ELC Guest Bloggers: Claire from Ala. and Alison from Tex.

Since July 19, 54 households across America have been participating in the Mighty Appetite Eat Local Challenge, a week-long adventure of eating food that has been grown or raised within 100 miles of home. All week long, we've been featuring ELC chronicles from guest bloggers around the country; today we meet two participants from the south.

Claire Crutchley, 48, lives with her husband and 16-year-old daughter in Auburn, Ala., a small college town in the eastern part of the state. She is a professor of finance at Auburn University. The entire Crutchley household has been participating in the ELC.

ELC guest blogger Claire Crutchley. (Family photo)

All three of us cook; although I signed up for the ELC without first asking my family, we are all enjoying the local fruits and vegetables. I have been trying to eat more local foods for the past few years. I have belonged to a CSA (Red Root Farm) for three years and visit the local farmer's market when it is open in spring and summer.

When I saw the challenge to eat 10 local foods, I knew that would not be a challenge; in the summer I regularly eat 10-15 local foods each week. I decided I would eat whatever I can that is local with a goal of 20 items. My CSA bag last week had watermelon, onions, butternut squash and parsley. I went and picked blueberries (Blueberry Havens) and visited the farmers' market (The Market at Ag Heritage Park) last Thursday.

We eat a lot of local fruits and vegetables in the summer, but the challenge was to get local protein and grains. Both my daughter and I are vegetarians, so I tried to get local cheese and beans. At the farmer's market I searched a little harder and found three kinds of local goat's cheese (Bulger Creek Farm). I bought all three. I looked for local beans and found pink-eyed peas and something called zipper peas. I was also happy to find a farmer with local garlic and another with local pecans that must have been frozen last fall.

So many local foods are easy to eat. Some of my favorites are peaches and blueberries for breakfast as well as dessert cobbler, tomato and basil sandwiches, sweet potatoes (either microwaved or oven fried) and a chopped salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, onions and peppers dressed with olive oil and vinegar. I also make a modified eggplant parmesan that my family really enjoys. (Rather than breading and frying, I brush eggplant -- and often zucchini slices -- with olive oil and broil. In a casserole dish, layer sauce, eggplant/zucchini, a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and repeat. I bake for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees. It is not very exact, and I'm not sure it would really be considered eggplant parmesan.)

I think my biggest challenge was cooking pink-eyed peas and the zipper peas. I have never cooked fresh southern peas before. I cooked them two different ways using fresh black-eyed pea recipes. They took longer to cook than canned beans, but they were delicious. My daughter made chiles rellenos with local poblano peppers and local eggs. Using the local chiles requires broiling and peeling the skin. My husband made a Mexican tomato sauce with fresh rather than canned tomatoes to go with them. He simplified using the fresh tomatoes by dumping them in the blender, skins seeds and all. Both were delicious.

It would be very difficult for me to eat all local foods all the time, especially when the farmer's market is not open as I will not take the time to can vegetables. I will not give up some items that are not locally grown, especially coffee and olive oil. However, the taste of local fruits and vegetables is so much better than those in the grocery store. We definitely eat more fruit and vegetables in the summer, and we expand our cooking style.

--Claire Crutchley

Thirty-one-year-old ELCer Alison Mellon is a human resources coordinator in Dallas, Tex., where she lives with her husband Scott, 29. A D.C. transplant, Mellon compares the benefits and challenges of eating locally in both cities.

ELC guest blogger Alison Mellon, with her husband, Scott. (Family photo)

For me, eating local isn't really a new habit. I have always loved markets, and the habit of farmer's market shopping began when I was living in Dupont Circle almost eight years ago, and the grocery store's fresh food looked unappetizing. I wanted to recommit to cooking regularly for myself and eating more produce, and I loved the idea of supporting a local organization. What a bonus when everything tasted fresh and full of flavor.

My husband and I moved to Dallas two years ago, and here, the popularity of producer-only farmer's markets is still growing, none of them are year round and some farms are so big they sell their produce to the supermarkets. It doesn't feel quite the same as eating local in D.C., and for a little while, I was not sure if I could meet the challenge, despite my passion for the cause.

I thought about three major challenges before I committed. First, the heat here makes certain growing seasons very long and others very short. Lettuce season ends by mid-May, but okra and squash will probably be around until September. Second, 100 miles just doesn't get you very far around here. As a point of reference, Austin is about 200 miles from me, and Houston is about 240. My hundred mile radius runs out around Waco to the south, and just past Tyler to the east. Usually if I can buy from within the state, I'm happy. Finally, my husband and I keep a Kosher kitchen, so even though I live in the land of cattle ranches, local meat is not an option that I know of.

Last Saturday, Scott and I shopped at both Shed 1 (the local section) of the Dallas Farmer's Market and the supermarkets that sell local food, and I was happily surprised at how easy it was to meet the ten-item challenge: zucchini, spring onions, bell peppers, garlic, blueberries, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, figs, watermelon, herbs (rosemary, oregano, tarragon, and mint), fresh pinto beans, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Also of note were Texas and Oklahoma mushrooms, eggs from "Texas chickens" (according to the package) and locally produced sorbet made with homegrown herbs.

When we got home, we immediately had a lunch of gazpacho and salad with figs. Other meals have included blueberry soup (with a hint of lemon and ginger), a veggie lasagna with homemade sauce, a layer of cheese and eggs, and a layer of zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, onions, rosemary and oregano, and a similar zuke/shroom/onion mixture sautéed into a quinoa pilaf for lunch. I'm still trying to decide how to cook my fresh pintos -- suggestions are welcome.

It will be tough, I think, to sustain this into the winter, but I'm going to give it a shot. I have felt deprived of the variety and homey feel of the small markets in D.C., and this week has opened my eyes to what's around me and inspired me to look harder for truly local goods.

--Alison Mellon

-- Check out today's Home section story about three women who biked from D.C. to Montreal to document the state of community agriculture.

Coming up: Monday, July 28, ELC perspectives from opposite sides of the country: Sheila in Portland, Ore., and Jon from D.C.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Eat Local Challenge
Previous: Chat Leftovers: Breakfast Tea Party, Snap Bean Nibbling | Next: Last Supper at Casa Appetite East


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Cook the fresh pintos in chicken broth, with some chopped onion and garlic. Bring them to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until they reach the desired texture. I usually cook mine for 1-2 hours. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

Posted by: Brenda Damuth | July 24, 2008 11:13 AM

Be sure to have your pinto beans with cornbread! For a mix, use Pioneer - a Texas business.

Also Texas peaches were a notable omission from your list. Central Market still has Freestone County peaches. Yum!

Posted by: Heather | July 24, 2008 11:34 AM

Shed 1 in Dallas is open year round. There is not a lot of local in winter, but there is some. Winter squash, for example.

How much local in winter is available in DC in Jan? Frozen water?

Posted by: Jenni from Dallas | July 24, 2008 12:23 PM

While I admit to being better about going to the market in the summer, there is still quite a bit available in the winter in the DC region (for one weekend only a few years ago there was even a knitting wool vendor -- her wool was even labeled with the name of sheep, so my sister knows that Oatmeal? made her hat possible).

I usually try to get whatever I can from the farmer's market for Thanksgiving. It seems like of the holidays that scream "make me local", Thanksgiving is it. So in the past, the turkey, potatoes, onions, pumpkin, stuffing bread, sausage and other bits and pieces have come from the market. It is also the time for apples!

I have to admit that I am intrigued by the idea of big market sheds/warehouses with lots of vendors indoors -- I see them in TV shows and the hussle and bussle seems exciting.

Posted by: KitchenCat | July 24, 2008 1:43 PM

Jenni - ha ha :) . Actually, we have things like some root vegetables and greens (particularly of the cabbage-y variety) throughout the winter. Collards, for example. And apples for a while. "Winter" squashes, though, still need to be harvested before frost.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | July 24, 2008 4:14 PM

For bean cooking I still find that nothing beats the crockpot. It is low heat in the summer. Put them in with water only overnight and they are ready to season and prepare by morning. It is also great for summer ratatouille and such like vegetable stews, so you don't have to stand over a hot stove, but can cook the fresh summer vegetables. And these beans and stews are usually great cold, too.

Posted by: Pam | July 26, 2008 12:39 PM

And so I review my week of trying to add more local ingredients into our meals. Well... I cannot say that is was a success. That is not to say we do not eat a lot of local stuff. We do. Also in my cookery business, I create menus and dishes centered on seasonal local ingredients and encourage my clients to eat local. But I am getting stuck on the same stuff that I have not been able to source locally (or not taken the time to do properly - maybe?), at least not at a competitive price. I am willing to pay more for local stuff if they are of quality and I don't have to drive 100 miles to get it or have it shipped overnight or some other non-sense that seem to defeat the purpose of eating local.

So here is what we eat local:
- all fruit (except citrus in winter & the occasional tropical fruit, again, in winter),
- all vegetables (except sometimes onions - have not yet found a bulk local source of onions),
- most herbs (garlic often from CA, especially in winter)
- all beef, pork, chicken, rabbit, venison
- eggs, milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt, some cheese, most butter

What we don't eat locally because I have not found a local source of it - yet:
- flour (whether wheat, buckwheat, corn). But we do make our own bread using KA flour or other organic flour
- some oils

What we don't eat locally because I am not willing to pay the much increased price - unless it's a real special occasion:
- lamb
- wine
- some cheese
- garlic
- some nuts (I need to start foraging for them...)

What we don't eat locally because it's not produced locally:
- citrus & citrus juice (but I am starting to switch to local cider in winter, and and I will order again this year a couple of cases of citrus from a FL producer via the HS band booster). I do get a few lemons from my lemon trees though...
- the occasional tropical fruit (pineapple, mango)
- many spices
- coffee & tea (herb tea I make from herbs from my garden). But i get fair-trade coffee roasted locally
- chocolate
- olive oils & olive
- some nuts
- rice
- sugar
- salt
- additional cheeses. Looks like we are getting much more cheese varieties here in the Northern Piedmont, but supply is still limited and prices quite high - sometimes much higher than the more expensive imports

So my resolutions:
- keep looking - much harder - for local flour, especially from organic wheat. It would be quite a conundrum for me if the only flour I were able to source was not organic.
- start making cheese using local milk. I already make Keffir anyway.

I'd be curious to hear from the other ELC participants.

Washington, VA

Posted by: Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener | July 26, 2008 4:24 PM

Jenni from Dallas

Sometimes winter is too warm here.

Here is what's available from local sources in winter in the Washington DC area:
apples (from storage), asian, quince, pears - all from storage; native persimmon (for a short period), some nuts. Of course, if you freeze or can the summer fruit, then you have a lot more choice. Berries, cherries, peaches and melons freeze well.

It's much more varied in the vegetable department: arugula, asian greens (mitzuna, bok choi, pak choi), beet greens & beet roots, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, daikon radish, endive, many herbs (rosemary, cilantro, thyme...), jerusalem artichoke, kale, land cress, leeks, lettuce (winter lettuce), mushroom, onions, potatoes (from cold storage), pumpkins (from storage), radish, spinach, sweet potatoes (from storage), swiss chard, turnip, winter squash (from storage: acorn, butternut, buttercup, hubbard etc). Again with a little food preserving, you can have tomatilloes & tomatoes pretty easily.

So - we still can have a pretty varied diet in winter up here using local ingredients.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 26, 2008 4:36 PM

oops! forgot to sign the last post to Jenni. That was me!

Washington VA - 70 miles west of Washington DC

Posted by: Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener | July 26, 2008 4:37 PM

I'm so glad to see Claire mention the peaches. I'm from the Southeast, but now live in Seattle. People here rave about WA peaches, but they have nothing on GA and AL. My in-laws are also professors at Auburn, and each summer ship us a few boxes of Chilton County peaches (I know, totally goes against the ELC), but those peaches are like manna from heaven for me.

Posted by: Jessica | July 28, 2008 3:36 PM

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