As we push on in the challenge, I’m actually finding that we’re getting even closer to basic, raw materials. As you’ll recall, from the start, I was happy with jelly and tofu, and we’re only now learning that those products may not be entirely local. My mother is having a huge headache because the people at the counter of Hollygrove (or wherever, but today it was Hollygrove) couldn’t tell her if the blueberries she wanted to buy were from within the 200-mile hard radius of the challenge parameters.
Here’s the thing, though: that’s our job.
Once this challenge ends, I’m not going to go up to the counter at Rouse’s like, “Hey, what can you tell me about this Jif peanut butter?” and realistically be able to expect any answer that’s not, “Uh, choosy moms choose it?” Part of the challenge is research, and part of research involves disappointing, even frustrating outcomes from time to time. Yes, it totally sucks that our tofu probably wasn’t fully local. It totally sucks that we can’t get simple things like mustard, or even celery, because those things are out of season. We are insanely limited. That’s what makes this a challenge, and not merely an inconvenience.
As I explained to my mother, vegans go through this virtually every single day. At least, for the first leg of their lifestyle. Same goes for people who discover food allergies or intolerances. How inconvenient it must be to have to check over a whole list of ingredients to make sure that something’s not going to severely hamper your ability to function in a few hours. I get it, it’s annoying as hell. If you told me tomorrow that I could never eat Oreos again, I’d probably get a little misty-eyed. It’s not like I eat Oreos more than once or twice a year, but that once or twice, I really enjoy them!
But once you’re in it for a while, you begin to notice certain things keep popping up. Unlike the case of food allergies or prohibitive diets, we’re looking at things we can eat, rather than what we can’t, but the process is still mostly the same. I keep seeing things like Kleinpeter’s, JD’s, Grow Dat. I think I’m starting to become a familiar face with some of the local farmers’ market vendors, because I know their stuff is from around here.
One thing I noticed after the June 10th entry was that we were severely lacking a very important food category: snacks.
I do have a bit of a sweet tooth. Or I just get tired of the taste of beans from time to time. So I set out to make some snacky foods. At first I thought it was going to wind up being some kind of rice and honey ball, but most of those require cinnamon and/or nutmeg to function, so those were all out. However, I did recall some folks talking about fried okra, and we still had plenty left over from the purchase I’d made before the oyster chowder episode, so I thought I’d give that a try.
I wound up discovering a basic rice flour frying batter recipe. It’s super simple, it’s vegan-friendly, and it goes with anything that you want to pan or deep fry. Despite its name, I found that it’s actually quite fluffy, almost like a tempura or cake batter, but 2 tablespoons of salt felt like a lot. For the fried okra, it wasn’t too big of a problem because those were fine being a little salty, but what I ended up doing was going back and making essentially an eggless pancake batter and stirring in some diced vegetables, hoping to make little cakes or balls, kind of like falafel, and in that case, it was way too salty. So, try it with about 1/2 tablespoon per cup of flour if you want to go that route.
I also added some of the Lee & Sons jalapeño powder to the batter for a little “southern kick.” That’s another one where you really don’t need a lot. Some folks I shared them with lit up when a few minutes later a light burn hit the back of their tongue; you really don’t need a lot.
The other little joy was the peanuts, which my mother found at a farmer’s market near her work. After discerning that their origin was, in fact, under 200 miles, I set about shelling the little guys myself to make honey-roasted peanuts, based off of this recipe, using Bernard’s honey (local). I did elect to toss some cane sugar (Three Acre Farms, I think? Found it at the co-op) in there, and I would recommend against doing that in the future. The sugar seemed to melt and turn into something like hard candy, sticking the peanuts together. Better to add it as a garnish later than put it in the baking mixture, I think. That’ll be the next attempt, unless I go for rice-flour peanut chunk cookies, which is looking more and more like a possibility.
The cake experiment led to other possibilities.
Since we had a fall-back supply of red beans and rice to last us until, well, today, we took the time to do some experimenting. My father, whom I sent up some pecan oil for his birthday, suggested making sweet potato pancakes. I’ve had sweet potatoes (Holly Grove, I believe) on hold for a while; I just couldn’t think of what to do with them. Without any kind of reliable dipping sauce, french fries are on hold for a while. This might change if I get my hands on some LA 1 Whiskey, at which point I could attempt a not-bourbon bourbon glaze. But, lacking that, I was sort of stupid as to what to do with them.
The way he explained it was fairly simple: bake the sweet potatoes like you would normally (so poke holes in the skins, put them in the oven at about 350-400 degrees for about 40 minutes to an hour), then peel and discard the skins, mash the remains, apply about a cup of flour (for every 3-ish medium potatoes), add an egg or two, apply milk to get it to a batter state, then fry like you would a pancake.
In my nervousness, I leaned a bit on this recipe to help me through. But, I won’t lie, most of this was guesswork. Rather than boiling, like the recipe calls for, I baked the potatoes like my father suggested. However, I liberally tossed some cane sugar in the “batter”, and I didn’t add enough milk at first. When I went to try flipping the first pancake, it fell apart on me. So I ended up adding what was probably about a cup of Kleinpeter’s half & half before it got soft enough to where when it fried, it stayed in a relative disc shape upon flipping, but I still could’ve probably added more.
I wish I could be more descriptive, because I was actually really pleased with the end result. Served with cane syrup and a pad Kleinpeter’s butter, they were actually a fine balance of sweet + savory. I still think the french fries are much easier, probably because I have more practice with them, but again, without something to put on them or dip them in, the pancakes may be the way to go if we decide to get anymore.
What we do have is a plethora of tomatoes.
Creolefest just wrapped up, so we picked up some of the local fare (that is, creole tomatoes), and already my mind is ticking. Homemade Bloody Mary (lack Worcestershire, lime juice, and celery, but we can make them with pressed garlic, tomato juice, jalapeño powder, red chili powder), homemade ketchup (lack vinegar…for now), so I’m left looking at stewed tomato recipes. I’m still searching for inspiration, but know that I’ll do something with tomatoes, even if it’s just tomato soup, in the coming days.
But wait a minute. Stop the presses! Hold the phone!
I’ve been keeping an eye on the first batch of kombucha, and our child SCOBY went from a few tails of yeast and the hints of a bacterial colony to a full-blown disc, virtually overnight. Fearing the worst, I took a straw and just tasted a sip, and it already has that back-of-the-tongue tang of…well, kombucha, right before it vinegarizes.
ALL HANDS ON DECK!
While we could let it sit another night while we get fruits and stuff prepared, we had two bottles and a funnel ready to go, and so we decided to make our first flavor watermelon + jalapeño. The only other fruit we had was some grapefruit juice (meh) and blueberries soaked in gin, which I fully intend to make into drunken pancakes. So, both bottles got some sliced watermelon, first of the harvest, and a bit of jalapeño from the Crescent City Farmers’ Market. I dropped a sprig of thyme in one to see how it affects the flavor, because the site I used for flavor inspiration listed thyme a bunch.
We already have batch 2 set to go, using both the old mother and the new SCOBY in two separate containers. Hopefully we’ll be a little more prepared this time. But, regardless, in about 3 days, we’ll be able to start trying out this new kombucha (hopefully? I think that’s how it works?).
We did make a few other recipes today, but this post is already overly long, so I’ll get into those tomorrow, as we return to regularly-scheduled programming!
For now, eat healthy! Yay local!