The Locavore’s Dilema

That title’s been used before right? It’s not humanly possible that someone far more clever and far more tapped into the food world than I has written that before. Even so, I’m going to role with it and hope I can make sense out of it. Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, a locavore is someone who eats food exclusively from the area they live in. It’s a way of living that doesn’t tax the land as much while also utilizing it and people who work in the are you live. It’s a great idea, but it’s got some problems, at least for me.

I happen to be lucky enough to live in a very rural area that also has all the conveniences of a city. That means I can run to the grocery store or a Target in 10 to 15 minutes no problem, but I can also hit up the local farmer’s market or a farm stand. As it is, my current grocery shopping routine includes going through cookbooks and websites during the day on Monday to get a list together and then hit up the grocery store later that day. I also go to the Cornwall farmer’s market on Wednesdays which means I try to limit the amount of produce I buy at the store in favor of the market. So, that’s kind of a pain.

But, I do like supporting local farmers — my great grandfather on my dad’s side was a farmer, so I feel some connection there even though I never met him — the produce is super fresh and might even taste better (hard for me to say, I don’t have the best palette in the world) and, at least at the one stand I frequent, pretty darn cheap. But it’s not all positive. My biggest problem with the produce I get from the market is that it doesn’t last nearly as long. Of course, I know that’s because it’s fresher and doesn’t contain preservatives, but it can also make for a lot more waste than I personally like. That brings up the question of whether it’s better to buy produce you’ll use that might have come from a different state, but you’ll use it all OR wind up wasting some that you buy locally. These are the things I think about.

Additionally, the market ends in the fall. So, what’s a guy supposed to do? Can or freeze everything? I do some of that, but we don’t have much space and I would get bored of such things very quickly. I happen to live in New York, about an hour or so north of NYC, so it can get pretty intense here in the winter. What do you do then? I’m sure there’s some websites dedicated that very thing, but I’m just brainstorming here, let me know if you know of any good resources.

Vegetables and fruit aside, I’ve had trouble getting things in sync when it comes to meat. There’s a few local meat vendors at these things, but by the time Wednesday roles around, I usually have a fridge or freezer full of meet — I usually buy more than I need at the store so I can make that meal and freeze more for later which winds up being more economical.

One last problem I have with the whole locavore thing is that I’ve got a baby who loves bananas and grapes and all kinds of fruit. If I fully subscribed to the locavore idea, I’d probably have to find alternatives and, honestly, I don’t feel like doing that. Yes, it’s a laziness thing, I freely admit to that, but it’s also because she likes those things so darn much, I don’t have the heart to take them away from her. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s lots of wineries around here, so there should be grapes. I have no idea about bananas though.

So, at the end of the day, I really like the idea of being a locavore, but I just can’t fully commit to it right now and don’t know if I ever will. I think it’s important to utilize the technology we have to get as much food to as many people as possible, but it’s equally important to buy local when you can and when it makes sense. I think the problem for a lot of people is a lack of access or knowledge when it comes to this idea. Many people just assume heading to the grocery store is where it’s at, I was one of them too until I really started getting into cooking and food. Anyway, I’ll do my best.

Advertisements

Food Epiphany: Buy Local

The thing about epiphanies is that they can be flapping around you for quite a while before finally finding a place to land in your brain. When they do, though, they can be headslapping revelations. “Why didn’t I think of this before?!” Fireworks. Things are different now. Even if it’s a subject you’ve thought about it before, but just didn’t focus on it or really mulled over, there might be that one thing that really makes you take notice. I’ve been hearing about farmer’s markets, buying local and the slow food movement for a while now, but it wasn’t until I saw (my wife will laugh at this because I talk about him more than I probably should) Anthony Bourdain in Provence, France on an episode of No Reservations last night that the idea of buying local really landed in my brain. It was probably the 20th episode I’ve seen where he talked about using local ingredients that are in season, but I think it was the beauty of the area, the bright colors and calming aesthetic of the place that allowed some of the background chatter in my brain to calm down long enough for the idea to really take up real estate in my head.

For a long time, food was more social or utilitarian, something that filled my belly and gave family or friends the opportinity to catch up. There were good and even great meals in there, but overall, I didn’t really think much about the food I was eating. Even when I moved out on my own, the extent of my cooking revolved around tossing a piece of meat in a plastic bag with marinade and cooking it on the George Foreman. Since getting married, I’ve moved in and out of cooking on a regular basis, but in the last few years I’ve really jumped in. Grabbing a recipe and buying the ingredients from the store was never really anything I gave much thought to. Where else would I buy groceries than at the grocery store?

I’ve mentioned here and there that I try to make it out to the farmer’s market in nearby Cornwall, so I guess the whole local thing isn’t a completely new revelation. But, after watching that episode of No Reservations I realized how lucky I am to live in an area with so many farms. Depending on the season and my needs, I can get pretty much anything I’d want or need from eggs and milk to meat and veggies. Sure, I’ll probably have to go out of my way a little bit and maybe get a bigger cooler for transporting and even shift my schedule around to accommodate the dates of farmer’s markets (not to mention planning for winter way ahead of time), but I think it will be worth it.

To be clear, I’m not interested in buying local for moral reasons. I think the way beef and poultry is mass produced in this country probably isn’t the best or healthiest way to go, but it works for some people. I’m coming at this from more of a taste and health point of view. Food that hasn’t been frozen and just came off the vine/tree/whathaveyou is just plain fresher and tastes better. Then you get into things like animal feed and how that plays into how they taste when you cook them up, that’s a whole different level as well. In addition to all that, I like the idea of supporting local business people, especially farmers. My paternal great grandfather was a farmer, so I feel some kind of kinship there even though he passed away before I was born. Besides that, I also have a deep respect for anyone who works that hard with their hands.

I spent a good deal of last night looking around for farms and farmer’s markets in the area. I’ve got a few in mind that I’m going to check out. I’ll let you guys know how that goes. I’m also looking around for people making awesome cheeses and meats (dried, smoked, sausage). I feel like I’ve been listening to boy band music and digging that for years only occasionally hearing Led Zeppelin and liking it but not really jumping in. Now I’m knee deep in the catalog and branching out into all kinds of other things from Pink Floyd to Miles Davis. There’s a huge world of food out there that I’m excited about jumping into starting with the foods that around me. Now I just need to learn what’s in season and when!

A Whirlwind Weekend Of Food Firsts

I’ve been having a lot of food epiphanies lately and one of them is that I want to try new things. My mom always said I was always a great kid to cook for because I was never picky and enjoyed pretty much everything she put in front of me. As I grew up, I think I got a little more closed off, especially if a food looked or sounded unfamiliar. But now, I’m opening myself back up and want to eat as many new foods as I can, which is exactly what I did this weekend. My wife’s parents came in for a visit, which always means lots of eating out, but I made a conscious effort to look at the parts of familiar menus I’d only glanced over previously and wound up having a variety of great new foods that me from a few years ago would probably have balked at. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was so excited about actually eating that I forgot that I wanted to start writing about the process. Anyway, here goes.

Edamame, Avocado Salad & Zhang Zhang Guo
QQ Asian Bistro
367 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 569-7108

QQ is a fairly new Asian bistro near our place that serves a variety of Asian food from Chinese and Thai to sushi. I’ve gotten food from there a number of times, but Friday was the first time we ever dined in. We started the meal of with edamame and Thai Herbal Calamari which were both new experiences. I’ve had edamame a number of times before, but at QQ, they salt the pea pods, so they wind up having a little extra flavor when you pop them in your mouth. Some might have been overly salty, but for the most part I enjoyed the added flavor. Meanwhile, the Thai Herbal Calamri came very lightly fried and had a nice taste to it. I’m no squid expert, so I have no idea how fresh it was or tasted, but it was an enjoyable dish. I wanted to try the squid salad, but the sushi chef informed the waitress that that was a no go, so I wound up trying the Avocado Salad. A simple dish made up of slices of avocado on top of a bed of lettuce with a gingery dressing that was pretty good. I figured I needed some greens in my life, plus I always enjoy trying new dressings. Then came the main course, which for me was Zhang Zhang Guo. The menu describes the dish as “Soup style noodle pot with chicken, shrimp and scallop.” I was intrigued and dove right in. The pot also included octopus or squid, I’m not sure which, but the bowl, when uncovered, revealed tiny purplish tentacles sticking up like something out of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It was exactly what I was looking for. I dove in alternating between chopsticks and a spoon, quite enjoying the spicy, seafood filled soup. The broth was enjoyable and again, I’m not a seafood expert, but I liked what I had, though I’m not sure if the squid/octopus flavors really jumped out. A few days out, I couldn’t tell you what they tasted like, but I know I liked what I had.

Reheated zhang zhang guo, minus seafood.

I actually just heated the leftovers up for lunch and it tasted just as good the second time around, though it only consisted of broth and noodles. That same spiciness was still there and lasted for a while, but it was a good kind of spicy, the kind I’m getting used to after avoiding hot stuff most of my life.

Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich
The Cheese Plate
Water Street Market
10 Main St.
New Paltz, NY 12561

On Saturday, the inlaws wanted to head to New Paltz, a combination liberal arts college town and hippie strongold about 30-40 minutes from where we live. As you would expect from such a place, they have a unique version of a strip mall called Water Street Market that looks more like two sides of a small town’s main street up on a hill and separated by a sidewalk. There’s a few antique stores, a pet boutique and a wonderful place I’d never been to before called The Cheese Plate. As I tend to do, I hadn’t eaten breakfast before leaving, so when we got to the Market, I was getting hungry. While the others walked around, I ducked into the good smelling place, looked around for a bit and decided on ordering the Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich. I’d never had soppressata or sheep’s cheese before but wound up really enjoying this snack (okay, it was actually pretty filling, but I still had a dinner coming up to focus on, so I told myself and my traveling companions that it was a snack). The sheep’s cheese had a nice bite to it, kind of like Swiss cheese as far as my inexperienced tongue could tell, though I didn’t detect the gaminess that people talk about when discussing sheep or goat cheese. The soppressata–a cured salami made from ham–that lives somewhere around salami and pepperoni in my mind and on my tongue was so tasty I want ro add it to my life on a regulat basis. It wasn’t spicy, but had some tingliness to it that I appreciated. All that combined with the tartness of the olive tapenade made for a delightful sandwich that I relished eating while first walking around and then while sitting on one side of a table set up with a chess board. I could eat that every single day. If you’re in the New Paltz area, I highly recommend stopping by and trying one of their sandwiches or just buying some bulk cheese or even some cured meat. My wife dug the brownie I got for her, but that’s not really my scene, you dig?

The view at Billy Joe

Catfish Po’ Boy
Billy Joe’s Ribworks
26 Front Street
Newburgh NY, 12550
(845) 565-1560
I’ve talked about Billy Joe’s Ribworks before. After enjoying it so much the first time around, it’s become one of our favorite places. I even had my birthday lunch/dinner/eating-before-the-Superbowl there this past February. I usually stick to some combination of meats that always leaves me very satisfied. After chowing down on the awesome soppressata sandwich, though, I wasn’t as hungry as usual. I still wanted to try something new, so I scanned the sandwich section of the menu and wound up getting the Catfish Po’ Boy. As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a po’ boy or catfish, so I was still able to try something brand new. The menu describes it as “Catfish Fillet Dredged in Cornmeal and Spices, Fried Golden Brown and Served on a Soft Hoagie Roll with House-Made Cole Slaw, Pickles and Cajun Remoulade.” When it was served, I first tried a chunk of the fried catfish and really liked the cornmeal crust on top, plus the fish itself was nice and light. The sandwich itself was pretty good, but I wish the remoulade had more of a flavor to it. I’m a strong believer that a sauce can save a boring sandwich and elevate a good one to greatness. This one was just good, but it still opened my eyes to the joys of catfish. Plus, we got to sit outside on their awesome deck which sits over the Hudson River!