Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Week of School, part three: Eat Local Week

UPDATED WITH PICTURES!

I know: I'm a little late posting this....this was actually our Week Two project...

The second week of September is Eat Local Week in Bellingham, when everyone rallies together to celebrate our diverse local food and agriculture. Restaurants, local businesses, community members and even the schools get involved. Last year our little family felt that we were doing our part by purchasing a share in a CSA; this year, we decided to take it a step further and make Eat Local week into a social studies project, to occupy us while we waited for our Story of the World books to arrive.

The mission: To create four (school-day) dinners using only ingredients found within a 100-mile radius. We thought originally that we'd like to "eat local" for every meal for four days, but I panicked thinking of all the staples I couldn't use (my boys eat a LOT). Like rice. And flour. Then Justin had the great idea to cook local dinners, and map our breakfasts/lunches/snacks to see how far THAT food had to travel to reach our plates....and contrast it to our dinners. I liked this idea much better.

So.....last Saturday, Justin took the bus to the market and stuffed his huge backpack FULL of fresh produce to the tune of about $30. Not a bad start. We loaded it all into a big wicker basket in the kitchen and waited for Monday to come.


I decided it would be appropriate to kick-start our week with a meal made out of our chicken eggs, being as they were absolutely the most local food we had available. It wasn't until about the middle of the day that I realized I had no way to cook the eggs (I was going to make omelettes) without butter. Hmm. This was going to be more complicated than I thought.

A call to Justin, and he came home at dinnertime with a pint of rich, heavy cream from Twin Brooks Creamery (Lynden).


(makes you lick your lips just thinking about it)

A few minutes in the mixer on high and we had wonderfully creamy, homemade butter:


Dinner: MUCH later than usual. Worth the wait? Absolutely. On the menu: Omelettes with eggs from the backyard, a smidgen of gouda cheese made in Ferndale, green and purple bell peppers and walla walla onions from the county, and fried yukon gold and red potatoes on the side (also from the county). I gave myself salt and pepper to use as freebies. Everything else was local.
*****
On Tuesday, I chose a stewing hen Justin bought from an Acme farm. I've never cooked a stewing hen before--the meat is much tougher, stringier, and less edible than broilers--but I wanted to see what I could make of it. I cut off the breast meat and set it aside, then hacked the rest of the bird (bones and all) into 2" pieces. This went into a soup pot with some of the homemade butter to fry.

When the meat was brown, I pulled it out and added a couple of chopped walla walla onions to the pot, and stirred them around a bit until they carmelized. Then I added the chicken back in with about 2 1/2 quarts of water, and simmered it for three hours or so, and it became a wonderfully rich, brown stock. When the stock was done, I strained out the chicken and onions, and started again with my empty pot. In went more butter, and the white of an enormous leek sliced into rings, and a few minced cloves of garlic. These all sauteed together for a few minutes before I added the strained stock back in and brought it up to a boil. Time to add the chopped breast meat and simmer for another couple of hours.


About a half hour before dinnertime, I threw in an entire bunch of chopped, fresh beets, a bowl of chopped potatoes, and some orange, yellow and purple carrots. I was on the phone with Janet when I tossed the beets in and I yelped, as their brilliant color immediately perforated every ounce of the soup. I fumbled around trying to explain to her that no, nothing was wrong, it was just that "the beets turned my soup red". Well, duh!

When I went to serve up the deep soup bowls, finally (seven hours after starting the stock!), I realized I had a few butterflies about the finished product. Soup is one of the foods I make most often, but I always serve it with a salad or hearty bread, in the event that my children don't eat much of their main course. Tonight there was only soup (we had greens but I didn't know what to use as a dressing, so I didn't bother putting them on the table). It was all or nothing here. We were rewarded when we took our first bites and all began moaning and grabbing our bellies, murmuring how good it was. Life-giving food, this. Unparalleled goodness. Even the little ones went back for seconds.

*****
After that, Wednesday's dinner was much simpler. I planned simply to bake some more of the trout still in our freezer from our kind neighbor (FYI: there WAS some debate in our household over this meal, as the fish, though locally caught, was most likely farmed.....Jury's still out on the exact details and whether the meal truly passes inspection.) Our vegetable cache was dwindling, so I piled us all into the car and we went to Fairhaven to check out the Wednesday market. Though much smaller than its Saturday comrade, the market did not disappoint, and gave ample opportunity to fill our mesh bag with just-picked corn ("so sweet it makes my cheeks hurt thinking about it," said the stall's owner), tart apples, and crisp cucumbers (plus the obligatory cookies from Mt. Bakery). I realized as we drove away that I should have bought more than I did (see Thursday). Dinner that night was trout (cooked without spices or flavorings), hot corn, tomato and cucumber slices, and a full skillet of Pommes Anna, which used up the rest of my butter, sadly, but whose crisp chips were well worth the sacrifice.

*****

Thursday: the last night of our Eat Local experiment. We were running painfully low on local food. I considered calling it good, throwing in the towel, and ordering a pizza. The last minute lunch-break shopping trip I planned was cancelled when Justin got called into a meeting and couldn't sit with the kids. We tossed around the idea of taking the family downtown for Ferndale-based Hempler's sausages...but then, I could buy those myself at Haggen for less money. We settled on this plan. Justin would be home at the usual time, I'd run down and get some sausages, we'd eat a little on the late side. No problem.

Well--you know. I was walking across the parking lot at Haggen when I realized I left my grocery money on the counter at home. And my wallet. I remembered that the drive-up at the nearby credit union was open late, so I got back in my car, drove the two blocks down the street, withdrew some money, and drove back. How silly. I walked straight back to the meat department, fully expecting to see advertisements for local poultry and Skagit county beef, but there was none of that. I found the extensive Hempler's section, but couldn't locate any info about where the meat was grown. Does a local processing company count as eating locally grown food? I didn't think so. Was I splitting hairs? Was I making this far too complicated? Would we eat before dark? Did any of this--the whole experiment--even matter?

I finally asked the girl behind the fish counter (couldn't locate the meat man, and I was running short on time) to direct me towards anything from Whatcom or Skagit county. She told me that sometimes they had Lummi Island salmon...but didn't that day. I told her that didn't help. She blinked at me a few times and told me that some of the packaged chicken was Washington grown. I told her that didn't help either. I said it nicely though (sort of), and thanked her before I left the store--empty handed.
By the time I reached the next store, now nearly on the opposite side of town, I was feeling deflated and sheepish. And frustrated. And hungry. I knew, however, that this little locally-owned natural food store would have what I needed. I left there with one single $40 bag of groceries. Skagit River Ranch beef sausages, a 5 lb bag of local carrots, more corn, two heads of broccoli, a jar of Maranatha peanut butter from the sale shelf, and a big glass jar of Twin Brooks whole milk with which to make pancakes in the morning.

We eventually ate dinner on Thursday night. The sausages were good but I was grumpy and missed my mustard. The corn was so good that it (almost) made up for it!

*****

So, there you have it. A post that took four days to live out and nearly two weeks to type....I used to have pictures on here but they caused the whole post to crash multiple times. I'll try to add them in tomorrow!

5 comments:

hapamin said...

That is great! I love it... I mean, I don't love the part where you were hungry and grumpy, but that is a very cool week to have. We can hardly get our act together to have cash on us so we can go to the farmers' market, or to have a cooler so we can refrigerate eggs while we're at work... Sigh.

polarbaer said...

Amazing!!
Kinda like hard core camping, or being on one of those survival trips.

karissa said...

Makes me exhausted just reading it, I can't imagine living it out! Bravo to your hard work, what cool stuff to teach your boys.

l e a h said...

What a beautiful assignment!

And thanks again for the book recommendation. :)

E-mail me at thaitrait@gmail.com to tell me what you want your prize to say!!

MM said...

Love this post! Awesome! This Spring you guys should do a family garden (if you have the time of course); it would be a great lesson plan for the boys and fun too. :)