Saturday, January 05, 2008

Off the Wagon

We’ve fallen off the local, seasonal eating bandwagon. There, I’ve admitted it. I feel as if I should be attending meetings. “Hi, my name is Sarah. I am an eat-it-when-I-want-it addict.”

It is so easy to eat locally in the spring and summer, especially in the South. Nearly everything I want or need grows in our region, if not within 30 miles of our house. I can just jump right up onto my high horse and settle into the saddle in the most sanctimonious of fashions. (Until I start craving cherries, that is. The fruit that seems to only come from California and Washington when in season in this country. But that’s a whole other topic altogether, and Mom is working on this problem for me).

Winter can get a bit bleak, even here. Other than apples and pears, which grow here, and citrus, which grows in a neighboring state (close enough for me, in other words), all the other fruits in the grocery store come from South America. And since organic apples are so bloody expensive, I try to limit us to five or six of them per week, which means, of course, that The Big Boy gets to eat the apple flesh and I’m stuck munching on his discarded peelings like a rabbit.

It is relatively easy to stick with eating fruits only when they are in season, especially if you’ve ever tried one of those vile, sour-tasting, strange-textured blueberries from goodness only knows where in January. Besides, nothing will ever compare to the ecstasy of a sun-warmed, plump, fully ripe blueberry eaten right off the bush. From my kitchen table, where I sit right now, I can see the spot where the blueberry bushes used to be. There were maybe 50 of them, big, tall and sprawling, and they produced more berries than any one family could dream of eating. The owners of the property never minded berry poachers, and we would often hear families with young children over there early in the day, stocking their buckets and trying to make friends with our nosy dogs. We joined in the harvest as well, but tended to go later in the afternoon. The heat didn’t bother us so much, even though we would bake in the sun, and the warmth only made the blueberry juice taste that much sweeter. The Big Boy loved them, and he would sit in his wagon while The Carnivore dumped handfuls of the berries in his chubby little hands. I, the sensible and self-controlled one, would fill up plastic containers to take home with us.

And then, early last spring, we watched in dismay as the son of the property owners dug up all the bushes to make way for tree seedlings for his landscaping company. We sat on some abandoned concrete steps to nowhere on our side of the property line and heaped curses upon the man's head. I suppose we should plant our own blueberries now. We have plenty of land. I’m just not sure I have the patience to wait for new bushes to mature.

Hmmm. I did go off on a tangent there, didn’t I? What I meant to say when I began typing this, was that vegetables are my weakness. Even though they too obviously taste better when in season, and especially when local and super-fresh, I have a hard time depriving myself of some of my favorites during the winter. Summer squashes are soft and a bit mealy during December, but as you can clearly see from my last post, I baked up a couple batches of crook-neck squash casserole just a week or so ago. Don’t get me wrong, I felt guilt over the whole concept when I was buying them, but buy them I did.

And then I went back to the store and got zucchini so I could make the Italian Vegetable Soup recipe that I crave so often. The carrots and celery in my crisper drawer came from California. And the mushrooms that I will be using for a frittata for tonight’s dinner are Pennsylvania grown. I am a heathen.

At the end of our CSA season (a startlingly early date in the beginning of last August), I was still able to supplement our grocery store purchases with locally grown produce from the Saturday morning farmer’s market. Then it too shut down for the year, and I silently granted myself carte-blanche to purchase anything I wanted, so long as it was grown in the continental United States. I tried not to feel too guilty because, after all, at least the vegetables grown here can be certified as organic, and my money will be supporting farmers in this country, and hey, California is a lot closer than Chile, right?

But let’s be brutally honest. It is a well-known and widely accepted fact that the average fruit or vegetable travels 1,500 miles to get into the average American’s hand. California is a good 2,500 miles away from my house. Obviously, I suck. There is just no way around it.

Maybe a good, old-fashioned coarse correction is in order here. After all, I noticed on the blog of one of our farmer’s market vendors that she and her tablemates ate a mostly local Christmas dinner. I failed to even feel guilt over the worldwide meal I enjoyed for the holiday. I. Am. Ashamed. Some changes are going to have to be made to the Beam family winter menus.

Luckily for us, we’re big fans of cool season greens like kale and collards. And some of our favorite vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes are growing around our area right now. As a matter of fact, there was a broccoli and cheese soup recipe in last week’s food section that I’m dying to try, and (oh, the synergy) I saw that broccoli is available for order from Athens Locally Grown. Now if I can just remember to make my order during the two-day window that is offered, and then drag myself into town during their three or four hour pickup window on Thursday afternoon. This will not be without its sacrifices.

Regardless, I will happily share our beloved braised cabbage recipe here since we are fortunate enough to be smack dab in the middle of local cabbage season right now. We first tried this technique a couple of years ago and we were hooked from day one. This is the first and only recipe I have used for cooking cabbage, but The Carnivore and I agree it resulted in the best-tasting cabbage we’ve both ever had, including at Southern meat-and-three restaurants. We keep swearing we will make this for company sometime so that we can convert a cabbage-hater or two, but we never really feel like sharing. We love it that much. And any time one can excite a devout meat-eater with cabbage, one ought to count her blessings, I think. And the carrots, oh the sweet, tender carrots. I put as many of them in this dish as I can fit into the pan. The Big Boy will fight us tooth and nail for the beautiful, bright orange slices. And you know the rules, right? If a three-year-old has cleaned his plate and is poaching carrots from our plates, well then, a mom can consider it all a job well done.


BRAISED GREEN CABBAGE (adapted from All About Braising, serves 6)
  • 1 head green cabbage (about 2 lbs), outer leaves discarded, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 or 5 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flackes
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish.
  2. Arrange the cabbage wedges in the dish in a single layer.
  3. Scatter in the onion and carrots.
  4. Pour in the oil and broth.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes.
  6. Cover tightly with foil and braise in the oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Turn the cabbage wedges with tongs after one hour (they will fall apart a little - don't stress too much over this).
  7. After two hours, remove the foil, increase the heat to 400 degrees, and roast until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes (this makes the carrots even sweeter).
  8. Serve warm, sprinkled with additional coarse salt.


Anonymous said...

If you don't plant blueberry bushes now, three years from now you will be saying, "I’m just not sure I have the patience to wait for new bushes to mature" when you could be eating blueberries. Heck, plant some apples, Asian pears and plums while you're at it. Life IS short, do it now. You'll thank me later. That place where your mom orders muscadines has trees too...

Samara said...

That sounds good. Do you really have to cover it with foil, or can one cover it with an upside down baking sheet instead? I'm trying to end my use of disposables and wonder if adding a little extra moisture partway through would do the trick. I'm going to try it!

Sarah Beam said...

A baking sheet probably wouldn't work so well, but I have been thinking lately about trying this with my cast iron Dutch oven since it has a lid. Because the braising technique depends on a fairly good seal, I think the heavy lid of the cast iron would work well. Of course, we'll have to try these tricks to find out for sure, but they certainly seem worth a shot.

trish davis said...

Sarah, I love your recipes! I have a question about the braised cabbage. I have read the recipe over and over and I still cant figure it out. It calls for veg broth - when do you use it? do you drizzle it over it at the beginning? (that makes sense to me) I just dont see it mentioned after the ingredients. Thanks!

Sarah Beam said...

Whoops. Thanks Trish. I have corrected the error in my recipe (add the oil and broth on top of the veggies, before seasoning).

Just one more reason why I'm not a professional...