Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fun with Radishes

Do you ever stand in the check out line at Target and suddenly have to buy a People magazine or some fancy new brand of Tic-Tacs? An impulse buy, right? Well this Saturday Joe from the Lomax Incubator Farm at Atherton had these beautiful red radishes. They had long heads and were just gorgeous amidst all of the greens and peppers the farm is producing right now so of course I had to buy them.

But what does someone who can't eat lettuce, and thus doesn't make salads, do with two giant radishes? The answer is a lot. Radishes are a somewhat neutral flavor but they have a great crispness that is a great addition to dishes that might otherwise be a little dull. Here are two ways that I used these hearty fall veggies. The mushrooms I got from Cotton Barn mushrooms at Atherton Market, the eggplant you can get from several but it's almost done for the year now that the weather is really cooling off.

Radish Stir Fry (V)
1 large radish, sliced in half long ways then in 1/4 slices
4-5 large mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup cubed egg plant
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and saute 1-2 minutes alone
  2. Add mushrooms, egg plant and radishes. 
  3. Heat on high until you see a little color on the veggies which means they're done.
  4. Serve with your favorite starch or carb!
I served the stir fry with quinoa - delish!

Radish Salad (V)
1 large radish, sliced in half long ways then in 1/4 slices
 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1-2 carrots, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1/4 cup cucumber, sliced thinly
Mushrooms to taste, sliced thinly
(Dressing: 3 parts olive oil, 1 part  balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste)
  1. Toss all ingredients together.
  2. Chill for 1 hour before serving.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Busy Fall!

Oh man, has it been a roller coaster of a Fall! Because of my position at the City of Charlotte, I spent over 80 hours working during the week of the Democratic National Convention and then jumped right into a major software implementation that has been monopolizing my work life ever since. Between that and numerous weddings and other celebrations, my kitchen has been sorely neglected. No more! I have tried some fun recipes in the last couple weeks and have big plans of making pumpkin risotto this weekend for a Halloween party so stay tuned.

To keep tide you over until next week, here is an easy salad recipe that I threw together last week with some late season okra from Houston Farms, tomatoes I froze earlier in the season from Berry Busy Farm, and some other odds and ends. If you're looking for some other Fall recipes, check out the archive to the right from this month last year.

Okra Salad (V)
One handful of fresh okra
1-2 fresh tomatoes (or frozen and thawed)
1 can chick peas or flava beans
1/4 onion, diced
1/2 lime's juice
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare okra using Heather Kenney's recipe.
  2. Drain and rinse beans.
  3. Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.



Friday, August 31, 2012

Week 3 - Local Food Only, Anyone?

Friends of mine, when I told them about this experiment, gave me a puzzled look asking "don't you eat 100% local all the time?" I wish. The reality is that, as good as the local food scene is in Charlotte, it's actually pretty hard to eat 100% local all the time. Add to that how much I love to try restaurants, see friends, and not cook every single meal and no, we don't eat local food all the time. If I had to do the math, I'd say we spend 50% of our food budget on local food with the other half comprised of staples from the grocery store and eating out.

That being said, this was the easiest week of the three of our experiment. Instead of eating out, I just doubled up on our usual farmers market take. We tried a couple new products like pizza dough from the pasta guy at the market which was pretty good.

Total cost: $120
Garbage: 1 bag
Compost: Overflowing

Great meals of the week:
  • Tomato sandwich from the Roots food truck. This sandwich combined three of my favorite things: heirloom tomatoes, Nova's bread and aioli (this one with fresh herbs). Yes, please, I will have another.
  • Oven roasted tomato and garlic pizza. I got wholewheat dough from the pasta guy at the market along with red and yellow tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil.
  • Breakfast for dinner. One of our favorite things is to make potatoes and onions, pour whisked eggs, tomatoes and cheese over top, and eat with whatever else we had. In this case, we had some Polish link sausage from Windy Hill which was delicious.
  • Homemade Tomato Sandwiches on Duke's Gorgonzola Bread. We brought this and some of our homemade pickles to the park one night and had a picnic. 

Observations of note:
  • I missed cereal like woah. After two weeks of bagels, toast and eggs, all I wanted the day after this experiment ended was a bowl of cereal. I woke up 30 minutes earlier than my alarm and was literally giddy about cereal. 
  • This wasn't that different or more expensive than eating from the grocery store. I admit I expected to spend a lot more money this week but we really didn't and we ate much better.
  • If it was possible, I thought more about food this week than I usually do. This was the only downside other than no cereal - it took much more planning because of the far fewer hours the market is open when I'm also not at work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week 2 - Eating out

When we first started this week of only eating out, I was stoked. Not only did I not have to worry about cooking all week, think of all the options! For a whole week I wouldn't just be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my desk at noon but actually leaving the office to seek out exciting options. There would be no dishes after dinner or snacks in the cupboard beckoning me in the evening! Sadly, I think the abundance of options in Uptown Charlotte was too overwhelming for me. On Day 1, instead of going to get a burrito or exciting soup and sandwich, I just went across the road to the Federal Reserve building dining room and got whatever veggies they had grilled up and a soda. But that's the thing about eating out when you don't do it every day - it seems really exciting until you actually have to make a decision and then poof! it's just too stressful and you end up eating an eggroll.

For about half of this week, Russell and I were on the road to a wedding of good friends in D.C. Despite being in one of the more expensive cities on the east coast, we found some reasonable meal prices while there thanks to some local help. We also stopped to have lunch with some college professors in Roanoke, VA, and then in Durham/Chapel Hill, NC, on the way home to see family.

Metrics:
Total cost: $307
Garbage: Only one bag at home but the take-out containers definitely built up at my office and we were out of town most of the week so who knows.
Weight: Good question. Being out of town meant we never made it to the gym just before or just after our eating out week. However, we both feel flabbier though that could be due to less exercise and more sitting in a car over the last week.

General observations:
  • Being vegetarian, let alone vegan, isn't easy when you eat out. I've written about this numerous times before but when you're limiting yourself to eating out, being vegan is nearly impossible. Non-meat options almost always include cheese or cream of some sort.
  • My stomach can't take restaurant food 7 days in a row. Though we were able to stay close to vegetarianism, eating at restaurants means heavier food and more preservatives than our standard diet which meant more bellyaches.
  • Eating out is not cheap. I'm sure there's some way you could translate the amount of time I didn't spend cooking or procuring ingredients into money but just looking at the totals, my pocketbook took a hit this week.
  • We saw a lot more of our friends, at least for dinner. Eating lunch out was still a solitary activity but we ended up sharing many a meal both in Charlotte and D.C. with friends we don't see often.
  • Soda comes with everything. Taking a page from Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, I bought a soda every time a restaurant cashier suggested adding it to my meal. This meant that I drank a lot more than my once a week non-water drink.
Meal highlights:
  • Pizza. We ate pizza both at a great restaurant in Charlotte, the Pizza Peel, and one in the Eastern Market neighborhood in D.C. called Matchbox. Both were far better than your average Domino's but, of course, we paid for it.
  • Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian. Trying to maintain our vegetarianism, we took some friends to our favorite Indian restaurant in Charlotte, Woodlands. They specialize in vegetarian and vegan options and it was, as always, absolutely delicious.
  • K.O. Sushi. This is a restaurant in Uptown that does take out/delivery only and they have a mean vegetarian udon soup. Spicy, but delicious, and only $7 including tax.
Sounds pretty delicious right? It was but I'm not sure if it was three-times-the-price-of-grocery-store delicious. Next week: eating only what we find at the farmers market or local bakeries and restaurants.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Week 1: Grocery Store only

For week 1 of this little experiment, we ate food only from the grocery store. This probably doesn't sound like much of an experiment for most people but for our household, we get over 50% of what we eat from the farmers market and go out to eat 2 or 3 times a week (between lunch and dinner) so we could easily only get cereal and milk from the store any given week. Needless to say, walking out of the grocery store with a full cart of food isn't something I've done for years but it was interesting. 

Metrics:
  • Beginning weight: Sarah: 142 lbs, Russell: 191 lbs
  • Ending weight: Sarah: 142 lbs, Russell: 191 lbs
  • Total cost: $114
  • Plastic bags used: 6 brown, 4 clear for produce (we took a lot just loose and used some reusable bags)
  • Times kitchen trash emptied: 2
  • Compost bucket fullness: VERY (by the end of week the lid wouldn't close)
Observations:
  1. Grocery store produce < farmers market produce. From tasteless peaches to mealy tomatoes, it is just so disappointing to get fruit and vegetables from the store. Here we are in the middle of tomato and peach country and the ones you get from Harris Teeter pale in comparison. 
  2. Variety. When you're use to eating whatever is available at the market, the variety of the grocery store can be daunting. You can get whatever you need (and lots you don't) to cook pretty much anything.
  3. Abundance. We ended up using Harris Teeter over Trader Joe's because it's more similar to a typical grocery store. This meant that we had SO many choices in produce, meat, carbs and so on that it's almost hard to chose.
  4. Boooooring. Sure you can get anything you need from Harris Teeter but I find their products to lack the excitement or uniqueness of farmers market or locally-made food. You won't find spices like those at Savory Spice Shop or bread like Duke's makes.
Meal highlights:
  • Spaghetti and meatballs. We broke our no-meat rule to try to be at least somewhat realistic for those that do eat meat. We got pre-made turkey meatballs and made them with jar sauce and boxed noodles. The later isn't weird for us but the turkey meatballs made us both a little sick. Never again.
  • Tofu with hoisin sauce, mung bean sprouts and onions. Delicious but at what cost? The sauce we got from a jar in the international section and you don't want to know what was in it.
  • Pasta tossed with seasonal vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, brocoli). Pretty good but the vegetables lacked a lot of their natural flavor.
  • Lunch: PB&J or leftovers. Nothing exciting here but that's what we eat normally. We usually get peanut butter, jam and bread from local producers so going back to Jiff was quite a change.
  • Mexican night splurge. I haven't made guacamole in probably 18 months because there are no avocados grown around here so we splurged a bit and got a couple to make guac. It was, admittedly, delicious but, again, I don't want to know from how far away those avocados came.
All in all, it was an interesting week. I felt like we had so much food around compared to normally we only buy what we need from the market and go from there. Next week: eating out for 7 days straight!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Late Summer/Fall Project

One of the most common arguments against eating locally that I hear is that it's too expensive. Friends tell me all the time that they just can't afford to eat everything from the farmers market or spend $1 more a loaf on bread from a real bakery. With this in mind, I have decided to embark on a little experiment. For one week each, my boyfriend and I will do nothing but either eat out, eat locally or eat only food from a grocery store. We'll save all receipts from each week and determine what the most cost effective way to eat is. Along the way, I'll also try to capture some other metrics including our weight, amount of garbage produced, and overall health.

Both my boyfriend and I are in training for a triathlon in early October so we will be doing a lot of exercising between now and then. This will make our weight decrease somewhat over the weeks so we'll capture a pre-week weight and a post-week weight. If we keep our amounts of exercise consistent, this should be a relatively good measure.

Week 1 will be grocery store food only. We mostly shop at Trader Joe's since we can walk there from our home but there are many items you can't find there so Harris Teeter will be our back up. Eating out will be the second week which will correspond with a four day trip to our close friends' wedding in D.C. Finally, we will spend Week 3 eating only what we can get from the market, our favorite local bakery, Nova's, and locally-sourced restaurants like Luna's Living Kitchen and Fern. We have some farmers market produce frozen in our fridge so if we use that, we'll calculate the costs and include. For Weeks 1 and 3 I won't count items like spices, flour sugar because we get those from a mix of local and non-local sources. We debated including coffee but since there are three coffee options in our neighborhood (local roasters at the market, grocery store-bought coffee and then Starbucks and Caribou), we might as well include that too.

Have suggestions? Let me know in the comments or email them to charlottelocaleats@gmail.com!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Simple things

I went through a flurry of blog posts a couple weeks ago because there were so many amazing products popping up at the market. Peaches, plums, blackberries, blueberries and, of course, the mighty tomato. But the truth is that you don't need recipes for these items because they're delicious all by themselves. I could tell you how to make a blackberry pie, but I've done that and the truth is that more than half of the blueberries I've purchased from the market this year have been eaten either on cereal, in the bottom of a tall glass of ice tea with mint simple syrup or by the handfuls as a snack between meals. You definitely don't need a recipe for that.

So I'm not going to put a recipe up for this delicious omelet, I'm just going to say that some local green bell peppers, tomatoes, eggs and sharp cheddar with blueberries and toast slathered with peach jam make pretty much the best breakfast around. Enjoy!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Balcony Garden and Canning update

I know you've all been on the edge of your seats awaiting updates of my adventures in growing and preserving local food. Wait no longer!

Balcony Garden:
There's good news and bad news. First the bad: despite rosemary growing like a weed most places in North Carolina, I couldn't keep it alive in premium potting soil on my balcony. I'm guessing it never got enough sun so I had to pull the poor thing. The thyme is also not looking great but seems to still be hanging in there. The good news: everything else seems to be pretty happy. I've added a red basil plant from a friend and re-potted the green basil. The Roma tomato is absolutely thriving and the Early Girl is, well, not dead.

Look how high that Roma tomato is on the far right!
Canning:
The strawberry jam has been delicious the last couple weeks. I've been using it instead of store-bought jelly, local peanut butter from Simply Local, and Nova's Bakery bread for all my sandwiches. These PB&Js are the perfect triathlon training snacks especially because they have no preservatives and just the sugar of the jam. They also make great gifts for friends!

Because the first experiment was so successful, I tried my hand at peach jam yesterday. I used the same ratio of fruit to sugar as the Pioneer Woman's strawberry jam but added a half cup of lemon juice. I also opted to use pectin this time. After doing some reading up on what it is, I decided pectin isn't that bad for us and will be helpful in keeping the jam good for longer.

My peach jam jars waiting for their lids to pop

Next stop on the gardening and canning adventure ride is tomato sauce once tomatoes are more prevalent at the market and are growing on the balcony!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Not Your Ordinary Tomato Sandwich

Tuesday was a special day. It was the first day that Atherton market vendors had real tomatoes. Not green-housed, not unripe, not from some South American country. Tomatoes grown right here. It mightbe the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

In addition to tomatoes, blueberries and corn are still filling the market stalls. Houston Farms has had some delicious sweet corn and Berry Busy Farm has had blueberries, blackberries, peaches and small plums. They also sell a variety of great jams and preserves from their berries.

Tuesday, I picked up a beautiful green and red heirloom tomato from the Lomax Farm. I also happen to grab a loaf of Duke's Gorgonzola bread, a gallon (yes, a gallon) of blueberries from Berry Busy and half a dozen ears of corn from Houston. All of these items, alone, would be a treat in the winter months and combined they made a feast.

I used some mayo I made a couple weeks ago for potato salad and some seasoning salt and made delicious tomato sandwiches served with lightly boiled corn and fresh blueberries.

Five minute lunch or dinner!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More fun with Tofu

Avid readers will know that I went vegan for a month last Fall after reading Dr. T. Colin Campbell's landmark work, The China Study. Since then, our household has cut most animal fat from our diet except for local meat, eggs and cheese. During the Vegan Experiment, I got really into tofu. Like so many ingredients, this is one I knew nothing about and wasn't convinced of until I learned more about it (see, also: turnips).

One recipe I've started making recently is pan-grilling tofu like a pork chop or steak. What's local about tofu, you ask? Not much. I'm pretty sure most tofu is made on the Pacific islands or in some factory somewhere but tofu can be used as a vehicle for local ingredients like green onions, mushrooms, zucchini, squash and shallots that may not stand on their own.

The onions, cucumbers and zucchini came from Houston Farm and you can get mushrooms from Landis Gourmet Mushrooms.

Tofu Steak with Sauteed Vegetables (V)
1 pound extra firm tofu
1-2 green onions, chopped
Handful of mushroom, chopped
5-6 tablespoons olive oil 
  1. Slice tofu into 1/2 inch thick slices. Heat oil in a large skillet till water flicked on it sizzles. 
  2. Place the slabs of tofu in the skillet and saute on both sides until golden brown.
  3. Remove to a plate and drain the oil, leaving just enough to coat the vegetables you've selected.
  4. Toss the veggies in the pan and saute till tender.
  5. Serve veggies over the tofu.
I served with some local cucumbers.
So easy and so good!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner

On a recent trip to the market, I took a page out of Barbara Kingsolver's book and went up to the Berry Busy Farm and told them to give me every berry they had left. This cost me over $20 but it was so worth it. Right now they have blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and peaches as well as jellies and jams. It was pretty amazing. I froze a lot of the berries for later but not before making a delicious breakfast for dinner.

Menu:
Pan-sautéed new potatoes with green onions (all from Houston Farms)
Scrambled eggs (from Windy Hill Farm)
Blackberry pancakes with strawberry jam (jam I made from berries I got from Houston Farm a couple weeks ago and the blackberries from Berry Busy)

Potatoes:
3-4 cups potatoes of choice chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
1-2 green onions
1/4 cup mushrooms (optional)
  1. We cheat in our house and microwave potatoes for about 6 minute
  2. Put them in a large skillet with some olive oil and sauté for 10 minutes or so on relatively high heat
  3. Add the onions (and mushrooms) and saute until the potatoes are your desired tenderness
Note: I strongly encourage adding some Team Sweet Mama's Kansas City BBQ seasoning from the Savory Spice Shop

Scrambled eggs:
For this much dinner, I would use 1 egg per person (usually I use one and a half per person)
2-3 tablespoons milk, Greek yogurt or soy milk
Seasoning salt 
(I'm guessing everyone knows how to make scrambled eggs...)

Pancakes:
(This is the recipe from The Joy of Cooking and is so easy to whip up any day of the week!)
1 1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup berries of choice
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in one bowl.
  2. Melt butter then add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix well.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients.
  4. Pour 1/3 cup batter onto hot griddle. Place 1-2 berries in the center.
  5. Flip once bubbles appear on the surface and press down to flatten berry(ies) and release juices.
  6. Remove and serve warm with jam or syrup!

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Canning and Balcony Gardening

Now that I'm not writing weekly posts, I've had time to do some more long-term and or involved projects with local food. This weekend was a banner one for such endeavors: not only did I purchase and plant some organic herbs and tomatoes on my balcony, I also tried my hand at making and canning strawberry jam. This is my first real attempt at both after a half-hearted and failed stab at herb gardening last summer. I know I have some tweaking to do but here's my start and I shall update you on my progress throughout the summer:

Balcony Gardening
Contrary to popular belief, us urbanites have lots of options for growing our own food in small places. As long as you have a balcony (or a very understanding management company or HOA), you can plant in large pots or balcony planters. I have a second story unit which faces southeast and thus gets a moderate amount of morning sun then a lot of afternoon sun. With this in mind, I headed to the Atherton Market on Saturday morning to see what would grow well on my balcony.

I split my buying into two sections: herbs which I think will love the partial sun on the eastern-facing part of my balcony and tomatoes that can handle the full afternoon sun on the south side. I selected Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, a small Basil and Parsley, one Roma tomato and one Early Girl tomato.

I planted the herbs in a long hanging balcony planter and the tomatoes in larger pots. The Oregano was ready to be replanted by itself so it got its own pot as well. I filled in the pots with Black Kow potting soil, a brand made from cow manure and compost using minimal petroleum products and watered the whole set. Fingers crossed my new wards survive the unpredictable May weather!

Even our cat was excited about the new garden!

Strawberry Jam Canning for Dummies
If you haven't heard of or read The Pioneer Woman's blog, you must do so immediately. She has tons of no fuss, simple recipes that use minimal special tools or equipment. I've made and tried several of her desserts (her Blackberry Cobbler and Cinnamon Buns are always huge hits) and she has great practical tips for the non-professional cook. So it's only fitting that when I Googled "easy strawberry jam canning", her site was the top of the hit list.

I have always been scared of canning because I thought it took fancy pots and secret, ancient knowledge that only grandmothers still possess. Boy was I wrong. All you need is a huge pot, some sturdy tongs, and fresh (or overripe) fruit. I won't recount the whole recipe because you can find it on her website here but suffice to say it only took an hour or so to make 7 jars of delicious strawberry jam. This method would work for other berries as well and I will continue to experiment as our local options become available in the market.


It may seem like I spent my whole weekend with my hands in the dirt or slaving over a boiling pot of strawberry goodness. The reality is that I didn't - I ran a 5K, attended a baby shower, volunteered for several hours, coached a swim lesson and did a 10 mile bike ride and still had the energy to do all of this in one weekend. With just an hour here and there, I put up enough jam to carry me through several months of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and planted herbs and tomatoes to boot!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Like many liberal arts undergraduates mildly if not avidly interested in the environment, I read some of Barbara Kingsolver's work in college. I even had the great honor of getting to hear her speak on campus my senior year in support of a ground breaking (no pun intended) organization, Rails to Trails. Little did I know that she and I are actually kindred spirits.

In her hugely popular book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Kingsolver chronicles a year spent growing and finding food for her and her family with one limitation: it must be available  either on their farm or within the county. With few exceptions, they worked on their farm full time, growing all the food they would need for the whole year supplementing with produce and protein purchased from their local farmers market.

The book is literally full of amazing facts, ideas and thoughts on eating locally and how it helps not only your body but your community and the environment. Many of these thoughts and facts I've shared with you before and here are some others that jumped out at me while reading:
  1. Transporting food is invariably the biggest energy-consuming part of the farm to fork process. If every American replaced just one meal on one day with locally-grown and produced ingredients, the US would save millions of barrels of oil.
  2. The average ingredient in a grocery store has traveled further than the average American family does on summer vacation (including flights)
  3. For products grown in third world countries like coffee and bananas, the actual farmers often make less than $1 per day. The rest of the profits go the farming conglomerates and transportation companies that support the practice of monoculture that can strip land of its necessary minerals.
But the book isn't just facts about where food comes from. It's an emotional journey being told by a mom who is trying to feed her family while supporting her local farmers, create minimal impact on the land, and also provide nourishing, wholesome and interesting meals. The book is interspersed with sidebars by her husband regarding the politics and big business aspects of industrial farming and insights and recipes from her teenage daughter on a local living lifestyle.

For anyone wondering about where their food comes from and whether that matters, this is the book for you. You'll come away with a renewed appreciation for the work that goes into our food. I also closed this book emboldened by the sense that I can grow some of my own food (even in my limited space) and that this whole local food mission I've been on for a year and a half really does matter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vegan, Vegetarian, 5% or less

You may have noticed recently that my blog posts have been featuring less and less meat or dairy products. After reading The China Study last year, I have been even more picky about what animal proteins I eat and subsequently limiting those to cheese and meat I get locally and the occasional fish at restaurants if no meat-free option is available. Is this going to lead me to eternal youth and perfect health? No, probably not, but the more I read about meat (especially low grade, fast-food type meat), the less I can stomach it. The only meat I've eaten recently is from Windy Hill Farm because I know where it came from (Dana and Charles Burrage, the best farmers around!) or from locally-sourced restaurants like Harvest Moon and Halycon.

To that end, I have gone back through all my recipes posted on the blog and added the following distinctions to each:
  • V = Vegan. This recipe has absolutely no animal protein.
  • v = Vegetarian. This recipe has no meat but may have dairy products or eggs.
  • <5% = 5% or less animal protein. According to some studies cited in The China Study, a diet containing 5% or less animal protein can significantly improve your overall health, and decrease your likelihood of getting cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other serious afflictions.
  • LPO = Local Protein Option. This recipe has protein that can be bought from North Carolina farmers that use minimal hormones, antibiotics, processing and additives. LPO's in NC include eggs, cheese, milk, cream, butter, pork, chicken, beef, lamb, goose, duck, ostrich and emu.
These distinctions are, of course, not mutually exclusive; all recipes indicated as vegan are also vegetarian, have less than 5% animal protein and no LPOs; vegetarian recipes vary in the amount of animal protein used; and <5% dishes may have some meat (and thus aren't vegetarian) but still relatively good for you.

I hope these distinctions are helpful for those of us trying to limit or eliminate animal protein in our diets as one way to lose weight or prevent diseases.

Asparagus is here!

Just a short post this week because I want to share this recipe while the asparagus is still in the markets. Put a Fork In It has had some beautiful asparagus the last two weekends but it goes FAST. I got to the market at 9:05am on Saturday and just barely got some. The other ingredients you can also get locally - the olive oil from Ohh-lio Express or both the oil and the balsamic vinegar from The House of Olives and the nuts from Chosen Roasters.

Fancy Asparagus (V)
(1 serving each)
6 asparagus stalks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar (I used the Blackberry Ginger from House of Olives)
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Drizzle olive oil on a cookie sheet.
  2. Chop off the bottom 1-1.5 inches of the asparagus stalks. Lay stalks on the olive oil.
  3. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the stalks and finish with the almonds.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until asparagus reaches your desired tenderness.
I made 3 servings and saved some for later.
 That's all it is - easy to do but delicious!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Onions and Olive Oil

Have you ever had three onions in your fridge and nothing else? For me, that's now what my dad calls a high class problem because I found two things this week that may change my life.

1. The House of Olives in Huntersville. This is a relatively new business in the Birkdale shopping center that sells infused olive oils, balsamic vinegars and is the answer to any boring dinner. You might think balsamic vinegar is just for salads but it isn't. House of Olives has fruit-flavored varieties as well as sun dried tomato Parmesan garlic (all one flavor!), chive and dark chocolate. You can taste every type before purchasing and most can be paired with any other. The liquids themselves are made from European olives and some from California but the business itself is local.

2. An easy caramelized onion recipe. I found this recipe after a simple search while trying to spice up some beans and rice. The onions are from Put A Fork In It (who also had some beautiful asparagus on Saturday) at the Atherton Market and the olive oil and vinegar were from House of Olives. The combination may seem a little strange but the sweetness of the vinegar and the kick of the fresh onions was stellar.

Carmelized Onions (V)
2 onions, sliced long-ways
2-3 T olive oil
1-2 T Blackberry Ginger Vinegar
1-2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
  1. Heat oil in large skillet. When hot, add onions and coat thoroughly.
  2. Cook for 10 minutes then sprinkle salt, sugar then vinegar.
  3. Continue to stir onions, recoating every 5 minutes for 45 minutes to an hour.
This would be delicious for fajitas, sausage, or even pasta.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tired of Winter Produce Yet?

Here in Charlotte, the weather has been unseasonably warm. We've had more days of over 80 degree weather than I can count on one hand in the last two weeks. Daffodils have come and gone and tulips are almost out of here too. The poplars and pear trees are even starting to fade! 

What does that mean for the farmers markets though? Unfortunately, the answer is that we're probably still looking at a couple more weeks of the same produce options you've seen since the beginning of the year as new crops are planted and grow. Farmers' stocks of sweet potatoes, squash and greens will probably continue into mid-April or later. This means that the same things I've been serving my household and friends for months won't be changing for a month.

However, there are still exciting ways to both take advantage of the last of the winter crops and also explore some new foods. Maybe now is the time to enjoy the non-seasonal offerings at your local market. For example, I have been buying a loaf a week of Duke's Bread. I make a lot of soups this time of the year because winter produce lend themselves well to soup (butternut squash, vegetable, carrot top) and trying one of the many varieties of bread really makes a soup dinner more exciting. Of course cheese like those from the Chapel Hill Creamery (which Charlotteans can buy from Simply Local) and Cheval Farmstead can make a great soup and bread meal even better.

This may also be a great time to explore the protein options at your farmers market. Windy Hill has an amazing meat selection all year round and the 7th Street Market has a fish seller with some beautiful options regardless of the season.

So embrace the slight lack of produce variety inherent to March and early April and try something new!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reflections on a Local Food Lifestyle

I can’t believe it but it’s been over a year since my first post in 2011. Since then I have read up on food, tried some of the amazing produce that North Carolina has to offer and gotten input from others on what they can get locally in their home towns. It’s been an exciting and enlightening year and thanks to all that have taken the journey with me, submitted recipes or pointed me to new markets.

Now that I’ve been trying this local eating thing for a year, I have some reflections on getting and eating local food:
  1. It’s not hard. You may need to plan ahead a little and be familiar with your state’s produce offerings, but if you want to eat locally, you can (at least in Charlotte and every other city my guest bloggers have written about).
  2. If you eat locally, others will too. I can’t relay how many people that I’ve spoken to about my journey over the past year have become interested in and, in many cases, hooked on local food. By (gently) telling my friends, family and coworkers about the benefits of local food, many have sought out farmers markets and co-ops available in their area.
  3. Not all farmers markets sell local produce. Just because your food doesn’t come from a grocery store doesn’t mean it’s local. Many farmers markets supplement their local items with non-local produce in order to have a more complete offering and attract shoppers. This isn’t necessarily bad because often the non-local ingredients are also organic, humanely-raised or otherwise better than grocery store produce but buyers should be aware and ask vendors where their food comes from.
  4. Eating locally can inspire you to try new things. This is such an understatement. I’m not a professional or even an amateur cook, just someone that wants to feed myself and my friends healthy and delicious food. By exploring locally grown and raised offerings, I’ve been encouraged to branch out and try produce I’ve never used before.
  5. Food is more meaningful when you shake the hand that grew it. In twenty first century America, we’re very disconnected from the source of our food. When you shop at a farmers market, you often get to meet who grew your food, discuss with them how they prepare their food and generally be closer to what you eat. I find that I waste less food and take more pride in what I make when I know someone has worked hard to grow it.
  6. A local food lifestyle can very easily be a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I’m not sure if it’s because you can grow more produce per acre than you can animals or whether regulations on raising animals for meat are just so taxing (pun intended) that it’s not as lucrative, but for whatever reason, farmers markets have more produce than protein. This means that there’s often an abundance of fruits and vegetables, often in varieties you can’t find at the grocery store, making a meat-free lifestyle easy and interesting.
Though my one year experiment is over, I will continue to post on the blog as I find recipes and other tidbits that I think would be of interest to others that are striving to live a more local lifestyle. Don’t hesitate to send me your recipes and experiences at charlottelocaleats@gmail.com!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Turnips

Raise your hand if you got super excited when you read the title to this post. Yeah, I didn't think so. I always thought of turnips as the weird, slightly squishier version of a vegetable which, as far as I was concerned, couldn't be improved upon, the potato. Turnips look OK on the farmer stand because they're a little purple and usually have a lovely green stem. But what in the world does one do with a turnip?

The answer is, lots. Like tofu, white potatoes and whole wheat pasta, a turnip absorbs and takes on the flavors around it with surprising results. I'm no expert on this vegetable, but I usually peel it like a potato then heat it in some way. My two favorite ways to prepare this seasonal veggie are mashing them or sauteeing them with shallots and garlic. You can get turnips from lots of farmers this time of year (I got mine from Houston Farms but Coldwater Creek has also had them) and I used garlic and butter from Simply Local.

Mashed Potato-Style Turnips (v, <5%, LPO)
3-4 medium to large turnips, peeled and cut in 3/4 in cubes
1-2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Greek-style yogurt (optional)
  1. Bring 2-3 inches of water to boil in a large saucepan
  2. Boil turnips for 8-10 minutes or until just flaky when forked
  3. Drain turnips and put in a large bowl
  4. Using a potato masher, mash the turnips, adding salt and pepper, butter and yogurt to taste
Turnips and Shallots (V)
3-4 medium to large turnips, peeled and cut in 1/2 in cubes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 medium shallots or other small onions
2 cloves garlic
  1. Bring 2-3 inches of water to boil in a large saucepan
  2. Boil turnips for 5 minutes or until just softening
  3. While turnips are boiling, saute shallots and garlic with olive oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan
  4. Drain turnips then add to the frying pan
  5. Toss until covered with garlic and olive oil and heated through

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Local Breakfast!

I was looking back through the blog the other day and noticed that I had criminally overlooked one huge part of our diet: breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day, it's my favorite meal of the day and their are lots of local opportunities for ingredients.

Eggs are the most obvious thing you can get from most markets and really good sausage is the second. Windy Hill Farm has phenomenal eggs and breakfast sausage all of which I've tried and they're delicious. This past weekend I tried another brunch favorite, huevos rancheros, and some vegan sausages from this great blog. The eggs are from Windy Hill, the cheddar and apples were from Simply Local, and you can get salsa and Greek-style yogurt from many markets as well.


Huevos Rancheros (v, LPO)

1 egg per person
Salsa
Cheese (small handful per person)
Tortilla chips (small handful per person)
Greek style yogurt

  1. Lightly fried the egg in olive oil until yolk is set but not hard
  2. Layer chips, salsa then egg and finally cheese and a dollop Greek yogurt


This is excellent with a little hot sauce or fresh tomatoes and onions.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Now Serving Uptown Charlotte: 7th Public Street Market

Last Friday, I took a walk with another local foodie to the new 7th Street Public Market. Located in the old Reid's location across from 7th Street Station, this consolidation of many small businesses opened in early December. The market's mission is to bring fresh, regional food to the city center and help quench the "food desert" that many urbanites find themselves in.

On Friday at lunch, the following vendors were alive and kicking at the market:
Other vendors include:
The produce section of the market is dubbed The Farm Stand and is a collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. On Friday, they had a wide selection of mid-Winter produce including butternut squash, apples, greens like bok choi and kale, some delicious carrots and turnips. They also had local products including milk, jams and other canned items, butter, salsa, hummus, eggs and lots more. 

All in all, this is a very exciting development for those that work and live in Uptown!

7th Street Public Market
224 E. 7th St.
Monday-Friday: 7am to 7pm
Saturday and Sunday: 9am to 4pm
*Individual vendor hours may vary. Parking is validated at 7th Street Station for up to 90 minutes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spices and Seasonal Vegetables

If you're like my household, by this time of the winter you're getting a teensy bit tired of the standard fall and winter produce favorites. There are only so many ways to cook a potato or turnip before you start having weird dreams about them. I love all of the current seasonal hits more than most people but even I need to spice things up by this time in January, pun definitely intended.

Spices, spices, spices. Salt and pepper can get you a long way but what about chili powder, cardamon, and ginger? How often do you reach for cinnamon when you're making carrots? Not very often, I bet, but these spices and so many others can really liven up your midwinter meals. 

A great store that just came to Charlotte is the Savory Spice Shop. The Savory began as a mom and pop store in Denver, CO, but has been franchised in a handful of cities across the U.S. A group of friends recently opened their own franchise in the Atherton complex just across the parking lot from the market. They have everything from sugars, cinnamons and other sweet flavors to pretty much any savory spice you can think of. As an added bonus, all spices are sold by the ounce so you can chose how much you want.
My current favorite way to use one of their products is for sweet potatoes and butternut squash, both of which you can buy all over North Carolina right now. The Lomax Farm, Coldwater Creek and several vendors at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market are selling sweet potatoes and the butternut squash I got from Houston Farms. Add some olive oil from Ohh-lio Express and either the Bohemian Forest Rub or the Tandoori spice from the Savory Spice Shop and you've got a vegetable side dish worthy of an entree!

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes (V)
1 butternut squash
1-2 sweet potatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Spice of your choice
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Cut potato and squash into 1 inch pieces and place in a 9x13 pan
  2. Drizzle olive oil on top 
  3. Sprinkle your favorite spice and salt
  4. Heat at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until potato and squash are at your desired tenderness
Note: Salt can really bring out the flavor of spices that otherwise might fall a little flat so add just a dash, especially for international flavor profiles.