This is my working-woman, traffic-was-backed-up-because-of-Halloween, it-was-already-dark-out, mid-week, I-stayed-up-too-late-last-night and I-want-to-read-the-new-Ecologist-magazine, dark days eat local challenge meal from our Canvas Ranch farm bag. It was delicious.
On Saturday I bought french heirloom galeux d'eysuves and sucrine de berry winter squash from a trio of Harry Potter's at the Pt. Reyes farmers' market. The sheriff was selling tomatoes but I couldn't figure out what the woman in the leopard print dress and pink sweater was selling. She was all over the place.
The 9:00 a.m. bell ringer that announces the opening of the market was convincingly dressed as a farmer. As he made his way from one end of the L-shaped market to the other I realized it was the last time this year I would be witness to it. Next week is the last of the west Marin market and Saturday mornings at Toby's Feed Barn will be just that; Saturday mornings at Toby's Feed Barn. Until spring returns bringing the market with it.
I remembered the early crowd at the first market of the season, three deep at each vendor. The coffee line had been impossible that day, the picnic tables full of people eating hot cheese and egg sandwiches and small children had run in circles down the middle aisle when they weren't poking at the feral cats at the adoption tent. The only thing missing had been the clowns.
The early novelty seems to have dimmed with the season though. As the market opened the cheese sandwich man hadn't yet lit his grill and the aisles were free of children. The coffee line was manageable and the honey women were set up offering tastes with no waiting. I was first everywhere I went making it a tough decision to pick which end of the season I like better.
Aside from the heirloom squash I found cabbages the size of a Cyclop's one eye, bought three and filled the remainder of my canvas bag with familiar butternut and delicata squash and made the second trip to the car before having coffee and a ginger scone. The scones alone are worth the trip to Pt. Reyes which doesn't take into account the bob cat, deer, hawks, turkeys and vultures I saw on the way there. Or secondary, the saddle shop across the street on the corner that is literally packed to the rafters with good finds or the book store a few doors down from there. One of the best bookstores in the county with old plank wood floors that creak like Halloween all year long.
As much as I'll miss the Saturday market adventures I've stored their stories under flour sack towels in the pantry in the form of four heirloom squash I can't pronounce, five butternut and half a dozen delicata's. I can't wait to serve them but I doubt anyone will believe I bought them from one of three Harry Potter's whose cape constantly blew into the scale as he weighed them on a foggy Saturday morning.
I love people that can make a point, a big point, in seven words or less. Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle can do it. And so can Wallace J. Nichols who the cute guy and I heard speak on Sunday.
WJN is an ocean conservationist, scientist, reasearcher, father of daughters, comedian, photographer, educator, activist and one heck of a public speaker. And even if he weren't so entertaining and interesting we could have sat and simply looked at him.
WJN caught sea turtles when he was a kid in Maine and is still catching them, but now he's doing it to bring attention to the ocean.
First he invoked the seas beauty. And how can you not fall hopelessly in love with a giant sea turtle named Adelita swimming in a bath of shattering blue water at turtle speed from Baja to Japan.
With our hearts the size of Baja he then showed pictures of piles of fish netted and discarded in order to catch a few shrimp and the destruction by shrimp farms to the ocean's shores. He showed us pictures of plastics found in the stomach of a sea turtle. The visuals were startling. We had no idea.
After that he told us how we could help sustain a healthy ocean; in seven short words.
Less in. Less out. Protect the edge.
That sounds doable.
He also gave out bumper stickers. If you see me, honk.
The cute guy and I have a new favorite food - well, it's more my favorite food than his but he does like it - mashed winter squash. Aside from how good this is, it's easy to cook and makes the house smell like the table is going to get set.
Last night I used spaghetti squash and tonight delicata. The spaghetti squash was juicy and the delicata a mashed potato consistency. They were equally lick the plate clean good!
1 winter squash - spaghetti, delicata or butternut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sweet colorful fall peppers
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs garden herbs - thyme, rosemary, sage
1 serrano pepper finely minced
1 tablespoon butter
Cut squash in half and remove seeds with a sturdy spoon. Rub the inside of the squash with olive oil and place face down on cookie sheet.
Cut off the tops of the fall peppers (I don't remove the seeds like the rest of the world), conservatively coat with olive oil and place next to the squash.
Peel garlic and put on cookie sheet. Tuck garden herbs under the belly of the squash.
Bake at 350 for one hour. Test with a fork for tenderness and continue cooking if squash is still tough, checking every ten minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop squash and squeeze garlic from their skins to a bowl with butter and mash with a large fork. Dice roasted peppers and add to bowl (peppers can be peeled if desired).
Add minced serrano peppers, salt and additional butter to taste, mixing with a large spoon.
Roasted herbs can be used as garnish.
Eat anywhere but the kitchen table.
(This recipe is my thinly veiled justification to buy more local squash!)
This morning I nearly bought more squash. My favorite potato and dry farmed tomato farmer had a big display of orange kabocha and another farmer had a celadon ugly Hubbard that I was smitten with. They had my name on them but I couldn't leave them locked in the car all day and carrying them would have been over the edge for even me.
Instead I bought dry goods; cornmeal, popcorn, almonds and poppy seeds from Full Belly Farm. Poppy seeds! Can you believe it? What in the hell am I going to do with poppy seeds? But I felt so grown up buying them. Like a woman with a Viking Range I dropped them in my borrowed Puffins cereal bag and shoulders held high handed the man a twenty.
Maybe I could add them to the kabocha squash cake with brown sugar cream recipe that Deborah from Canvas Ranch sent in our CSA bag this week. It sounds good and what's a few seeds going to hurt? They will make the cake my own.
All joking aside eating local this week has been a breeze. We are back in the swing of putting a face to our food. I shopped at my first market in the rain on Tuesday. Hardly a real rain but a gentle introduction. If it were really raining I'm afraid I'd stay in the office. And starve.
The cute guy and I had butternut squash burritos with Rancho Gordo pebble beans one night. "Does food get any better?" I asked.
"Mhgmghmhgmghbmh," he answered. I took that as a no.
And we had a hearty not quite winter salad that was heavy on the chicken, cheese and pumpkin seeds pan roasted with minced jalapenos and sea salt. Not a shred of which was wasted.
But I'm in a quandary about how much squash we can eat this winter. It's not like stocking up the freezer where once it was full I was done. I have a hundred places to store squash. And that scares me.
Today I had to laugh. It was that or light my hair on fire.
I work in a downtown San Francisco office and have been greening us up a bit. We buy paper that is partially recycled that we primarily use only to recycle again. Instead of plastic utensils we have knives, forks and spoons made of corn products that are biodegradable. Our paper towels are also made of recyclable material and instead of buying brand name snack almonds in the cans or honey bears from Safeway we buy them from the farmers' market.
We recycle cans, plastic, bottles, toner cartridges, batteries and cardboard boxes. We have a dedicated person to call catalog companies and have our name removed from their lists. Another person does it for unsolicited faxes.
I bought everyone in the office organic cotton canvas bags in two convenient sizes to use instead of carrying pink or white plastic bags back to the office. Only the one unmarried young man politely declined.
But we have a ten year tradition of keeping the great orange plastic pumpkin infinitely full of individually wrapped candy.
Today our candy person asked for the credit card to fill up the great orange plastic pumpkin. I wrestled for the hundredth time looking for an alternative to miniature Butterfingers, Snickers, Nestles Crunch. To Reese's. And knew I was beat.
"Have fun," I said handing her the card and watching her leave.
She had her large size natural organic cotton bag with her.
I laughed, "This is progress," I said to myself. "Right?"
I wish I would have thought of this but I didn't. I found the idea at The Herbwife's Kitchen and it's too easy to be so delicious.
The Herbwife puts aromatic herbs into jars of honey - she has pictures - and then eats it and uses it for remedies. My words, not hers. Since I didn't remember exactly what herbs she used I improvised.
I bought a big jar of local honey, went to the yard, cut sage and mint and layered them into a smaller jar with spoonfuls of honey. This morning I mixed it with yogurt and felt like a beautiful flower licking my spoon.
Thank you Herbwife!
Okay. I've signed on for the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge started by Laura at Urban Hennery. Sure it will be winter but I bought 50 pounds of winter squash alone today which should last for a meal a week until the acacia bloom. It wasn't that long ago I had to buy every pepper that had a hint of red and now it's every squash with a dimple or gourd with a curl. I buy two or three at a time. And then I hide them in the trunk. And buy more from someone else.
Here's the rules for the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge copied from its website -
Each participant can set their own rules, but generally they are:
We have to cook one meal a week with at least 90% local ingredients
We have to write about it - the triumphs and the challenges
Local means a 200 mile radius for raw ingredients. For processed foods the company must be within 200 miles and committed to local sources.
Keep it up through the end of the year, and then re-evaluate on New Year’s Day
Here's the rules for me -
-I'll cook three meals a week with at least 90% local ingredients.
-I'll write about a couple of them.
-The 200 miles for the winter sounds good. Still a decrease in my carbon bite compared to how I used to buy food.
-Through New Years is good.
-To include friends and/or family in at least a couple of the local meals a month for fun and to share the local tastes and conversation.
None of which means I'm going to start eating like I do with the cute guy on the sail boat for the remaining meals but I want to leave some leeway as I don't know the winter local season well enough. Next year I'll have a better idea, maybe a bigger freezer and the comfort of fresh canned jars on the pantry shelves.
And likely I'll be well versed in cooking winter squash too.
I've committed my salsa recipe to paper, at least the essence of the salsa recipe as the amounts vary and it's rarely the same twice. It's best when I let the natural fiesta of bright colors have their way with me and then add more spicy pepper, ginger, salt or lime at the end to perfect it. This time of the year, while tomatoes are still local, the salsa is a sure thing as the freshness will wrap its lovin arms around you and you won't want it to let go.
Makes about 5 cups
1 medium purple onion finely chopped
6-8 diced tomatoes - tomatoes you would like to french kiss
1 inch nub of ginger root peeled and finely minced
1 fragrant Gravenstein or Sierra Gold apple chopped
1-2 serrano or jalapeno peppers minced
1-2 limes juiced
1 basket halved yellow sunburst or cherry tomatoes
1 bunch chopped fragrant cilantro
5-6 leaves minced mint
Place the finely chopped onions in a generous mixing bowl. Dice the tomatoes with a serrated knife, transferring them to the mixing bowl with a pan spatula to maintain the integrity of the fruit.
Add one half of the minced ginger, all the chopped apple and one half of the minced peppers (keeping your hands away from your eyes after handling the peppers). Include lime juice and sea salt.
Top with one or all of the optional ingredients as available or desired.
With a slotted spoon, turn over the contents of the bowl lightly until all ingredients are well distributed.
Taste for desired heat, adding more peppers if you dare, the remaining ginger, lime and additional salt to taste.
Turn over the ingredients lightly after each addition and taste liberally to confirm you have a lush balance of sweet, salt and spice.
Pour salsa gently to a serving bowl and garnish with lime, cilantro or mint as available.
Serve at room temperature, pucker up and enjoy.
I read the following excerpt about commercial tomato growers on St. Helena Island, South Carolina in The Earth Knows My Name by Patricia Klindienst and as the cute guy isn't home for me to read it to, I'm posting it.
To prepare their fields, they cut down all the trees, then scrape off the topsoil and sell it off-island. What's left serves as a mere substrate for the production of a chemically dependent crop watered with millions of gallons drawn from the local aquifer, for which the commercial growers pay nothing.
The Mexican migrant farm workers who harvest the tomatoes are paid between forty and forty-five cents per thirty-two-pound bucket. They have to pick two tons of tomatoes to make fifty dollars in a day. Out of that, they have to pay rent and buy food. They receive no benefits of any kind.
After reading the above two paragraphs I thought, this must be an old book. The book was published in 2006.
I've had people recently ask in response to learning I ate within 100 miles as part of the September Eat Local Challenge, "So, what did you eat? It cost more, right?" And then say, "It must have taken a lot of time. That would be really hard." Or, "Oh, you get everything at the farmer's market." End of subject.
I stumble around for a way to be succinct because eating local is not a subject to dive into. I say things like, "Well, you know, rice, maybe, not really, I'm outside a lot," and "Yeah." And then I change the subject. Or at least think I should change the subject and dive in anyway.
I start with what I didn't eat, which was anything made with yeast, baking soda, baking powder, flour or sugar. I missed tortillas the most.
I ate a lot of brown rice. The cute guy and I always eat a lot of brown rice. We are not gourmet people. We are generally stressed out, stand at the counter with an egg and a salt grinder kind of people.
We ate a lot of salads. We had sausages from Marin Sun Farms. Spicy as shit and we loved them. There was some soup. We ate yogurt, some cheese, mostly on salads. Neither of us left the house without fruit. Almonds, almond butter and walnuts were a saving grace as were rice cakes.
For the first time in fifteen years I ate Rocky Range and Rosie chickens, which I'm mixed about. They are local but the free range labeling is misleading. The price of truly free range organic chickens exceeds my comfort zone however and the cute guy needs protien. And, if it's in the house I'll eat it.
We ate beans but missed chips to have with salsa. We had a little fish, which is another mine field in terms of knowing which are fished sustainably and not farmed, etc.
We ate honey and applesauce, figs and cheese, strawberries and cream. Mashed potatoes with fresh churned butter, brussel sprouts with home made mayonnaise. I don't remember feeling denied at all and my pants are a stitch looser if anything.
I'm still weighing the cost factor.
Time and effort are easier to talk about. Eating local, whole, seasonal foods took time for me but it's also an act of art and entertaining as a result. Some nights it was a pain to make sure there was food for work the next day but it mostly got easier.
Shopping for locally grown foods was the best part. My office is in the heart of the financial district with two farmer's markets within walking distance on different days. With our CSA farm bag in between and a weekend farmer's market thrown in for fun, the only problem with getting food was not getting too much of it.
Now that the challenge month is over nothing much has changed except I savored a home made cinnamon roll (thank you, Emily!) and we have tortillas in the fridge we bought with the card at the grocery store. It was weird.
They're in the fridge but we haven't touched them.
There are days when words become a mess of mumbo jumbo and all I want to do is listen to a good story and look at the pictures. Today is one of those days.
Here's a link to some pictures and the NPR audio program with the authors of Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.
I wonder what a week's worth of groceries would look like on my kitchen table!
He was so brilliant I didn't want to kill him, nor was I going to unleash him in the backyard so I dunked him in the garbage with a first grade, farewell little worm song. Then I chopped off the top of the ear, sliced off the sweet corn, bagged and froze it. Worm 2, Human 8.
The two cookie trays of tomatoes I slow roasted next didn't come with hidden friends but were purchased from an elderly man at the Petaluma farmers market who picked them the night before. He bagged each tomato one at a time as if sorry to see them depart. My heart bent imagining eating them but they smelled of sunshine, each one prettier than the next.
Instead of bagging the tomatoes whole as before, I pureed them skin and all and laid the liquidy bags efficiently flat in the freezer, which spurred the idea to make waterbeds for the girls Barbie dolls.
The last item headed for the freezer was veggie stock, also pureed and laid flat. It started with beet greens, a nosegay of sage, rosemary and thyme from the yard and nettles from my trip last week to Berkeley (thinking only good thoughts as I handled it). Garlic roasted with the tomatoes went in whole with previously abandoned but forgiving ginger and fine pencils of green onions. Carrots, cabbage and summer squash finished the pot.
The cute guy tasted it. "You can add beets if you puree it." He was licking his lips.
"Really, it would be okay."
And then I couldn't resist. "Sweetie?" He innocently turned towards me. "Did you like it?"
"Yeah. It was good." He nodded his head.
"It has beets in it."
"Ack! Ugh. Ahhhh." He spit on his sleeve, wiped his mouth wildly with his arm. "How could you do that to me? I hate beets! You know I hate beets. Agh."
I continued stirring the pot until he was done.