In November I signed up to participate in the Dark Days Challenge
. The idea of this challenge is to get people cooking at least one meal a week featuring sustainable, organic, local* and ethical (SOLE) ingredients, and then blogging about the cooking experiences. I signed up with great enthusiasm, because after a year of living in North Carolina, I'm still in love with how easy it is to eat seasonally and locally here even in the dead of winter; especially given what a difficult time I had creating SOLE meals during the height of summer when I participated in the One Local Summer challenge back in 2008, while still living in Alaska.
Sometimes, I miss Alaska so much that it hurts. I can't wait to get back, and there are no better carrots, potatoes, wild berries or wild salmon than those found in Alaska. However, one thing I love about NC is the rich abundance of local, sustainable food that is grown year round here (even while I'm disappointed at how hard finding many things can be in Eastern North Carolina given that it's an agricultural intensive region.)
Technically, this challenge started on November 27th, however, that happened to coincide with my end of the semester madness. Though I have made more than one SOLE meal a week since then, this is the first time I've managed to actually get myself together enough to document the meal, and compose a post. So, a full month into this challenge, I'm finally getting around to posting. Hopefully, next week, I'll remember to document more than one meal.
Christmas Dinner 2011
I love the holiday season a sort-of ridiculous amount. If you know me in real life, this is not news to you. In fact, even if you know me just through the internet, this is likely not news to you. This is our second December in North Carolina, but was to be our first Christmas here since we couldn't go back to Alaska to spend it with my family, or to Seattle to spend it with Travis'. I spent a lot of time feeling rather sorry for myself about this fact, until I realized that, for the first time ever, I could prepare a SOLE Christmas dinner, while also keeping a fairly "traditional" menu:
Beer Baked Ham
Mashed & roasted sweet potatoes with garlic & onions
Roasted broccoli & carrots
Whole wheat biscuits
Plum Cake with Honey
One thing about living in a region that produces food year-round, is that it doesn't feel like Christmas to those of who are used to white-Christmases. I attempted fool my psyche into the seasonal spirit, despite a total lack of snow on the ground or nip in the air, through madly baking and cooking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Still, as I prepared the ham for baking, and heard Mr. Heat Miser
singing in the background, I had never really hated him more. :-)
A while back I got a ham from Circle Acres Farms (in Silk Hope, NC, 128 miles from Greenville) via my local CSA, Locavore Market
. I am a heavily vegetarian leaning flexitarian, as such I don't eat or cook a lot of meat. Mostly, I got the ham because I knew Travis would appreciate it. I stuck it in the freezer, and sort of forgot about it for a while. When I pulled it out to cook it, I was sort of shocked. If you'd asked me before if I'd ever seen a ham in it's pure, unadulterated, uncured form, I would have told you that, of course I had. I think I would have been wrong.
I had never before seen a ham that looked this, and I'd certainly never cooked one before. A bit of Googling later, I decided that cooking the ham in beer was the way to go.
As is always the case, we had a lot of excellent beer from which to choose, however, we didn't have any of it great amount. I couldn't decide which to sacrifice to the ham until I remembered that we still had several cans of my favorite beer in the entire world, Sockeye Red IPA
, that were partially flat due to damage they sustained while flying in my checked suitcase this summer. This beer certainly doesn't count as local under any sense in this challenge, however I chose to allow them for a few reasons. Because the beer was flat, we were never going to drink them, and they were essentially only good for cooking. Using them in my Christmas meal also served as a bit of an homage to my home state "local"devotions, and since I personally carried the beer back from Alaska, in my suitcase it felt a bit less like true import. Finally, I'm opting to count the beer as a spice, since it's the only way I seasoned the ham. It's a bit of a stretch, I recognize that.
I put the 5lb bone-in ham, skin side up in my large dutch oven, and poured two cans (24 oz) of beer over it. I put the lid on, and placed it in my oven set at 325°. I let it bake for 2.5 hours before removing the lid and letting it cook for another hour, until it had reached an internal temp of 160°.
I washed four sweet potatoes, pierced them, and placed them in a pyrex baking dish in the oven along with the ham. I roasted them until they were soft, and then pureed them with half-and-half from Jackson Dairy in Dunn, NC (90 miles from Greenville.) I diced half a sweet yellow onion and three cloves of garlic from Locavore market, and mixed that all together in a casserole dish.
While the ham and sweet potatoes were baking I washed and chopped two carrots, one pound of broccoli, and three cloves of garlic-- all also from Locavore market. I put them in small dutch oven, sprinkled them with salt and olive oil, and set them aside, to roast after I'd taken the ham out of the oven.
I had stoneground whole wheat flour from The Grain Mill in Wake Forest (80 miles from Greenville) that I used along with milk and butter from Jackson Dairy to make Christmas tree shaped biscuits (plus some standard round ones.) Sadly, I think I forgot the baking powder, because the biscuits failed to puff up like the should. They were good still, just small.
(At this point, my camera decided to stop working. So the remainder of the photos on this post will be from my phone.)
For dessert, I used plums I had purchased this summer at the farmer's market, and frozen, to make my friend Becca's plum cake. It's her favorite cake, and a tradition in her family. She gave me the recipe last year, which I made for Travis' family at Christmas, and decided that I liked the cake so much it was going to become a Christmas tradition in our house too. In addition to pureeing frozen plums, instead of using jars of plum baby food, I made a few other adjustments to the recipe, so that I could stay within the local guidelines. Normally it's made with regular flour, but I had ground oat flour from The Grain Mill, and decided to use that instead. I also substituted local honey in place of the sugar. The eggs came from Strawberries on 903 in Winterville, NC (10 miles from Greenville) and I omitted the oil, since it was already pretty moist from the honey and eggs. This resulted in a cake that was much nuttier and denser than the original, but it was quite good. It's also normally baked in a bundt pan and sprinkled with powdered sugar. However, my bundt pan was MIA Christmas day, and I opted to drizzle it with honey instead of powdered sugar.
All-in-all, it was a fairly simply meal. But it was quite enjoyable, not to mention that it was really nice being able to make it in the middle of winter, using essentially all local ingredients, most of which were fresh. There's no way I could have pulled this off while still living in Alaska. Everything local would have been frozen for a few months, and I'd have had to make a berry pie since we can't really grown much fruit in Alaska.
Like I said, I really miss home. I really miss the food options I do have in Alaska, but I will most definitely miss the wide variety of local foods I can find in NC, once we move back to Alaska.
*What does local mean?
"Traditionally, local food challenges call for a 100 mile radius. Winter time is more difficult in many climates, especially if you’re new to eating locally, so my default winter definition is 150 miles. You can choose to make your radius smaller or slightly larger as you need. Typical exceptions to the local requirement are oils, coffee, chocolate and spices. If you’re making fewer or more exceptions, please note that on your first post."
For the purposes of this challenge, I will primarily be abiding by the 150 mile rule. However, I will likely count any NC goods as "local" while imposing the 150 mile rule only strictly if venturing outside of NC, either to SC or VA, for products. I don't plan to make any other exceptions outside of those addressed, however, should an exception arise, I will address it (and my reasoning) in a post.