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Baking Bread, Making Mayonnaise, and What To Do When Things Go Bad July 17, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.

Normally I would feel a little guilty about not posting for a while, but in this case I actually like the story it tells: local eating is becoming normal for us.  This week we’ve put less effort into our food but have still been eating well.

It’s been a good week for baking, however. Nat made another batch of tasty local bread, so we’re back to bread-based tastiness for breakfast and often lunch. We even had club sandwiches for dinner last night, sitting on our balcony in the warm summer breeze. The sandwich experience was enhanced by the fact that Nat, having bemoaned the absence of “the White Queen of Condiments” from our diet, made his own mayonnaise (egg yolks, oil, mustard, pepper, apple cider vinegar, and a few drops of lime juice from the bottle in our fridge). It’s tasty and seems to be keeping well in a jar in the fridge.

Nat's two loaves of bread from this week's batch (which also included a tray's worth of buns)

Many things do not keep that well, however. Or at least not as long as conventional store-bought produce, likely because the food we have been buying from the markets is not primarily grown for its ability to survive long-distance transport and have a long shelf life. As many local food writers discuss, selecting species for their resilience to transport means sacrificing other attributes, including what are, for me, the most important: flavour and nutrition. (Isn’t the point of eating primarily to nourish our bodies  and secondarily to enjoy the experience?) Then there’s the fact that many of the farmers (particularly at the smaller markets) don’t use pesticides that kill every other living thing, so there is probably a little more residual microbial activity left on the produce. (While many of the smaller farmers use “organic practices”, many choose not to go through the expensive organic certification process. If organic is important to you, just talk to the vendor and they can tell you how the food is grown.)

On a day when we'd run out of a lot of things, this was dinner. Veggie scrambled eggs (mainly onions and asparagus) with steamed green beans in lots of butter.

The upshot of this is that now and then things start to go bad in our fridge. There are two main solutions: boil or bake (cut the bad bits out first, of course). It’s surprising how many people just throw food out when it starts to go off, when most of it is still fine and you just need to remove the bad parts (an old roommate and I used to talk about veg that could be “salvaged”, which often led to Salvage Soup).

Step 1 of many veggie-salvaging endeavours: put in sink, wash thoroughly.

For limp veggies that wouldn’t be tasty raw anymore, a soup is often a good option. Even if you don’t feel like making soup immediately, you can make vegetable stock: brown some onions and add aging celery, carrots, etc. to sauté (to “sweat” out the flavour), then add water and simmer away for an hour or two, and finally drain the broth from the veggies (which will now be a mushy, fairly flavourless mess that should go to meet its maker). If you eat meat and this can coincide with having a turkey or chicken carcass left over, throw that in too and you’ll have another tasty kind of broth. Broth can be frozen until you want it–if you have a small freezer, boil it down until it’s quite strong (you can always add more water later).

For some veggies, baking is a better option. For instance, I used a couple of zucchinis that were going a bit soft to make a massive batch of zucchini bread and muffins this week. It’s delicious (excellent with the one-year local cheddar we got last week at the fromagerie) and incredibly easy. For fruits, either boiling them down into a jam or compote (which is what I’ll be doing later today with the last of our strawberries) or throwing them into a muffin, sweet bread, pie, or crumble seems to be just the ticket.

Zucchini bread and zucchini muffins (currently my staple breakfast and snack food)

Of course, the easiest option is not to let things go bad in the first place. This just takes a little forethought and the recognition that if you buy huge amounts of highly perishable things (like organic berries), you’re going to need to either spend the next few days feasting on them excessively or you’ll need to cook them into something. Picking through semi-moldy berries isn’t a lot of fun, so just make something before they go off. It also means that you’ll likely need to shop more than once a week for fresh fruit and greens, unless you want to cook big batches of things for the first four days and eat leftovers for the last three (personally, our fridge isn’t big enough to handle that option). Of course, some things keep charmingly, most notably root crops and sedate fruit such as apples.

But enough about things keeping well! The fact is, we’re still keeping very well ourselves (partly thanks to good meals with friends this week and a particularly tasty little bottle of blackcurrant wine which we, sadly, finished yesterday). Eating produce at the height of its freshness, and eating varieties adapted to this region and selected for taste rather than shelf-life just makes us wonder why we ever bought watery winter tomatoes. This is day 23 of our diet, so a week from today we’ll be celebrating the end of this month of local eating (if you’re in Montréal and you know us, look out for a celebratory potluck invite soon!).



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