredients:

Half of a fresh, local chicken (or whole, just double the herb butter- same cooking time)

3 tbsp fresh herbs (I used thyme, rosemary, and sage)

4-6 tbsp soft, room temp butter

Salt (preferably sea or kosher salt) and pepper

2 tbsp olive oil or bacon fat

2 red onions

6 cloves garlic

2 cups fresh spinach

Directions:

Chop herbs and mix them together with the butter.  Slather the chicken with the herb butter all over, tucking some under the skin if you can (gently slide your fingers underneath the skin at an opening, slowly pushing deeper and pulling the skin away from the meat. Push the butter up as far as you can without tearing the skin.) Massage the bird all over, adding more butter if needed. Don’t be shy with the butter, it’s necessary for a crispy skin.  Liberally salt  and pepper the bird all over, including the cavity. 

Melt the oil or bacon fat in a cast iron skillet (or heavy oven proof pan) on high heat.  Lay the bird skin side down in the pan and leave for 4-5 minutes or until very well browned.  Avoid putting the breast side down as much as possible- the breast cooks faster than the rest of the bird, and it will dry out if you cook it too much now.  Slice the onions into thick half moons and de-skin the garlic.  Once the bird is browned to your liking, scatter the onions and garlic around the pan.  Pop the skillet in the oven and set timer for 30 minutes.  While it is cooking, get working on the polenta (see below).

After 30 minutes, pull the skillet out and place it back on the stove.  Remove the chicken form the pan and place it on a cutting board to rest (if there is a lot of extra fat in the pan, you may pour off some now). Turn the stove on to medium heat and add the spinach to the onions and garlic.  Let it cook until it is just wilted and bright green (do not overcook!).  

Separate the leg and thigh from the breast by pushing your knife into the hip-joint. It should pull away very easily. Stake claim on your favorite piece now!

Put some polenta on your plate, top with spinach/onion/garlic, and place your chicken on top.  Let cool a little, then dig in with your fingers. Drink with a full glass of your favorite wine.

A simple but completely indulgent pleasure. Enjoy!

For the polenta:

1 cup dry polenta/corn grits

2 cups milk

1/2 cup water

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup soft blue cheese, or any cheese you like (I used Firefly Farms Mountain Top Bleu- a blue goat cheese. It is out of the world good. And the 2 guys who own Firefly are completely wonderful. Which makes it even better.)

Bring the milk and water to a simmer, add the salt, and pour in the polenta.  Stir slowly with a whisk or spoon until it starts to become incorporated. Turn the heat down and continue to stir for 10 minutes, or until there is no grit left when you taste it.  You may add more milk or water if it becomes too thick or sticky.  When it is done, add the cheese and stir with a wooden spoon until all is melted together. Serve immediately.

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