Friday, September 17, 2010

food on friday finale

I think this will be it for the food on Friday posts for a while. Things are incredibly crazy around here with three different school schedules (elementary, middle and high school, the latter of which is a 40 minute drive away); two soccer teams and two cross country teams (Secondo is doing both); piano lessons; all the work I am behind on thanks to summer; and blah blah blah whine whine whine.

Until we find a rhythm, the blog will probably be a bit out of sync as well.

But I wanted to make sure that I provided a little wrap-up on our summer local eating experiment. To kick the whole thing off, I read The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Eating Local per Linda's suggestion. The book was the perfect jumpstart to get me thinking about our food and its journey to our plates. My experiment -- five miles only for fruits and veggies for three months -- was obviously a bit easier than the one detailed in the book, but it strengthened my resolve. Hey, if those people could go without wheat, then Terzo could certainly make it without fake baby carrots.

While I was reading the book, I was somewhat astounded at the tension the diet put on the authors' relationship. I didn't quite get it, until one day in August -- long past our lettuce plants' life -- when my LSH brought a bag of pre-cut lettuce home from the supermarket because he wanted a break from cucumber salads. I, admittedly, lost it. I went so far as to spurn the lettuce, stewing the entire time, and then retreated to my workroom to watch Jane Eyre and meditate on the probability that Mrs. Rochester did not go mad because of any sort of genetic predisposition to mental illness. She went mad because she stood in the hot sun, during a drought, watering the garden every dang morning and then Mr. Rochester went out and bought bagged lettuce.

Then I kind of understood why a year of this sort of diet could take a bit of a toll on interpersonal relationships.

The other thing I noted -- in awe -- while reading the book was what an amazing cook James was, and that it would probably have been impossible to carry out the 100 mile diet without that kind of talent. As you know from reading my food on Friday posts, that is not the kind of talent with which I am blessed. The gene passed me right on over, and went onto my brothers instead.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the farmstand.

I became a better cook. And as a completed unexpected corollary, my family became better eaters. Oddly enough, all these restrictions meant that we stepped out of our comfort zones and started to experiment.

I got used to the "OK, we have a cucumber, two zucchini, some basil and some potatoes; what can I make out of that?" school of cooking. I astounded myself with what I managed to turn out, and how good the vast majority of it was. It would be lying to say that my family was 100% thrilled, but all the time we spent at farmstands picking out the wares seemed to resign them to actually eating the produce available. They knew there wasn't anything else.

Tonight's dinner was a perfect example. The drought and the approaching cool weather have taken a natural toll on our garden, and it is now full of decay and dust. I managed to scavenge a few last veggies for dinner tonight. A far cry from a few months ago!

I put the two best tomatoes aside for a salad, and commenced to dicing up the rest. I had one last zucchini, which was picked about a week ago, and that went into the pan first with some dried chopped onion, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Chopped up the tiny runt peppers pretty fine and added them in too, along with a bit of water, some sea salt and a touch of white wine.

At this point my middle son, a fairly picky lad, came in and asked me what smelled so good. Unheard of before this summer.

I chopped up the scrawny tomatoes -- didn't even bother skinning them -- and dumped them in. Added a little more water.

Decided to take a pass on the eggplant. Even I had to admit that it was too seedy and bitter.

Let the concoction cook for a while.

Gave the kids a vote. Eat some ratatouille (which was essentially what I had made) on the side of a pasta-n-sauce dish, or have a chunky garden-style tomato sauce? They voted for the chunky, so I dumped in a cheap can of store bought. (No home-canned sauce for us this year. We lost most of our plants when we went on vacation. See watering every day in the hot sun, above.)

Put on a lid and let it simmer for 45 minutes. Took off lid to heaven. Used a hand-held mixer blade to mush up the zucchini a bit because I don't have one of those potato masher thingees. Necessity, she is a mother.

It was absolutely scrumptious. And it was also absolutely the kind of thing that I could not have pulled off before this summer, for the simple reason that I hadn't tried. The interesting thing about this diet was that we used far, far more of our garden's production than we ever had before. Very little went to waste, and that required a certain amount of creativity and risk-taking on my part. Guess I just had to be pushed to do it.

We are pretty much done at this point, though I still find myself planning boys' lunchbox fruit around what is available at the local stand, and a few butternut and spaghetti squash need to be harvested from the garden. On the whole I would declare it a success, though I am not sure my family would agree.

However, I am not asking them. That's another thing I learned this summer.


  1. I hope everyone is happy and healthy and back to school today! You sure did make the best of your self imposed challenge! CONGRATULATIONS - I would have caved long ago. I will miss your food on Fridays and am looking forward to your next theme, assuming you are contemplating something.

  2. YUMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing this! And thanks for the blog comment! It is nice to be done already---furniture was delivered today, tomorrow is the cable and phone then we're really all done! It's so worth it!