Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Marco Polo Exception

It turns out that there's already a locavore phrase for those foods that don't grow locally: the Marco Polo exception. Bill McKibben coined the phrase:

And I made what might be called the Marco Polo exception—
I considered fair game anything your average 13th century
explorer might have brought back from distant lands.
So: pepper, and turmeric, and even the odd knob of ginger
root stayed in the larder.

While I'm drinking my coffee, mixing cinnamon into my granola and apple cider, enjoying vanilla ice cream, and sautéing with olive oil, I'll be sure to call out "Marco Polo!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How do you like them apples?

I forgot to mention, we picked our own apples at Blue Jay Orchards. The Macouns were running!

Macouns (to me) are the perfect apple: crisp and juicy. It turns out they were invented in New York (like me) by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (not like me). They are a cross between a MacIntosh and a Jersey Black.

You can cook with them or simply eat them raw! You can only get them for a few weeks from the end of September to early November.

Crunchy Granola

Making granola is one of the easiest things to prepare and it may even qualify as baking. Wonderful smells emanate from the kitchen. And it's versatile: you can eat it right out of the bag, you can eat it like cereal, you can sprinkle it on yogurt or anything else that needs a crunch; the possibilites are nearly endless.

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4 tsp salt
a sprinkle of cinnamon
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp Maple syrup
3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Mix the dry ingredients.
Mix the wet ingredients.
Let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet.
Bake for about 45 -55 minutes, turning and stirring a few times in the middle.
It's done when it's golden brown and dry.
Cool completely.
You can add dried fruit at this point if you like.
Store in an airtight container.

I've been using this recipe since before and it needs to be localized. So far, only the water and the maple syrup are local. The water comes from my well, so that's definitely local.

The maple syrup comes from the Sisters (the Community of the Holy Spirit, Bluestone Farm, Brewster, NY --20 driving miles from here). It is made with, as they say, nothing but sap, fire, and love.

Between Terri's sprouts and my granola, I'm feeling a bit anachronistic. Think I'll go to a peace rally!


My partner has been sprouting seeds on the kitchen counter. We have an alfalfa, radish sprout mix and a chick pea, pea, lentil mix going. The sprouts are delicious and nutritious.

I read that sprouts contain an enormous amount of vitamins and nutrients and that you could give up taking vitamin pills if you eat sprouts daily. The idea appeals to me because I don't believe in vitamin pills. How can we be sure that the chemists who formulated the vitamins took into account the associated food factors that make the vitamins actually work in human bodies. What's the point of taking something that your body can't absorb? What good is taking something that requires something else to be effective if the something else is missing? So, sprouts seemed like a great idea. It's a living food!

It turns out there's lots of disagreement on just how nutritious sprouts are. It seems some claims may have been overstated. So, I don't know. (Can anyone point me to some authoritative information?)

Funny thing, I have been feeling better since I've been eating them (could be the placebo effect, and I'll take it if it means feeling better!).

The bottom line: we grow them on our kitchen counter and you can't get any more local than that!

Delicious nutritious sandwich:
Spread tahini on 2 lightly toasted slices of bread (I like the sprouted wheat kind from Alvarado Street Bakery*. Pile sprouts on each slice. Place two thick slices of local heirloom tomatoes on one pile of sprouts and cover with the other. Enjoy!

*Yeah, I know--the bread traveled 3000 miles to get to me; I'm hoping it averages out since the sprouts came from my kitchen and the tomato came from my back yard.
Anyone know a local baker that can bake sprouted wheat bread like the Alvarado Street Bakery?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Beef: It's What's for Dinner

Deciding to eat locally and sustainably does not (for me) preclude meat. I am an omnivore and make no apologies about it.

Meat gets a bad rap in the organic food community because of the methods used in raising animals and bringing them to market. For example, to quickly fatten cows (and increase profitability), conventional commercial operations feed them corn and grains and give them growth hormones. Corn and grain-fed cows gain about 5 pounds a day versus the 1.5-2 pounds a day a grass-fed cow gains. Since cows don't naturally eat corn and grains and live in very tight quarters, they also need antibiotics, which get passed on to the consumer.

Since those cows are not eating grass (their natural diet), there are nutrients they aren't getting and therefore, nutrients they aren't producing. Grass-fed beef is higher in vitamin E and Omega-3 Fatty acids as well as beta-carotene and conjugated linoleic acids. It is also lower in calories and fat than conventional grain or corn-fed beef.

The question is, where can I find locally raised and humanely produced meat products?

In a previous post, I mentioned that a natural foods store carried locally raised beef from Stuart Family Farm in Bridgewater, CT. I bought some to perform some cooking and palate experiments.

The price was high (a rib eye steak was about $20 a pound). You can get it significantly cheaper by going to the farm yourself, but even then, it's more expensive than supermarket beef. The high price is due to the additional land required to rotate grass fed beef and the quality of that land. Also, it takes seven months longer for a cow to come to weight naturally.

In the end, it comes down to taste. And as promised, I'm ready to share my results. We cooked the rib eye on the grill and the steak was fantastic! It was not gamey or strange tasting. There was less fat on the steak and it tasted less greasy. But it was tender and juicy. It was delicious. I would definitely do this again.

Now, where can I find chicken and pork?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Like Peapod, but not

In a previous post, I expressed envy that a particular supermarket has a delivery service. You order groceries from their Web site and they bring it to your door. That's one of the perqs of living in the 21st century. Oh that local, sustainably-grown foods came with the same convenience.

As it happens, there are a few such services:
My Personal Farmers works with a number of local NY farms and will deliver anywhere in Westchester County, NY. Since I don't live in Westchester County, I cannot use the service and am therefore unable to provide a review or any guidance whatsoever. It does seem like a very cool thing. I invite anyone with any experience with this service to share their experiences in the comments.

Organic Connection in Brewster, NY delivers to Westchester and Putnam counties in NY and Fairfield County in CT. How excited am I?!
More on this service once I've had a chance to try it out.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another Foraging Adventure

Our second (deliberate) adventure in foraging brought us to New Morning Natural and Organic Store in Woodbury, CT., about 10 miles away.

It's a fairly large store (as natural foods stores go), but they carry so many items, the place seems small. This is a good thing since they are building a new store with lots more space!
They have a wide variety of products: organic/local produce, dairy products, meat products, prepared foods, boxed and frozen foods, household items, hygiene and heath care products, baked goods, coffee, and more.

I thought the produce section was rather small (comparing it only to the size of the farmer's market). And I wish their signs would have been more specific about the food origin--Connecticut Grown seems rather generic to me. For a small state, it's pretty big. (Happily, the entire state fits into our 100-mile local radius.)

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, answering all kinds of scientific and sociological questions about their products.

Among many other items, we bought some locally raised beef from Stuart Family Farm in Bridgewater, CT. This is an experiment. Long ago, I bought some free-range beef from elsewhere to check it out and found it to be tough, gamey, and generally not tasty. I feared my palate had been socialized into corruption over the (many) years of my life. This is another chance. I bought a rib-eye steak and some ground beef. I plan to do the steak up on the grill and to make my much-loved meatballs out of the ground beef. (I'm having visions of chasing free-range meatballs around the kitchen.) I promise more information on this beef once we cook and taste it.

We bought Hautboy Hill Farm creamline milk, but I can't find a Web site to link to.

And finally, the sweet potatoes we bought were the sweetest sweet potatoes I have ever eaten.

Friday, September 14, 2007


The first local pumpkins of the season appeared on the scene. I found mine at Mason's Farm Market. (They don't have a Web site, but they're on Route 25 in Monroe, Ct. at the Bradford Drive intersection. Map here.)

It turns out that pumpkins are quite nutritious; they're rich in beta carotene, potassium, Vitamin C, calcium, and fiber.

I decided to attempt the pumpkin soup recipe (PDF) from Kingsolver's book, which calls for cooking the soup and serving it in its own shell.

I was very careful scraping the inside flesh and I am quite certain that I did not breach the skin/shell, but alas, the pumpkin did collapse and I was unable to use it as a tureen.

As for the taste--delicious, though not exactly what I was expecting; this is pumpkin herb, not pumpkin spice.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First Forage

Last Saturday (9/8) , we ventured out on a foraging trip to a local Farmer's Market.

Finding a convenient Farmer's Market is not as easy as you'd think. This is how the supermarkets suck you in--they're ubiquitous and nearly always open. One even lets you shop online and delivers the food to your door. But they say anything worth having is worth working for.

I Googled on ct farmers markets and found the CT Farm Fresh Web site listed a few links down. (What did we do before Google?) Using their map, I found several farmer's markets in the county. Most are open one or two days a week during normal business hours. Not a great convenience for working people. However, the Bethel Farmer's Market (the nearest one by a lot) is open on Saturdays!

So we went. I was impressed with the selection and the number of participating farms. There were tomatoes, lettuces, kale, apples, peppers, onions, more tomatoes, herbs, pies, and much more. I picked a good week for my first forage! The prices were reasonable and for the most part, the quality was super. I left with cilantro, tomatoes, and McIntosh apples. Very happy.

I titled this post First Forage, although this is not my first-ever visit to a farmer's market; it is the first deliberate forage since reading Kingsolver's book. I still need to find a market that will solve my "putting by" issues. I also am on the lookout for (egads) meat!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Recap on Why

With all due respect to Henry David Thoreau, I wish to eat more deliberately so that at the end of my days I would not realize that I hadn't eaten food at all.

Like I said, Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle awakened something in me and lit a match under my butt.

Corporate food favors items that look attractive, package well, ship well, and last through the journey. Local growers have the luxury of choosing genetic lines that taste better and contain more nutrients.

  • I don't want to eat food provided by one of the six major food corporations controlling the global food supply.
  • I don't want to eat food that can't reproduce itself.
  • I don't want to eat food that traveled 3000+ miles to get to me. I want to pay for food, not transportation.
  • I don't want to eat food that consists of hormones, pesticides, unnatural fertilizers, and genetic modifications.
  • I do want to eat food that is more nutritious and tastes better.
  • I do want to eat food that is grown sustainably.
  • I do want to be part of the solution.

I am keeping this blog as a place to ask for and share information and a catalog of what I have found.

A New Beginning

I am just about finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. This book inspired me to begin this blog. Barbara Kingsolver is a brilliant writer; you may be familiar with some of her other works, such as The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer.

I'm not going to do a book review here---there are currently 110 of them at Amazon, and perhaps hundreds of others elsewhere. The basic premise of the book is that her family goes back to the farm in Appalachia and eats local foods for an entire year. Local includes their own farm, a neighbor's farm, or a farm within 100 miles of their home.

There are dozens of reasons to eat locally, not the least being that the bulk of our commercially available food is tasteless, nutritionless, and consumes more petroleum than our automotive vehicles. The book is informative and moving, practical and fantastic.

She made a believer out of me, perhaps because she's not one of those in-your-face health food nuts. She acknowledges that it's impossible to eat everything grown locally--take olive oil and pineapples for example (not in the same recipe). But if you take the time to think about it, you can make much better long-distance choices. The book has a companion Web site for more information.

I wondered if a suburban dweller with a full time day job and could take on an equivalent committment. My gardening skills are in their infancy. I do have a "victory garden" in my yard and it looks liks the Japanese beetles, deer, and chipmunks have declared victory. While Kingsolver's family spent about $0.50 per meal per person, my total garden yield this summer has been about a dozen tomatoes and a several dozen Jalapenos.

However, I am excited enough about the idea to begin this blog and hear about others adventures in local eating. Share your experiences, your successes (or not) in your attempts to eat closer to home.

I live in Connecticut, just east of Danbury. Can I amend my diet to favor locally produced fare? What's available in my neck of the woods? Where can I get it? Do I have to "put up" my own produce (canning and freezing) or can I retain my grasshopper-ness?