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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Simple Foods, Local Foods

Recently Ryan and I have been trying to organize our life, from our possessions to what foods we buy. Some of this project I find a little ridiculous, because I'm more of a pick-the-mess-upper than a make-lists-of-where-things-goer, but even the parts that I find ridiculous I can usually see the use of afterwards. I mean, except for the card catalog of all the books we own, but what can I say? I married him. He claims it's useful for insurance purposes. You know, in case all the books burn but the cards survive.

The current project is food, though. Our goal is to eat locally and sustainably, and therefore we need 1) a menu based on 2) a set of recipes that we know we like and 3) what foods we can get locally and in season, as well as 4) a pantry list of the ingredients we need to keep on hand to be able to make our set of in-season recipes. Which has led to many discussions of which recipes to include. For instance, tomatoes grow almost too well in Oklahoma. My first instinct is to can lots and lots of pasta sauce. Ryan, while not being opposed to Italian food, has a different idea: he wants to focus more on foods that reflect our local culture.

Say what? I was under the impression that true local food consisted of Indian tacos and ... Indian tacos. And whatever other Native American food I've never tasted. Last time I checked - and correct me if I'm wrong - most of the food I'm familiar with was brought over across the Big Pond by (my) (European) ancestors. What cuisine is native to Oklahoma? Hamburgers? Cornbread? Chicken and dumplings? Blackberry cobbler? My mind wanders to imported food long before I've thought of enough dishes to constitute a menu. (NB: I'm totally in favor of learning to make Indian tacos, by the way. I still think Oklahoma cuisine is limited, though.)

I haven't found an answer to this question, so I would appreciate any insights.

In the meantime, I've recently and relatedly been inspired by very simple foods. Tonight we ate beef liver and onions, which was a first for us. We both enjoyed the simple meal with few ingredients, which nourished and satisfied us without weighing us down with fuss or extraneous tastes. We speculated on why neither of us ate this dish in our childhoods. For my part, I know my mom doesn't like the taste of liver, but I also was under the impression that there is a cultural connection to poverty. Ryan wasn't so sure, because the liver cost us as much per pound as ground beef would. We couldn't figure it out, especially because liver is so high in vitamins. There were times during my pregnancy when I would eat half a pound of chicken livers in a sitting, probably when I was deficient in something or other.

Anyway, our meal and discussion got me thinking about foods which our grandmothers surely grew in their gardens, but which have disappeared from our cuisine (or at least from the cuisine I've been exposed to) so entirely that I have to search the internet to find how to cook them, and even then I'm still not sure I'm doing it right. Eggplant. Cabbage. Turnips. Many kinds of squash. Someday I will boldly disregard all the recommendations I've ever read to only plant foods you know you'll eat, and purposefully plant foods I have no clue how to prepare, so I'll be forced to learn.

Which brings me to the tangentially related piece of news that we like a job, and we like a house! We'll find out next week if the job likes us too, and if it likes us then we'll find out whether any banks like us. The house we like is big enough for a very large family, in a nice neighborhood, on about a 3/4 acre lot, needs lots of cosmetic work but structurally sound and has the potential to be gorgeous, and is a foreclosure (read: cheap enough that I don't care what garish colors the walls are painted in or how bizarrely the light fixtures are wired).

Visions of edible landscaping are dancing in my head.


Time for gratuitous baby pictures!

We got some tiny baby chairs and a table for MeMe and Pop Pop's too, so Heidi and Ava can have tea parties!

Buried in a pile of diapers hot from the dryer

5 comments:

  1. I would love to eat completely local, but it takes more time than I can invest right now. But I have been to the local farmer's market 2x and bought hothouse tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and eggs. This is a link to the Oklahoma Food Cooperative: http://www.oklahomafood.coop/ I think you will find it interesting. Eastern OK has awesome local food and my plan is to come that way in late June to get corn for the freezer.
    You need to have Grandad fix you an Osage dinner. He makes an awesome corn soup, fry bread, and grape dumplings. This food was made with supplies from the Government and doesn't reflect the culture before contact with the Europeans. If you guys make it to In Lon Schka this year, we can have a real Osage dinner. No Indian tacos there :)
    Love the pics of Heidi...Mamaw does miss her!

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  2. I would love to try Osage food! What is In Lon Schka?

    I was trying to get our cottage an account with the OK Food Co-Op before ... well, my last post talks about it, and sometime when we come visit I'm sure we'll let you in on all the ranting that I can't put on the internet. They're an awesome organization, and we're definitely hoping to start buying some food for our family from there.

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  3. To answer the question but not get into too much detail, In Lon Schka is a ceremonial dance that the Osage Tribe does at the end of June at three sites. We participate in the Pawhuska dance that will be held June 23-26 this year.

    As far as the food, I wanna praise your and Ryan's adventurous spirit. I could, but never would, do that. Even though I know local food is better for us, to live on it alone and to eat the old school way is great every once in awhile but I like my fatty, greasy, horrible for you food that tastes wonderful!!! I also like Mexican and Italian food way too much.

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  4. We didn't say we'd never eat out. ;-)

    I've come to the conclusion that it's kind of a waste of time to eat ethnic foods at home, because they never taste as good when I make them. I'm still all in favor of incorporating dishes that use all foods that grow here, like dolmas (Greek - lamb wrapped in grape leaves), but even then it's really hard to get the spices right if you didn't grow up eating it. I probably won't let go of Tex-Mex recipes, because I'm from Texas and that IS part of my heritage, but even then I'm really only good at cooking white people Tex-Mex like taco salad and chili.

    If there had been any mention of not eating ethnic food at restaurants, I would have vetoed the whole proposition. I love my sushi and Mediterranean and Indian food.

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  5. This is something Ryan and I have been trying out as well. Our garden is still very young, and our first step has been to eliminate processed convenience foods (with the exception of whole grain wheat bread, and PB and J at this point... it's hard to go completely cold turkey!).

    As far as local cuisine is concerned, my instincts are the same as yours... spaghetti sauce is about as "local cuisine" as it gets unless I intend to eat pot roast every day. What I've found to be very helpful in eating more fresh produce and keeping my prep a simple as possible is keeping a wide range of spices on a small lazy susan by my stove. When I'm sautéing veggies, I can quickly add jerk seasoning, garlic pepper, cajun seasoning, italian seasonings, corriander, etc for a unique flavor every meal. I know many people would scoff at a pre-mixed spice blend, but as you mention, it is really difficult to get ethnic food right when it is coming from an ethnicity that was not central to our upbringings. Something else I've done a few times is to throw my most used veggies (onions, peppers, carrots, celery) into the food processor at the beginning of the week and store them pre-chopped in the fridge so I could just scoop out some fresh produce to add to my recipes without a lot of prep energy at dinner time all week.

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