Dinner tonight was the first meal I cooked for the Dark Days Challenge, and it came just in the nick of time. The snow arrived for real for the first time yesterday, and though one never can tell around here, it might just stick for the long haul. Up until now, I've been diligently covering my swiss chard nearly every night, nursing it along so we'd have some to eat as long as possible. Today, with fingers freezing, I picked all that was left.
Of course, I realized after the fact that a good story-telling shot would have been one of the garden with the colored stalks of chard lightly blanketed in snow and ice, but my neophyte blogger-hood shines through and I took no such photo. Here's a few shots though of the last of out beautiful dark greens from the garden that we'll eat this year, once safely inside the house!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I think in this first post I'm supposed to lay down the ground rules I hope to follow for these next months of this cooking challenge. I've written a couple times now on how I want to define local. At the risk of confusing people, I do think I'll stick with my 4 tier program of trying to eat as "local" as possible, but allowing things to go as far as 200 miles from my home here in Lansing, NY if need be.
My "exceptions" to the local food tag will include:
Olive Oil (I do go through a lot of this though, so in a sense it's a really bad choice to have be an exemption. I'll try to be more conscious of my use of it, I swear!)
Herbs and Spices, including Salt and Pepper (When I can find a local source I'll use it, but there are times when you just can't work around not having them! My herbs did awful this last year, so I'm ashamed to say that I'll also be using dried this winter. Next year I'll be more careful!)
Coffee (I am a believer that the best finish to a good meal is a cup of coffee, and until someone starts growing beans in Central NY, I'll be an importer. I will try however to start buying coffee from a local roaster, if I can find one that has a decent espresso bean!)
Chocolate (Do I need to explain this one?)
All Purpose Flour (I've found some local sources of most of my other flours, and there IS a local mill nearby who said their All Purpose Flour is "mostly" from grains grown in NY, but they were unable to give me a real number, so I'll just state here that it's milled locally, and might in part by local grains, but likely not 100% "local".)
As general rule, I chose local before I chose organic, and even though I'll be eating things grown in the garden this summer, they aren't totally organic. I did have to spray my tomatoes for the blight, and though I didn't preserve any of them, the soil would have spray on it from the zucchini too (to keep down the growth of powdery mildew).
Oh, and I feed my chickens a feed that's milled just 10 miles from here and has local grown corn in it, but it's not organic.
OK. There's that taken care of. Now, back to the chard.
Diced potatoes, drizzled them in olive oil and sprinkled them with Montral Steak Seasoning (Montreal ALMOST makes the 200 mile radius cutoff, though somehow I doubt they really make it there any more!), and baked them at 375° on a baking sheet until crispy. The potatoes are grown at and purchesed from a farm about 10 miles from here.
Then, the main dish was onions (from my garden), garlic (from my father's garden, about five miles away), and sun dried tomatoes (from my garden), sauteed until tender. Then I added a huge pile of chopped swiss chard, and cooked it down until just softened. Finally, I made six little holes in the chard, cracked an egg in each (from our backyard chickens), covered the pan, and cooked it on low for four minutes.
This week, we managed a "tier 1 meal", with everything we ate produced within (less than!) 50 miles.
I know, It sounds really simple, but it tasted extraordinary, if I do say so myself! The eggs were perfect - just runny enough to be a dipping sauce for the potatos and chard, and the little bits of tomato in the chard made it savory enough that you almost thought you were eating bacon. The potatoes were tender and somehow more flavorful than the last batch I made.
Of course, it was after ten PM when we ate, so it could be we were just hungry.
We topped the meal off with a bottle of our home-made San Giovese wine (don't be fooled by the label on the bottle - we just didn't manage to remove the old one!). The grape juice was not local (I think probably shipped in from CA to a distributor in Syracuse), but we made and bottled it ourselves, so it "felt" local!
Things I'd do differently next time:
Cut back on the oil by making my own butter. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a source of local whole cream. I can find milk, even raw milk, but I'm still looking for cream. Hard to believe given the number of dairy farms around here, but I guess that's what we get with the big dairy conglomerations. I'm excited to try my own butter though so hopefully in future weeks I'll get to write to you about that!
Use my own herbs on the potatoes. Although I love the taste of the Montreal Steak Seasoning, I probably could have dug through the snow and managed to salvage some sage and chives to on the potatoes. One slap on my hand for laziness in just the first week. Shame on me.
So we're off and running, and both my husband and I really enjoyed week one. I'll be travelling for work all next week, but hopefully I'll be able to pull something together before the end of the first reporting period for meal number two!