Saturday, December 10, 2011

The bumpy road to local

With all the gloating I do about being so lucky to be living in California, it was only a matter of time before I was forced to admit that it's not always easy to come up with entirely SOLE (seasonal, organic, local, and ethical) meals. While I do get nearly all my produce and eggs from the farmers market, there are many other foods that I don't go the full nine yards to make sure they're local. Organic, yes, Sustainable... as much as possible. Local? Well, I try. My second entry into the Dark Days Challenge is a cream of greens soup. It was inspired by Tyler Florence's corn chowder recipe, which I use all the time during the summer, and the cream of spinach soup from Simply Recipes. It also has no cream to speak of — because I had no local cream in my fridge.

I typically buy my milk, butter, and cream from Strauss, which is carried by Whole Foods. They are about 100 miles away, so they fall within my local foodshed. But sometimes Strauss cream and butter, while delicious, are too expensive. In which case, I buy Clover, which is also located about 100 miles away, and I don't always get the organic cream and butter. Sometimes I'll get the Trader Joe's brand of organic cream or butter, and who knows where that comes from? Either way, though, I feel like I'm cheating when I buy from the grocery store, instead of from the vendor directly, like I do at the farmers' market. I don't necessarily feel like I'm buying locally when I go through the middle man that is a non-local chain grocery store. The market I go to does have a raw milk vendor, but it is far too out of my price range to buy on a regular basis. In fact, I've never purchased raw milk simply because it's too expensive. I could get four times as much Strauss whole milk for the price of a quart of locally-produced (at 146 miles, it's just inside my foodshed) Organic Pastures raw milk.

And this is a problem. It should not cost so much to get good, honest milk and dairy products — or any food that is produced locally, organically, and sustainably. It's not right that only the well-off can eat ethical, organic meat and dairy. Someday, I will have a goat, and then my milk (as well as my eggs, fruits, and veggies) will only come as far as my back yard. In the meantime, though, I would like to be able to eat a "normal" American diet from SOLE ingredients that don't break the bank. I want to be able to show non-believers that it is possible to eat delicious whole foods and not have to give up your whole paycheck. I struggle with this, though, because sometimes it's not possible to avoid the cost. This doesn't mean I'll go back to conventional foods, because I'm enough of a snob about it now that it seems gross to purchase and eat cheaply-grown, cheaply-made foodstuffs. I do give up eating meat if it's too expensive. How do I convince others to do this, too?

I made my cream of greens soup with this amazing heirloom spinach grown by Tomatero Farms (30 mi), one of my favorite vendors. I discovered it the weekend before Thanksgiving, as I was passing their stall on my way out of the market. I tried a leaf and was so wowed by the flavor that I immediately bought a half-pound bag. It tastes how spinach should taste: green and fresh. I think if all spinach was this good, everyone would love spinach.

The carrots and potatoes were from Happy Boy Farms (45 mi), and I don't remember which vendor I bought the onions from, though I'm guessing they were from the Watsonville area (45 mi). The salt and pepper were my non-local exemptions, as always, and the bay leaf came from a laurel tree growing outside a house where I baby-sat during the summer (26 mi). I cheated by using some non-local, non-organic olive oil from Trader Joe's, though I know I could have just "sauteed" the veggies in a little water.  I served the soup with some locally-baked bread from Beckmann's Bakery (30 mi), although I think that is also cheating since I don't actually know where they source their ingredients, and some slow-roasted Happy Boy Farms San Marzano tomatoes that I had in the freezer.

I called this soup "cream of greens" instead of "cream of spinach" because it included the green tops of carrots. Did you know those are edible? You could also use any other leafy greens you have around.

Cream of greens soup

1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch of carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium-sized potatoes, such as Yukon Golds
bay leaf
1/2 bunch carrot greens
1/4 lb spinach
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute onion and carrots in a little olive oil until soft, about seven minutes. Add potatoes and bay leaf and saute briefly, about two minutes. Add six cups of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes, until the potatoes start to break down. Add the greens, and stir until wilted. Cook a couple minutes more. Remove bay leaf. Using an immersion blender* or in batches in a regular blender, blitz the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes three servings.

*I got one recently, and it has changed my life. Really.

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