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.


Sweet Potatoes
October 17, 2011, 12:39 am
Filed under: garden, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I grew a sweet potato as large as my head.

Well, almost.

Despite my inability to keep hardly anything alive in my garden, I managed to grow 14 sweet potatoes from a kitchen science project. Or, I should really say, the dirt and sprinkler system grew them. I just put them there.

Stooping over the first plant, I wasn’t sure if there would be any of the big red orbs waiting for me. My previous bad luck with the regular potatoes sprouted from grocery store cast offs left me uncertain. After all, those plants had all looked healthy, yet I only dug four tiny potatoes.

But the sweet potatoes were different. As I crouched over the first plant, worried, I saw the orange tops of three potatoes. Convinced they’d be no bigger than a kiwi, I almost left them in the ground to grow for a few more weeks.

It’s a good thing I didn’t.

The first one came out the size and shape of a softball. The hard dirt of my garden makes it difficult for plants to grow deep. The next one was a scraggly little thing. The third looked almost normal. And then another surprise softball.

I was over the moon.

This had worked! I had done it. I had grown sweet potatoes. My garden wasn’t a failure after all.

As I went to dig out the remaining 5 plants my joy was waning. There were no orange tops protruding from this tangle of vines.

After 25 minutes of digging I had 10 more. Some were the size of a baby’s head, some barely bigger than my pinkie. And despite the mess of green vines that had taken over the garden, I managed to get all but one out in one piece.

This success – 14 healthy sweet potatoes from a project started in a mason jar on a window ledge – called for a celebration. Which, in my world, requires a pie.

So that’s just what I did.

Sweet Potato Pie

It turns out that sweet potatoes need to cure for several weeks to develop the rich, sweet flavor they are adored for. But I could care less and it didn’t seem to matter at all. Sweet potato pie is my new favorite – especially when it’s made from a two pound beauty I grew myself.

Ever so slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

1 recipe pie crust
2 pounds sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp bourbon (I used Calvados instead)
1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

It’s essential that the crust is still hot when the filling is added, so plan accordingly
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

While your crust partially bakes, poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and microwave at full power for 5 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and microwave for another 3-5 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, but not overcooked.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in half. Using a paper towel to grip them, scoop out the filling and discard the skins. This should produce about 2 cups. Mash the butter into the sweet potatoes until only a few lumps remain.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, granulated sugar, nutmeg and salt. Add in the bourbon (or calvados) and vanilla. Then whisk in the milk.

A third at a time, stir the egg mixture into the sweet potato mixture. You’re looking for a nice, smooth texture.

If you’ve hit the timing just right, pull the crust out of the oven and sprinkle the bottom evenly with the brown sugar. Pour the sweet potato mixture over the brown sugar. Bake until the filling is set around the edges but the center still wiggles slightly. About 45 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream.

Eating Local in Ireland – Traveling in Co. Donegal
January 21, 2011, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sunset; Greencastle, Co. DonegalIt’s the tourist’s dream: a popular area, talked about the world over, empty, quiet, with no rush. Just you and the landscape. No hustle, no impatience, no noise. That’s Greencastle, Co. Donegal in the winter. But that’s not why I fell in love. Sure, having it all to ourselves helped, but it wasn’t the landscape or even the history, no, it was the sense of contentment.

There is little doubt that we were tourists – in a one street town, we still walked past the same grocery store four times, much to the amusement of the owner, Greencastle, Co. Donegaltrying to find the Shore Walk path to Moville – but we didn’t feel unwelcome or even out of place.

No, this was a holiday and not a vacation. A difference in word, but a difference in feel too. Vacation has always involved a schedule or even forced relaxation (although, I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced a vacation designed just for relaxation) combined with a sense of purpose. We are here to see this. A holiday, I discovered – or at least as I decided to repurpose the commonly used word – is when you go somewhere and feel it, but don’t exactly see much of anything.

And that’s what this was. A lot of walking the landscape and feeling the cold through the mittens, scarves and hats. There was a sense of being helpless in the Moville, Co. Donegal from Shore Walkface of dusk on an unfamiliar path and a sense of being powerful standing in front of the lit fire, kindling of wood in hand.

But more than the long walks, the pints of beer in wood-paneled pubs and the fresh seafood dinner, Greencastle is where I finally fell in love with Ireland as a place. Boyfriend, heritage and lore aside, I experienced Ireland on its own terms – and even in a rugged, sea swept environment, it was calming.

Looking out to Lough Foyle, Greencastle, Co. DonegalIt’s a funny feeling to love a place, because, as Ernest Hemingway said about Paris, “for wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I’ve loved many places, including Paris, and they do stay with you and shape you. I’m glad to have Ireland as one of those places.