Day 225–A Locavore Birthday for Julia Child

The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appetit!–Julia Child

Two of our three happy eaters!

August is one of those odd months with no major holiday or celebration. June has the beginning of summer, July (for us in the U.S.) has Independence Day, and September has Labor Day and the beginning of fall. August is just hot. And humid. So we thought maybe we could find a new holiday and have a very good time. It was either that or go sit in the pool and not come out until Labor Day. We picked the party.

August 15th would be Julia Child’s 100th birthday. After watching numerous episodes of The French Chef and realizing Julia Child was a locavore ahead of her time, we felt like her birthday was the perfect summer celebration we needed. So we threw Julia Child a birthday dinner using her recipes and our own local chicken and produce. Our menu included all locally sourced ingredients except olive oil, butter, kosher salt, and pepper. I even went crazy and made my own breadcrumbs. We all pitched in to make it happen. It was such a fun success that I think we will do this again.

Ellie making the roasted potatoes!

We dressed up our table, put on nice clothes, lit candles, poured sparkling pink lemonade into wine glasses, sang Happy Birthday and had a pretty awesome time. For an afternoon and evening, we were a remote outpost of Julia Child’s Ecole Des Trois Gourmandes (School of the Three Happy Eaters). We even wore the patches designed by Paul Child! Although the menu seems like a lot, each recipe was very simple and made use of what is super fresh at our farmer’s market right now.

 Here is what we had:

  • Julia’s roast chicken (thank you, Rainbow Farm)
  • Tomates a la Provençal (stuffed heirloom tomatoes)
  • Sautéed Zucchini in Butter and Shallots (and cream!)
  • Roasted new potatoes with rosemary (our recipe)
  • Tarte aux Peches (fresh peach tart)

The Sautéed Zucchini (top) and Tomates Provencal (bottom) were surprise hits!

The chicken was amazing, but the real standouts of the night were the stuffed tomatoes and the sautéed zucchini. The recipe for the tomatoes is HERE and the recipe for the zucchini is HERE. I would make both again in an instant. Ellie devoured the zucchini, which is rich, creamy and amazingly good. Tom, who does not enjoy a stand alone tomato, even ate his stuffed tomato and enjoyed it!

Our one gourmand (happy eater dude) even enjoyed an almost unadorned tomato!

I’m ending with another of my favorite Julia quotes. Have fun cooking, eating, and living! And Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces–just good food from fresh ingredients. Julia Child

Day 80–First Day of Spring and Eggs Nested in Sauteed Chard

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with variously col...

The first day of spring is typically celebrated with great exuberance in my house. Tom hates winter. Hates. It. He usually has a big, dramatic countdown to the first day of spring–this countdown begins shortly after we open Christmas presents. So, you understand my surprise when not only did we NOT have a countdown this year, but we were well on our way to work when he said, “Oh yeah, it’s the first day of spring!” We did a  little happy dance in the car (good that Ellie was already at school, so we were spared the eye rolling), but that was it for our celebration. The truth is, we have had spring here in NC since January. We’re not complaining, mind you, but it is a bit anticlimactic to celebrate something that arrived two months ago.

One of my favorite spring foods is swiss chard, especially the rainbow variety. Due to our hot summers, chard is usually out of the way by June, so we have to enjoy it quickly. Chard has a fresh, sweet taste that is something like a really amped up spinach. And we are absolutely ready for something other than collards and kale.

So tonight, in celebration of spring, we will have a dish that uses two fresh springtime foods–swiss chard and fresh farm eggs. This dish was shared by a friend and it looks to be healthy, fresh and easy to make. Thanks to Ben’s Produce for the organic rainbow chard and Water Oaks Farm for the fresh eggs!

This recipe is from Simply Recipes and since the recipe is not mine, I’m directing you to the original source. If I can get my food porn skills in gear, I will post photos, but the photos on the recipe site are pretty amazing, so they speak for themselves.

Happy first day of spring! Or 80th day of spring, whichever the case may be. Celebrate with something fresh and delicious today!

Day 63–Heaven on Earth Organics

This week, I managed to make it to the State Farmers Market on my lunch hour, something I hadn’t been able to do in a few weeks. Since my weekend is booked shilling Girl Scout cookies, I was glad to get my shopping done a day early.

I quickly found my favorite organic farm, Heaven on Earth Organics, and commenced to shopping. Farmer Scott Smith is eager to share nutritional information, and patient at answering my many questions. Like most farmers at the market, he lets me try samples of tomatoes, for example, so I can figure out which varieties I want and he often gives me a recipe idea or two. Try THAT at your local grocery!

We are in a strange mid-point with produce here in NC. Winter crops are on their way out, but spring crops haven’t quite come in yet. Still, I was glad to find plenty of lettuce, spring onions, and carrots along with collard greens, sweet potatoes and cabbage.

And SCORE! I was able to get two beautiful fresh roasting chickens from Rainbow Farm. Typically, if I can find them, they are frozen. Can’t wait to make roast chicken for Sunday supper!

Now I just need to figure out what we’re doing with the rest of this bounty!

Happy farmers market shopping! May you score your own fresh treasures today!

Day 41–Farmhand Foods Meatbox

Meat in a box. When we began our journey almost 7 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what resources were available to our family other than what we could find at the farmer’s markets (and that was more than I though also!). What a wonderful coincidence that I saw a tweet from @farmhandfoods for a winter meat box. Meat in a box sounded strange, but in the spirit of adventure, we thought we would give it a try. I promised an update on our experience, so here it is!

Farmhand Foods of Durham works with NC pasture-based beef and pork producers who have a commitment to sustainable livestock production and who raise antibiotic and growth hormone free animals that are pasture-raised and pasture-fed. After doing a bit of research and reading their online protocols, I found that Farmhand Foods is a highly reputable organization with a sincere passion for improving food supply options. Founded and operated by two smart women–Tina Prevatte and Jennifer Curtis, Farmhand Foods also works with small-scale, inspected processing facilities that practice humane animal handline and care. Together with Sales and Distribution Manger Drew Brown, Farmhand Foods connects pasture-based farmers with the consumers who love their products throughout the Triangle area. I really love their business model and commitment to having a sustainable food system.

But back to the meat box. When we ordered our box in January, I wondered if it would be an affordable addition to our budget. We ordered three boxes (Jan, Feb, March) and each box worked out to $45. Each box includes three different cuts of meat–a braising cut, a grilling cut and a roasting cut. Two of the cuts are beef and one is pork. I’m not positive, but I think our first box was about 8-10 lbs of meat, which is a decent amount of food for three people!

We just finished the last of our January box for Super Bowl Sunday, and I think we all agree as a family that it was a great choice. Our January box included two meaty beef shanks, a large skirt steak and a 3 lb. mini boneless ham. The beef shanks were braised for an Italian ragu and they were, quite frankly, amazing. The skirt steak was very flavorful and surprisingly tender (I think I had confused skirt steak and flank steak, but skirt steak is much, MUCH better). And the ham, which we roasted with a local honey and mustard glaze, was so darn good that I dreamed about it. Really. I have never had ham that tasted so good.

Each cut of meat provided more than one meal for our small family (the ham alone provided at least three meals), so were able to work it into our weekly budget very easily. The meat tasted a lot better than store-bought, was healthier for us, and provided us opportunities to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. All in all, we deem this experiment a success. And we can’t wait for our February box, which arrives next week!

This is all to say, that if you are in the Research Triangle area, Farmhand Foods is a high quality resource that we recommend. If you aren’t in this area, I would encourage you to find out if something similar exists near you and to give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised!

Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!

Day 8–Starting Week 2–Budget and Menu

English: Green, yellow and red bell peppers fr...

I am terrible with budgets. But, our family needs to budget for necessities and yours probably does, too. Our goal is to eat sustainable and/or locally produced food for 75% of our meals on $100 per week. We went over last week (darn you, New Years Eve :-)), but I rationalized that with a holiday dinner. So, how about this week? Here is how we spent our food budget in preparation for week 2:

  • Mae Farm meats (chicken, bacon, eggs):          $20.64
  • Heaven on Earth organics (turnips w/greens, dino kale, green peppers, tomatoes, onions):          $20.00
  • Trader Joes (tortillas, sour cream, cheese, oranges, frozen fruit):          $26.61
  • Lowes Foods (yogurt, green split peas, Kosher salt, can of pumpkin): 10.18
  • Whole Foods (ground bison, green lentils): $24.67

Total:  $102.10 (we are almost there!)

So, what are we eating for that? Here is our menu for the week:

  • Sunday–Roast chicken, turnips 2 ways (mashed and greens w/bacon)
  • Monday–Bison, green lentil and pumpkin chili, sour cream corn muffins (local corn meal left from last week)
  • Tuesday–chicken quesadillas (using leftover roast chicken), quinoa
  • Wednesday–leftover chili and corn muffins
  • Thursday–green split pea soup, homemade biscuits
  • Friday–leftovers
  • Saturday–out; extended family holiday dinner @ restaurant

Breakfasts are oatmeal or pumpkin muffins with fruit smoothies.

Lunches are either leftovers or sandwiches and fruit

I’m proud of how we have done so far and look forward to trying out a few new recipes (the bison chili especially!). At this point, we are eating at approximately 60% organic or local/sustainable food. This next week should increase that a bit. Now, can we keep this up? That is a challenge!

Day 4–The Coffee Question

Afrikaans: Geroosterde pitte van die koffiepla...

It all started with Splenda. I suggested to my truly wonderful (and remarkably vice-free) husband that eliminating toxins from our diets included the Splenda he used in his morning coffee. He thought about this. He did some research on his own. He agreed. And he very patiently–very carefully–suggested that maybe we needed to rethink the whole issue of coffee itself.

You would need to understand my coffee habits to understand the brave nature of this conversation. One of my worst vices is coffee. I drink lots of coffee. I could drink it all day. My morning coffee mug is a sturdy piece of NC pottery that could easily double as a vase. For reals.

But, if we are looking at improving our overall health and eating/drinking sustainably, everything should come up for discussion. Even coffee. While coffee does have some antioxidants and research indicates that small amounts of coffee can benefit the heart, I don’t think the patients in those studies were drinking out of small vases. And coffee, even fair trade coffee, does have a pretty big carbon footprint since the coffee we buy isn’t grown anywhere near here. So, my husband has decided to give up coffee altogether and I am working toward drinking one normal size cup of coffee AFTER drinking a glass of water in the morning. Maybe I’ll switch to organic green tea instead, but one step at a time.

In the meantime, I have two new vases with handles 🙂