11 October 2007

Small Potatoes

At the beginning of my September diet, I bought a bag of local potatoes. I still have five left.

That tells you two things: potatoes have a long shelf life, and we don't eat many potatoes in this house.

I did bake (microwave) potatoes a couple times for lunch and ate them in lieu of pasta or rice a few times at dinner. I planned to make potato chips at least once-- my family likes my homemade chips, but they are an exercise in frustration for me. I can't slice them consistently enough and I'm left with a guessing game in terms of at what temperature and how long to cook them.

I'm pleased to report my success with a new recipe last night. Oven fries from the Joy of Cooking. Cut potatoes into wedges or slices a half-inch thick, coat with oil, bake at 450 degrees (F) for 30 min or so, turning occasionally. Rest on paper towels to soak up excess oil, sprinkle with salt and paprika, and serve.

I'm looking forward to making them again.

Local Food Stores

Recently, a petition went around to try to convince Trader Joe's from coming to Albany.

I've never shopped at Trader Joe's -- a California-based chain store that sells grocery and gourmet foods -- but I have listened to many friends talk about how great it is. They've shopped at Trader Joe's in Boston or New York or West Hartford (!) CT. I guess I can be stubborn in my ignorance, but I could care less about whether the store comes to town or not. Besides being a popularity contest for the coolest cities with the most discerning (affluent?) customers, to me the petition represents a desire for the convenience of the known rather than the discovery what's already here.

Happily, I read about a local place yesterday, Eats Gourmet Marketplace at Stuyvesant Plaza, that opened last year. A picture showed a chef using local produce to make Italian bean salad. Another day's newspaper had an article about a local Italian food market that I have occasioned. The accompanying photo showed the 92-year-old patriarch, Augusto Cardona, making meatballs. The text describes the seven different pasta sauces that Cardona's Market makes in house.

I'd like to point these stores out to those who signed the Trader Joe's petition. Right here in Smalbany, there are local foodstuffs being cranked out everyday in stores that uniquely reflect their owners' visions. I'm sure there's something that's a favorite at Trader Joe's for which there's no substitute at these stores, but why not look to a local source before inviting a mass-marketed (even if a specialized market) approach to food?

05 October 2007

To Health

How healthy is the 100-mile diet?

I'll start with a disclaimer -- personal health is not my primary motivation. It's more about environmental health, living smaller and more sustainably, contributing less waste. Still, I do think I ate a healthier diet this past month, and I'm happy to chalk it up as a desirable side benefit.

I certainly ate far fewer processed foods. That means less refined sugar, no transfats, fewer additives and preservatives, and very little of the starchy carbohydrates that usually fill my diet.

The main thing, I think, was how I altered the proportions of the major food groups in my diet. I ate meat, but less of it. Local meat is a chore to get (a farther drive for me, if not the meat) and is much more expensive. I see that expense as reflecting the work that went into preparing it in a small, sustainable way (that is, not on a factory farm). I ate bread and pasta, but only after expending calories making those things from scratch. I still relied on dairy products like cheese and yogurt -- a good protein source and nicely filling.

I upped my volume of fruits and vegetables. All fresh, given the season. And those turned out to be the easy snack items. I could eat an apple when I was hungry, or munch on some carrots before dinner, or quickly slice some cucumber to fill an empty spot on my plate. I also used vegetables to cook main dishes like ratatouille, marinara sauce, baba ganoush (an excellent sandwich filling), in addition to the usual sides of green beans, broccoli, squash, and corn.

And so while I've lifted the restrictions, I've tried to maintain this new formula. At a recent family dinner, I ate only half a hamburger and had a second serving of acorn squash with butter.

I can do that and feel good about it both for my ideals and my health.

03 October 2007

The Grocery Store

I went to the grocery store over the weekend, for the first time in a month.

In September, for my 100-mile diet, I shopped only at farmer's markets and at a local farm store, all providing lots of local products and produce from the surrounding area.

Now I was confronted by the bright lights and wide aisles of the supermarket.

Here's my list:

Orange juice. Not labeled regarding the source of the oranges. I'll guess Florida.
Milk. Not labeled regarding the dairy site(s). I'll guess New York.
Ground beef. Label said it was ground in the store, but I don't know where the animals lived.
Apples. Labeled New York.
Lettuce. Fresh Romaine. Source unknown.
Carrots. Bagged baby ones. Labeled by a wholesaler in Massachusetts. I hope that means they were grown there.
Eggs. Carton said New Hampshire.
Cheddar cheese. Labeled New York.
Crescent rolls. Labeled by a wholesaler in New Hampshire. Not sure that helps me with ingredients.
Pretzels. Company in Pennsylvania.

Overall, not too bad. If not necessarily locally sourced ingredients, for the most part the producer or packager was in the Mid-Atlantic or New England regions. I'd be satisfied with that.

But it's still the unknowns. Where those steer lived and where that wheat was grown. I wonder if the local food movement will reach the point where labeling gets more informative and where consumers may choose food growers in their state.

I'm paying attention. Anyone else?

01 October 2007

October is here...

... but I've been slacking off for about a week now.

I went into the 100-mile diet with the intent to go for a month. As previous posts recount, fatigue set in after a couple weeks.

I went out to dinner the Friday before last and had decided to enjoy a break and eat whatever was served. (Mmm... Beer.) Then the next day, I was packing sandwiches for a family outing and made an apple and honey sandwich for myself — on store-bought wheat bread! I just spaced out, I guess, and I didn’t realize my error until I’d taken a bite. It seems weird that at the same moment that I'm making my sandwich, pleased with my creative New York solution to the picnic, I was tripped up by habit.

I had a big work project looming, due the following Monday, so I used stress and fatigue as an excuse to give the diet a rest.

Now what? I'd like to stay local to stock certain categories of food in the house. I'll still plan and cook the occasional all New York meal. I also might try a new challenge, like committing to never drive anywhere less than a certain distance.

I also want to do some homework. About grains, oil, cider vinegar, and raisins, for example, to find out if there's a New York source. And if not, why not.