dark days

My friend Julie and I recently decided to participate in the fourth annual Dark Days Challenge – which calls for us to prepare one fully locally derived meal per week from now until mid-April. We are indeed facing some dark days ahead. And thinking about food, where it comes from, how it is raised, and fun ways to cook what’s available locally is a sure way to distract me from the grey and darkness. Plus, Julie is a pro at this. A few years back, she engaged her family of four in six months of eating EVERY meal local. So I know I can turn to her anytime for inspiration and advice.

Here’s my set of self-determined rules. “Local” for me means anything grown or raised within a 50-mile radius. I gave a bit of thought to my radius and settled on a distance that I could self-propel myself. I have to admit that biking 50 miles to retrieve a fresh chicken is not exactly on my list of things to do, but if push came to shove, I could. Although I might have to spend the night at my destination before biking back – or at the very least stay for lunch!

My exceptions are olive oil, coconut oil, some spices, vinegar (although this has inspired me to make my own, but it won’t be ready in time), and butter (again, I have plans to churn my own using cream from our local dairy, but it will be Christmas time before I can borrow my grandmother’s old butter churn from my mom. In the meantime, I’ll continue using a fantastic hand rolled butter produced in Richland Center, WI – some 200 miles straight south of me.) And even though I know I could forego fresh lemon juice one night a week, there are times when I might give in. For me, a squeeze of fresh lemon is often the crowning touch that turns a good dish great. Were I to go completely local in my eating, I would go to great lengths to maintain an indoor lemon tree in my northern Wisconsin home. I am an occasional home brewer, so there will certainly be a batch of porter fermenting soon to help see us through the winter. I buy my grains from Northern Brewer in St. Paul (230 miles) but I suspect the grains’ actual origin is even a little further west than that (I’ll check). If other exceptions come up along the way, I’ll be sure to note them.
I’ve participated in a handful of local eating initiatives and for me the key is to focus on the things I CAN find locally and not dwell on the things that I can’t. Having to really think about where the food I am cooking has come from raises an awareness that I appreciate, and one that I too often take for granted. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a midwestern, rural area and still have access to an amazing array of beautifully and happily produced food. In addition to the pounds of berries and vegetables (frozen and canned) and root crops from our garden, I know I’ll be able to find: fish, pork, chicken, beef, lamb, cheese, milk, cream, sprouts, kimchi, sauerkraut, maple syrup, honey (sort of a given), pop corn, wild rice (although it was a poor year for ricing and supplies are meager), wheat berries, and whole wheat flour. And I’m looking forward to a winter of discovering even more. Here’s a recap of our first two Dark Days, local meal. I’m happy to share recipes if anyone’s palate is piqued – just drop me a note.
Dark Days m.1
Broiled Lamb Chops
Lamb chops from Morning View Farm (37 miles), garlic (our garden), olive oil, lavender pepper, salt, and butter (Richland Center, WI)Sauteed Potatoes
Potatoes (our garden), butter (Richland Center, WI), oil, salt, pepper, spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles)

Warm Beet Salad
Beets (our garden), feta cheese from South Shore Chev (30 miles), spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles), vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper

Dark Days m.2
Trout sautéed in Brown Butter
Lake Superior lake trout (caught around the Apostle Islands, probably within a 20 mile range), butter (Richland Center, WI), garlic and shallots (our garden), topped with spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles)

Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
Sweet Dumpling squash (our garden), wild rice (50 miles give or take a few – hand harvested by friends near the Bayfield County line), feta cheese from South Shore Chev (30 miles), dried apples (our land), turkey broth (homemade with garden vegetables and a local turkey), scallions and garlic, (our land)

4 Responses to “dark days”


  1. 1 Nancy S. December 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Jill the meals look absolutely delicious! Hats off to you and Julie. Need to consider broadening the group in the future – perhaps this is a cookbook in the making…

  2. 3 Kathryn Gilje December 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    hi you — love the commitment and agree. have to admit it’s gotten loads easier since moving to northern Cali. Let me know if/when a care package is in order. We just harvested our first tangerine today. they’re in season now. we’ve got satsumas. the limes are teeny tiny, as are our lemons, but the navel oranges will come in during the next months. much love from Oakland.


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