Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: January, Week 4

Winter has yet to release its icy grip on us, though its frigid fingers have loosened just a tiny bit to warm our air into the teens. I've even seen sunshine the past couple days -- remarkable!

And today, you could hardly escape any of the excitement surrounding the presidential inauguration, with so many people pinning their hopes on one slender but strong reed of a man. He spoke movingly of the hard times and the difficult challenges we face right now, as well as of the hard work and the hope we will need to move ahead.

I wonder, how many of us truly recognize the sacrifices we'll need to make in days to come? How many of us will have to tighten our belts even further? How many of us will have to learn new ways of living? And does President Obama realize himself what he may have to ask us -- and himself -- to do?

I don't ask these questions to get bogged down in politics here, to cast shadows on the early days of a new presidency, or to get too depressing in general for readers. But these thoughts have been on my mind in recent years, and I suspect many of you are grappling with them as well.

Sometimes following the local foods bandwagon can seem like a frivolous "foodie" distraction from real life. To obsess over the minute details of what we eat seems absurd when there are those who don't even know what they can put on the table.

But I like to think that emphasizing local foods -- especially through food preservation -- gets us back to the days when so many Americans did have to sacrifice in so many little ways throughout their daily living, whether out of economic necessity or patriotic duty. By supporting local farmers, on their farms or at the local market, we support their place in the local community and the local economy. By choosing to limit our food choices to items that are locally grown or produced, we can learn to make do with less or to simplify our eating habits. By growing our own food, we find we often have a bountiful surplus that we can preserve for winter and share with others less fortunate.

So tonight, despite the pomp and festivities surrounding the new Administration, I'm going to feature a bit of cucina povera (good ol' poverty food or economy cooking) for this month's local meal.


Over the weekend, I had a nostalgia-fueled craving for couscous topped with a spicy vegetable tagine. But I've been buying very few fresh vegetables lately (just kale, really), so I decided to make the tagine (stew) with a selection of dried vegetables: cabbage, zucchini, carrots, red peppers, peas, and green beans.

I soaked the dried vegetables in heated whey leftover from paneer-making a couple of weeks ago since it needed to be used. And once those had softened, I tossed them into the slow cooker along with a sauté of onion, garlic, and lots of spices; one peeled and chopped turnip; a jar of home-canned tomatoes; and the remains of a can of tomato paste. Aside from the paste, all the vegetables were local, and the whole mess helped me clean out a few things from the refrigerator.

The tagine simmered for several hours before I served it over the last of the wheat couscous, satisfying not only my appetite but my urge both to use up what I had and to make it stretch as far as possible. What remained in the pot -- and was then ladled into jars -- could easily cover 5 to 6 more servings.


Tonight, then, I reheated some of the tagine with a small handful of homemade pasta noodles (made with local spelt flour and a local egg). The noodles helped to thicken the stew just a touch more as well as to add a different flavor for a change of pace. I also finished off the last of the local cider to go with it!

A handful of "challenges" are floating around the Internet these days, between a Food Waste Reduction challenge and the Hunger Artist's Fanatic's Proposition (as mentioned by fellow Ethicurean Charlotte), as well as the very dramatic Riot 4 Austerity. There's a lot we can learn from each of them, and I've been trying to implement some of the ideas into my daily living. My own personal challenge this winter is to limit my cooking as much as possible to what resources I have on hand right now, as well as to clean out the cupboards and freezer as much as possible before June 1, when the preservation season starts all over again.

Will such a challenge help others? Not really, though I expect to share a good many of those meals. But I hope that becoming even more thoughtful and conscious about what I eat -- about eating what I have specifically put away to eat now -- will be another good step toward preserving enough to be able to help others in their times of need.

Hope and celebration fill the air tonight. But we still have work to do -- all of us, in so many ways.

Let's start wherever we can, wherever we are.

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2 Comments:

At 1/21/2009 9:13 PM, Blogger Tara said...

I love the last line of this post! So well said.

 
At 1/22/2009 7:22 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Tara!

 

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