Now that I have your attention lets talk about what eating local food is all about, tasty meals you share with your friends and family. These meals may not change your life overnight but just standing next to them telling people you cooked them will definitely make you look smarter and more beautiful. Eating real food grown by local farmers will make your stronger not because of all the nutrient dense foods you will be consuming but because of all the veggies you will be chopping, your on your own for funnier.
All jokes aside I am very serious when it comes to eating local and sustainable food but it wasn’t always this way. I was a vegetarian growing up who mostly ate frozen veggie burgers and rice and beans, partially because I learned about how factory farmed animals are treated but partially because I never wanted to eat another one of my moms overcooked pork chops ever again. I moved from the midwest to the west coast for college and fell in love with a cook who taught me a lot about food but also how to cook for myself. He was nice enough to eat vegetarian meals with me for years but seemed incredibly relieved when under a doctors recommendation I started eating meat again while I was trying to get pregnant. While pregnant I really couldn’t get enough meat and Farmer Matt would laugh at me, the former vegetarian and once vegan, as I stood at the kitchen counter and devoured most of a roast chicken even the little bits of overcooked skin. I then set about trying to learn how to cook meat, roasting a chicken for the first time and burning myself because I decided to start with a recipe that involves hot bricks, a not so pretty but delicious first roasted chicken that I haven’t made since. I started reading all kinds of books about nutrition and cooking mostly with traditional foods in mind like bone broths, fermented vegetables, animal fats, and also the idea that eggs, milk, and meat that come from animals foraging on grass are much healthier for you and the animals. This was a big change for me when I most of the time just tossed a salad together with some goddess dressing to eat with my frozen veggie burger or fried up some tofu and called it good. It still wasn’t the biggest change in the way I cooked.
We moved to the farm with the intention of growing most of the food we need for our family in addition to raising animals on grass for eggs and meat that we would sell at farmers markets. Farmer Matt and I had always grown a little bit of veggies in our backyard in Seattle and raised chickens for eggs but nothing on a large scale. It was a huge eye opener to go from 4 raised beds to a garden that was several acres and a season that was much shorter and less temperate than the one we had on the west side of the mountains. Wind, we also have lots of 30-40 mph days of wind which can flatten your veggies and make your soil dry out quicker than you can imagine. Every success in the garden feels like a triumph against the odds and does not go to waste. So between what we grow for ourselves and all of the fruits and veggies we get from our friends at the farmers markets we usually have lots of great food around the house. Because of this and because the grocery store is far away I started slowly giving up recipes and just throwing together meals with whatever we had on hand. This is not a revolutionary idea and it was mostly started out of necessity but I want to encourage you to try it. It took me awhile to get used to cooking this way and I think I’ve slowly gotten better but there are a couple great benefits. The creative part for me is huge with days where the farm chores are the same and the children are bouncing off the walls its nice to carve a part of the day where I get to experiment and use my brain in a completely different way. Thinking about what food we have on hand and how best to use it for the weeks meals I also end up wasting less food. Little bits from one meal end up getting incorporated into others and last but not least its a great way to cook with local ingredients. Recipes don’t always have seasonal ingredients in mind or ones that are specific to your region so you always end up going to the store for something that you probably wouldn’t be able to get from your local farmer. This quote from Arthur Ashe sums up how I feel about cooking and farming these days-
” Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I was excited to be apart of the Oxbow Organic Farm and Education Center CSA box challenge because it is perfect for the kind of cooking I have grown to love. A box of veggies show up that you haven’t picked out what kind or how much of and you have to figure out what to do with it. If you are unfamiliar with what a CSA is it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that you are buying a share of the farm at the beginning of the season which allows the farm to have some financial sustainability and you get a box of veggies and sometimes fruit every week through the growing season for a price cheaper then you would be buying them for at the market. It usually starts with a small box at the beginning of the season and by the end they are so heavy you can barely get them to your car. I love the strong community connections that CSA memberships build. We just finished our first very successful Egg CSA and have been planning on a Meat CSA for the fall. As a farmer you are always in a crunch for capital to do projects or just day to day needs of the farm and a CSA gives you a nest egg to help you plan out your season and allow you to do things like build a new chicken coops or buy the tools you need.
Oxbow is a leader in the region for sustainable farming but I am also in awe of all the education outreach they do with kids. Because of that I want to show you the mostly quick, healthy, and inexpensive meals I made with their box of veggies for my family of 5 which includes three small boys all during the busiest time of year on our farm. I wanted to add a little more to the oxbow box challenge so I decided to come up with 10 meals using the box, a couple other local food favorites, and pantry staples for around 100 bucks. Thats 50 servings over 10 meals, so about 2 bucks a pop! My boys are 6 and under so I’m sure we will need twice that much food in a couple more years. I had a small box share which included a head of romaine, kale, red bib lettuce, a large bunch of dill, garlic scapes, fennel, and a large bag of peas. To this I added a bunch of basil and torpedo onions I got that week from our friends at Whistling Trains Farm, 2 dozen Green Bow Farm eggs, 1 whole Green Bow Farm chicken, a small piece of smoked salmon from Loki, another farmers market vendor we love, some pantry staples, and dairy staples we always have on hand like yogurt and cheese.
The first meal was just a quick egg scramble. I sauteed some kale and torpedo onions in butter until they were well cooked, whisked up 5 eggs and added them to the pan with a generous amount of chopped up dill and some sharp cheddar cheese. We eat a lot of eggs so this is a very typical breakfast for us usually with a side of toast or some fruit.
A couple of the things I made this week that carried over into several meals was to make two sauces/dressings made with the dill and garlic scapes. With the the dill I made a yogurt dressing with lots of garlic, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. The key to this dressing for me is that the yogurt is made with whole milk so it has a nice thick and creamy texture. The garlic scapes got made into a large batch of pesto with the basil from Whistling Train and there was still enough scapes leftover for a couple other meals.
The second meal was a smoked salmon salad with the red bib lettuce and yogurt dill dressing. To the top I added fresh peas and capers because my boys love something salty and pickled in their salads. This was one of the quicker meals and probably an overall family favorite. I find the creamier the dressing and the more interesting and crunchy things are in the salad the more likely everyone will eat it.
This is one of those key meals that helps set us up for several meals throughout the week. I butterflied a whole chicken and right after I did this I took the backbone and neck and started making chicken broth and let it simmer for over 24 hours. I seasoned the to be roasted chicken with salt and pepper and as you can see liberally put butter all over the chicken front and back. Then I roasted it in a pan on top of some chopped fennel and torpedo onions and put some of the fennel fronds on top. I served the chicken with a little bit of roasted veggies, and a side salad of romaine, yogurt dill dressing, and some homemade croutons. I saved a breast and a thigh for one of our other meals and the chicken fat and the rest of the roasted veggies for our next breakfast.
Another change in my cooking is that I always save fat. Whether from a big roast beef, rack of lamb, or bacon it always ends up in another meal. This isn’t just a desire to be thrifty but the flavors you get are amazing especially like with the roasted chicken it was cooked with very aromatic fennel and onions. The fat absorbs those flavors and eating fats with your veggies helps you absorb the vitamins in them. Not to mention if you are eating grass-fed meats they have a higher amount of Omega-3’s in the fat. Thrifty, healthy, and tasty! So I took the roasted veggies and a small amount of fat from the chicken and heated up in my cast iron pan. I cubed up some stale bread and added it to the mix to absorb some flavor. I whisked up 6 eggs and added them to the pan letting them set up a bit until it was a little brown around the edges. Then I added some slices of sharp cheddar cheese to the top and put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
This is where my documenting of the project started to break down. There was a couple times where the troops were just too hungry to wait for their mom to take a picture of their food before they could eat so I’ll give you a quick run down of some of the other meals. One of my go to meals when I’m short on time is a quinoa salad. It cooks up really fast and its pretty versatile. I usually make more than I need so I can have some to throw into other dishes. I took a large bowl of quinoa added peas, dill, dried heirloom tomatoes we had in the pantry, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. With the garlic scape pesto I made several quick meals like grilled cheese sandwiches, sunny side up eggs with a big dollop of pesto on the top and other snacks. My favorite one that I used the pesto with was a big dish I made for guests visiting the farm. I made a really large bowl of penne pasta added the leftover roasted chicken I cut up and warmed in a pan, a generous amount of the pesto, about a half a head of kale chopped up really small and topped it with some parm.
The dish I made mostly for myself was the one that also didn’t go as planned. I wanted to make a soba noodle soup with spring veggies and topped with a soft boiled egg. When I started making the broth for the soup we were in a cold snap and when I got around to making it it was in the 90’s and hot soup didn’t sound good to anyone. So I took the broth added some braggs aminos, which tastes like soy sauce, and the leftover garlic scapes and peas and let the veggies cook a couple minutes before cooling it down in the fridge. After cooking the soba noodles I poured some sesame oil over them and ladled the cool veggies and broth on top. My whites were a bit too runny so we ended up with soft boiled yolks on top instead. For a strange cold noodle soup salad experiment it was pretty good. Being okay with failures and missteps is also just a part of what cooking without recipes or trying new techniques is all about. There is going to be changes of plans and things you might want to throw away but its part of what makes it interesting. My last meal was nice and hearty, I took the chicken broth that still had a tiny bit of veggies left in it and cooked up a large pot of french lentils. I served them up with a dollop of the yogurt dill dressing and some toast with garlic scape pesto. It was so easy and filling for a long day on the farm where we didn’t sit down until the sun was starting to set.
The 10 meals were all pretty quick and simple and mostly successful. The best part was that I still had leftovers. There was enough chicken broth to make another pot of soup. Some yogurt dill dressing to dip veggies in for a snack and some pesto left for some quick sandwiches. I hope this will inspire you to break out of your routine in the kitchen or maybe even join a CSA. Every person that supports a local farm or farmers is making a change in the way food is produced and how the future of agriculture will be shaped. Every bit counts, even the fatty bits.