My local food quest suffers no greater challenge than it does in January and February. I love fresh fruit, and as I don’t live in a citrus-producing state, the options are pretty sparse for local fruit.
The earliest harbinger of spring, however, earlier even than the asparagus and strawberries that declare the season’s coming with certainty, is rhubarb.
Rhubarb, which grows in varieties ranging in color from pale green to deep red, is technically a vegetable. However, it has been classified as a fruit in the United States since the late 1940s since it is primarily used as a fruit. Naturally quite tart, it is typically paired with sugar and other sweet fruits to create tangy, flavorful desserts.
I’ve done a really bang-up job of giving a monthly update on my food budget, haven’t I? I started in January, updated in February, and then… got busy. And it’s not that I haven’t posted other things. I have! I really wanted to tell you about this. And these. And my progress on this. Firsts of months came, and I thought, I should write a budget post, and then before I knew it, Fifteenths came by and it was no longer relevant.
If you’re new here, to ring in the new year I started meticulously tracking my food expenses, both for groceries and for restaurants, to get a sense of just how much of my money was going to local food sources rather than corporate, distant ones. Despite my lack of updates, I have managed to continue this tracking. You can check out my first post on the subject to see how I distinguish one type of purchase from another.
So without further ado, here’s a three-month update.
On the Grocery Dollars front, I’m making some interesting progress. Interestingly, the purple wedge (the one I’m trying to get rid of) has only reduced a little since January, about 3%. The convenience of a 24-hour store SO close to my apartment is, I confess, challenging to overcome sometimes. And oddly, there are some items I simply cannot find at the co-op. Brad’s preferred pickle relish. Instant tapioca. Our favorite sandwich bread. But look at the blue and red! Up from about a third to over HALF! Not surprisingly, I’ve got a lot more produce out of my garden in the spring months than I did in January, and the variety of food available at the farmer’s market has increased as well. Exciting!
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: one of the biggest perks of living in hot, humid, far-from-home Durham, North Carolina is the immense support for local food amongst those who live here and in the surrounding cities and counties. With multiple farmers markets close by, dozens of restaurants that source their ingredients locally, and thousands of people willing to patronize them all, it’s no wonder these counties contain a vibrant network of farms, ranches, and community gardens.
One shining example of this community’s commitment to support local growers is the Piedmont Farm Tour. Hosted each spring over two weekend afternoons by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assocation, forty local farms throw open the barn doors, as it were, and welcome in carload after carload of people eager to see the source of the food they buy each week at our region’s farmers markets. A couple of friends and I were some of those people.
Brad left North Carolina this time last week for his summer internship in O-HI-O. Merh. I certainly have enough going on to keep myself entertained this summer in his absence but I must confess: it’s a lot of fun to cook when he’s around. Why? Because nine times out of ten, he loves my food. And who doesn’t enjoy gushing compliments over something you just cooked?
But as I said, he’s in Ohio, crashing with one of his college roommates for the next three months, and as he is not quite the local-food-new-recipe-must-cook-cause-its-fun person that I am, I suspect his daily bread will not be made from scratch, if you catch my drift.
I, on the other hand, see no reason why I won’t continue to cook like I usually do (like an manic-foodie-control-freak), and this dish is a prime example.
You just can’t ignore the opportunity to make something amazing when you discover that something you’ve long-considered a thoroughly “exotic” food is in fact available at your farmers market. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the weekly market newsletter heralded their arrival.
When we moved to North Carolina, I had some plans for our apartment on which I was unwilling to budge:
1. I would obtain a dining table and chairs.
2. I would paint some wall, any wall, some pretty color other than white.
3. I would grow some food on my dang porch.
Quick trips to Ikea and Home Depot made it easy to accomplish the first two goals, but it took me a couple of months to figure out the best way to complete the third. For one thing, I still, still, after two years of low-sun apartments in DC, struggled to get direct beams to my balcony for more than a few hours a day. To complicate matters further, the lovely lattices on our porch railings broke up what little sun that did reach the balcony: an excellent situation for lounging on the porch without getting too hot, but not so great for keeping plants alive.
Containers on the railings had to be the key. But alas! Every style I could find at stores in my area was designed with a bolt or a screw or some other attachment mechanism I’m sure our property managers would not appreciate.
I found them online! Two feet wide, six inches deep, and adjustable to whatever width of balcony railing you want to hang them on. I bought some lettuce, some mums (to feel fancy!), and plopped ’em into some soil. By the tim spring rolled around, well, I had expanded my little fleet to the size it was when I first introduced this hodge-podge little garden last April.
Spring (though it’s actually starting to feel more like summer here in NC) has officially begun. It seems like the trees were, just moments ago, blossoming in delicate flowers and poking little green buds into the cool air, but they are suddenly enrobed in lush, green leaves still blinking in their new-found sunshine. The daffodils and tulips have come and gone, and the light lingers a few moments more every evening.
But just in case there was any doubt:
The berries have arrived.
Glistening, ruby-red, and more photogenic than any berry I know, strawberries are the first fruit of the season to reach the farmers market in Durham. They’re the first float of the summer produce parade; it’s definitely cause for celebration.
And what better way to celebrate than with a classic, fresh, and simple strawberry shortcake?
Okay, okay, I know you might be skeptical about my use of the word “simple” when discussing a six-layer cake, but I promise, it’s really rather easy AND is so totally worth it once you have your first bite.
Just to re-cap, I started the new year with a goal: I wanted to learn just how I spend my money on food. Do I trade it with local culinary artisans? National corporations?
After some debate over which delineations mattered, I made a list of categories into which I would divide my purchases — both for groceries and for restaurants — and began the semi-tedious task of tracking every single receipt. My first month of tracking gave me some results that were expected, and some that surprised me.
Here are the results for February:
On this front, the numbers are almost identical to January. I did have a few extra runs to the big box grocery store close to my apartment this month, and to be totally honest, I’m not exactly sure why. Other than I must have really planned meals poorly that week. My goal for this month is to only hit the grocery store once a week, which should save food dollars, gas dollars, and time dollars. Yes time dollars.
But look! Grocery dollars may have been the same, but restaurant dollars show major improvement! I had friends in town one weekend and my parents in town for almost a week, which gave me opportunities to go outside my normal restaurant box and show off Durham’s local flavor. We’ll see how it keeps up when I am not entertaining guests…
So on goes the tracking. And finally, as promised, if you want to track as well, I’ve uploaded the spreadsheet I’m using. You can download it at the link below… it’s pretty smart and makes all your numbers turn into graphs. Poof! Time to get excited.
Fair warning: if you didn’t know I was a moderately obsessive, detail-oriented, and rather analytical, you certainly will be the end of this post.
I love cooking and baking. Taking photos of the process, digging through shots to find the best ones to tell a recipe’s story, and sharing them with you. I get a thrill from planting seeds that, after a few weeks of sunshine and water, will produce food. And my weekly trip to the farmers market is a cornerstone of every weekend.
But part of my intent in starting this blog was to challenge myself toward a lofty goal. I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to buy locally (or grow myself) as much as I could, but I’d never really tracked how I spent my food dollars exactly.
The new year gave me a great opportunity to step. it. up.
I wanted to see just how much of my money I spent in a local food versus, well, non-local food. Easy enough, right?
Once upon a time, in a time not so long ago, a boy and a girl dreamed of eating hot, homemade breakfast every day. They did not hate the yummy but mundane breakfasts they had grown accustomed to, but as the season grew colder, the yogurt and oatmeal of summer days excited them less and less.
One day, while replenishing their stores at ye olde supermarket, the boy decided to see what treasures were held in the depths of the frozen breakfast aisle.
“Alas!” said the boy, upon gazing at the scroll of ingredients, “Even the scribes don’t know these words!” Indeed, the script upon the package seemed to suggest the meal was more chemical than food.
Suddenly, the girl had an idea.
“What if, instead of wasting all this packaging and filling our bellies with low quality food, we make our own frozen breakfasts?”
The boy’s eyes lit up at the thought, and they escaped the chilly aisles before succumbing to the tempting packages within.
The first step, they knew, was to procure some containers that were just the right size. So they rode their chariot to the Pyrex outlet to round up a dozen 1-cup containers, each one made of glass and accompanied by an airtight lid. They were safe for the freezer, the microwave, and their incredible dish-washing machine. A perfect find!
And now, for something completely out of the blue, a fresh berry jam.
No, I’m not so far behind that I’m posting recipes I made this summer.
Seriously. I went to the farmers market last week, and nestled between the butternut squash and dark, leafy greens sat some of the most fabulous raspberries I have ever seen.
I talked a lot about strawberries when I started this blog, just as they were ripening here. One might assume from so much strawberry talk that they held the highest honor in my berry kingdom.
Be still, my heart.
Luscious, tart, and totally worth the seeds that will get stuck in your teeth.
There is little to complain about with the North Carolina growing season. It’s long, it allows for multiple plantings of cool weather plants, and an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables grow here quite happily. But I have been stymied ALL SUMMER, waiting for baskets of brilliant red raspberries that would never arrive.
Until November, apparently.
Grown under passive tunnels that gather warmth without requiring electricity (as greenhouses typically do), these gorgeous gems of fruit are coming into their own when most other berries have long since disappeared from the market stands.