Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Economies of scale

One thing about eating "real" and local is convenience. It is terribly counter intuitive. It turns out to be much more challenging, expensive, and time consuming to buy flour, eggs, milk and meat from Wisconsin, 50 miles away, than it is to buy kiwifruits from Chile.

I did finally find a local-ish place to get chicken and eggs, Harrison Poultry Farms, about 15 miles. They weren't on localharvest.com so maybe their farm in southern Wisconsin doesn't make the "local" cut.

There's another Wisconsin farm called Great River that seems to sell flour to Sam's Club, so I'm off to Sam's Club some time this week to buy $2.20 a pound flour, grown and milled in Southern Wisconsin, as opposed to 70c a pound flour, grown and milled god knows where-- you can't tell from the packaging. India for all I know. I worked out the cost-- if I make all my own bread, the expensive flour makes each loaf about the same price as the store brand. If you count my time as having no monetary value.

I can get local milk at Whole Foods; I just have to forsake a 20-year-old vow never to shop at Whole Foods since they closed down all the old locally owned organic grocers that they bought when they moved in, despite promises not to. (And the ones they couldn't buy they forced out of business.) Local cheese is abundant at the regular chain markets, thank goodness. I actually have a neighborhood butcher (!); he tells me his meat is from Iowa, and I'm going to count that as close enough for jazz.

In all, the thing that this challenge seems to boil down to is the American character. As a red blooded rugged individualist I find myself resisting the time I have to carve out of a tight schedule, greater good bedamned. Not counting cooking time, I figure I have about 8 hours a week for non-work work, if you see what I mean, like blogging and meeting these challenges. Instead of one-stop-shopping for groceries, and being able to walk to the store, I have to go to several different shops all over the north side (I just can't justify trekking to the south side or the 'burbs for this). I realize that doing this might start a butterfly effect. If every singleton decides "not worth the trouble" then we'll never create a critical mass to force change. But do I really want to be the pebble that starts the landslide? Do I really have that power?

I guess that's why they call it a challenge.

All in all, it seemed appropriate to go rogue here in my frustration, and propose a risotto which I made with imported rice (already in the larder), hothouse tomatoes (yay! local, and extremely expensive) and summer squash. Ah, irony.

Tomato risotto with summer squash

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil (or use the oil from the sundrieds)
1/2 cup minced yellow onion (about 1/4 pound)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon sun dried tomatoes, diced
1 cup Arborio rice
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium summer squash, diced
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (from Wisconsin, hooray!)
coarse salt (optional)

Melt butter with oil in a 2 quart stock pot; stir in onions, sundried tomatoes, and garlic, saute until onions are translucent. Add rice and stir to coat, cook for about 4 more minutes. Add tomatoes. Start adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, simmering each time until all the liquid is absorbed. There may be some stock left over. Halfway through this process, add the squash.

Stir in pepper and cheese, add salt to taste, if desired, and serve hot.

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