I almost quit this week. I’ve actually already achieved the modest goals I set out for myself in the Dark Days challenge since I only planned to go through November. In addition to local meals, I wanted to find one new local ingredient each month. October’s was grapes, and for November I’d have to say the winner is walnuts. I bought way too many at my new favorite farm stand, and Munchkin and I have had a lot of fun cracking them. (He uses any perfect half shells as "bike helmets" for his Little People.) I've also found a source for local flour, but haven't placed an order, yet.
Still sick at the beginning of this week, I felt like I was running out of local possibilities. It’s been a month since our CSA ended and I actually had to buy onions at the grocery store. I’ve purchased almost no vegetables at a regular grocery store since last June and it was a little painful. (Cheaper, but painful!) I also bought some local, but undoubtedly CAFO, chicken because I was too tired to make an additional trip to the meat market. Monday night I cooked a meal that used to be a regular standby once/week. I don’t want to admit what was in it, except to say that after eating all so much local "real" food, my old recipe didn’t taste so good anymore!
Feeling a little better on Tuesday, but thinking that local cooking was hopeless until next spring, I took inventory of what local foods I had left. To my surprise, my list kept going, and going, and going...
Still left are local: honey, walnuts, apples, pears, grape juice, garlic, a red onion, squash, potatoes, leeks, celery, beets, pickles, milk, cheese, butter, and half a cabbage I’m not sure is still good. In the freezer are local: broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, shredded zuchini, pumpkin puree, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, 3 types of freezer jam, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, chicken broth, lots of beef, half a pig including bacon and sausage, and a wild salmon steak from a salmon caught by my father-in-law at the Oregon coast. I can easily get more local dairy products, but both my local egg supplies have ended until next spring.
There’s not much left of some items, but I figure, what kind of cook am I if I can’t make a couple meals with all that?!!! So I’m still in. (But If anybody has any menu ideas, please drop me a comment!)
This week’s official local meal was simple, but tasty: pork chops, fingerling potatoes, Thanksgiving cranberry sauce (containing the only non-local ingredient: sugar), and a broccoli/cauliflower mix I froze from last summer’s CSA. It was a hit with my husband who loves meat & potatoes and so I guess I had enough local stuff to make a good meal, huh!
What I learned: For my first summer/fall of trying to get more "direct from the farmer" foods into our diet, I guess I did better than I thought!
This morning as I was getting ready to go to work, Munchkin suggested that I wear my tennis shoes. I told him I was going to wear nicer shoes because I had to teach today, but he insisted, "Tennis shoes are versatile!"
(I had to run spell checker just to know how to spell it!)
Since I hosted our family Thanksgiving, I decided to skip the meal challenge this week and just enjoy the local ingredients I was able to work into our Thanksgiving dinner. I used local honey, butter and eggs in my honey dinner rolls, local cranberries in the cranberry sauce, local walnuts in the "nuts ‘n bolts," and local celery, butter and leeks in the dressing for our free range, but not local, turkey. I also added carbonated water to my own grape juice to make sparkling grape juice, which was very good. Everybody raved about the meal. I would have enjoyed it just a little more had I not been sick and had my nose all plugged up, but such is life.
Andrew’s favorite part of the meal was ‘ssert! Here’s a picture of him eating Grandma's cookies while eyeing Grandpa’s pie!
For Thanksgiving, Scott's mom is bringing dessert, including a batch of my favorite butterscotch cookies (from a recipe adapted by my grandmother). This evening, I told Munchkin about the cookies and so he promptly turned his lego pieces into 'scotch cookies and fed them to Scott and I. At one point he breathed in deeply and said, "Mmmmm! These are smelly!"
A little over ten years ago I traveled to Kenya on a "trip of a lifetime" African safari. While there, I had hoped to taste local cuisine, but the lodges tried their best to serve European or even American food! The presentation was lovely, but the food was nothing special -- the best meal I had the whole trip I ate at an Indian restaurant. One evening, though, we were served a course of leek soup that I have tried many times to duplicate. I still haven’t found the right recipe, and perhaps I never will since I can’t duplicate the magic of the vacation.
For our local meal this week, I tried once again to reproduce that wonderful soup. I used local chicken broth (from last week), some of the last of my CSA potatoes, carrots, celery and leeks, and some non-local spices. The taste was bland and disappointing. I fried up bacon from our pig and crumbled it into the soup, which improved the flavor considerably, but I don’t think that’s how they did it in Africa!
Whenever I serve soup, I also serve something special that Scott will like, since soup is never his first choice for dinner. To dinner I added Buffalo grapes that I picked up at the farmers' market and I tried out a new recipe for honey dinner rolls that I plan to make for Thanksgiving. The rolls were wonderful, and the only non-local ingredients I had to use were flour and yeast. I served them with homemade (all local) honey butter. Let’s just say that I’d better make a LOT for turkey-day.
I haven't had any really good "cute Munchkin" stories lately, so I thought I'd post a story from one of his little friends. Heidi is 3 years old and normally is a pretty good eater. One night, however, her mom made stuffed bell peppers. Heidi eyed them suspiciously as she ate everything else on her plate. When her dad encouraged her to taste the bell pepper, Heidi replied in perfect verse,
"Sam, if you will let me be, I will try them, you will see!"
I'm getting closer, I guess. Part way through the process I wanted to scream at Ricki Carroll and her four sets of different instructions! I made one little mistake which was that I added the wrong amount of citric acid to the milk because the instructions when using milk powder are different than when using whole milk. Of course that little detail is mentioned on only one of the four sets of instructions plus video!
So the curd didn't look quite right, but I continued anyway and ended up with cheese that "stretched." That is a definite improvement and it means that my previous failed attempts were due to things I did wrong in the microwave stage, not the brand of milk. Good news. The bad news? My cheese did not taste like anything I would actually want to eat. Sigh. I've sent yet another email to Ricki's technical help person and am hoping for an answer soon.
I don't believe it. I should be a beta-tester for home cheesemaking recipes - I make so many mistakes! Armed with the how-to video, I'm trying to make mozarella again. I don't want to take any chances with the type of pasteurization of the milk, so I decided to go with the dry milk powder/cream method, which is supposed to be fool-proof. Instant milk has never been heated above 170 degrees, which is the temperature at which the proteins are damaged too much to make cheese.
So I bought instant milk and began to mix it up this morning. (You have to mix it 24 hours before you plan to use it.) Right before I added the water, I remembered that chlorinated water kills the rennet, and we have chlorinated water. Instead of running back to the store to buy bottled water, I boiled the water to get rid of the chlorine. Proud of myself for catching the chlorine problem, and delighted that the milk powder would dissolve so well, I poured the still boiling water into the powder. Anyone see a problem?
This evening I went back to the store, again, to buy more powder. I sure hope this works.
Last summer I picked up several chickens freshly "processed" from the (local) Deck Family Farm. The Decks appear to be devoted disciples of Joel Salatin (the beyond-organic farmer in "The Omnivore’s Dilemma"). I could have just picked up the chickens at the Farmers’ Market, but I was curious so I drove 25 miles to see for myself. The farm was everything they said it was, and the first chicken I roasted (at two days after slaughter) proved to be the best I have ever tasted. The down side, of course, is that it was also the most expensive chicken I have ever tasted! My gut feeling, and I plan to write a whole blog entry about this sometime, is that chickens are supposed to cost that much. Nevertheless, it’s hard on the budget, so I try to get as many meals from each chicken as I can.
On Monday of this week, I roasted the last of my Deck chickens. We had an all-local meal of roasted chicken, baked potatoes with butter & sour cream, and string beans (frozen from last summer’s CSA). After dinner, I picked off the leftover meat and made stock from the carcass.
Tuesday, I used some of the leftovers to make chicken curry. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it qualified as another local meal since I used local onions, garlic, apples and sour cream. The only non-local ingredient (besides the spices) was rice. Scott claimed the leftovers for lunch, which is his highest compliment to my cooking. :)
This evening I made one of my favorite soups, tuna cheddar chowder (don’t laugh -- it’s really good!), but substituted chicken for the tuna. I used mostly local ingredients as the recipe calls for chicken broth, carrots, onions and cheddar cheese. The Worchestershire sauce and flour were non-local. If anyone wants the recipe, drop me a comment and I'll post it. I also made biscuits, in which the only local ingredients were the butter and honey we spread on them!
So that's three meals from the chicken. I have a half gallon of broth left and more than enough meat for another meal, which I will probably make sometime soon.
The bottom line: It was all good. There’s as much difference between a happy, pastured chicken and a grocery store chicken as there is between a real and a fake tomato – darn it! Of course, I realize that the only reason I can get four meals from one chicken is that Munchkin refuses to eat anything that says, "Bock!"
What I learned: The string beans were great! I’ve never tried freezing them before, so this was a surprise. I wish I’d frozen more! Also, substituting chicken for tuna in the soup made the soup seem sweeter -- I have no idea why. I suppose it's possible that I dribbled some of the honey from my biscuit into my bowl of soup... (Friday Update: It wasn't the honey -- I had leftovers for lunch today and it was still sweet. Is chicken sweet?)
In other news: I finally ordered the video from New England Cheesemaking Supply and it arrived yesterday. I now have an idea what I might have been doing wrong, so I’m planning Cheesemaking Attempt #4 this weekend. Stay tuned...
Munchkin played "picnic" all day today. He spread out his little blankets on the living room floor, emptied my tupperware cabinet dumping the contents on the blankets, and then ordered us to sit down and eat. Some containers were "yogurt," some were "broccoli," others were "hamburger," "cream" (oh, wait, he said that was cream colored paint), and "coffee." But my personal favorite came after dinner when he set up his picnic stuff once more and served "ssert." For dessert, we had salad and ice cream. Yummy!
If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then Kim should be congratulated! The photo of her first local meal looked so good that I decided to duplicate the dinner this week. We had homemade french fries (CSA potatoes), hamburgers (local grass-fed beef & CSA onion), and fresh broccoli (local). To the hamburgers, I added Tillamook cheese, a CSA tomato (my last one, sob!), and pickles that I made last summer when I had too many cucumbers. The one non-local item was the bread for the hamburger buns. I also don’t count Scott’s ketchup since it is one of my exceptions.
The bottom line: I thought it was all very good, but after Munchkin used the french fries only to mop up ketchup and then licked the ketchup off his hamburger, he pronounced himself "full." Oh, well.
What I learned: I made the pickles with one of those cheater spice packets that brag, "Make pickles tonight!" They were OK, but nothing special. I think next summer I need to learn how to make them the right way so they’ll taste better.