30-Day Eat Local Challenge: June 6

Oyster ChowderWe’re in it for the long haul, now.

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Progress.

That’s what today’s felt like, on several fronts. We started the day going to the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, a weekend hodgepodge of…I mean, it’s a farmer’s market. It’s actually one of my more favorite ones, because it’s still a farmer’s market, while a lot of “markets” in this city that spring up eventually get swamped by people trying to sell soap, art, and recycled object jewelry. Mind you, I have nothing against those places. I love to frequent them—except when all I want to buy is some freakin’ corn.

We restocked on some produce that was running low, as well as picking up dill, shitake mushrooms, cucumbers, and more corn. I’ve been eager to work with shitake for a while. I love shitake mushrooms, but part of me was always thinking I couldn’t do them justice with my limited pantry. But we have onions, we have oil (or butter). From there, it’s just deciding how to use them that will be my primary concern. But more on that later.

I just made one of the best freakin’ soups I’ve ever made in my life. This is the dish I’ve been looking forward to since I ran a few of my pantry items through the search engine. The recipe claims it’s the Best Oyster Chowder, Ever. After making it with what I had available, I’m inclined to agree. The only thing unavailable to us was broccoli, so we subbed in some of the okra I picked up from the French Market farmer’s market. I also used 4-5 small red potatoes for the 1 “potato” the recipe calls for, but so far as subs go, I actually preferred them because the red skins give the chowder that little bit of confetti color.

Honestly, I would’ve preferred the broccoli, but the okra did just fine. Furthermore, I threw in a few pinches of the ground chiles, oregano, and thyme for a bit of spice. The end result is a Pretty Darn Good Southern Oyster Chowder, For Now. Once the challenge is finished, this is a recipe I’m going to go back to and throw in some celery and maybe some more spices for the funsies. It also let me practice with a roux, which I also use when making oyster and artichoke soup, so that’s nice too.

But what I’m more interested in are the long-term plans.

There were a few classes today at the place that’s hosting the challenge. One of which was this class on how to make your own kombucha. You know kombucha—the miracle drink that’s basically a fermented probiotic tea, made in Asia for a couple thousand years and now sold for really absurd prices in the Western market—right? Yeah, if you can ferment, you can make the stuff. So, we’re going to give it a shot. As such, I’m declaring my cheat item to be black tea.

We need the black tea to make kombucha—the culture feeds off of caffeine and sugar. While I could use mint tea, I worry that the culture won’t have enough stuff to feed off of; it’d basically be whatever cane sugar I add to it. So, we’re going to roll with black tea instead. In the spirit of keeping it local, I’m going to use Community Coffee’s basic black tea.

The kombucha will make both the tea-based drink, which we can infuse with local seasonal fruits, or we can let the fermentation process continue to make vinegar, which we sorely need, and would probably be delicious even after the challenge ends. In fact, if we can get a good kombucha rotation going, that will last us for as long as we want it to continue.

This is, I think, one of the major turning points in the challenge. Not only am I learning how to just get by on basic ingredients, I’m setting up long-term projects that will far outlast the challenge.

Fermenting is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve lost count of the amount of times the word “kimchi” has passed my lips, and it’s just a fascinating chemical process that’s been around for a couple thousand years—you would think it would be one of those things that was just passed down generation after generation as “this is just something you should know how to do, son.” But barely anyone talks about it, giving it this weird connotation in society that sits between science and sorcery.

Meanwhile, we finally picked up some Old New Orleans rum. ONO is the oldest rum distillery in the US, and they’ve made a rum specifically for cocktails. Right now, I have some crystal rum being infused with blueberries in the fridge. The infusion will be used in cocktails, and the blueberries…drunken pancakes, anyone? And because blueberries are in season right now, I might get some more just to make more infusion, because I fear one pint of blueberries just won’t cut it.

This is the start of something big, something wonderful, I feel. But hey, that’s what all learning should feel like, right?

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