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How much do I love that the neighborhood farmers markets are back? Columbia City opened yesterday to brilliant sunshine and the Broadway market starts up again on Sunday, May 10, among others. Check the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Market site for further details.

Also, Seattle Tilth hosts their yearly edible plant sale at Meridian Park in Wallingford this weekend. It’s a great chance to get your summer vegetable starts if you’re like me and chronically behind in life, or if you’re on the hunt for unusual herbs.

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The New York Times reveals why it’s so confusing to keep straight all those different cuts of beef: grocers, butchers, and even the Cattlemen’s Beef Association are forever designing new cuts with fancy names to upsell meat that’s traditionally turned into ground. Argh. Not really the kind of help I was looking for.

Pea start
April is a difficult time in Alaska for local food. Palmer potatoes and carrots are available in the grocery store through March or so, but by the time the vernal equinox finally arrives supplies range from low to non-existent.

Gardens are still too wet to prepare and Memorial Day, commonly considered the first “safe” (ie no frost) weekend for planting outdoors, is still a month away.

But the geese are back, the sun is in the sky until 10pm, and our first batch of pea plants are coming up in our arctic entry. These plants will go into our greenhouse to supply us with early peas while we wait for the garden to start producing.

Unfortunately, Labor Day isn’t that far away.

chile-colorado

It’s April, and beef stew is so over. Problem is, we’ve still got plenty of beef for braising, and waiting ’til next year seems unwise, especially after our recent experience with year-old pork chops. Mmm. So I let myself to be suckered in by this chile recipe, from Aidell & Kelly’s Complete Meat Cookbook, seeing as how it didn’t really sound like stew and looked pretty darn easy to boot. Turns out to be a keeper. For such a simple preparation, the flavors were tremendous and played wonderfully with stewed beans and sauteed seasonal greens. And I love the minimal effort involved. It could be very easily adapted for a slow cooker if you wish.

Chile Colorado

2 dried ancho or other red chilies / 2 lbs beef stew meat, such as chuck / 1 large onion, chopped / 1 tsp cumin / 1 tsp coriander / 2 cloves garlic, chopped / ½ tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh / 2 cups meat stock or beer

Soak the chilies in hot water for 20 minutes, or until soft. Meanwhile, cut the beef into 1-inch cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Swirl in vegetable oil when hot and brown cubes in batches, about 6 minutes per batch, then set aside.

When the chilies are ready, remove seeds and stems and place in a food processor along with onion, cumin, coriander, garlic, oregano, and ¼ cup of strained chile soaking liquid or water. Process to a puree. Pour puree into casserole along with browned meat, stock or beer, and enough water to cover the cubes. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 3 hours, until beef is tender. Feeds 4-6.

Three o’clock on Easter afternoon, and I’m in a standoff with a ham roast. Am I supposed to boil the thing, bake it, or merely heat it through? Should there be a glaze? I’d done a couple of hams before but couldn’t remember, so it was time to do some digging. Luckily this is something you can figure out by piecing together a few basic clues.

For starters, if the wrapper says “cooked”, then you just heat through and serve. If the wrapper says, “cook before eating”, or something like it, then cook to an internal temperature of 140-160 degrees. If a sliver of ham is super salty when you fry it, then oops, you’ve got country ham and need to soak it in cold water overnight before proceeding. Otherwise, so long as it’s pink, you can assume the ham’s been smoked and/or quick cured and in need of cooking.

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carrot-muffins

I’m not much of a baker, so these muffins were just the ticket — fast, easy, and all but foolproof. And they feature spring carrots, which are so sweet and crisp right now, at least the ones from the farmers markets. (Let’s talk about carrots from the garden next month. Or in June.) If you like, consider adding hazelnuts to the batter for a little crunch and a bit of protein. Holmquist Orchards grows them in Lynden, near the Canadian border.

Carrot-Hazelnut Muffins

1¼ cup white flour / ¼ cup wheat flour / ½ tsp baking powder / ½ tsp baking soda / 1 tsp ground cinnamon / ½ tsp ground nutmeg / ½ tsp salt / 2/3 cup vegetable oil / 2/3 cup sugar / 2 eggs / 1 cup grated carrots / ½ cup hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-muffin tin. Combine first eight ingredients, mixing well. Thoroughly combine oil, sugar, and eggs. Stir together flour and oil mixtures, then add in optional carrots and hazelnuts or walnuts. Pour batter in equal portions into greased muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes, or until browned and slightly crispy. Adapted from Martha Stewart.

pickle

Eating locally while pregnant is a challenge in the fruit and vegetable department. Early on I could barely choke down foods I once really enjoyed, like broccoli and kale. Instead I craved tropical fruits and Southern staples like eggplants and tomatoes. It’s total weirdness. Still, I’ve continued to rely on a few local or homemade foods for comfort and nutrition:

*Homemade yogurt. I could be eating three to four pounds of plain yogurt per week, sometimes with a bit of plum-cardamom jam stirred in, sometimes blended with frozen berries and mangoes. I like how fast, easy and cheap it is making yogurt at home, and it’s a nice way to get a little extra calcium naturally.

*Dried plums. Last fall I halved and oven-dried several crates of plums on the verge of rotting. Why oh why didn’t I make more? They’re a wonderfully tasty snack, and bonus, they counter the effects of all that progesterone, which can stop up your plumbing.

*Pickles. Though I haven’t had the pickle cravings that many pregnant women do, it’s nice having them for egg salad sandwiches (see next).

*Local eggs. Yeah. We’re talking about a big time egg-salad sandwich phase. Several times I put away two or three of those babies for breakfast. I’m also eating a lot of chef salads.

*Local meat. Last year we cut back significantly on our meat intake for health reasons. That program has been temporarily suspended. These days eating animal protein is one thing that reliably helps me feel well. Without it, I’d probably be eating five or six meals a day. I love having part of a cow and the last of our half-pig on hand — there’s almost always something there that appeals. And, of course, I like knowing that the baby gets nutrition from pastured animals.

Well. So. As a few discerning readers suspected, the real reason blog activity was slow for a long time and is just picking up again is that I’m pregnant. Like you’d guess, first trimester completely changed my relationship with food. For more weeks than I care to remember, I couldn’t read a recipe, never mind try to cook, without feeling queasy.

What was different about the queasiness was that food usually helped — especially something hot, gooey and caloric, like mac and cheese. This was a primitive kind of eating, involving little more than taste, smell, and the sensation of a full stomach.

I got hungry but never had an appetite.

What my body wants these days isn’t generally low in food miles. I ate thirty pounds of grapefruit. Whole pineapples. Liters of lemonade, and one week I mostly wanted potato chips. I’ve since moved on to champagne mangoes. For weeks my stomach rejected most everything else, and I could only believe there was some unknowable molecular reason for it all.

When I was up for cooking I prepared chicken, appealing in its blandness, but even then all I could manage was two simple recipes from the whole bird. I’ll revisit that one one another time. To keep food smells outside, I had Charlie grill for us in inclement weather. For omega-3s, I bought fresh fish as often I had the taste for it, which meant on-demand trips to the grocery store.

At ten weeks I thought my appetite was making a comeback. I got fish tacos on the brain, specifically of the kind I ate twenty years ago on a street corner in Ensenada, simple corn tortillas filled with the freshest fish and cabbage slaw you can imagine. And happily, the ones we put together at home were pretty darn similar to the tacos of memory. The creamy cabbage slaw, made from a combination of thinly sliced savoy and purple cabbages and grated carrots, was the first local thing I’d eaten in weeks. As I cleaned my plate I wondered if I would finally start to enjoy eating again.

Not so fast. Some of the worst times came in the weeks after that meal. But these days I’m upright again and thrilled to be able to experience just how sublime eating can be, to remember how the best food feeds not just hunger but evokes time, place, and story.

Now I just need a work around for sushi.

mustardy

Two days of sun and warmth followed by a good spring shower, and we’re starting to see our own food at the table again. Not to mislead anybody here, as a recent pea patch visit yielded one weathered radish, six spinach leaves and some sorrel, but also healthy bunches of kale and green mustard. Love that winter garden!

Actually, the kale and green mustard are almost too reliable lately, and I’ve been trying to branch out beyond the default of greens sauteed with garlic and hot pepper. But branching out can be a tricky conceit with green mustard, which is pungent whether raw or after brief cooking, and especially when eaten without the mitigating effect of less opinionated greens. This braise breaks down mustard’s heat and bitterness to a tolerable level and requires only that you think a bit ahead.

Braised Green Mustard

1 bunch green mustard (about 1 pound) / 1 tbls veg oil / ½ onion, minced / 2 tbls white rice / 1 tbls ginger, minced / ½ tsp cumin / ½ tsp paprika / ½ cup cilantro, including stems, chopped

Wash the greens without drying them. Remove large stems and slice remaining leaves thickly. Warm a deep pot over medium heat. Swirl in oil when ready. Add onion, rice, ginger, cumin, and paprika and cook for 2 minutes, then add cilantro and mustard. Add ½ tsp salt and cook, stirring, until greens wilt. Turn heat down to low and cook about 1 hour, adding a few tablespoons of water if the pot becomes dry. Adapted from Deborah Madison, who finishes her greens with yogurt on top and a squeeze of lemon.

apple-salsa1

The latest round of deep freezer diving elicited a long lost package of pork chops from last year’s half-pig. Can’t say I recommend eating pork that old — the taste was reminiscent of more than one defrost cycle — but the cooked, gingered apples eaten on the side were memorable, especially after so much pork with plum chutney this winter. A bonus is that most everything except the ginger is available locally right now.

Pork Chops with Gingered Apples

2 pork chops, bone in / salt & pepper / 2 tbls butter / 2 tsp ginger, minced / ½ onion, minced / 1 medium sweet, firm apple such as Braeburn of Fiji, peeled, cored, and sliced / 3 tbls apple juice / 3 tbls rice wine vinegar / ¼ cup chicken stock / ¼ cup white wine / 1 tbls parsley, minced

The day before, sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to cook, bring pork chops to room temperature. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon butter. Cook pork chops until well-browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chops.

Add a second tablespoon of butter to pan plus ginger, onion, and apple. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Pour in apple juice and vinegar and cook another 3 minutes, scraping up browned bits on bottom. Add stock and wine and reduce liquid by about one-half, then stir in parsley, turn heat down to low, and cook 3 minutes more until flavors are combined. Serve immediately over chops.

Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.