A Locavore on the Road

I’m in California for the holidays visiting family. I started out in San Francisco, where I visited Crissy Field with it’s awesome views of the SF skyline, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge (which you can see behind my dad in this pic):

crissy-fieldWe visited his neighborhood weekly farmers’ market on Fillmore Street, where I sighed a little over the crops we can’t grow back East, including citrus sf-marketand almonds. However, I also noted that there were several things I haven’t found at NYC farmers’ markets that could be there, including persimmons and dried fruit. sf-market2Persimmons grow on the East Coast, and we’ve got plenty of fruit that could be dried as a winter market offering. (Let me know if you spot either in an NYC market and I’ll not only become a grateful customer, but I’ll add the info to The Locavore’s Guide to NYC)

From SF, we headed north to Yreka in the Mt. Shasta region, which is where my mom lives these days (yeah, I know all this traveling negates some of the good my locavorian diet does as far as my carbon footprint. My family is scattered between multiple locations, but they’re my family, what can I say? I need to hang with my folks now and then).


My mom doesn’t have room for guests where she’s living, so she arranged for us to stay at a friend’s and take care of the friend’s cat, Gus, and dog, Tommy.tommy-the-dog

Tommy lives outside 365 days a year even though the winters get pretty brutal here. He’s in a penned area. It’s large, but it’s fenced, and apparently Tommy is not completely reconciled to his situation. Yesterday morning when I went to feed him he bolted and ran past me fast as a race horse, disappearing across a field.

yreka-horizonI called his name for about half an hour to no avail, starting to panic because “I lost your dog” was not a phone call I wanted to make. Fortunately, Tommy eventually came home on his own.

Last night my dad, pianist Kelly Johnson, played a wonderful concert of Chopin, Debussy, and other romantic composers. My Grandma Nea, 97 years old and a lifelong music lover, was in heaven.


Today my mom’s husband Frank is cooking up a Mexican-style Christmas Eve feast. Tomorrow we’re doing the whole traditional holiday thing, including a local free range turkey. One thing on the menu that is not local here is the cranberry sauce my dad made–the cranberries are from Massachusetts. It makes me smile, actually, that even here in Californian agricultural nirvana there are a few things from Back East that are special occasion treats. When I make cranberry sauce in Brooklyn, the cranberries are local but the orange that I like to add comes from California or Florida. I have no problem with either the west or east coast version. The holidays should include a few extravagant indulgences.


Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Ditching List Recipes for Old-Style Suggestions & Experimentation

Recipes became precisely measured and formulaic during the past sixty years because they could: with the rise of so-called conventional agriculture and the choosing of food varieties for uniform shape and size and shelf life, it became possible to publish a recipe that assumed your egg was the same size as my egg.

This point came home to me when I spent Thanksgiving with my friends Scott and Todd just outside Ithaca. My former Brooklyn neighbors are raising three kinds of chickens.


They have more eggs than they can keep up with, and sent me home with 1.5 dozen in various sizes and colors.


Contemporary recipes start with a list of measured ingredients followed by a numbered list of steps. That’s fine if your egg is an industrial ag supermarket egg and your onions are all the “medium” size required by the recipe. But what if you’ve got tiny pullet eggs or smallish CSA onions or huge garlic cloves or a bunch of kale that may or may not be what the recipe’s author meant by “a large bunch of kale”?

The recipes of earlier generations were gentler in so far as they did not expect an exact match between the writer’s kitchen and the reader’s. They were more demanding in that they assumed some basic cooking knowledge on the reader’s end, which today may not be a safe assumption. But at least they took into account differences in cooking equipment, as in this footnote to a recipe for pancake batter in Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking: “Quantities given make eight to twelve pancakes according to the size of your pan.”

I find that nod to the likely differences between her kitchen and mine much more civilized than today’s recipes that tell me exactly the size of the pan I need (and if I don’t have that particular pan I am left with the choice to toss out the recipe or go shopping for that particular piece of equipment).

I think that if the local food movement continues to grow, and as consumers choose flavor and environmental merit over uniformity and shelf life, our cookbooks will need to go through yet another transformation. Your butternut squash may not be the same size as my butternut squash, even if we’re getting them from the same farm. So a recipe calling for “1 large butternut squash” won’t mean much. Of course, this means we’ll have to experiment a bit, make some mistakes, learn how to eyeball amounts. To me, that’s what really learning to cook is all about.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that yeah, there are some recipes in my new book, The Locavore’s Handbook. And yeah, I had a few tussles with my editors when I wanted to use ratios instead of measurements (for example, 1 part salt to 4 parts minced vegetables and herbs for the preserved veg. recipe called verdurette. How many servings? my publisher wanted to know. Well, that depends on how many vegetables and herbs you started out with…). So some of the recipes ended up in the list-of-measurements-followed-by-numbered-steps format, and some in the use-what-you’ve-got format. I like to think the mix is respectful of both the reader and the food.


Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith (foreward by Ellen Zachos) Book signing and party with lots of fun eco-minded folk this Thurs. Dec. 3rd with Green Edge NYC!

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget by Leda Meredith (foreward by Sandor Ellix Katz)