Eat Local Challenge: Ricotta on the brain

'Tis the season of faux Italian cooking. Tomatoes, basil, garlic, eggplant and/or zucchini, throw in some non-local (exempted through the pantry rule) but real and genuine Italian fruity green olive oil brought back for us from Italy in precious carry-on space, and you've got dinner in a myriad of ways. Except for one thing.


I've been living off goat cheese from oodles of local places, but all of it chevre. Which is close and good enough for most applications. Mozzarella will have to wait for the arrival of my cheesemaking kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply (30 minutes! Fresh mozz!). Parmesan in all its glorious forms will have to wait till September. But ricotta, with recipe via Heidi and proof positive from Clotide, was only some buttermilk away.

I got a half gallon of goat's milk (goat's milk ricotta, doesn't that sound yummy?) from Full Moon Farm in Rochester, NH. The buttermilk was from Oakhurst, so it may technically come from further away than 100 miles, as some farmers are way up in Maine, but a lot are closer, too. Law of averages or something.

Milk warming.


All of a sudden, the action.




Forgot about it for too long so it dried out more than regular ricotta.


More like a ricotta salata than anything. Which is totally good and fine.

It melts like a dream - perfect for those melty cheesy pesto tomato dishes I've been thinking about. Layers of eggplant, globbed onto grilled zucchini, tossed with roasted tomatoes and pasta (pasta? where'd you get locally sourced pasta? well, it's made by a local company and ummm . . ) for the quickest satisfying dinner.



Eat Local Challenge: Reference Reading

Upon mention by a couple sources (including Cindy of Food Migration, and what a migration she's undertaken of late! Read all about her adventures starting cooking school in Paris.), I excitedly interlibrary loaned Gary Paul Nabhan's Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods.

Here is the short story, for those too excited that there exists a whole book about the issue of local foods that they want to rush right over to their local library or independant bookstore before reading the rest of this post: it sucks.

I do hope people of differing opinions will weigh in, and maybe temper my opinion. I am very easily persuaded, especially when I really really wanted to like something, and am dissapointed to find that I don't like it after all.

My complaints:

  • it is tedious. I am a seriously fast and furious reader. Seriously. But it took me multiple weeks to slog through this thing, and its only 300 pages. The writing is not engaging. It is repetetive. I read a lot of non-fiction, it doesn't have to be like this. I think he could have distilled it down to 150 pages, which is about where I started an internal argument with myself over finishing it:
"Just put it down. You are wasting your life on this book."
" But something might happen! Or he might teach me something about something! I'm willing to learn anything!"
"That hasn't happened yet, has it? It never will. Give up and cut your losses."
(After finishing the book)"You were right."
  • it is heavy on hippie-styly preachy faux spirituality and slim on facts. I definitely 'get' our connection to the earth through the food we eat. I don't need it 500 times over. What I need is stuff that will make me an informed consumer and help me communicate the importance of all this eat local business to people who aren't similarly minded.
  • he is a brat. So he and his friends go on a river rafting trip. The first night out, his friend starts to cook paella, using lots of canned stuff and totally non-local stuff. He goes over to the guy and complains! Sez how dissapointed he is that everyone isn't buying into the foraging for local stuff in the desert deal. So the next day, ok, everybody's ready to forage. Turns out Nabhan didn't do his homework, there is nothing to forage for! If everyone had gone along with him, they would have been miserable and hungry. Come on, who complains when their friends cook them dinner? Who does that?
  • the guy drives a Blazer. And harps on it. "I got into my Blazer" "The Blazer was hot" stuff like that. Never refers to it as a car or SUV or anything else. They get 13 miles to a gallon. 13! Sure, he lives in the desert and drives around alot. But he never talks about hauling large amounts of stuff, and is usually driving around by himself on foraging missions. There are more fuel efficient desert friendly vehicles. And if you harp on everyone else about environmental issues and own an suv, the least you could do is be embarrassed or hide it. A BLAZER!
This guy appears to be at least a semi-big-wig, in the circuit of agricultural politics, and I don't want to downplay too much that aspect - there is a lot of stuff in the book about how and why genetically modified foods are making it so quickly into our food supply without the general public really knowing it - that is some good stuff but it is really diluted, not really in focus.

Here is one fact from the book that I found very relevant, and spent some time looking for more updated figures but only got as far as 1990:
". . . in 1910, farmers themselves gained forty cents for every dollar consumers spent on food but received less than seven cents per dollar by the time I left college in 1982" (p 73).
We can take heart that this trend seems to be reversing a bit, and our eating local and giving more of our money directly to farmers is helping. There has been huge growth in the number of farmers' markets in the past ten years, further enabling farmers to earn a fair wage. At the same time, we get the bonus of less petroleum used for packaging and transportation.


Mexican Chocolate Chunk
Zucchini Bread


A couple of weeks ago my farmer-librarian friend Jean said something about chocolate chips in zucchini bread. I was stopped in my tracks. Literally. Never, in all my days, had this occured to me. I know, I know, it's very common. There's even a blog about this combination. A very famous one. That I read regularly. I just took it as two separate things.

Like a revelation, this idea percolated. Stirred in my brain. I've never made zucchini bread before personally, something about a gazillion zucchinis out of the garden when we were kids. I od'd to last me 2o years. But chocolate in zucchini bread . . .

But now we're in August, and the Eat Local Challenge is on. In my personal exemptions, I exempted everything already in my house. This does not include chocolate chips. It does, however, include a pretty full little box of Ibarra, the Mexican chocolate flavored with cinnamon and weirdly crystally in this way that I love.

After some more percolation, and a few glances at Martha's plain jane zucchini bread recipe to get an idea about baking soda and whatnot (although I am a very intuitive cook, the baking intuition is lagging behind.), we came to this:

  • Totally delicious! I am brilliant!
  • I amped up the zucchini to rest of stuff ratio. It's zucchini bread, after all! Most recipes seemed way too light on actual zucchini.
  • The amount of cayenne was right for me and B, not spicey, just . . . warm. That's the only way I can describe the sensation and it was right on. If you don't like your sweets warm, cut back to 1 1/2 tsp, but give it a go. It's good.
  • Perhaps a little more cinnamon.

3 tablets Ibarra chocolate, chopped into chunks with a big knife
(about 9 oz, if you are going to substitute)
1 cup ground almonds
6 cups shredded zucchini
(about 2 1/2 lbs whole. man, I love my food processor.)
2 1/2 cups sugar
5 cups flour
4 tsp cinnamon (I'd up it to two tablespoons)
2 tsp cayenne powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt

5 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tbl vanilla extract
1 tbl almond extract

Preheat oven to 400F, mix dry ingredients together, mix wet ones together, blend wet and dry. Divide into four greased bread loaf pans, bake about an hour. Let cool ten minutes or so in pans, then tilt out onto cooling racks for the rest.

Makes four loaves: one to eat right away (very good warm), one to share, two to freeze until zucchini is a distant memory. Yum yum.

Eat Local: eggs from Kelly Brooke farm (5 miles), organic zucchini from New Roots Farm in Stratham (8 miles) paid for in sweat equity, organic butter from Woodstock farms (94 miles), honey from Hampton Falls Apiaries (10 miles). The rest, alas, is from the far-flung nether regions - it was all in the pantry.


Eat Local Challenge: Dairy


My milk hasn't changed, it's from Harris Farm in Dayton, Maine (about 28 miles). I usually buy this milk because of the environmentally happy packaging - reusable glass bottles take a lot less water to clean than the recycling of plastic jugs - and because of the flavor. This milk is so sweet!

The eggs are from a local farm stand, in this case, Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH on rte 33 (5 miles).

My butter used to be Cabot, which is made by a farmer's cooperative in Montpelier, VT. Just outside my 100 mile range, though many of the farmers are within the range. Then again, many are even further away. So today I am trying Woodstock Farms organic butter, out of Dayville, CT (94 miles).

I also picked out some cheeses while picking up my milk and butter. Lord knows I'm going to miss my smelly european cheeses this month. One is an old favorite, Great Hill Blue, a nice crumbly all purpose blue from Marion, MA (83 miles). The other is new to me, a fresh chevre flavored with roasted garlic from Valley View in Topsfield, MA (25 miles).

I picked up some sausages from Kellie Brook while I was there, and only later did it occur to me that these sausages, made out of homegrown local pigs, contain some far-flung spices. I think that is nit-picking, but it points out for me the kind of depth this project/experiment/challenge can get to.


eat_local_large_recEat Local Challenge: Finding Aides

Made me some maps to help me figure out where farms are in relation to the 100 miles. The one on top is just a really old road map that I did up to get the big picture - it's hard to find New England maps that are just one sided - usually Maine is stuck on the back, as is the case with the bottom one. But I needed that one, too, actually more, because it is detailed in its town name labelling.

This was some old-fashioned string and pencil work on paper maps, and will be very good for taking with me to the store. We are lucky here in New England to have so many small farms that make good stuff, but I am unlucky in that I am not really from here and am not intimately familiar with the geography. I can definitely already see the looks of curiosity I will get when I whip out my maps and unfold them on the floor, desperately seeking the names of towns off of labels.