Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Making Pickles

My nephew, Desi, didn't have summer camp or any other plans for this last week of vacation, so his negligent parents left him with me. I had a giant sack of cucumbers that needed pickling.

Desi and I spent the afternoon cleaning and chopping and boiling and packing and all the things that are required to make the sour treats. Here's Desi having at a head of dill.

Many hours later here's the product.

They all appear to have sealed properly, which I was psyched about because it was my first canning experience. The one thing I'm wary of is that there were some air bubbles in there after I processed them. I might not have done a good enough job getting them out before sealing them. Also, I'm not positive about how good they'll taste. These ones are supposedly ready to eat in 24 hours, so I'll find out this evening. At least if they're not good or they harbor some kind of bacteria, I have a seven year old scapegoat.

Update: I went ahead and cracked open one of the jars. The good news is that the seal was good and the pickles tasted great (dilly and spicy and just a little salty). The bad news it that they are soggy, soggy, soggy. Maybe I'll make them into some kind of relish? (But who eats that much relish?)

In the meantime, after a little research on the world wide webs I think I've found one of my problems and one good piece of advice. Next time I'm going to soak the cukes in water in the fridge overnight before I can them. Also, I might have overprocessed them this time (perhaps a typical novice fear of botulism mistake alongside not being absolutely sure that I started the timing at the right point). Next time I'll be more careful with the processing time. If anyone out there has some good tips or knows of anyone in desperate need of some relish, contact me here...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Feature Friday: Teaman

There are times when I'm something of a tea junkie. I can't help but try new teas and new companies and new shops. I think I envision myself steeping and sipping cups of teas while I sit at my desk writing. The reality is that this really only happens a few times a week and really only during the cold winter months and I often tire of one type of tea well before I finish the box. The result is that I have a cabinet full of teas.

I found the Teaman in the etsy forums one evening. He blends and packages his own tea and I was intrigued. I was particularly interested in a green tea and a chai. I like my chai spicy and potent with a little edge of sweetness and I like to drink it with loads of milk (or soy milk, actually). I hate to say it, but I rarely find chai on grocery shelves that I like more than what I get in local coffeeshops. (Or perhaps it's just because I like having someone else do all the work.) The Teaman said that his tea was exactly as I described.

I also wanted a green tea and told him that I like like green (or even white) teas that are floral and subtle. He recommended his apple/ cinnamon. He was very helpful. I ordered a container of both the chai and the cinnamon. The order arrived promptly a few days later. The box they arrived in was a bit mangled, but as much as I like really great, innovative, earth-friendly, creative packaging that sometimes comes from etsy sellers, unimpressive packaging is never a deal breaker. Besides, it came in these really great blue tins that I was already devising plans for reuse.

I was a little disappointed that there were no instructions for how to steep (what temperature? how long?) but I figured that some teas are kind of idiot proof -- just steep for a few minutes in hot water.

While the apple cinnamon tea was steeping it was fragrant without being overwhelming. There was a slight artificiality to the apple smell which I attributed to the "flavor crystals" (I'm not sure exactly what they are) that the Teaman puts in his teas. The cinnamon was even more subtle but comforting. The flavors themselves were also mild -- a barely-there hint of apple and its spicy companion.

I tried the chai steeped in water, steeped in warm soy milk, and steeped in water before adding soy milk. The scent of the chai was rich with pepper and cloves so that it reminded me a little bit of Christmas. I found the chai steeped in just water to be far too understated -- I like my chai with a lot of zing. When I steeped it in water and then added the milk, I ended up wishing that I had steeped it a little longer or else mushed up the bag a bit more to help it release all the flavors. Just steeping it in the warm soy milk gave the chai the body and substance that it needed. I would have preferred just a little more cardamom and ginger in the tea.
I'm not sure if I'll be ordering more tea, but I'm pretty confident that these two won't get pushed to the back of my tea cabinet, never to be steeped or served again. In the meantime, I'm thinking I should start mixing my own chai -- grinding the spices right in my own kitchen to get maximum flavor. But I'm something of a snob when it comes to these things...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Green Felted Poppy Bag Gets Some Love

Justine over at Crown of Storms and Etsy Gems featured the Green Felted Poppy Bag in her blog where she features etsy finds based on a certain theme. Thanks for the shout-out Justine! You can check out the bag itself here.

Hop on Board the Locavore Train!

Probably one of the best things about doing a project like this is that people around you start to get into it.

My sister has been almost more obsessive about it than me. She likes to invite me over for dinner and have her husband cook beautiful meals full of local fare. (Just kidding, she actually cooked the meal of local brats, green beans with tomatoes, bread and a corn flan that I brough along last night.)

My family has a running joke that my dad started where we price different meals based on what we might pay for it in a restaurant (it must be a left-over habit from the days when my parents were restaurateurs and, I know, not very funny to the outsider). Now in addition to naming the price, my sister seems to enjoy calculating what percentage of the meal arrived at our plates from a local farm.

This Saturday, my brother-in-law, Mike, cooked up a juicy beer butt chicken. (I think it must be a midwest thing 'cause I never heard of it before I moved back here. Basically you cook a whole chicken on the grill sitting upright on top of a beer can that's been stuck inside its cavity. It is delicious and moist.) The beer can chicken was the centerpiece of a local meal including green beans and bread and a salad (my sister snuck in some grilled California figs, which I happily gobbled up) and orzo. I was afraid to ask if the orzo was local. Their next door neighbor even brought over a six pack of Summit beer. I came with some treats from the Salty Tart at the Midtown Global Market.

More recently, my mother in law brought me some local cheese after a trip to the Lake Pepin area for me to enjoy with my local beets from the farmers market.

My mom tries to thwart my local eating by sending me undeniable treats like this banana bread. She included a note saying she knew it wasn't local, but that maybe Eric would like it. Did she actually think that a NOTE, a tiny piece of paper with a few words scribbled on them would stand between me and this?

I think not. I include my mother's baking in the whole "don't let this experiment stand in the way of socializing or cultural experiences" clause.

Locavore Experiment: Shrinkage

I've changed my goal area from the five-state area to the tri-state area. No offense, but the Dakotas are not contributing enough for me to seek out food from those twin states. It leaves me with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

I might be speaking too early, but this "challenge" is getting kind of easy -- fun, but easy. Like easy enough that I'm wondering if it's something that can be done more often or year-round. (Shhhhh.... don't tell my husband.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gale Woods Farm Rules!

Minnetrista seems really far away when you don't know where you're going. Last night, I went out to Gale Woods Farm for a canning class. The Farm is part of the Three Rivers Park District, a 27,000 acre park district full of reserves, water, trails, facilities, and, evidently, activities that I only recently discovered and plan to spend lots of time exploring.

Gale Woods Farm is a fully functioning educational farm with sheep, chickens, turkeys, cattle, and gardens set on 410 beautiful acres. The class started at 6:30, which was just about the perfect time to see the farm in the cool of the evening by the orange glow of the setting sun. We got a quick tour of the facilities including the sheep with their trusty sheep dogs, the turkeys which are unwittingly being fattened up for Thanksgiving dinners, the new, still fluffy chicks, and a demonstration bee hive that shows all the hard work the buzzing critters put into the newly harvested honey.

The class itself was really informative. It was a demonstration rather than an interactive class, but as a city girl who'd never even seen the process before, I wanted to see how it actually works before I plunge into doing it myself. I have enough confidence now to give it a go without too much fear of killing anyone. Primary goal of initial canning sessions: keep self, family, and friends alive. Keep checking back for more canning updates.

I'll also be returning to Gale Woods on Saturday when I have my sister's kids for their annual "Breakfast on the Farm," which features locally grown foods. Sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Willy Wonka Might Be My Secret Gardener

Last week, I took a bag of freshly-harvested grape tomatoes from my garden to my sister's house.
The next night, I got a phone call and my sister's name came up on the receiver.

"Hello?" I answered.


"Hello!" I repeated


"Hi?" I intoned.

Finally I heard breathing followed by a few giggles.

"Who is this?"

"Gus," replied the four year old voice.

"What are you doing?"

"We just wanted to call so say thank you for the delicious tomatoes. My mom wants to talk to you."

Gus is a sugar fiend. Unfortunately, this means that he loves to eat candy and cookies and store-bought baked goods. Fortunately, this also means that he readily eats lots and lots of fruit and sometimes even sweet vegetables.

When my sister got on the phone, she told me that they'd been eating the tomatoes. After Gus had popped his first one in his mouth, he exclaimed, "They taste like lollipops!" Highest praise from the sweet connoisseur.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Seriously, what's with the shopping carts? Seriously.

Why are there so many shopping carts in backyards in my neighborhood?

I went for a walk the other day and, due to the Minneapolis alleyway system, probably passed about seven or eight backyards. Of those, no less than three had shopping carts in their backyards.

About a year ago I went to the Target near us and, overloaded with probably totally unnecessary household items, took the shopping cart out to the car, or at least tried to. I pushed the cart into the parking lot and right when I reached the first lane of cars, the cart stopped rolling. It was a hot day and at first it felt like I had dragged the wheels through some hot sticky tar or something. I checked the wheels. No tar. I kept trying to move the cart and eventually ended up dragging it to my car. I couldn't possibly be bothered to haul it back to the cart corral, so I just left it in the parking lot, sort of out of the way.

As I pulled out, I realized that there were a lot of abandoned shopping carts strewn in the lanes between the cars. The carts didn't help this particular Target's image as a Targhetto.

This particular Target, it turns out, puts some sort of sensor in the wheels of their carts so that when it gets a certain distance from the store, the wheels get locked up. Unfortunately, that distance is approximately ten feet in front of the store.

I have been to many, many Targets in this area and none of the ones in the suburbs seem to have the same feature. In fact, I have seen some in the suburbs with abandoned shopping carts so far from the front door that they can't possible have any sort of sensor, unless the person who abandoned the cart was Hulk Hogan and he carried it. (Or perhaps Jessie "The Body/ The Mind" Ventura.)

Initially, I thought it was totally ridiculous discrimination that Target would put a sensor on their shopping carts in this particular neighborhood, which happens to be a little less than affluent. Having lived in this neighborhood for a few months now, I can sort of see why they do it here, I guess that maybe Target has a reason to fear cart thieves. None of the backyard carts are the bright red ones from Target.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Locavore Experiment: Will No One Think of the Ethnics?

I have not recently commented on the whole locavore experiment. The old man was out of town, so things got pretty easy for a while there. You know, since he's always over my shoulder demanding bananas and avocadoes. Seriously, I don't know why it's been much easier -- just one less person to worry about, but I've also gotten into the swing of things, plus the farmer's markets are so lush right now it makes it easy to find things to eat.

This Wednesday I went over to my sister's place for dinner. She's been very supportive of the locavore experiment. Although, she seems to view it as something of a charity month. I am Oliver Twist, but I can only eat local and it's her duty to give me bread, yogurt, and tomatoes.

Her husband was cooking that night using chickens and broccoli that my sister explained to me, in a very loud voice, "THESE WERE BOUGHT LOCALLY." Not really. But they were local.

The catch was that my brother in law was making mee fun, a family favorite that my dad taught him to make many summers ago. "Mee fun" is just a general word for thin chinese rice noodles. My dad and now Mike make it with a chicken and vegetable stir fry with a salty gravy reminiscent of Thai radnaa. We eat it with lots of white pepper and spicy goodness. Total comfort food.
The catch is that it's made with rice noodles and shitake mushrooms, neither of which are made locally. Besides which, I like to throw lots of sriracha (my sister calls it Asian ketchup) on it and last I checked, sriracha is a province in Thailand, not southern Minnesota. Of course, the irony of the fact that my brother in law, the only white guy in the house that night, was the one cooking the Asian food was not lost my my sister and me, who are also conveniently caucasians and are therefore excused (at least in our own minds) from being able to cook this Asian dish.
So this is the problem. A lot of my comfort foods (pad thai, fried rice, pad krapow) are "ethnic" and therefore contain many ingredients that are hard to come by locally. There are a few really great Asian markets in Minneapolis but, trust me, none of them carry anything that hasn't been shipped, at a very minimum, across at least one major body of water. Will I make it to the end of the month? How would I make it for an entire year without these foods? Do I have to learn how to make rice noodles from scratch? Will no one think of the ethnics?

Eating local is great because it has allowed me to become more aware of local Minnesota cuisine and what's available here and when, but I doubt that I'll be able to give up my jasmine rice for much longer than a month.

PS Today is technically supposed to be Feature Friday, but the item I was going to feature has not appeared in the mail, so I might have to make it a Feature Monday or just skip a week.

Roasted Beet Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 - 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash and trim beets.

Wrap in foil with a little olive oil.

Roast in oven for about one hour or until a fork slips easily into the flesh. Wonder at the satisfying yet disturbing feeling of slipping fork into flesh.

Let beets cool.

Run beets under cool water. Skin will disturbingly yet satisfyingly slide off with a little rubbing.

Consider building a career around beet juice art.

Come to senses.

Set a few beets aside. Slice or chop remaining beets into desired shape.

Deliver whole beets to sister who is having you over for dinner.

Investigate possibility of zone 5 avocadoes.

Lament lack of zone 5 avocadoes and curse decision to make August "locavore experiment" month.

Enjoy beets with goat's cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Try to not think about the avocado that would add the perfect richness and creamy texture to this combo and that you could be eating had it not been for your poor decision making skills.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wallpaper on Lead Paint and Lead Paint on Windows

After the initial lead paint panic and subsequent freak out, things have started to settle down and I'm able to be a little bit calmer about the lead paint issues in our house.

A few months ago we qualified for a grant with the county that pays for us getting some windows replaced in our house. We're sort of at a bit of an impasse. We have beautiful original windows on our house (it's hard to capture in a picture) and we want to preserve them as much as we can. Unfortunately, abating the lead means that we're going to have to change them in some way because windows are obviously high friction areas. We're going to be checking out some of the work that the organization has done on other homes where the owners has wanted to preserve as much of the original stuff as possible.

In the meantime, a quick update on the rest of the lead. Turns out that, other than the windows, we don't have nearly as much lead as a house built in 1927, which is good. There is some in the soil, which they recommend covering up with mulch or grass or stones. And there is some on a few walls, which are just sort of considered undisturbed surfaces.

The one area that I had really been concerned about was the front hallway. The hallway was covered in a few layers of wallpaper and then paint. Before we got lead testing, I did the scraping in that hallway. I took a few precautions, but probably not as many as proscribed by lead-safe work practices. I also got lead tested after we found out we had lead in our home. The good news is that I don't have lead poisoning.

So what did I do while scraping the wallpaper off of lead paint? I worked wet (very, very wet) with a very sharp blade. I sprayed all the surfaces with water both to get the wallpaper off and also to keep any lead dust down. I laid down plastic that I could just roll up and dispose of in a garbage bag tied with duct tape. I cleaned my clothes and myself immediately after I was done working. I did the whole thing in one day so that I didn't have to keep coming back and cleaning up.

Now, I'm not saying that that's fullproof or that that's even close to lead safe work practices (they would recommend sealing off the entire area, which I did not do), but it's what I did to get wallpaper off of a wall that I now know had lead paint and the levels of lead in my blood were negligible after that project. One of the reasons why I'm posting again on this is because when I was dealing with the whole wallpaper on lead paint issue, I did a lot of searching on the internet and didn't come up with much. Also, I took a lead-safe work practices class as part of this grant and even that class didn't cover this issue or how to deal with it. Again, not to say that I dealt with it in the best way -- just adding my experience to the mess of information.

New Ideas = New Stuff on Etsy

Do you ever just take for granted that there's one way to do something and then when you figure out a new, different way to do it, it's a completely life-changing event?

I figured out a new way to sew the quilted coasters that I make for my etsy shop. I used to battle and fight my sewing machine and just thought that was how life was. Turns out, life doesn't have to be that way! I made the tiniest change to how I make them and now I know that we don't have to wake up every morning and yell and shout at our sewing machines while they tear at our seams. I hope everyone plans to drink lots of sweaty beverages on unvarnished wood surfaces, 'cause I'm gonna be makin' a lot of coasters.

I will, perhaps, one day post the tutorial that changed my life, but for the time being I'll post pictures of coasters, which you can also check out here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Locavore Experiment: I am shamed

This weekend I took a spur of the moment solo road trip to visit my friend Sarah in Lawrence, KS. She was celebrating her birthday and a kick-ass new job and I wanted to surprise her. The seven plus hour drive was totally worth the look on her face when I walked up to her at her party (and the chance to see a really cool part of Kansas).

So, of course, before I left Minneapolis for KS I was having pretty typical unprepared locavore difficulties. I figured I'd need to eat on the way down, so I decided to stop by the co-op to pick up some local corn (that I peeled in the parking lot and then ate raw, which I love), some dips and pita chips made at a local restaurant (although I'm pretty sure it's impossible to get chickpeas locally), and some chocolate covered raisins made locally. I loaded up my water bottle from the tap and was on my way. I was feeling pretty good that I had planned that far ahead.

I wasn't hungry before the party, so I just headed over and decided that, locally made or not, to not accept the cans of Budweiser that Sarah was plying me with would just be looking a gift horse in the mouth. The party was in the back alley of a downtown bar. It was lit with strings of white lights in the way that all alleys should be lit and a country band was on the stage. I was having a great time chatting and comparing accents with her friends, when I met a friend of Sarah's from high school and her husband. I was dumbly rambling on about the differences in the landscape from Minnesota to Kansas and the striking beauty of wind turbines in Iowa (which I then photographed from the moving car on the way back), before I finally started to get around to talking to them about what they do and where they live. I should be prominently featued in the magazine "Modern Jackass" (thanks, This American Life, for coining that phrase).

Turns out that this couple, Gretchen and Randy, are living the life I want to live but will probably never have the guts to live. They have a farm with chickens and sheep and a garden. They bake their own bread and make their own yogurt and sell the wool and the lamb meat and trade chickens with other farmers for dairy and other basics. Of course, they both have to still work full time and they wake up at four in the morning to to the chores, so maybe I'm romanticizing things a little bit, but still.... Part of their reasoning is that they know where pretty much all the food they eat comes from. In fact, they eat out every once and again, but said that it makes both of them feel sick because they're not used to processed foods.

The duo has big plans -- bees and doing pressed cheeses and spinning their own yarn and eventually getting their gumption up to do their own slaughtering. They think they have little gumption.. while I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to go the next 24 hours eating local.

Later on, Sarah was talking about how great it was that Gretchen and Randy were doing this. She had also grown up on a farm but, looking back, is amazed at the disconnect in the food chain that she experienced growing up eating wonder bread even though she was on a wheat farm. She then dragged me off for egg and chorizo burritos at the local Mexican stand. Oh, Sarah, how you thwart my thoughtful eating at every turn!

The next day we met up for a bite (I had a great Turkey burger -- no idea what the origins were, but it was good) and then walked around downtown Lawrence. It reminded me a little of Madison, WI -- only a little more "grown up" somehow -- as in you'll probably see fewer people vomiting into the gutter in Lawrence.

After painfully parting ways with Sarah, I had to stop at this fabric store. It had an amazing selection of fabrics and was, appropriately named Sarah's Fabric Store -- as if she had set up the whole thing as a very-nearly-successful ruse to get me to move there.

OK, so I was less than adherent in my locavore experiment this weekend, but I'm not quite willing to give myself more allowances on this one and I'm definitely not willing to make some sort of "rules" I have about eating get in the way of traveling. Granted, I don't usually take off for last minute road trips and I think that that was my main lesson this weekend. With a little bit more planning and forethought I think I could have been more of a localist even while traveling. I could have easily brought a cooler to stock up on healthier foods. There was a farmer's market in Lawrence the morning I was there -- I just didn't make the time to get there -- and there are certainly restaurants that focus on local food. It was a trip, after all, through the country's bread basket. Eating food raised right there shouldn't be that hard, right?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Feature Friday: Wonder Thunder

My husband and I have gotten pretty good about bringing our own bags to the grocery store. The first thing I learned how to do when I started to learn how to sew was to make large tote bags. I sort of went on a bit of a rampage making them, so we have three large, sturdy totes made from upholstery fabric in patterns that do not offend my husband's masculinity too much.

So even though we were stemming the flow of large plastic bags coming into our home, we were building up quite a collection of plastic produce bags -- those thin, filmy numbers that aren't that useful (we don't have a dog).

I went on a mission to find some reusable produce bags. The Green Store here in Minneapolis was sold out of their bags, which was fortunate because one day when I was "pouncing" on etsy (pouncing is a feature that allows to see recently listed or sold items randomly), I came across some really cute pink produce bags from Wonder Thunder.

I ordered some -- and for $12 for a set of three in different sizes (sorry -- only two of my three were available for the photo shoot), I think they were a steal (handmade AND silkscreened with a cloud pattern AND machine washable).

They're not see-through, which means the cashier needs to peek into them when ringing you up (or else you need to do the whole PLU sticker thing), but they haven't been bothered by that. Some will ask what the tare is, which is great -- but at .75 oz for the big one, it's sort of negligible. My husband says he sometimes gets funny looks -- but I think that's because the pink offends some people's sense of masculinity.

Locavore Experiment: Day 4 (ish)

Yesterday my nephew (4) and neice's (1) day care was closed -- or "shut down" as my nephew said-- so my sister foisted her kids off on me for most of the day.

We made a last minute decision to go to the Minnesota Zoo. We packed up some snacks and water and juice and drove the 30 minutes to the suburban locale. It was a really nice day - beautiful weather, kids mostly under control and excited to see the sharks and bison.

The kids had their snack mid-morning and then lunchtime rolled around. I knew that walking all the way to the eatery would put us dangerously close to low sugar level meltdowns and so we ended up stopping at a little stand that had hot dogs and sandwiches and pizza. I sorted out what Gus (the four year old wanted) and what I could order that Addie (the one year old) would be able to eat. They were out of chocolate milk so I got Gus regular milk and hoped he wouldn't notice. They were out of fruit cups, so I placed "potato chips" into the "vegetable" category. I didn't think the food pyramid would mind.

It wasn't until I was a good bite or two into my sandwich that I remembered this locavore experiment that had been occupying my every thought for the past three days (and truth be told many thoughts in the months leading up). The moment I stepped into kidland, however temporary it might be, all thoughts of where the food came from and the economic and environmental and social implications of food consumption flew right out the window. I had one thought "Get food in their bellies and hope that they're getting some basic nutrients."

Therefore, it is my belief that having children (and perhaps more so having them suddenly and unwittingly thrust upon you) exempts you from ever having to follow any of these silly food movements. More power to you if you can manage it, but I will not judge you if you can't.

We now have three exemptions: "Marco Polo exemptions," "I have kids exemptions," and "my husband makes killer chocolate chip cookies exemptions."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Locavore Experiment: Day 3

Yesterday I went to the Midtown Farmer's Market. I bought some corn, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, and raspberries. The raspberries were from Peter's Pumpkin and are shown below.

There are some questions as to whether or not buying from your local farmer's market is more eco-friendly in terms of the energy required to transport the goods, but more on that in another blog entry.

I also picked up some almonds. They were flavored with a tangy bbq spice by a local family. The almonds themselves come from California, but I bought some raw ones before I asked where they were from. I feel like such a sinner.

The almond guy said that he had found some almond trees that supposedly grow in zone 4. We're in zone 5 -- although we used to be zone 6. Thanks, Global Warming! He said that he would soon be trying to grow some here in Minnesota in which case they will be the first almond farmers here.

Is it cheating to buy almonds when they come from California? What if they are roasted locally? They are really good for you. Does that make a difference?

A similar conflict arose when my husband wanted to bake some cookies. He's started to just starting lumping various items that he doesn't want to give up under the "Marco Polo Rule." He makes really good cookies and they require a lot of ingredients that can easily be obtained locally (eggs, butter, flour) and some that cannot be (white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips). I have to admit that I am reluctant to try his cookies with maple sugar or molasses or any other sweetener that we can get locally. Would you be able to give these up?

The other question that came up was the flour issue. Minneapolis was originally a milling town. In fact, Gold Medal flour was one of the products that was originally milled on the banks of the Mississippi here.
The mills are all shut down now, but General Mills is still headquartered here. I haven't been able to find out where Gold Medal Flour is milled now or where they get their wheat from. But let's say that the wheat isn't from here and that the flour isn't produced here, does it still count as local because the company is based here? Aren't I still supported some sector of the local economy by buying the flour? Or does buying local mean necessarily supporting local farmers and small business and NOT supporting larger companies like General Mills that distribute goods all over the world and get their raw materials from all over the place?

I'm hoping to track down more information about Gold Medal Flour, but in the meantime, I'm wondering if even if it is from local farmers and produced locally, using their flour might not be in the spirit of the localist movement.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Locavore Experiment: Day 1

Inspired by an Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker last year, I've decided to venture into a little bit of social experimentation. For the next month, I'm going to try out the locavore lifestyle. Doing this is based on three reasons/assumptions: eating local is better for the environment, eating local tastes better, and eating local supports the local economy. Hopefully over the next month, I'll see whether any of that is true and whether any of that really matters.

Initially, I was going to try to get my daily grocery bill to be 100% local (the co-op we used to go to regularly before we moved had receipts that noted what percent of your purchases were local items), but after seeing that the bloggers over at "Splendid Table" are only shooting for 80%, I decided to loosen it up a bit. I don't have a specific number in mind, but I'm shooting for at least 80% local (not including salt and spices as per the "Marco Polo" allowances). Since I'm terrible with remembering how far away different towns are, I've decided to define "local" as coming from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, or either of the Dakotas. (I know, I know, why don't I just include Jamaica and Belize while I'm at it?)

Even though I live in Minnesota, a place where the black earth offers up abundant local nutrition, I decided to stack the deck even further in my favor by doing this little experiment in August, the month that gives us the greatest cross section of late summer and early fall harvests. Perhaps one day I will try this experiment in the dead of winter in Minnesota, but not, perhaps, before we have a large deep freeze that I can spend the summer months stocking or before I figure out a way to turn potatoes into blueberries.

I also knew that this month I would be just returning from a trip to the east coast where I would have enjoyed loads of seafood and various other cuisines (like sushi and dim sum), the consumption of which this experiment would severely limit.

I just got back into town, so today was my first day. This morning I ventured to the local coop for my first entirely local purchases for breakfast and lunch. Last week, I had tried the Birchwood's Granola that my sister had brought along on our trip back east. It was delicious and local, so I knew that that would be an agreeable way to start my morning. It's also berry season here and raspberries and blueberries make the perfect topping to this treat.

Getting local milk in the upper midwest is pretty easy, but I'm lactose intolerant. I typically eat my cereal in and my cookies with soy milk. Right away, I was having a hard time finding a local non dairy alternative. I made a new rule for myself -- anything already in the fridge or pantry is fair game. If eating local is, in part, motivated by the desire to limit one's ecological impact, wasting perfectly good food already in one's home seemed to be utterly counterproductive.

As luck would have it, I had some soy milk in my fridge -- enough to tide me over until I can find another local option.

At the coop, I also bought a nice loaf of hearty, grainy bread made in St Paul and some Wisconsin cheese and sprouts. I had my breakfast and lunch lined up.

I was feeling pretty good about my purchases (in spite of the fact that the granola was $7), but when I went to double check the ingredients, I remembered that one of the things that makes the granola so delicious is the coconut. I was somewhat sure that the grains had all come from Minnesota or at least nearby (the packaging includes a thank you to Whole Grains of Welcome, MN), but I was also pretty sure that the coconut could not possibly come from, well, pretty much anywhere in the continental United States.

It made me wonder about the bread. How many of the ingredients had come from the five state region I had restricted myself to? Even if the food I buy is made locally, how I can be sure that the ingredients came from local farms? Does it even matter if they do or don't? If part of the reason behind this is to support the local economy, aren't I doing that by supporting the local restaurant that's making the granola or the local bakery that's making the bread?

For dinner, I was largely able to put those questions aside. We had enough patty pan squash from the most local place I could get it -- our backyard garden. I stuffed it with some pantry bread crumbs, the cheese I'd bought, and some bacon from Kerkhoven, MN that I bought that the Farm in the Market at the Midtown Global Market and had some tomatoes from the garden on the side.

Admittedly, some of the greater challenges came from the back and forth with my husband. The Global Market had a great deal on rainier cherries, one of my husband's favorite summer-time indulgences. Picturing them being driven half-way across the country, I passed them up. My husband was not pleased. I'm finding it's easier to convince myself to go without than to force this experiment on others.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Feature Friday: Letterary Press

A few weeks ago, I ordered this card from Letterary Press on etsy for a friend whose grandmother just passed. (She has a great sense of humor.)

The card is not only super cute and vintage-y, but it's also well-made. Letterary has other vintage designs and cards that feature quotes. A few more samples: