22 September 2008


A new grain has entered my life.

Last night I cooked and ate kasha for the first time. (My kids are always amazed when I can tell them I'm doing something for the first time in my life. After all, I've been around for 47 years!) My husband remembered it from his visits to Russia, where kasha is commonly eaten as a hot breakfast cereal.

A grain-like side dish, kasha was most welcome as we have spurned rice and barley for the duration of our 100-mile diet. I made it very plain, following the basic instructions on the box, and discovered it carried its own nutty, toasted flavor. It made a nice match with the carnival squash we ate.

From the literature that accompanied my mail order (Birkett Mills in the Finger Lakes region of New York) I learned that kasha is not technically a grain (not from the grass family). It's from buckwheat, a flowering plant complete with fruit and seeds. The dehulled seeds and can be eaten whole -- called buckwheat groats -- or ground to finer textures -- as in kasha.

This morning, I scooped out some leftover kasha, soaked it in milk, sprinkled it with cinnamon, and topped it with chopped apple. Two minutes in the microwave and I had breakfast.

20 September 2008

New Habits

The 100-mile diet has forced us to break old habits and make new ones. Without making any judgment (yet) on whether my new habits are better, I do believe that it's a good thing to shake up habits every once in awhile. It allows you to step back, take a broader view, and make deliberate and informed choices in the future.

I'm in the swing of new cooking habits, such as baking bread, taking the time (and it's not that much time) to wash, trim, and chop fresh produce, making soup stocks from vegetable trimmings and chicken carcasses. I also have new snacking habits, such as grabbing an apple when I crave something sweet, or slicing some cheese when I need something more filling.

For breakfast, I've taken to eating home-baked bread made with Champlain Valley milled flour and local honey made by Catskills bees. Not only is it delicious, but I think about the Champlain Valley and the Catskill mountains every morning as I spread my honey.

I mean, when I drink my Columbian coffee, I have an image in my mind of tropical jungles and hillside fields -- but I've never been to Columbia. On the other hand, I have a very appealing picture of the town of Westport, NY where the houses back up against the Adirondack mountains and overlook the blue waters of Lake Champlain. Indeed I remember which Harry Potter book on CD we were listening to in the car that day, driving up to Ausable Chasm for a day of touristing. I also have been to the store between Tannersville and Hunter in the Catskills where Traphagen honey is sold. I've driven back roads and hiked mountains and swum ponds in the area, so dozens of memories crop up when I picture that tiny store full of honey and maple products.

Romantic as these notions sound, I think there's something to the idea that when the things in our life have stories behind them, they carry more meaning for us. Food stories and the memories they tap into can create a very visceral sense of place.

Now that's food for thought. Mmmm.

15 September 2008

Diet and Deprivation

Like any diet, the 100-mile diet has moments of temptation.

A typical weekend day for my husband John is spent taking the kids out for bagels, and then to the supermarket for the weekly shop. The first time he did this was our second full day on the diet -- and he struggled to sit and watch the kids dine on bagels, cream cheese, and lemonade. Hunger primed, walking the aisles of the grocery store, its shelves full of food forbidden to us this month, only compounded his feelings of deprivation and restlessness.

This past weekend, he was better equipped to repeat the errand. He took leftover slices of homemade, 100-mile diet pizza to the bagel restaurant.

The homemade pizza was yet another solution to the rituals of our family life. Friday night is pizza night around here and we always order from the same tiny pizzeria. We often share the meal with friends. Before starting the diet, John and I had talked about whether we make pizza night an exception. Pizza is truly a favorite of my husband's, not to mention an excuse to indulge and a ready Saturday lunch of leftovers.

I don't remember resolving it one way or another, so I was impressed when John didn't want to order out. He felt, as I remember feeling last year, that if he made this exception, he'd be tempted to give in to others. I think that's the beauty of limiting the diet to a month (or a week or any set period of time). It makes it easier to be fairly strict and really create new habits.

Homemade pizza was pretty easy. I use a focaccia recipe from Almost Vegetarian by Diana Shaw and topped one round with leftover homemade tomato sauce and grated local cheese, the other with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves.

12 September 2008

Inventing meals

A shopping failure this week led to a new recipe -- created on-the-spot and with what we had.

In my mind, I had planned make-your-own salad night with lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and chicken one night and French toast with berries and maple syrup the next. But then, I forgot to buy chicken and eggs at the farmer's market on Tuesday. A busy work week meant I might not do anymore local food shopping until the weekend. We were feeling a little stuck.

What I did have was lots of fresh vegetables: in addition the salad components, I had summer squash, eggplant (breaded and fried), and onion. They say necessity is the mother of invention. I created a vegetable terrine.

Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a lasagne pan.
Make a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes. Salt lightly.
Add a layer of thinly sliced summer squash. Drip a little more oil around.
Another layer of tomatoes.
Lay the breaded eggplant on top.
Put a layer of thinly sliced onions next.
Then another layer of tomatoes. Salt and pepper.
Finish by sprinkling grated cheese all over the top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

It was good the next day as a sandwich filling as well. The hubby says its a keeper.

08 September 2008


Sourcing and preparing local food takes time.

It takes time to find local food. Last week I shopped at the food coop (in the City of Albany, a 20-min drive), the farm store (in neighboring Voorheesville, a 20-min drive), and at two farmers markets (in Delmar, a 5-min drive, and in Troy, a 25-min drive). I may do all again this week. The closest one -- the farmers market in my town-- is great for produce, but doesn't have dairy or meat. Only the coop had large tubs of local yogurt, only the farm store had jam, and the Troy market had the best selection of meat and cheese.

It takes time to make food from scratch. Yesterday I made creamy cauliflower soup from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, including making my own vegetable stock. We ate it for lunch with bread from a bakery that uses the same locally milled flour that I do. For the coming week, I baked more bread, sliced a bunch of apples to make apple chips (with my food dehydrator), and the hubby and I worked together to make homemade mayonnaise (which introduced another tiny exception: 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard). Dinner was relatively easy: sausages, green beans, and corn bread. It was an enjoyable day in the kitchen, but I'll admit I was tired by the time I was done. (Did I mention the dishwashing?)

I realize the time factor will make some people write the 100-mile diet off from the get-go. I figure I can do anything for a month, and if I get lazy, there are ways to simplify. Like buying more bread instead of baking, or eating that cauliflower raw or steamed rather than going through the work of making soup.

I like to cook, though I often get lazy doing so for my kids who are quite happy with fish sticks, frozen peas, and macaroni & cheese. So for me, the 100-mile diet is also about reinvigorating my cooking, trying new things, shaking up the menu, and finding ways to incorporate healthy food habits into our family routine. It's not that hard to bake bread especially using a large volume, no-knead recipe like this one from the New York Times.

06 September 2008

Year Two

September is here again and I'm back to the 100-mile diet for the month. Like last year, rather than drawing a 100-mile radius circle around our home, we'll eat food produced in New York and neighboring Vermont.

My husband John is joining me on the diet this year. His decision was not motivated by my experience last fall so much as by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and watching the documentary film King Corn. Both book and movie highlight how twisted food production can get when done on a very large scale: how decisions for efficiency's sake trump making choices that are best for the food itself -- or the land on which it's produced. Which means perhaps, that our diet is not so much about local as it is about small and sustainable.

We officially begin today, although I've been preparing all week by visiting the farmers market, the food coop, and the farm store. I've got plenty of fruits, vegetables, and meat, I've stocked up on locally milled flour and corn meal, I've found some cheese and yogurt, and I've collected sweets such as honey, jam, and syrup. Still to source: butter.

Breakfast this morning? Toast (homemade bread) with gooseberry jam and coffee (one of my necessary exceptions).