Saturday, September 29, 2007

Faux-Curry and Genuine Stir-fry

After almost a month of local eating, we are still discovering new tastes and directions in cooking. I think we must have been missing eating the "exotic" tastes Indian and Chinese cooking. This probably has something to do with not eating out for almost a month. So, I set out to create a faux-curry, something that sounds pretty hard without spices like cumin, turmeric, coriander (not yet!), ginger, cloves, cardamom, etc. etc. etc.

The result was this:

Let me try to remember all that was in it:
potatoes (yukon gold fingerlings)
beet greens and stems
almond butter (with honey)
tomato sauce
cayenne pepper
cilantro (frozen in cubes)
served over wheat berries cooked like rice

I guess it was kind of a spicy chunky stew/stirfry/sauce, or, just maybe, a curry. I give full credit to the almond butter-cilantro-tomato combo. And the garlic and cayenne probably didn't hurt.

The wheat berries were good too, although they were much more chewy that rice. Actually, I burned some of them and these crispy wheat berries taste really good with milk as cereal. One day I'll make a cereal or granola mix with crispy baked wheat berries, popcorn, and almonds.

Then, the next night, Julie made a delicious edamame-corn-and more stir-fry served over breaded, fried eggplant that tasted like it had soy sauce on it!

I had never made a successful stir-fry, or even known that there was a specific technique(s) associated with it. At the beginning of this month, I was afraid I might be eating the same omelet or vegetable stew, day after day. I was wrong. I think I like vegan cooking and local cooking for the same reason--the more limited selection forces you to be creative.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Red Herring Local Day Recap

The Local food day at the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant was a big success. Many thanks to Chad and Lisa who made the idea a reality, and to Amy who did some great last minute publicity for the event. (Channel 3 news WCIA showed up and did a story on the event).

For us, the best part was eating food that wasn't made by us! In the picture is the basil stir-fry, cornbread, and mashed sweet potatoes with green beans, all local.* There were also two local soups, butternut squash and potato leek.

The other best part, was seeing labels for all of dishes, which showed where every ingredients came from. How great is that? Full traceability. Some people don't want to know what is in their hot dog or chicken nuggets. Give me all the nitty gritty details! Here are pictures of the ingredients' places of origin:

(click for larger versions)

Wouldn't it be great if all restaurants did this? Each dish would be a story of soil, water, sun, farmers, trucks, trains, or ships, distance, freezers, cans, microorganisms, and so on.

*the corn for the cornmeal was grown in ohio but milled in illinois. see the ingredients lists for the rest of the exceptions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Eat Local Thursday at the Red Herring

This Thursday, the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant (in Urbana, corner of Mathews and Oregon) will be serving at least one all-local meal (butternut squash and roasted red pepper soup) with many local items used in the other dishes, like a local stir fry.

For those of you who live in Urbana-Champaign, come out on Thursday (lunch served 11am-3pm) to show your support for a restaurant that is making an effort to support locally grown food and local farmers. If enough people show up, maybe they'll make this a weekly occurrence!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shiitakes and Skordalia

Dinner tonight was centered around the shiitake mushrooms we found at the farmers market today. Thanks to Tomahnous Farm (Mahomet, IL - 14 miles), we had shittake mushrooms cooked in a wine-butter sauce with tarragon (also from Tomahnous). The ingredients were:

chopped shiitakes
dry white wine
more butter

The original, full recipe is here. It's actually a recipe for a shiitake and wine sauce, but it worked well as a main dish!

On the left, we have tiny baby potatoes with rosemary, and on the right, toast with skordalia, a greek garlic potato spread.

Another accomplishment of today was paprika. Yes, we oven dried sweet red peppers and put them in a pepper grinder. Much like we did with our dried cayenne peppers to get cayenne:

Speaking of spices, you might think we're eating very bland food. Well, I definitely miss black pepper, but there are plenty of seasonings we do have:

salt (the exception)
cayenne pepper
papalo (bolivian coriander)

Let me tell you, mint-sage-lemongrass tea with honey in it is amazing!

I'm still waiting for coriander. I planted some non-local coriander (seeds). Now I need to wait for them to grow up into cilantro. Then when the cilantro goes to seed, we'll have local coriander!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Recent creations

Here are some photos of some recent creations:

Laktes (potato pancakes) with applesauce

Tomato Soup

Blue Moon Salad

Sweet Potato Pie (it's smooth like cheesecake)

New discovery

The other day we made fried tomatoes for lunch. Not fried green tomatoes, as in fried unripe tomatoes, but fried ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes get cooked through and get really juicy and good tasting. The idea was from the Cooking Locally workshop I took at Parkland. After breading all the tomatoes we had some egg and cornmeal leftover. Julie had the brilliant idea to mix the two, add some salt and thyme and fry it up. The result...Cornmeal Souffle:

It was so good, we made another one for dinner--cut into triangles and topped with slices of little green zebra tomatoes. The thyme is key. I don't know if this has ever done before; the closest I could find online was a corn souffle. If you eat eggs, try it sometime!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Salt and other exceptions

You might be wondering just how strict this local-only eating is. Have we made any exceptions? Coffee? Beer? Spices? No. No. No. But we have made some exceptions. Below are our exceptions and the reasoning behind the exception. One of the main reasons for this local eating experiment is to become more aware of where our food comes from.


Salt and light. Salt of the earth. Salt is a big deal. From the wikipedia article, History of salt:

Salt's ability to preserve food was a foundation of civilization. It eliminated the dependence on the seasonal availability of food and it allowed travel over long distances. It was also a desirable food seasoning. However, salt was difficult to obtain, and so it was a highly valued trade item. Until the 1900s, salt was one of the prime movers of national economies and wars.
Today salt is almost universally accessible, relatively cheap and often iodized.

Although sodium and chloride are both required for survival in humans, you they don't have to be consumed in the form of salt. We figured that because most people, in North America, and around the world, have had salt, from the sea, from salt mines, or from salt licks, we should be able to have it too, especially because of it's importance in preserving foods (like pickling cucumbers or fermenting sauerkraut in brine). We did learn that Michigan is one of the leading salt producers in the U.S., thanks to the Michigan Basin, which has been under inland seas multiple times in the past.

Without yeast, we couldn't make bread and we couldn't make wine. We allowed buying packets of wine and bread yeast from the store. Of course, we could have tracked down a sourdough starter (still looking) or collect "used" yeast from a homebrewer in town, but, we didn't. So technically, we could have gotten yeast locally. The packets ensured us that our precious bread and wine didn't end up not working.

Baking soda and baking powder

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is another salt, chemically. Baking powder is baking soda with an acid salt added, usually calcium aluminum phosphate. Sodium bicardonate occurs naturally, but it is most often made chemically. Sodium chloride (table salt) was heated with sulfuric acid, producing sodium sulfate and hydrochloric acid. The sodium sulfate was then heated with coal and limestone to form sodium carbonate, or soda ash, from which baking soda is extracted. Here's something interesting about the history of baking sodas:

The development of baking powders began with the discovery of carbonate materials. One of the first carbonates was potash (potassium carbonate, K2CO3), a material that was extracted from wood ashes. During the eighteenth century, potash production had become a major commercial industry. American colonies exported huge amounts to England where it was used by glass factories and soap manufacturers.

Potash's usefulness to the baking industry was discovered during the 1760s. Prior to this time bakers had to hand knead dough for long periods to get the proper amount of air mixed throughout. For recipes which called for sourdough, pearlash (concentrated potash) was added to offset the sour taste. By chance, bakers found that these types of dough rose quickly. Evidently, the pearlash reacted with the natural acids in the sour-dough to produce carbon dioxide gas.

Because baking soda is made via a chemical process, because it is sometimes needed as a leavening agest, and because it is used in such low quantities, we allowed ourselves use of baking soda and baking powder.

Well I think that's it, really. No other exceptions. Well, there were some technicalities. We found local butter--goat butter, from the Amish in Arthur, IL. We bought a quart, but used it all up. It's not convenient for us to go back to Arthur to get more, so we are now using cow butter, from Wisconsin. That goat butter made some awesome popcorn though...

The other technicality is for cornmeal. Moore Family Farm mills corn into different coarsenesses...fine cornmeal, coarse cornmeal, and polenta. But, sadly, the corn is from Ohio. The wheat they mill is from Montana. But luckily, there is Peterson Wholewheat flour, of which we just bought 25 lbs! But we haven't found locally milled, locally grown cornmeal, so we've allowed ourselves the Moore cornmeal. At least it's milled locally!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I cheated.

That's right. I ate baguette, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. But it's okay. It was planned. I went to a "Cooking Locally" workshop taught by Alisa DeMarco from the Great Impasta. Of cource, it wasn't 99% local like this experiment, but I didn't expect it to be. I got some good ideas for meals and snacks, like Gypsy Pepper and Chevre Crostini, Heirloom Tomato Soup, and fried tomatoes with basil dressing. I sampled all kinds of different heirloom tomatoes, goat cheeses, and apples. It was nice learning some new tricks for the kitchen, like roasting red peppers in a flame, peeling tomatoes (which I've never taken the time to do), how to cut basil so it doesn't bruise, and use salt copiously!

Alisa said that some restaurants in the Northwest have switched from olive oil to butter, because of the demand for local food. Also, interestingly enough, Moscow, Russia, gets all of it's food from greenhouses located just outside city limits. Mostly, it's really exciting to hear people becoming more and more aware of where their food comes from and wanting to reconnect with their food and the farmers who provide it.

In other news, I had cornmeal grits for breakfast, and it was wonderful. This morning was one of the first chilly mornings of the coming autumn, and it was nice to have something warm that stuck to my ribs. The chilly morning also made the dense whole wheat toast I've been eating taste really good.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday = Cooking day

Sunday was a cooking day. We started off at Curtis Apple Orchard and got a lot of apples and apple cider, for making applesauce and apple cider vinegar, among other things. I was hoping that Curtis might sell apple cider vinegar, but that was wishful thinking. Part of the goal of this local eating experiment is to establish connections with local farmers and processors of food--we don't want to spend all our free time churning butter, milling grain, making yogurt, making cheese, etc. But as far as we know, no one is making apple cider vinegar locally...yet.

We headed to our friends place to do the cooking. This way, we could all split up and share what we cooked, so we got more variety. And it was more fun. All together, we made:

Corn and flour tortillas

Tortilla chips and Corn salsa

Tomato sauce with basil and oregano (hopefully it will last a while)

Corn chowder

Cornmeal vegetable pancakes

Potato leek soup
Applesauce (two varieties: Jonathan and Gala)
7 loaves of bread
Fruit salad

Tonight I made this recipe: Cider glazed squash with greens.

Speaking of squash, look at all the different varieties there are--150 in all. A few weeks ago, I only knew the usuals: pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, yellow summer squash, zucchini.

Caramel Corn

Saturday afternoon I made caramel corn, using sorghum molasses, available from "the bee guy" (Campbell Apiaries) at the farmers market or the co-op. Here is the recipe--I used honey and more sorghum instead of brown sugar and omitted the peanuts. I never really liked caramel corn from the store. This stuff however, is amazing. It never got totally hard, so snacking on it days later, it is still soft and chewy. One reason I wanted to try making caramel corn was so I could have something I could eat like cereal or granola, with milk or yogurt. I don't know if that's gonna happen, but it sure is a great snack.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Arugula Goat Cheese Crepes!

This morning I made crepes with a savory Arugula-goat cheese ("Prairie Burn") filling, and a sweet walnut-honey filling.

The arugula, cheese, walnuts, and honey are all from the Urbana Farmers Market, where, this morning, we got a ton of food: melons, onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, seconds tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, beets, carrots, zucchini, corn, honey, arugula, salad mix, basil, cilantro, thyme, sage, marjoram, and oregano.

I'm especially excited about the sweet potatoes--I had not seen those available locally before.

Pasta making!

Last night, we made whole wheat pasta at our friends' place. They are doing a week of local eating. At first, I couldn't find any recipes for making pasta that didn't include oil (not local) or eggs (one friend is vegan), especially recipes for whole wheat pasta that didn't include semolina flour. We were going to do two different versions, one with egg, and one with oil, but it turned out we didn't need either! Corn meal (finer than polenta) was key in keeping the dough from getting too sticky. We dusted the dough with corn meal before putting it through the pasta machine the final time. (full disclosure: the Moore Family Farm corn is only milled locally, it's grown in Ohio. We're allowing it, because this is Illinois!--certainly we should be able to find someone to grind some of this corn)

Fettucini worked out better than spaghetti. The delicious sauce included goat butter (oil for Tom), onions, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, purple basil, honey, cayenne peppers, and maybe some salt.

We also had "Black & Blue" berry wine from Rend Lake in southern Illinois (147 miles, oops!) and watermelon agua fresca with honey. I had been worried about eating enough on this 100 mile diet, but I got so full on the pasta and agua fresca.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The beginning

Well, our month of local eating began on Tuesday, September 4, 2007. At this point, it doesn't really seem like a huge deal, or even a challenge. I'm on the last chapter of Plenty, a book written by a couple in Vancouver, B.C. who ate local (100-miles) food for a whole year. Our month-long challenge seems like small beans compared to that. I mean, this is September, the peak of the harvest; the farmers market is overflowing with produce--and yet there are challenges, which I'll be writing about in the coming weeks.

We have been planning and preparing for this month since June, transitioning away from our comfortable tofu, Earth Balance buttery spread, and nutritional yeast to eggs, real butter, and real cheese. I had been preparing for a month without flour--without bread, pasta, pancakes, pizza crust, muffins, cake, but most importantly, TOAST. When I found out that our food co-op has been selling flour milled from wheat grown in Illinois all along, I thought that the month would be a piece of cake.

So far, it hasn't been too tough--just a bit of time involved. Meals have been:
Day 1
Breakfast: Toast with butter, tomato goat cheese spread, muskmelon
Lunch: Spicy Sage Butternut Squash Soup, Michigan Spicy Stew, Peaches
Dinner: Eggs with or without Jalapeno and Roasted Poblano Pepper with "Prairie Burn" Goat Cheese
Snacks: Roasted salted butternut squash seeds

Day 2
Breakfast: Toast with butter, muskmelon, eggs
Lunch: Spicy Sage Butternut Squash Soup, Baked Potato with cheese, butter, and chives, peaches
Dinner: Pizza with spinach, peppers, garlic, caramelized onion, and a tomato sauce
Dessert: Raspberry Muskmelon Honey Popsicle
Day 3
Breakfast: Fried Potato-Onion Balls, Scrambled eggs, Toast with butter and almond butter
Lunch: Michigan Spicy Stew, Baked Potato with cheese, butter, and chives
Dinner: Rosemary-scented Polenta with spinach, eggplant, orange tomatoes, and shallots; with a tomato sauce
Snacks: Honey sticks, roasted salted butternut squash seeds

Coming up next: recipes; making sauerkraut, pickles, and wine; and spices!

Month of local eating begins!

The purpose of this site is to document our experiment with eating local--within 100 miles--of Urbana, Illinois. The "official" experimentation period will be one month, September 2007, but learning and research starts right away and will carry on after the experiment is over. The goal is to become more informed about where our food comes from and how we can establish connections with local food growers, processors, and sellers.

We'll document here our experiences searching out flour, butter, and oil; preparing pizza, pasta, and polenta; making sauerkraut, pickles, and wine; and the day-to-day challenges and rewards of eating local food for one month.