Thursday, February 23, 2012

A vegetarian Lenten challenge

Lent began yesterday with Ash Wednesday. Even though I'm no longer a practicing Catholic, nine years of Catholic school have instilled in me a need to give up something for the forty days before Easter. This year, as I do most years, I've given up meat. (I've also given up eating out, unless someone else is paying. Besides being sacrifices, both are actually ways for me to try and save money.) It just so happens that this first week of Lent coincides with a challenge-within-a-challenge from the Dark Days Challenge, which is to make a SOLE (seasonal, organic, local, ethical) vegetarian meal.

To be honest, cooking vegetarian is sort of a normal occurrence around here. Because it's important for me to eat locally- and ethically-raised meat, which happens to be expensive, I don't often cook a lot of meat. Lately, though, I've been exploring my SOLE meat options and have been buying more meat (and thus increasing my food bill!). Coming back to meatless cooking allows me to fall back on old favorites, as well as to discover new vegetarian options.

Finding new vegetarian recipes can be somewhat of a challenge for me and my tastes. I don't typically like to cook with soy-based meat alternatives — too processed and don't always taste very good. I also think that most vegetarian dishes one finds in magazines or cookbooks are too focused on beans, soy, or other proteins, as if the main point of the meal is to replace the meat that is "missing." For me, eating without meat is an opportunity to put more vegetables in my diet. I'd rather eat a plate of greens over a brick of tempeh any day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Trail food

The Anthropologist and I went on a 12-mile hike today with the Sierra Club. We were the youngest of the group by at least twenty years -- and we got our asses kicked by nearly all of them. We were left in the dust while the rest of the 22-person group sped off up the steep hills of the county park. I huffed and puffed, my legs and feet protesting as we came down the inclines toward the end of the hike. By the end, I was so sore I could barely walk up and down the stairs in my apartment.

Despite all of that, it was a good time. We stopped for lunch at some picnic tables overlooking the hills, watching a red-tailed hawk swooping over the trees. I had packed more than enough food, just in case we needed to immediately replenish all the calories we were going to burn: bacon sandwiches with arugula and slow-roasted tomatoes (from the freezer), tortilla chips, Pink Lady apples, oatmeal raisin cookies, toasted nuts and dried cherries, and Mojo snack bars. The sandwiches are this week's entry into the Dark Days Challenge, as all the components happened to come from local sources. The bread is a California black from Beckmann's Bakery (30 mi), the bacon is from Range Bros. (120 mi), the arugula is from Heirloom Organics (40 mi), and the tomatoes were from a U-pick at Full Circle Farm (20 mi), which I had slow-roasted back in September and had stashed in the freezer for mid-winter occasions such as these.

It was the sort of lunch that was nice to eat outdoors, even though it was suddenly gray and chilly (and the Anthropologist hadn't brought a sweatshirt or rain jacket). It felt appropriate to be in nature, enjoying the scenery, and eating foods that had come from relatively close by.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Welcome spring!

Around here, Groundhog Day is actually known as Imbolg, the midway point between winter and spring. Instead of waiting for a large rodent to tell me whether or not there will be more winter, I celebrate the return of evening light and the inevitable approach of spring. This year, my almost-spring meal coincides with this week's entry into the Dark Days Challenge.

As I mentioned at Yule, for the sabbats, I like to cook from Cooking by Moonlight. For this celebratory meal, I chose sun-kissed carrots baked in foil, made with carrots from Tomatero Farms (40 mi) and oranges from Rojas Family Farms (190 mi). I served the carrots with a variation of Food52's chicken breast with cream of herb sauce, using chicken legs from Petaluma Poultry (by way of Whole Foods; 90 mi), cream from Clover (90 mi), and herbs from my garden. To sop up the delicious sauce, there was ciabatta from La Boulange (50 mi).

I put the carrots, sliced red onions from Borba Farms (40 mi), honey from Small Bees (10 mi), and orange juice in a foil packet and put it alongside the pan of chicken legs, leaving them to roast while I made the cream sauce. This sauce was basically a mix of shallots from Borba sauteed in olive oil  from Frog Hollow Farm (70 mi), white wine (Two Buck Chuck — unfortunately not local), and the cream, cooked down until thick. After the chicken legs came out of the oven, I poured the rendered fat into the sauce, which made a good thing even better. The whole meal was extremely delicious and wholly satisfying. It was a great way to mark that the Dark Days are drawing to a close.