February Food Project Update: Week One

The first week of our Farm Food February project has been very successful, and very enlightening! Also, challenging.

I think I was most surprised to discover how very much I craved “junk” (or somewhat healthy versions of junk), even in the face of spectacularly fantastic food! Once I started eating, each time I realized: wow! This food is amazing! In fact, we kept saying it out loud to each other. But in anticipation of preparing a meal, I was very surprised to hear the voice in my head saying, oh man. Aren’t there any gluten-free bagels around? Normally, I don’t even eat gluten-free bagels – that’s the kind of thing that creeps in during overly busy or stressful times. Seeing that I was craving them at mealtimes now was a wakeup call for how I’ve allowed a busy schedule to pull me out of alignment from my food values.

Now that we’re further into the project, I find myself craving paleo blueberry muffins. Bagels don’t come to mind anymore, which makes me feel a lot better about how my cravings are going!

It’s not just carby snack foods, though: I also find myself craving “easy”. Eating super local isn’t exactly difficult, but in a busy life, it’s also not easy. We teach so much, and many days we teach in the morning, see clients in the afternoon, and then teach again in the evening – with a Whole Foods right next to our school, we definitely rely on being able to run in and get quick ingredients for meals in between activities. Nuts also fall into the “easy” category. Having nuts on hand means snack food and baked goods, as well as “granola”, and I really enjoy those things, especially as easy-to-make-ahead-and-take-with-in-a-rush foods. Besides that, nuts are pleasingly crunchy, a texture difficult to come by in the winter in New England!

When we started this project, we anticipated scarcity. After all, it’s Farm Food February in New England – we knew there wouldn’t be much in the way of salad. But we felt that we had enough food in general, and we knew we’d be getting food each week from our farms. Which was largely true, except for meat – due to snow, our meat CSA was delayed. This caused us to ration our meat for the last couple days until Farmers To You delivered Vermont farm food on Wednesday, which included meat to carry us over until our CSA from Chestnut Farms can make it into the city. Experiencing the scarcity has been a very good exercise!

Farmers To You has been a real saver in other ways as well – that’s how we’re able to get fresh apples, fresh pressed cranberry juice, and even green sprouts! We wouldn’t have anything green if it weren’t for Pete Johnson’s greenhouses, and because we hadn’t put up fresh apples ahead of time, we would only have applesauce if it weren’t for Champlain Orchards. This is the kind of stuff I really wanted to experience – back when we used to farm, we went a couple of years producing most of our own food, but we were farmers and had time, space, and structure to preserve a lot of food, and stash things away in the root cellar for the winter. This project in the city and with our current schedules is a very different story!

I have been finding deeper appreciation for foods that are generally considered condiments: cranberry sauce, apple butter, vinegar – these things make a huge difference in the ability to make excitement out of repetition. Spices are another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about, and in particular in a historical context. When we look back through history, folks went to a great deal of trouble to get delicious spices from far away, and just one week on this project makes me really appreciate their motivation to do so. Here’s an example:

dinner on a tuesdayThis was a very delicious dinner – flat iron steak sauteed with mushroom powder umami spice blend from Rebecca Altman at King’s Road Apothecary (who makes beautiful wonderful medicine for us every month in her Surprise Boxes!), baked sweet potatoes pan-fried in a bit of bacon grease with the umami powder bits from the steak pan and za’atar spices. We blend our two favorite za’atar mixes together – the house blend from Soluna Garden Farm in Winchester and an amazing blend from the West Bank in Palestine made by a fair trade women’s cooperative there (and purchased locally at Cambridge Naturals), called Canaan Fair Trade. There’s a sprout-and-surpise-CSA-leaves salad with sauerkraut, honey vinegar dressing, and black seed sprinkled on top, and carrots glazed in the ginger-infused honey that I made. To top it all off, mead we made for our wedding and have leftover: ginger and hibiscus!
This was an amazing meal, it would have been kind of boring without the spices (and the surprise greens in our CSA box, which were a real delight!)

Here are some other things that got us through the week:

lamb canape
Lamb Burger Canapé: Nothing seems exactly like snack food, so one afternoon, we made mini lamb burgers and fried them up. we sliced them in half and topped them with cranberry-raspberry sauce, sauerkraut, and thinly sliced dill pickles. That didn’t seem like enough for the crowd that day, so we added a package of bacon as a “garnish”. We served it with pickle spears and apple slices – it was amazing!

hashbrown wafflesThursday was my birthday, and we didn’t have any ingredients to make anything even remotely cake-like. Until I discovered WillItWaffle.com! We have plenty of potatoes, so we made up a bunch of hash brown waffles and served them with maple syrup and bacon – a great birthday dinner!

Our favorite of the recipe variations we found was simply to take shredded potatoes, rinse them and wring them out in a towel (to make sure the water is really out), and pile them into the oiled waffle iron. We tried making them with eggs, but just plain potatoes won the prize.

We also realized that with all this seaweed, we could make our own seaweed snacks! We just roasted a bunch of kelp in the oven at 300 until it was crispy. Our first batch turned out too salty, as we roasted them in a bit of bacon grease – forgetting somehow that seaweed is already quite salty. But they were still quite tasty. We did a new batch in unsalted lard with garlic vinegar, and those are even better!

Stay tuned for next week – we have discovered that there are some surprising things you CAN get in New England in winter, and we’re going to make some delicious meals!

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