Eating Local in Phoenix


And in the end

A year-and-a-half ago I started this blog. It was to be an experiment: could a grad student make one meal a week from all local ingredients? The answer, it turns out is yes. (As long as you take the term “meal” lightly.)

Now, I’m 11 days from graduation and I’ll no longer be a poor grad student. I’ll be a poor, recently-graduated student. There’s a difference, I’m sure.

It’s funny to look back at that first post. That moment when I vowed that I wouldn’t be growing anything, instead relying almost entirely on farmers markets around the city.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became a jam making, pickle canning, garden obsessing cook. It became less about cobbling together every possible ingredient – no matter the challenge – from a farmers market and more about making stand-out, stand-alone dishes from food I adored.

It became about marmalade and giant sweet potatoes, stuffed pumpkins, simple spaghetti and a chicken that stole my heart.

It was a beautiful and freeing change.

I’ve watched six seasons come and go while in grad school. In a small way, I’ve celebrated them all. I’ve eaten local both here in the Valley of the Sun and abroad.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

But this isn’t all about the past. There are big changes on the horizon – even if I don’t quite know what they are, yet. But I do know one thing, the end of my masters career doesn’t mean the end of this blog.

I like local food too much to let this go.



Wily
August 22, 2011, 12:40 am
Filed under: asides, garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Published April 18, 2011
Wily, the chickenMy chicken roosts in my neighbor’s orange tree. She digs in my garden, transplanting most of my potatoes while looking for worms. She ate what were to become my pole beans. She flies over the wall, squawking, if you come within 15 feet.

And, she lays perfect, small, cream-colored eggs in my neighbor’s coop.

Dysfunctional wouldn’t even begin to describe our relationship.

I held her once, shortly after she took up residence in my parent’s yard. She smelled like saw dust and feathers. Clucking softly, she was scared and warm. I loved her immediately.

We didn’t plan to be chicken owners. She just showed up one day, unannounced. It took us two weeks to realize that the rustling noise coming from the jungle of lantana and ivy draped over dead trees in the depth of the yard wasn’t a cat. We thought she was a rooster. We almost gave her away.

Wily's eggsNow the whole house comes to a standstill to watch her scratch around the yard. When it rains, she stands under the small, blooming peach tree, angry. She wades through the irrigation flood to eat bugs. She chases pigeons around the yard. She stands on the wall, staring at you with one eye, before hollering and launching herself into the orange tree for the night.

A social bird, she spends most of her time in the neighbor’s yard trying to befriend their three hens. She patiently waits her turn to lay an egg once a day in their coop. Smaller and faster than the other hens, she never shares the worms she digs up. She is an outcast.

Even though she barely belongs to us – let’s be honest, she shows up for the food and to dig in my unprotected garden – our neighbors continue to call her our chicken. Their 9-year-old son diligently brings a half dozen of her eggs to us every weekend. Feeling bad, we always send him back with something. This week it was homemade blackberry jam, last week, coupons for free french fries at McDonald’s.

Egg YolksHer eggs are tiny. Often speckled, never perfectly white. The shells are tough, the yolks deep yellow. The ultimate cycle, we eat the bugs and beans and fallen oranges she’s scavenged from our yard. Eating them is to be home.

Seeing her is to be home.

It’s a funny thing to have a chicken.



French Toast
August 22, 2011, 12:33 am
Filed under: breakfast, challenge, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Published February 21, 2011
Local BreadI don’t know exactly when the weekly ritual of buying bread from a door to door sales-family started. I can’t remember if it’s been one year or two since the blond, pigtailed girls began showing up at my parent’s doorstep. And I don’t fully remember their story.

What I do remember, however, is my first taste of this bread – made from a secret family recipe – and the way it tugged and pulled and slowly dissolved with each careful bite. I remember the handful of times when it arrived still warm from the oven and a thick slab of salted butter melted into the strands of dough. I remember when my Dad left the required $3 in an envelope taped to the front door with a crooked note, “One small loaf, please,” because he was outside mowing the lawn and didn’t want to miss his chance to buy our weekly bread.

YogurtIt’s funny how such a simple ritual can become transformative. As a family, we aren’t big bread eaters, yet, every week we diligently buy a loaf. It’s become important to us. Important to support this entrepreneurial family, important to share the homemade bread over our weekly family dinner. And, if it lasts long enough – important to use that slightly stale bread for breakfast.

The flour and yeast of this “swiss’ bread probably aren’t local. The family, however, is from a few blocks away – and that’s good enough for me.

There are a lot of reasons for eating local – from keeping more of your dollar in the local economy to reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil – but, personally, my interests revolve around keeping me connected to my place, my little postage stamp of native soil.

EggsI celebrate the 800 types of citrus in season at the moment, get excited for local pork and taste the earth in local wines. This is how I know what home is, this is how I feel connected to my place and this is how I celebrate what Arizona has to offer.

This is Phoenix. This is my neighborhood. This is home.

French Toast

You can make this recipe with milk, or use homemade yogurt thinned with lemon juice to achieve the same effect. Personally, I love the yogurt from Udder Delights.

French ToastIngredients:
8 slices bread
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup milk (or 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice)
4 medium eggs
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 Tsp cinnamon
1/4 Tsp salt

Beat the eggs, milk or yogurt mixture, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Transfer this mixture to a large, shallow baking dish or plate.

Soak two pieces of the bread in the batter – about 30 seconds per side. Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until it begins to brown – swirling it to coat the entire pan. Remove the bread from the batter, allowing any excess to drip back into the dish. Lay the bread into the hot pan.

Cook until both sides are golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. If using the yogurt mixture, keep an eye on the bread – it has a tendency to stick and may require extra butter. Transfer the French Toast to a wire rack and keep warm in a 200 degree F oven, or serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining bread, batter and butter.