Sooney’s Eat-Local Challenge

Accepting the Challenge

Since I had never participated in the Eat Local Challenge and have a veggie garden, I signed right up on the Ashland Food Coop website. My fingers just clicked on the “purist” level as my brain was still figuring out the meaning of Purist. No coffee? (dang!) chocolate, lemons, oranges, capers, avocados, black pepper? None of those, either. I saw no place to click “change your mind,” so, heck, I was in! I can do almost anything for a week—the challenge is to eat food grown, harvested and prepared within 200 miles of the Rogue Valley.

I decided I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase or pick food items specifically for the challenge. I didn’t want to drive unnecessarily or go to great lengths to be a purist. I would go about my life and do the usual. I would eat what I have at home and get what I need at the Ashland Tuesday Market, Coop, or, if I happen to be in the vicinity of a local farm, I would stop and shop.

Day One: Saturday, 9/12/09

Today is my starting date for the challenge. Up before sunrise, I drank a glass of water, right from the tap. Thank goodness for local water. With appropriate water curtailment before there is a shortage, I hope clean water will always flow out of my faucets. I was thrilled to read yesterday that the Ashland Food Co-op will no longer sell bottled water in single-use plastic containers and they urge us to “Take Back The Tap”. I’ve always had a fondness for my tap. I am a “fill your own” bottle gal.

As I write this I’m drinking a blended fruit drink of a Valley View Orchard Alberta peach, blackberries from thornless canes in my garden, a Bartlett pear and a mystery apple from Amy and Lynne’s yard in Medford. I used water in the mix and added yogurt to my friend Cynthia Whitcomb’s drink. I stirred in the last of a non-local yogurt in her drink and added a local yogurt to my shopping list.

Off to the garden now and I’ll think about breakfast while I’m there…….

Breakfast of Eggs in a Nest
I learned about eggs in a nest from Barbara Kingsolver in her book, Animal Vegetable, Miracle. With butter (Rose Valley unsalted) warming in the pan I added a handful of diced leek, 2 sliced cloves of garlic and a chopped small, white potato. After several minutes I added chopped Swiss chard stems, followed by the chopped greens a few minutes later. All produce is thanks to Nick’s and my abundant garden. Then I made two spots in the pan to drop in 2 fresh eggs, from my friend Susan Lander’s hens. As I lowered the heat and covered the pan I saw two egg eyes looking at me. I reached in the fridge for a bit of red pepper for a smile and picked up a cherry tomato from the counter for a nose. There you go, eggs in a nest!

Lunch and Dinner
After visiting Bob and Barbara Heyerman and foraging in their yard for a bag of English walnuts, I joined the crowd at the Co-op for the Eat Local Festival. There I received my small bottle of Thompson Creek cider vinegar and container of sea salt which were made by Mary Shaw and nature in the Co-op community kitchen for the participants.

The Saturday Market provided me with some arugula starts for our garden, green, red, yellow and white onions, some Wild Bee Honey Farm’s Rogue Valley Vetch Honey and Willow-Witt Ranch pork sausages. I added a few items from the Co-op (Nancy’s plain yogurt and a bottle of Cowhorn viognier 2008) before I needed to report for duty at the Festival. Good thing I thought to put a cooler with ice packs in the car.

Rock fish from Port Orford Sustainable Seafood was on the grill and Black Ranch wheat flour tortillas were being rolled out and placed on griddles. Fresh salsa with local ingredients and Umpqua sour cream were waiting to be dolloped to complete the fish tacos. I couldn’t resist the $3 special for lunch. Thank you Co-op. The recipes are on the Co-op website and were included in the packet of recipes given to participants.

After a walk around the block I munched on plums from Lynne and Amy’s yard and drank water. Since I volunteered giving tastes to passers-by, I sampled the Divine Peach Cobbler with Rolling Hills peaches and the Late Harvest Potato Salad with Kale, tomatoes and local goat cheese. Tasty, I’ll make them at home.

Later for dinner, a quick salad was assembled with the produce that is taking over the kitchen. Lettuces, spinach and swiss chard matched up with lots of tomatoes, lemon cukes, sweet red peppers, basil and Italian flat parsley. Sea salt and cider vinegar (thanks to the Co-op) mixed with Tehama Gold extra virgin olive oil was the dressing, and Siskiyou Crest’s feta goat cheese were the crumbles on top.

Blueberries from our freezer and slices of our Asian pears are luckily not being spilt on this computer as I write the blog. I wandered over to the counter where the almonds were calling. We managed to save a small basketful from the pesky squirrels this year. Nothing like cracking open a few fresh almonds to go with Umpqua milk when you want to top off the stomach for the night.

Day Two: Sunday, 9/13/09

With so much fruit available, I blended a drink using a peach, a pear, some blueberries out of our freezer, and Nancy’s plain yogurt. I’d like to set up a fresh goat milk connection and begin to make yogurt again. I sent an email off to an Ashland group to get info and, hopefully, I can participate.

By the time I returned from harvesting items from our garden this a.m., it was close to ten and I was hungry! A giant popover sounded good, so I preheated the oven and discovered it wasn’t functioning. I took our counter-top toaster oven to our outside cooking area (a piece of plywood resting on some cinder blocks) and got that going with the 8″ skillet warming inside. Better to keep heat out of the house!

After beating 2 eggs and adding 1/2 cup milk and whisking again, I added 1/2 cup Black Ranch whole wheat pastry flour and beat it all to a smooth consistency. I let it sit for several minutes and buttered the inside of the now-heated skillet. Next, I poured in the batter and into the oven it went.

The Co-op recipe calls for baking 20 minutes at 425° in a normal oven. I was concerned it might brown too much in the “toaster” oven so I set the temp lower and checked in after 10 minutes. About 12 minutes later at 350° degrees it was done and perfect. Sliced peaches and freshly picked strawberries went on top with honey sweetened yogurt. Yum!

Hunger pains told me it was time for lunch and I had to hustle, for Nick and I had plans to see the movie, Julie and Julia. I couldn’t just grab something like I would normally, such as an avocado, or crackers and sardines, so I remembered yesterday’s salad at the Co-op, Late Harvest Potato with Kale and quickly dug up a few red potatoes and clipped some kale and basil.

A few small potatoes were cut into 1/2 inch cubes and put on to steam for about 10 minutes. I washed the kale, pulled off the stems and set the leaves on top of the potatoes for the last few minute to wilt them. In a small bowl I combined a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (Tehama), a big pinch of sea salt, a splash of cider vinegar of which I have even a smaller amount, and a 1/4 cup minced red onion and whisked it well. I cut up two medium red and yellow Truckee tomatoes into my lunch bowl. I removed the wilted kale and cut them up into bite size pieces and added them to the bowl along with the potatoes. I pulled the leaves off basil stems and tore them as I let them fall into the dressing. Whisking the dressing, I poured it on the salad and gave it all a god toss. On the top went crumbled feta cheese.

After the highly entertaining film, Nick and I were starved and stopped at the Co-op and picked up 4 small Emerald Hills tri-tip steaks, just over a half pound in total weight. At home we dug up a few more potatoes and started them roasting in the toaster oven with sage, rosemary, garlic, olive oil and salt. Fresh green beans were sauteed in butter and a bit of oil with garlic slices as the steaks were being grilled on the bar-b-cue. (The steaks had been rubbed with olive oil and salted.)

Dinner was fabulous and I couldn’t resist making an Apple/Blackberry Cobbler with apples from friends and our blackberries and almonds, based on the Co-op’s Divine Peach Cobbler. It must have been Julia Childs that kept me going!

I cut up a few apples into bite size pieces, with the skins and put them in a baking dish along with a handful of frozen blackberries. A generous 1/2 cup of ww pastry flour and a pinch of salt were combined in a bowl. 1/8 cup of melted butter was added and mixed up. 1/4 cup Umpqua milk was stirred in. Then a stiffly beaten egg white was folded in. The batter sat for several minutes. I dribbled some honey over the apples and berries in the dish and mixed them a bit. I added a few tablespoons of water to the fruit and stirred again. The batter was dropped and spread lightly over the fruit. Our almonds were chopped fine and sprinkled over the top.

What appetites we have!

Day Three: Monday, 9/14/09

I’ve been starting every day with a glass of Ashland water made of water droplets from all over the world, and later, a blended fruit drink. It was again peaches, pears, blackberries and yogurt, because that’s what we had handy.

How I wanted to eat something fast and easy like granola, oatmeal, or a slice of Sammy’s New Cowboy bread with almond butter, mashed banana, yogurt and topped with raisins, but no, could do that on this “purist” challenge of a 200 mile radius of food production.

So, a frittata it was. Oil and butter in the skillet with onions, then garlic slices. Left over roasted potatoes from last night’s dinner went in next. A sliced up grilled pork sausage from Willow-Witt Ranch that I found in the fridge went in. Chopped Swiss chard stems followed by the greens. An after thought was cherry tomatoes, so I sliced them in half and sprinkled them around. In another bowl I whisked 4 eggs plus a leftover yolk from yesterday’s cobbler, a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of Nancy’s cottage cheese. This I poured over the top and let it it cook on low. I crumbled some goat cheese from Siskiyou Crest on top and after a few minutes, placed the skillet into our toaster oven on broil to further cook the top for a minute and a half!

Fresh water and a couple of Asian pears from our garden.

I needed something fast, so I consumed another quarter of the frittata and enjoyed a mystery apple from a friend’s tree.

At the OLLIE reception today, all I could enjoy from a spread of vegetables, shrimp, fruit, tortilla rolls, was a glass of Pinot Gris 2007 from Bridgeview of Grants Pass. I was told it was from local grapes and will find out. After talking to a couple of people, I found out all the food was from Costco, packaged in plastic and displayed well, but from who knows where.

Tonight Nick and I used another recipe from the Co-op (thank goodness for their help!) and thawed out package of ground lamb from Magnolia Farm. The Miniature Greek Meatballs recipe became patties, for our oven is still malfunctioning and we decided to cook the patties in a skillet.

We mixed up with the 1 pound of ground lamb:
1 cup minced onion
4 minced garlic
pinch of salt
1 T of fresh minced oregano
3 T fresh minced mint
a small handful of fresh minced parsley,
1 large egg, lightly beaten1 cup of cooked brown rice

Instead of making meatballs, we formed a couple of patties and refrigerated the rest of the mixture for another day.

A section of Tramboncino zucchine was sliced and dressed with olive oil, salt and dried basil. A red pepper was chopped into bite size pieces and lightly dribbled with olive oil. A few peeled garlic were tossed in the roasting pan as well. As you see, this is a process. Our toaster oven did the job.

A yellow cuke was peeled and grated. The juice was squeezed out and consumed. The gratings went into a cup of yogurt along with 2 minced gloves of garlic. A small handful of fresh mint leaves were added and stirred in. This was the Tazatziki, a Greek yogurt sauce that Maria uses on practically everything, but she is Greek, of course.

Day Four: Tuesday, 9/15/09

Fresh mint from the garden in hot water got me going after a lovely second night of sleeping outside under the stars. I love summer nights will an overhead observatory. A blended drink happened again, cuz we love them and fruit is abundant. Left overs of frittata and apple cobbler for breakfast, for my birding class began at 9:00.

A lamb patty, from last night’s dinner, was cooking while a tasty garden side dish was developing. Green beans were cut into bite size lengths and lightly steamed, then placed on a platter. Fresh tomatoes were halved and sliced over them. Olive oil, salt and a bit of Thompson Creek vinegar were whisked and poured over the dish. Fresh basil leaves were chopped and scattered over the top. This concoction made a colorful companion to the patty. I ate the last of the apple blackberry cobbler to top off the lunch. I’m thinking of a peach cobbler next. Many of my thoughts seem to be about food!

So many veggies and tomatoes have been looking at me, I decided to make a quick gazpacho, not long after lunch. I steamed a big handful of larger green beans, then added a handful of roughly chopped Swiss chard and spinach leaves. Into a Cuisinart went the cooled veggies. I added two garlic cloves, 1/4 red onion, a red pepper, a spicy red pepper, 3 small lemon cukes, a 1/4 Tramboncino zucchine and salt. They became a thick mixture of minced ingredients which went into a soup tureen. I then blended a variety of peeled garden tomatoes and added that to the tureen, ending with a dribble of olive oil. The gazpacho sat in the fridge and its flavors blended for about five hours before dinner. I added freshly chopped tomatoes to the soup.

Day Five: Wednesday, 9/16/09

As usual, water, then later, a blended fruit drink started my day. Our Mah Jong class this morning demanded that I eat quickly and go. Luckily there was the remaining quarter of the frittata and left over roasted potatoes, which I warmed up.

I failed to bring any snacks for the 3 1/2 hour class, other than water. While others munched on provided energy bars, tea and coffee, I drank water. At break, while others went to get a coffee, I was a good purist and drank water and went for a walk.

On the way home from class on foot, we spotted a plum tree and a handy bench to climb up on to pick the ripe Italian plums. We filled a bag to carry home and washed a few to eat, then and there.

Being starved we pounced on the lamb patty, and a cup of cooked brown rice in the fridge. Into a warmed and oiled skillet went half a medium sized chopped red onion, 2 sliced garlic cloves, 1/2 of a sweet red pepper, chopped, a dozen sliced cherry tomatoes, crumbled up patty, and the rice. It mixed well over the heat. A small bowl of gazpacho accompanied the rice dish.

Asian pears from our tree made a crunchy, juicy snack.

Knowing that tomorrow would be a day away from home, I prepared, again, the Blue Fox Farm’s Late Harvest Potato Salad with Kale and Tomatoes for a dinner and lunch. Four ripe peaches on the counter, turned into a Divine Peach Cobbler which I made on day two.

Day Six: Thursday, 9/17/09

Another blended fruit drink of Alberta peaches, Fuji apple and yogurt started the day. Peach cobbler and a hard-boiled egg from my friend Susan’s hens was my breakfast before we headed up to Rocky Point to bird and goof around.

A carrot from our garden

Potato salad with kale and tomato was eaten at Puck’s lake, in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Since I had forgotten a utensil, my friend gave me a chip to eat with. I ate that too! Oops! Out of the 200 mile radius limit. The sky did not fall!

Asian pears from our garden

We defrosted two Rainbow trout that Nick caught up at Hyatt Lake which joined the last of the gazpacho, the potato salad, Cowhorn Viognier wine and the peach cobbler. How I adore leftovers

Late Snack
I ate a handful of the Italian plums from our foraging.

Day Seven: Friday, 9/18/09

Morning settled in with a blended fruit drink, after a morning walk. It felt like a pop-over kind of day and that was easy. Decorating the top with peach slices and yoghurt with a small spoonful of honey was yummy. Chopped almonds added some texture and flavor.

Asian pears are abundant and juicy with crunchiness. A plentiful snack before the neighborhood bear eats them!

While making tomato sauce with piles of our tomatoes, I discovered a previously hidden potato salad with kale, tomato and feta in the fridge. Thankfully consumed, it allowed me to finish my job in the kitchen and “eat local”.

At the Hillcrest Friday Market I attended a celebration for the “purists” and was happy to be fed delightful appetizers from the Co-op prepared by Matthew and Mary. Miniature corn pancakes with creme fraiche, a sliced cherry tomato, and a dabble of a basil spread were catchy and tasty. Mary Shaw prepared kebobs of veggies, tomatoes and feta. This was highlighted with a lovely Pinot Gris from RoxyAnn Winery.

With my certificate in hand for a week of “purist” eating, I declared victory.

Reflections on the Week: 9/21/09

How I wanted to eat something fast and handy sometimes during the Eat Local Challenge. But no, I couldn’t being a “purist.” Make a quick pasta dish? If an ingredient was from out of the 200 mile radius, it was no go. Everything I consumed was thought about ahead of time and often as I was making it! I ate within the 200 mile radius except for a couple of tablespoons of McMinnville butter on day one and I inadvertently ate a couple of chips when I had forgotten a spoon on a hike.

My usual grazing method might look like walking through the kitchen and thinking,”Oh, Dagoba dark chocolate bits would be tasty……I think I’ll add a few peanuts to the mix”. None of the treats I keep handy, like licorice, was even licked! Coffee aroma only gave my nose a hit. I drank way more water and ate only fresh fruit and veggies (mostly from our garden) for snacks. I didn’t really miss any foods during the week while I stayed focused on the challenge, or shall I say, obsess over them. I was hungrier than usual for the main meals. Come to think of it, it felt as if I had been eating all week long!

Did I eat more nutritious foods on the challenge over a week period compared to my usual intake? Yes. For example, today in Italian class, Lolita brought decadent sweets. I gracefully declined one last week. I graciously accepted one today. Would I eat better if I were on a longer challenge? Yes! Why don’t I just eat better on my own? Good question.

I paid more attention to labels and geography when shopping during the challenge. I had to. My awareness of local foods expanded and I supported more local farming. That went for items purchased at the Co-op and the Tuesday market. I invested in local olive oil, Tehama Gold, and found it a bit more expensive, but mild and tasty. It spends less time in a truck on the freeway coming to Ashland than other olive oils. (That is true for many products.) I purchased Siskiyou Crest feta, Willow-Witt sausages, Emerald Hills grass fed beef, and Cowhorn and RoxyAnn wines for the first time during this challenge. Susan’s hens were greatly appreciated for sharing their eggs with me.

Buying local can be more expensive. Eating fewer animal products, while delicious and a bit more expensive, is an option. In the end, the buyer is supporting shorter distances for transported goods. Buyers can include stops at local sources and be smart about using a car. I was fortunate to have a garden to eat from. Most of my food was grown at home. I wonder what the food challenge would be like during more leaner months?

I spent more time than usual in the kitchen during the challenge. I had never blogged before and that was a bit of a challenge as well as time consuming to photograph the dishes to post. I was most appreciative of the Co-op Community Kitchen for providing so many recipes using easy to get ingredients. Since I hadn’t planned much, they lightened the work load of this week. They were simple enough to prepare and were tasty.

The challenge was shared with family friends in Stockton and eating local foods may be the theme for their next monthly gourmet food group. I hope it’s catching. It was a good exercise and I’m glad to have participated. I encourage others to jump in. If I participate again next year, or whenever with friends, sharing some of the meal prep might make the exercise less time consuming, encourage more creativity and result in a greater diversity of dishes to enjoy. Organizing a pot-luck meal with friends during the challenge would be fun. Maybe the Co-op will offer classes so prospective participants could have a hand in making essentials like vinegar and salt and learning recipes ahead of time over a few sessions.

I will step up to the challenge next year, but how? Maybe be a purist for a week and or, I can challenge myself to “eat local” for one meal a day, forever!