Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas plans aplenty

Tomorrow afternoon, I fly out of Hartford – and six hour later, I will be home in Texas. Now, I’m sure I have made many snarky comments about Texas and how much I despised living there – all of which remain true. However, a visit now and then to spend time with my family (and a trip to Central Market or two) is something to look forward too.
Naturally, a big part of our family gatherings involve food – well, yeah, I’m involved, so what else would you expect? My dad and I spent some time on the phone planning the big holiday menus. I always make Christmas Eve dinner, while Christmas day is a joint effort – my mom always does some kind of delicious breakfast casserole, and then dad and I do dinner. Often, actually, we end up with waaaay too much food, having two big meals in a row like that. So this year, I though, how can we cut back on the amount of leftovers? At the same time, coincidentally, I caught a special on the Cooking Channel about the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, always served Christmas Eve. Inspiration struck!
So, I decided to do a seafood dinner for Christmas Eve. We traditionally had shrimp cocktail that night in my house, so it fits. I’m planning on that, plus a main course – probably pasta with scallops – and steamers or mussels, depending on what’s fresh at Central Market (I also had to give a brief shout-out to what a fab day Friday is going to be – shopping with my dad and bro in Dallas, home of Northpark Mall [amazing], followed by a trip to Central market).
The Christmas day, we’ll have a scrumptious breakfast, as I mentioned. Right not, dinner is shaping up to consist of a crown pork roast (my idea), stuffed with an herbs de Provence stuffing and then rubbed with an herbs de Provence rub, along with scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, some kind of sweet potato dish, and probably another veggie, plus pumpkin pie for dessert. Yup, still gonna have a lot of leftovers.
I haven’t even gotten into the myriad of sweets that will be in the house over the next week. I made sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, and cherry-almond snowballs, as well as white chocolate bark and chex mix (plus some homemade dog biscuits, but those are less yummy). My brother made our traditional thin mint cookies – with help, I suspect – and I believe mom is making my favorite coconut macaroons. Then my dad always makes a puffed rice candy that’s yummy, and I’ve promised to make cream puffs for the clan. My teeth hurt just thinking about it all…in a good way.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned New Year’s Eve dinner. We’re not usually together for this holiday, so this year will be special. I think there’s beef on the menu, per my brother’s request, along with béarnaise sauce. Yup. Yum.
Anyway, I digress. Happy holidays to all, whatever it is you celebrate in your family. I’ll check back in once I’ve made my return to Massachusetts. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week One(ish) update

So, my tryst into locavorism is going rather well, actually. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and try to be perfect, and it can turn something should be rewarding into something that is stressful instead. To try and avoid a meltdown, and I just taking things slowly and kind of following the layout I outlined in my last post – focusing on the items that are easiest to find locally first, and then slowly adding on.
I mentioned before that milk, eggs, and other dairy products would be the easiest to source locally, and it turns out, I was right! Last week I stopped by Taft Farms to pick up some Ronnybrook Creamline milk and some local eggs (Ronnybrook Farm is in N.Y. about thirty miles from where I live). And yes, their eggnog is the nog that was featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate last week (and yes, I picked some of that up, too – delicious!). Then I decided to take it one step further, so I joined a winter CSA with Cricket Creek Farm, a dairy farm just a little north from me. Every week, I will get a share of fresh milk, eggs, and cheese. They also have a farm store with a bounty of other local products, including some meat, other dairy products, baked goods, preserves, and more. So, that’s taken care of.
Meat has been super easy, too – a trip to Guido’s, which is right up the street from me, makes it convenient – and their meat and seafood prices are really reasonable, too – an unexpected but welcome surprise! Guido’s is also a good source for fruits and veggies, but the exact origin is not always apparent – for example, a bag of spinach may read “Grown in the USA” but not b any more specific than that. For specifics, the Berkshire Co-op has proven to be a goldmine. They even name the exact farm – I got some salad greens from Equinox Farm in Sheffield last week, as well as a tub of Monterey Chevre. I made sme yummy quiche from my spinach, chevre, milk, and eggs a few days ago.
Finally, a made a loaf of bread that used King Arthur Flour – for lunch today I think I’ll have a grilled cheese made from Cricket Creek Farm cheese and my homemade bread. Yum-o!

P.S. What do you all think of the new design?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The short list: Foods it will be easiest to eat locally in the Berkshires during the dormant season.

1. Milk and eggs (and other dairy products, like butter, yogurt, and cheese). Dairy farms are fairly abundant here, and I can find these products easily at Taft Farms, Guido’s, the Co-op and others. I am especially interested in finding raw milk (shh!), which is slightly more challenging, but in the meantime, local pasteurized milk will do.

2. Meat. I already don’t eat a lot of meat. Chicken is the most common form found in my fridge, and I know of several places where I can find local chicken, including those listed above. The Meat Market in Great Barrington is another sure thing, for all kinds of local meat products – even containers of local lard!

3. Root veggies and greenhouse produce. Again, places like Guido’s and the Co-op label what’s local – often naming the specific farm it came from – so while these items are in season, that’s a no brainer.

4. Flour and most other baking supplies. For the sake of this (and because I strongly believe in its superior quality), I’m going to call King Arthur Flour, based out of Vermont, local. Honey and maple syrup (and all manner of other maple products) should also be fairly simple. I also know a local woman you puts together her own spices and spice mixes. Local chocolate and coffee beans are also available.

Ok, so what does that leave me without?

Seafood: Obviously, because I don’t live in a coastal town, seafood is not particularly abundant. It would probably be possible to find some from the other side of the state; I’ll have to look into that (Mazzeo’s does have a meat and seafood counter at Guido’s, I’ll have to check it out more carefully). Meanwhile, I don’t buy a ton of seafood – mostly shrimp, occasionally a salmon fillet or some sort of white fish. When I do, I’ll be on the lookout for wild caught instead of farm raised – and continue to base decisions of the Monterey bay Aquarium’s safe seafood list.

Cereal – and other whole grains, including pasta, and dry beans: Again, I’ll just have to try to get the best versions of these foods that I can find.

Condiments, olive oils, and other convenience items: It may be possible to find some of these items locally – pickles, for example, should be fairly straight forward. I just haven’t looked that closely yet. Otherwise, see above for my planned strategy.

And most obviously, fruits and veggies not currently in season: This will be the hardest. In the dead of winter, what is more appealing that the bright red strawberries imported from Mexico or wherever it is they come from? What I’ll have to remember is that while these items look good, their taste rarely lives up to the hype. I’m sure I’ll break down and by bananas, apples, grapes, etc. throughout the winter. I’ll try to limit it, and focus on what produce I can get locally. I’ll also consider Berkshire Organics as a good source for these items – while it may not be local, at least I’ll know its fair trade, organic, and/or sustainable.

So, what am I forgetting?