Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Spaghetti squash and sauce

My chest freezer is a thing of beauty. It’s full of apple sauce, tomato sauce, local beef, chickens I helped process myself and a whole bunch of berries.

So, when I wanted a Dark Days meal this week, I was so happy I could just dig in the freezer. My goal this year is not to be fancy. I have to keep reminding myself that simple is great for a working mom with a very busy toddler.

So, I started simple and everything turned out great.

I started with a bottle of marina sauce. It was just a simple sauce. It had:
  • Organic tomatoes from Eastern Washington. I bought these as part of a co-op and getting the list was one of the best things I’ve done for my local food consumption.
  • Onion from the Everett Farmers Market
  • Fresh basil from the grocery store (it claimed to be from within my own county, but I’m dubious)
  • Garlic from my garden
All of this cooked for hours upon hours in my crockpot made for a most delectable sauce. I’m so happy I get to eat it all year. And next year I’m doing even more tomatoes. I love that my early work will pay off all winter.

I added in some sausage from Ferndale. Well, OK, Hemplers is from Ferndale, but likely the sausage was from elsewhere. I need to do better next time. Buying a local pig is on our to-do list for next year. I had forgotten we even had that sausage in the freezer.

I also sauteed some onion and mushrooms. The mushrooms were from Washington, but the location was not more precise. The onions were from Frog Song Farm, one of my favorites. I also added in zucchini.

About those zucchini. From Mexico. Yes, Mexico. Yes, I know that’s not local. I was in a hurry at the Co-op and trusted the label above them that said “Washington.” It wasn’t until I got home and found a “Mexico” sticker that I realized my mistake. I should have know I was unlikely to get local zucchini here in December. I went ahead and cooked them because I wouldn’t get another chance to use them this week. Wasting food is worse thank not completing a perfect Dark Days meal, so they got used.

I also roasted a very nice spaghettis squash, the last of a few that a coworker gave to me. (Thanks, Bill!)

Everything came together beautifully. My husband even finally braved spaghetti squash. I’m not sure why he’d been holding out. He ate it all happily. So did my toddler. She also adored that sauce. And she always eats meat.

We also drank a nice bottle of 14 Hands merlot (well not Hazel).  I must confess I bought this wine solely for label. OK and because it was from Washington. But I’m a sucker for horses. The wine didn’t disappoint, though. It was fabulous. I’d totally buy it again.

Dinner was a hit. By the time I thought to take a photo, this is all I had left:

New this week: I’m counting the tomatoes, because this is the first year I’ve done them. Also the mushrooms, although I won’t buy them again. Jerry declared them too chewy.
Lessons learned: Slow down a bit and read labels more carefully.
Funny side note: I saw this while buying the wine at Fred Meyer. It pretty much goes against everything Dark Days is trying to do, don’t you think? How lazy are we that we need pre-wrapped potatoes?

Read more about the Dark Days Challenge.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Days

The way I eat has changed a lot in the last 10 years. First, I graduated from college. Then I got married. Then I bought a house. Then I got pregnant. Then I had a baby.

Each change brought a big shift in my life, and in how I eat.

Now, with a 17-month old, I'm as conscious as food as I've ever been, yet I have less time than ever to actually make good food.

For this year's Dark Days Challenge, I'm keeping that in mind. Around here, with a busy toddler and two parents working full time and strange hours, simply cooking can be a challenge that requires a lot of planning. So, I'm giving myself permission to eat simply, as long as I can eat locally.

With that in mind, I'm starting off simply, with breakfast. This is one of my favorite breakfasts, and one that Hazel and I agree 100 percent on.

I start with Grace Harbors yogurt, the plain kind, with a generous spoonful of my own jam stirred in. Grace Harbos makes the most fabulous yogurt. It's rich, creamy and glorious.

Yup, that's it. Yogurt and jam. I did say simple. Still, the jam I'm rather proud of. My mother, Hazel and I picked the strawberries locally at a small organic farm. We ate many of them, but the rest we turned into freezer jam.

Local strawberries are a glorious thing. Picking them yourself is best. They are so delicate, that usually the stem comes right off as you pick. When you process them, it's a snap. Even if the stem is still attached, you can simply scoop it off with the edge of your thumb. These are no hard, sturdy store-bought strawberries, these are delicate and a thousand times more delicious.

So, a simple start to Dark Days, but a delicious start.

My very simple rules:
  • Find one new source for local food each week
  • 200 mile radius for local foods (excluding spices)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The steak is the star

We eat a lot of beef. It's hard not to, when you have more than a quarter of a cow neatly wrapped in your freezer.

Once a year or so, my husband and I rally a few friends together and buy a whole cow. It's a fun process. We pick up the meat and then make a little party out of parsing it out and usually wrap a barbecue into the festivities.

This year we got a cow from On The Lamb Farm. While their beef is not strictly organic, I am happy with how the cows are raised and treated. I am also super happy with how the beef tastes. We will definitely be giving them our business again.

For dinner, we started with two steaks, which my husband Jerry cooked in the oven in our cast iron pan. We love that thing, it gets a lot of use. He seasoned it with some very non-local spices (The only non-local thing in this meal) and a bit of my precious olive oil.

Then we chopped up some shiitake mushrooms from Granite Falls, and sauteed them in the pan with the steak juice. YUM!
I added in some nice Washington potatoes, which roasted up beautifully with garlic and olive oil in my new Emile Henry pan, which was a fabulous birthday gift. Broccoli from Arlington, just steamed, finished off a nicely balanced plate.

I have to say, while none of this food is fancy, every bit of it was delicious. And I'm pretty proud of getting such a local, organic meal on the table while wrangling a baby. She's not crawling yet, but she desperately wants to. I'm sure mealtime will get a bit trickier once she actually figures it out.

My next local meal is planned for this evening, but I need to get this posted so a full update will have to wait for later. I think steak is going to feature prominently again. I'll try to keep it from getting too boring.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dark Days in the morning

Breakfast has been really enjoyable around my house lately. My second Dark Days meal has actually lasted me through many meals.

My friend Katie (Hi, Katie!) has been making granola at home for awhile. I was interested in the idea, so I asked her for her recipe.

She cooks a lot like I do, more throwing things together than deliberately following a precise recipe. So, the recipe goes something like this.

  • 3 cups of rolled oats (Washington state, or possibly southern B.C. Not sure, and I haven't investigated more to be sure.)
  • A cup or two of nuts (she uses pecans, I used hazelnuts from Lynden)
  • A quarter of a cup of honey (more if you like your granola clumpy. My honey was from Tahuya River Apiaries. )
  • An eighth of a cup of oil, stirred in with the honey. (I used olive oil. Canola probably would have worked better but I didn't have local canola oil. My oil was, again, from Oregon.)

Mix everything together in a big bowl and then spread it on a cookie sheet. Bake at about 250 for 25 minutes, checking often and stirring. And you really should check often and stir well. My hazelnuts on the edges got a smidge too toasty.

The granola is delicious. The best thing is you can endlessly customize it. Katie adds in dried berries when she's done baking it.

I added mine to yogurt from Grace Harbor Farms in Custer. I love their yogurt. It's so delicious. I also spooned a dollop of strawberry freezer jam from the summer onto it.

The berries are from Marysville. I made them into jam this summer. While freezer jam is not a hard task, everything is a hard task while you have a newborn -- especially one that will only sleep while being held. I'm really glad I made the effort, because it's paying off now.

This simple meal has made me a collection of really delicious breakfasts. I think I'm going to be eating it a lot more often.

The first Dark Days

Welcome to the Dark Days, and it has certainly been dark. We're nearing the shortest day of the year. It's a good season to spend lots of time in the kitchen.

Having a 6-month-old, however, makes kitchen time a bit of a premium. Actually, it makes any time a bit of a premium. So I'm approaching the Dark Days this year simply. I want to discover new sources for local ingredients and I want to enjoy them with my family. I'll be keeping most of my meals simple. Happily, my family is an easy audience. Especially Hazel.
For the purposes of the Dark Days, I am defining local as anything within Washington state, but I am aiming for less than 100 miles. I will make exceptions for items like spices and salt. I will make sure all of the food is either organic, or if not certified organic, from a farm that I'm familiar with and trust their methods.

For our first meal I started with a giant bowl of kale from our side garden. It had snowed recently, but the kale hadn't given up yet. I added garlic from the Ballard Farmer's Market and olive oil from Oregon.

Yes, olive oil from Oregon. I'm calling that local, since I hand-carried it home from a visit with friends. We went to the Oregon Olive Mill for their Olio Nuovo celebration weekend. Olio Nuovo is the first pressing of olive oil. The oil isn't filtered or let to rest, which mellows it a bit. The flavor is amazing. I bought an oil from the Arbequina variety of olive, one of several they offered. They oil has a nice buttery taste and feel. The best part, though, is the surprising peppery finish. It's spicy. Some of the varieties are very spicy.

The oil really shines when used raw, it is also delicious if cooked.
I used it to sautee the kale with some bacon from Hempler's in Ferndale. This was a bit of a cheat. I'm not certain that their meat is actually sourced from within Washington state -- or if it is humanely raised. Next time I want bacon I'm going to take the time to go to a farmer's market or one of our local butchers. There's nothing like talking to the people who produce the food to know it's done well.

I also roasted from fabulous beets from the Ballard Farmer's Market. I used some chioggia beets and some golden beets. I roasted them with a smidge of garlic and the olio nuovo.

To finish off the meal, we had a nice, old-fashioned style bread baked in Arlington. I'm not sure where the ingredients were sourced, but I do know the bread was delicious.

Oh, and we had Washington wine. Chateau St. Michelle is in Woodinville and the grapes were from within the state.

The meal was good. I loved the kale and bacon. The beets were a bit of a dissapointment. I'm not sure what I did wrong but they were a bit bitter. Usually my roasted beets are nice and sweet or at least mellow. I'll try again soon. I'll have plenty of chances throughout the dark days to come.