Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who, Me, Locavore?

I've been reading again, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. My most recent read, as seen on the left, is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In the book, Kingsolver and her family, who live on a farm in western Virginia, decide to spend a year eating locally. They raise their own produce and some of their own meat, obtaining their other food products from neighbors. They even make their own cheese.
This book comes in a procession of books about food that I have been reading, and this one in particular was recommended by my friend K. We had one of those moments of understanding when we both found we were trying to eat seasonally - I had been reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and she had been reading Kingsolver.
While I find it quite unlikely that I will ever be able to completely sustain myself with any agricultural endeavors, I am trying to think about where my food comes from. As in, if it comes from California or Chile, then I probably don't want to eat it. If you think about it, these foods have been picked before their peak, chilled or stored, carted across the country (or the Western Hemisphere) and jostled onto a shelf at my grocery store. I have learned that it actually cheaper for grocery stores to buy produce from huge industrial food processers in CA, because they get tax credits that pay for the transportation (and all the gas, fossil fuels, etc that get burned in the mean time). And guess whose taxes pay for those? Yup. Ours. In the mean time, local farmers are having a hard time competing with the big guys, and it is almost impossible to find locally grown food in your local area.
There are a few options, however. The grocery store I do most of my shopping at carries milk from a dairy farm in a nearby town. The milk comes in glass bottles that you return to the store once you drink all the milk. I have seen the farm on the internet, and their cows actually get to walk around and eat grass (unlike most industrial cows).
We are also, as I have mentioned before, big fans of the farmer's market, where we find eggs, grassfed beef, bacon, and lots of fruits and vegetables. The only problem with this is that the Farmer's market is in the next county. Today, however, I stopped by a tiny produce store that I had noticed off the highway. It was amazing - they had almost everything I needed on my grocery list, including bacon, potatoes, apples, northern beans, squash, onions, and even cheese! And the prices were so much lower than those at the grocery store, I almost felt bad for the people I was buying them from. However, I imagine that I will be returning there again in the future on a regular basis.
So, here is my menu for the week, that is based on what's in season where I am:
Wednesday: salmon (obviously not local), brocolli, and brown rice (not local either, but with no gluten, I need carbs)
Thursday: leftovers
Friday: White bean and bacon soup, corn bread
Saturday: baked potaotes, brocolli
Sunday: cheese and squash quiche
Monday: shepherd's pie
Tuesday: leftovers
While I'm very serious about wanting to eat local, seasonal, and organic, there are also the needs to eat cheaply, easily, and gluten-free on a low budget with limited options. So, while it's not perfect, I think that it is a good start. Overall, my goal is not to adhere ridgidly to a list of legalistic food regulations, but merely to eat tasty, healthy foods, support my local economy, avoid the more perfidious aspects of industrialized food, and participate in/help to create a traditional food culture that is about nourishment, community, and connectedness with where food comes from, how it is grown, and who grows it.

Jack o' Lanterns

Yea, pumpkins! I was very excited that Husband and I carved pumpkins the other night. We used pie pumpkins instead of the regular carving pumpkins, and I plan to use the innards to make pumpkin butter. I like these little guys on our porch. Since I bought candy today, we are officially ready for Trick-or-Treaters!

Well, The Toppings Were Good...

So, my first attempt at a gluten-free pizza left much to be desired. The crust was, shall we say, not good. It was like a very dry crumbly corn bread that constantly fell apart. The toppings, however, were quite good. We sprang for real mozarella - you know, that lump in the cheese case - rather than the usual shredded variety, and it was definitely worth it. The toppings also featured mushrooms, bell peppers, and bacon - yum. The next day, we were faced with leftovers for lunch. Forget it, I thought. I scraped the toppings off the mess of a crust, plopped them on a corn tortilla and heated it in the oven. Neither Italian nor Mexican, it was pretty good. I'm still on the search for a suitable pizza arrangement. Amy's brand foods has a gluten free pizza made with a rice crust that it actually pretty good (Husband even thought it wasn't bad), so I may content myself with doctoring up some of those. But I really miss pizza....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Food Autobiography

I have been thinking lately about why I am so interested in food. And I think that my interest is healthy, non-eating disorderly in nature. I think food is formative and our experiences with food as we grow up are very important. I think that many people rarely think about what they are putting in their mouths, and the result is at worst poor health and at best (but also bad) a seriously missed opportunity to really enjoy something.
I cannot pin-point an earliest food memory. It might possibly be making a Santa Clause out of an apple and marshmallows with my mom when she ran a daycare - I was probably five. Interestingly, many of my food memories are entertwined with reading memories. For example, I have a strong recollection of curling up in front of the heater with a Swiss cake roll and A Figure in Hiding (a Hardy Boys book - much preferred over the Nancy Drew books). The few candy bars that I ate as a child were carefully saved until I could enjoy them with a book.
However, even more than reading, my food memories are connected to family memories. Watching my mom, my grandmothers, my aunt cook. I was about eye-level with the countertop when I would watch my aunt at my grandmother's house making biscuits. She used a dishtowel that was reserved for this purpose, rolling the dough out on the cloth and using a cutter to make perfect biscuit shapes - the left over dough was rolled together to make one that didn't match the others, but tasted just the same. My mom on the other hand, never used a biscuit cutter, instead snatching up a lump of dough and tossing it from hand to hand until it was round. There was always either biscuits or cornbread at my grandmother's house - a meal without bread was unthinkable, which makes my wonder what they would think of my current intolerance of not only biscuits and cornbread but all other glutenous snacks.
When I came home on the weekends from college, I would invariably find myself wedged into the top step of the step-ladder that sat in mom's kitchen, watching her and talking while she cooked. It was here that the left-overs of our daily phone calls would come out - some how you never can get all that out on the phone. In my mind, she is always making taco salads, browning the ground beef and dicing up tomatoes in her palm. I am always dragging the stool over to retreive her pyrex dishes from the top of the cabinet. This is low-key cooking. On high feast days, momma and I would be up till midnight the night before. On Thanksgiving, I am roasting the sweet potatoes and then relieving them of the skins, mashing them into the sweet potato casserole. On Easter, I am peeling the boiled eggs, turning them into Deviled Eggs (where exactly did the term "deviled" come from anyway?) This food is transported (at times more successfully than others) to my grandmothers - where the countertops are straining under the weight of dishes - my father even had to make a wooden board that would fit down over her sink in order to open up that much more space. On these days, no breakfast is eaten in order to create room for all the food that will be consumed - a little bit of each casserole, maybe a little turkey and some ham, and always dessert. I don't suppose that this sounds like the healthiest method of eating, but these days were the exception rather than rule, and much was made out of them.
Somehow, my sister and I were inoculated early with a love for fruits and vegetables. My aunt tells the story of how my uncle would say to his buddies "Hey, watch this." He would then offer to my sister and me a piece of fruit in the one hand and piece of candy in the other, telling us we could have whichever we wanted. Invariably, we would choose the fruit. Pretty good for kids who were so young at the time that they can't even remember the event now. We were also able to resist the evils of fast food at a very early age. My grandmother, with whom we stayed in the summer, had a "town day" every Friday in order to run errands, and we always got to go out to eat with her. Sometimes we would go to McDonald's, where my sister and I would order, not chicken nuggets, not a cheeseburger, but "a chef's salad, please." I actually remember the cashier goggling at me. I don't remember exactly how we were taught these things, which I think is indicative - we weren't taught them, we were immersed in them. We always had fruit and vegetables at home, rarely went out to eat, and weren't given candy as a reward for anything (I do remember being told that I was allergic to chocolate - apparently my allergic reaction was to become extremely hyper). I believe that my parents didn't have to undo any bad eating habits in us because they were never allowed to develop. Eating vegetables was not optional. Now, as an adult, it is not hard to turn down the candy bar. I still save my Milky Way bars for a really good book, but the idea of eating an entire bar in one sitting is almost nauseating.
I have as an adult developed a lot of ideas about food that are based on things I have read or studied, but the foundation is based on those things that I was taught and experienced as a child.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Fruitful Day

So this post is a long time coming - I actually started typing it up last Saturday and navigated away from the page by accident, so it all disappeared into cyberspace. Anyway, last Saturday, I did my two favorite Saturday type things - going to the Farmer's Market and to the used book store.

At the Farmer's Market I found gorgeous apples - Golden Delicious, Magnum Bonum, and Empires. Beautiful and so much better tasting than any genetically modified grocery store apple that's been shipped from Argentina. These were hanging on a tree in Virginia just a few days before I bought them. I also got some muskadine grapes from a cute older couple who were very sweet and let me sample both the muskadines and the scuppernongs ("scuppernines") to decide which ones I wanted. I rounded out my purches with some grass-fed ground beef, bacon, and "happy chicken" eggs. Beautiful, delicious, and much better for you than their conventional alternatives in the grocery store - and actually not that much more expensive. I know that food prices have gone up recently, but Americans still spend far less on their food purchases than any other developed nation in the world. And food is important! Much more important than cable and cell phones and movies and all the other "necessitities" that we willingly spend so much money on. I take it as a challenge to see how much good food for the least amount of money I can get, and I can usually be fairly successful. It largely depends on planning ahead. And, of course, I never do this perfectly. I hate having to throw food out because it went bad before we could get around to eating it, but sometimes it happens. It just means that I need to plan better so that we are wasting less.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Visual Organization

With comprehensive exams looming on my academic horizon, how I organize my information has become rather important. For each text, I type notes, copy paste plot summaries from the LRC, and allow them to remain digital texts, which can be pulled up, hyperlinked, and added to at a moment's notice. However, I find that I have collected a number of physical notes and handouts that must be retained. I recently shifted my folders from organizing the papers by the class I was in that produced them, to organizing them by author (or, in some cases, topic, such as "Romantic poets"). This has been fairly productive, and I think, will be far more useful as I begin to study for exams.
As a very visual learner, I find it quite helpful to have useful information displayed above my desk, which has made necessary a rather ridiculous number of cork boards. On the left, vertical board, I keep information regarding writing - here are handouts for proofreading given by professors, my own personal editing checklist generated during my thesis-writing days, and a rather crushing but completely helpful email print out from a professor relating the (large) number of errors in the paper I had turned in to him - I am, I hope, unlikely to make those same mistakes again.

On the right, horizontal board, I have handouts relating to the 19th century - timelines, a handy chart that shows the relative conversions of 19th centruy British money, a map of England, copies of 18th century woodcuts, and so on. This makes it rather easier to quickly access such information as "where the devil is Wessex?" or "what in the world is a groat?" or whether or not the reform bill had passed before a particular novel had been published. I suppose there are other, neater ways, of organizing such information, but I rather like my collaged, hodge-podge of useful advice and obscure historical fact.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Multi-Taskers for the Kitchen

Although I love kitchen gadgets of all sorts, I have neither the space nor the budget to accomodate such items. As a result, I'm often stuck in the kitchen wondering what on earth I can use to substitute for a particular item. I'm with Alton Brown of Good Eats on this one - kitchen tools should be multi-taskers, not uni-taskers. Here are two that I have recently discovered. The first is a substitute for a pastry blender. I always forget that I don't have one of these until I'm there with my carefully measured (now gluten-free) flour and a stick of butter. Of course, you don't have to have a pastry blender, which is, as far as I can tell, a uni-tasker. You can perform the arduous feat of "cutting-in" the butter into the flour, a task performed with two case knives and a lot of arm muscle. I discovered the other night, however, that a wire wisk works more easily and quicker. It acts almost like a mortar and pestle, cutting and blending the butter into the flour. (Use more of a downward, twisting motion, rather than a typical wisking motion).

The other multi-tasker replaces a tool that I am not sure exists. My husband and I discovered that freshly-squeezed lemonade kicks the pants off any powdery mix you can find, but squeezing the lemon juice from the lemons into the pitcher is difficult, because the seeds come out and into the lemonade. Of course, you can strain them out afterwards with a slotted spoon (the slots on my slotted spoon are too large), but even better is keeping them out altogether. I was given a can strainer as a shower gift, which works fine to strain the liquid off your green beans. However, it also pops down over my measuring cup. Squeeze the lemons over it, and the juice and a reasonable amount of pulp fall through, but none of the seeds.

'Heel Afghan

So, apparently my sister has taken sole claim of the afghan that I made for her and her husband for their wedding. My brother-in-law, consequently, has been wishing for one of his own. Thus, the Tarheel Afghan. Hopefully, I'll be done with it in time for Christmas. (I am a very slow and sporadic crocheter, especially during the semester). At any rate, it took awhile to figure out the cross-stitch pattern for the UNC logo - in the end, I free-handed it on graph paper and then outlined the closest square. It is not perfect - the N in particular is rather deformed, but it is recognizable, and, I think, pretty neat. The intial square began to get unwieldly and awkward - I prefer stripes to rounds, so I scrapped my original idea of making the square large enough to cover the entire width of the afghan. Instead, I am currently adding stripes to the bottom, and when it is long enough, I'll add stripes down the sides to make it wide enough. This is my first attempt at an afghan without using a pattern, so we'll see how it turns out.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Gluten-Free Lemon Scones

Since I recently discovered that I have a gluten intolerance, pastry of any description has been off the menu, much to my dismay. I love to bake and eat baked things, which can be a bit of a problem if you can't eat wheat (or rye or barley). This is my first attempt at using gluten-free flour. I used Bob's Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Mix and a recipe from their website found here: The scones were OK. The recipe indicates 30 minutes of baking, but mine were just this side of burnt after 20 minutes, so I would recommend adjusting accordingly. I also made some fake Devonshire cream to go with them. Because I apparently can't read a recipe correctly, I asked my husband to get whipped cream instead of whipping cream. So I mixed up cream cheese with a bit of sugar and the Cool Whip. The result was actually pretty good.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Hopefully, this blog will contain a number of elements, as, perhaps, indicated by the title. As a graduate student in English, this blog will, to an extent, be about the scholarly life - books I have read, life in academia, the graduate school process, and ideas in general. However, it will also be about home life and domestic pursuits - recipes, projects, gardening, needle-art, etc. Since my academic interests are centered on issues of domesticity and femininity in the Victorian novel, there may be some cross-over.