I brake for Magwood shrimp. In Mount Pleasant at midday last week, and no brown bag awaiting at the office, I was on the hunt for a quick “local” lunch. A salad was in mind, but with no time to research websites or menus, the hand-lettered sign for the local seafood in front of Art’s Bar & Grill reeled me in.
By Week Three of Eat Local Month, this is what I know: Making that commitment means taking charge of your meals, whether eating in or out. You can’t reach for the Lean Cuisine, order Asian takeout or pop a can of soup. Plus, hardly anyone can afford to eat out every day. Not to mention the difficulty of finding true Lowcountry food on the menu.
If that sounds like punishment, it’s not. I usually wince at terms such as “empowering,” but in this case, the word fits. Eating local is a conscious act that raises awareness of not only what you’re eating, but your responsibility in making it come to the table, particularly at home. And that feels good.
One of my lifelines for eating local was Melissa Suggs (nee Haneline), a former Post and Courier photographer who is now married, living in Western North Carolina and the mother of twin girls. Melissa recently finished 100 days of eating local, and she was really serious about meeting her goal. I asked her for suggestions to make it easier and prevent burnout.
Here’s what she said: “I bought bread from a local bakery. We didn’t eat a lot of sandwiches. I made a LOT of cornbread. We have locally raised and milled cornmeal.
“The way I do it is this: On Sunday night, I plan the menu for the week, based on what I bought from the farmers market/got in the CSA box, etc. Then, on Monday, I prep as much as possible. I thaw the meat and marinate it for the next couple of days; I roast vegetables; chop and wash whatever else. So at least that part’s done. Then, I use the Crock-Pot when I’m having a long/busy day (uh, I have two babies, that’s like every day — ha!) or just eat at 8:30 p.m. It’s not ideal, I guess, but it works for us.
“Then, I portion out leftovers for easy lunches or frozen meals when there’s not time to make something from scratch.”
My household is a first-time farm-share (CSA) member, so we are having fun with the element of surprise each week. The CSA also is making us more attentive to waste. Use or lose those veggies, but they are tasting so good, we don’t want them to go bad. (Well, there’s absolutely no reason to let that happen. Give them away to appreciative friends or co-workers.)
Whether your veggies are coming from a farmers market, a CSA or another source, my advice is to let them be in the driver’s seat of your cooking. The meals will be more interesting and taste better when the vegetables are steering. And that doesn’t have to be complicated.
Our recent veggie allotments have included asparagus, beets, bok choy, carrots, lettuces, onions, radishes, kale, Swiss chard and turnips. Most have gone the way of simple salads, sautes, braises and roasting.
Without much more effort, we have also done a stir-fry, a homemade pizza (for ease, use store-bought flatbread) and a quiche. CSA neighbors said they made a big, catch-all pot of soup with their vegetables (puree the soup for extra body and creaminess).
But we also have turned to other sources of inspiration when we wanted to try something new and different. We found appealing recipes on the website of our CSA, Ambrose Farms.
Two new farm-to-table cookbooks, “The Gardener & the Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig and “The Farm” by Ian Knauer (see accompanying recipes) hit the mark as well. Two slightly older cookbooks by locavores also were, and continue to be, great resources: “Southern Farmers Market Cookbook” by Holly Herrick (Gibbs-Smith, 2009) and “Simple Fresh Southern” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
Herrick has this to say, “It all boils down to buying what’s in season and local. For me, that means getting familiar with the seasonality for this area and developing a good, informational relationship with local farmers/producers. ... So, for example, if you know pumpkins are not in season in S.C. in April or May and you see them at the grocer or (less likely) farmers market, you automatically know they are not local.”
The night before I wrote this, I happened to read a New York Times article by Michael Pollan headlined “Out of the kitchen, onto the couch.” A fellow reporter left it on my desk back in 2009, but I never got past the first page before stuffing it in a book or bag for later reading. The article somehow surfaced in my house again last week.
Pollan was writing about the new Julia Child movie at the time, and the amazing interest in food — fascination, really — that has occurred in this country since Child’s pioneering cooking show in the 1960s.
Who could have imagined that so many Americans, all ages and personality types, would be so tuned in to the Food Network these days?
Pollan wrote, “But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves?
“For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.”
The answer for many people, or so they say, is an unpleasant four-letter word: time.
Time is in short supply at my house, too. So eating local, cooking dinner almost every night, messed up life at my house — at first.
But as “time” went on, we found ourselves getting into it, making mental adjustments and finding ways to simplify. We’re also using our leftovers either for lunch or another meal. Now the clock isn’t ticking quite so fast, we’re eating deliciously and enjoying the process as time well-spent.
Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886 or ttaylor @postandcourier.com.