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.


November 28, 2011, 12:04 am
Filed under: asides | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Graduate Invitation AppleIt is three days post-Thanksgiving. The tree is decorated, the lights are up, half the gifts are bought. Of all the things I accomplished this weekend, none of them involved ‘work’ work. But I did cook. And it was wonderful.

This weekend, I should have written my 15 page paper due in five days. I should have finished my half-written resume. I should have updated my website. I should have finished that CSS/HTML project I’ve been working on for too long.

I did none of these things. Fortunately, I don’t believe in ‘should.’ I do, however, believe in procrastination.

As I writer, I’m not great at transitions. I tend to jump topics without warning. I do the same thing off the page.

The problem isn’t the change. The problem is getting from one place to another without radically changing everything.

How to get from undergraduate degree to living in France for eight months? Spend a summer worrying and eating chocolate pudding for breakfast.

How to get from living abroad to moving home with no plans? Cry a lot.

How to get from a masters to what comes next? Procrastinate, apparently.

There are nine days until the end of classes, nineteen days until I graduate. It is time to transition. Once again, I am lost.

I will make jam. This is how I will transition. With jam. Lots of jam.

August 22, 2011, 12:30 am
Filed under: challenge, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Published February 6, 2011
CitrusThere’s something so undeniably tangeable about citrus. The way its weight feels in the hand, the skin-like texture of the peel, the cellular interior all of which yield to a sticky, pungent juice. It’s a combination I find irresistible.

Like so many other fruits, however, their peak is short lived. Come mid-May these fruits are a mealy, flavorless disappointment, which makes it easy to spend two hours turning them into a treat that will last throughout the year.

Marmalades are notorious for their difficultly, often requiring several days to transform the bitter fruits into the famously bittersweet spread. It’s an unfortunate reputation. Orange MarmaladeTurning fresh-from-the-tree fruit into a canned treat takes no more than three hours. Skip the canning, and in under two hours you have five pints worth of gold.

Truth be told, however, I wasn’t the biggest fan of marmalades. Somewhere between the back of the tongue bitter and whoosh of sickening sugar, the mixture has always left something to be desired. That is, until I made my own. I said last week that oranges are the bearers of sunshine in winter – marmalade, it turns out, is like sunshine in jar.

And after a batch or two, I’ve discovered a few tricks that take this jam from scary (like when I made apple jelly and caramelized the glass stove top) to relatively painless.

Seville Orange or Grapefruit Marmalade

For this recipe you can use the “decorative” oranges you find all around Phoenix, as long as the skin has not been sprayed with any chemicals. If you don’t have any citrus – the Phoenix Public Market is teeming with the fruits. Just make sure the peel is untreated and pesticide-free.

This recipe is easiest using a mandolin. While highly effective, this is a very dangerous kitchen tool. It is amazingly easy to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. It is imperative to use the hand guard every time you use this tool. If you do not feel comfortable with a mandolin, you can achieve the same results with a knife – just slice the fruit as finely as possible.

And, finally, as tempting as it may be to double this recipe – don’t do it, it won’t set.

Grapefruit MarmaladeIngredients:
1 3/4 pounds oranges or grapefruits (4-5 medium oranges, 3 medium grapefruits)
12 cups water
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 pounds 12 ounces sugar
5 clean pint jars
2 Tbsp Orange flavored liquor (optional)

Scrub the fruit clean and put in the freezer for 10 minutes. Using a mandolin, slice the fruit into 1/8 inch slices and then, using a knife, cut into quarters. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large, non-reactive stockpot. While the water is heating, place the fruit into a strainer set over a bowl and press down to release any juices. Once the water is boiling, add in the peel and pulp, reserving the juice. Boil the fruit, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the zest and juice of one lemon into the reserved juice.

After 5 minutes, strain the peel and pulp. Add back into the pot with the reserved juice and remaining 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to an aggressive simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should greatly reduce. After 40 minutes check the peel for softness – yes, you have to eat it – it should be soft with just a little bit of resistance. If the peel isn’t soft enough, add in 1 cup additional water and cook for 20 more minutes.

Once the peel is soft, place a small plate in the freezer. Bring the mixture back to a boil and add in the sugar. It is critical at this point to stir constantly until the mixture sets (about 220F degrees if using a candy thermometer). To test the marmalade, place a small amount on the plate that has been chilling in the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer and check after 1 minute. If the mixture has jelled slightly and wrinkles when nudged it’s done. If not, continue to cook until it sets. The process takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

Remove the mixture from heat, add in the optional orange liquor and ladle into clean jars.
You can store these in the refrigerator without processing them, however if you plan to can them (which will make them last for a year) you can learn more about the process here.