eating local

5/24 farmers market
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
If you've been reading my ramblings for any length of time, or if you know me personally, you'll know I'm a bit of a nutter about food. I love to cook, love to eat, and shopping for good, reasonably priced, delicious and local food sends me over the moon. Last year I did the One Local Summer Challenge, wherein participants pledge to prepare at least one 100% local meal for thirteen weeks during the summer and photograph/blog the results. I had the best time. We ate very well, and at a reasonable cost, as well. Even though the 2009 challenge doesn't begin until June 1 (registration is open until May 31), I'm beginning next week.

My biggest challenge last year was finding a good acid to use. I love lemon juice, and I like white wine vinegar, but I have a hard time finding a local wine that is dry enough to make a good vinegar. I'm going to check with a local orchard to see if they have any cider leftover from the fall to try cider vinegar. Failing that, I plan to plain old cheat on the vinegar front.

The second biggest challenge was bread. I can, and happily do, make my own bread. Finding locally grown wheat flour was more difficult, but I have a friend whose father grows wheat, so perhaps they also have flour. . . . I have a great source for local grits and polenta, goat cheese (soft, feta, and camembert. Or gouda, I can't remember which), an orchard with apples, peaches, strawberries, plums- you name it, they've got it. And veggies galore.

This photo is a small sampling of my haul from the farmer's market this week. Remember what I said about reasonable? I spent $20 yesterday. $5 for the broccoli, cauliflower, and six zucchini. $6 for sugar snap peas (a whole pound!) and carrots. $2 for a huge bunch of chard. Strawberries were $3.75 for an overflowing basket (maybe a quart sized? There were easily 40 large berries), and spying a box of culled peaches and berries behind the stand, I asked if I could get some of them instead of change. I got a dozen peaches and twice as many berries for that extra $1.25. Not too shabby.

(ETA 2/25) I forgot to address meat issues. We're not vegetarian. I used to be, but my boys love meat. I've learned to cook meat, though it is rarely the centerpiece of a meal- more like a garnish- sauteed garlicy greens over local polenta with a few crumbles of spicy sausage on the top. That's how I like to eat meat, though I surprised myself by serving grilled local porkchops with seared new potatoes and loving it. The extra meat from the porkchops will go into Vietnames spring rolls later this evening- not local, but the meat will be a garnish in the rolls rather than the star.

There are several vendors at our market who sell farm-raised, hormone-free beef and pork. While I could happily give up beef, I'm not sure if I could do without a little sausage here and there. My dad is a hunter- he supplies us with venison and duck. Chicken and turkey have been issues- but I discovered that middle-tennessee Mennonites raise halal (chemical-free, slaughtered according to strict Muslim standards) poultry for the Muslim community in Memphis and the surrounding area. They also sell hormone and antibiotic-free milk to one of the local produce stores. Both are slight more expensive (maybe 20%) than conventional dairy and poultry, but after little boy's severe allergic reaction to the growth hormones in conventional milk, we switched over to all organic (or at minimum hormone-free) dairy.

I hope you'll join along my local eating adventure this summer and think about taking one of your own. It's funny how much of a habit eating local can become and how easy it is to assemble good, fresh, local, and very importantly during these tight times, affordable meals. Even when we do spend a bit more, say, $10 instead of $6 for those 4 thick-cut porkchops that will give us 2 different meals (we're a small family, that helps), it is nice to know that 80% of the money goes directly to farming families.

Happy Memorial Day! I'm going to go think more about those pork and mango (nope, not a local meal by any stretch now) spring rolls!