Monday, September 24, 2012

What remains

The challenge is over.  The sun rose this morning no differently than before, and apparently our local eating moved no mountains nor turned water into wine (though not for lack of trying.)  What I hope it did do, though, was inspire a few people somewhere to make a meaningful choice about what they put into their bodies.  I can't help but leak a little sappy inspirational talk here - I'm a mom and a teacher so it comes pretty naturally to me.  Please forgive me.

There are a lot of fad diets out there these days.  We hear all about "natural cleanses" and eating "caveman style."  Everyone wants their body to be a temple, right?  And, to continue the analogy, I guess that there are all different styles of worship.  Some religions require a sort of cleansing of the soul, others value sacrifice, and most honor tradition.  I guess I worship through simplicity and by doing so, incorporate all three aspects to some extent.  We didn't do this challenge to cleanse our bodies, or to feel as those we have sacrificed convenience and flavor for a greater cause.  We didn't do this challenge to honor the traditions of settlers who came long before us.  In the end, we did do all of those things, but none of them were the point.  The point was to see how simply we could live and by doing so, maybe affect some longterm changes in our family values and eating habits.  I think the way your family eats says a lot about you.  Now that I'm raising a child, it's even more important that I think critically about the values we are living on a daily basis.

So, what will remain now that the week is over and what will be thrown to the wayside?  I have to say, I have missed ethnic foods and flavors - cumin, curry, fish sauce, and sesame oil.  I have missed olive oil and pasta and rice.  I have also missed the option of going out to restaurants or meeting friends for a drink.  All of these things will return to our diets.  Local eating is not cheap and it is not convenient.  One would think that eating food from two miles down the road should be markedly more affordable and accessible than similar food produced two thousand miles away, but that is not the state of food in our country right now.  I'm not saying that it will ALL be thrown to the wayside.  There are some elements that we will continue in our daily diets.  We will continue to use our own sea salt and fresh herbs.  Though they are slightly more expensive, I will continue to buy local eggs and milk because the difference in quality is so notable.  And I will make the pilgrimage to the winter farmer's market to see what produce I can buy year round.  Maybe most important for our health, we will eat fewer processed foods.  I enjoyed my time in the kitchen and though I can't commit to spend 4 hours cooking every day forever, I do think it's worthwhile to make more of our own foods like bread, yogurt, and cheese.

Baby grommet seems pleased to be allowed his old foil packets of fruit puree.  I know it was healthier and even cheaper to feed him my homemade applesauce, but the convenience of handing him something that he can feed himself happily for a few minutes is unbeatable.  I think he must have missed pasta, too, since I just found him doing this:

Oh, and in case you're wondering, breakfast this morning was oatmeal for both of us.  I also had half a bagel and he had a fruit puree packet (gasp!)  


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The End . . . or not

Tonight marks the official completion of our weeklong eat local challenge.  I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty proud of not dropping the ball after dear hubby went back to work yesterday morning.  I did down the game a bit and depend on leftovers for lunch, but that is pretty standard when I'm cooking dinners for one any other time also.

So, today's recap.  Breakfast was oatmeal, just the way I like it - swimming in a pool of milk with a pad of butter and drizzle of maple syrup on top.

Lunch was leftover chicken cacciatore, which the baby grommet enjoyed every bit as much as he did last night.

Speaking of the baby grommet, he slept much better last night.  I was even mildly confused when I woke up at 7, on my own, and didn't need to hop right into action.  I'm not used to having time to myself in the mornings, so I laid in bed reading quality literature until duty called.  He also stuck to his normal napping schedule so I'm hoping this means we are now back on track.  

The normal napping schedule meant I had some time in the afternoon to prep dinner.  I still had two chicken leg quarters left that I needed to use, so I decided to start off by browning them in some bacon grease so that they'd be ready to pop in the oven.    Meanwhile, I also peeled and cut some carrots in thirds so that I could steam and puree them.  

After some research, I found a recipe for low fat chicken and gravy that sounded good.  As usual, I had to modify the recipes quite a bit but I had most of the basics and I liked the idea of cooking the flour-dredged chicken in some milk so that the gravy made itself as it mixed with the chicken juices.  I probably shouldn't have browned the chicken first, or at least I certainly didn't need to, but in any case I combined some whole wheat flour with salt and dried thyme, then dredged the chicken in it and emptied the extra flour mixture into the bottom of the casserole dish.  I put the chicken pieces on top and then added milk until it was about a third of the way up the chicken.  I baked it all at 300 for 1 hr 25 minutes, basting the chicken with the gravy/milk three times while cooking, and whisking up the gravy and drippings each time.  

While the chicken baked, I sauteed some swiss chard with garlic, then added a bit of cider and water and let it simmer.  I served up my portion of carrot puree, covered with swiss chard and topped with a chicken quarter and gravy.  It was tasty!  

So, is this the end?  Am I saying goodbye and signing off for good?  Well that would be pretty boring and anticlimactic I think.  There are a few epilogues I want to get together, which maybe I'll have some time for once I don't feel so guilty about cooking pasta as a meal anymore.  For one, I want to think about the overall pro's and con's, and write about which parts of this challenge we plan on continuing with in our diet.  For another, I am going to break down the costs of this challenge to compare with our normal shopping.  

But for now, here's the final breakdown:

Fried eggs, bacon, and cornbread
Jonnycakes with maple syrup
Scrambled eggs with ham and roasted potatoes
Jonnycakes with blueberry syrup and bacon
Leftover apple crisp (2 mornings in a row - mmmmmm!)

Cream of vegetable soup with salad
Ratatouille with grits
Jonnycakes with tomatillo salsa
Spicy chicken soup with corn muffins
Leftover chicken soup and ratatouille
Jonnycakes with goat's cheese and smoked bluefish, side salad
Leftover chicken cacciatore

Roasted chicken with root vegetables, cornbread stuffing, and sweet corn salad
Clam chowder, sweet corn salad, and oat flour biscuits
Shepherd's Pie (not 100% local, since we were guests at my in-laws, but mostly local, and definitely could have been done 100% local)
Quiche! (1:  Ham, brie, shallots, and tomatoes, 2: Bacon, goat's cheese, leaks, spinach, and tomatoes) served with beet salad and steamed green beans
Seared scallops with roasted potatoes and salad
Chicken cacciatore and spaghetti squash
Baked chicken and gravy with carrot puree and swiss chard 

Melon with ham
Apple slices with brie
Corn muffins
Mint tea
Smoked bluefish with goat cheese
Homemade applesauce

Apple crisp with maple custard
Maple Ice Cream
Honey Ice Cream

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Slow Cooking

As predicted, we had a slow kind of day.  The grommet was clearly not feeling well, but he did his best to destroy the living room, terrorize the dog, and find breakable objects, per usual.  Yesterday, he pushed his toy farmhouse against the child gate and then climbed on top of it, using it as a step, and was well on his way over the gate before we caught him.  I'm fairly certain that this is evidence of genius-level intelligence.  If anyone reading this can confirm, please email me so that I can make sure he gets into the right preschool.  Ah, I jest.

Anyway, after lunch we went to run errands so that I could replenish boring things like baby wipes and trash bags.  The outing seemed to keep baby grommet happy and occupied, but on the way home I broke a cardinal rule of parenting and let him fall asleep in the car, HALF AN HOUR BEFORE NAP TIME.  Panic, right?  I tried to transfer him into his crib but he woke up and then refused to take an afternoon nap altogether.  Foiled my dinner cooking plans?  Wrong!  I had already prepped dinner and put it on the stove before we left.

Here is the spread:

I basically made a chicken cacciatore by browning the onion, garlic, and peppers, then adding the seared chicken thighs and legs, tossed it all in our heavy stock pot, poured the tomato puree (that's what is in the suspicious/gross looking ziploc) over the top, and simmered with herbs on low all afternoon.  By the time the afternoon nap had come and gone without happening, the chicken had fallen off the bones and I diced the eggplant and added it.  I didn't end up using the pattypan squash.  

Instead of serving it with polenta, like I had originally planned, I decided to use the gorgeous spaghetti squash I had picked up at the farm, so I steamed it, shredded it, and used it as a base for the cacciatore.  I am always a little in awe of how much spaghetti squash resembles its namesake.

Here is the finished product.  I topped it with some crumbled goat cheese.  Grommet wasn't in the mood for spaghetti squash but he devoured the cacciatore.   

And, bonus - there is plenty left over for lunch tomorrow!  I also have some yogurt incubating in the crockpot set at warm right now, so that should be ready to go first thing tomorrow morning.  Yum!  


Taking it easy

So, it turns out, baby grommet wasn't up all night thinking about how he'd been roped into the eat local challenge unwillingly.  He was up all night because the poor little guy is sick!  I didn't even know that so much booger could come out of such a little nose.  And his cough!  He has the saddest little (big!) cough.

This all means that we were up about five times last night and on a few of those times, the only thing we could do was rock the inconsolable little guy while he wailed.  This morning we are exhausted.  To top if off, dear hubby went back to wrk this morning and will be gone for five days straight so it's just me and baby grommet now.  This calls for some simple, no-fuss cooking.

But before I get to today, let me fill you in on yesterday.  Lunch was leftovers.  We have a ton of leftovers and they're easy so it's a no brainer.  Dinner, though, was a huge hit.  Dan had dropped off some local sea scallops for dear hubby's birthday and our latest CSA share was loaded with beautiful potatoes, plus I had scored some green house sweet potatoes at another farm.  I made crispy roasted potatoes with garlic and parsley, seared scallops w shallots and fresh herbs, and a green salad.  Yummmmmmm.

This morning I enjoyed the last of the apple crisp with custard and baby grommet gobbled up some oatmeal.

For lunch I did our go-to easy meal - jonnycakes, this time topped with goat's cheese and smoked bluefish, also courtesy of Dan.  

I had a side of green salad and baby grommet had the last of Thursday's spicy chicken soup (good for his cold!)  It was the first time I'd given him soup and he seemed to really like it.  He is also having some weak mint tea brewed from mint in our garden.    

Right now I'm defrosting some chicken thighs and drumsticks from Tendercrop, and some tomatoes from our garden that I blanched, peeled, and froze last week.  I'm going to throw it in the crockpot with some other veggies and let it all stew for a while, then serve it with some creamy polenta.  A slow cooked meal for a slow kind of day.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The feast to end all feasts . . . .

And I was so busy that I didn't even get any pictures of it.  I know, I know - you call my bluff right?  Well, there were witnesses so I can refer you to them if you still doubt me.

Lunch yesterday was a warm and spicy chicken soup.  I roasted the cracked up chicken carcass (mmmm marrow) from Monday night's dinner under high heat in the oven, with some herbs.  It made the whole house smell like fried chicken and released all the juices from the bones.  I then simmered it in just enough water to cover it, drained it, and chilled so I could skim the fat off the top.

Then I sauteed 1/2 red onion, 3 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup diced celery, 1 small hot pepper, and 1 baby eggplant.  Once tender, I added the broth and 2 chopped turnips, 1 chopped carrot, and 2 chopped potatoes and simmered until the everything was cooked through.  I also made corn muffins with some modifications to this recipe.   I replaced the vegetable oil with bacon grease (kind of negates the "vegan" recipe title, huh?), eliminated baking soda, and used all cornmeal instead of half flour.  Replaced the agave nectar with maple syrup and the soymilk with regular milk.  They were super moist and a little puffier than my last batch.  Yum.

We went on a family grocery sojourn yesterday afternoon.  Remember, we can't just hop in the car and do the one-stop shopping trip at Market Basket, but this was ok with us yesterday since baby grommet is still struggling to sleep (he has a cold now) and a long nap in the car was just what he needed.  So first we headed to the dairy at Appleton Farms to pick up milk, cream, and beef, but they were out of beef which totally threw my birthday dinner plans through a loop (more on that later).  Next we picked up our CSA share (yay for Thursdays!) which consisted of potatoes (phew, I had been running low), swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, onions, beets, and tomatoes.  As I racked my brain about dinner plans, I asked dear hubby if he thought we should head back to Marini's to find some meat.  We had just come from that direction, though, so instead he suggested we try Apple Street Farm.  I had never been to that one and ended up staying in the car with sleeping grommet, but dear hubby said their pork looked amazing, though it was only available to CSA members.  Sigh.  We were able to score some local whole wheat flour there, though, which is a huge find for us, and we picked up some eggs since the roadside cooler still wasn't out.  Looking at our haul, I conceptualized the dinner plan with dear hubby's favorite meal in mind:  QUICHE.

At home, first I prepped the pie crusts by slicing butter into the flour we'd just scored.  I lightly salted it and pressed it into two pie pans, then baked at 350 for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, I peeled, cored, and diced 4 apples and 2 pears, then tossed them with maple syrup and put them in a 9x13 pan.  I made a crumble topping by whirring oats, flour, butter, and maple sugar candy together in the food processor, then crumbled over the fruit.  This went into the oven when the quiche crusts came out, and cooked for about 45 minutes.  I wanted to make maple ice cream so I combined 2 cups milk with 2 cups heavy cream and heated until steaming in a saucepan.  While that heated, I creamed together 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup maple syrup and a pinch of salt.  Once the milk was steaming, I took it off the heat and slowly added the egg mixture, whisking constantly to make sure the eggs didn't cook.  The whole thing got returned to the heat and stirred until it thicken enough to coat the spoon, then aside to cool completely.

Next was frying the bacon for quiche, then sauteing leaks and shallots.  I put crumbled bacon on the bottom of one pie crust, topped with crumbled goat's cheese, fried leaks, and sauteed spinach.  The other quiche had diced ham, brie, and fried shallots.  I poured 4 whole eggs and 2 egg whites whisked with some milk into each pie crust and laid sliced tomatoes on top.  Both baked at 350 for about 35 minutes.

Finally, I steamed some green beans and made a quick salad with romaine, cucumbers, green onions, and beets, dressed with a mixture of yogurt, cider, and chopped basil (better than it sounds, I promise).

Of course, after dinner I discovered that the freezer had partially defrosted so the ice cream machine was not operable.  This nixed the maple ice cream, but instead I heated it back up and ladled it over bowls of apple crisp as a warm custard.

Delicious!  I'll update with some pictures of yesterday's lunch and we still have leftover crumble so I can get some pictures of that too.

Breakfast this morning was leftover apple crumble and corn muffins.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Ok, we cheated.  This is my confession.  Forgive us.

But first, check out the lunch that Dan and I ended up making yesterday.  Jonnycakes with a fresh salsa of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatillos, topped with a sprinkle of sea salt.  Delicious.

But then there was the wine tasting.  Mmmmmm, the wine tasting.  We headed up to Mill River Winery around 4:30, since they close at 6.  We arrived just before five to find a really cozy, semi-rustic and totally inviting tasting room attached to a small gourmet food-themed gift shop.  There are old exposed beams original to the building, and a cool bar top made from rough cut lumber.  In the gift shop, they carry some local products and some imported things like olive oils and vinegars.  Everything looked good, and we decided to pick up some local cheese from them to enjoy while we sampled the wine.  Chris in the tasting room was friendly and knowledgeable, guiding us through a few different tastes.  They have only just planted their own vines this season, so they are not yet producing their own grapes and mostly still use grapes from California.  Our first cheat!  But oh so worth it.  We agreed that our favorite was the barrel-aged Chardonnay, and I don't even like chardonnays so that's saying something!  I could have spent an entire afternoon relaxing in the tasting room.  Oh, and Chris also gave us some crackers to accompany our cheese.  Our second cheat!  All in all though, we were happy to be patrons at a local place doing something relatively new around here, and we think they're going to be pretty successful.  I'm sure we'll be back before long, and you can bet that once they get their local grapes up and going, we'll be their best customers!

Next, it was off to my in-laws' house to have a birthday dinner for dear hubby.  We weren't about to impose our crazy hippy diet on the extended family, so we were prepared for anything but as it turns out, it was a mostly local meal!  My mother in law appreciates quality local food so she had made a shepherd's pie using local meat and potatoes.  We also had local green beans on the side and a caprese salad that was all homegrown with the exception of the mozzarella.  It was all delicious and serves as another example of a menu that could be done entirely on local foods.  Dessert was a different story with frozen homemade raspberry mousse and lemon cake.  Another cheat!  But again, what could we do other than indulge??

This morning we are back to business, though, and I am regretting not running the errands I should have run yesterday (might have something to do with the wine tasting . . . . )  One small hassle of local eating that will take some getting used to is that you cannot just run out and pick up a random grocery here or there.  We are all out of eggs and almost out of butter and milk.  Luckily, dear hubby's mother randomly gifted us some more local bacon last night which totally saved me for the actual birthday breakfast this morning.  Dear hubby wanted eggs and drove twice to the house where we've sourced out good farm eggs at a great price ($2.50/doz!!) but they had not yet put the cooler out by the road.  I still managed to pull off a great birthday breakfast, I think.

Local bacon with jonnycakes and blueberry syrup.  I had frozen the blueberries early in the summer so in that regard I was fortunate.  I mixed them with a little local maple syrup and heated until they were plump and ready to burst.  

Jonnycakes are seriously versatile.  I'm sure I'll get sick of them soon, but I'm also getting better at cooking them, frying them in bacon fat until the outside has a satisfying crunch and the inside is soft but not mushy.  

Not to be left out, little grommet enjoyed a few cheats of his own.  At playgroup yesterday they handed out a snack of little graham cracker bunnies and, not wanting to be that weirdo mom who imposes bizarre diets on her infant, I let him indulge.  He also had a banana at playgroup earlier in the week.  This morning, though, he was back it right along side us, enjoying a jonnycake, bacon, and plenty of homemade applesauce.

On today's lunch menu is chicken soup made with stock made from Monday night's roasted chicken.  Perfect for a fall day.  Tonight will be a surf n turf celebration for dear hubby's birthday.  

Veggies ready to go into our chicken soup:

And, the finished product:

The broth was super dark and rich from cracking open the bones and roasting them in a hot oven.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


For dinner we had steamers, clam chowder, corn salad, and biscuits.  I learned a few things along the way, too.  First off, there are two kinds of clams (well, there are many, many kinds of clams, but there are two common around us - ) sea clams and soft shells.  Sea clams are big and tougher.  They are commonly chopped up in chowders or into strips, deep fried, and served as fried clam strips.  Soft shells are the more delicate ones commonly used in steamers.  Or at least this is what I've been told . . . feel free to correct me.

Anyway, here are the steamers, which we ate as an appetizer while cooking everything else:

 And here are the sea clams being processed and then ready to go into the chowder:

Finally, here's dinner.  The chowder was a little different since we didn't have the right flour to make a roux and thicken it up.  Also it had some random veggies and spices added for flavor.  It was delicious though.  The biscuits were a trial with oat flour that I made by grinding baby grommet's oats in the spice blender.  It worked alright, but as you can see they ended up flat like cookies rather than fluffy like biscuits.  That's because we don't have any baking powder or baking soda.  I did read somewhere, though, that ground deer antler, also known as hartshorn, can be used to leaven breads.  Woah, bet you didn't know that already!  The biscuits were good and rich due to the butter and milk, and the oat flour tasted hearty but a bit coarse.  It's a start though!

We finished off the meal with some homemade maple ice cream which I didn't get to photograph because it was melting too quickly!

This morning was scrambled eggs with diced ham and roasted potatoes with pepper and onions.  Pretty simple, pretty tasty.  

Leftovers for lunch today, and we're off to my in-laws tonight to celebrate dear hubby's birthday, which is tomorrow, so no dinner cooking for me tonight!  Instead, we're going wine tasting this afternoon!