Filed under: asides, challenge, garden | Tags: Arizona, change, chicken, family, farmers markets, food, garden, grad school, graduation, home, jam, local, love, marmalade, Phoenix, season, sweet potato, tradition, transition
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 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.
Filed under: welcome | Tags: food, local, Phoenix, postage stamp, roots, sweet potato
I 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.
I 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.
Filed under: challenge, dinner, holiday, local, phoenix | Tags: apple, Arizona, carrots, challenge, cheese, chicken, dates, farmer cheese, farmers markets, local, Phoenix, potato, recipe, sausage, stuffing, sweet potato, thanksgiving
A quick little note: I don’t believe in the “I’ve been super busy” excuse because everyone is busy … but things have been crazy around here lately. So, in an effort to get this post out (finally) there are no recipes with it. Don’t worry, they’re coming, just not right now. Once finals are done, I promise.
Yes, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. Yes, ideally, I should have posted this before Thanksgiving. All that being said, however, this Thanksgiving was amazing. It was the first time I’ve really jumped in and cooked – and it was a blast. We had a pretty non-traditional meal, but, then again, we wouldn’t do it any other way.
In trying to adapt this traditional meal to one made with all local products, I was surprised by how few sacrifices needed to be made. In fact, the only things cut from our traditional meal were the cranberry sauce (which doesn’t go with chicken anyway) and cherry pie (which we still had – it just wouldn’t be a holiday without a cherry pie).
We also didn’t have pumpkin pie -which we could have made from scratch – opting for sweet potato instead. For those of you out there who absolutely love pumpkin, let me tell you, the sweet potato version was actually – gasp – better. Now, before I get any hate mail, let me do some explaining. This pie was both sweet and savory and had a wonderfully rich sweet potato flavor. Unlike pumpkin pie where one flavor is dominant, this recipe had a lot of depth and each bite was its own, unique flavor. By the next day the flavors were so complex that each bite required a little bit of time to explore. It will most likely become our Thanksgiving staple from now on.
This year, we cooked a chicken – which is something we’ve been doing for several years now – and it was our first sample of local, pasture raised chicken. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to describe it, but it tasted like, well, chicken. The meat had an actual flavor, which isn’t something you always get with the bland, dry grocery story variety. We had our perennial favorites – stuffing and salad. And instead of sweet potato casserole this year (made without marshmellows, thank you very much) we had scalloped potatoes.
Shopping for all these ingredients wasn’t nearly as challenging as I’d expected. I’d started the week before with the local chicken, bread (the nine-grain bread from the stuffed pumpkin was so delicious that I had to repeat it), potatoes, onion and cheese. The day before the big dinner, I stopped by the Wednesday market in Phoenix to pick up everything else I needed.
While purchasing the sweet potatoes from Horny Toad Farms I was very eagerly talked into some local medjool dates. The little guy selling them was really worried I’d balk at the price and did everything possible to prepare me for the “big cost.” By the time he was ready to tell me the price, I was concerned that I’d fallen in love with $25 dates. Turns out it was $7.50 for a carton – which, in my book, is a steal. In the end, I was so happy I bought them because they were perfect stuffed with Udder Delights cranberry farmers cheese and topped with pomegranate seeds.
I picked up the rest of my required produce and headed over to the Tempe Farmers market to get butter, some more cheese (because you can never have enough) and breakfast sausage for the stuffing. All told, it took three trips to get everything – which really – isn’t any more than normal.
With the paired down menu and lack of a turkey, the cooking requirement was manageable. My Mom cooked the pies in the morning, Dad started the chicken around 1:30 in the afternoon and with an hour of cooking time left I started assembling the stuffing – made with breakfast sausage from the Meat Shop – and scalloped potatoes. Yes, we all helped, but this was a Thanksgiving dinner that one person could have reasonably cooked in one day.
The best part of the day was experiencing some the traditional flavors in season, fresh and locally grown. We had bread made by neighbors (they go around the neighborhood once a week selling fresh, homemade bread), eggs raised by friends and a bird that lived a normal life before being sacrificed for a special meal.
I’m not one to get overly sentimental … oh, who am I kidding, I cry at cheesy movies … but this meal was really special. While the food may have tasted better thanks to its freshness, knowing it came from people who care about our and the land’s health made the meal all the better. Sharing it with my wonderful parents and working together to get it on the table made it a truly wonderful holiday. I look forward to more local Thanksgivings for years to come.
Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!
Quick Note: Here’s the photos that will go with the recipes, you know, so you come back and read them …
Sweet Potato Pie
From America’s Test Kitchen
Apple Sausage Stuffing
From America’s Test Kitchen
From America’s Test Kitchen