Monday, December 19, 2011

Tapping my German roots

For the third installment of the Dark Days Challenge, I figured it was time to get serious and take the time to plan and make a full SOLE (seasonal, organic, local, ethical) meal. Inspired while looking at some other blogs, I decided to try my hand at German food. My father's maternal grandparents were from Germany, and I liked the idea of getting in touch with my German roots. The meal ended up being of German-Jewish origin (and we're Catholic), but I imagine my forebears ate foods that were similar — I mean, doesn't everyone in Germany eat cabbage and potatoes?

Dinner was spinach latkes with applesauce and cabbage stuffed with mushrooms. I bought nearly all the ingredients at the farmers' market: Bloomsdale spinach and savoy cabbage from Tomatero Farms (40 mi), Yukon Gold potatoes and parsley from Happy Boy Farms (45 mi), shallots and tomatoes from Borba Farms (40 mi), and mushrooms from J&M Ibarra Farms (167 mi — I didn't realize they were outside my foodshed and will avoid using them for a Dark Days Challenge in the future!). The apples for the applesauce came from my aunt's backyard (30 mi), Meyer lemon juice was from a friend's yard (11 mi), and thyme came from my container garden.

Doing this challenge has made me think about the sources of my food even more so than before. Eating locally has always seemed like a breeze, because I do go to the farmers' market every weekend and buy many of my groceries there. Still, there are so many ingredients I use that I knowingly can't get locally but that I don't think twice about buying: spices, oils, and grains, for example. Xan of Not Dabbling in Normal wrote a post about eating locally, in which she points out that the Dark Days Challenge is meant to be an intellectual challenge, not a practical one. That is, it is supposed to make us stop and think when it comes to things like salt, cinnamon, and bananas. It does seem a little silly (though you can try if you like) to give up all non-local foods forever, because we happen to live in a world where goods from other parts of the state, country, and world are available at our very fingertips without a moment's notice — so if you want a fair-trade, organic bar of chocolate, why not? If I love ginger and put it in everything during the wintertime, from soups to stir-fries to cookies, why give it up just because it's imported (even though that's the only way I'll get it)? For the challenges, I know why we have to do that: to get us to understand how to get by with what we have within our foodshed. It brings both an appreciation for the local food we have, as well as foods that we must get from further away.

I thought about Xan's post a lot as I was cooking my SOLE meal. I started making the stuffed cabbage, using a recipe from Not Eating Out in New York. I blanched the cabbage leaves, cooked down the tomatoes for sauce and added Meyer lemon juice for flavor, and put the mushrooms in the food processor with shallots and — oops — breadcrumbs made with Beckmann's bread (which, as I've mentioned previously, may or may not be made with local ingredients, and I have yet to do my research). I did eliminate the cheese, since I didn't have any local cheese to use, and added some local herbs, since the post noted that the dish was a little bland.

Once the stuffed cabbage was in the oven, I started on the latkes, which I made using this recipe. I shredded the potatoes in a food processor, mixed them with Clover brand eggs (90 mi), more Beckmann's bread crumbs, and the spinach, and then fried them in — oops — vegetable oil bought at Trader Joe's, which was definitely not local. While I had believed that I had thought this meal through to ensure it was entirely local, I obviously had neglected to think beyond the fresh ingredients. My pantry items aren't always necessarily local (or organic, for that matter), and as I continue cooking throughout the winter, I'll replace my conventional goods with local and organic ones.

In the end, my almost-entirely-but-not-quite local dinner was a success. The tart applesauce, which I had made the week before, was a good foil for the fried latkes, and the mushroom-stuffed cabbages, a fairly healthy dish, made me feel a little virtuous when eating them. My ancestors would be proud.


Lynda said...

Looks really good. I love cabbage rolls.

Teresa said...

Thanks, Lynda!