Saturday, September 25, 2010

Days 1, 2 and 3

Planning ahead only works when life doesn't throw curve balls at you.

The first week of this project, we planned on taking it easy. We imagined quiet dinners at home with plenty of leftovers for quick lunches. We had also planned on the arrival of a very special baby September 12th, but this little boy had other plans.

Instead he came on September 23rd, meaning the first night of Seasonally Seattle we were at the hospital and watching his older sister. Plus, my dad came into town on short notice, meaning a house full of guests and lots of running around.

Going local isn't all that hard if you have time to prepare meals, but when you run out of time / entertain / run errands all day and return to a fridge full of raw ingredients, most of which are vegetables, frustration is sure to set in.

So was the case the first day of this well thought out adventure, when my dad and I returned after a morning of driving lots of miles and running a bunch of errands. I arrived home famished, with nothing to serve outside of some kale, eggs, flour and dehydrated beans.

In my desperation, I served my dad and I some large slabs of defrosted zucchini bread, then quickly moved onto my dinner plans, knowing that if this continued into dinner, our next year would begin looking really bleak.

I decided we needed something special to mark the start of this journey. And so I made my very first rack of lamb. I quickly learned that "Frenching" the lamb is an important step that you should ask your butcher to do for you. I didn't know that. And so I unwrapped the racks and found two large slabs of fat, of which I had NO idea what to do with. So after a quick search and watching a You Tube video in French , I earned my merits in Frenching.

Along with the lamb, I made yukon gold mashed potatoes and wilted rainbow chard, and the meal was paired wonderfully with some delicious wine my dad had brought from the Okanogan county.

Day one was a marginal success, but I had another plan to contend with as well...Dan's surprise birthday party on the 24th.

Friday came around, and I prepared chili from scratch, filled with fresh, local veggies, beans from our stash, tomatoes I had canned over the summer, and polenta from Bluebird Grains to thicken it up a bit. I also baked two loaves of bread, my first for this experiment, and set out cheese from local farmers.

I thought I had all my bases covered on the local front, until I remembered one key element to birthday celebrations: cake.

I ran all of the options through my head. I could make a crisp. I could make a pie. But could I make pie without sugar? What about cake? Suddenly, I felt very foolish. There is no replacement for sugar. Honey will do as a reasonable substitution in many cases, but there is no substitution for birthday cake.

And so another exception was added to the list. Sugar. Call me a chicken, call me a cheater, but I think it's pretty reasonable. I'll still use honey instead of sugar when possible, but I refuse to check out of birthdays and celebrations for a year. I'm only human. Besides, all of our core ingredients are local, and everything that you can get local, we will. We are still under our 10 exceptions we slotted for ourselves, and sugar seems pretty reasonable.

With everything that was going on with the babies arrival and my dad visiting, I decided to call on other resources. Cupcake Royale, an amazing cupcake shop, was happy to oblige, and I rested easy knowing that all of their eggs, milk, flour (!!!), and berries come from local farms.

The party went off without a hitch. I admit, I indulged on a lovely gift of whiskey from Japan, but otherwise, the night remained local and mighty delicious, if I do say so myself.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Broth, broth and MORE broth...

I realize that I tend to start big projects far too late in the day, often leaving me at 11pm scrambling to finish before I collapse from exhaustion. And so it goes with my broth project.

While we spent a little more on groceries this week, look at how much broth it yielded for freezing!

44 Cups of lamb broth for freezing, and another 30 cups in veggie broth. I will forewarn anyone thinking about making broth for freezing... about two seconds after taking this picture, we noticed a leak... EVERYWHERE.

Each bag was spraying out the side, which left us both scrambling to find another solution. We ran out of tupperware quickly, so poured it back into the pan to refrigerate overnight.

Today I'll be freezing the rest in our brand new tupperware bought at the store just this morning.

Ahhh, so this is why you plan ahead...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A word on celery.

Tonight I decided to make two batches of broth for freezing. One, with lamb bones, fennel, carrots, thyme, white wine, onion, garlic and fresh red pepper, and another with purely veggies.

The veggie broth called out for celery, so I obediently picked up a bunch while at the market today. By and large, I'm not a celery fan. Usually it's white or slightly yellow, stringy and bitter. I generally just try to stay away from it.

Today when I picked up celery, I was shocked. This is not the celery I'm accustomed! This vegetable, by comparison, is dark green, with large leafs, thin stalks and no strings!

Since the recipe only called for 3 ribs of celery, and I had another 9 left over, I decided to freeze the rest, thinking ahead for future batches of veggie broth, as well as Thanksgiving stuffing.

I find that my new mentality is freeze, freeze, freeze... storing everything imaginable and trying to waste as little as possible. Our trash bin is small, our compost bin is huge, and I feel that these small changes are fairly easy to make. I hope this spirit remains for the rest of the year!

Week 1: Nature's Bounty

Wednesday marks the beginning of our "going local" journey, so today was our first official grocery run. As usual, we headed to the Ballard Farmer's Market to shop, which wasn't too crowded thanks to the torrential downpour earlier in the morning.

On my "to-do" list this week is homemade lamb stock for freezing, so extra carrots, celery, thyme and onions were all needed. My dad is also staying with us this week, so we ended buying much more than usual.

Here is what we ended up with, for a grand total of $95.00:

* 2 types of cheese
* 1 giant bag of a variety of peppers for Dan's Chili Powder experiment
* 3 bunches of Thyme
* 3 bunches of the prettiest carrots I've ever seen
* 1 giant bunch of celery
* 8 onions
* 4 organic peaches (the size of a large softball)
* 1 bag of salad greens
* 1 bunch of purple kale
* 1 bunch of rainbow chard
* 1 leek
* 1 fennel bulb
* 2 yellow squash
* 1-5lb bag of yukon gold potatoes
* GIANT bag of local (!!) peanuts. Nut butter, here we come!
* 64 fl oz of milk (Golden Glen Creamery)
* 4 lbs of flour for bread making (Nash's Produce)

Separately, at PCC, we spent another $5 on greek yogurt, another $5 on butter, and another $11.50 on a giant jar of local honey. So this week, we are at $116.50.

I recently read that a household of two spends an average of $165 a week on groceries. This is what we are trying to keep our average under this year.

We picked up our lamb this weekend, which yielded around 25lbs of meat, balancing out to be about $9 a pound. While that doesn't seem like the best deal to me, we still ended up with two racks, two leg roasts, a shoulder roast, three packages of chops and about 10 packages of stew meat.

Things like roasts and racks can be EXPENSIVE to buy at a butcher or at the market, so I think we actually got more for our money, even if we didn't save any.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


After picking up a zucchini the size of a whiffle ball bat from my mom's garden, I thought it would be great to trial run zucchini bread. I created it using all local ingredients, save the cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt (none of which I've been able to find locally). In lieu of sugar, I used local honey, which is available locally.

It takes roughly 2 1/3 cups of honey to equal that of 3 1/2 cups of sugar. Or so google told me. I obediently poured out two containers of honey to equal 2 1/3 cup, and it was like watching our money drip away slowly. Local honey is EXPENSIVE. We did some math, and realized that for each batch of zucchini bread, our cost in honey alone is around $8, not to mention the gorgeous flour we bought from Nash's, and of course farmer's market eggs. But is the cost worth it?

Before, I would take it for granted, maybe even throw parts of it away after letting it sit on the counter for a week. Now, I'll freeze one loaf for later, and let me tell you, the taste is so much sweeter.

Our commitment to this experiment remains. We officially begin next week, on the 22nd with the Fall Equinox. It seemed natural to transition with the season and frankly, more challenging to begin in fall when things are less available. It's been fascinating throughout our "prep" period, but the reality of what lies ahead is unnerving.

We are trying to keep true to eating as closely to 100% local as possible, but find that our list of "exceptions" is growing out of necessity. Essentially, anything that *can* be purchased/grown locally will be, but a life without cumin or turmeric is not the life for me.

And so our exception list goes:

* Salt
* Spices (this is new)
* Oils
* Balsamic Vinegar
* Lemons

Which means we buy locally:

* Produce
* Flour
* Grains
* Eggs
* Milk
* Yogurt
* Meats
* Butter
* Wine
* Cheese
* Snacks
* Ice cream
* Honey

Now, our whole purpose has been to determine if it's less expensive or more expensive to eat 100% locally. Throughout the summer of our preparation and planning, it has seemed that it would be cheaper. While writing our grocery list for next week, I started to doubt that. Honey. Flour. War stock of veggies. War stock of fruits. 2 Dozen eggs (at $5 a dozen). It started getting very real, very quickly how expensive our little experiment might actually become.

We will keep track of our weekly grocery expenses, to allow 100% visibility into our little economic foodie adventure. We've already listed many of the things we've bought in preparation.

And at the end of the year we will all know, is it cheaper to live locally than buying at big box grocers?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Playing in the dirt

No rest for the weary! After three full days of moving, hauling, lifting, unpacking, breaking down boxes, climbing stairs and more lifting, the home we moved into is really starting to feel like home.

With the main level complete, cooking and relaxing are now feasible. Relaxing was the furthest thing from my mind when the sun came out today, when I took advantage of the fall air and the warm sunshine to plant my first two "winter crops", which really breaks down to a cauliflower plant, a lettuce plant, rosemary, thyme and sage. It seems very small scale compared to that of my mom, who has the most natural green thumb of anyone I've ever met, but still... it was just another way to "move in" and bank on eating some of the local-est lettuce I can find this winter.

Of course, nothing in our new home compares to our pantry, where jars upon jars of tomatoes are lined up like little soldiers, waiting for their call to service. Three giant bags of beans are lined up next to the tomatoes, and next to that my dried fruit. For some reason, it feels so gratifying to have everything stockpiled in my pantry. I feel like I've prepped for winter, and all I have to do is hold on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What exactly is..."Local"

Yesterday we were in the thick of moving, and decided to stop off at Whole Foods for lunch. We were discussing our Thanksgiving plans when we realized this was shaping up to be the easiest local meal we'll make this year.

Local turkey, apple pie (from the apples I lovingly peeled and sliced a few weeks ago), pumpkin pie (not canned--the real deal from a local pumpkin patch), some root veggies and probably a crisp Kale salad. And let's not forget fresh baked bread from local flour we get from Nash's Organic Produce!

There is a tradition, however, that I feared wouldn't be the same. That tradition is simple: sitting on the couch while the turkey is cooking, watching football and eating...chips. That's right. Chips. The saltiest, greasiest chips that provide a great amount of crunch and crumb.

When I mentioned this to Dan, we started brainstorming...We could make our own! We could make them out of sweet potatoes! We could try baked versus fried! Yes!

But that also sounded like a whole lotta work, and so while at Whole Foods, I wandered through the chip aisle, just to see what is already out there.

Stickers lined the shelves - "LOCAL!" - pointing out local products. I picked up a bag. "Organic Corn Tortilla chips, made with loving care in Washington..."


"...with Organic Corn from the American Southwest". Damn.

I turned over bag after bag labeled by Whole Foods as "LOCAL", and couldn't find a single product actually from Washington.

Now, I appreciate local businesses. I think supporting local businesses is important. But Washington has lots of corn. Why couldn't they get their corn from a grower in Washington State?

I guess when it comes down to it, to truly support the little guy, or support the local farmers, you need to do just that. There is only one way to truly know where your food is coming from.

Buy direct.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oil, Food and You

I have started reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, which is a story about her families journey to eat as locally as possible, including growing their own food and raising their own meat.

The book is delicious. Her writing is beautiful and there are some great facts scattered throughout. I read this one and about had a heart attack:

"Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen...a close second to vehicular use."

She cites mass production aids such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides which use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, but the bulk of where that oil comes from is travel time. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles.

And if those figures aren't startling enough, how about this one?

"If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil EVERY WEEK."

1.1M BARRELS. One meal.

I know when I think about the planet, it's daunting to imagine overhauling my entire life to make any kind of impact. And what kind of impact would I make?

But this is easy. One meal. Impact made. Interesting food for thought.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Location Unknown

As we've prepared for this journey into local eating, there have been many things and products that have eluded us. Local beans sent me on a winding journey 150 miles east to Quincy, and we all know my tomato drama.

But two products in particular seem challenging to find locally, and nearly impossible to make / can / preserve at home. Tofu and Greek Yogurt.

After a preliminary search for tofu, I found several "local brands", one of which looked especially promising. Island Springs Tofu is sold at health-food stores and co-ops throughout the Seattle area, and from all marketing efforts, struck me as a very "local" company. They create their product on Vashon Island, a quick ferry ride from Seattle, and boasts natural ingredients and certified organic soybeans.

I was about to breathe a sigh of relief until I spoke to a representative of the company directly, who told me their soybeans do in fact come from the American Midwest. Apparently, Washington is a tough place to grow soybeans...and while I think this company is fantastic for it's local roots, it's just not local enough for the year ahead.

On the Greek Yogurt front, I was already investigating home yogurt makers at Bed, Bath & Beyond when I received an email from "3 Greek Gods", a local yogurt company based 20 minutes north of downtown Seattle.

Hello Amy -

I hope you are well today.

Thank you for taking the time to write us an email and for your interest in our products.

We manufacture our products in WI and WA. The product that is manufactured in WA is within a 250 mile radius of Seattle. Since we sell quite a bit of product, it is hard to determine exactly which product comes from WI.

Please have a great day.

Thanks again,
Steve Tselios

And back to Bed, Bath and Beyond I go. Now, onto recipes for yogurt. Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fried Squash Blossoms

Well, tonight I decided to attempt the fried squash blossoms from the gems I found at the Farmer's Market today. This meal was made with local flour from Sequim, Washington, Squash Blossoms from Alvarez Farms in Yakima Valley, local Rosemary, local Garlic, and Herbed Chevre from Port Madison Farm on Bainbridge Island. I fried them in Olive Oil, and the outcome was delectable...a warm gooey center and a crispy exterior with amazing flavor.

Verdict? We love squash blossoms!

Welcome Home

Today we voyaged out for groceries at the Ballard Farmer's Market. It's been awhile--about two weeks--and I realized as soon as I heard the street musicians how much I missed this whole experience.

Immediately we dove back in, buying 5 pounds of green beans (some for the week, some for freezing for winter) and other norms (braising greens, bright yellow squash, cheese and bread). We stocked up on Garlic and porridge from Blue Bird Grains, and then something caught my eye. Purslane.

I was surprised to find a veggie I've never seen before, particularly one that looks something like a common vine that grows on your house. For instance, here, doesn't it look like it blends in with the shrubbery just a little too well?

I was even more surprised to find out this veggie is something of a power-food.
It carries 7 times the amount of beta-carotene than a carrot, a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, B and and C, as well as dietary minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. I'm so excited to try it out this week, apparently it has a savory flavor that is great in stews, sautees or even as a topping on salads.

This is just another reminder as to why I love this whole experience. At a grocery store, I have my head down, throwing things in the cart that I think I need. There is no engaging, no learning, no growth. I stagnate. Here I find Purslane from a local farm, and learn from an educated, local farmer the benefits, what I should cook it with, and the health benefits involved. Beautiful!

Feeling experimental, I decided to finally give squash flowers a go. I've been eying them for weeks now, and am finally ready to figure out something yummy to do with them this week.

All in all, a great homecoming for two weary travelers who have been eating wayyyyy too much fatty, meaty foods.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tomatoes and apples and pears, OH MY!

Well, we are back from Israel, and let's just say the jet lag has been killing us. We fall asleep usually between 4pm and 7pm, and are up anywhere from 2am to 3:30am. I decided this was a great time to use my early-bird-ness to my advantage, and jumped in the car at 5am yesterday for a little road trip. My agenda? Tomatoes, beans and fruits from Eastern Washington.

First stop: Central Bean Company, Inc, in Quincy, Washington. I had researched and found they sell "Food Alliance Certified" beans on the cheap. The Food Alliance Certification ensures that farm and ranch standards are met, including safe and fair working conditions, no use of antibiotics, no genetically modified crops, reduced pesticide use, protection and enhancement of wildlife, and planting appropriately to protect erosion. While this level of certification demands a higher price tag, we still made out ok...

$15 - 25lbs of Red Beans
$15 - 25lbs of Great Norther Beans
$20 - 25lbs of Garbanzo Beans

After a tractor pulled around to bring my beans to my car, I loaded them in and headed west in search of tomatoes. I had pre-arranged with a local farmer for some, but I knew going in the 25lbs he had for me wouldn't be enough for my next canning adventure. So after swinging by his farm, I drove through Cashmere, where I found the motherlode of tomatoes.

The first stand gave me 20lbs for $20, all gorgeous, deep red Roma's. From there, they directed me to another stand, where I found them even cheaper--$.50 a pound!--and I took all he had left, in total, 30 pounds. They also had a lovely selection of fruits--$14 for a box of red pears and $8 for a box of crisp, delicious Gala Apples.

Here's a word to the wise...if you are looking for freezing, canning or drying, always ask to see their "Number 2's". These are generally the odd sizes, slightly banged up or on the verge of being too ripe to sell. They are cheaper and are great for these projects!

After driving 150 miles back over Steven's Pass this time, I arrived in Granite Falls where my AMAZING mom helped me can another 35 jars of tomatoes. Between the two of us, 7 jars at a time, we finished in about 5 hours, completely covered in tomato pulp and juice and the kitchen a disaster zone.

It was an exhausting day, but completely gratifying when looking at the jars of gorgeous red tomatoes lined up in a row. Today I've finally made it through the rest of the pears and apples, which I've frozen for pies and muffins in the coming months. And while I see we are spending more money now, I am starting to feel like this process will end up saving us money, not to mention keep us healthier all winter long.