We're an ordinary family, complete with picky eaters, budget concerns, and time management issues. But to prove that "eating local" works - even for busy families in cooler climates - we're trading Chick-Fil-A and goldfish crackers for grassfed meat and local produce. Join our adventure in learning to eat (sort of) sustainably for the summer!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Week Four shopping details

CSA Contents: (approximate value, $25)
One bunch beets with tops (I gave these to a friend)
Two green zucchini
Two summer squash (straight-neck variety)
One slicing cucumber
One sweet onion
One pound green beans
One bunch "Red Lights" Swiss chard
One head red oakleaf lettuce
Two pounds dark cherries
Two pounds organic cornmeal
One half-gallon milk

Heinen's (total: about $26)
Local white dinner rolls, $2.99
Local wheat bread, $3.19
Local lavash bread, $3.29
Local ricotta cheese, $2.79
Local milk, $3.59
Organic chocolate bar, $2.99
Conventional rapid-rise yeast, $2.98
Conventional walnuts, $4.49

Farmers' Market: (total: $77 )
One dozen local organic eggs, $3
Two pounds local organic butter, $8
Two huge local tomatoes, $7
One peck local apples, $6
One half-gallon local cider, $3
Local pasta (two meals) and pesto sauce, $15
Two local organic chicken breast halves, $7
One pint local black raspberries, $5
One piece (4 ounces?) local feta, $6
One local hot pretzel (breakfast), $1.75
One local cookie (breakfast), $1.75

Pick-your-own blueberries, $13 for about two gallons of them

Fitch's Farm Market: (total: $9)
Some vegetable I don't remember, $1.25
Cherry tomatoes, $3.50
Green pepper, $0.50
Cherries, $3.69

Restaurants: (total: $18)
Cleveland Botanical Garden cafe, $18

** We also went out to dinner at Crop for our anniversary, which cost $71, but this was a once-a-year expense, not a standard grocery purchase, so I'm leaving it out of the total for the week.

That's a total of about $155 including the amount we prepaid for the CSA.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Best. Cornbread. Ever

This week I made the best batch of cornbread ever, using local eggs, local milk, local cornmeal, local whole wheat flour, etc.  I didn't mine the salt out from under Lake Erie, and goodness only knows where baking soda comes from, but everything else was either local or organic or both.  I ate it with dinner, warm with pumpkin butter on top.  I had it for breakfast cold from the pan.  I even had it for dessert tonight, split and topped with sugared black raspberries and (local) vanilla ice cream.  There's one piece left, and I'll personally take down any person who stands between it and me tomorrow morning.

Have I mentioned that I like cornbread?

Anyway, the recipe is from a cooking forum post by "Holly" from years ago, which I attempted to find but couldn't. I consider that due diligence, so I don't feel at all bad about sharing the recipe now. This makes a sweet cornbread with a sticky/crunchy top, and I swear I have to be physically restrained from eating the entire pan by myself.

Holly's Cornbread

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (either white or whole wheat - both work fine)
1 cup cornmeal

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a 9x9 pan in the oven (this greases the pan and melts the butter for the recipe). Meanwhile, combine flour, cornmeal, salt and baking soda in a bowl.

Beat eggs, sugar, and buttermilk in a second bowl, then add melted butter.

Incorporate dry ingredients into the wet mix just until combined.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs on it.

According to my recipe software, 1/12th of this recipe has 210 calories (almost 40% of which come from fat), which could explain why they taste so very, very good.

Today's adventure - blueberry picking!

I set the alarm for an early Saturday morning, actually managed to get out of bed when it went off, and poured the kid into the car, all so that we could drive down to Martin Blueberries to take advantage of their early-bearing bushes.  I had never picked blueberries before (well, not since I was a kid and a friend and I snuck into her neighbor's yard to snitch from her giant blueberry bush), so it was a new experience for both of us.  Liza got into it right away, "tickling" the clumps of berries so they'd fall off into her bucket.


Row after row of bushes - hundreds of bushes, acres of bushes - of maybe a dozen different varieties that mature from now until the end of August.  The place is huge, but really well-organized and well-maintained, and picking there was a true pleasure.  No reaching into thorny bushes (yes, I'm talking about you, raspberry picking!), no constant bending over to the ground to search for hiding fruit (yes, I'm talking about you, strawberry picking!), no dodging wasps or stepping on squishy windfalls that seep into your sandals (yes, I'm talking about you, apple picking!) - just tickling berries that were right out in the open and eating nearly as many as we got into our buckets.


We were there for less than an hour and managed to fill up a 2-gallon bucket without hardly breaking a sweat.  That's about $15 of blueberries, which translates to quarts and quarts of them.  I'll be washing them up tomorrow and getting some ready to freeze, while some will end up in muffins (and on our cereal ... and eaten out of hand) right away.  And I'll probably have them all used up and be ready to pick more by next weekend.  After all, cherry season is almost over, and a girl's got to overdo it on some kind of fruit each week, right?

Week Three menus

Week 3 - 
Indulgences: Liza - Cheetos;  Gretchen - Quizno's meal

Friday Breakfast:
Liza - Homemade bread with butter
Gretchen - French toast made with homemade bread, local eggs, local milk

Friday Lunch:
Big salad with whatever was left in the fridge
Friday Dinner:
Liza - ate at a friend's house
Gretchen - leftover pappardelle pasta from previous week; local cherries

Saturday Breakfast:
Baked goods from the farmers' market

Saturday Lunch:
Liza - Local sliced turkey, local mozzarella cheese, local fresh peas
Gretchen - Local quiche (purchased at farmers' market from Gray House Pies)
Saturday Dinner:
Liza - Cheetos (indulgence alert!); local apple, local strawberries, local cherries
Gretchen - Soup made with homemade chicken broth from previous week, dill, and a variety of veggies

Sunday Breakfast:

Clafoutis made with local organic eggs and local cherries; leftover quiche

Sunday Lunch:
Ate out at Treehuggers Cafe
Sunday Dinner:
Leftover sweet potato from last week, big salad, burgers made with local organic ground beef, local cheese, local burger buns from Blackbird Baking Company.

Monday Breakfast:
Liza: Scrambled local eggs, Cheetos
Gretchen: Leftover clafoutis, leftover homemade muffin

Monday Lunch:
Liza - Noodles with butter and salt, local apple, peanuts
Gretchen - Local pita with local organic hummus from Judy's Oasis stand at the farmers' market, roasted local vegetables, local cheese; leftover sweet potato
Monday Dinner:
Kale and potato soup made with local kale and local chorizo; local pitas with hummus; organic carrots 

Tuesday Breakfast:
Liza - Homemade toast with butter
Gretchen - Leftover egg pitas from last week

Tuesday Lunch:
Ate out at Quizno's (indulgence alert!) at the zoo
Tuesday Dinner:
Sesame noodles with chicken and cabbage (click for link to recipe post)

Wednesday Breakfast:
Liza - Local apple
Gretchen - Homemade muffins left from last week

Wednesday Lunch:
Liza - Local lavash with Nutella; organic carrots, local peas
Gretchen - Leftover burger patty (from Sunday) and grilled local vegetables with organic local hummus on local pita

Wednesday Dinner:
Leftover sausage spaghetti sauce from a previous week, served over local whole wheat pasta from Ohio City Pasta

Thursday Breakfast:
Liza - Homemade bread with butter
Gretchen - Leftover kale and potato soup from Monday night; homemade bread with local cheese

Thursday Lunch:
Liza - Local lavash with Nutella; organic carrots, local peas
Gretchen - BLTs made with homemade bread, local bacon, local tomatoes, and lettuce from our garden; homemade pickles
 Thursday Dinner:
Miscellaneous leftovers from the fridge and freezer

Recipe - Sesame Noodles with Baby Bok Choy and Roast Chicken

We had this for dinner this past week, and it was incredibly easy and tasty!  We didn't have bok choy, so we substituted the kaboko cabbage from the most recent CSA basket, and we used local whole wheat linguine in place of the Asian noodles - and it still worked wonderfully.

Sesame Noodles with Baby Bok Choy and Roast Chicken, from Eating Local by Janet Fletcher.

1 pound baby bok choy (about 8)
1/3 cup peanut oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles or dried udon (Japanese wheat noodles)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese chile oil, or to taste
1 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and green parts)
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 cups hand-shredded roast chicken or duck, with or without skin

  1. Separate the bok choy leaves, with ribs intact, from the central core.  Discard the core.  With a paring knife, separate the leaves from their ribs. (You can leave the smallest inner leaves with ribs whole.)  Tear large leaves in half lengthwise.  Cut the ribs crosswise into 1-inch pieces.  Pat the leaves and ribs dry.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add the bok choy, season with salt, then stir to coat with the oil.  Cover and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, add the noodles to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally with tongs, until al dente.  In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce and the chile oil.
  5. Drain the noodles in a sieve or colander and return them to the hot pot.  Add the bok choy, green onions, cilantro, peanuts, sesame oil, chicken, and fish sauce - chile oil mixture.  Toss well with tongs and serve immediately.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

click ... click

As you may have noticed from my book list, I did a lot of research before I started this whole project.  One of the books I read talked in depth about canning, about how even on the 100th batch of stuff you process you still listen expectantly for the little "click" the jar lids make as they successfully seal themselves shut.  Right, I thought, like I'm going to sit around a hot kitchen processing food and then spend even more time in the hot kitchen listening for a vacuum to form.  As if.  

I've never canned anything, but I figured with the glut of produce we're getting this summer (and the lack of fresh local produce I anticipate for the winter) it might be a good time to try.  Friday I had the brilliant idea to make pickles (thank you very much, Fitch's, for having the cucumbers in stock and giving me the idea in the first place).  So I bought a canning pot and some jars, got everything washed up, and started to research recipes.

I settled on making a half-recipe of bread and butter pickles using this recipe from the University of Georgia.  These pickles take the better part of a day, what with all the soaking in brine and all, so I started them in the morning and didn't process them until Jason started putting Liza in bed.  Being a modern kind of gal (and also one whose printer is on the fritz), I had the recipe open in one tab on my laptop, my generic canning instructions open in another tab, and a draft blog post open in a third so I could record what was going on as it happened.

8:26pm - Water and jars are in canner and heating to a boil; pickling solution is heating on the stove.  Made the executive decision that in the absence of mustard seeds, a smaller quantity of powdered mustard would do.  Lids are going into the warm water bath, cucumbers are draining in the sink.

8:29pm - Pickling solution boiling, ten minutes starts now.

8:40 - Cucumbers into the pickling solution; canning water still not boiling.

8:45 - Damn, that really doesn't look like enough pickling solution to cover the slices in the jars.  What can I add?  More vinegar?  Did I forget the water?  No, there's no water in the recipe, what else can I ... oh, fudge.  I forgot the sugar.  Post-adding 2 cups of sugar is allowed, right?  It better be.

8:46 - That's better.  Now there's actually liquid in there, not just yellow cucumbers.

8:47 - Canner is boiling!  Huzzah!  Ten minutes of jar sterilization starts now.

After that, it was all a blur that involved way too much turmeric-colored water all over everything for me to get anywhere near the laptop.  Suffice it to say, yes, I managed to have enough brine to cover the pickles in two quart jars (plus a few extra slices I stuck in a plastic container in the fridge), and yes, I managed to get the jars drained, filled, and back in the water without scalding myself.  I had most of the dishes washed up while the jars were processing on the stove, and by the time they were ready to come out, I was more than ready to go sit down somewhere cool.

I pulled the first jar out, and as soon as the lid hit the cool air, it went "click."  I was extremely smug - see, how hard can canning be, if I got it right the first try, even with screwing up the recipe a little bit!  Then I pulled out the second jar, and it didn't click.  I sat it out on the rack to cool and finished cleaning up the kitchen, keeping an ear out all the while for the sound of the lid sealing.  Did I have a little pickle juice on the lip of the jar?  (wash wash wash) Did I get a bad lid?  (dry dry dry) Did I not screw the band on tight enough? (attempt to scrub turmeric stain off of countertop)  Click, damn you!  I will not tolerate a 50% failure rate on my first attempt at canning!  

I stomped off to the family room and found something meaningless to watch on tv (and only sneaked upstairs a couple times to poke at the lid and confirm it was still unsealed).  Jason went to bed, and I stayed up to read for a while.  Poke, poke - nope.  I will not be happy if I have to use up a quart of unsealed bread-and-butter pickles this week, because I've also got the other two quarts of refrigerator dill pickles I already made that have to be used up soon, and these were supposed to be for later ... grump grump grump.

Then, finally - 


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week Three shopping details

CSA Contents: (approximate value, $25)
One pound whole wheat linguine
One stalk green garlic
One head kaboko cabbage
One bunch kale (gave half to a friend)
One bunch collard greens (gave all to a friend)
One bunch mustard greens (gave all to a friend)
One piece raw-milk "Swiss Havarti" cheese
One pound red cherries
One pound white cherries
One half-gallon milk

Heinen's (total: about $64)
Local shredded Parmesan - $3.29
Local pita chips - $3.29
Local "mexican" cheese - $3.00
Local mozzarella cheese - $4.29
Local milk from pastured cows - $3.59Organic apple juice - $2.89
Organic ceasar salad dressing - $2.79
Organic carrots - $2.00
Organic lemons - $1.33Conventional peanuts - $2.49
Conventional canning salt - $1.49
Conventional tamari - $2.99
Conventional Diet Pepsi - $2.59
Conventional garlic - $0.84
Conventional onions - $2.99
Conventional pectin for canning - $5.48
Toothpaste - $4.49
Shampoo - $7.99
Meat thermometer - $4.79

Farmers' Market: (total: $47 )
Local green onions - $3
Local cilantro - $3
Local chorizo -$5.50
Local bacon - $5
Local organic strawberries - $5.50
Local pasture fed organic eggs - $3
Local hummus and pitas - $6.25
Locally made quiche - $12
Locally made cookie - $1.75
Locally made scone - $1.75

Fitch's Farm Market: (total: $28)
Pickle cucumbers - $5.50
Dill - $3.00
Peas - $2.85
Cherries - $6.18
Four finger-sized zucchini - $0.93
Tomatoes - $1.48

Two quarts of sour cherries - $8

That's a total of about $164 including the amount we prepaid for the CSA.  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gosh, I love my neighbors

I see this by the side of the road:


I screech to a halt, follow the signs, and find this:


No wonder my kitchen counter looked like this yesterday afternoon:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Week Two Menus

Week 2 - 
Indulgences: Liza - Chick-Fil-A meal, Jason - out of town, Gretchen - Chipotle meal

Friday Breakfast:
Liza - Peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on whole wheat bread
Gretchen - Organic oatmeal w/ raisins, pecans, and brown sugar

Friday Lunch:
Liza - Local string cheese, local apple, local sliced turkey
Gretchen - Leftover curry soup from before the experiment started, homemade bread with local cheese

Friday Dinner:
Liza - Scrambled eggs
Gretchen - Leftover local pitas stuffed with local scrambled eggs, organic spinach, local cheese, and leftover ham that was frozen since Easter

Saturday Breakfast:
Liza - Peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on whole wheat bread
Gretchen - Homemade bread with local cheese melted on it

Saturday Lunch:
Sandwiches with local sliced turkey, local cheese, on whole wheat bread; organic raisins; homemade peanut butter cookies

Saturday Dinner:
Liza - Raw broccoli, buttered noodles
Gretchen - Salad of local greens with local beets, local blue cheese, organic walnuts, organic sunflower seeds, homemade dressing; leftover chicken noodle soup from before the experiment started

Sunday Breakfast:
Liza - Peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on whole wheat bread
Gretchen - Homemade muffins (I froze half of the batch last week)

Sunday Lunch:
Liza - Local string cheese, local apple, organic raisins
Gretchen - Leftover asparagus soup with added leftover ham and local cheese; cheese toast on homemade bread

Sunday Dinner:
Pizzas on homemade whole wheat crusts** with local mozzarella, local tomatoes, and local vegetables

Monday Breakfast:
Liza: Scrambled local eggs
Gretchen: Homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam

Monday Lunch:
Liza - Local sliced turkey, local mozzarella cheese, organic raisins
Gretchen - Leftover chicken soup from before the experiment; small homemade pizza leftover from Sunday
Monday Dinner:
Liza - Raw peas, buttered noodles
Gretchen - Pasta carbonara made with local noodles, local broccoli, local bacon, organic cream, etc. ; local cherries

Tuesday Breakfast:
Liza - Chick-Fil-A (indulgence alert!)
Gretchen - Homemade bread with butter, homemade muffin

Tuesday Lunch:
Liza - buttered noodles, local raw peas
Gretchen - leftover pasta from Monday dinner, local raw peas

Tuesday Dinner:
Liza - buttered noodles, local sliced turkey
Gretchen - pasta salad with local turkey, local beets, local cheese, and a whole mess of other stuff that was in my fridge 
Tuesday Dessert:
Homemade brownies 

Wednesday Breakfast:
Liza - Scrambled eggs
Gretchen - Organic oatmeal topped with local salsa and local cheese; local cherries

Wednesday Lunch:
Gretchen - Leftover pasta salad from Tuesday dinner, local string cheese
Liza - Local string cheese, local raw peas

Wednesday Dinner:
Liza - Local sliced turkey, organic raisins, local apple, local raw broccoli
Gretchen - Pizza made with homemade crust, leftover pork from before the experiment, BBQ sauce, grilled local zucchini, grilled local green peppers; baked sweet potato
Thursday Breakfast:
Liza - Whole wheat toast with butter
Gretchen - Homemade muffins, local apple cider

Thursday Lunch:
Quesadillas made with local lavash bread, with local cheese, leftover pork, BBQ sauce, and leftover grilled veggies from Wednesday

Thursday Dinner:
Chipotle (indulgence alert!)

** I make my own pizza dough, and I par-bake a bunch of single-serving size pizzas all at once.  When they've cooled, I freeze them and can bring them out to use one at a time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Food porn

Finally got to check out my library's copy of Eating Local (finally - I say that like the book wasn't just released on June 1), and overnight it's mysteriously sprouted a mohawk of pink post-its marking the 1,000 recipes I need to photocopy before I send the book back.

I've been reading a lot of cookbooks and books about local eating over the past few months, and I have to say, this is by far the most attractive of the bunch.  If I was going to buy local food books as gifts for friends, this would be at the top of my list.  The tone of it is more celebratory than preachy, and it's just so beautiful to look at, I can't imagine any decent cook not sighing once or twice while looking through it.

It's got a lot of good-sounding recipes - sorted by the main produce used in each, thank goodness, so if you need a beet recipe (and who doesn't?) you just go to the beet section.  I haven't had a chance to try any of them yet, despite the mohawk, but I have many, many planned for this next week, CSA and farmers' market willing. *** UPDATE - I tried several recipes, and they're all hits.  You can find one here.***

Interspersed with the recipes are profiles of some of the farmers who run CSAs across the nations, with lush photos of their farms and produce.  It's interesting to see how the selections of produce vary across the country - macadamia nuts?  limes?  Oh, how I wish we had some of those in Cleveland ...

Seriously, this is more of a coffee table book than a cookbook, the pictures are so awesome.  Use the Amazon link and click the "Look Inside!" thingee to see some of them ... they're so fresh and lush and vibrant and appealing.  It's like porn for foodies, only you don't have to be embarrassed when your kid starts paging through it.

I highly recommend that you check this one out, whether you're into the whole "local eating" thing or not.  Just remember to wipe the drool off before you put it back on the shelf, okay?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Argh, my brain hurts

So far, my main difficulty with the whole "eating local" thing is the logistics of trying to plan meals around ingredients which may or may not be available on the days I have mapped out to shop, and which may or may not keep for a few days once I get them.  Some of that could be solved by me shopping more frequently and buying fewer things each time, but really, who wants to add extra time and trips to an already-full schedule?

Things I learned this past week include:
-  fresh spinach goes all wilty if left in the refrigerator overnight in an open plastic bag, or if it's left to sit on the counter between lunch and dinner.  So much for that spinach soup recipe I had bookmarked.
-  cleaned radishes shouldn't be stored in water in the fridge because it apparently concentrates their flavor, which I don't like that much to begin with.  So much for that pickled radish recipe I had bookmarked.
-  soggy broccoli can be revived by chopping the end off of the stalk, sticking it in a mug of water like a bouquet of flowers, and putting it back in the fridge for a few hours.
-  beet greens do not disappear by themselves, no matter how much I wish they would.
-  cooked beets apparently last forever without changing (or improving).
-  the plastic bag of baby spinach that Jason bought two weeks ago is still "good," which alarms me no end.

In addition to puzzling over menus and recipes to try to use up as much stuff as I can before it goes gooshy, I'm also burning brainpower trying to figure out the calculus of "indulgences," the weekly treat of otherwise forbidden food that each of us is allowed.  The first week we all chose ingredients which could be used in multiple meals, but this week Liza and I have taken a different approach.  She decided that she absolutely had to have breakfast at Chick-Fil-A, which I decided was allowable if she treated that one meal as her entire indulgence for the week.  I didn't want to use mine at the same time, so I ate beforehand and just sat there with a travel cup of tea I brought from home while she snarfed down her little chicken biscuits and HFCS-containing chocolate milk.

Since then I've been trying to decide what to use my indulgence for - a six-pack of Diet Coke?  Eating out at a non-local restaurant?  If I eat out, what do I do about Liza - let her eat out too even though she's already used up her indulgence, or maybe get the food to go so that I can make her a meal at home while I enjoy my Giant Burrito of Doom with a Giant Soda**, a Side of Guacamole and Enough Chips to Sink a Rowboat?  Do I even want a burrito that much, or is there someplace I'd actually prefer?  Can I skip the indulgence this week and save it for a week when I really, really need help?

It's all a bit confusing, but I know it's nothing I should be stressing over.  After all, I could just skip the indulgences altogether, and Liza and I could sit around and mope together, pining away for peanut butter cups and carbonated beverages.  But who wants to read about that?

**As I was driving around running errands today I was really close to giving in and buying a Diet Coke, and I was trying to figure out which nearby restaurant had the largest to-go cups so I'd get the most mileage out of my indulgence.  My plan was to go to Target, buy a drink at the snack bar, drink as much of it as I could while I shopped, and then refill it on my way out the door.  It reminded me of when we lived in Kentucky - one of Jason's coworkers had been told by her doctor that she could only have one Diet Coke a day while she was pregnant.  So whenever possible, she went out to lunch at Sonny's Barbecue, which has takeout drink cups that are - no joke - basically industrial dumpsters with the wheels cut off and a straw sticking out the top.  She was very smug that technically the gallon and a half of soda qualified as following the doctor's orders.