30-Day Eat Local Challenge: June 19

Lima bean soup
What’s life without a little adventure?

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Only in New Orleans would any kind of dietary restriction challenge be met with the phrase: “But what [alcoholic beverage] can I drink?”

Because of this, my mother and I found ourselves wandering through the Quarter like tourists, every other block checking our phones looking for someplace that sold this elusive red bean and rice beer from 40 Arpent. We wound up exhausting all of our walking-distance options in a bar called Tujague’s (pronounced “two jacks”), right across from Café du Monde on Decatur Street, and we decided to compromise with a shot of Old New Orleans spiced rum on the rocks.

For the record, ONO spiced rum on the rocks isn’t bad.

It’s probably not now nor not ever going to be a go-to bar drink for me, but given that our options were that or not drink, it was not bad, and we had a lovely conversation with the tender about ONO rum and cocktails in general. Furthermore, for a Friday night not just in the Quarter, but right there on Decatur Street, the bar of Tujague’s was almost eerily quiet and friendly, and it’s a place I can see myself going back to after the challenge is done.

The bartender also gave his opinion on the red bean and rice ale, saying it was, “Awful,” and I respect him for that. From red bean and rice beer, I would honestly not expect anything less, and I’ll admit that I felt like a worse-than-novelty tourist asking multiple bartenders up to that point if they had it, only to ditch when they said, “Uh, nope” (despite the webpage for the ale saying those locations specifically would have it).

But let’s talk food.

The big complication over the past 4 days since my last entry has been onions. We’re out of them, and no place is carrying them. Not Hollygrove, not the Co-op; nowhere. So we’re down onions because despite my protests otherwise, we don’t stockpile anything for more than 2-3 days in advance. Theoretically speaking, even if we did, were the shortage to pop up a day or two before a shopping day (like tomorrow, when the Crescent City Farmer’s Market opens again), we would still be screwed.

I ended up making Spanish Rice again tonight, using the same recipe as before. It’s actually a bit of a historically-relevant cuisine for me. While New Orleans is famously tied to French culture, it was occupied by the Spanish for a time, so a generic one-pot rice recipe named after them seems oddly appropriate, at least with the produce we have available. The good news is that I seem to be getting better at making the recipe with each iteration, and that’s a theme of Week 3: improving on the stuff I learned in weeks 1 and 2. Tomorrow, I intend to make drunken pancakes with the rum-soaked blueberries, which you’ll recall was one of the very first recipes I attempted, minus the drunken aspect.

Speaking of blueberries, let’s talk smoothies.

SmoothiesI have a love-hate relationship with smoothies. I get it, they’re the suburban culture’s weird fetish “food.” And despite my tendency to gravitate towards one-pot meals, there’s something about blenders that just irks me. I can’t explain it. I just don’t do smoothies a lot, okay? But today, we were out of butter, out of onions, and had zero for leftovers, but we were plentiful in blueberries, so I didn’t have a lot of choice for a lunch.

I wound up throwing in JD farm blueberries, some soft kale from Hollygrove (I separated the stems from the leaves and put the ribs into the stockpile for later), ice from my machine, Kleinpeter milk, peanuts from the north shore farmers’ market, and Bernard’s honey. That all got blended together.

To be honest, it was really nice, and disarmingly simple, particularly for someone with a weird and unidentifiable aversion to smoothie science. But oddly enough, almost everything served a purpose: I knew the blueberries were a staple, as was the kale—but the kale added that deep green nutrient base. Peanuts and milk gave the necessary protein, and the honey served as liquid sweetener. I’d swear this was all by design, if I didn’t know better. Screw necessity: the real “Progress” is a cocktail of equal parts availability and necessity with a dash of panic and garnished with a fear of starvation. Blend well, serve in a chilled glass.

For dinner this week, we kept to what we know.

I wanted to use the vegetable stock that I made last weekend. I was really skeptical, because the broth was super peppery (probably because there was jalapeño membrane and seeds in there), but I ended up finding this recipe for a tomato and lima bean soup. Mind you, the lima beans from Camellia are huge; not like the little green limas you’re used to.

I added shitake mushrooms to it because shitake has sort of become our meat substitute, particularly when it comes to broth-based or water-soaked dishes (like the Spanish rice I’ve gotten really good at making). Furthermore, you can stretch shitake mushrooms out by separating the cap from the stem and shredding the stem by pulling it apart along the grain with your fingers. The caps’ circular shape lends them towards andouille slices, while the long, stringy stems are almost indecipherable from chicken meat.

My only complaint with the linked recipe as presented is that it looks really oily, despite not having a great deal of oil in it. I imagine this is why you’d want to cover it up with parmesan cheese, much like you would with a French onion soup (which this recipe shares many characteristics with). Of course, as we lack the ability to use parmesan cheese in this way, we just had to deal with it, and while it didn’t look like the most savory of dishes, it tasted quite wonderful.

The soup carried us up to tonight, when the spanish rice took over.

In other exciting news, THE KOMBUCHA IS DONE!

KombuchaI’ve almost never been more proud of myself in an endeavor where I did literally nothing but stop the process.

About three nights ago, I saw that our SCOBY had created a baby that took up the entire top of the storage of our kombucha, so I popped a straw in there and took a sip. I fear we may have actually been a day too late, because man was it sour. But, taking an executive action, we moved the kombucha into refurbished Gingeroo bottles and threw in some watermelon chunks and diced jalapeño. Three days later, I popped the bottles, and now we have kombucha.

It is still really sour, and I can’t more than sip it, and I think the alcohol content is a little more than 0.1% based on how I feel after drinking it, but for attempt #1, it’s not bad. Furthermore, we brewed up some more black tea and have batch two in the making. This time, I’ll be a little more cautious and hopefully catch it before it vinegarizes any more than batch 1 did. Also, we’re a little more ready for it this go-around. We have blueberries and blackberries on standby, so we won’t be scrambling around with a dangerously-sour basic kombucha thinking, “Oh my god, what to we infuse it with?!”

The question is: what are we going to take away from the challenge?

Just tonight, sitting on the roof and sipping local rosé, the question came up again. It’s a fond one we like to ask each other. I mean, okay, my spanish rice is coming along swimmingly, but really, other than the novelty, what’s this all about? For me, I think learning about the fermentation process will unlock a whole new sector of potential, not just for kombucha, but in making my own vinegars for dressing, or pickling for cucumbers, cabbage—oh my god, I could make a New Orleans-version of kim-chi that could be absolutely killer around brussels sprout season.

Futhermore, I really liked Tujague’s, which is a bar I never would’ve gone to if we hadn’t been searching for that elusive probably-not-even-real-beer.

The garlic mashed potato thing is so incredibly wonderful to know I know how to do, because it’s the perfect side dish for my friends who eat steak, and I’ll probably be taking home the leftovers!

So there is a point to all this. I really do believe that. Yeah, I think a lot of people can write it off as a novelty thing, an artificial challenge to give life meaning and all that. I totally see that. But I also believe that life as a Millennial has been made too easy, honestly. I mean, our novelty factor is so severe that I couldn’t tell you my home bank teller’s name; ATMs have so infested our lives in that way, and 20-30 years ago, that would’ve been nigh unheard of. I refuse to grow old in a world feeling helpless because of something so stupid as not knowing what to do with what’s in my fridge. And I don’t want to be a chef or a line cook—that’s not my intention. But for the love of God, I just don’t want to feel stupid. And there are a ton of things we who have had all this cooking and canning shit handed to us on a plate that sometimes I wonder if people can make anything more complicated than a hamburger anymore. Sometimes you have to introduce artificial difficulty to learn—about yourself, about others, about life. That’s what this is about.

And so we press on.

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