cafe mama

finding magic every day

a muddle of 'eat local' . october 16 . 2008

picking figs in my neighborhood
I will not let it go to waste. I tell myself that, over and over, as I watch tomatoes, grey with mold and pungent, plop plop plop from my compost bucket into the heap, as I mourn that part of the pear that has gone to brown, fruity fly mush, as I bike past trees sodden, weeping in apples.

Though I have been eating "local" for nearly 10 months now, I have joined a challenge and a day before October 1st I realized I must pay more attention to what I am eating. It is not that I need an inspiration to focus on where my food is coming from; not this at all; it is more for the fun and camaraderie. And yet I discover that I have no rules, no coordinated effort, no accountability. On October 1st I think about the food that I am eating, I count up the ingredients, but I cannot ignore the huge bottle of maple syrup I've just purchased (we need it!), I cannot stop eating these California Thompson raisins. I am super hungry and they go sooo well with my locally-grown slow hazelnuts (soaked overnight then dried in a warm oven). I am not going to stop eating the brown rice (organic, California, purchased at the co-op), the pinto beans (organic, somewhere in the U.S.A., but purchased at the co-op!), the fish sauce (Thailand, I cannot find a good justification). They are in my kitchen, they are products of an overall commitment to sustainable, local-as-possible, chemical-free, slow-it-down cuisine.

I need something new, something to refresh my commitment. Something to blog about. I think about how I will not waste the pinto beans, the rice, the maple syrup, the enormous quantity of farro given to me as a parting gift by our former basement resident. I have no clue where that was grown. And I come up with a new rule, one that I will mull over in my head for days before committing it to blog. I will not let things go to waste.

I do not find the parameters for my rule, while I become stricken with an awful cold, while I ride one day with my youngest to the emergency room for the enormous gash he's cut in his eyelid. I take a lick of preservative-packed peanut butter in the ER and feel so guilty I lose my always-prodigious appetite. I agonize over, and finally purchase, several loaves of "artisan" bread and a package of chicken sausage (sun-dried tomatoes? dehydrated onions? where were those grown?) at Trader Joe's, because I can barely walk due to headache and exhaustion and am definitely not baking. I buy Colby Jack cheese for my husband because I know he won't eat the expensive raw milk cheddar for his favorite deli sandwiches. At least they're stacked with local, organic heirloom tomatoes.

But I do not forget my rule. It is nearly the middle of the month when I sit late at my computer to test my boundaries. I will purchase all of my produce (but occasional bananas, lemons for preserving, and perhaps ginger) locally, and from the farmer directly most of the time. I will get as much meat as I can afford from the farmer's market and I will really try to find room in the budget for 1/4 of a free-range cow. I will use up every tomato from my garden, the green ones too, and not just my garden but all the neglected ones in my neighborhood. I will preserve every apple I can make room for in my pantry, the huge box my mother brought me from her neighbor and every other apple that is brought to my doorstep. When I buy local produce or meats or cheeses, I will use every bit, I will freeze or can what I can't eat right away, I will peel judiciously and slice every bit off, I will eat all of the dishes I make before I buy more, even if the millet is from "USA" and the oats are from Canada, I will not let them go to waste. I will use or give away the buttermilk; I will make my leftover egg whites into meringues; I will lick the last bit of honey from the jar.

I evaluate my biggest compromises. There is the maple syrup, which I buy two pounds at a time from People's Co-op in bulk. It's organic, and from Vermont, and I think I need it but I promise to myself to use honey most of the time (a little cheaper per pound and made right here in my neighborhood). There are brown rice and oats, both purchased organic and from good sources (People's Co-op, Bob's Red Mill) but grown at least 300 or 400 miles away. I decide I'll eat a little more of that Washington farro, but otherwise, these are good choices. There is coffee, of course, which I get from Stumptown and I frankly can't live without. My flour comes mostly from Washington and a little from Montana, but the further-distant stuff is stone-ground right here in Milwaukie, Oregon. That'll do. Salt and pepper are from The Meadow; I consider the store's inventory the most lovingly and attentively curated products in the world. To listen to the description of my current passion, Pangasinan Star salt, is to be smitten and hopeless in its nuanced sparkliness.

I use up the pinto beans in my canister -- burritos, rice-salsa-cilantro-bean bowl, beans-and-chicken soup -- and buy four pounds from the farmer's market. I spend hours peeling tomatoes and apples; I while away my bike rides imagining new uses for green tomatoes. I cook the millet, which has languished in my cabinet for months, and eat it with butter I've made from local cream and the leftover tomato sauce (all farmer's market) from the night's homemade pizza. I start in again on my bread baking, using oatmeal leftover from two days' breakfasts as the base ingredient. I arrange to order 50-pound sacks of oats and flour. I make meringue cookies with raw wildflower honey. (So so local, my chickens' eggs, Portland honey, using up whites leftover from baking cakes.) I order Finnish yogurt cultures to make my own yogurt with my raw milk.

Already I can see that this challenge will not be met, but I have begun again, renewed my vows, and when this present hurricane of life has passed I will pick up the pieces, I will chop green tomatoes and harvest thyme and say a prayer for the garlic planted beneath the damp October dirt and I will eat local.

paying the bills

read my previous post . doing too much . september 29 . 2008