Monday, January 23, 2012

I almost forgot about this. The Dark Days challenge is up and running again. How local can you make your cooking this winter and early spring? Did you do any preparations over the summer, freezing up yummies like herbs, red peppers, eggplants or celery? These are the easy, low lying fruits of the harvest that with a little chopping and zip lock baggies, can reduce your winter grocery bill. Other easy targets were rhubarb, strawberries and blueberries. No pre-cooking or canning or jamming needed, just wash, dry and ziplock. With those baggies in the freezer, you can make pies, muffins, sauces, soup flavours or add jazz with the red peppers.

Our usual diet is so close to 90% local that I forget that other people are still trying to figure out how to begin. In Nova Scotia, the easiest place to begin is the dairy aisle. Thanks to Scotsburn and Farmers Dairies, we can get relatively local milk, cream, butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, whip cream, buttermilk and eggnog. What can you make from these items and then boast that you are indeed getting more local every time you shop? A little easy boost for your ego and the next local step looks that much easier.

Here's an easy challenge. Get off the juice. Switch to local apple cider or blueberry juice. There are tons of cider produced locally and the blueberry juice from Oxford is very nice. There, that's a savings of what? $5.00 a week?

Or for those of you who like their liquids fortified, see what you can discover from local wineries.
We went as a family to Wolfville for their fall "visit the farms" event and dropped in to Muir Wineries. After tasting the offerings, we all went a little nuts and bought our entire Christmas wine supply. They have a port which we bought as well for Boxing Day and left overs. I enjoyed looking at those bottles all fall, and enjoyed opening them even more.

What have we been up to in the kitchen? It is somewhat neurotic as it happens. This year, after all the food preparation, I made a crazy chart. For each month I have three categories: Ingredients; Sides; and Deserts.
Then I pulled the freezer apart and divided all the baggies into 7 piles - January to June. Now I know how many cauliflowers I have for each month, how many broccoli and so forth.

I know what jams and preserves are meant for which months and which dried foods for when.

It seems like a lot of poking at things but now when I sit down to figure out what to eat on any given night, I look at the chart and see that there are still two chilli, one spaghetti sauce, two cauliflower, two corns and one brandied pear left for the month of January. All I have to do is add in pasta or rice or potatoes and meat or fish. I hate thinking about what to cook, so a little neurosis early in the fall saves me hours of thinking in the winter.

I am a little disappointed in our dehydrating efforts. The dried blueberries are tossed into salads over the winter. We buy mixed greens from a green house, replacing lettuce and cucumbers. These are tiny greens. They are nice on a sandwich but a bit lost as a salad. By adding the berries with some feta it bulks up very nicely. But the dehydrated apples and pears languish. We aren't really trail mix, granola bar eaters so I don't have a good plan on how to use these. The pears are very nice eaten as they are, but the apples not so much. I chopped some dried apricots and tossed them in with the brown rice (yup, it's local. From Speerville Mills in the organic section) the other night and that turned into a very nice dish.

To begin documenting our own Dark Days Challenge, we began with what I call Stuffing Soup. We baggied up the left over Christmas stuffing and froze it. There isn't any bread in the stuffing but rather pears, apples, pine nuts, sausage meat, onions, wild Canadian rice, brown rice and celery. I added this to the turkey stock made from the Christmas turkey. There's a two inch section of Keilbasa-like Sausage, chopped and added for protein (German butcher at the market)

As a side dish we have Steve's sour dough bread and an onion conserve. Oh my god it is good. Onions, maple syrup and pear vinegar.

And there it is, the official start to the Dark Days Challenge. Let me know how you fare.

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