Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Fatigue

Ok, so I have to admit to being just a little tired of finding things to do with squash and greens. Not tired of eating them, just getting weary of finding new ways to cook them. But, just in time, Green Bean Dreams came through with an enticing-sounding recipe for a Roasted Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Tart. So, that will give me something new to try this week.

Of course, it isn't necessary to always try new ways to cook some of the vegetables that are readily available this time of year. Nothing wrong with returning to the standards. Last night, I sauteed an assortment of greens with garlic, onion and some red pepper flakes. And that was a nice simple accompaniment to our main course. Our niece from Oakland was in town visiting. She and her sister who lives here in town joined us for dinner and I made an old favorite, Chianti-braised Stuffed Chicken Thighs.

The chicken pieces are stuffed with a combination of a locally made sweet Italian chicken sausage, egg, bread crumbs and herbs. Then, they are braised in chianti, chicken broth and crushed tomatoes. All local except for the herbs since I am such a non-gardener that I can't seem to even grow some basic herbs. Oh, and the chianti was Italian. I used The Art of Simple Food recipe to make the fettucine for this recipe with a mixture of unbleached and whole wheat flours and I have to say I don't really know where those came from - other than from the bins at the New Seasons store.

Today, I was able to go again to the Hillsdale Farmer's Market and now I have these goodies to look forward to working with in the next week or so:
I don't have a plan for the young carrots, but am open to suggestions. I know that my Beef Bourguignon calls for them, but we've just had that recently. But, perhaps some similar kind of braised something or other or a stew.

I forgot to mention that, for our dinner with the nieces, I made Royal Romance cocktails, a recent "Drink of the Week" from another of my regular reads - Married with Dinner. They were quite wonderful tasting and beautiful to look at as well. Grady, who is not a cocktail drinker particularly, bulked his up with extra passion fruit juice so even he enjoyed this one.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Long Time No Blog

....and an even longer time ago, I was tagged by Katrina at Kale for Sale
(a lovely blog with notes about living a locavore life, stunning photos, and haiku as a bonus)
As "it", I should share six unimportant things about myself, link to the tagger and then tag some additional bloggers. Since I didn't follow up in a timely manner, I'm not going to tag someone else because the tagging deal has likely run its course. But, I will at least post six unimportant things about me and let Katrina know.

1. I have never seen my husband's face without a beard.(married in 1974)
2. I was once the official bunny hop coordinator for the middle school where I was a math teacher - went around to every class in the school and taught them the bunny hop in preparation for a school event.
3. I do not like ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise.(No, not even gourmet versions)
4. I am the only one of seven siblings who was not born on a U.S. holiday or a Catholic holy day.
5. My daughter was due on Mother's day, but born on Father's day.
6. I cry easily - in movies, talking about my family, any event that involves a processional.

I would add that lately, I have been surprised to find those easy tears forming when I am thinking about the upcoming presidential election and when I think about how important it is to me that either Democratic candidate takes over the White House. But, I do not consider that to be unimportant.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Local Dining In, Local Dining Out

Wow! The more I read in the blogs of my unofficial mentors in the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, the more I see I have to learn. These are some very smart people who have chosen to take the time to understand so much about food production and how it gets to our tables. There is no shortage of things for this old dog to learn these days.

Meanwhile, I plug along with my modest commitment to at least one local meal per week and more as I am able. This past week one evening we had roasted chicken and vegetables. The chicken came from KoKoolan Farms in Yamhill.
Among the vegetables, all but one were locally produced - yukon gold potatoes, shitake mushrooms, onions and arrugula. I added an orange pepper that we had on hand, leftover from something I'd made previously.
Last night I made a pasta sauce with a wild caught salmon fillet, more of the shitakes and onions, half and half from Wilcox farms up in Washington, and some vodka that originated in Kentucky, of all places. I used some whole wheat linguine from Nonna's Noodles. "Nonna" makes her pasta in Tigard, although it seems that the King Arthur's wheat she uses comes here from Vermont. So, I'd have to say that this is more of an effort to support a local producer than of a local farmer.

This week, we will have also had two meals out - one for Valentine's Day and then again this evening prior to seeing "Twelfth Night" with our friends. Vindalho and D.F. are among the many restaurants in Portland that maintain commitments to using locally grown and organic ingredients as much as possible.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lesson Learned - Local is Better Even When It's Not Food

I compromised today on my resolve to drive less and avoid single purpose trips and then learned it was a mistake. My old portable radio that I use when I'm working out died a couple of weeks ago. I kept hoping to get it to work again because it was only about 12 years old (!) but had finally decided I needed a new one. I assumed that one of the big box electronics stores would have a better selection and I had very specific criteria - as small as possible, basically. Having waited for two weeks for some other excuse to drive out to Best Buy and that general area by the airport, I finally decided to just go out there today (10 miles one way). But, their selection was miserable and they did not have a single one I was willing to buy. Tried an athletic store that was in the same scary assortment of big boxes, but with the same result. On the way home, I thought maybe I'd just stop at Fred Meyers to see what they had. And, sure enough, they had two that were both better than any of the others - and cheaper! So, I could have gone to the much closer, locally-owned store and found my radio. Sigh.

Ah, I see that I have been tagged. I'll give this some thought and respond.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

courtesy of Yellowstone National Park and the resident pronghorn antelopes.

Our own celebration, if you will, of the day took place at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, Vindalho. Indian, or "spice route" cuisine and so very delicious. Plus, an emphasis on local foods: "Though many of the signature flavors of Spice Route Cuisine are not native to the Pacific Northwest, the menu at Vindalho is firmly based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients..." We always have good meals there, but tonight was particularly wonderful. We were there a little over two hours and enjoyed a very relaxing evening of conversation and very good food.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge Update

This photo of the Hillsdale Farmer's Market pretty much says it - Dark Days in the Pacific Northwest! I went there for the first time today. The good news about them is that they are open year round. The not-so-good news is that they just open up every other week. And, for some time now, I have kept missing the "on" week. I also learned today the hard way that you need to get there early before the vendors run out of most things.

At any rate, our eating local efforts this week went pretty much as I had predicted. Most of the weeknight meals were leftovers of the Moroccan squash soup and the chicken chili I'd made last weekend. Otherwise, we ate out one night and had swordfish (definitely not local) another. Last night I tried a chicken and soba noodle dish. Those two main items were not local (still the California chicken), but I did "beef it up", so to speak, by adding quite a few vegetables that were almost all local - Asian greens, Walla Walla sweet onion, shitakes. That kind of partial effort is more often what I am able to do these days.

Tonight's dinner will be quite a bit closer to the goal, however. I am going to try out a recipe from Anita at Married with Dinner. When I was growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (yes, I am actually am one of those), we used to eat Cornish pasties, a holdover tradition from the Welch miners. And, I've pretty much not seen them anywhere else since. So, I was quite intrigued when I saw that Anita was making them. All the inside stuff will be locally grown - beef, potatoes, rutabaga, onion, and I'm going to try some shitakes in one of them to see how that tastes. The pastry, though, uses ingredients that I either don't know about or are from elsewhere. Anita recommended either rendering the fat myself or getting manteca fresca. Rendering pork fat seems like a challenge I'm not quite ready for, so I headed to a Mexican market for the lard.

After the visit to the Hillsdale farmer's market today, though, I will have a few more choices for local meals this week. Here's a picture of the chicken, soba, and vegetables. I thought it was quite pretty even if only half within our 200 mile radius.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Breakfast Club

This is my Breakfast Club - a group of really terrific women who, in a weak moment, lowered their standards to invite me to join them. We are all teachers and school principals - some retired and some still carrying on the good fight. We gather for breakfast on a fairly regular basis, trying out various restaurants around town. We even manage to talk about things other than schools and the school district fairly often. This morning, as a surprise, they turned this one into a celebration of my retirement. Flowers, gifts, cards, good food, and lots of great conversation.

Barbara used her creativity and computer skills to develop a "Portland Public Schools Report Card" for me. I don't have a good enough camera to get a photo where you could read the text. But, suffice to say, I was only satisfactory in "practices good grooming" and in "shares crayons". But, got excellent marks in areas like "touched so many along the way", "made a difference", and in "reason to be proud". Those earlier categories were from an actual report card of some vintage.

Thanks, gals. It's the best club in town in which to claim membership!

Like the goundhog, the bike makes a February appearance

Hooray! We had a break in the winter weather today and I got my bike out from it's winter hibernation on the ceiling of the garage. I am pretty much a fair weather rider, so when the rains started in November, I took a break from riding. Tons of people here in Portland continue to ride all through the rain and cold, so it's not like it is impossible. But, I'm not yet that committed. So, I was really happy to get the bike out, clean it up, pump up the tires and ride to the Post Office and the grocery store. Plus, I did some just riding around because the store and the P.O. are not really very far.
The weatherman has dismissed any delusions that this nice weather is going to continue. But, for a day (maybe more?) lots of us were out today.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recap

We had a couple of meals this past week made with mostly local foods. It IS getting more and more difficult, though. Even the little Farmer's market that runs year round had only one stand with produce last week. So, more squash and greens. I still haven't really researched more options for chicken that originates within 200 miles of Portland. My standard source for most of our food, other than the farm markets is our neighborhood New Seasons store. Their chicken comes from a family-owned farm in northern California where they grow and process free-range chickens that are vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free. So, until I check out other sources that friends have suggested, we will continue to use theirs. The trade- off is that the New Seasons store is very close to my house and other options will involve driving, or driving farther.

With that in mind, one of our dinners this week was chicken and black bean chili with corn. Aside from the chicken and a bell pepper, I was able to find canned, frozen or fresh vegetables for the remainder of the chili that came from Oregon and Washington. On another evening, I used some of our squash from the farm market - buttercup and delicata - in a "Moroccan-Inspired Roasted Squash Soup". In addition to the squash, it has onions, garlic and a Pink Lady apple (from Washington) plus vegetable broth that I had made. Cumin, coriander, ginger, allspice and paprika make this a very interesting and tasty soup. We garnished it with fresh lemon juice and cilantro (from much farther away) and
Walla Walla sweet onions.

Last night, in a slight nod to the traditional Super Bowl party food, I baked buffalo chicken wings for dinner. These again were from California with the sauce put on at New Seasons. But, we were able to accompany it with a nice selection of roasted vegetables - squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and more of that sweet onion.

Now, I have a few days before having to think about it again since we have both soup and chili left for a few more meals. I think we should have some more fish soon, though, so I'll check to see what is available from close by.

Here is the chili and the squash and potatoes (before roasting). I don't have this whole photo in the blog thing figured out so I don't know why they won't line up. But, one of these days.....

Lastly, my congratulations to my New York end of the family where there was great joy last night with the Giants' upset in the Super Bowl. I've forgiven you for cheering for a team that eliminated the Packers' hopes and am happy that your folks beat the supposedly unbeateable team.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Could almost make me a convert

...from gin to vodka, that is, for martini-making.
OK, it seemed time for a change from all this talk of good-for-you locally grown foods. I'll write about our Dark Days Challenge meals tomorrow. But, tonight, the featured item is a martini made with Hangar One Vodka - very cold, very dry, with a twist of lemon. Mmmm! I've always been a gin martini girl myself. But, this is pretty darn good. When we were in Alameda, Ca. for Christmas, we visited the Hangar One Distillery, did some tasting and this was my personal favorite for a souvenir to bring home. (Grady chose the ice wine.) It makes a very fine martini. A nice break from the roasting and pureeing of squash to make a soup for dinner.

My friend, Judi, sent a link for something called Vote Chooser. If you are in one of the Super Tuesday states and still having difficulty deciding which way to go, this could help you get started. Not really, but it is kind of fun to check out. Meanwhile, I'm just wondering if this will be the first time that the decisions will not all be made by the time we have our Oregon primary in May. We can always hope.