30-Day Eat Local Challenge: June 1

Rice Flour Pancakes

Let them eat pancakes!

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In 30 days, I’m either going to fall into a mad, unshakeable love with where I live…or I’m going to come to loathe it.

The challenge I recently accepted goes thusly: for the month of June, all food/drink that I consume must have been grown, caught, or raised within a 200 mile radius. Everyone whom I have told this to has reacted one of two ways: “Oh, that doesn’t sound so hard,” or, “Oh wow. That’s going to be real tough.”

First, I was first in the former camp, but then I learned more about where I live, and I swiftly tumbled into the latter.

You see, New Orleans lacks the proper soil conditions for wheat. And while all the gluten-free folks can shrug their shoulders and say, “Meh.” I’ve certainly been far from gluten free all my life. Bread, crackers, danishes, and more—these things have been very kind to me. They also don’t grow any coffee beans around here. So, a very simple dish whose apparent ordinariness at first glance I’d fallen in love with over the past few years—black coffee (or americano) and plain croissant—is entirely off the table.

So, what’s the point of the challenge?

While we can all scoff at the occasional person who freaks out when they find a chicken leg in with their thigh like they didn’t know the two were once attached, how many of us really stop to think about just how much effort has gone into bringing our meal to our plate? Even staunch vegans can sometimes wind up imposing a huge carbon footprint if they’re regularly purchasing foods from Africa, the Middle East, or even just the far side of Canada. Because of this, over the past probably 5-10 years, I’ve noticed a resurgence of the locavore movement as a sort of sister philosophy to the organic movement. The idea is to “remember where our food comes from.”

For me, though, I’ve always loved farmer’s markets. Despite the smaller selection, I always felt that grocery store produce often looked too perfect, and having all the choices available can sometimes be really overwhelming. When I see harvest-limited produce, sometimes, inspiration kicks in. For people who are hesitant to decide on what to eat or where to go, introducing any kind of limiting factor can significantly boost creativity.

It’s very much like the vegetarian/vegan situation in restaurants. If you can eat everything on a menu, many times you’re looking at 40+ options. The moment you limit yourself to vegetarian options, that number can be cut down to 3 or 4. I, personally, get lost in options, so that’s great for me.

But in this case…it’s going to be tough. Just for Day 1, I’ve already been tasked with working with foods I’ve never worked with. I’m doing prep work hours if not days in advance. For some, this is a shrug of the shoulders. Maybe it’s just a Millennial thing, but I can tell you that a lot of us claim to be hip because we have exquisite tastes, not because we practice exquisite methods. This means, for me, it’s doubly important. People should know how to soak beans, how to work with bland leafy greens like chard and kale, how to shear corn kernels for a salad. These are basic things, but when your life comes to you canned or boxed, you don’t know how to deal with them in their original forms.

So here I am, dragging accoutrement that might as well be medieval torture devices, for all I understand of their use.

There’s oregano drying in the oven and red beans soaking on the stove. I have little idea what I’m going to do with either, but when I do make some tactical decisions, I know they’ll be good to have. Of course, at the same time, I’m not kicking myself for not grabbing green peppers last night, because there’s a kale and corn salad that’s starting to shape up in my head, but all I can think of right now is what I don’t have.

For the first dish in the challenge, I made rice flour pancakes, using this recipe as the base. We found some local blueberries on our first outing to stock up that I was planning to use either to make a reduction or something, so I threw those in the batter to sweeten it up some.

The only oil we have available to us is pecan oil, which I am not at all familiar with. However, it’ll have to serve for all our vegetable oil needs.

When morning rolled around, I threw the pancakes in a skillet (no griddle—sorry!), using local butter to keep the pan slick. The recipe made four large pancakes; I could only get through two. But, another problem cropped up: we don’t have syrup. In this case, a blueberry chipotle jelly (as picture) added both spice and sweetness; no, it’s not Canadian syrup, but it’ll serve, until I can make a blueberry reduction or glaze.

I’m starting to get a sense that there’s a repeating pattern going on here: rice and sugar cane are what made this city turn once. For the next 30 days, that’s basically how I’m going to live. But with an apartment smelling of oregano and red beans, and a Pandora bouncing brass and jazz off the walls, I’m starting to think I could be okay with that.

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