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.

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August
August 22, 2011, 12:43 am
Filed under: asides, garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

It is August in Phoenix. My garden, so lovingly planted in the spring, is now filled with plants obliterated by heat. The only signs of life, outside of the giant weeds, are the sweet potatoes and a handful of surviving herbs.

My potato plants, foolishly sprouted from market spuds, yielded five tiny tubers before wilting under the sun. And my zucchini plant, always the champ of a garden, was devoured by mysterious bugs overnight after giving up just under a dozen fruits. The onions, so carefully planted and worried about, yielded a pungent product no bigger than my fist.

Wily, my much adored chicken, finally succeeded in integrating herself with the neighbor’s hens. She hasn’t rooted through my garden in months. She still roosts in the orange tree, however, and, if we are lucky, we get a glimpse of her most evenings at dusk.

May, June and July were a funny mix of travel and homebound interludes – punctuated by an emergency appendectomy and a slow recovery from a long semester. I watched as my previously lofty goal of crafting delightful meals from garden grown produce wilted and eventually died. My fortitude to turn on the oven and four burners slowly waned away, while my weekly trips to the farmers market eventually became impossible – mostly thanks to my inability to sweat gracefully.

Instead of complete meals, I made a lot of jam. None of it was local.

But this is August. Despite the heat, there is promise in the air. This is the month where my sweet potato plants will reach maturity. My pomegranate tree – which wasn’t suppose to grow anything – is still hanging on to one rock solid green bulb. The cherry tomato plant is still going strong and the bell pepper will produce more next year.

I will turn the garden and I will start again.

But more importantly, I will expand my horizons. Phoenix is more than just all local meals. It is honey and wine, farms and ranchers, local beers and food trucks and, importantly, exceptional restaurants. I will look beyond my kitchen for inspiration and I will celebrate the Valley of the Sun.

After all, this is my postage stamp of native soil.



Little Postage Stamp of Native Soil
August 22, 2011, 12:25 am
Filed under: welcome | Tags: , , , , ,
Posted on January 24, 2011 

OrangesI didn’t start my local eating project with the intention of putting down roots. This was a buyers only thing. Sixteen weeks later, however, I find myself searching for the “root end” of a sweet potato so that I can sprout and – if things go according to plan – grow my own.

I’m not entirely sure how I reached this point. Somewhere between the gardening books and cooking fresh produce, I’ve changed from a passive consumer to a planter. Not that anything is in the ground, yet.

This project was, and still is, a grad student’s attempt to create an all local meal from products purchased in and around the Valley of the Sun (and you can read my previous adventures here). Except, it’s no longer just about the local meal. I now make my own marmalade and jellies, preserve lemons and can seasonal produce. This is an adventure in local food, and it’s having a surprising effect on me.

Preserved LemonsI hadn’t planned on becoming so attached to Phoenix. I’m a grad student, which means my time here is likely short-lived. Yet, the more I cook and the more I search for recipes to highlight the local produce, the more I find myself rooted to the soil.

It’s strange to suddenly find myself so attached to my home after living here for ten years, but as William Faulkner said, I “discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”

Join me as I discover my own little culinary stamp within the Valley of the Sun.