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The homegrown berry harvest has been stuck for years at about a dozen strawberries. Per year. In prior times this meant a few intense summery bites in a composed salad or a creamy dessert. Prospects were low for an increase in harvest size; our plants grew in pots, their runners stymied by by concrete and wood and trampled by dogs.

These days a free-range Biscuit pounces on anything showing a blush of crimson, meaning that the berries rarely make it back to the kitchen.

I’m coming to terms with the reality that we grow berries now mostly to make a point. Feeding a family has come to mean purchasing fruit in quantity, wherever it’s sold — at the grocery store, produce markets, from farmshares and from Costco, where berries are sold in giant plastic clamshells that carve up your hands if you’re careless.

It’s quite the opposite of what we first practiced when embarking upon this local food adventure, and not exactly the model I envisioned setting for our daughter. Fact is, though, we’re not doing very many composed salads right now. We’re reconsidering our household approach to dessert. And more to the point we’ve decided that good eating means you may eat as many fruits, vegetables, and nuts as you’d like, at meal and designated snack times. And that means having ample fresh supply on hand without killing the family shopper. It’s a method that works for all right now, including a toddler who manages to eat widely, and well.


One recent sunny visit to the pea patch, and come to find that late blight had ripped through the tomatoes after a heavy September rain. Just the decomposing skeletons of plants were left, not even a salvageable tomato.

It was a season of mostly unfulfilled promises. The cayenne peppers are still green and raw as grass. The beans are huge swollen pods swaying from vines. Late-planted sweet peas won’t flower before frost. Come October, it’s hard not to feel a little bit wistful for all that wasn’t.

But then the Biscuit hardly minded. While I pulled weeds and pruned plants she toddled about sampling chard and basil and putting cherry tomatoes into a basket, only to decide they were better on the ground. Not that it’s all sweet and leisurely. Our most recent visit she seemed happily entertained, and come to find dahlia pollen smeared across her forehead and the tomatillos trampled upon.

Whoops — time to pack up. Off to thump pumpkins in the Children’s Garden and wave at the giant nodding sunflowers. I know she won’t remember any of it, she’s just too young. Still. In these days before memory, maybe something will speak to her soul.

Though just about everything goes into the little Biscuit’s mouth these days, she’s skeptical about actual food. Even classics like rice cereal and mashed bananas, enjoyed by every baby in history, have been identified as suspect. Which is totally puzzling. How are the two of us related again?

But it’s starting to seem that we might be. The gateway food was pureed apples with cinnamon, cinnamon being the critical ingredient. This led to mashed butternut squash from the winter garden, and from there to pureed pears picked last fall and frozen hence.

Not that it’s all local and seasonal. Nooooo. This gal enjoys sweet potatoes from the co-op, blueberries from the freezer section at Costco, and avocados from Peru, or wherever they’re growing right now. And she loves Trader Joe’s oat O’s, which are so popular that we ration them. Peas, the most seasonal thing on offer, still take much persuasion, even when adulterated with fresh mint.

“Mint! But you love mint,” I sigh.

Right now it’s less about eating, I guess, and more about the acculturation. About sitting down to a leisurely meal three times a day. About the pleasure of being at the table. About trying new flavors and textures, by smearing them across one’s tray and forehead and hair and occasionally tasting some too.

So I work on patience. I encourage her to take another bite; I dice a few more tiny banana pieces for her to push around. And I try not to wonder how old I’ll be before she eats her chard and — dare I say — enjoys it too.

fall lettuce

As you’ve probably guessed from my radio silence, the Biscuit is out of the oven — and now on to her third week of life. Needless to say, I’m not writing a whole lot right now, and I’m not gardening or cooking very much either.

Instead, we’re being nourished by all of our amazing friends and relatives, who keep showing up with delicious things to eat — fresh corn and tomato salads, roasted chicken, cheesy pastas and polentas, bean soups, a gallon of chowder. Or who drop off fresh, end-of-season produce that’s just been picked at the pea patch.

I’ve fed plenty of people in my time, but nothing like this. It’s truly humbling.

As for this blog, I’ll continue posting my kitchen and garden adventures from time to time, and I’ll certainly still follow the food blogs I like so much. Expect not to hear from me quite as regularly, though, at least for a while.

But know that the local adventures are keeping on, off-line. The Biscuit and I made it to the Broadway farmers market last weekend, where the last of the corn and nectarines were on the tables, and we’re planning to keep going so long as the farmers keep coming. The pea patch plot has been put to bed, thanks to my good friend Alice, who cleared out the tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants, and sprinkled the soil with cover crop seed. A quarter side of beef arrives from Sweet Grass Farm this weekend, and the lettuces, chard, and celery root are more or less established in the backyard winter garden. Pears, squash, basil, and green beans have gone into deep freeze for cold weather eating.

It’s our version of going to the mattresses. But I hope you’ll check back periodically, to keep up on Stephen’s food adventures in Alaska, and because at some point we’ll come up for air.

hot pepper 1

So said my friend Molly, from the pea patch, after my due date came and went with no sign that the little person was ready to splash down.

It’s been a strange transition for me. I’ve been off work for weeks, ever since my last two shifts induced regular contractions. I checked dozens of tasks off the to-do list and ruled out big new projects that may never get finished. There was the cooking frenzy, which should keep us fed for a while. I put up pear butter, plum jam, and dried some Italian prunes. Still no baby. So then what?

Everybody’s got an opinion about what to do right now. Read lots of books and see a bunch of movies, some said, so we did. Go out and eat great meals, others suggested, and so we have. Most memorable of all was a nearly perfect dinner at Tilth Restaurant, and not even the contractions that came with the ricotta dumplings put a dent in the evening. Parenthetically, Tilth was the first restaurant where I wasn’t looked at askance when I asked if the cheese was pasteurized. Much appreciated, and we’ll be back for date night.

And everybody’s got an opinion about how to bring on labor. One friend suggested gardening, which she credits for inducing three deliveries. Others resorted to distance walking or yoga and acupressure, plus a roll in the hay.

Then there are the foods that supposedly induce labor. The most popular advice involves eggplant parmigiana, though a search yields little more than a story about dish served at a restaurant in Cobb County, Georgia, which is backed by guarantee. Some claim it’s the basil and oregano and not the eggplant itself that does the trick. Others suggest spicy foods. Now spicy is something we can do — thankfully no third trimester heartburn here — and to boot, we’ve had ripe cayenne peppers since late July.

Recipe Redux: Spicy Noodles with Chicken and Green Beans

¼ lb rice stick noodles, or more if desired / ¼ lb green beans / one dozen cherry tomatoes / 1 tbls fish sauce / 2 tsp sugar / 2 tbls fresh lime juice / 1 tsp chili paste, or to taste / ¼ tsp salt / 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces / 1 shallot, minced / 1 cayenne pepper, minced, or to taste / 1 stalk scallions, minced

Pour boiling water over noodles and soak for 10 minutes to soften. Rinse in a couple changes of water and drain. Meanwhile, cut green beans into bite-sized pieces and halve tomatoes. Thoroughly mix together fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chili paste, salt, and ¼ cup water.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in vegetable oil. When hot, saute green beans until just cooked, about 4 minutes, then reserve. Bring skillet back to medium-high heat, using more oil if needed, and add chicken, shallot, and pepper. Cook, stirring, until chicken is lightly browned. Add noodles and fish sauce mixture. Stir constantly, so sauce coats noodles as they cook. If needed, use 1-2 tbls water to keep noodles from sticking to pan. When noodles are tender, 3-5 minutes, mix in tomatoes and scallions and serve. Feeds 2.

orange banana paste

Ah, nesting. For some it involves setting up the crib and painting the nursery. Sewing cute baby quilts. Scrubbing the house down and making way for all the gear that comes with modern babies.

Over here, it’s been a cooking frenzy instead.

But who can help it? There’s so much that’s good and plentiful in the garden right now. I made quarts of our favorite Bolognese sauce, using orange paste tomatoes plus handfuls of fresh oregano, thyme, parsley, and basil. Pints of bread and butter pickles for eating with burgers. A lovely green sauce from ripe tomatillos, for enchiladas and similar fare. I cured a big slab of pork belly guanciale, which will make its way into pastas, soups, and stews all winter long.

And because they make me so happy, I assembled and froze multiple batches of my grandmother’s wonton, using pot sticker filling. These we’ll drop into steaming broth and eat with chopped greens and minced scallions for easy cool weather nourishment.

I even peeled, cored, and froze pears for use as baby food down the road. It feels like storing acorns for winter.

Surely we’d be fine without any of it. We’ve been ready for weeks for this new creature to arrive, so the bustle in the kitchen feels more like a diversion, something to distract me from thoughts of just how dramatically life is about to change. One thing that I’m guessing will stay the same: we’ll like having tasty local and homegrown food in the weeks and months to come.

Recipe: Bolognese Meat Sauce

I’ve made this sauce for countless friends in the throes of new parenthood.

1 large onion, minced / 2 carrots, minced / 2 stalks celery, minced / 2 lbs ground beef and/or pork / 1 cup milk / pinch of nutmeg / 1 cup white wine / 6 cups skinless paste tomatoes / a generous quantity fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, and basil, minced / salt & pepper

Warm a heavy pot over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tbls vegetable oil and add onion, carrots, and celery, cooking over medium heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Add ground meat, ¼ tsp salt, a few grindings of pepper, and cook until browned. Add milk and nutmeg and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add wine and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add tomatoes and herbs, bring to a slow boil, then turn down heat and cook over low for 3 hours or until flavors melt together richly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti noodles, garnished with Parmesan cheese and fresh minced parsley if desired. Freezes great. Adapted from Marcella Hazan. Feeds 8-10.

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.

Eat Local Northwest

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