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Three Ways Recipes Make you a Better Locavore

24 Sep

Can you follow a recipe and still be a locavore? My (blog editor, Rachel’s) answer? Yes.  An even better answer? The right recipe can make your locavore experience better!  Here are three ways I think recipes and locavorism go together.

A recipe is a guide, always, to creating an edible, flavorful food.  Some of us follow that guide more strictly than others, for any number of reasons.  Normally I take the approach of reading recipes and then totally doing whatever I want based on the ingredients I have at hand.  This works really well for me because I have a pantry stocked to the hilt with local staples, plus keep a supply of specialties and exotics.  I’ve been cooking for myself, family and friends for well over a decade, and shopping for ingredients is fun for me.  If I happen upon something that I’ve read about being really great for a particular cuisine or style of dish, or a local version of something I don’t often see (such as apple cider molasses, a recent happy acquisition) I’ll usually bring some of that home with me.  So, I’m already at an advantage (or several) because I make food into a hobby and a lifestyle.  I can’t make that a tip for anyone, but I admit that it helps.

Tip/Technique 1:  Start in the back of the cookbook/at the search function on the food blog.  Search for the ingredient you know you’re about to get from your CSA, or that caught your attention at the farmers’ market, or that you over-bought at the roadside stand.  The fresh foods I have on hand absolutely dictate what I make.  Sometimes I use a recipe all the way through, sometimes not.  If a recipe seems to rely too heavily on something out of season, I won’t make it, but I might see a cooking technique I like for the ingredient I do have.  Over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for which foods swap in and out well.  I’ve also found out what flavor combinations tend to show up together in certain cuisines, or even over all foods (cooking fat+onion+garlic seems to be part of human DNA).  In other words, I’m not going to the grocery store to buy lots of out-of-season components just to make a recipe, but I’ve honed my ability, just by simple reading and research, to have a running list of options of cooking techniques and flavor combinations (so THAT’S what to do with all that oregano…add it to the zucchini!)

TIp/Technique 2:  Baking recipes and fruit desserts can generally be done with local ingredients.  Again, if you have been shopping with a local-foods radar, you may have started making local grain, flour, honey, maple, eggs, dairy and butter part of your pantry.  If you have local cornmeal, you’ve expanded your options, and any seasonal local fruit means you can make a locavore dessert.  I want to share a very local cornbread recipe (pictured a few weeks back).  This is a recipe that’s not seasonal, just reliant on local pantry ingredients.  I need a recipe to make it…the chemistry of baking isn’t improvised; the local ingredients may or may not enhance the flavor, but it’s important to me to use local ingredients because of the positive impact it has on my community and economy.

Evolved cornbread, based off a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.

1/4 c/ 2oz/1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. honey
2 eggs
1c/245g plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 c/125g flour
1 c/145g cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
salt

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees, use a dab of butter (not from the amount above) to grease a 9×9″ or 7×11″ baking dish (or I’ve used my 10-inch cast iron numerous times, with a bottom layer of sauteed onions and peppers).

2. Beat together the butter and honey until uniform and lightly colored.  Add in eggs and beat until uniform.  Add in the yogurt and make it uniform again.  If you’re so inclined, this would be the point to add in up to 3/4 cup of finely chopped or shredded vegetables (try shredded, salted and drained and dried zucchini or cooked onions and peppers or a little amount of finely minced jalapeno peppers).

3. Combine the dry ingredients together, whisk so they’re evenly mixed.

4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones (the butter-honey-egg-yogurt mixture) and mix up until well combined (again, it should look uniform in texture, no flour streaks).  Pour or scrape out into your baking dish and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown.  Cool a bit before cutting and serving.

Tip/Technique 3: The right recipe should be followed, when it focuses on a local and seasonal ingredient.  The conditions of “the right recipe” are laid out above.  Following a great recipe will make you a better cook, even if you only make the recipe exactly that way one time.  Even though you might know how to combine the ingredients in the dish, even if you don’t think bringing out the measuring devices for such a simple list of ingredients would be necessary, this is your chance to really learn from someone, right off the pages of a cookbook.  And this is how you will learn how to maximize in-season foods to their real, great potential.  That particular ratio of ingredient x to spice y, cooked in that particular order, will make a flavor different.  It’s the physics, chemistry and alchemy of recipes that naturally came into existence–these great recipes were born from co-availability of the best of ingredients, not some random combination of foods from far away places.  A few enhancements make it in, a result of trade and awareness, but a really great recipe highlights that locally-available food in a special way.

This became clear to me a few weeks ago over something called salsa de dedo.  I’d picked up some tomatillos.  I had just a pint, and I knew I wanted to make a sauce.  It just seemed right for the end of summer, and I recalled making a green sauce with pepitas and orange juice from a favorite cookbook.  I really was hoping for something new to try out from my gigantic Latin America cookbook, and maybe not relying on those out-of-location ingredients.  Since a lot of Latin cuisines (but not all, not by a long shot) were born out of a tropical climate, I was thinking I’d be following tip #1 above: just look for the technique to feature the tomatillos.  Then I saw a curious listing under tomatillo, “salsa de dedo,” which translates to “finger sauce.”  Knowing that more than one cuisine has a condiment or snack that is named because you have to lick your fingers after eating it, I thought this could be very interesting to read about.  My curiosity was beyond rewarded when I realized salsa de dedo could be so very locavore.  Tomatillos, dried chiles (I did substitute the type I had dried from last summer for what was called for in the recipe), white onion, garlic, vinegar, cilantro, dried oregano, and tomatoes. Just cumin and salt were non-local at this time of year.  Going back to my previous point, I wouldn’t look at this recipe in february and think I should run to the grocery to buy all the produce (though it is that good).  I’d hope I’d frozen or canned some, but that’s another story.  I really really love this sauce.  This is what tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and cilantro were supposed to do with each other.  With all credit to cookbook author and chef Maricel E. Presilla (her tome Gran Cocina Latina is worth it, even to this vegetarian who must pick up techniques between pork and chicken recipes), here is the gist of her recipe for Salsa de Dedo:

Roast a little over a pound of plum tomatoes (like Romas or sauce-making tomatoes) in a hot, dry skillet, turning occasionally.  I used my broiler because I needed the stovetop space.  Roast until the skin is blistered and the tomatoes are cooked-about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a pound of tomatillos in water to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.  Also simmer a few dried hot peppers (she calls for up to 7 dried chile de arbol, but I used 1 dried serrano I knew to be fairly hot in a half recipe) for 10-12 minutes until softened.  Drain the boiled veggies, cool everything while chopping a white onion and 3 cloves of garlic.  Blend/process first until smooth and paste-like: the chiles, the white onion and garlic cloves; then add the roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, 1/4 cup vinegar (local cider vinegar works for me), 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or about 1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves, which you’re likely to find in your garden, at market, or from a friend), 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Blend/process until the veggies are broken down but still chunky (this is why you did the onions and garlic separately, first).  Taste, then lick your fingers.  It’s great on cornbread.

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Wednesday Worksheet #2: Spread the Word!

11 Sep

In a new move for this blog, we’ve come up with four printable worksheets, which we’ll post on Wednesdays this month.  We all need a little back-to-school type fun this month, right?  So download, print and enjoy!  If you feel so inclined, snap a photo of yourself and your worksheet and share with us on Facebook and Twitter!  Make sure you tag, tag, tag!

locavore tags

This week we are providing you with a worksheet that is very near to our hearts at NOFA-NY.  As we are constantly interacting with people who are new to our organization, we’ve learned the value of concise messaging about the our mission, vision and any program we run.  Similarly, you’ll be able to talk with confidence about the Locavore Challenge if you’ve crafted sort of an elevator pitch to explain why you just refused the boxed (and not from a source you’re including in your local-foods diet) cookies at your staff meeting.

Week 2 Worksheet: Activity Week 2 LC 2013

Missed week 1? That’s this worksheet: Activity Week 1 LC 2013

breadandbutterplate

Week 2 Theme: Sharing Stories, Making Friends via Local Organic Food

9 Sep

TOTW: Sharing Stories, Making Friends via Local Organic Food

Welcome to week two, Locavores!  This week is about being able to be bold and outspoken about your Locavore Challenge.  It’s about sharing!

How do we use food to connect with our situations, our surroundings, other people, and our internal selves?  How do we build community through our locavore activities?  For example, how can you get more people excited about your harvest dinner because it’s locally sourced, and not just because it’s a meal they were invited to?  There’s little more instinctive than food–eating seasonally and from the surrounding area is a time-tested way to tune into your surroundings and to connect with those who share your space, from your kitchen table to your farmers market.  Talk up what you’re doing to everyone around you, and share something awesome you’ve made (or simply cut up and put salt and pepper on), and see where it takes you.

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sharing is as sweet as a local, ripe peach

locavore tags

Reach Out: Your #Locavore Friends are Waiting!

8 Sep

As we begin week 2 of the Locavore challenge, we’re thinking of the ways that food brings us together.  Most shared meals have this effect, but consider how eating locally offers the chance to make friendships, build new bonds, and keep your community and environment a place to live well.  Perhaps you don’t count farmers as regular dinner guests (but invite them, they may really appreciate someone cooking for them after a day of harvesting winter squash), but going out to a farmers market, buying their food, then treating it with interest and eating it with appreciation all go into building community with local food.  Imagine if nobody did that–what would happen to the farmer, the farmland, and your surroundings?  Now, imagine a brighter future.  What would happen if everyone who went to the farmers market convinced ONE friend, co-worker, or acquaintance to meet them at the farmers market.  How many more farmers would be supported?  How much more food would be available?  How much stronger would the local economy be?  (If you’re interested in some studies on the impact of small local farms, including how they tend to purchase more of their inputs from local sources, check out studies from the Dyson School of Agriculture Economics and Marketing at Cornell and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems).

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

So, what happened in week one?  We saw a big uptick in blog visitors, some action on Facebook and Twitter.  One Twitter user, Amy Reinink, tweeted us photos her yogurt-in-progress.

She even strained it to make it Greek-style and posted about the challenge on her blog!  Way to go, Amy!

Our summer intern Maddy (you’ll read a post from her in a few weeks) has been working to engage community and bringing them to action through Think Local Geneseo.  Here some reasons those people gave why they’re taking the Locavore Challenge:

“I care about local farmers and their families”

“It tastes better”

“Factory farming is wasteful”

“I trust local produce”

“It makes sense”

See all the great reasons on their Facebook photo album.

Many locavores spent a few days last week sharing in traditional foods and activities of Rosh Hashanah.  They were brought into community through shared symbols, faith and for those who saw the connection, through local food-sharing.  It was indeed possible to have a very sweet Locavore Rosh Hashanah, with local apples and honey representing the sweetness anticipated for the new year.  We loved reading blogger Leah’s latest post at Noshing Confessions.  What inspiration, as usual, on good food and making the most of the seasonal bounty in the context of age-old traditions.

Some of us have families that give us instant community, and we can share the locavore challenge with them.  Sarah Raymond, Membership and Development Coordinator, is going through her first Locavore Challenge with NOFA-NY.  Here’s how her first week went:

“This September, as part of my Locavore Challenge, I plan to bring more dialogue into and emphasis on our food activities as a family.  As the month rolls on, I will help my kids keep their own Locavore journals, full of drawings, photographs, recipes we used together, stickers, stories, and most likely, a few smudged food marks. I think it can turn out to be a nice little family tradition every September. We began this week by going to our local farmer’s market. The kids picked out some peaches and blueberries to savor and share while exploring the market. Sure enough, not long after the first few bites, a group of kids had congregated together, each investigating and sharing each other’s food, with their parent’s approval of course. That’s one of the great things about food, it brings people together. For my kids, I want them to know that sharing healthy food is a way to show others their love and respect for them. In toddler terms, we like to give people healthy foods to eat because we care about them and want them be healthy so they can have fun.”

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Others among staff were impressed that a few words spoken to some fairly new friends (“I’m eating local foods as much as possible this month”) had a noticeable impact on those friends’ food-buying habits.  At a recent Labor Day dinner, the hosts were very excited to tell Rachel, Beginning Farmer Coordinator, that the tomatoes were from HER farmer (one she’d pointed out to them upon a chance encounter at the Brighton Farmer’s Market).  Everyone at the party agreed they were some of the meatiest, most delicious tomatoes they’d ever tasted.  True, when someone hears you’re trying to eat mostly local foods this month, you may have to convince them why you think it’s important (it may not be an instant sell).  But if you talk about the challenge in the right way, you can indeed effect change.   More on that later this week! Wednesday’s worksheet will help you come up with a Locavore Sales Pitch, so start thinking about why you are taking the challenge so you can tell others about it.

Let’s end this rumination turning the locavore challenge into a community-builer with some kitchen ideas that take a spin on one of our classic locavore activities.  That activity, appropriate to Grandparent’s Day (today), is to interview a relative about a food tradition.  That’s always a fun one, as some of our past blog posts show.  Decades ago, locavore eating was the only eating, and our grandparents (or great-great-grandparents) might not think of this challenge as anything but normal.  That’s where traditional foods and regional cuisine comes from–what used to be the best things to eat in that place and time.  If you’re low on inspiration from traditions, culture or passed-down recipes, try to make some new ones to repeat.  First think, “What are my local foods?  What’s available (farm-fresh) to cook with today?”  Work backwards to find a recipe that uses that food.  We have plenty of ideas collected on Pinterest.

One more crazy idea (and if you e-mail us a picture, we might just post it here next week) to share with friends and family.  Pick one ingredient.  A fruit or vegetable will be easiest.  Obtain a lot of it (perhaps in various varieties, from different farmers).  Then make a feast out of it.  Don’t just cook one dish with it.  See how many different ways you can play with that one ingredient.  Chances are that next year, whomever you invited to your Broccoli Brunch, your Carrot Circus, your Pepper Potluck Party, your Eggplant Eating Extravaganza, your Tomato Tournament or your Zucchini Zone will want to join in the fun again!  Voila! A Locavore tradition!  Try a variety of dishes, some cold, some hot, some raw, some not, to marvel over that one ingredient’s flavor and texture in all its forms.

lots of kinds of zucchini to test out!

Zucchini "Carpaccio"

raw zucchini salad (Martha Stewart)

2009_08_14-TomatoSalad.jpg

grilled zucchini and tomato salad (the kitchn)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

ugly and therefore tasty zucchini chips

zucchini parmesan chips (smitten kitchen)

Pickle Recipe

quick zucchini pickle on toast with cheese (101 cookbooks)

zucchini ice cream (flavor of italy)

On Finding Balance: 5 Strategies for Happy Locavore Times

3 Sep

Lea Kone, a Rochester local who’s worked in the organic farming advocacy world since 2008, writes in today.  Read on for an in-depth look at how she works Locavore principles into her life year round.

Five years ago, I went on a relaxing Caribbean vacation with two books packed for beach reading–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I am not entirely sure what inspired the local-foods themed picks, but I do know this: After that vacation, my life was never the same. I flew through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s prized non-fiction account of her family’s year-long attempt to eat only food that they grew themselves or could obtain locally. Everything about the book – from Kingsolver’s exquisite writing, to the recipes, and even the facts and figures in the footers– drew me in and made me want to do what they were doing.  I was hungry and ready to become a local foods “disciple” and to spread the word about how eating local and organic could save the world.  And that was when I became a believer. I quit my job, moved back to New York and began a career in the organic farming and advocacy field. You’re thinking “she did all that just from reading two books?” – the answer is yes.

I was terrified for my first day of work in the organic farming advocacy sector, not because it was a new job, or because it was a new “field” to me.  I had no idea what to anticipate for those things, but my actual panic was about what to pack for lunch.  I was in the process of moving into a new apartment, I hadn’t unpacked a single kitchen utensil and had zero idea how I was I going to whip up some amazing local, organic, and seasonally appropriate dish to bring for lunch.  Would my coworkers ask where the grain from my bread was grown? Was my cheese local, organic or both? Was it better to bring a vegetarian meal or show my commitment to pastured protein sources? I thought that being committed to “the good food revolution,” and working within the field meant that I must become the ULTIMATE LOCAVORE immediately.  I did not encounter sideways looks or a shunning based on my lunch choices.  I have since learned that the community of locavores is encouraging, but most of the pressure to perform comes from within.  During the Locavore Challenge, we have a chance to put more focus on our habits and what more we can do, and this is a good thing.  In those first few days of wanting to be the best possible locavore, I had some lessons to learn about what really mattered to me in that department.

wheattasting 077

Eating locally and organically can be (but doesn’t have to be) over-thought and stressful. The truth is that this change to local and organic is supposed to be a good, healthy and happy change in your life, but forcing yourself to become The Ultimate Locavore is too much.  It’s too much change, too fast, and too absolute.  Now that I think about it, that’s a good life lesson in general, but it’s an imperative lesson when becoming a Locavore, and more importantly, a Locavore who still sees their friends. [Editor’s note: don’t forget that you can engage your friends and find new ones through the locavore challenge, though Lea certainly has a point here about not creating Locavore-colored walls around yourself].

When I participated in the very first Locavore Challenge in 2010, I tried to approach it like an Iron Man Challenge. I stripped my cabinets bare of any imported pastas, oils, sugars, and regionally un-identifiable canned beans and vegetables. I trained like I was a future Olympian as well, pre-preparing tomato sauces, chicken broths, crackers, breads and soups.  I made local, organic ice creams and plum upside down cakes for desserts, became a connoisseur of fine sustainable New York State Rieslings and turned my nose up at people with bananas or peanut butter.

locavore pig

So, “Fine,” you might grumble, “You’re great at being a Locavore.  What’s the problem?” Well, attempting the Locavore Challenge with too much force, as an obsession and with an all-or-nothing approach rather than a passionate pursuit with some self-forgiveness and flexibility built in, will probably wear you out.  Going “cold (organic) turkey” is a tough approach for anything.  You’ll know if you’ve taken it too far, because the next thing you know you’re 20 days (or 2 days) into the challenge and hiding in a dark corner of your local bar on a Wednesday night inhaling a piece of pizza made with ingredients from who-knows-where, contemplating a non-organic, not-lovingly-prepared, not-local chicken wing, and rationalizing it all because you are drinking a Peak Organic NY Local Series Beer and muttering incoherently under your breath “at least I know where my hops come from.”   For the record, Peak Organic is brewed in Maine, but that particular brew is produced with all NY state ingredients.  Take it a little easier than the perfection approach, find the areas in which you can sanely and reasonably challenge yourself to do more, and you’ll find yourself increasing your Locavore lifestyle without that binge effect.

Top 5 List for Becoming a Locavore Living and still LIVING

5. Identify your breakfast options right away. It is the most important meal of the day, and if you start your day as a grumpy, hungry, unprepared Locavore, you are going to be sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts sulking and ashamed by Day 3.

My Breakfast Go-To: Fritttata (that’s EASY EGG DISH in Italian)

A frittata is as good, if not better, cold than hot and great for lunch or dinner too. Start by sauteeing local veggies, bacon (if desired) and potatoes. Add beaten eggs, cheese, and seasoning. Heat until set and then finish under the broiler.

4. Discover local grains. Wheat berries, freekeh, rolled oats, cornmeal and local wheat flours are going to change your world. Open your arms to them.
Grains (photo: John-Paul Sliva)

My Local Grain Go-To: Polenta (that’s CORN MUSH in Italian)

It is easy to make, super versatile, and is good for any meal of the day. Try it with a poached egg and salsa in the morning, or with cheese, sausage and roasted veggies for lunch of dinner.

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3. Commit to one afternoon or evening in the kitchen. It’s no surprise that a little advance planning and preparation
can make a world of difference. Pick one day, either the same day or shortly after a market or CSA day and go nuts in the kitchen.

My Day: Sunday

My market of choice is Sunday morning, and for me, it just makes sense to shop, come home and wash and prep all of my market bounty [Lea’s not the only one hip to this plan]. I like to start by roasting a whole chicken, and then turn that into a soup that I can enjoy well into the week.

My Chicken Soup: Shredded chicken with homemade broth, and chock full of the extra roasted veggies from the roasted chicken. My favorites: carrots, onions, fennel, parsnips and potatoes. This becomes a hearty stew like soup that embraces all of the flavors of late summer and early fall.

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Cut up and roast a big pan of root vegetables on your in-the-kitchen day. You’ll have food for now and the start of hearty salads and sides later in the week.

2. Set realistic goals. Will you choose a few non-local items that you must have: coffee, tea, peanut butter and eat 100% local otherwise? Will you just eat local at home? Or will you try and replace certain items in your cupboards or refrigerators with local alternatives?

My Goal: To eat 90% local and organic.

This is really my goal all year, and its really my aim for it to be as close to 100% as possible, but I believe that setting reasonable and achievable goals is always better than setting oneself up for failure. This season is bountiful with local products, so I start by stocking my fridge exclusively with local and organic fruits and vegetables. I choose local grains, beans, meats and dairy products as well, and allow myself to add small amounts of non-local oils, seasonings and accents (like the occasional lemon or Parmesan cheese). That sets me up for being nearly 100% at home, and allows me to be open for what options I may have before me while eating with friends or family.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

1. Be real. Let yourself be human, and don’t aim for perfection. Even the most committed local and organic food experts have occasions when they eat chocolate and bananas and drink coffee and tea. Of course, they prefer Equal Exchange, Fair Trade and Organic to Dole, Nestle and Folgers, but you get the gist. This isn’t the Organic Olympics or the Sustainability Seminary. Give yourself a break and just focus on enjoying the delicious food.

Capturing the Locavore Spirit on the Road

21 Sep

[From Rachel]

I have traveled a lot this summer, and it has truly been great.  Each of the NOFA-NY on-farm workshops I have been to (and which I have planned) included a shared meal, and since there were farmers involved, the food was naturally sourced from nearby.  Additionally, when I travel, I tote meals, ingredients and just about anything I can to avoid relying on restaurants, though I do seek out natural foods stores with prepared foods, or restaurants with an organic and farm-to-table perspective about ingredients sourcing.  Chains are out of the question for anything besides stay-awake emergency coffee.  Mostly, I stick to my stash of fruits, homemade bread, and whatever leftovers I’ve boxed up for the trip.  I’d like to take some time to tell you how this went for me on a recent trip to Long Island, New York City and Poughkeepsie.

This trip presented me with a challenge to being able to control the food I’d consume on the road.  I was faced with a significantly long trip for which I could not pack enough to supply each meal.  This was hard for me, but I was comforted knowing that I’d be near farms and farmers’ markets and staying in houses, not hotels without kitchens.  I packed ingredients to make cornbread for my first stop–a field day and potluck at Quail Hill Farm (all the way at the tip of Long Island).  After an 8.5-hour trip (I drive slowly and take frequent breaks), I arrived at the house of two of the farm’s apprentices.  I was a bit road-weary, and I thought I’d have to break my local-foods vow with a scoop of ice cream (but I crossed my fingers for a locally-owned scoop shop, at least).  Never fear, they told me, they had half a pint of Ronnybrook ice cream that they had to save from melting during hurricane Irene’s power outages at the farm.  So I guess it never hurts to ask, and I was glad to have that to calm me down after the trip, while I stood in the kitchen and chatted about recent goings-on with the farmers.

The next day I had to find lunch.  Being in the Hamptons, there was not a shortage of delicious food that I could have spent money on, but would it satisfy my desire for a simple, local meal?   The fields were right there, and there was a kitchen available–why would I step off a food-producing establishment to get food from far away?  So I got the full Quail Hill Farm CSA member experience.  I harvested what was left over after the members had gone through and picked a few days prior, according to the very nice directional signs.  Quail Hill Farm’s CSA is almost entirely pick-your-own, a neat concept!  I got a little greedy gleaning off the plants and from the storage cooler (with everyone’s blessing) and was soon toting a bag of radishes, turnips, kale, spinach, herbs, peppers and tomatillos.  A weird mix, and I was really hungry, and a little disconcerted by the beachy humidity and wind.  I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got back to the kitchen.  Wash, slice and steam those veggies.  With food that fresh, it’s all I would need to do.  While the veggies steamed and released incredible smells, I chopped up some herbs.  I dotted a little Ronnybrook salted butter into the hot steamed veggies, and poached an egg for protein.  It was pure meditation on vegetables…and it was delicious.  It made me laugh when people passed by and commented on the wonderful look and smell of the food.  I couldn’t really take credit for much of that–the quality of my meal was a direct reflection on the skill and care taken by the farmers in raising healthy and vigorous plants bearing beautiful edible products.  And to think I had not prepared any of this ahead of time!

The turnips (red skin) look like radishes, and the radishes (watermelon variety) look like turnips!

At the potluck dinner, it was clear that we were in fall mode.  We enjoyed cornbread, baked pasta, squash and pasta salad by a fire, while we watched and felt the cold front move in.  I think everyone in New York felt that shift at about 6pm last Wednesday.  Songs were sung and company was enjoyed…then we all ran to our cars to get warm again.  It was such a low-key moment, when locavorism was unspoken and assumed.  As I left, Scott Chaskey, the 22-years-running farmer at Quail Hill, former NOFA-NY Board President, current Board member, presenter of our field day, and superb writer and amazing human being, sent me off toward the next leg of my trip with a jar of the farm bees’ honey and another pint of ice cream.  The generosity of the farmers’ gestures is an example of what makes local food work, and why it’s worthwhile.  I had no food for lunch, and there was the easy route of going to a restaurant.  But I would have sat there alone and eaten.  End of story.  But at the farm, there were kale and other veggies to be gleaned and radishes and turnips were sitting in storage.  From that, I got a meal so simple and elegant it would take Alice Waters’s breath away.  I still ate alone, but in the company of the spirit of generosity from the farmers.  Farmers want to feed you!  So give them that opportunity!  Visit their stands, their stalls at market, join their CSAs, attend their events.  You’ll end up with a feeling of sublime satisfaction, both emotional and physical.  

That was only days 1-2 of my trip!  Over the next few days, I was hanging out with my college friends in the city.  Normally I try to eat all the exotic foods that I can’t cook for myself when in New York City.  This time I wondered how I would fare, given a tighter budget and a commitment to seeking local foods (there are some great but upscale local-ingredients restaurants in the city, but I wondered if I really had the energy and funds to go that route for a few days).  It ended up that I didn’t go totally locavore in what I ate, and I am okay with that.  Here’s why:  I was MORE of a locavore than any recent NYC trip in my recent memory.  I was outspoken about my commitment to eating local and organic–I remained true in spirit, if not in actual action.  For starters, I ate both dinners in my friends’ apartment.  I can’t remember the last time we had not chosen to go out to celebrate my being in the city.  The first night, it was a simply meal that my one friend prepared (not using local ingredients, but the care and emotion taken in a meal came from within a 250-mile radius, and I accepted without judgment or hesitation).  I declared that I would cook for Saturday’s dinner.  We invited another friend living in the city, and my plan hatched.  I discovered a tiny new Greenmarket in the Socrates Sculpture Garden, several blocks from their apartment.  I scoped it out and scored plenty of beautiful produce to add to the growing stash.  I reported my findings and gave the market my seal of approval.  I think my friends will start shopping there (I advised them to start there, THEN go to the supermarket if you need more stuff.  It’s a great piece of advice to help people wrap their heads and finances around buying local food).  Then I went to Manhattan to enjoy a lunch with a dear old friend at Angelica Kitchen.  The restaurant is legendary for using local producers and for making very beautiful plant-based foods, before it was hip.  It was extremely enjoyable and I was glad to introduce my friend to this concept that I am so passionate about.  My friend learned that she likes non-spicy kimchee, and was impressed by the vegan butternut squash soup.  Before leaving Manhattan, I stopped at the huge and famous Union Square Greenmarket.  It used to overwhelm me with its booth after booth of loaded tables and pushy (sorry, NYC, but it’s often true that you can be a bit hasty at this market instead of enjoying the interaction with the vendors) customers.  I no longer feel this way…I have met many of the farmers at field days, the NOFA-NY Winter Conference and the NOFA Summer Conference.  I just went and visited familiar farm stalls, even if the people staffing them didn’t know me.  And for all you who live in NYC and are throwing up your hands at not knowing where to buy local flour: Cayuga Pure Organics sells whole grains (rye, oats, wheat berries and freekeh) and farmer-ground flours, beans and polenta.  Now you know–you don’t need to settle for bulk grains across the street at that national big-name expensive food store!  For dinner I made: bean soup with canary beans from a New Farmer Development Project farmer selling at Socrates Sculpture Garden’s market, roasted root veggies and potatoes, roasted winter squash, and freekeh.  It was actually my first experience cooking the roasted green spelt grains, and I was nervous since I didn’t know what sort of flavoring to put into it.  I threw a few golden raisins (not local) and apple cider vinegar into that pot, and that was all it needed.  What a flavorful and complex grain!  My friends (non-vegetarian boys who are adventurous eaters…but still…boys who may not have appreciated hippie girl food) were SO into the Freekeh.  They loved the whole meal, and to think we didn’t have to leave an apartment!  We even polished off a pan of apple-pear crisp after our starchy and lovely turn-of-the-season dinner.  It wasn’t all 100% local, since I didn’t have my pantry of local versions of the standard items, but it easily could have been.  I didn’t worry about that aspect at all: the spirit remained.  In fact, I was not stressed at all, like I usually am when trying to find the perfect NYC dinner spot to enjoy company of my best friends.  I cut out the middle man: the other cook,  and I think we created a new standard for my visits.  I cooked, showed off what I love about seasonal and local eating, and remembered how much I love my friends, especially because they not only ate, but asked questions about what we were eating (killed the joke that we were eating “roasted green smelt”) and even about farming and plants in general.  Being a locavore enhanced my ability to connect with my friends this trip, that’s for certain.

The next day, I went to my final field day for the season, up at Poughkeepsie Farm Project.  And guess what!  We ended with a fantastic filling potluck heavy on the potatoes and apples.  We were all hungry after 3 hours of learning about cover crop rotations.  It was blissful to sit and continue to talk and form friendships at those picnic tables (while being eaten by mosquitoes, who have a taste for local farmer blood apparently).  Through local eating, I connected with SO MANY people on my 5-day trip, had enlightening self-aware experiences, and realized, once again, that food breaks barriers if you let it.  Use the locavore challenge as the catalyst to connect with your spiritual self, your friends, your family and your farming community.  If that’s not reason enough to host or attend a potluck as part of our Potluck Across New York on Sunday, Sept. 25th, I wonder what could convince you!

Teaching Friends and Family to Be Local (vs. feeding them for a day or a meal)

29 Aug

From Rachel:

As a constant locavore, the challenge is often in explaining my convictions and trying to bring loved ones over to this side of things.  Taste and economy usually win people over faster than my nagging could.  I imagine many people taking this challenge are less challenged by getting a high percentage of their food intake from within 250 miles of where they live, but more challenged by getting friends and family to join the movement.  They may ooh and aah when you bring that delicious roasted heirloom tomato, zucchini, eggplant, herb and black bean casserole to the group dinner, but then still wonder why you aren’t super-excited that they’re slicing up kiwi and washing grapes (and I don’t mean hardy kiwi and NY grapes) to go on the table next to your painstakingly-sourced and prepared dish.  I’m talking from my experiences last weekend, by the way.  Still, I learned in a teaching course to avoid scolding, nagging, telling people they’re wrong and you’re right, etc.  That won’t win anyone over (politicians might take note).  A better path is to highlight the good, and find the teaching moments.  So that’s how I ended up teaching a friend to make bread yesterday.  Though the ingredients weren’t 100% local (still finishing up some non-local flour), they easily could have been.  For the record, we used NY Sunflower oil, NY maple syrup, salt, yeast, Organic Valley Nonfat Dry Milk Powder, parts generic Organic All-Purpose flour, stone-ground Organic Whole Wheat flour, and Small World Bakery’s All-Purpose Whole Wheat flour.  So, minus the yeast and salt, the loaf could easily be made with all local flour.  Still, I am less concerned with going to the 100%-local sourced ingredients this month.  It’s all about sharing the joy of making things that celebrate the local foods, and discovering that our default practice can be making things by hand with our local ingredients, versus going to the store and relying on a corporation to source and create our foods in a giant factory.  I’m not knocking local bakeries by ANY means, I’m just saying that enjoying the preparation of foods that seem difficult to make, such as a loaf of bread, can be a serious gateway into pursuing other locavore/local-economy habits.

The friend I baked bread with is already a supporter of farmers through shopping at farmers markets, and definitely enjoys foods made with local ingredients.  Still, this was his first time kneading home-made bread dough, after I’d repeatedly told him how fun and easy making bread can be, and after sending numerous examples of simple recipes (why wouldn’t he just dive in and start baking?).  Believe me, I was relieved that this loaf turned out so beautifully (I have a legendary habit of over-ambitious baking experiments ending in tears and ingredients tossed into the woods).  You have to be confident, relaxed and breezy about preparing local foods with newbies, or they will likely remember how hard or intimidating it was!

For any newbies to the baking arena, I definitely recommend the King Arthur Flour recipes online (they publish a fabulous cookbook as well).  They’re well-tested, come with lots of tips, and you don’t have to use their branded ingredients for fantastic results.  If you own a digital ingredients scale, you’ll be happy to know they also offer most recipes with weight measurements.  The recipe we used is the 100% Whole Wheat Loaf (though we used a combo of flours to make up the whole amount).  You could easily skip the dry milk powder, or use local milk in place of water to get the nice bread-softening effect that milk gives.  These simple ingredients combined into a gorgeous, tall loaf that we were quite eager to rip into and spread with some of my jam made earlier this summer.  Yum!

The ripped crumb with beet juice from the knife we used is evidence we were too hasty in letting the bread cool down.

I encourage you to start off Locavore month by arming a friend with a technique-perhaps as simple as how to evenly chop veggies, or as complicated as canning some crazy multi-fruit-and-herb jelly.  Locavorism isn’t about isolation in your kitchen, hiding from well-meaning relatives or friends who notoriously feed you asparagus in November or only have bananas and citrus fruits in their northern-climate kitchens.  It’s about sharing the joy in the slow food and local ingredients, and through that joy and enthusiasm sustaining a regional food system of farmers, artisan food producers, small-scale processors and distributors, restaurants, and more.  Giving a friend a local-foods experience memory is much more valuable to their decision-making process than scolding or whining at them about their choices.  Next time my friend looks at supermarket bread, I imagine he’ll at least value the fact that he knows how simple and delicious homemade bread can be.  Maybe he’ll forgo the purchase and seek out some local flour instead, or maybe he’ll just nag me to show him again.

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