Friday, May 21, 2010

In Season: English Peas


Right now is the perfect time to buy fresh English peas. They're just coming into season and are so sweet and lovely. I couldn't resist picking up a three-pound bag last week, and I'm sure there will be more tomorrow.



Canned or frozen peas cannot even begin to compete with these. They're so fresh and crisp. Shelling them makes me think of summers at my grandmother's house when I was a little girl. She would pick baskets full and my cousins and I would help shell them until we were bored and ran off to play. She never made it a chore for us so I still enjoy shelling peas in small quantities.

I like their slightly sweet, fresh taste so I prepared them simply with just a little mint and fluffy basmati rice. This is a light dinner for a spring night. I had mine with chilled white wine in a pretty glass, and it was perfect. However you cook them, don't miss English peas this spring! They'll only be here for a short while, and they're so delicious.


Minted English Peas with Rice
a simple dinner

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium spring onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups English peas (preferably fresh but frozen can be substituted)
6 large mint leaves
3 cups prepared rice
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan medium heat. Add onion and gently saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add English peas and continue to cook for one minute. Add enough water to just cover peas and simmer for three minutes. Chiffonade the mint leaves and add to the peas. Cook one more minute.
Pour off excess water. Toss with rice and season to taste.

Enjoy with a cold glass of wine and good conversation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Learning Through Doing

While chopping mint last night I realized that Charlie and I are nearing the 2-month mark for our year-long locavore project. It's amazing to think we're just shy of being 1/6 of the way through! In that short period of time I feel like I've already learned so much. Since lists are easy to navigate, here's a collection of 10 things I've learned this far into our locavore project.

10 Things I've Learned So Far

1. Eating locally doesn't have to be expensive.
I start with this because it addresses one of the great fears I had when this project began. Going into this I knew there would a number of cooking challenges and that we would have to do without some things, but I didn't know if we would really be able to afford to eat this way for an entire year. Sure, I could put together one local meal, but could we actually eat 80% locally for a year without destroying our budget? It turns out that we can. I've been carefully tracking our food expenses since we started, and we're actually spending about 30% less on food than we did before the project. Yes, you read that correctly -- 30%. Isn't that huge! There are several factors that contribute to the drop in our food costs: we're not eating out as often, we buy fewer "fancy" ingredients (i.e. truffle oil), and we eat almost every scrap of food we purchase (more on that in a moment). Since we're eating seasonally we're planning menus around what we have instead of planning a menu and then hitting the grocery store. It's surprising how cost-effective that can be.
Which leads me to...

2. When it's all local there's less waste
March 20 was the official start date for this project, but we started easing into it last November. I really didn't see any way we could go from shopping and eating like most people to an 80% local diet without a fairly lengthy transition period, and I'm glad that's the way it happened. Aside from the shock of actually saving money I was also happily surprised by how thoroughly we cleaned out the fridge each week without throwing away any food. In November there was only one farmers market available to me (the glorious Morningside Farmers Market), and almost all of our veggies came from my single Saturday trip. I was surprised how much our refrigerator changed throughout the course of a week: on Saturday our refrigerator was packed with fresh vegetables, and by Friday it was almost completely empty! Since our choices were limited, we ate every bite of every vegetable including beet greens and carrot tops. Instead of hitting the grocery store when we want something a little different we now "shop" in our previously-overstocked pantry. We've eaten our way through all the lentils I stocked up on over a year ago (now why did I do that?), bags of dried beans, boxes of noodles, powdered lemonade, and one tasty box of Duncan Hines brownies. The pantry supply lessens every week, and soon we'll be down to nothing but a few sheets of nori and that box of powdered sugar I've been saving for something special.
So, we now have almost no food waste at all. It's a wonderful little bonus this project has given us.

3. Eating locally means giving up some things.
Of course I knew this before we started the project, but I did not know which things would actually be missed. My guesses were things like white sugar, chocolate, bananas, avocados, and ginger ale. Two months in I don't really care about any of those. The things I actually miss the most are popcorn, citrus, seafood (!), and chicken. Yes, chicken. I live in the chicken capital of the world and can't find a decent source of local, free-range chicken! This is like that whole ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife thing Alanis was talking about.
Bottom line: you can't eat locally without giving up some things.

4. Adventurous eating is a requirement.
Ever tried a rutabaga? I hadn't until this project began. When it's the middle of March and you're staring at the same vegetables you've been eating day in and day out for the last 3 months it's time to try something new. This is how I discovered that rutabagas are amazing! Not just okay -- really tasty! Whole wheat berries, duck eggs, sunchokes, kohlrabi, ruby turnips, watermelon radishes, and tatsoi are also wonderful, each in their own way. I hadn't tried any of these foods until this project began. Not everything has worked out (for example, lamb's quarters -- not my cup of tea), but most of the new foods I've tried have been really great. If you want to eat locally I think adventurous eating is a must.

5. This isn't for everyone.
I'm really enjoying the challenge of eating locally, but I know it's not for everyone. This project would be much tougher if I had kids, dietary restrictions, or didn't like to cook. There are plenty of ways to eat that are ethical, sustainable, and healthy. I believe the local diet meets all of those requirements, but it's a lot of work.
Having said that, however, I do think most people can easily add a few fresh, local foods to their diets. Farmers markets are springing up all over the country, and they offer tons of delicious local goodies. Just changing a few shopping habits (asking about local produce at the grocery store, buying local veggies when you can, planning one meal a week that focuses on a local ingredient, eating in restaurants that buy from local farms) can go a long way toward supporting small-scale farmers devoted to sustainable farming practices.

6. If you want to eat locally you have to cook. A lot.
I really, really, really love to cook. It's one of the few things I still regularly pour my creative energy into, and I find it to be a great stress reliever. Even so, this has tested me. Aside from a salad, everything has to be cooked! There are no potato chips for snacking on, and there's no quick bowl of cereal for breakfast. If I want to eat it then I have to cook it, and that takes a lot of time. Usually I don't mind so much, but it does occasionally feel like a chore.
Not only is constantly cooking a huge part of making this work, there's also a ton of planning required. Here's a very simple example. We didn't have any bread last week. We went out of town the previous weekend, had plans every night, and there just wasn't a 4-hour stretch in which to make it! I would have made quick biscuits instead of a yeast bread, but I didn't have any buttermilk, and it has to be ordered a week in advance. So, no bread for a week. This is not the worst thing in the world. We had plenty of other delicious things to eat, but the bread was blown because of poor planning. These are the challenges this project presents, and I gladly accept them. Still, sometimes it would be nice to just pick up a loaf of bread at the grocery store!

7. Local, fresh produce really is better.
No carrot at the grocery store can ever compare to a sweet baby carrot eaten 6 hours after it was picked. It's just not possible. I've been complaining a little bit about the challenges this project presents, but let me tell you, the food is amazing. Even the simplest dishes are fresh, bright, and flavorful. When this year is over I'm sure I'll go back to buying some things at the grocery store, but I'm sold on fresh, local produce forever.

8. If you eat high quality meat you require less of it.
The majority of the meat we've been eating comes from Riverview Farms. They raise Berkshire pigs using traditional farming methods and grass-fed cows. Wow! I've never been a die-hard carnivore, but I love the meat we've been getting.
My husband, Charlie, sits in a completely different camp from me on the whole meat thing. He requires it and can tear through a steak like no one I've ever seen (slight exaggeration). Even he has been really pleased with the meat and has been satisfied eating less of it. Grass-fed burgers, steaks, pot roasts, and such are more filling than beef that comes from a CAFO. It is more expensive pound for pound, but since we need less of it to be satisfied it works out.

9. Losing weight may be a side effect.
I debated over whether I should even add this to list as weight loss was not a goal of this project. I am at a healthy weight, and I've long given up the idea of being supermodel skinny. Having said that, I have unintentionally lost a little bit of weight since we've started this project. It's not much, maybe 5 - 7 lbs, but my jeans are noticeably looser on my hips. This probably has more to do with knocking processed foods completely out of my diet more than anything else.
Ummm...that's not something that happens to me. I have NEVER accidentally lost weight. Like I said, that wasn't a one of the reasons for doing this project, but I'll take it!

10. Treats are treats.
This could actually be split into two things I've learned: treats are treats and seasonality is exciting. Instead I've decided to put them together because eating seasonally and cutting out processed and non-local foods has changed the way I categorize treats. Before, a treat generally consisted of a bowl of ice cream, a slice of cake, or a Snickers bar. Those are still wonderful treats, of course, but other things now hold spots on the treat list as well. Strawberries, for example, have been the most amazing spring treat, and when I found local, heavy cream from grass-fed cows to accompany them I was in absolute heaven. Each time a new veggie that I love shows up at the market I get that oooooh-I'm-going-to- get-some-cake feeling. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I swear it's the truth. It is a truly exciting day when you find spring onions and new potatoes at the market after going months without. Treats are now treats again for me, and I love that.

So, that's my list for now. What do you think?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy Spring Salad


I'm always looking for something to cook that shows off the fresh herbs I've been growing. This year I planted apple mint in addition to the spearmint I usually grow. It has really taken off in the last few weeks and is now trying its best to escape from its pot and sneak out the window.



Apple mint is a little sweeter than other types of mint I've grown. I like that it adds a bit of freshness without tasting like a tube of toothpaste.

I've also had a lot of success with cilantro this year. Last year it was droopy and didn't do so well, so I was quite surprised when it started going nuts and jumping out of its pot. It even grew a few little flowers which I snipped and used as a garnish for another dish. In the last few days it has fallen over, but I think it's just adjusting to its slightly larger new pot. Hopefully things will straighten out before too long.



Last night the cilantro and apple mint teamed up in a happy spring salad. I had a few English cucumbers and some gorgeous yellow and orange carrots from the farmer's market, and I knew they would benefit from fresh, bright herbs. I roughly chopped the cucumber into large chunks, sliced the carrots into crisp rounds, and tossed them with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. I then cut a handful of apple mint and cilantro from my plants, bruised them a bit to release their flavors, and sliced the herbs into thin ribbons. The mint and cilantro joined the veggies in a big bowl, were gently tossed about, then spritzed with a tiny bit of lemon juice before serving. The salad was just as I'd hoped it would be: light, fresh, and springy. It's not a show-stopper, but it does a little something to brighten a spring meal.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Storybook Eggs


Stranger I've Almost Forgotten: *Knock, knock*
Me: "Who is it?"
SIAF: "It's me."
Me: "Hmm? You sound familiar, but I've almost forgotten you."
SIAF: "It's me!!! Spring!"
Me: "Oh, of course! Well, in that case come on in, and I'll cook you up!"

Spring. As I'm typing this I can actually hear birds chirping outside my window. Asparagus and strawberries were available at the farmers' market last weekend, green garlic has been here for three weeks now, and the fresh milk I've been buying is thicker than ever. This is the season that always makes me think I should quit my job, pull out my big backpack, and live my life wandering around the countryside. I'm pretty sure I could live on wild onions and forest morels for at least a little while, but that's a fantasy for another day.

Three weeks ago the Dunwoody Green Market opened, which was great news for me. This means easy access to a few different farms that are growing slightly different veggies and such than my friends at the Morningside Market. Several wonderful little discoveries have come out of this market, but one of my favorites is duck eggs. I found them by accident. The day the market opened I loaded up one of my little friends (age 5), and we headed that way to see what we could find. He was very impressed by the white carrots and the free samples, but what most impressed him was a duck wearing a dress. Here's a picture of the duck and her owner:

You will notice that the duck (named Cutie Pie I later learned) is NOT wearing a dress in this picture, which is unfortunate, but so it goes. It cost 5 bucks to take a picture of the duck with the dress on, and I decided that money was better spent on what she'd produced: duck eggs. I'd never tried them before and was curious.
That afternoon I headed home with a dozen little treasures, proudly lifted the top of the carton, and watched Charlie's eyebrows raise in amusement. He suggested we fry them, and I couldn't think of a reason why we shouldn't, so we did!

Before we get into the part of this story that involves cooking and eating, let me take a moment to describe these little stars. The eggs are really beautiful. They're a very pale ivory with a gray tint and a few speckles here and there. They're longer and thinner than chicken eggs and are more difficult to crack. Because they come from water fowl, the eggs must have a slightly thicker shell with a more resilient membrane inside to protect the contents. One good whack on the side of the counter breaks through with no problem, and out slides a beautiful, orangey yolk and nearly-transparent whites. I was amazed by the size of the yolk. It's much larger than the yolk of a chicken egg and (I later learned) has a lot more protein.

What does one do with such a lovely new ingredient? Well, if you're me you create a recipe that features it. And so, Not-Quite-Benedict came to be. I am sorry to say that my stupid camera battery died before I could take a decent photo of the finished dish (that might have been my fault...), but I did manage to snap one not-so-great picture. This doesn't even almost do justice to the pretty eggs, but it's what I have. In fact, I think it looks kind of gross in this picture, so you'll just have to trust me when I say that it wasn't. It was delicious!


See! It's not gorgeous in the photo. Oh well.

serves 4

8 thick slices bacon
4 large duck eggs
8 buttermilk biscuits, recipe to follow
Hollandaise sauce, recipe to follow

Place bacon slices in a large cast-iron frying pan. Place the pan on your stove-top and gently cook on medium-high heat, turning the bacon after 2 - 3 minutes and continuing to cook until it is cooked through and just beginning to crisp. Remove bacon from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. Do not discard the leftover bacon fat in the pan.

Carefully crack one duck egg in a small bowl, taking care not to puncture or otherwise break the yolk. Heat the reserved baking fat until hot but not smoking and gently slide the egg into the pan.


Allow the egg to cook until the whites set, 2 - 3 minutes, then carefully flip it over with a spatula, again taking care not to break the yolk. Cook another 1 - 3 minutes then remove from pan. Repeat with remaining eggs.

To assemble, split one warm buttermilk biscuit in half, and place two pieces of bacon on the bottom half.


Slide one fried egg on top of the bacon, and top with a generous spoonful of hollandaise sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with an extra biscuit for sopping up the egg and hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.

Buttermilk Biscuits

1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 Tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 Tablespoon milk (for brushing biscuits)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and honey and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough just forms.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead several times. Using your hands, form the dough into eight balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the top of each biscuit with milk, and bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the biscuits are completely cooked through and are golden on top.
Serve warm.

*Note: If you prefer, biscuits can be cut into perfect rounds using a circular cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass. I just tend to like puffy, cloud-shaped biscuits so I form them by hand. Also, a handful of shredded cheddar and chopped rosemary can be thrown in with the dry ingredients for a more savory biscuit.


This is my wonderful mother-in-law's recipe for Blender Hollandaise. It's so tasty and will keep for 2 days. I used it on steamed asparagus the first night and then used the rest on the Not-Quite-Benedict.

Blender Hollandaise

1/2 cup butter, heated to a bubble
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

Put egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender and blend on low for 10 - 15 seconds. Add the hot butter, and blend 15 - 20 seconds more. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Project Begins

When I first decided to keep this blog my husband, Charlie, gently warned me that the difference between a successful blogger and an unsuccessful one is largely the difference between a persistent blogger and one who is not. I'm sorry to say I've fallen into the second category over the last few months. However, he also reminds me that it is never too late to start again. Doesn't he sound wonderful? He is.

March 20, 2010 marked the official start of our year-long locavore project. We started with a bang, inviting 20 or so of our nearest and dearest over for a Spring Celebration. Even though the pasta machine DID break just a few hours before the party, causing me tremendous anxiety about the homemade fettucini with rainbow chard that was to be the focus of the meal, overall the kick-off was a success. We ate. We drank. We discussed. I was reminded, yet again, of what fantastic friends we have.

And so...we've been ticking along. Over the past few months several of the problems we anticipated have resolved themselves, some were solved after a fair amount of trouble, and some we've just had to deal with (still no poultry!). It's been interesting, and it's a shame I've not chronicled it up to now. Hopefully that will change over the next few weeks. I would like to get this blog up and running again, but I hesitate to make any bold proclamations about what I will or will not do. That seems to be the death of many of my plans and ideas. Instead, let me throw out a plan: I plan on doing better. That's all I've got for now. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Adventures in local eating's been a long, long time since I blogged. Shame on me. It's not because I haven't been cooking or thinking about food. In fact, that's taken up more time than ever. Since Charlie and I decided to take the locavore challenge this upcoming spring we've put a lot of time and effort into reworking our food habits and preparing for the big change. So many foods that we take for granted are difficult, if not impossible, to find locally. Of course, that's taking a negative view of our little project. The fresh fruits and vegetables, locally-sourced grass-fed beef, local Berkshire pork (oh my!), grits and polenta, local honey, and countless other goodies we've found have been amazing. Eating local foods in season has refreshed my palate for sure, and I believe the same is true for Charlie. However, a few problems/challenges keep popping up:

1. Local free-range poultry -- It seems that this would be an easy find. After all, Georgia is the number one producer of chicken in the country. Unfortunately, this fact seems to pertain only to factory-farmed chicken. Yuck. This problem deserves a post of its own.

2. Flour/Grain -- Although this lovely area is quite capable of producing grain, oats, barley, and the like, it seems there is no real market for it. The few local mills I have been able to locate make their flour from Kansas grain. How about that?! (I have heard a rumor that a mill exists in Helen, GA that makes flour out of locally-produced wheat. Is this true? I have no idea. An upcoming weekend trip should settle the question. If that doesn't pan out I don't know what to do. I welcome suggestions.)

3. Dairy -- Oh wait! I think I solved this problem today! Hooray!!!

Okay, so here's the deal. In the State of Georgia it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption. Read that again. Human consumption. So, I found a farm that sells raw, grass-fed cow milk for pets. Now, I don't believe for a moment that people are buying this $7/gallon milk for pets. Of course, it doesn't really matter. The label reads "Raw Cows Milk for Pets". After that the consumer is free to do what he or she wishes with the milk. I am going to make yogurt, mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheese, buttermilk, and sour cream out of mine. If that all goes well then perhaps I'll try a few other projects. Just the same, I did hesitate for a moment before drinking a glass of the raw milk. Before gulping it down I hopped on the internet and began googling. The FDA definitely hates raw milk, but I don't trust them anyway. They claim that since 1998 raw milk has sickened 800 Americans. While this is meant to be a deterrent, I took it as an endorsement. Only 800 people have been sickened since 1998? Really?! Please note, that's not deaths. That's an astonishingly low number of Americans. Consider that since its appearance last spring 10,000 Americans have died of Swine Flu.
So, I finished my reading, poured myself half a glass of raw milk (for pets), and happily drank it down. It was absolutely delicious, and I feel just fine. Of course, it's only been an hour so we'll see how this goes.
All I want is a safe, reliable source of local milk from grass-fed cows (with no hormones, antibiotics, etc. added), and I think I've found that. I was also able to purchase a dozen beautiful farm eggs (from free-range hens), raw garlic Colby cheese, and raw mild cheddar. The cheeses are delicious, by the way.

Since I've been discussing dairy, I will leave you with my Mother's fabulous homemade eggnog recipe. This stuff is so good! She made a pitcher over Christmas, and I drank so much I made myself sick. was not because of the store-bought, pasturized milk. It was because of my gluttony!

Mom's Eggnog

4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 pint milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 oz brandy
1 tsp nutmeg

Beat egg yolks until pale. Add 1/3 cup sugar, and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl combine milk, cream, nutmeg, and brandy. Add milk mixture to egg yolks, and stir to combine.
Using a mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1 Tbsp sugar, and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Spoon egg whites on top of eggnog, and serve.

By the way, If you have an opinion on raw milk I would love to hear it!