Thou Shalt “Eat Local!”

I’m a big proponent of buying and eating seasonal, local food. It just tastes better, and when it comes to cooking and eating, in my book flavor trumps all else. I also like to support local communities, businesses and economies. Helping my neighbor is immediate and tangible, and it ultimately benefits me, too, when it comes to my quality of life. But what qualifies as local?

Colorado veggi
Colorado veggies waiting to be roasted

In my not-so-distant previous career, I worked closely with Colorado Proud and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), promoting and encouraging consumers to buy Colorado food and ag products whenever possible. We were asked A LOT and had lots of discussions about what “local” is and means. Even before my stint with the CDA, I liked to support business based in the state in which I was living; I sought out food and other products when I was shopping; and I travelled and visited communities closer to home. When it comes to defining “local,” I’ve always considered it to be whatever state I happen to be in at the time.

Since venturing out on new career adventures, exploring food among other things, I’ve joined the international organization Slow Food. I love Slow Food’s message of slowing down when it comes to cooking, eating and mealtime. And as I mentioned above, I’m an advocate of seasonal, local food. To further its cause, Slow Food is challenging its members and eaters around the globe to eat local from October 16 through November 5. I’m in! Sort of. Wait, slow down. As I was reading the elements of the “challenge,” I noticed that one of the options was to pledge to “buy no imported food or products made over 200 miles away.”

Colorado is approximately 380 miles across and 280 miles north to south. According to the Slow Food Eat Local Challenge, I’ve just been cut off from foods grown and raised on Colorado’s Western Slope, one of the state’s largest and most important agricultural regions. Most of Colorado’s fruit and wine grapes are grown on the Western Slope. I’ve just savored the last of the season’s Palisade Peaches with a Late Season Peach Thyme Sorbet. And now, apples and pears are in season and ripe for the picking. Sure, Colorado’s Front Range and Eastern Plains have lots of bounty, but my favorite Colorado apples and pears come from Hotchkiss, more than 200 miles from my home. Even in the grocery stores that carry Colorado apples, those apples are from…you guessed it, the Western Slope.

I hosted another pop-up dinner demo recently, and in my quest to buy all local produce, I discovered the mid-week farmers market had shut down for the season. Boo hoo! Now, I could have driven dozens of miles in and around Denver looking for local endive, or I could go right across the street to my local grocery store and buy what I needed. And that’s what I did. I still looked at labels, seeking out Colorado products. If Colorado wasn’t available, I looked for stuff from the region and neighboring states. If that wasn’t available, I looked for food grown, raised or processed in the good ol’ U.S.A. As a last resort, I turned to our neighbors to the south.

And this is where seasonal comes in. I planned and prepared a menu with food I knew was in season. I served two dishes with figs (figs don’t grow in Colorado, but they do in California and they’re in season, so they’re abundant at the grocery store). I roasted cold-weather vegetables like cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. And I had a leek that I did buy at the farmers market several days prior. I didn’t have to turn to imported products because I was buying what was in season. While my menu wasn’t completely Colorado-grown, it was all in season and grown regionally. That works for me.

So back to “local.” Much like everything else in our world, the United States’ food system isn’t perfect. But it is the most abundant, safest, affordable system in the entire world. Less than two percent of our population grows and raises all the food the rest of us in the 98 percent consumes. As good and romantic as it sounds to only buy and eat products from within 200 miles of where you live, it’s completely unreasonable and unattainable for most of the population.

I respect organizations like Slow Food and the cause they’re pursuing. It’s admirable, and deep down, I’m on board, because it fits with my values and ideals. But if we want to make real change when it comes to our food system, we need to get people back in the kitchen, cooking and eating better, and we need to have a better definition of “local.” I think we should start with a better understanding of where our food comes from in the first place, who grows it, how it’s processed, how it’s prepared and the people preparing it. There is a disconnect between the people who grow food and the people who eat it and the gap is only getting wider.

So in my personal quest to reinvent myself and my career, I’m encouraging people to get back in the kitchen, to eat fresh and seasonal food, to shop in the outer aisles of the grocery store, and to celebrate the home cook, not just the celebrity chefs and food advocates with abundant staff and resources to tell us that the ideal is to eat food grown within an arbitrary radius of our homes.

That definition of local? To me, it’s anything from my current home state of Colorado. Every time I go to the grocery store, I make my own pledge to buy Colorado first. I encourage everyone who lives and works in Colorado to do the same.

Oh, I have so much more I’d like to write and say on this topic. It sort of gets me fired up. But, alas, I don’t want to lose focus. Instead, here is my seasonal menu from my latest pop-up dinner demo. As the harvest winds down and the weather gets colder, I’m working on more seasonal menus to share and get YOU back in the kitchen. Stay tuned!

Endive with apples, figs, walnuts, goat cheese and honey balsamic reduction

 Simple fall salad with sherry shallot vinaigrette, roasted figs and blue cheese

 Risotto with roasted purple cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, leeks and rotisserie chicken

 Late-season peach thyme sorbet with shortbread cookies

 

 

 

 

 

How to Savor Millions of Peaches

We’re barely into fall, and I’m already missing sweet, juicy, delectable Palisade Peaches. When it comes to favorite foods, peaches are right up there. Except it has to be just the right peach. It has to have that faint floral aroma when I put it to my nose. It has to give ever so slightly when I squeeze it for ripeness. It has to be picked from the tree in July, August or early September. And it has to be from Colorado, where the soil, sun and air mix together to create what some call “Rocky Mountain Gold.” In short, it has to be the perfect peach.

The perfect peach isn’t too hard to find in late summer in Colorado. They’re in season and they’re divine. Very occasionally, you’ll get a dry, mealy one, and it’s a sad, sad day. That’s exactly what happened to me recently when I was scooping up the last-of-the-season peaches at my local farmers market. The farmer took his last box from his truck and put it on the table in front of me as I was rummaging through the remnants of another box for the best ones. “That’s it,” he said abruptly. “No more peaches this year.” I panicked. I opened my bag and loaded it with at least a dozen peaches, still wondering if I should buy more.

As I drove home I was still telling myself I should have bought the whole box. I didn’t, so I told myself to savor the ones I did have. I got home and immediately cut into the most fragrant peach in my bag. Uh oh. No juice as I drove my knife to the pit. I cut a wedge out and it was clearly dry and mealy. My dreams of one more bowl of fresh peaches macerated in honey and rum over vanilla ice cream were squashed. I grabbed another peach, cut into and again, no juice. I realized I had a rarified batch of bad peaches. It was a truly sad, sad day (insert appropriate sad-face emoji here).

IMG_0008It was late in peach season, and I knew I could end up with a bad peach or two. I’ve had amazing late-season peaches before, so it was entirely possible I would have been rewarded with Rocky Mountain Gold, too. But here I was with a bag full of bad peaches. What was I going to do? I hate to waste food, so the trash was out of the question. Cobbler, crisp, pie? All okay options but even those need decent peaches to begin with.

Then in a moment of clarity, I recalled my Mom’s cranberry ice recipe (it might have originated with my Granny) that she always makes at Thanksgiving. It’s a simple recipe of fruit, sugar and water, frozen and then whipped to make a sorbet-like treat. My less-than-stellar peaches now had a purpose: peach sorbet. I had a bunch of thyme in the fridge, so I decided to make Late Season Peach Thyme Sorbet. It’s super easy and a great way to savor the last flavors of peach season.

Late-Season Peach Thyme Sorbet

  • 8-10 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into large chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 dozen sprigs of fresh thyme (depending on how much flavor you want)

Put the peaches in a food processor and process until smooth. You should have about five cups of puree once processed. Mix in the lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and add the thyme sprigs. Set aside and let the herbs steep in the simple syrup until the mixture cools or for at least 30 minutes. Once cooled, remove the thyme and pour the simple syrup into the peach mixture. Run the food processor for 15 seconds to make sure everything is combined.

Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions. That’s it! You can serve it immediately or put it in the freezer to serve later, making it an ideal dessert to prepare ahead.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, electric or otherwise, don’t fret. I also learned this trick from my Mom’s cranberry ice recipe. Pour the combined peach and sugar/herb mixture into a glass, freezer-proof casserole dish. Pop it in the freezer for two to three hours. You don’t want it frozen solid, so if  you put it in and forget about until the next day, just pull it out and set it on the counter for an hour to soften. Then, take a hand mixer and whip the mixture until it’s more light and fluffy instead of frozen liquid. Put it back in the freezer and freeze until firm.

And just like that, I saved the last flavors of summer.