dark days challenge #2: post-Thanksgiving corn chowder

For the second week of the Dark Days Winter Eat Local Challenge, I was indeed challenged.  The days leading up to Thanksgiving, and after Thanksgiving, I was really focused on the big meal we ate on the day.  With all the leftovers, it was hard to justify going to the store to buy more food just to “eat local.”

We certainly had local items within the T-day meal, including the cranberries in the cranberry sauce; the pumpkins in the pie; the bacon, shallots, celery, butter and hazelnuts in the stuffing (and the bread was local, but probably made from flour from out of state)…but the whole meal wasn’t local.  The turkey was a Shelton, from Southern California.  I’m not sure why our local fancy grocery and the local meat market both opt for Shelton’s fresh turkeys, but they do.  We don’t likely have a big local supplier.

As I was doing what I could with the leftovers, an endeavor that inspired me to transform my turkey breast leftovers via Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan strange-flavored chicken salad, it occured to me that I could make a simple, nourishing, light soup from the corn instead of eating it and pretending it was Chinese.

The corn dish I created this year was based on the proverbial “three sisters,” corn, beans and squash that were so-named because they serve as perfect companion plants in the fields.  The corn provides a pole for the beans, and the large leaves of the squash plant shade and protect the roots of the corn and beans until late in the season.  Everyone knows the old culinary saw, “if it grows together, it goes together.”  Why not use my dried beans, frozen summer corn, and fresh storage squash together?

The Thanksgiving corn side dish featured cream, thyme, roasted squash, and yellow-eye beans sautéed in butter the night before.  I had planned to use Anthony Boutard’s tarbais beans (Gaston, Oregon), since they hold up well, but I had just enough yellow-eye beans left (non-local, but I bought them in San Francisco, where they were local) from last season to add a sprinkle of beans to the dish.  The local corn itself was not the sweet, locally celebrated Bodacious, but rather a more corn-y, chewier variety that makes for a disappointing ear mid-summer, but a deeper, toastier taste when used frozen in winter recipes. The delicata squash was what it was: fresh, delicious, and easy to roast and cut into small pieces with the skin on for more fiber and pretty stripes.

With leftover buttery, creamy corn already seasoned with thyme and studded with squash and beans, I thought I might capitalize on a good thing and turn a local side dish into a local chowder that was hearty enough for dinner, yet light enough for dinner after Thanksgiving.

I added enough Noris Dairy milk to cover the corn and fill a small pot, then cut up a good knob of local leek and a local red-skinned potato.  A quick trip out the garden yielded even more thyme.  A healthy grind of black pepper and a good dose of salt finished it off.  I simply simmered the soup until the potatoes and leeks were soft.  Served with leftover baguette from a local bakery, it was perfect for a postprandial repast.

You could make this chowder with fresh ingredients.  Sweet, milky corn freshly shaven off the cob and poached in butter and milk with new potatoes and summer squash would be absolutely divine.  But it wasn’t bad for a fall dish, not bad at all!

Bring it on, challengers.  Bring.  It.  On.

the great dry bean giveaway of 2009

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As the final (I think) leg in my bean adventure, I’d like to host my first food product giveaway here at Culinaria Eugenius.  I’m a little suspicious of companies that infiltrate blogs to market their products, but I do like the free food sharing idea.  Plus, I was generously given these beans to spread the word about relocalization efforts in the Willamette Valley, so why wouldn’t I share the love?

The Great Bean Giveaway of 2009:

a pound of Willamette Valley pinto beans and a pound of Willamette Valley garbanzo beans for you.

These dried beans will yield around 12 cups of cooked bean pleasure.

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These little lovelies were raised on a transitioning-to-organic field in Tangent, Oregon, by Stalford Seed Farms. They come fresh from the 2008 crop, and are cloaked in the dark, rich soil from which they were born.  (That is, they need to be sorted and washed).  They plump up and cook beautifully, yielding tender, sweet, creamy, tasty flesh in a fraction of the time it takes to cook their tough, chalky supermarket cousins.

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Stalford Seed Farms (along with the project’s visionary Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm) is taking part in the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project.  On their 9,000 acre farm in Linn County, they grow mostly grass seed, but have devoted some of their resources for the past three years to experimenting with food crops, staples such as beans and grains.  The 2009 Project report, from which I’ve taken all the figures below, notes that 130 acres have been converted to food crops on the farm (and I believe these are the ones that will be certified organic next year).  400 more acres are being converted, and 1,200 acres were planted with conventional soft white wheat in 2008.

Why is this important?

  • The Willamete Valley farm acreage (it is estimated) could provide food for all its residents in the valley, including the Portland metropolitan area;
  • Instead, this farm acreage is now about 60% grass seed production;
  • Food crops are only about 18%;
  • We once produced miles of produce and staples for commercial canneries and markets, and our soil is now being depleted with monoculture crops;
  • It is more costly to grow food, even with the benefits of crop rotation and diversity, and without visible and vocal demand for a relocalized food network in our area, farmers may be unwilling to make the shift.

dscf3659When I visited the farm a couple of weeks ago and spoke with Gian Mercurio, farmer, organic food promoter, and mother-in-law to the farm’s owner Harry Stalford, she shared with me some emails that gave glowing reports of the beans from local chefs and home cooks.  I am hoping to share my successes with her, as well.

So here’s the deal:

Please comment below if you’re interested in being considered for the bean giveaway drawing with your name, email address (won’t appear on comment field), and your favorite way to cook pinto or garbanzo beans.

I’ll write down your name on a slip of paper and do a random drawing a week from today (2/22/09), then contact the winner.  You don’t need to live in Eugene or even the Willamette Valley, but I can’t afford shipping costs overseas.  The beans will be shipped to you in the finest Ziploc-style bag money can buy.