Sunday, August 31, 2008

OLS Week 13: Oops!

I had perfect attendance in the One Local Summer Challenge until the very last week. I ate several meals of local foods, but didn't get around to blogging any of them -- most were uninteresting since they were dishes I'd already described.

Oh well, this gives me a chance to reflect on what I've learned.

New ways of cooking. I told someone recently that instead of asking "What's for dinner?" we've learned to ask "What needs to be eaten?" Besides a new way of menu planning, that also implies being a much more flexible cook. Eggplant in salsa was invented on the fly--we've had it once since and it's likely to appear several more times in our meals before my garden and the CSA box run out of eggplants, tomatoes, and jalapenos.

New foods and new recipes. Edamame, delicata squash, blackberries, beets, purslane, sunflower shoots, soft goat cheeses, zucchini prepared raw in a slaw, cantaloupe sorbet, potato salad from tiny potatoes -- and bigger ones later in the season.

New experiences. Grinding flour at home, freezing our own sorbets and ice cream, working with sourdough starter, growing vegetables, subscribing to a CSA, experiencing the sensual pleasures of several different Farmers Markets.

An old problem. Or a couple of them. Sometimes, I can be a perfectionistic to the point that if it can't be perfect, it might as well not happen at all. Sometimes, particularly in July and August, my brain cells deactivate in the presence of high mold and pollen counts. The two together meant that there were times in the last couple of months where I had the irrational mindset of "if I can't eat local, I might as well eat junk."

My transition to all natural foods happened last fall and winter. The local foods were an addition in the spring. What shocked me about suddenly consuming items from convenience stores and fast food restaurants this summer was how much garbage it generated. I realized that my choice to eat natural foods was a big leap in both my health and the health of the environment. The choice to eat many local foods, while a significant contributor to both health and environment, is not the most important thing for me -- it's a good addition on top of a strong foundation of eating natural foods.

So, I will continue eating local by enjoying Farmers Markets, resubscribing to my CSA, and establishing a larger vegetable garden. But I probably won't be joining any more local food challenges for awhile. I need to focus on my foundation of natural foods.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

OLS Week 12: from my garden!

Most of the summer, I was quite certain that I wouldn't get any produce from the vegetables I planted. Between poor soil and hungry rabbits, my plants were all stunted. But, it turns out that even stunted plants will manage to put out some fruit. We have fairy tale eggplants and jalapeno peppers to harvest and I have high hopes for the bell peppers as well.

Today's lunch entree was a potato (Yukon Gold from our CSA) topped with the leftover side dish from a couple of nights ago -- grilled eggplant in salsa, which turned out to be essentially ratatouille with a Mexican accent. R grilled 5 baby eggplants from our garden while I made the salsa.

I started by roasting 4 roma tomatoes (CSA) and 2 jalapenos (our garden) in the toaster oven. I would skip this step if I were in a hurry or trying to turn 10 pounds of tomatoes into salsa for the freezer, but I do think that the roasting added a dark, richness to the salsa. When the vegetables had colored on two sides, I let them cool slightly while browning onions (CSA) and garlic (farmers market). I chopped the tomatoes coarsely and threw them in the sauce pot with the onions and garlic to stew for awhile. I waited for the jalapenos to cool and then cut them into tiny pieces and put them in with tomatoes to cook some more. I eventually added some cumin and salt an pepper.

When R brought in the eggplant, I removed about 2/3 of the salsa from the pan to use later and coarsely chopped the eggplant, then stirred it into the remaining salsa. Voila! A nice side dish with grilled chicken and cool potato salad. The coolness of the potato salad was especially important because this salsa is spicy! Apparently, my garden jalapenos are hotter than the ones I've been getting at the farmers markets recently.

So, for a quick lunch, I microwaved a potato, topped it with the leftover eggplant and salsa, and served it alongside the fruit I got from a sampler box at the Tower Grove Farmers Market this morning -- Asian pear and two kinds of plums. Some handy reading material cut the glare of the sunroom so that I could get my photo.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

OLS Week 11: New Sides

We eat a lot of grilled chicken in the summer. What's different this summer is the astounding of variety of side dishes we're getting from our CSA box.

Accompaning our local chicken (Farrar Out Farm, Kirkwood Farmers Market) tonight were two new vegetables to us, both from our CSA, delicata squash and edamame. I marinated the squash in soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil before handing it over to R to grill with the chicken. Taking the advice of our farmer, I cooked the edamame pods in water on the stove -- setting the timer for five minutes at the moment the water started to boil. After they cooled, I popped the beans from the pods then tossed them in a dressing made with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds I toasted in a dry skillet.

It was all delicious!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

OLS Week 10: Using Summer Squash

I was asked yesterday by a fellow subscriber to my CSA for summer squash recipes. It's that time of year. Old joke: It's safe to leave your car unlocked in small towns in Missouri, like the one I grew up in -- except during July and August when you'll return to find your back seat filled with zucchini.

The link I sent was this Summer Squash Slaw, so I decided to make it again. I made it with all yellow squash tonight since I didn't have any zucchini. It's somewhat prettier with the green, but tastes just as good with only yellow. The squash was from my CSA box, the onion and red pepper came from tonight's Maplewood Farmers Market. I used local honey instead of sugar in the dressing and some habanero apple cider vinegar from Blue Heron Orchard (bought at Local Harvest Grocery).

Guess where else there is zucchini hiding in this meal? One of our favorite bread recipes is Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread made in the bread machine. I've long since changed the proportions of whole wheat and white flours -- I use 2 cups of whole wheat and 1 1/2 cup of white. Also we use gobs of fresh rosemary from our deck. But this loaf is special in two ways.

The zucchini came in one of my early CSA boxes before I'd quite got the knack of consuming the vegetables as they came. I grated and froze several cups of mixed zucchini and yellow squash. I froze each cup in a separate small container. Once frozen, I could dump the large squash cubes in a single ziploc bag for more efficient storage. Now, I thaw one cube at a time for this recipe.

Tonight's new addition was to use some sourdough starter in place of some of the flour. While I'm experimenting with sourdough, I find I'm throwing a lot of starter on the compost pile. One way to use it instead of lose it is in yeast breads like the Sourdough Honey Whole Wheat bread I made for this OLS post. Since my starter is whole wheat, I substituted a cup of starter for a cup of the whole wheat flour. Those of you experienced with sourdough starter will know that I should have also reduced the liquid -- I ended up adding quite a bit of flour in the first kneading. But the loaf rose very nicely and has a subtle tang of sourdough.

Rounding out supper is the sandwich filling -- chicken fresh from Farrar Out Farm at tonight's market. I cut the chicken, deboned the breasts (see my post about How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Chickens), and marinated them in olive oil, fresh lime juice, and mustard. Then R did his magic on the grill. A nice meal!

Friday, August 1, 2008

OLS Week 9: CSA Hash

As our CSA box becomes more bountiful every week, I'm finding it helpful to eat vegetables three meals a day. There are two breakfast dishes I eat that can incorporate lots of vegetables.

One vegetable-laden breakfast is a scrambled egg with sauteed vegetables. The method is the same as I used for this Asparagus Scramble, but in this season I've been making it with basil and tomato along with diced eggplant that I've roasted in the toaster oven. Eggs and eggplant make for quite an elegant breakfast.

Much more rustic is today's One Local Summer challenge breakfast: potato hash. I diced a purple potato from last night's CSA box and sauteed it in olive oil. While that was cooking to a golden brown, I diced other vegetables from last week's CSA box that I want to clear out -- part of an onion, a whole yellow squash, and a whole green pepper. At the last moment, I put in some chopped tomato just long enough to warm it up. The tomato was from the Farmers Market but we got several in the CSA box last night, so I'm flush with tomatoes right now. Add some salt and pepper and this is a very satisfying breakfast and a great way to consume local produce.

Besides potatoes of many colors, green pepper, yellow squash, onion, and tomatoes, our CSA box this week contained green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and eggplant.