Posts Tagged 'dark days challenge'

switching gears

I had my first Dark Days cooking flop of the challenge last week. I’ve been struggling to come up with a few more vegetarian options for our 50-mile radius meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love our local meat. I feel so lucky to have a freezer full of pork, chicken, beef, lamb, and bison – all raised by people I know, trust, and respect. But it seems like most of our weekly Dark Days meals are meat-centric. And as a former vegetarian, I still harbor a penchant for meatless chow. The DD challenge has got me realizing that with the exception of wheat, we don’t really have anyone in our neighborhood producing dry beans or other grains.

With that in mind I decided I had better embrace the one grain I can get locally. I set out to create a hearty wheat berry salad. Picture roasted pumpkin cubes dressed in maple syrup with pinches of cardamon and cinnamon. Mix in some garlic sautéed in saffron butter, toss with the warm wheat that has been simmering in homemade veggie stock all day, and top it off with a heap of caramelized onions. Oh, and maybe add a few little smudges of local chev to each bowl before serving. I was feeling pretty cozy just dreaming it up.
In an effort to try something extra good for us, I decided to sprout my wheat berries a few days before making the salad. According to Sally Fallon – who has yet to steer me wrong – spouted grains and seeds are substantially healthier for us. In her book Nourishing Traditions, she says that the process of germination produces vitamin C, increase vitamin B content, and can raise the carotene level up to eight times that of unsprouted grain. Reading this bit of news really got me going. It’s the middle of February in northern Wisconsin, bring on the carotene! Fallon goes on to explain that even more importantly, sprouting neutralizes the phytic acid found in the bran of all grains which inhibits the absorption of all sorts of good minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, coper, and zinc). And if that’s not enough, she also tells us that the spouting process creates a number of good digestive enzymes. What’s to lose, I think?
I soaked my canning jar of wheat berries over night, drained them in the morning, and proceeded to tend them diligently for the next 2 days. Which basically meant giving them a rinse a few times a day and turing the screen lidded jar back upside down to drain and breathe. Extra health benefits or not, it was absolutely thrilling to have something living and growing in the kitchen windowsill. And perhaps my zealous green thumb is what got me into trouble. I think I over sprouted.
I refrigerated the sprouts after just 2 days, even though the instructions said it would take 3 or 4. In retrospect, they did seem a little lanky, but when it came time for Dark Days Meal 10, I proceeded as planned and followed Fallon’s cooking instructions of a slow oven simmer. All afternoon a cross between the smell of freshly baked bread and simmering stew wafted up the stairs to my office. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I went down to taste the wheat. Here’s where the trouble started. The flavor was good, but the texture was chewy. I mean really chewy. No amount of masticating seemed to break down the sprouted ends of the wheat. Maybe it was just me, I thought, and hopefully returned the pot to the oven. But when Mark got home from work, I did the ultimate test. I gave the man who will eat nearly anything without complaint a bite and waited for his reaction. He was nice enough about it, but I knew I was going to have to switch gears for Meal 10.
We were down to the wire on time and I need something quick. So I made the culinary leap from Maple Hill Road in Washburn, WI all the way to South America and grabbed one of my favorite grains off the pantry shelf – quinoa. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s nutty, it cooks up in 20 minutes. Perfect. Except suddenly my sweet pumpkin, garlic, and caramelized onion concoction seemed too heavy. I had also roasted a tray of beets that afternoon, which were now quietly resting in a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. These seemed like a better fit. With the exception of the quinoa, I kept things mostly local, but I did get a little carried away with the dressing. Since I had to leave my big, bold pumpkin behind, I comforted myself with something tangier and more perky. Which means I added lemon juice and fresh ginger to the dressing. And then, at the last second, I couldn’t resist tossing on a few bright green pistachios that I had on hand. Just the sight of them mingled with the pink beets made me a little less glum about my sprouted wheat debacle.
I still plan to try my “pumpkin berry” salad and will even give the carotene packed sprouted wheat a second chance. I checked back and Fallon does say not to let the sprouts get beyond 1/4 inch. So I’m guessing that’s where I went wrong.
I felt like I should have jumped right back on the indigenous horse and done something particularly noteworthy for Dark Days Meal 11, but Mark and I were both rebounding from mid-winter colds. We were tired and unenthusiastic. Nothing sounded better than a plate of blueberry waffles with a side of thick, Hermit Creek Farm bacon. Even though I had local flour and milk on hand, I was feeling so lazy that I opted for the jar of Sturdiwheat pancake & waffle mix from the pantry – which is actually somewhat local, especially coming from my mom, who lives just down the road from Red Wing, MN where it is made. And I have to say that the mix beats out many of the recipes I have made from scratch. Sturdiwheat blends some of the outer wheat bran back into the mix, which yields an especially flavorful waffle. To make us feel even better, I served them on my grandma’s prettiest flowered plates.
Dark Days m.10
Not Really Local Warm Beet Salad
Beets and shallots (cold storage, via our garden), chev cheese (Sassy Nanny, 30 miles), quinoa (most likely South America), olive oil, ginger, lemon juice and coriander.
For the beets:
Wash and trim one pound of beets. Leave part of the top and skin intact. Put whole beets in a covered baking dish, adding enough water to cover the bottom of the dish to about 1/8th inch. Cover and bake in a 350º F oven until beets are tender – about 45 minutes to an hour. Uncover, cool, cut off what is left off the tops and slip off skins. Cut bets into wedges or cubes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar and a dash of salt. Let stand a bit and then toss with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil.

For the quinoa:
Bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until water is gone and quinoa is tender. Set aside.

For dressing whisk together:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots

In a large bowl, stir together the quinoa and beets, pour dressing over stir to combine. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios and crumbled goat cheese.

Dark Days m.11
Waffles for the Queen of Heaven
Sturdiwheat (Red Wing, MN, 208 miles – or 18 miles for my mom), blueberries (Blue Vista Farm, 2 miles), yogurt and cultured buttered (homemade from Tezner’s milk and cream, 15 miles) maple syrup (Andy and Linda’s sugarbush 19 miles), bacon (Hermit Creek Farm, 29 miles). 

Top piping hot waffles with butter, yogurt, blueberries, and maple syrup.

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)


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