Saturday, July 21, 2007

My Local Meal, By Mistake!

Inadvertently, I made a meal this week that was almost completely local. Why is this such a big deal, you ask? Because I didn’t have to think about it. It is so easy to run to the grocery store, pick up what we need for dinner or for the next couple of days, ignore the little label that says the food came from California, Chile, or Florida and then run home to cook up a good meal.

Our lives have become saturated with imported food to the point that it requires real effort to buy food that is grown or produced locally. There is plenty of garlic growing locally, but do they have any of it at my grocery store? No siree. The beets at the store? Imported from elsewhere. There is a little farmstand display at the front of the store featuring local foods, but why oh why are the blueberries at the store from California when they are practically falling off the bushes at farms all around the area? I have to make a concerted effort to have what I need in my fridge by noon on Saturday or I will not have another shot at the farmers for a week. That, my friends, is pressure.

And so it happened earlier this week that I decided to throw together an impromptu meal for Mike, his brother Matt, and me. Remarkably similar to my poached eggs with asparagus and mushrooms on goat cheese toast, this is an easy, weeknight dinner for us. Poor Matt was caught in the crossfire of Mike and me in the groove of making one of our favorite routine meals. Mike took charge of the zucchini while I handled most of the rest. All three of us yammered on, recounting the day, and telling stories while we worked, and before we knew it, dinner was on the table.

I began with my own bread that I made over the weekend, toasted golden brown. There are a few ingredients in the bread that are not local, but my parents recently found a wheat grower in the area* who was grinding his own flour, so at least the whole wheat portion of the flour came from nearby. The honey in the bread came from a nearby apiary.

On top was a spread of ricotta cheese from Upper Canada Cheese Company. This ricotta is made from the milk of Guernsey cows, which, apparently, are cows with quite a pedigree. Once I tasted this cheese, I absolutely believed that these cows were in some way magical, or at least special. It was the creamiest, richest ricotta I have ever eaten. I added a bit of thyme from my own garden and some sea salt (hmm… no sea near here, alas). After that was zucchini that was a gift from my co-worker Pat, who had an unexpected bumper crop. Mike sauteed the zucchini until it was brown around the edges so it had a nice nutty flavor. Crowning the whole stack were local eggs that we get each week from our adopted chicken (more on that later).

I decided that this stack of goodness needed a side dish (not to mention some more veggies). I ran out to the garden and found three carrots and a beet that were perfect for picking. I sliced them up and tossed them in an improvised dressing of red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, ground coriander and celery seed.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through the meal that I looked down and realized that all of this wonderful, beautiful food (which was also really yummy, by the way) came from right nearby. By making a little more effort at the store each week, I have managed to replace some of my imported staples with things that I can get right in my own neighborhood (or even my own backyard).

Will it always be like this? Probably not. Carrots and beets are thin on the ground around here in the dead of winter. By making the effort to freeze, can and root cellar as much as possible, though, maybe I can help those farmers stick it out for a few more years, until we all realize exactly how much better your food tastes and how much better it is for your community if you buy local. Will I be one of those 100-milers? I don’t think so. I love avocados, oranges, lemons, olive oil and about a dozen other things that never grow here, regardless of the season. But maybe I’ll think a bit more before I pick up a tomato in January or California blueberries in July when the ones on the bush are still warm from the sun just a few miles away.

*Local means Southern Ontario to me as well as Western New York, but there are those pesky agricultural laws to worry about. Be sure to check out what is legal before you try to bring a load of local food home from Canada.

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