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Week 4 - Monday - How Local?

Peas and RiceI finally make it to the store today. I spend some time in the produce department considering fruit. Blueberries and cherries are, for some reason, incredibly expensive ($6 and $4 a pound respectively.) Apples are all in the $1.30 - $1.60 range, always the best buy in fruit. Nectarines are pretty expensive, as I would expect during this time of year. But peaches—and they look pretty good, I pick one up and sniff it—are only $2.60 a pound! I start to buy some, but then I put them back. Peaches are a summer fruit to me, and despite the price it just seems too early to buy them. I wish I had noticed where they were grown.

So I walk over to the apples and start thinking about which variety to buy. Granny Smiths, new this week, are the cheapest. But I notice that they are from Washington State. In fact, looking at the source of the apples, all of them are from Washington State—except for the Galas, which are from Chile! I'm not trying to eat only local foods, but between my CSA, eating seasonally, and the foods available at the Rainbow, I believe I mostly do that without trying. Today I learn that's a reasonable assumption, but to really read the labels.

The big box of valencia oranges has disappeared, but there are 5-pound bags of grapefruit available from Oasis, California. I have no idea where Oasis is, but I figure it's got to be closer than Washington State, so I buy those. When I get home I look it up: Oasis is 348 miles away from here, right on the edge of the state. Not locavorian by about 200 miles, but not as bad as the apples.

What do locavores do about spices, by the way? The Locavorian page invites people to make their own preserves, and I guess they could use locally produced honey for that. I'm sure I could do without the sugar, but I couldn't cook many of my favorite dishes without cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and even pepper, for heaven's sake! Surely these items are excepted.

Speaking of food that is not grown in my own area, dinner tonight includes a fabulous innovation: homemade coconut milk. Peas and Rice is one of my favorite dishes, but it uses a can of coconut milk, which always seems a little expensive to me. Yesterday, searching for a copy of Mark Bittman's Apple Crisp recipe, I stumbled upon his recipe for making your own coconut milk. It's simple: flaked coconut, boiling water, blend, steep, voila.

I don't have a blender, of course, so I try the food processor. Well, that's a mess. I transfer the mixture into a mason jar and use my immersion blender. (This is one of the handiest kitchen gadgets I've ever owned, by the way. I use it rarely, but when I need it, it's perfect. Ask for one next Christmas.)

Anyway, a jar of coconut milk costs $1.79. Making it myself costs $1.02 for 2 cups of coconut flakes, the time it takes to boil water, 10 minutes steeping time, and then a minute to strain the resulting milk. I'm never going back.

My version of peas and rice is kidney beans simmered in garlic and coconut milk for an hour and a half; add a bunch of scallions, some thyme, converted rice, and some water, and let cook for another 25 minutes. Mark Bittman calls for 3 cups of beans and 1 cup of rice and says it will serve 4 - 6 people. Crescent Dragonwagon's recipe calls for 1 cup of beans and 3 cups of rice and gives the same serving amount. It will serve 4-6 GIANTS maybe—this makes a lot of food. My recipe is based on Crescent Dragonwagon's from The Passionate Vegetarian, the best version I have found. I use 1 cup of kidney beans and 2 cups of rice, and we always have leftovers for a week. Tonight I serve it with the last of the salad mix and vinaigrette.

It is delicious.

Monday total: $5.42. Remaining weekly allowance: $56.08.

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I buy coconut milk powder (sometimes cream of coconut powder) from the local asian market. It makes a can's worth of thick coconutty goodness for cooking (or for whipping as powder into icings, cakes, whatever) for 79 cents and a quick simmer on the stove. One of the things I like best is I can just take a tbsp of powder out for a single lunch or something and forget about the package in the fridge (as I often do) and it doesn't spoil.

I tend to think that spices are light and can be shipped slowly in bulk, and that this is what international trade is for, but I'm not committed to eating locally yet. I will point out that you can grow your own ginger in a largeish pot at home :-) Just bring home a nice big fresh-looking root, wait until it sprouts, and plant it. It takes a year or two before it grows enough to harvest, but then I'm told they grow pretty fast. The one I tried to grow died because I was in a dorm room with not enough sunlight at the time.

I should look for that coconut milk powder. I'll look at in one of the Indian groceries; the Korean grocery doesn't have it.

I think a lot of locavores have a trade clause. Things that might have been traded by ship back in our great-great grandparents' time like salt and pepper are OK. Like most things in life, it's not about purity.

Rebecca - a lot of locavores allow themselves either a certain number of luxury exceptions for coffee, spices, etc. or else take a blanket 'Marco Polo exception' - anything relatively small and doesn't need special shipping arrangements - in other words, the kind of stuff people shipped by sea centuries years ago. Personally I like the Marco Polo exception - it's reasonable to ask people to give up environmentally wasteful shipping of frozen and fresh produce and meats and such from around the globe, but asking people to give up the luxury of spices that were available to our ancestors back in medieval times seems pretty ridiculous :-)

I'm happy to say that locavores in Michigan can have sugar in their diet - big sugar beet farms in the Thumb.

Our first box of CSA produce is due in June 5. I'm really looking forward to it.

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