The Eat Local Challenge continues to roll along with a mere four days remaining in the month. One of the challenges is to throw an “All Local” dinner party. As luck would have it our bookclub, an ever-expanding group of 20+ women, was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, April 25th, so I signed up to host and do it “All Local” style!
Cooking a meal prepared with all local ingredients requires some planning, while cooking for nearly 20 women requires a certain level of insanity. Combine the two and you’re prone to have a panic attack the night before, finding yourself staring at the ceiling at midnight wondering if you’ll ever have enough food. It’s not like you can just dig in the cabinets and whip up a 7-layer Mexican dip for extra fare when you’re cooking all local!
After a significant amount of online research for recipes & multiple shopping trips to the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square, Piggly Wiggly, Stono Market, and Normandy Farms Bakery, I finally felt at ease that I had purchased enough food. The preparations began on Tuesday and to continued until guests started arriving last night.
The All Local Feast included all these tasty items:
• Baked Kale Chips
• Roasted Beet & Strawberry Salad
• Rio Bertolini’s Spinach Linguine with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter
Suffice it to say, it was plenty of food and none of the 17 guests went home hungry. By all accounts the food was enjoyed and many were exposed to local foods they weren’t aware of or wouldn’t have thought to serve (ie. Big Ed’s over Goat Cheese). And gladly, I didn’t lose my mind in the kitchen!
The challenge was really quite fun, but it wasn’t without its…challenges! There was no “one stop shopping” to get all these ingredients, so I found myself driving all over the Lowcountry to procure the goods. Nor was finding recipes using all in-season ingredients particularly easy. And as you’ll see in the aftermath photos, a lot of “contraband” non-local wine was consumed.
But it’s the spirit of the challenge that matters and I’ll mark this as a success!
“We used to be a nation of farmers, but now it’s less than two percent of the population in the United States. So a lot of us don’t know a lot about what it takes to grow food.” - Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farms
Week 2 of the Eat Local Challenge was all about the farm! I dug into learning more about where my food comes from with Lowcountry Local First’s inaugural Farm Tours “Dirt Roadtrip”. I spent the morning volunteering with LLF at the Piggly Wiggly, checking in other locals who were anxious to experience their first farm tour. A wide variety of folks registered for the event, from young singles to familes with children to retirees. Clearly a broad spectrum of people are interested in learning where their food comes from!
After my volunteer shift, and a quick stop to walk the dog, I journeyed to Joseph Field’s Farm. For a girl who spent the last 2 years in Chicago, I can tell you that the country roads on Johns Island just make my Southern heart sing. I rolled the windows down, turned on NPR, and enjoyed the afternoon breeze.
I was fortunate to arrive at Joseph Field’s Farm just in time for a tour with Helen, wife of Joseph Field himself. Helen is a wonderful story teller. “I grew up on a farm and I swore I’d never marry a farmer. So Joseph waited three months after we married and then he told me he wanted to be a farmer!,” she chuckled. And here they are, some forty years later, growing some of the most beautiful crops I’ve seen.
Helen insists that listening to their customers is how they’re still in business today. “People wanted organic. So we went organic.” It’s also the reason they now have 4 types of kale and many other crops that they didn’t originally grow. For those who don’t know, being certified organic is a big deal. It’s also expensive. So when you see organic produce and it’s a few cents more, pony up and pay it. These farmers are working hard to keep pesticides out of their crops and you wouldn’t believe how much weeding they have to do by hand. “It’s a never-ending job,” Helen laments.
I also visited Legare & Rosebank farms on Saturday, truly gaining an appreciation for the dedication these families and workers have to growing our food. I was beyond excited when I picked up fresh peas, which had just been picked and shelled that day. They were so fresh they tasted alive!
I’m tracking well against my Eat Local Challenge goals. If anything this challenge has opened my eyes and caused me to pause before I buy, bringing awareness to each purchase decision I make.
The Eat Local Challenge is well underway as today brings a close to the first week. It’s been an exciting week as I’ve contemplated where I’m spending my money, who it’s going to, and if it’s helping our support our local economy. Simply making these choices consciously led me to eat some amazing, fresh & local food this week.
Goal 1: Spend 10% of your budget on local foods.
I had the luck of being chosen to attend Charleston’s first Patron Secret Dining Society event this past Thursday night. It felt very Guerrilla Cuisine-esque, as we weren’t quite sure what we were getting ourselves into. The location was secret. The meeting place wasn’t provided until just days before the event. And upon arriving at the meeting location, they put us on a bus and handed us a clue. A Patron branded key chain with the initials BHP engraved upon it. “BHP?,” everyone speculated what it could possibly mean.
Much to the dismay of my date, we weren’t held at gun point or blindfolded but instead dropped off at the Boone Hall Plantation (thus BHP) Cotton Dock for an evening of Patron cocktails, music, and dinner. Rain on the tin roof and cocktails in hand, we proceeded to enjoy the evening with new friends and Patron may have actually converted my friend from a tequila hater to a “maybe it’s not as bad as I thought” drinker.
We learned 60 pairs of hands touch every Patron bottle despite the fact they could have automated the process long ago. Patron quite literally keeps a small town in Mexico humming with jobs. Also no two bottles are the same, as they are hand blown each and every time. And with complete randomness we were informed the owner also owns Paul Mitchell, the hair product line.
Once the evening was over and they told us to get the heck out of there, we loaded back onto the bus feeling warm and extra friendly. When a bus load of adults started singing “99 bottles of Patron on the Wall”, transitioning into Journey songs, we knew it was time to call it a night. Well done Patron!
~ Mandy – The Food Obsessed Gusto Girl
If you’ve never checked out the show “A Day in the Life”, add it to your “to enjoy list” right now! The show, produced by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame, is available as exclusive content on Hulu. Even better, it’s free. No subscription required to watch these babies!
Given that we’re complete food nuts, we gravitate toward anything about chefs and restaurants. No surprise when we found the latest episode of “A Day in the Life: Stephanie Izard”, we were stoked! Stephanie Izard is the only female to have ever won Top Chef and she’s now owns a fantastic gem of a restaurant in Chicago called “Girl & the Goat“.
About a year ago we had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie at an event called Cochon 555 in Chicago. The event is all about taking a heritage breed pig and using all the pieces & parts to come up with a variety of preparations for the guests. It was a pork-fest if there ever was one, but I digress, the point is Stephanie Izard is a rockstar. She’s extremely talented, her food is fantastic, and even better…she’s gloriously personable!
So take 25 minutes and watch this episode that’s all about 24 hours in the life of Stephanie Izard. Enjoy!
As proud members of Lowcountry Local First and fans of the locavore movement, we’re super excited for the arrival of “Eat Local Month”! “Eat Local Month will provide fun and educational opportunities for our community to actively engage in eating what is ripe, delicious and in season,” says Lowcountry Local First. Sounds good to us!
There are a variety of fun things to do to support local farms, restaurants, and business alike as a part of “Eat Local Month”.
And now to THE CHALLENGE! Lowcountry Local First has issued an “Eat Local Challenge” for the month of April. Register on the website and the challenge yourself to any or all of 11 different goals. They include things like “shop at the farmer’s market or join a CSA” or “preserve fruits or veggies to enjoy later” or “throw an All-Local dinner party”. We signed up and we’re already tackling our goals!
Hilary is obsessed with cucumbers and she really wants to learn how to pickle this year. Today she purchased a cucumber plant, pot, and potting soil and checked the “grow your own food in your yard or community garden” challenge off her list.
Check back soon for more reports of Eating Local until our hearts are content!