Saturday, January 30, 2010

Trade Winds

I have a great group of trading partners. We trade all sorts of things like labor, food, advice, future compost, seeds, plants, books, clothing, and sometimes even the flu.
My trading partners aren’t wasteful (except the dumpsters). For the most part, they are a pretty frugal group. I think that most people don’t want to waste anything, it is just that they don’t always know what to do with the extra things in their lives. That’s why they give them to me. It is a way of rearranging all of the abundance.
Other trading partners are truly grateful for what I give to them, and so they repay me in kind.
Most of my trading partners do not know about the February Dollar a Day Challenge. If they stumble upon this and recognize a gift, they can identify themselves if they want to, but here I will only identify them by the pseudonyms I have assigned them. I will be using the designated names for the 2010 hurricane season.

Friday, January 29, 2010

February Dollar a Day Challenge Rules

So! here are my rules.

1. Spend no more than a dollar a day for the month of February. I have figured that my gardens cost 17 cents per day, so that leaves me 83 cents per day to play around with at the grocery store or farmer’s market.
2. I am not going to eat anything else from my pantry except items I have grown myself or received from trading partners. Since I harvest from the garden all year ‘round, this rule will not be as difficult for me as it has been for others doing like challenges. In addition, I already have a small stock of foods from trading partners. Most of this stash consists of non-local food items traded during the Eat Local For One Year challenge in 2009.
3. I will replace what homegrown foods I eat out of my pantry with seasonal foods. So, if I eat a serving of frozen zucchini, I will add a rack of parsley or leeks to my dehydrator.
4. If my friends and/or trading partners want to go out to eat, I will go along, and the tab won’t be counted in my daily food total. I’m done with not going out with my friends because of a silly food challenge.
5. I will keep track of my experience on the blog, but I won’t post receipts! Not only has that been done before, but I don’t have a camera.
6. NO RAMEN NOODLES! Unless a trading partner gives them to me.

Why February? In deference to Lessisenough, who started her food challenge last February, and also because it is the slowest time of the year at the garden. Doing this in September would be too easy. I am still on the Locavore Lite 2010 challenge, of course.

Care to join me?

My next post will be all about my trading partners.

You Like Me, You Really Like Me...

...And now here’s the end of my academy award speech, where I thank everybody that ever helped me, like Mrs. Meier, my first grade teacher, Mr. Hebel, my high school social studies teacher, and, oh, Jerry Maguire.
While I have been inspired by other people’s accounts of their experiments in simple living, sometimes some of them make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes there is a bit of, “if I can do this, anyone can do it.” Even worse is when it feels like, “if I can’t do it then nobody can do it.” And the very worst is, “If I can do it, you SHOULD do it!” I wish for this experiment to not be all that political. I am not doing this experiment to change any policy or prove any particular point. It’s not about nutrition, food policy, self-deprivation, or the world’s current economic challenges. It’s not about Weston Price, Dorothy Day or Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s more about adaptability, creativity and friendship (OK, and a bit of competition).
I struggled a bit with my rules, and how I would start this experiment. Should I start from scratch, with nothing in the house to eat? Or, should I eat what’s here, with the risk of my expenses being so low because I am just spending down the pantry?
No matter what I would try, there would be no way for me to start from scratch. My garden has been going along for awhile, the soil is in shape, the plants are in, and I know how to grow them. I learned much about gardening from Mom and Dad and how far back does that assistance go? My grandfather’s rose garden, my other grandfather’s farm, my great aunt’s cabbage grater? Many in my community, from undocumented Mexican gardeners who help me load grass clippings into my car every Tuesday morning, to my friends with horse and chicken manure, to the seemingly careless drivers who leave planting containers and shovels in the roadways, have contributed to my compost pile. There is no way to go back to scratch. I am not even going to try that much.
I’ll admit, not everybody can do this. Some can do better for sure. Nobody else has my DNA, my climate, my upbringing, my schooling, my relatively affluent neighborhood. Nobody has the same initial or current conditions, so everyone’s experiment, if they choose to do one, will have a different outcome.
I hope I have a good outcome. So, thank you all. I've misplaced that crumpled envelope I stashed in my pocket and they're starting to play music. You know who you are!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Raw January Morning

I know it has been a bit too cold for me to seriously consider a raw food diet, but Randy's raw beet salad sounded really good. I hadn't been out to the garden since the rains began, and was running low on fresh local veggies, but I knew I still had some beets. I made a few modifications to the recipe. I added local tangerine juice instead of orange juice. Since my beets were a bit overgrown and a little tough, and they had at some point in their rooty lives experienced a bit of pretesting by various rodents, I decided to peel them first.
I placed the marinated beets on a bed of salad greens I gathered on Sunday afternoon during the first rain shower.
The salad was tasty, but I was unprepared for the amount of time it would take to chew the beets. They had almost a beef jerky quality, and despite being cold, the salad was pretty satisfying.

Monday, January 18, 2010

February Dollar a Day Challenge

During the middle of the Eat Local For One Year challenge, Kris addressed the costs of adhering to a local food diet. Most participants found that our costs were down from when we were eating any old kind of food, mostly because we weren't eating the high-cost packaged or take-out selections, and pretty much everything had to be prepared from scratch. Others spent less money on food because they started putting up their garden produce in 2008. We were able to keep our food bill down to under 2 dollars a day per person during 2009, but I wondered if I could go lower.
I have been inspired by others who have participated in budget food challenges, like The One Dollar Diet Project and the Less is Enough challenge. So, for the month of February, I am going to try to eat for under a dollar a day. I think this will be easier than the other challenges for two reason. First, I plan to take advantage of my own produce gardens. Second, I have a group of trading partners. My trading partners may be locavores, far-o-vores, dumpsters, organizations and other trading entities. (OK, maybe the dumpsters aren't really trading partners since I rarely throw anything away.) I will not reveal the identity of any of my trading partners on any new posts. I will say that most of my trading partners have been gracious recipients of my endless stream of zucchini and buttercrunch lettuce, and they pass along to me what they have. Some give me gleanings, some their leftovers, some gifts for favors, but none of the trades are for money. We all help each other.
Please stay tuned for more details.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oops! I Did it Even More Again (The Sequel)

Didn't I learn anything about squash this year? I grow plenty on my own, and now I am getting plenty of chayote to eat and pass around. Recently I planted a sprouting chayote on a little plot in the backyard. There is plenty of room for the squash vine to grow up some evergreen bushes, reach the olive tree, climb over to a grove of baby live oak trees and continue on down the street into my neighbor's yard, all the while clogging sewer lines, disrupting cable, irritating the Homeowner's Association Police.
I know better. I just couldn't help myself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are Freegans Local?

Starting in February, I will be trying a new food experiment. I’ll admit, I think I’ll make a better Freegan than a Locavore.
One of the seemingly unavoidable consequences of starting the ELFOY project one year ago was food waste. One reason that I joined the project at all was because of my concern over environmental issues associated with wasteful food industry practices. It just didn’t seem right to toss perfectly good food after January 1 just because it came from far away.
A few weeks into the project, the core group had a meeting to discuss changes to the challenge. One of the changes we agreed to was that it would be OK to eat non-local food if it was going to be thrown away. This was supposed to be an occasional event, but exactly how often was never clarified. Is it a couple of times a month, or a couple of times a day?
If you were walking by a dumpster and heard a baby crying, would you dive in and rescue it? Of course you would! You would rescue the baby and call 911 and get that baby adopted into a loving family that will honor its right to its intended life purpose. Wouldn’t you? What if it wasn’t a real crying baby, but just a bag of European baby greens, or little baby patty pan squash or new potatoes? What if some farmer lovingly planted heirloom seeds, carefully watered, tended, harvested, packaged, padded and shipped it, only to have a grocery store overbuy and throw it away, the rest of its life and purpose interrupted, and all the accompanying energy consumption down the drain?
And what if the food was grown in Peru or Chile or Ecuador, flown here, and then thrown in a dumpster? Wow, for a locavore, that is even worse! OK, what if it was just harvested by a cog in the agribusiness machine? Wouldn’t you still want to rescue it? Well, I would, at least.
To my way of thinking, when the food is from the dumpster, the food-miles get set back to zero. If, by rescuing them, they stay out of the landfill, then the food-miles are even in negative territory, sort of like carbon offsets, without all that pimped out buying and selling at some European exchange.

Chayote Challenge

I received a ton of local overgrown chayote and this month, I am determined to try them in as many recipes as I can. My first experiment was to cook the chayote whole, scoop out the cooked flesh and then "grill" it in butter, garlic and Indian spices. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try much of it because when I checked the fridge, it was all gone. Next I tried a mock mango chutney. It looked a little sad until I added some turmeric for color. It was a hit at a dinner party I attended, and my hosts asked to keep the leftovers. And I have to say, I can't think of a more perfect complement to corn chips. Here's the recipe:
Chayote chutney
1 large chayote squash
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins
1 garlic clove
2-3 fresh hot red chili peppers, chopped and seeded
1/4 t powdered mustard
1/4 t powdered ginger
1 clove, crushed
1/8 t garam masala
dash turmeric for color
Cook the chayote whole by poking it with a fork and microwaving it (about 6 min) until slightly soft. Let the chayote cool slightly and then remove and discard the seed and skin, and chop the squash into large chunks. Mix the squash, onion, pepper, garlic, vinegar and sugar and raisins in a saucepan and cook the mixture until the squash is soft and the other ingredients are cooked through. Mix in the other spices and cook for 1 minute or until the mixture is slightly thickened. Cool and place into a clear glass jelly jar. The chutney will thicken as it cools.
For my next trial, I used an extremely overgrown squash and just sauteed the cooked squash in garlic, olive oil, fennel, salt and fresh parsley, as I would potato. I'll have to say that I prefer the chayote at a less-mature stage, and sure prefer the chutney. But, who needs all that sugar? I am going to tinker with a version with honey, and less sweetness overall and with more red pepper so the color is better.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Transition Times

As soon as the ball dropped on New Year's eve, I reached for one of the last Christmas cookies. These cookies had been staring me in the face ever since I brought them home from a cookie party a week before Christmas. Now they were mine!
At 12:01, I ate the cookie, followed by some turkey with mayo. (I had purchased the mayo a couple of weeks in advance, in anticipation of the new year.) I woke up in the middle of the night, sick. Guess I will have to ease back into mayo, or maybe give it up altogether.
Many reintroduced foods have been a challenge for me in the past couple of weeks. There is something really wrong with lots of the conventional food that many of us buy. I visited a discount store and bought a few condiments and olive/type concoctions. Many of the food items in the store, if they were labeled at all, came from China. I don't really trust this food anymore, and will ease back into as much local food as much as I can muster.
This week, I have been enjoying the re-emergence of local navel oranges, limes and tangerines brought to the table. The Meyer lemons growing in my backyard are almost ripe. I have added beyond-100-mile California almonds, raisins and milk back into my diet, with an occasional banana from somewhere else. We enjoyed a large plate of steamed carrots, turnips and asparagus harvested from the community garden, along with the usual leeks and greens. I have prepared chayote in many new ways.
So this year I resolve to find more friends in warmer locations to grow backyard bananas, to learn how to make some decent pickles and kraut and to move farther away from "denatured" foods of all kinds.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

We're Done!

The yearlong food experiment is over, and we celebrated with a wonderful potluck at Jo and Kris's home. Most of the remaining core members brought a dish still made with local foods, but with a few non-local flourishes. Kris kept us filled with fresh coffee, offering dabs of local honey and some coconut milk. It sure is nice to have coffee all the time!
Though I had plenty of difficult days, I am certainly glad, now that it is over, that I participated in the food challenge all year. Things I thought would be really hard turned out to be pretty easy. I really had not too much trouble going without prepared condiments and exotic spices. I was surprised that the social aspect of eating with my friends would be the hardest challenge of the year.
It was pretty fun on the first day of this year, hearing each remaining core member recount their experiences. I wasn't the only participant who found themselves becoming uncharacteristically picky about the quality of their food, their lessening comfort level upon visiting a typical grocery store, their continuing commitment to local eating and the big reduction in their trash.
Will I continue? You bet, with the Locavore Lite 2010 plan. I will continue to try to grow as much of my own food as I can, eat locally-grown foods, trade with my friends and neighbors and eat as close to the ground as I can. But this week has also included Napa Valley wine, Indian spices, coffee, wheat berries and miso soup.