For the month of June, I will be chronicling my participation in the Third Annual New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. Every day, I will post about all the meals I had the day before and the ups and downs of trying to eat only locally-sourced or grown food. Because this is my first foray into being a "locavore", I will be doing the second-strictest level of the challenge.
Total meals eaten today: 3
Non-local items eaten: 1
Vices: Beer, coffee, bread
It's funny how you can reach the end of a day and, having processed so much new information, you lose track of how much you've actually accomplished. I wrote the first draft of this entry and completely forgot that: Hey! I only ate one non-local food today! And it was just a cup of coffee from a local company! That's not bad and I'm gonna take second to pat myself on the back.
Ok, now where were we? Right: After the first two days of the challenge passed and the glow of embarking on a new culinary experience dulled, I started to realize that the deeper you make a commitment to eating locally, the more it can affect your life. Now, the first two days were filled with new experiences and philosophizing on the moral and political reasoning behind the locavore movement. But the real-world practicality of it all didn't hit me until I woke up yesterday, looked in the fridge, and realized a good portion of the food in there needed to be cooked before it went bad. Suddenly, I wasn't just theorizing how I would eat only locally grown and sourced food, I had to actually find a way to, you know, cook and eat the stuff.
Lacking any foods filled with preservatives or hormones to make it last longer on the shelf and, by extension, in my fridge, it suddenly dawned on me that I had less time than I was used to before it started to go bad. Also, I was getting tired of using only parts of the produce I bought to make individual meals and began to realize that cooking individual meals every time I wanted to eat was quickly becoming unsustainable. After all, there is only so much time you can devote to cooking your meals before that process starts to consume your day.
It was time I started cooking food in bulk.
Of course, deciding to cook a lot of food and actually having all the ingredients to do so are two totally different things and this is about the point where I started to wish that there had been some sort of class or formal introduction guiding me in how to actually buy food to cook meals with. For example: as part of their $25 produce box, Hollygrove Market sometimes offers up red potatoes. I know a million ways that potatoes can be served but I was struggling to figure out one that I could pull off with the local products I had bought. The lesson here is clearly that when shopping for local foods, you have to think equally about what you'd like to eat and how you have to prepare it.
This seems like such an obvious notion in retrospect, but I realized that my cooking expertise up that point relied heavily on secondary mass-produced products. When I want chips at home, I don't slice potatoes and then fry them, I grab them out of a bag. Likewise with french fries. This mentality extends to other foods; I don't remember the last meat sauce I made without a can of tomato paste or chicken that I didn't marinate in a store-bought sauce.
Luckily, potatoes aren't hard and I settled on the tried and true method of just mashing them. Instead of butter I used creole cream cheese and milk to make them creamy and I threw in some thyme and salt to give it a bit of seasoning. Paired with my last Boudin link and leftover sauteed veggies from the day before, it actually ended up being my most well-balanced lunch to date. This, added with the fact that the creole cream cheese over strawberries and blueberries for breakfast made for a surprising good breakfast, made for a promising day.
So much so that, at one point, I decided to make sangria. I have to admit: I'm biased against Louisiana wines. Aside from Ponchartrain Vineyards, I'm not aware of any in-state wines worth drinking and the north shore is, from what I can tell, better known for ports and sweet wines. The bottle I got of "The Red" (part cabernet and part syrah) was bought because it was in the $10 price range I associate with decent South American and Spanish table wines. I bought it with full intention of mixing it with fruits and a little bit of sugar and Cathead Vodka from Mississippi if it didn't suit my palate and that's exactly what I ended up doing. I have no regrets.
Going into dinner, I was beaming with confidence (probably half fueled by the sangria) and found myself knowing exactly what I was going to cook before opening my fridge. I had bought some brown rice at Hollygrove and wanted to pair that with the ground goat meat I had bought at Rouses to make a goat dirty rice. Seemed simple enough: just cook the rice and add it to the meat I had cooked in a pot with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and green peppers. I also sliced up a carrot and half a sweet potato and threw the slices in the oven to add a little diversity to my plate.
Now, in theory, this all sounds great. But I once again found myself lacking all those secondary ingredients we take for granted when cooking. The only local herbs I had on hand were thyme and sweet basil, neither of which seemed like a good fit with dirty rice. So I took a chance and added what was left of my New Orleans' Rum Gingeroo to the pot of goat meat and veggies and hoped that would be enough for seasoning. It wasn't. Not that it tasted bad it, well, it just didn't seem to make much of a difference.
Don't get me wrong, the goat dirty rice was great and I ended up having two portions before putting the rest away. But while hearty and filling, my dinner didn't have much of a zing and, for a guy that's used to the zest and pop of Latin, Caribbean and New Orleans cuisine, this wouldn't fly. But I guess this is all part of the learning experience and, luckily, I have a trip to the Crescent City Farmer's market today that I'll be going in with a mindset of making complete meals, as opposed to just finding food I want to eat.