As many of you know, I tend to emphasize eating a lot of fresh, locally produced foods. Not only are you getting something that tastes amazingly better than what you get at the grocery store, you are usually getting more nutritious food and you are helping to protect the environment and boosting the local economy as well. In addition, you can feel good about helping out a local farmer as well.
Last week, a fellow blogger named Jen from Life Begins at Thirty, began chronicling everything she ate in a day, noting where and how the food items were all produced in an effort to see how much her food intake matched her philosophy of eating local food. The results were interesting to follow, and as was her intention, it made me think about how differently Zak and I have been eating in recent years and how radically moving to Athens has changed our eating habits.
Witness the breakfast I cooked for Zak and I yesterday: the bacon, eggs, bread and strawberries were all locally produced and harvested. The spices, milk and coffee were not, and neither was the maple syrup, though I bought it a year ago when we were on vacation, directly from the man who had collected the sap and boiled it down.
The bacon came from Harmony Hollow Farms out on Terrell Road in Athens County, where Rich and Jane Blazier raise Duroc pigs in a free range set up. Allowing hogs to forage for their food not only makes for happier, healthier pigs, it makes for sweeter, firmer meat. The bacon itself was firm and meaty, and due to its careful hardwood smoking and curing, was not overly salty and was full of the sweet pork flavor accented with just the right amount of smokiness.
The strawberries came from a stand by the side of the road off in a parking lot of a gas station. Two young women sell them from a farm beside the Hocking River in Beverly, Ohio. These are raised conventionally, and some pesticides are used, but I’d rather have delicious local non-organic berries and wash them than awful organic berries from California that taste as good as cotton balls in my mouth. Besides, as the price of oil increases (and it will, and there is not a thing anyone can do about it), the cost of shipping those disgusting berries from one end of the country to the other will make them unreachably expensive in the next decade. Why pay more for something that isn’t even good in the first place?
The cinnamon currant bread (made with organic whole wheat) came from a cooperatively owned and run bakery here in Athens called Crumb’s Bakery. This co-op was started by a group of idealistic young folks more than a decade ago, and has become a local not only a feature in grocery stores locally, but has begun shipping products as far away as Columbus, Ohio. In addition to whole grain breads, Crumbs makes granola, pizzas, pasta, including tofu-based pasta, and crackers.
And finally, the eggs. Normally, I buy eggs at the farmer’s market from any one of a number of folks who sell chicken or duck eggs. But these eggs are special. I didn’t buy them–they were given to me by our friend Bryian who came driving up on his motorcycle with two dozen of them stashed carefully in his backpack. And how he came by them is a story in and of itself.
Bry runs a computer servicing company, and in addition to doing work for his paying clients, he donates time to various non-profit organizations. While he was working for the local AIDs Task Force, one of the folks there pointed out a huge bunch of eggs that had been donated the day before by an elderly woman who had brought them from her farm in Morgan County. They asked Bry to take some of the eggs with him, as there were more than they could use. He tried to refuse, but they pressed four dozen on him, and so, knowing that he couldn’t use all of them, he passed some along to me.
So, we have been eating a lot of eggs in the form of scrambled eggs and omelets, but mostly as french toast, or as it is called in French, “pain perdu”–”lost bread.” French toast is one of those dishes that is essentially frugal in nature, being as it is a method to use up bread that is too stale to eat alone. It is akin to bread pudding, another necessity born dish meant to make the best of an ingredient that is no longer fresh; both of these dishes take something essentially non-palatable and instead of just making it edible, raise it to the level of the sublime. I like dishes that do that–take scraps of nothing and turn it into something better than it was before. (Sausage is another example of taking oddments of something barely palatable like meat scraps and intestines, and making it taste better than can generally be imagined.)
Crumb’s currant bread is perfect for french toast because it tends to be somewhat dry in the first place, owing to the presence of only whole wheat flour, and because it is lightly sweet. It is also of a firm enough texture to stand being soaked in the egg mixture without becoming soggy or falling apart as many spongier breads will. The currants themselves are a nice touch–sweeter and softer than raisins, and tiny so they stay in place when the bread is sliced.
French Toast is also easily made, so much so that I feel silly giving you a recipe, but here is one, anyway. It is rather sketchy, as I don’t measure anything when I make it, so I am estimating amounts here.
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon raw sugar or evaporated cane juice (optional)
6 slices stale bread
butter or canola cooking spray
Beat together eggs, milk, extract, spices and sugar until well combined. Heat oil or butter in pan over medium heat. Lay bread slices, one at a time in egg batter, and allow to soak very briefly, about thirty seconds total, turning once.
Fry, turning once, until bread is golden brown and fragrant. Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.
Use a firm textured bread to make french toast–many store bought brands are too spongey and will fall apart when you try and soak the bread in the batter.
You can simulate stale bread by leaving how ever many slices you need out overnight.
You can hold french toast in a warm (170 degrees) oven for fifteen minutes or so while you finish cooking up enough for everyone. You can do the same thing with bacon, by the way. That is the secret to cooking breakfast for a crowd–a hot oven.
Fried apples are great with french toast in the fall. Fresh peaches are great in the summer, but not as good as strawberries.
The only gap I have found in the Athens food pyramid is a lack of local dairy products. I, personally, want to see if I can start producing goat cheese, but I need to look into the state laws governing dairies here in Ohio to see if it is worth my time attempting it. I know that they are extremely strict; I know of several folks at the farmer’s market who have herds of dairy goats but who cannot sell the milk because of these health codes. So, I will have to do some research and see what I can come up with myself, as I would very much like to start making local cheeses, as I see a market for them and I know how it is done.
Until then, I will continue my quest to eat locally, and I urge everyone to try and do the same. Not only is it good for the earth and your neighbors–it is good for you.
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