August 26, 2007

Pretty Darn Local Dinner Party

Well, maybe 'dinner party' is a bit of an exaggeration. We had dear friends over for dinner last night (newbies to California!), and I am proud of the menu that got whipped together...especially since I realized that so much of it was local! I didn't even do that on purpose. My pantry and refrigerator are just becoming more and more locally sourced as the months go on. Here's the menu with local products marked with an *. Some of things are unique to California, but I truly believe that similar could be done almost anywhere!

Figs* & blue cheese* wrapped in prosciutto and broiled

Ribeye on the grill

Potato* salad (made with a mustard vinaigrette. mustard from France ;))

Tomato*-Melon* salad made with a honey*/lemon verbena*/yogurt vinaigrette. The recipe was care of Eatwell Farm and I would like to reprint it here because it was really delicious!

Ollalieberry*/Rose Geranium* pie with creme fraiche*

Melon & Tomato Salad with Lemon Verbena

1/2 sm. melon, cut into 1 in pieces
3 sm tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 c. plain yogurt
1/3 c. finely minced lemon verbena
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice

Combine melon, tomatoes, and cucumber in a large salad bowl (I used a platter so as not to disturb the produce by mixing it too much). Whisk the remaining ingredients in small bowl. Pour dressing over melon salad and gently toss. (Honestly, I still have half the dressing leftover. Half of the amount would have been plenty).

August 17, 2007

Three Dollar Burger

With everything CSA, I'm trying to keep track of the cost, firmly believing that this food is no more expensive than processed alternatives. But I may be facing some evidence to the contrary with the meat I just bought. Oh, sure, it's true cost is fully reflected in the price rather than hidden in transportation and farm subsidies and environmental degradation, but that reflection felt like a bright glare this morning when I saw 5.38 lbs, $21.52 labeled on my chicken. Yes, a $21 chicken. Don't tell my husband.

I'm waiting, though, because I feel like these prices need a better context. How many meals will they make? Will we eat out less? Will we feel more satisfied with less? I suspect that we'll have roughly 8 meals out of the meat, that's roughly $12 per meal for a family of 4. Considering that I discovered that one of the flank steaks is labeled as a cut of petite fillet (what do I know about cuts of meat?), I guess that's not horrible. But this chicken is no $8 Rocky.

Tonight we had hamburgers, and I will say this, they were most definitely worth it. Worth it especially, because since I knew these animals were not eating by-products of other animals, I felt confident that they could be cooked barely medium-rare. I like my meat bloody.

The texture was better too. Firmer, but not heavy. No gritty mealiness, none. I don't really eat fast food burgers except on road trips in the middle of nowhere, but they were a million miles in terms of texture and flavor from those flat, mealy, gray patties. They also surpassed the grass-fed hamburger of unknown origin I'd been buying at Trader Joe's. And I didn't have to drive to Emeryville.

The flavor, alone was strong and a touch gamey. But on a bun from Grand Bakery with bread and butter pickles, heirloom tomatoes and mayonnaise, they tasted pretty damn good.

August 16, 2007

Mars and Venus

I made rose geranium infused ice-cream tonight.

To me, the flavor is antique in nature. I picture my grandmother's old farm house in summer-time, billowing drapes with wide-open windows. The cool, blue walls of her bedroom with her vegetable garden out one window and flower garden out the other, maybe laundry hanging on the line and some dogs lazing around in the shade, with me picking through her jewelery box while trying on her lipstick. And all around us, space, land, breathing room.

My husband tastes the ice cream and says: "tastes like cleaner."

The source of the scent we are recalling is probably of the same origin.

August 14, 2007

My chicken had feet... and a head...

I got an email this morning asking me where I wanted to pick up my CSA share. I have three now, and I was feeling a little confused, until I began to remember some emails a few weeks ago about "finalizing the slaughter..." and remembered what I'd signed on for.

It's one of those days, you know, where there are 15 things you have to do before dawn and that's the relaxing part of your day. Now I had another item on my to-do list.

This afternoon I took my kids to see the newborn piglets at the Little Farm in Tilden Park (check), and on the way down decided I could pick up the meat. I could bore you with the details of the hour and a half worth of side trips I had to go on (damn you, cell phone), but all that matters is that when I got there, to this woman's house, to pick up the meat, there was a string duo playing on her front porch. I mean, god bless the USofA. I had a screaming baby on my back, another child sleeping in the car, filthy from the farm. All I'd done all day was feel stressed out about my List, but there I was, getting food, standing in beautiful evening sun light hearing live music. The moment was sacred and lovely and just another of the thousands of reasons why I love living here.

So my little bag of meat contained the following:

A fresh, whole chicken, butchered this morning. Next time I have to plan better for this, she's in the freezer now, but I cannot wait to have one of her kind fresh.

2 flank steaks

2 lbs of ground beef

a pork roast

2 cuts of stewing beef

1 dozen pastured eggs

All local. Sustainable. And lived happily in the sunshine until the slaughter was finalized. So here's to protien!

August 13, 2007

Food Miles

I realize this New York Times article is several days old, but alas, this is the first moment I've had to sit down and write about it. Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand set out to challenge Europe's new food miles labeling system. Those New Zealanders have lamb to sell, after all. Turns out, according to their study, that lamb traveling all the way from New Zealand to England has a smaller carbon footprint than lamb grown in England. Why? Because New Zealand lamb is completely grass fed, English lamb must be fed, well, feed. And feeding feed (usually corn and soy) to ruminants emits a lot of carbon dioxide.

Head to head, New Zealand lamb wins. So is this the end of the locavore movement? Hardly.

It's a reminder that local doesn't just mean "grown nearby." It also means grown or raised in a sustainable manner and consumed in season. And it means that in order to reduce our carbon footprint, maybe not everyone gets to eat lamb once a week. Lamb is after all, a spring animal.

It's also a reminder of the cost of feeding our animals, and ultimately ourselves, a diet to which they and we are not adapted.

We're at the very beginning of a long road in which we will have to rediscover how to feed ourselves sustainably. Part of it will have to involve the transport of food to locations that do not produce year-round.

I recognize that I'm uniquely spoiled in my Northern California home. You might catch me griping about all the greens we have to eat in winter, but I know that we are damn lucky to live somewhere that produces vegetables year-round. It's easy to to eat local when your own food shed has a constant supply.

So what about places that are frozen a good part of the year? Where animals need feed to supplement grass (as they do in Northern California)? I don't have answers, but I am so happy that we are asking the questions.

August 12, 2007

Ode to My Roots

Excuse my food blogginess for a post...but I did use products from our CSA delivery!

The 'ode to my roots' is not a nod to the French or Irish or English or German or any other genes in my blood that I am unaware of.  Nope - I'm talking about my geographical roots. 

Tonight I made salt potatoes.  You have probably never heard of them.  As far as I know, not only are they indigenous to central New York (Syracuse), they seem to not have made their way past that area.  You can read all about them here.

I found two recipes online.  One called for 1 lb of salt, 4 lbs of potatoes, water and butter.  That pretty much describes them!  The other wanted you to dump salt into the water until it was so salinated that no more could dissolve.  Believe it or not, that would also work.  After they are drained, the skin is coated with salt and deeeelicious.  

We had some cute little fingerling potatoes, and some purple/blue ones that were also on the small side.  I scrubbed them up (as you would, and should, with any potato.  There was no more work involved here even though the potatoes are covered with dirt) and put them in a pot of water.  I used about a pound of potatoes, tops.  Then, I grabbed the Morton's from the back of my closet (you could of course use sea salt) and dumped a lot in.  A.LOT.  Like, more than you would be comfortable with.  And that's the idea.  A container of Morton's is 1 lb., and I put in about 1/3 of the container.   

These are perfect in the summer as a side dish.  New potatoes are the classic type used - at least that's how they are sold.  Ideally they are a side dish accompanying something from the grill or a huge pot of steamed clams.  

August 11, 2007

Tomato Tart

A sweet friend was visiting from North Carolina, recently, and we were talking tomatoes.   She reminded me of  '...that beautiful tomato tart in Sunset magazine' and I knew exactly what she was referring to and knew I wanted to make it.
Tonight I threw it together after our pizza making session.  I'm thinking it will make a nice late-night snack for the husband returning from a week-long business trip; or a nice brunch item for tomorrow; or a great picnic item; or, or, or....   Did I really need a reason?  I don't know why the recipe didn't call for basil.  I totally put some on with the recommended thyme. 

Did you know that if you pick fresh thyme off the stem, you can freeze the leaves and use them whenever, just like fresh thyme?  I never thought of this, but it was a tip in our weekly csa newsletter.  Just passing it on.

Here's my crappy photo.  lol.  I have to figure out how to make them look better.  I can't wait for when Ruth is less busy and can start posting some of her own gorgeous pics.

August 7, 2007

Ocean of Confusion

Strolling through the store over the weekend with the kids, I had a request from my 4 year old for tuna. Not canned tuna, a tuna steak. The usual fish of choice at home is salmon so I don’t know where she got this idea from. I threw the package of frozen Albacore Tuna from Singapore into the basket, because how could I deny a perfectly legitimate request? And then the little voice in the back of my head started talking:

Is that fish safe?
Is it sustainable? How can it be at $5/lb?
How do I explain this to a 4 year old?
Hey, it’s not from China, so there’s a good chance it’s not ridden with chemicals…

Sometimes I long to live when the food options were really simple. White or whole wheat. Chicken or beef. Jello or pudding. We know too much now. It makes my head spin, and I consider myself a somewhat informed consumer.

I decided to check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list after the fact. It's a fabulous list that expects a LOT out of the shopper. Was that fish line caught or troll caught? Where was it caught? Is it wild or farmed? If you are lucky, you will be able to answer two out of three of those questions. My albacore tuna, not from Hawaii or British Columbia, ended up on the -AVOID- list for the following reason:

… longlining is the most common method used to catch albacore worldwide. This fishing method results in the bycatch of threatened or endangered sea turtles, sharks and seabirds in large numbers.

If I had known it beforehand, I would have looked for another option. It wouldn't have meant swearing off tuna altogether, there are 3 other -GOOD- tuna options (for albacore alone). It might have meant going to another store and paying more, or choosing the easy wild salmon. More and more, the payoff of knowing we are eating something sustainable is outweighing the convenience of throwing the unknown into my cart.

August 2, 2007

Farm Bill a Bust

Despite a large grass-root effort to overhaul the Farm Bill in support of smaller farms, it seems like that is just not going to happen. Listening to a panel, led by Michael Pollan, this spring regarding this year’s Farm Bill, I was (slightly) optimistic that a democrat-led congress could actually make some positive changes. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that big-Ag prevailed in the end.

This gives me even more incentive to continue to do what we can on a local level to support small farms! Speaking for myself, I make this effort for many reasons, and one of them is definitely political. Money talks, and our purchasing power is nothing to sneeze at.

Here’s a great opinion article by Daniel Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee.