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The Dark Days

The time of year when the sun is in the opposite hemisphere, and our daylight hours get shorter and shorter. On December 21st, we here in Howard County only get 9 1/2 hours of daylight. Then, thankfully, the days get longer after that day.

A few years back, I did a food challenge. Called the Dark Days Challenge. The challenge, simply, was to make a meal once a week in the winter that used almost completely regional, seasonal items, and/or items you preserved from the summer.

I found out we had lots of sources here in Central Maryland. I didn’t have to eat food flown halfway across the country or halfway around the world. I learned about the Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and DuPont circle year round markets. I found farmers in the area where I could procure local meats.

I found a year round CSA. Bottom line. I changed how I ate. I changed how I cooked. I reduced my carbon footprint by using more and more local foods.

Last night, I made dinner. Afterwards, I realized how that dinner would have rocked the Dark Days Challenge. Almost all of it was local. And I didn’t even work hard to do it. I had just changed my food sources over the years.

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My lamb stew dinner. Using Mt. Airy Meats lamb. CSA potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots. Friends and Farms kale, garlic and rosemary. Trickling Springs butter. Secolari’s olive oil and balsamic. Wayne Nell’s bacon ends.

And the wine.

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A 1999 Linden Glen Manor from Virginia. Like inhaling cherries. Dark, delicious. Nowhere near its peak. A bargain back when we bought it. A treasure to be savored with the lamb.

My husband declared I now make a braised lamb stew that rivals those that Marc Dixon used to make at Iron Bridge. Falling off the bone lamb. Simply cooked in the oven at slow cooker setting, with the potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions in a chicken stock I made last month.

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Yes, I know I need to clean the oven. Ignore that. I did the stew in one pan. Seared it first, added the vegetables and stock and cooked it for four hours at the 250 degree setting in the oven.

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The kale. Started out with scallions from Laurel Amish Market. Olive oil. Bacon ends. Added the kale and garlic. Sautéed until wilted.

So easy to eat fresh food around here.

Blurring the Lines

Between markets, delivery services, cooperatives, and CSAs. I can’t help but notice as a result of being part of most of those choices that things keep changing. To keep customers. Take for example.

The presence of my CSA cooperative’s items in my Friends and Farms basket.

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Yes, that’s an LFFC sticker on my butternut squash in this week’s Friends and Farms basket. Just like the sticker on my carnival squash in my LFFC CSA pick up basket.

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And that Bowman Mountain applesauce in my fruit share. Was in the refrigerator at F&F when I got there.

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And, yes, Mother Earth mushrooms were in both deliveries. So was LFFC garlic.

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Here’s this week’s F&F individual basket. I am also pretty sure the leek was from Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop, too. I do like their use of a mostly organic non-profit Amish cooperative to give us great produce and fruit.

Just like I am thankful that our LFFC CSA share keeps going into the fall. And, hopefully into the winter if we get enough interest.

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This was my half share, and my fruit share. Anyone know a killer recipe for rutabagas? The one “weird” item in our share this week.

As for cheese.

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Lancaster Farm Fresh continues to give us artisanal cheeses at much more reasonable prices than Roots, Wegmans, and Whole Foods. We generally get 24 ounces for $25. Check out the per pound price of the best cheese at any of those retailers and you will see what a good deal we are getting.

So, where am I going with this post? I see a shift in my CSA. Giving more options. More individual choices. I see a shift in Friends and Farms. Using more and more reasonably priced organic items. And, more flexibility there too.

The old model, one farm CSA isn’t doing as well as those who broaden their sources. Consumers have lots of choices around here. A one farm CSA with limited veggies won’t survive against the cooperatives and regionally sourced food services like F&F.

I also see the value in these current choices. Better pricing. Fresher foods. I like Friends and Farms comment from a recent TV show. Wegmans and Whole Foods quality at Giant and Safeway pricing. We can get really great food around here. Year round.

The trick in all this? Knowing how to use it. Staying home and cooking. What have I done with the above, and what will I do this week with the rest of it?

One of the carrots went into tonight’s dinner. There will be a post tomorrow about that dinner. It was simply an awesome local meal. Spinach and mushrooms went into a salad yesterday taken to a friend’s house for dinner. Same with the garlic, in a potato casserole. Taken to that dinner.

As for LFFC, one of the onions in that potato casserole last night. Red cabbage in a salad tonight. I am making apple bread this weekend to give as Christmas gifts. Same for that jar of applesauce. One of my mom’s favorite treats, it will be in her “stocking” from me.

The lines may be blurred these days from my food suppliers, but I still can make flavorful meals and use these items over a two to three week period. Can’t say the same about grocery store produce, which wilts and slimes in less than a week. Fresh food is amazing. We are very lucky to have the choices we have here in Howard County.

A Peek at the Week

Posted on

In food. From my two local, seasonal, regional food sources here in Howard County. It may be December but with the advent of high tunnels and the use of greenhouses, you can still get very tasty fresh foods without them being flown from all over the globe.

A basket of vegetables and fruit from Amish country, for example. Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, delivered to our pick up site.

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This is what $30 a week got me for a half share and a fruit share. Last Thursday’s delivery. A salad spinner’s worth of young arugula. Three small heads of specialty lettuces. One large leek. Three parsnips. A small stalk of Brussels sprouts. Two yellow onions and a bag of white potatoes. The fruit share was a mix of apples and two humongous Asian pears.

As for Friends and Farms individual share. Also picked up on Thursday.

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One large pork chop. One small whole chicken. One half pound of hickory smoked bacon. A dozen eggs. Thyme. Hydroponic tomatoes. Four Bosc pears. One red onion. Four potatoes. Fresh curly kale. One small hydroponic leaf lettuce. The pumpkin ravioli was an add on. From the always stocked refrigerator on site.

All the meat from Friends and Farms has been used. Half the eggs too. This was the last week for free range pastured eggs from Miller Farms. We will get Nature’s Yolk eggs in the winter.

Lots of soups on the menu these days. All the fixings that go easily into the crockpot.

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That chicken? Became dinner Friday night with the leftover breast meat being part of a cream based soup today. Soup was a perfect dinner after getting that perfect tree from Greenway.

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Now, I have to go decorate a tree.

Which Exit?

Cranberries from Jersey. Who knew, the third largest producing state in the USA.

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The treat in our Friends and Farms delivery. Along with this.

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Chocolate pumpkin bread.

But, let’s get back to those Jersey berries. I did a bit of internet digging and found some fun facts about New Jersey’s berry production. And some more about the Pine Barrens, a lovely part of Jersey, right up there in our list of great sites in Jersey, along with Cape May.

Right now, while quickly writing this post, I am making cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving dinner. And contemplating how to use the rest of the basket this week.

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Looks good, doesn’t it? My other favorite, though, was the Atwater’s chicken broth. A new partner that will provide us with goodies like this one.

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Along with my Boarman’s sausage and Whole Foods bread cubes, the basis for this year’s dressing. Local, small business contributers to my holiday meals.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Squash’d

In the CSA box today.

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The mother of all butternut squashes. Believe me, at the site today, with about 8 of us there (as our truck was late due to the traffic on the interstates), we were all dealing with these behemoths. So big we had to carry them separately to our cars.

We had an early pick up date to accommodate the holiday. Now I have two weeks worth of stuff in the last five days. We did get some really good holiday choices though.

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Like baby spinach and white mushrooms. Perfect for a salad. Brussels sprouts and broccoli crowns. White turnips and Yukon gold potatoes. Sounds like a great base for holiday side dishes.

Along with last week, which I never recorded here.

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One humongous red cabbage. Destined to be married with the glut of apples in our fruit shares. A leek. Two white onions. A bag full of baby arugula. Cauliflower. Purple carrots and a celery root. I kept the celery root, carrots and onions aside to make soup after I do the turkey this weekend.

I love it when a plan comes together. Fall CSA from Lancaster Farm Fresh is certainly delivering some of the freshest and some of the largest vegetables around.

We just signed up for winter CSA. Crossing our fingers we get enough participation to have 13 weeks of vegetables from January through April.

Now, off to contemplate what to do with that squash. I am considering “pumpkin” cookies for the crafts sale at the Howard County Conservancy on the 6th of December. We always have cookies out for those who attend. That squash would make a very large amount of cookies.

Pasta Anyone?

Solving the regular what’s for dinner without having to head to the store for things. Friends and Farms basket this week again had a theme and just about everything you needed to execute it.

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Full of ingredients to make Italian cuisine. This is the individual size basket, with just enough for the two of us, but a large basket would provide quite a few choices for the week before Thanksgiving.

I can make us three meals using this much linguine.

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And, that huge lovely living basil.

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Besides the basil, I love the inclusion in my “D week”, which is plain yogurt and eggs. The rotation where I substitute for milk by getting extra eggs.

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I found a recipe that makes a mushroom spinach carbonara, using the baby bellas, some of that spinach, a couple of egg yolks. Finish with some grated cheese. The recipe called for half and half, but I have been using plain yogurt to make a lighter creamy sauce.

In fact, I am contemplating a simple mix of some yogurt, chopped tomatoes, green pepper, onion and garlic. All of it right there in the basket. Maybe some sausage meatballs. I like “repurposing” the Italian sausage. I also considered saving two to make a simple dinner. Sausage, peppers, onion. Sautéed and served with a salad.

The possibilities here are endless. As for the chicken breasts hidden in the left of the picture above, they could be poached and used instead of sausage in a few of my favorite Italian recipes. Or, stuffed with basil pesto. There is always cheese in our fridge. Almonds in the freezer. Easy pesto.

That leaves the butternut squash and the apples for some other night. Roasted sounds good. Or maybe a soup.

Yep, Italian sounds good before all that turkey and stuffing and casseroles next week.

CSA’d Out

I can understand it. Our first year we were overwhelmed at the end of the CSA season. But, we hung in there and learned from it, and drastically changed how we approached the weekly deluge of veggies.

I say this because at our first pick up last Thursday for our fall CSA, we heard that about 5 of our summer CSA members never picked up their last week of veggies, or fruit, or meat, or eggs. The food bank did well, as did our site host’s friends, who benefited from things the food bank doesn’t want. Like all that chicken and meat.

We are down to 30 members, from close to 50 in the summer. Enough to keep us going. Those fortunate enough to join us got new and exciting things, like these.

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Watermelon radishes. I roasted mine.

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Salanova lettuce. A red multileaf variety. So sweet. So flavorful. Devoured in a lunch mix with some poached chicken breast on top.

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Baby Hakurei turnips. Thanks to Elizabeth at Three Beans on a String these will be honey glazed with Larriland apples and served for dinner in a few days.

The whole haul.

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Napa cabbage. Will be a slaw soon, with apples. The beets. Already roasted and eaten. The potatoes. Made their way into a potato leek soup today, thanks to Friends and Farms having extra leeks for me to pick up this morning. Sweet peppers. Sliced in salad. Put into a frittata for tonight’s dinner. A couple of them are left.

As for that glorious cheese share.

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Biweekly in the fall. That stinky funky six year aged cheddar. The “Lanchego”, which is simply awesome. A Colby. New to us, from this supplier. Creamy and delicate.

I can honestly say I am not CSA’d out. I am really enjoying the variety, and of course, the freshness. You don’t have to rush and eat it all in one week. With food this fresh, in two weeks, I swear it is still better than grocery store produce.

Tomorrow is my husband’s 64th birthday. Stand by to see what I put together to celebrate. Will I still need him? Will I still feed him?

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