Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Local is Wherever You Are

Written by Melissa Levin
It’s such an old saying, “You are what you eat”, but what does this mean in a world where there is a huge divide between people and food? Over the past several decades—with the onslaught of mass production, TV dinners, and fast food—the rift has been increasing between us and what we consume. Recently, however, there has been a movement (thanks to Alice Waters first, then Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Dan Barber, a growing number of farmers, chefs, and eaters, to name a few) towards acknowledging what we eat. This movement makes it easier for us to do little things that will get us closer to what we put in our bodies, and it is worth taking advantage of. The more of us who do it, the easier it will be to continue.
It’s such an old saying, “You are what you eat," but what does this mean in a world where there is a huge divide between people and food? Over the past several decades—with the onslaught of mass production, TV dinners, and fast food—the rift has been increasing between us and what we consume. Recently, however, there has been a movement (thanks to Alice Waters first, then Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Dan Barber, a growing number of farmers, chefs, and eaters, to name a few) towards acknowledging what we eat. This movement makes it easier for us to do little things that will get us closer to what we put in our bodies, and it is worth taking advantage of. The more of us who do it, the easier it will be to continue.

Most of our food has traveled further than we ever will (about 1,500 miles) to reach our tables, but for me, eating locally and seasonally is not all about the fuel consumption or the carbon footprint (although reducing that is always good too!); it’s about knowing who grows my food, where it grows, how it’s cared for (as in, should I ingest something that grew in a big agribusiness that uses pesticides like crazy and injects antibiotics into animals living in horrible conditions, or should I ingest something that grew on a small farm that uses sustainable farming methods and natural animal husbandry?). It is also about how short the distance CAN be from the farm to my breakfast plate, lunch box, or dinner table. Food is more than a combination of nutrients, and I find that if you cook with foods that are in season, the nutrients will work themselves out if everything else is in place—that is, if you start with whole fresh ingredients, prepare them with minimal tinkering, and serve them on a table. In the long run, it will usually be healthier for you and better for the environment. In addition, eating locally and seasonally also makes meals special. It slows you down, makes you think, and supports your community. Mostly, it will get you closer to your food!

When it comes to eating locally and seasonally, the first thing is to learn about what is in season near you. Then, if you can, shop at farmers’ markets. If it’s your first trip to a farmers’ market, don’t even buy anything. Just walk around and see what’s there. Then, when you do go to shop, haves dishes, meals, and a budget in mind, but also be prepared to be inspired by vegetables you never knew existed. And go early, before the crowds. If you can, get to know the farmers you are buying your food from. Ask them questions. How do they prepare potatoes? Sugar snap peas? How do they make rhubarb pie? If you can’t go to a farmers' market, try asking someone at your local grocery store (whatever it is) if anything is made or grown locally. You might be surprised.

Farmers’ market food is not the only product you can buy locally. Local is also bread baked in your neighborhood, beer brewed in your state, and clothes designed down your street. You will be surprised to discover what is baking, brewing, or taking shape in your backyard.

Mostly I would encourage you to learn more about what you are eating. Ask questions, and even if you don’t go whole hog into being a local, seasonal eater, be conscious of your decisions.

Eating locally and seasonally takes a little time, money, and effort, but don’t let that get you down. If it’s important to you, take stock of how and what you eat, re-prioritize, and start small. Just do as little as you want or as much as you can.

Below is a list of books and websites as well as a few easy recipes for fall. (Note: Some things are NYC specific as that is where I am writing this article from.)
 
Before you make this food, look into what’s in season near you and substitute ingredients as you find them. Ultimately, when the ingredients are good, there is very little you need to do to make a delicious meal.

Farms where I bought everything are listed when possible.

SALAD

1 serving

A salad is what you make of it. Pick up some fresh greens and some raw veggies. Maybe some crumbly feta cheese. Dress with lemon juice, good extra-virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
 
What you will need:

1 handful arugula
1 handful sugar snap peas
1 radish, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
lemon juice from half a lemon
salt, just a pinch (or to taste)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Toss together and enjoy!
 
QUICHE
1 9-inch pie, about 8 slices

A quiche is something you can make year-round using whatever veggies are in season along with your favorite cheese(s) and meat(s). When I came home from the Greenmarket, I whipped up a quiche with the beautiful oyster mushrooms I bought and some delicious mild white onion and Gruyere cheese I had in my fridge. Honestly, you can use almost anything. And with a frozen crust (like the one I used from Whole Foods), it couldn’t be easier. This recipe is modified from The New Best Recipe.

What you will need:

1 9-inch frozen piecrust

Filling:
3 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1 small pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups (1 big bunch) oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
3/4-1 cup gruyere cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Pre-bake piecrust for about 10-12 minutes until light golden brown; remove from but do not turn off oven. Note: To avoid a puffy crust bottom, you can pre-bake with pie weights or line with foil and use pennies or dried beans to keep it flat. (I did not weight my crust. I just popped the puffiness with a knife, though next time I will try the pennies.)

3. While the crust is pre-baking, sauté the mushrooms and onions in the butter over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are soft and the onions are translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

4. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

5. Spread the mushroom onion mixture and cheese evenly over the bottom of the crust. Pour egg mixture over mushrooms, onion, and cheese to edge of piecrust being careful not to overfill.

6. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, about 32-35 minutes. Check with a knife 1 inch from the edge; it should come out clean. Transfer the quiche to a cooling rack.

7. Serve warm or at room temperature with a salad!
 
APPLE CRISP
1 Serving

This recipe comes from an amazingly comprehensive cookbook called, The New Best Recipe. It is really simple and perfect. I loved baking this crisp in my red ceramic piedish as I have yet to purchase an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Definitely serve warm with cold vanilla ice cream. YUM!

What you will need:

Topping:
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

Filling:
6 medium Granny Smith (or comparable) apples
1/2 teaspoon zest, grated and 1½ tablespoon juice from one lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. For the topping: place flour, sugars, spices, and salt in food processor and process to combine briefly. Add the butter and pulse ten times, about 4 seconds for each pulse. The mixture will look like dry sand, with large lumps of butter, then like course meal. Add the nuts, then process again, four or five 1-second pulses. The topping should look like slightly clumpy wet sand. Be sure not to over-mix, or the mixture will become too wet and homogenous. Refrigerate the topping while preparing the fruit, at least 15 minutes.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. For the filling: peel, quarter, and core the apples; then cut into 1-inch chunks. (You should have 6 cups.) Toss the apples, zest, juice, and sugar in a medium bowl. Scrape the fruit mixture with a rubber spatula into an 8-inch square baking pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

4. To assemble and bake the crisp: distribute chilled topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue baking until the fruit is bubbling, and the topping turns deep golden brown, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm. (The crisp can be set aside at room temperature for a few hours, and then reheated in a warm oven before serving.)

 
BOOKS AND WEBSITES
The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
, Barbara Kingsolver
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
Real Food, Nina Planck
The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, Alice Waters
Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey—The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World
, Holley Bishop

Michael Pollan: www.michaelpollan.com
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: www.animalvegetablemiracle.com
Ina Garten: www.barefootcontessa.com
Mark Bittman: bitten.blogs.nytimes.com
Just Food: www.justfood.org
Slow Food: www.slowfood.com
Epicurious: www.epicurious.com
NYC Greenmarket: www.cenyc.org/greenmarket
Local Harvest: www.localharvest.org
 
THE FARMS
My produce and feta cheese plus some extra treats all came from the amazing Union Square Greenmarket in NYC. Thanks to:
Breezy Hill
Sycamore Farms
Mountain Sweet Berry Farm
Bulich Mushrooms
Gorzynski Ornery Farm
Cherry Lane
Tonjes Farm Dairy
Lynnhaven Goat
Stokes Farm
Durr Flowers
Underwood’s Greenhouse
 
Photos by Melissa Levin

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