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Category Archives: Dark Days

Nearly Impossible?

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Local Produce? In the winter? Around here?

A few years ago I may have made that statement myself. Now, I know better. There was a long discussion on one of our local facebook pages, Clarksville Happenings. About rotten produce (and meat) at our community grocery store. Lamenting the apparent lack of quality control, and attention, from the big chain.

Lots of discussion about using Roots, Wegmans, Boarmans and Harris Teeter as alternatives to getting less than stellar fresh foods.

One comment struck me. A good thought. Using mostly local foods instead of those flown in from far away. Eating locally and sustainably. But, the caveat. That it was nearly impossible to find local produce in the winter in the Northeast.

Dark Days Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Dark Days Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Before I took the Dark Days Challenge in 2012, I didn’t know what was available locally. I signed up for a winter CSA. Lots of root vegetables and a few flash frozen fill ins. I found DuPont Circle, Silver Spring and Tacoma Park year round markets. You could make that once a week challenge meal using those sources.

Now, there are many more options for fresher better foods. I get 90% of my food from Friends and Farms (which sources regionally) and Lancaster Farm Fresh (which delivers a CSA to Columbia while dropping off wholesale foods to MOM’s, Roots, David’s and Friends and Farms).

A December CSA Delivery

A December CSA Delivery

All my meat and seafood except for specialty items I get at Boarman’s. Dairy. Bread. Produce. Pantry items. Every week. Fresh from the greenhouses or high tunnels.

It means eating seasonally. There aren’t many choices for fruit. There are quite a number of flash frozen items to fill in the gaps. Still, I can eat most of my meals without going to a store. For those who are ready to use local produce, check out my local resources page. Besides my two current suppliers, there’s Breezy Willow Early Bird starting next month.

My carbon footprint is smaller too. Even if it includes citrus from Florida. Which is awesome by the way. Something about grapefruit in a salad that makes cold weather recede into the background.

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Well, time to check on dinner. In the oven on slow cook. The tri tip roast from F&F. Fingerlings from LFFC. Carrots and onions. A mushroom gravy I made from two weeks worth of mushrooms. That soup I made the other night. I thickened the leftovers and made the gravy for the roast. It smells wonderful up in the kitchen.

Local meals. In February. Not impossible at all.

Catfish, Before and After

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Who out there deliberately buys catfish at the grocery store? We never did. Only since we get food from Friends and Farms have we been lucky enough to expand our tastes, and try new things for dinner.

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It doesn’t get much fresher. And, not that hard to make. Dinner tonight featured the catfish. It dominated the plate, but we didn’t want to waste that fresh clean fish by freezing it and cooking later. Picked up at 3 pm.

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Ready to bake not that long after. A simple yet really flavorful preparation. A little olive oil in the pan. White wine. Lay the fish on top and sprinkle liberally with bread crumbs. Some paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. A final drizzle of Secolari’s lemon olive oil. Baked for 20 minutes at 300 degrees.

Served with some of the best tasting fingerling potatoes from today’s Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA delivery. Salad on the side. Two pans. Less than 1/2 hour to make.

The biggest reason I love having these two food sources. Keeping my sense of discovery alive. I never would have bought catfish. I never would have tried some of our weirdest vegetables.

I never would have become a soup maker. My other big thing today. Making a pot of mushroom soup. Which will be blended tonight, and served for dinner tomorrow.

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Cremini mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms. Portabella mushrooms. Saved for a week to make the soup. Mushrooms are in season. And, so flavorful.

As for the rest of the two baskets.

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My omnivore basket from Lancaster Farm Fresh. New to me this week. Sunflower butter.

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My Friends and Farms small basket. Notice those parsnips. Yep, both baskets had parsnips. Another vegetable I never bought in a store. But, one which I really love.

Take a chance. Join a CSA or a food buying service. Expand your culinary capabilities. Eat better. Eat seasonally. Eat locally.


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I love it when a plan comes together.

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The chili is bubbling away in the crockpot. It will be used for dinner tomorrow. Nachos on Sunday. Maybe a lunch if there’s enough.

My two major food sources cooperated to give me almost all the basic ingredients to make a turkey chili. They also support a few other meals by combinations. Greater than the sum of their parts.

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Friends and Farms gave us ground turkey this week. This is the protein component of our basket. Besides that turkey, the eggs and bacon will show up in many places. Breakfast Sunday. A frittata next week. And, those pork chops. Will combine with the leftover half of my sauerkraut from last week’s Lancaster Farm Fresh share. Browned, then baked over the kraut, with a couple of sliced apples and some of that lovely apple cider. I am enjoying that cider. It has been used in many pork dishes. Used to make one awesome honey mustard dressing. I like getting it biweekly. It works in so many ways as a liquid base for meals.

The rest of the Friends and Farms basket.

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Pea shoots. Collard greens. Red onions. Garlic. Apples. Grapefruit from Florida. Shiitake mushrooms. Green peppers. Raw peanuts. Cheddar parmesan bread.

Turn to my winter CSA share from Lancaster Farm Fresh. Picked up right before heading out to Friends and Farms.

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Yellow onions. Rainbow carrots. Red beets. Portabella mushrooms. Popcorn. Yukon gold potatoes (squared – I traded Rose radishes). Cheddar cheese. Ground beef. Maple syrup.

Think about that chili. Ground turkey. Yellow onions. Green peppers. Garlic. Pull out a few jars from the freezer of tomatoes. A few cans of beans.

Super Bowl Sunday. I am thinking popcorn, peanuts and maple syrup. Close to Cracker Jacks maybe?

Two kinds of mushrooms here. Thinking mushroom soup.

Grapefruit. Beets. Red onions. There will be a salad in our future.

Meal planning made fun and easy when you get locally sourced fresh foods every week. Winter? Who cares? This is really good stuff. Without traveling down to DC to find it.

Third Time Lucky

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With a winter CSA. We finally got enough participants to create a winter pick up spot for a 13 week Community Supported Agriculture program from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

For those of us who like that weekly infusion of a surprise basket of vegetables, getting this off the ground meant quite a bit to us. I chose what is called an “Omnivore Package”. 5-8 vegetables. One pound of meat. One half pound of cheese. One pantry item. Every week. We may get bison. We will get raw milk or aged goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses. We will get staples for our kitchen, like honey or maple syrup or horseradish. All from right up the highway in Lancaster County.

They changed our pick up from Thursdays to Wednesdays. I like that too. Gives me more time to get things done before the weekend comes. Then, we can easily heat up and eat, with a good made from scratch meal.

During this four week hiatus from the CSA I have been cleaning out some items from the freezer. Like all the chicken wings we got last fall.

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Perfect for a play off game day. Covered in raspberry jam, sriracha, honey, onions and garlic.

Or my meat loaf.

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Made with a half pound of hamburger meat and a half pound of pork sausage. A couple of eggs. Bread crumbs. Onions. Salt. Pepper. Drizzled in ketchup. Do you remember your mom making meat loaf? Didn’t you love it? Leftovers made great sandwiches.

I have also been making chicken salad from the chicken breasts. Egg salad from my Friends and Farms eggs. Some days I do feel like we have regressed into that world from my childhood, with all our food made from scratch.

Can’t wait to see what we get next week. Between Lancaster Farm Fresh and Friends and Farms, I don’t need markets or grocery stores this winter. Well, except when we run out of toilet paper.

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.

The CSA and Market Official End to Summer

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The markets are ending all over the county. A few have a week or so to go. Tomorrow is the last Ellicott City market. As for our CSA, yesterday we picked up our last summer share. There were 44 of us at our host’s site. Fall veggies were the norm in our boxes, but it still was considered the summer CSA.

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It was greens heavy, as usual for this time of year. This was also the second week we got celeriac aka celery root.

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This week it included the leaves. Looking them up online I see they are in fact edible. There was an interesting discussion at the pick up site about how we get our veggies. If it is in the box, it is edible. We get carrot tops, beet greens, kohlrabi leaves, all sorts of things not found in our local grocery stores.

What did I do with that celeriac? Sliced it and froze it. Same with the leaves. It will be used in stocks all winter.

As for the rest of the box, there was romaine, red cabbage, broccoli, spinach, bok choy and sweet peppers. There was also kale but since I grow it in my garden, I did a swap to get beautiful arugula. I had used the last of my home grown arugula in a pesto, so this fresh large stuff in being used with goat cheese for salads.

Next Thursday 28 of us will get our first fall CSA box. Then, the following week two more people join us. Fall CSAs aren’t as popular as summer. People seem to think all we get are potatoes and turnips.

Still, we are happy. We met the minimum to continue a Columbia pick up site. I look forward to celery and Jerusalem artichokes. To exotic pumpkins and maybe salsify.

Who knows what surprises will come every Thursday?

The Winter Locavore

I miss the Dark Days Challenge. Back two years ago when I thought it would be hard to find local foods to cook a meal.

These days, after learning how bountiful our area is, I miss the challenge as a way to connect to other bloggers, who value eating seasonally and locally.

It is simple to eat mostly local foods at every meal, here in the MidAtlantic.

Breezy Willow Eggs

Breezy Willow Eggs

Breakfast is simple, if you use local eggs, bacon, locally baked breads, butter, yogurt, milk.

Lunch, lots of simple salads with high tunnel greens. Sold at markets. Like the winter indoor Olney Market at the Sandy Spring Museum, or the Saturday Silver Spring Market. Things like potato salad. Beets. Spinach. Mock’s greenhouse tomatoes, arugula, basil, chard.

Fritattas. Chicken or turkey salad made with local meats.

We have a freezer full of local meats. Fruit picked at Larriland. Tomatoes from my garden. Pesto. Greens. Corn. Fava Beans.


I can easily use local food sources and my freezer to make meals most of the week. Saturday farm hours at Breezy Willow and Copper Penny. Saturday and Sunday at England Acres.

I just wish we still had that challenge to keep us interested in blogging about it. And, I am crossing my fingers that Mom’s in Jessup gets enough sign ups to make the winter CSA a go. We will know in about two weeks. CSA would start up again the week of the 20th.

As part of my resolution, I will cook a local meal most Sunday nights, and blog about it. Not a bad resolution.


Dreams vs Dreary

OK, after buying a ticket like millions of others, I didn’t win MegaMillions.


It would have been nice, wouldn’t it? Maybe I could fix dreary Columbia!

If you haven’t followed the latest local drama, the “dissing” of Columbia Gateway as dreary, by a New York writer, then you have been out of the local news loop for sure.

Personally, I agree the Gateway area leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe the Columbia residents need to pressure businesses to stop calling something Columbia when it isn’t.

Me, I think I will continue to love my part of the county. Make cookies again tomorrow.


Toll house, and then my mom’s sugar cookie recipe.

And, enjoy my tree from Greenway.


I think I did an awesome job decorating it.

Oh, by the way, much of the area is pretty dreary in the winter. Unless you love sunrises and sunsets, which are the heart and soul of the solstice.


Lovely, isn’t it? And, no, we didn’t win the money.


Mostly Local

Back when I first started writing this blog, I used participation in food challenges as a way to increase my awareness of local foods. I did the Dark Days Challenge, the Southern SOLE Food Challenge, another winter challenge, the Buy Local Challenges and found out how easy it is to cook with local ingredients here. I need to update my local challenge page to reflect the current status, but it is a great link to some sources of local foods, as is my local resource page.

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My first dark days luncheon in 2011. Locally sourced items for a salad.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing weekly challenges, as my refrigerator, freezer and pantry had quite a bit of local ingredients stashed in them. Almost every meal had something local in it.

Meat and dairy is simple here. So are vegetables from all the CSAs in the county.

Yesterday I didn’t even think about it. I took two dishes to the reunion. Both had local ingredients. I also took a few bottles of Big Cork wine. A winery just outside of Frederick. A Traminette. Perfect for those who loved the shrimp and the crabs, and the pulled pork. A spicy wine, similar to Gewurztraminer.

My contributions were tomatoes, goat cheese, basil over a bed of arugula. To be accompanied by McCutcheon’s dressing. Tomatoes. Mine. Basil. Mine. All the plants from Sharp’s Farm. Goat cheese. Cherry Glen. Just west of us in Montgomery County. Arugula. Love Dove Farm. Howard County.

My other dish. A four bean salad. Using wax beans from TLV, and green beans from my CSA. Yeah, the cannellini and garbanzo beans were canned, bought at Roots the other day.

Breakfast today. Love Dove eggs. Lunch today. Leftover salads from yesterday.

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Dinner tonight. One incredibly awesome sirloin lamb roast from England Acres, one of the packages from the half of lamb we bought in April. Potatoes, from the CSA. Peaches from Lewis Orchards. Love Dove arugula. Catoctin Mountain Orchards Peach Vinaigrette over the salad.

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My latest batch of ajvar on the side with some pita. Using CSA eggplant. My garlic, roasted. Yeah, I bought the red peppers at Harris Teeter, as we haven’t seen many nice red peppers. Hasn’t been hot enough this summer.

I really am thankful that we have our markets. We have many local farms open year round. We have year round CSAs. Making our meals that much fresher, that much better.

Thanks to our local farmers. They make it easy to eat locally and seasonally.


The Demise of the Dark Days Challenge

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And, the rise of local choices year round!

It was a great idea six years ago. To start a challenge for the dark days of winter. To try to find local ingredients to cook one meal a week for four months. Not Dabbling in Normal hosted it last year, and it is where I began my journey to look for locally sourced foods. It is what inspired me to start my local resources page, and to change what I ate, where I bought it, and how I prepared meals. It was not that difficult, thanks to all the resources here.

It seems to have outlived its usefulness, and it no longer was a challenge to cook a local meal in February. It became very easy in this area. High tunnels, greenhouses, hydroponic growing. Year round markets, indoors and outdoors. Farm stands open all winter. CSAs that deliver in the winter. Residents of Howard County are indeed lucky to live surrounded by farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs that keep us in local ingredients.

The challenge is gone, except for the few of us who still keep in touch, and blog every Sunday about our latest local meal. With me, most meals contain at least one locally sourced item. Breezy Willow CSA and Sandy Spring CSA provide me with fresh veggies and fruit for 44 weeks of the year. My freezer does duty to preserve some items so they are available in winter. The farm store at England Acres, the indoor market in Olney, and I don’t have to travel far to get what I need. For only ten weeks a year I don’t have local veggies provided to me from a CSA (yes, I can count, 44+10 equals 54 but my CSAs overlap). Look at these lovely winter selections, begging to make a chicken soup.

February Zahradka half share CSA

February Zahradka half share CSA

I think it is amazing that every year we expand the times for the Howard County markets, and add more farms. There are now five days of markets here in the county, from May until Thanksgiving.

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We have at least eight CSAs dropping off boxes at pickup points, or being picked up at farms like Love Dove, Gorman, Breezy Willow, Shaw Farm and Roundabout Hills. Sandy Spring drops off in Columbia. Zahradka has at least two pick up points in the summer, and delivers to your door in the winter. One Straw Farm has been here a long time, too. People pick up at MOM’s or a private residence.

Add to that, South Mountain Creamery delivering milk, meat, eggs, other local products every week year round, to your door. And, now Friends and Farms is actively adding to the choices to find year round.

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When I started all this writing, I didn’t know it would take me on a path to a new way of shopping, cooking and caring about the small local businesses here. Glad I took the challenge, and so glad I found all these wonderful people to sell me my food.

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Ah yes, bison and polenta. Gunpowder Bison short ribs, Burnt Mills roasted corn meal made into polenta, one of those carrots from the above CSA delivery picture glazed with local honey, and the ribs topped with McCutcheons tomato preserves. Think eating locally is hard? Not here in HoCo, it isn’t!