October 23rd, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
I admit it. I caved. I bought lettuce from California.
It’s possible to eat only from the farmer’s marker for a month. Even in October, even in the Northeast. I’m glad I’ve been trying to do that — I tried a bunch of ingredients I never would have looked at twice, I was exposed to fluorescent lights way less than usual, and all of my food budget went to actual farmers instead of Fairway. But oh god did I want lettuce.
Thing is, by week three of the Eat Local Challenge, it wasn’t fun anymore. I like thinking about my food, I really really do, but I don’t like thinking about it that much. Or maybe this just came at a bad time for me, with deadlines galore, I don’t know; there are a lot of variables. I didn’t like feeling as though it was me against the farmer’s market, twice a week: “I will feed myself, and you assholes will not beat me down.”
I started this blog, in its previous incarnation, as a way to preserve my joy in food, in cooking, in the process and the results, on much the same principle as preserving food; vegetables don’t last long in their own state, but preserve them and you can return to the well of nutrition and taste over and over again. I wanted to go back to the pleasures of the table when I wasn’t in the midst of them, for whatever reason.
And then I looked up, when I was typing a report for work, and saw one of the little sayings I have up over my desk: perfect is the enemy of good, and said, “Oh.”
Right. I had gotten so swept up in doing Eat Local right, that I had forgotten why I had thrown my hat in the ring in the first place: to do better. Not perfectly; Alice Waters or someone of her ilk may be able to do perfect, but I cannot, and it’s exhausting trying. So you know what? I’m okay with buying that head of lettuce; I ate it with roast chicken from the farmer’s market (which I wouldn’t have bought before), and croutons made from homemade bread (which I would have made before, but not enough loaves to have croutons) and local Kirby cucumbers and red bell pepper and carrot slices, and I am declaring that good enough.
October 21st, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Sunday is a work day for me; my week runs between Sunday and Thursday, and while I like that most of the time, there are frustrations. One Sunday, there were a few things that kept me busy all day, and I couldn’t get to the farmer’s market until the late, late afternoon. (Five-thirty isn’t evening! Not yet! Daylight Savings Time hasn’t changed yet!) I was expecting slim pickings, but while the boxes of produce weren’t as full as usual, I still made it home with fresh pasta, eggs, milk, fruit, and vegetables.
There are likely people who would not be excited about a sixth straight week of Gala apples or seventy-five-cent-per-pound butternut squash; I choose not to be one of those people. I choose to walk home, past a construction site (this’ll be a great city if they ever finish it), eating the sweet, crisp flesh of a Gala and to make Mark Bittman’s pasta with butternut squash for dinner.
photo by freshtopia.net
This recipe takes a little longer than I’d like, and require more brute strength than most — my knife skills are decent, but the shell of a butternut squash is no respecter of skills. (What I wouldn’t give for frickin’ laser beams in my eyes, I swear.) The prep time would easily be minimized if I had a food processor, though, and if I can cut up the squash, anyone can; all you need is a sharp knife, patience, and basic grasp of practical physics.
I’m just going to reproduce Bittman’s instructions here, because he has the knack for writing recipes clearly; I’m still trying to learn it.
- 1 pound peeled and seeded butternut squash (start with a whole squash weighing about 1 ½ pounds)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound cut pasta, like ziti
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar, optional
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Cut squash into chunks, and place in food processor. Pulse machine on and off until squash looks grated. (Alternatively, grate or chop the squash by hand.) Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat, and add the butter or oil. A minute later, add the squash, salt, pepper and about 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add water, about ¼ cup at a time, as the mixture dries out, being careful not to make it soupy. When the squash begins to disintegrate, after about 10 or 15 minutes, begin cooking the pasta. While it cooks, season the squash with the nutmeg, sugar if necessary, and additional salt and pepper if needed.
- When the pasta is tender, scoop out about ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain. Toss it in the skillet with the squash, adding the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Taste, and adjust the salt, pepper or nutmeg as you like; then, toss with the cheese and serve.
My notes: I liked this dish (which I’ve made several times now) much more with linguine, but then I’ve always used fresh pasta, not dried, which I suspect will make me a rarity. One time, I browned diced onion in the pan before adding the grated squash, and used sage instead of nutmeg; when it was cooked through as above, I added a cup of Greek yogurt, and it was delicious, rich and slippery. You can use regular plain yogurt, of course, but I tried it, and it wasn’t as interesting, and a little bit watery. I think this will become a staple of my autumn table.
October 8th, 2008 § § permalink
October is a bit of a whirlwind month for me — a lot of projects are coming to a head, deadlines are whacking into my planner with all the subtlety of a guy at a bar trying to pick me up, and let’s just say that I’ve been eating a lot of meals at my desk. Granted, my desk is in my bedroom, so that doesn’t say much, but never mind. My point is: I’m glad the Eat Local Challenge is forcing me to pay attention to what I eat. (I really should’ve included booze in my exemptions, given it’s an election year here in the U.S. of A., but Brooklyn Brewery — warning: the site is entirely Flash-based — has been coming through for me so far.) It helps to drag my brain out of go-go-go mode every so often.
There are things I miss, though, miss fiercely. Lettuce, for example.
photo by Trinity
Apparently I eat a lot more lettuce than I realized. I knew I ate a lot of salads, I knew I liked it in sandwiches, I just hadn’t realized how much I depend on those things for sustenance. I make roast chicken about once a week, and whittle away at that over the next week or so, and apparently it almost always goes into salads or sandwiches.
There are a few ways to think about this. One is to realize that I don’t eat as seasonally as I would like to, and that salads should be a spring excitement, the way asparagus is. Another is to decide that lettuce is a staple of my diet, the way rice or tea is, and to choose not to feel guilty about that. Yet another is to search out local, seasonal alternatives to lettuce as I currently think of it.
I am honestly not sure which way I’m leaning. I don’t want to give up salad; I don’t want to act against my principles; I don’t want to drive myself crazy trying to find something that may not exist.
As I continue to discover new facets of this outward commitment to eating locally, I’ll be sure to share them. For now, though: meeting #3 of the day!
October 2nd, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Today was the farmer’s market, and despite the icy breeze, I managed to come out with quite a haul:
- 1 quart Ronnybrook whole milk
- 1 quart Ronnybrook whole-milk yogurt
- 1 pint Samascott apple cider
- 1/4 pound Millport Dairy Colby cheese (I think it’s from Pennsylvania, although I’m not sure where)
- 1 pound of red bell peppers and broccoli, and 1 zucchini, from a mysterious woman whose name I didn’t get
- 1 bell pepper, goat cheese and basil focaccia pizza (my weekly indulgence; food I did not have to cook! it is very rare in my life) (they listed the local ingredients, but I mentioned how cold I was, right? Apparently a heavy t-shirt and jeans are no longer enough.)
I resisted the gladiolae, the mushrooms, and the Gala apples — I still have apples, and there will be another market this Sunday.
Thursday is not a good braining night for me; I plan to spend the evening reading, doing dishes, and watching DVDs, so dinner is probably going to be sauteed onions (from the several pounds I bought a few weeks ago at the market) and zucchini over pasta. Not exactly exciting, I admit, but nevertheless a reliably delicious meal.
October 1st, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
It’s October 1st, and that means it’s time for the Eat Local Challenge.
Here follows my statement of participation:
- What is your definition of local?
Anything produced in a 150-mile-radius of New York City.
- What exemptions will you claim?
TEA (fair-trade). Spices. Rice. Yeast. Olive oil. I will look for local flour, but will not promise it. Fair-trade chocolate. Various baking chemicals, like baking powder (thanks for the reminder, Colleen!). If I eat out, I will try to minimize my impact on the earth with the foods I choose.
- What is your goal for the month?
I want to base the meals I cook around local food, especially the products I buy at the farmer’s market. I also want to keep an 80% complete record on A Very Uncommon Cook.
On that note, let me give you a piece of advice: a stirfry made up only of onions, mushrooms, and swiss chard is vile, vile, vile. The onions were browned perfectly, the mushrooms (gorgeous tiny baby bellas, both from the farmer’s market) were toothy and earthy, but after half a dozen bites of nothing but swiss chard (also farmer’s market-sourced, also gorgeous) and rice (cooked in homemade chicken stock, made from the carcass of a Pennsylvania organic chicken and various vegetable trimmings), I was less than thrilled at the thought of finishing my lunch. The bitter notes become overwhelming very quickly, and the velvety slide of the leaves are not as interesting when there’s nothing to contrast them with.
photograph by eflon
Apparently the unspoken rules of stirfry are there for a reason. I mean, who’d a thunk?
Dinner tonight will be leftover Delmonico steak (farmer’s market-sourced, and I promise I will start keeping better records of what food comes from what farm this week) and organic bread (I am still trying to figure out how to make bread when the fridge is crammed with my flatmates’ food; the freezer has more room, so maybe I will freeze dough. More updates as events warrant!).