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Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

Today I learned about a new phenomenon in rural North Carolina:  crop mobs.  Using “word of mouth” and the internet, a mob of  “landless farmers and the agricurious,” as Christine Muhlke puts it, meet at a small-scale, sustainable farm to help lend a hand.  The farmer provides lunch.  During the day, volunteers may help bring in a hand-dug potato harvest, or they may clear a field of rocks.  If they have carpentry skills, they may work on a greenhouse.  Most importantly, they may be enabling a farmer who’s trying to do things environmentally right to preserve his or her farm along the way.  Sustainable farming is labor intensive.  These extra hands get a chance to see farming up close and learn about it, to get together with old and new friends, and to contribute to the locavore movement.  Read more about it here.  Now that I know about the concept, I hope to help start an Arkansas crop mob–but I think it’ll have a different name.  Arkanfarmers?  Arkanhands?  If I can get something similar established here, I’ll let you know.

Do you know of other programs in your community?  Do share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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The Food Network has a show (not among my favorites, to be frank) called “The Best Food I Ever Ate.”  Given that this month’s NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) theme is “best,”  I thought I might reach back in time more than a quarter century to the best meal I’d ever eaten to that point–and perhaps the best meal I’ve had since then.  The restaurant was Snow Squall in Portland, Maine.  The day was close to perfect.

I was wrapping up my college career, and my old roommate and I decided we had had enough of senior booze cruises and wanted to see things in New England that we had never seen.  You see, we were both Southern peaches out of the orchard.  I started reading places to her from a road atlas from Cape Cod to Maine, and she would  reply, “Oh, that sounds nice!”  As we took off in my old car (newly brought to college because plane tickets had gone up so much), I asked her to pull out the Maine map and asked for an interstate number.  She said, “I have the main map, but I don’t see that number.”  A few frustrating minutes and missed exits later, she realized we were going to Maine, not Cape Cod, and we were heading the right direction.  Even though it was 27 years ago, I still remember the day.  We went horseback riding on Old Orchard Beach.  Then we changed out of our horsy jeans and went swimming (oh so cold!) in Lake Sabago (is that the name?) and then rented paddle boats.  Finally, we found a quiet place to change into skirts and sweaters and reported to the maitre de at Snow Squall.

Of course, the wonderful day full of surprises, picking our next destination out of a hat of brochures we’d picked up at the state line, made dinner that night even more special.  The day felt like first love, although it was the love of adventure that had us feeling so giddy.  This was also the most I’d ever spent on a meal before, although the cost doesn’t seem so bad now.  We started with a bottle of wine and the most delicate calamari I’ve ever had.  It was so thinly sliced and delicately prepared that it had none of the rubberiness of standard calamari.  We also selected salads, which had a homemade dressing and came with several tiny bento box-style bowls of toppers, like poppy seed.  Our main dish:  stuffed lobster.  No stuffed lobster I’ve had since then has ever been so good, so I quit ordering them.  The lobster meat dominated the dish, with just enough crumbs to serve as a binder.  I know what was best about it was not only the light hand of the chef but the sheer freshness of the lobster.  It tasted like the ocean we’d been playing next to all day.  It was perfect.  I’m sure we had dessert too (it was one of those days), but it was that heavenly ocean-infused lobster that will always stay with me.  It made me understand why Maine lobster is really only worth it if enjoyed in Maine.

I looked up the Snow Squall tonight and was excited at first to see that it’s still open.  The menu revealed it is not the place I remember so fondly.  I saw little of that truly fresh-caught seafood, so I did a bit more digging and found out that David Gooch, who owned the restaurant for 23 years (including when I visited), sold it in 2004.  It closed shortly thereafter and just recently re-opened.  What is my advice for Heather LaRou, Snow Squall’s latest lessee?  Get back to the seafood roots of the place.  You’re on the water, with those fragrant ocean breezes all around you.  Where is that delectable, local Maine lobster?  And, Mr. Gooch, thank you for that meal.   I will always treasure it.

Readers, what has been your favorite local seafood?

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Given that Arkansas has an award-winning brewery and darn good locally produced raw-milk cheddar from cows that get to eat real grass, I thought a variation on Wisconsin’s renowned cheese soup might be in order for our Ozark croft.  The recipe is easy, and you should be able to make your own local, organic version just about anywhere in the country.  The only thing in our soup last night that wasn’t local was the celery, which was at least organic.  Note:  recent studies have indicated that much of the alcohol does not cook out in baking and other cooking.  Keep that in mind if you are planning on serving this soup to kids.  To serve to kids, increase the mashed potatoes and chicken broth, and eliminate the beer.  If you want to serve it to the guys for a Super Bowl Party, go ahead as is!

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1 cup leek, stalk portion only, cut in half, cleaned, and finely sliced (or 1/2 cup sweet onion, finely chopped)
  • 1 cup carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup mashed potatoes (nothing fancy added):  less for thinner soup, more for thicker soup
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • optional:  a few dashes of soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup beer* (depending on how much you like beer)

Begin by finely slicing and dicing the vegetables, adding each to a heavy pot on low heat (I used a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven), lightly coated with oil (and maybe a thin pat of butter), as you finish chopping each vegetable.

Saute the vegetables over low heat with the pot covered for about 10-15 minutes. Now stir in the mashed potatoes.  They’ll make the mixture look a bit disgusting, but they are there to thicken the soup, so don’t leave them out.   Next, add the chicken stock and worcestershire sauce.  Taste everything.  If it needs a bit of salt, add a few dashes of soy sauce.  Let the mixture simmer on low heat until the vegetables are soft and the soup starts to thicken, about another 10 minutes. Now add the beer, starting with the lesser amount.  Finally, as the beer stops foaming, add the cheddar cheese, a little bit at a time.  Serve with good bread, maybe a nice hearty sandwich.  (We served it with homemade pumpernickel buns with fresh mustard greens, turkey salami, and a spicy pickle spread I made as well as a Diamond Bear Paradise Porter that we split.)

Our cheese came from the Daley Dairy near Rose Bud, Arkansas.  Daley Dairy markets its raw-milk cheddar under the name Honeysuckle Lane. You can purchase it at area stores such as the Ozark Country Market in Heber Springs and Liz’s health food store in Conway.  You can also purchase it through markets similar to CSAs such as Conway Locally Grown. To be frank, a bit drier cheddar would have worked better in the soup, as this cheddar tended to clump and get a bit sticky.  Still, the flavor was amazing.

What kind of beer? We selected Diamond Bear’s Pale Ale for our soup. Diamond Bear is a Little Rock brewery that has won national awards. We like pale ales, and we especially like Diamond Bear’s. Use what you ordinarily drink, as long as you stay away from the hoppiest and most citrusy beers.  Even though we went with the Pale Ale for the soup, we chose a darker beer–Diamond Bear’s Paradise Porter–to drink with dinner.  It worked well with both the cheddar-beer soup and the pumpernickel bread.

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This week I ordered lamb from Conway Locally Grown, a regional variation on CSAs that I’ve blogged about here in the past.  We do not ordinarily eat red meat. As a matter of fact, I had been years and years without eating it until December 2009.  What happened then?  A friend who has an annual winter solstice party with homemade whole-grain pizza included lamb on the pizza.  He’d raised the lamb himself, so it had, as he put it, “zero carbon miles.”  I had to try it.  I admit it; it was way better than any red meat I’d ever had.  So when my father, who is visiting us for a week, wanted to try the lamb from Conway Locally Grown, I said “okay” and ordered it.  Thus we had a very Greek-inspired shepherd’s pie tonight, made almost entirely of local ingredients.

Serves 3-5

For the mashed-potato topping:

  • 4 medium potatoes (I used three big Yukon gold potatoes and one red potato)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of kefir or buttermilk (or yogurt mixed with a little milk)
  • 1-2 ounces Greek cheese, crumbled (I used a sheep and goat feta-type with Greek herbs)

For the meat and vegetable mixture:

  • several cloves of garlic (7 or 8 if you like a lot of garlic or if the cloves are small)
  • 8/10 pound ground lamb
  • 3 good-sized red peppers, sweet or hot (I used marconi and Hatch)
  • 1 pint home-canned tomatoes (yes, you can use a 14-ounce can of good store-bought tomatoes if you don’t have home canned ones)
  • 2 or 3 small carrots or half of one large
  • two sprigs fresh rosemary (about 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • three of four sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only (about 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 cup zucchini, preferably blanched or sauteed, drained thoroughly, and chopped roughly (I used some I had frozen)

Optional:  eggplant, sliced and sauteed. *See seasonal note.

Begin by dicing the potatoes and slicing three of the garlic cloves. Put the potatoes and garlic in a suitable pot and boil until the potatoes are tender.  I also salted the water with a “Greek” seasoning made here in the Ozarks called Cavender’s. When the potatoes and garlic are done cooking, pour off the water and then put the pot back on the stove briefly to cook off excess water.  You can turn off the potatoes at this point until the meat mixture is ready.

While the potatoes are boiling, crush or finely chop the rest of the garlic. Add it and the ground lamb to a heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven) and cook on medium until the meat is no longer pink. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the peppers and cut the red peppers into half inch pieces.  If your peppers are fresh, add them to the meat mixture immediately.  I waited to put mine into the meat mixture until it was mostly cooked because my peppers were from our freezer, from 2009’s garden, and thus already soft.

When the meat is no longer pink, add the pint of tomatoes.  You can add the peppers soon thereafter if you have not done so already.  Add the rosemary and oregano. (Ours remarkably survived the frigid temperatures we’ve been having, probably because they are planted next to the porch on the south side of the house, with no chance of getting hit directly by the north winds.) Next cut the carrots in halves or quarters lengthwise and cut thin half-moon slices.  Add the carrots to the mix.  (The carrots came from our garden, protected in a cold frame.) If you have not pre-cooked the zucchini, add it now, sliced and then chopped casually.  My zucchini came from the garden via the freezer and thus had already been blanched, so I added it last. Simmer, uncovered, until the mixture has completely thickened.  If you have not added the zucchini, add it now, well drained first.  Fish out the whole rosemary sprigs.

As the meat mixture starts to get thick enough, you can finish the potatoes.  Add the 1-2 tablespoons of kefir or buttermilk (or yogurt/milk mixture) and mash the potatoes well.  Now stir in the 1-2 ounces of Greek cheese, like the sheep-goat feta blend I used.  You want to leave the cheese in chunks, so that diners get a burst of flavor every few bites.

Divide the meat mixture into individual greased casserole dishes or a single larger casserole dish. You could also leave the mixture in the Dutch oven, if you prepped the meat mixture in it.  Now spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture.

Broil until the tops are browned, about 5-15 minutes, depending on your oven.  Serve with a big salad with Mediterranean ingredients and enjoy!

*I did not use eggplant because we did not have any in the freezer, and it is not in season here.  Of course, it would be ideal for this recipe.

You may also be interested in a shepherd’s pot pie: https://ozarkhomesteader.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/shepherds-pot-pie-using-holiday-leftovers/

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More high school students have done DNA on food samples and discovered that people aren’t getting what they’re paying for, whether it’s “sheep’s” milk cheese that has more moo than bah in it or “Caribbean” fish that turns out to be from China.  Yet again I’m convinced that we must know more about our food supply, personally if the USDA and FDA will not police producers more.  You can read about the students’ findings here.

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I’m headed out to celebrate the new year with friends but wanted to give you a teaser of an appetizer I’m taking:  barbeque sausage-cheddar bites.  These are a lighter, tastier variation on the bisquick sausage balls of the 1970s and 1980s.  I made them with turkey sausage, a good smokey-maple barbeque sauce, local raw-milk cheddar, whole wheat flour, leavening agents, and lots of garlic and red chile flakes.   They are as light as fritters, but I baked them.  Mmmmmmm. Want specifics and pictures?  Come back next year! Meanwhile, enjoy a fabulous night and the new year blue moon.

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In the past few days, Consumer Reports came out with an analysis of commercial chicken contamination.  Despite the fact that commercial chickens are dunked in bleach, the majority of them tested still had dangerous bacteria.  Was there any good news?  Yes, air-chilled chicken had less.  Organic chicken had almost none.  Studies in cattle have shown that pasture-raising decreases dangerous bacteria both because of how the cattle are raised and what they eat.  It looks like now the same is true for chickens.  No doubt too the careful handling that small processors give their chickens in the butchering process helps reduce contamination too.  If you want to see the New York Times Well piece, go here. The full Consumer Reports article is here.

If you have not found a good source for local, pasture-raised, farmer-certified organic poultry, try using the Locally Grown network.  I have been so pleased with every bird we’ve gotten from Falling Sky Farm in Marshall, Arkansas.  The birds are packaged beautifully, the organs have healthy color, and the birds themselves just taste better.  For more on your options wherever you are located, see here.

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