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One of our favorite discoveries during our initial local eating experiment was amaranth grain. We’d eaten it before, but hadn’t fully appreciated how delicious it was. It quickly became one of our favorite snacks at night. We’d mix the popped grain (purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH, who grow it in Patagonia, Arizona) with some local olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix), salt (from Sonora, Mexico), and guajillo chile powder (also grown by Native Seeds/SEARCH). It makes a great popcorn substitute (I think it’s better than popcorn, personally).
We later learned of another way to use amaranth grain. We attended the Native Seeds Sustainable Gardening Tour in September, and part of this tour was a demonstration by Diana Peel, the Community Relations Coordinator for Native Seeds/SEARCH, of how to cook with amaranth grain. We loved her recipe for amaranth patties, and have adapted it somewhat.
Basically, to make amaranth grain patties we first combine the following ingredients (we haven’t paid attention to exact proportions – the following are just approximations):
- 2 cups popped or unpopped amaranth grain (or some of both)
- One large egg
- One tablespoon of whole wheat flour (to help it hold together)
- Half of a small yellow onion
- One clove of garlic
- Half of a green bell pepper
- Half of a red Anaheim chile
- A tablespoon of chopped fresh basil leaves
- A teaspoon of crushed coriander
- Half of a teaspoon of salt
- One cup of water
We sometimes use other ingredients as well (such as tomatoes or crushed chiltepines). The recipe is very forgiving and flexible – basically you can use whatever you have on hand that would be good in an omelette. You can make it wetter or drier by adding more or less wheat flour or amaranth. It should ideally be about the consistency of thick oatmeal.
The final step is simply to fry the mix in a pan with a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Let it cook for a minute and then flip it over and cook the other side for another minute. The patties are delicious served with fresh salsa.
Marci made some of these amaranth patties for dinner tonight, and we topped them with a salsa she made from tomatoes, roasted Anaheim chiles, red onion, white wine vinegar (non-local), and salt. She also made delicious mashed potatoes with butter (non-local), guajillo chile powder, turmeric (non-local), and salt. Finally, she prepared a salad using arugula, basil, mizuna, mibuna, Portulaca, radishes, tomatoes, and pomegranate, with a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (non-local).
It was a delicious meal. For dessert we’ll probably finish off the bag of chocolate chips we had from before our local experiment. We’ve come to really appreciate chocolate – of all the foods we can’t get locally, chocolate is probably the one we prize the most!
The University of Arizona is hosting a week-long series of events about sustainability, starting this Wednesday, October 24, and going through next Wednesday, October 31. This is in conjunction with the Educating for Sustainability Conference, which is happening on the U of A campus from October 25-27. It should be an interesting week! I’m especially excited to hear Jonathan Overpeck (who is a member of the IPCC, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore) speak on Thursday night, and to hear Gary Nabhan speak on Friday night. Both of their lectures are free and open to the public. I’m going to try to make it to as many of the other events as I can, and will report back on anything interesting I see or hear.
Update: Well, we didn’t end up making it to many of the events during the UA Sustainability Week, but we did catch Gary Nabhan’s talk on Friday night. He gave a great presentation on “sustainability”, a concept he said he prefers to think of as a verb (rather than a noun) to indicate its nature as an ongoing process, rather than a hypothetical endpoint. I think this is a great point, and worth keeping in mind. We thoroughly enjoyed his talk and thought it was very inspiring.
I also heard Jonathan Overpeck speak on Monday about global warming (this was separate from his talk on Thursday). He gave an interesting and informative talk about recent data on climate change, with a partial emphasis on drought in the western U.S. I was already somewhat familiar with most of what he talked about, but it was great to hear it from someone actually involved in much of the research (if it can be “great” to hear such scary and depressing information). Apparently the current prediction for the Southwest is a 10% drop in average winter precipitation by the end of the century (if I’m remembering the timeframe correctly), though it’s completely unclear what will happen to our monsoon rainfall. In terms of temperature, one of his graphs seemed to suggest the possibility of a roughly 10° F increase in average temperature for southern Arizona by 2100. It’s going to get interesting around here…
It’s the time of year when Desert Harvesters has their annual mesquite millings. Desert Harvesters is dedicated to promoting the use of mesquite and other native wild foods in the Sonoran Desert. I helped staff the first milling event this weekend at Colossal Cave, but there are several more in the coming weeks. Bring your mesquite pods to one of the events and have them ground into flour!
Mesquite pods are an abundant, nutritious and delicious food source which sadly is barely utilized. We must make mesquite flour one of our staple foods, as it once was for the native peoples of the region, if we are to have any hope of developing a sustainable local food economy in the Tucson area.
Congratulations to Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. This honor is completely and deeply deserved. Climate change and Peak Oil are in my opinion the two greatest threats to peace in the coming decades, and nobody has done more to alert the world to the dangers of climate change than Al Gore. Since the solutions to both issues are largely the same, he has indirectly done a lot to address Peak Oil as well. It is wonderful that he is getting the recognition he deserves.
Update: A couple of good articles from Grist about this -
Tonight we realized that this is a great time to be eating locally here. Most of our staple foods from last month are still in season (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, chiles, tomatoes, okra, etc.), but there are also some tasty new foods coming into season.
For starters, greens are finally in season. During the month of September we managed to find very few greens: we had arugula once and verdolagas (Portulaca) a couple of times. In the last week or two, though, a diversity of greens have become available: we’ve gotten arugula, lettuce, swiss chard, tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and mustards. In fact, we’ve gotten more greens from our CSA than we know what to do with! We need to come up with some creative ways to preserve them (maybe some kind of pesto-like sauce that we can freeze?).
Marci got a nice diversity of foods at tonight’s Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market. She came home with apples, apple cider, a watermelon, a large pumpkin, an onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, Anaheim chiles, eggs, okra, wheat flour, and tomatoes. The overlap of watermelons and pumpkins is a good indication of the transition in seasons we’re currently in. We’re trying to appreciate the diversity of local foods available right now, because it may not last for much longer! While our climate allows for year-round growing, we can’t expect to have the same variety of foods from December through February.
At our CSA on Tuesday we bought a pack of beef liver, as an experiment. I’ve never cooked liver in my life, and I don’t have the faintest clue what to do with it. Marci wants to cook it with bacon, but then again she wants to cook everything with bacon.
Hot on the heels of our mesquite flour tortillas experiment last week comes another creation: carob mesquite flour tortillas. I used basically the same recipe as before, but with some very slight differences.
For one thing, we used whole wheat flour which we had ground ourselves. Our friend Chi gave us (on permanent loan) a hand grinder she had gotten (also on permanent loan) from a mutual friend of ours. It was a cinch to set up in our kitchen, and Marci set to work grinding some wheatberries we had stored up from our CSA. She ground them twice, yielding flour which was fairly fine but still coarser than the flour we’d been buying from the San Xavier Co-op. To this flour we added both carob and mesquite flour. Since we were almost out of olive oil and happened to have some bacon grease saved in the refrigerator, we used equal parts olive oil and bacon grease (rather than just olive oil).
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (hand-ground wheatberries from the Tucson CSA)
- 1/4 cup mesquite flour (from our tree)
- 1/4 cup carob flour (donated by our friends Chi and Rodd; from trees in Tucson)
- 10 dried chiltepines, crushed by hand (from Native Seeds/SEARCH)
- 1 teaspoon salt (from Sonora, Mexico)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon grease (the bacon was from a ranch in Cochise)
- 3/4 cup water
Just as before, I first mixed the dry ingredients (wheat flour, mesquite flour, carob flour, salt, and chiltepines) in a bowl, then added the olive oil and bacon grease and mixed well with a fork. I gradually mixed in the water, and then kneaded the dough for about three minutes. I let the dough sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. I next divided the dough into eight separate balls, and again let these sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. Because the flour I used was coarser than before, I ended up having to knead the dough a few extra minutes at this point in order to work the gluten sufficiently (otherwise the dough wouldn’t stick together). I heated a metal comal over our gas stove on medium heat, and rolled a dough ball out onto a floured cutting board until the dough was about an eighth of an inch thick. Finally, I placed the tortilla on the hot comal, let it cook for about 10 seconds, flipped it and cooked it for 10 more seconds, flipped it again and cooked it on the original side for 10 more seconds, and then flipped it one more time and cooked it for 10 more seconds. I repeated this for the other seven balls. Don’t let the tortilla sit on the comal for very long, as mesquite flour burns very easily!
We thought these tortillas were truly delicious, and even better than the mesquite tortillas! The carob added a subtle but noticeable chocolate-like undertone.
We made tacos using:
- Eggs (from our chickens) fried in olive oil
- Squash blossoms
- Grilled onions and Anaheim chile
- Fresh greens (lettuce, arugula and tatsoi)
- From our pre-local stockpile: Guacamaya hot sauce from Mexico (on my tacos) or ranch dressing (on Marci’s)
We also had potatoes and sweet potatoes baked with olive oil and salt. Yum!
For the past week we have been taking a mini-break from our strict regimen as we decide how to move forward for the long term. We ate bread, chocolate (fair trade organic dark chocolate) and sushi (more on that later) and each indulged in non-local treats almost daily. Chris ate out twice for lunch and once for dinner (he had pizza, which he had really been missing), and I had coffee three times. I also ate some Skittles at work where people seem to be incessantly stocking every corner with forbidden treats. But even with all of these deviations we are still eating a mostly local diet. And we are extremely happy to continue with our experiment, especially since our “treats” were mostly disappointing and expensive.
We fully expected to be reluctant to return to our local diet after reminding our taste buds how the other half lives. I was looking forward to eating Asian food as much as Chris was looking forward to pizza, but both meals were unsatisfying. I don’t know the details of the pizza fiasco, but I do know why Sushi Ten disappointed me: The iceburg lettuce salad was sadly devoid of color, nutrients, and flavor; the miso soup tasted old and drab; and the soba noodles basically tasted like undercooked pasta with overcooked vegetables drowned in soy sauce. The squid salad tasted fresh and yummy, and Chris’ salmon roll was satisfying. But overall it was not the party our taste buds were anticipating. We have been far more impressed with our own cooking than with Sushi Ten’s offerings that night. And it’s not that we’re spectacular cooks (although I’d argue that Chris is a spectacular cook); it’s just that our food is fresh and actually tastes like food. The flavors in our home-cooked meals are diverse, distinct, and rich, unlike the conglomerate of meek tastes and textures dictated by restaurant foods that are either harvested too early so they can weather the 2,000 mile journey to Tucson, or are produced en-masse days, or weeks, before being served.
I’m not saying that all processed, non-local foods are unappealing to us. We fully enjoyed the chocolate bar, for example. We don’t intend to deny ourselves every luxury in the long run, and as we determine how we will redefine the rules of our experiment we are allowing for regular special treats. The following is a description of our modified rules for the experiment for the near future.
We will be allowing ourselves balsamic vinegar (eventually we hope to start making our own), yeast (until we have both a steady source of flour and a working sourdough starter), and spices (in moderation) on a regular basis. We feel that these items will greatly enhance our enjoyment of our food without compromising the spirit of our experiment. We will allow ourselves to eat the food that we still have in our fridge and freezer from before we started the experiment. Also, if someone visits us, bearing gifts of food local to their point of origin, we will gladly accept- and eat- the food. For example, my parents gave Chris a lot of organic honey from near their home in L.A. We will be devouring that honey! In addition, we will allow ourselves one treat each (i.e. a chocolate bar, a cup of coffee, a danish) every week. And we will occasionally eat a non-local meal if we are invited to a friend’s house or feel the deep desire for a night away from the stove. It should still be easy to eat at least 95% local foods, which is our long-term goal.
Now that we know we can thrive on a 99.9% local diet we don’t see any reason, save convenience, for eating any other way. Of course, sometimes convenience speaks louder than good health or flavor. But generally speaking we are proud to have successfully shifted the focus of our eating habits away from international corporations and toward the people in our community. We are excited to seek new food items from our region, and we look forward to experimenting with making our own vinegar, ice cream, dried fruit, yogurt, and sourdough starter. We’ll be continuing to blog as we make new discoveries.