Three Weeks Into It

cookin’

Three weeks after beginning my 250-mile diet I am beginning to notice a few changes in my daily life. On the one hand, it’s not that different from how August eating has been for me in recent years: Gardening, farmers markets, and community supported agriculture all supplying a peak season abundance of gorgeous produce; a slightly lighter than spring or autumn schedule granting me time in the kitchen to can, freeze, and dry it all, as well as cook fresh meals. But…

There are jars of food under my bed. That is new. I’ve run out of the shelf space I allotted to my homemade preserves in past years, so I purchased some plastic bins that neatly hold additional jars and fit under my fold-out futon. I am seriously eying the books on my shelves and asking myself which could be moved to my rented storage unit three blocks away. And what do you think about my storage facility’s contractual insistence on not storing food there? I get why you wouldn’t want fresh foods that could bring in mold or bacteria, but what about pasteurized, vacuum-sealed jars of home-canned goods? Haven’t stretched that point yet, but I’m thinking about it.

But hey, is a diminutive, New York City-sized apartment that much smaller than some homesteader’s one-room log cabin in a past century? The only reason I don’t have drying garlic and herbs hanging from the rafters is that I don’t have any rafters (I have them hanging from thumbtacks in my hallway instead).

So what is different? Planning. Knowing, as every generation prior to 1950 did, that this season’s abundance needs to supply not only tonight’s feast but also winter’s sustenance. All this stocking up is because I really don’t know what doing this local eating experiment is going to be like in winter. If I’m going overboard with the squirreling, well, I’ll throw a few late winter parties to use up my extras. But maybe those squirrels know a thing or two.

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In A Pickle

pickles.jpgNew York produces wine and apple cider, so you might think it would also produce wine and apple cider vinegars, but you’d be wrong. Or at least I haven’t been able to find any that aren’t imported from California, Spain or Italy. No problem, I thought. I’ve made vinegar at home before.

So I used up the last of my Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar (“with the mother”) as my starter and got a batch of wine vinegar going. All fine and good except that I am doing a lot of canning and pickling in preparation for the winter portion of my 250-mile diet. Every book on the subject says do not use homemade vinegar for pickling because there’s no way to know for sure if it is acidic enough to kill off harmful bacteria (you need minimum 4.5%, preferably 5% acetic acid to be safe).

Well, I did a little online research. One mail order acid titration kit and a couple of tests later I knew that my homemade wine vinegar had 8.2% acetic acid: more than enough for pickling safety, but too much to taste good in salad dressing. (This is why the label on your bottle of commercial vinegar says diluted with water to 5% acetic acid). Got my friend Sean to help me with the math and now my vinegar is a tasty and safe 5%. Whew.

What have I made with my wine vinegar so far? Bread ‘n’ Butter Pickles, Pickled Cherries, Nectarine Chutney and Dilly Beans. Oh, and a lot of very good salad dressing (remember, lemon trees don’t grow in Brooklyn).

How To Make Your Own Vinegar

How To Test Your Homemade Vinegar

Where To Buy An Acid Titration Test

Not sure what Leda’s 250-Mile Diet is about? Click here.

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Shopping Lesson

I went to the Park Slope Food Co-op today to buy cat food (GT is not on the 250-mile diet). While I was there, I decided to peruse the produce and bulk dry goods sections of the store just to see if there might actually be something I could still buy. I knew, of course, that I’d be going quickly past the produce from Mexico, California, Florida, or the generically labeled “USA”. I had even prepared myself to leave out those items I used to feel so good about buying, the ones the co-op labels “locally grown within 500 miles.” No problem, I thought. The co-op does label the produce from three New York farms, so I’ll just stick to those.

Wait, stop, do not pass go, do not put those green beans into your shopping basket. Not all of New York state is within the circle of the 250. I wasn’t sure where the farm those beans came from was, so I had to put them back. I also reluctantly returned some cheddar cheese labeled “New York State” with no particulars.

Once I got home I did a little online sleuthing and found out that of the farms the co-op lists by name, two of the three are within my circle (I could have gotten the beans after all). One is actually less than 100 miles away, so I can include its excellent produce in the occasional 100-mile meal I plan to make. I’d thought I’d been paying attention to where my food came from before the 250, but this is definitely taking it to the next level!

I’ve noticed other shifts in my attention and priorities already as a result of starting the 250-mile diet. Recently I found some perfectly ripe elderberries that the birds hadn’t gotten to yet. I started out picking them in a somewhat relaxed mood. Foraging for elderberries is a nice thing to take time out for in the midst of a full time, multi-employer urban work schedule. I daydreamed about what I would do with them. Jelly maybe? Or syrup? And then I thought, in an entirely un-dreamy mental voice, “Girl, you’re not going to need condiments, you’re going to need food.” Right. I picked up the tempo…

and now have four pounds of elderberries in my freezer.elderberryhandweb.jpg

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Day One of the 250-Mile Diet

I just finished my first dinner since starting the 250 today. The main course was a hamburger. It was made of local, pastured beef that I was told would taste especially delicious because the cow had lived a stress-free life. That must have been one happy cow because it was quite possibly the best burger I’ve ever had. With it I had a salad (CSA greens) and a slice of garlic-tomato bruschetta. The bread was homemade but not with local flour–I’m still using up what I have on hand (see Rule No. 2). The tomato and the garlic, however, came from my garden. Dinner was accompanied by a glass of Main Road Red from North Fork, Long Island.

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I thought I’d make some popcorn later and watch a movie, except that I am out of popcorn. Popcorn does grow locally, but it won’t appear at the farmers markets until the fall. Despite being a local foods enthusiast for many years, I have to admit I’ve never given much thought to when popcorn is in season. Anyway, when it does finally show up at the farmers markets I won’t buy a cute mini bag of it like I did last year. I’ll be stocking up enough to last till the next harvest (what my dad calls “the Costco school of eating locally”).

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The 250-Mile Diet Rules

Here are my rules for a year of local eating that begins next Tuesday!

(Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet if you aren’t sure what this is about)

Just click on…

THE RULES

Cheers,

Leda (and GT) Leda & GT

P.S. – I won’t be sending out private email about new posts after this one, so if you’d like to keep track of how The 250 goes you might want to subscribe to this blog. You can do so by leaving a comment, or by clicking on the RSS feed box to the right of the URL in your browser. You can unsubscribe at any time.

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