Friday, July 1, 2011

30 Days: Locavore Edition

My own 30 day experiment makes me think of Morgan Spurlock and all the crazy things he's documented. Now that I've done it myself as a locavore, it's amazing how much just 30 short days can really impact and change your perspective. As someone who loves food and loves to cook and delights in homemade things, I'm actually truly surprised how much this experience has changed how I look at food.

I feel this great sense of accomplishment and I'm really proud of where I spent my money these past 30 days--that's definitely something that will affect how I spend my money going forward. One of the biggest obstacles for me, was the convenience factor. I'm a 9 p.m. grocery shopper. I've gotten the chance to go home settle down, eat dinner and maybe watch some TV and make a grocery list and then head out to Rouses in that last hour when the store is quiet before they close. While this experience has made me appreciate Rouses even more for the sheer number of local products they carry--I couldn't survive on their local items for 30 days.

On a side note, I did stop at Winn-Dixie for a late night emergency baking supply stop when I ran out of ingredients for a cake I was making for a friend, and what I found was pretty depressing and reinforced why I don't like shopping there. I was completely shocked when I walked into the diary section and they didn't have any Kleinpeter products. Shame on you Winn-Dixie--that's all I have to say about that...

Anyway, while I understand Hollygrove's weekly box isn't for everyone, what I really loved was the convenience factor. I can go to the farmer's market and look and look and come out with only a handful of things. I like just walking up in Hollygrove and getting whatever is in the box and figuring out what to do with it later. Of anything in this experience, the box has really pushed me to be creative with items I never would have picked out myself. Patty pan squash? Fairy Tale eggplant?

I've learned a lot about food and about myself and what I think is important when it comes to the food we put in our body to sustain our lives. As much as I love food, I don't think I've ever felt so excited and invigorated. I cooked more meals this month than I think I've ever even come close to in any other month, but I don't feel exhausted or bored. I don't feel limited by what I can't have, but invigorated by the endless possibilities. It makes me want to share how delicious and fun this whole experience can be.

I love how much I've learned, how great I feel, how many delicious fruits and vegetables I've incorporated in my diet, how much weight I've lost, how much fun I've had, how much my perspective has changed in just 30 days, but ultimately the creativity that I have approached food with these past 30 days of anything has been the most valuable. Undoubtedly this experience has changed the norm in our house--I'll admit, it's nice to have chocolate and wheat and tea and coffee, but it also gives me a lot of satisfaction being connected to my food geographically speaking. All the locavores have proved that it can be done in our bountiful region and the imported goods we have come to enjoy in this global economy should be the exception, not the rule.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

So...I'm kinda a Suzie Homemaker...picket white fence and all

So I've always taken pride in having homemade things--food or otherwise. I definitely attribute this to my family and having my grandmother's crafty craziness as inspiration. I don't think in my whole life I ever had a store bought pre-packaged costume for Halloween. Either my grandmother made it or it was pieced together with thrift store buys. I don't really remember having junk food in the house either and definitely not at grandmaw's house! I think her exact words were, "No Cheetos, Doritos, merdito's," which I guess roughly translates to something like: no chips or other pieces of shitty junk.

Now I will fully admit that my brother and sister and I most definitely would partake in the glories of junk food when we were at our besties house next door. But I've found that the most invaluable thing I got from home were the skills and passion that were always so abundant in our family. We were always out experiencing new things and learning about cool stuff. My mom was always a great teacher, even before she actually became a teacher. She's definitely not the best cook and I don't she's much of a sewer, but she always made sure we were learning something....even if we were dirt poor.

I'll fully admit I'm not the smartest of my siblings, or the best seamstress. I don't have the green thumb my sister has, or the kind heart my brother has. I laugh when people say "You're such a talented artist!" because my "art" pales in comparison to the mad skillz both my brother and sister have. I wouldn't consider myself the best cook either... But, I've learned to appreciate how soothing and fulfilling a hard day's work in the garden is. I'm crafty and creative and have tons of interests and hobbies. And I will say that I have always been fearless in the kitchen.

I think I must have been in maybe 4th grade or so when I took my first cooking class at summer camp--and I mean REAL cooking. We would all get on the bus with our paring knives and head over to the kitchens at Nunez and learn to cook with Ms. B. We did everything from knife handling 101 and how to crack and separate an egg to homemade onion rings and buttercream roses. I remember one day after we learned to make onion rings my best friend and I stayed home from camp so we could make them at my house. Hot knives and I don't remember having any adult supervision. I do however remember when my mom called to check in and see how we were doing...I think shrieking would be how to describe what happened when I told her what we were up to. Followed by, "Yanna Maree, if you burn down the house, so help me god, I am going to scalp you." Mom was always worried I was going to burn down the house...that and ending up in gutters in the street. And what was up with the scalping? I don't know where that came from, but there sure were plenty of threats growing up...

Anyways, I digress. The point is, I love making things. There are few things in this world that are more exciting to me than having someone appreciate something I made with my own hands. I get all these crazy ideas in my head for costumes, and cakes, and crafts, and I love trying to figure out how to make the insanity in my head actually become something in reality.

Today I made mayonnaise for the first time. It was super easy and way tasty. I don't think I'll ever go back to the crap in the jar. I also brewed some tea using leaves from the fig tree in the backyard. Both experiments were a success and sooo much fun.

Projects for the weekend: I have to make Crawfest! version 2.0 for a friend's party. Make a hat to wear to Butterfly Tea at Windsor Court. Maybe make some ricotta cheese for a friend's housewarming/birthday/wine and cheese bash Saturday night. Make some kind of bib, toy or cute something or other for a baby shower Sunday...looks like a typical weekend!

Now if I had just learned how to pick up after myself too... Thank god my husband puts up with my crap and still loves me to boot! I guess that makes me just Susie Homebaker-esque, which is fine by me. I've always thought I'm too funky and bitchy anyway, but I'm still surprised every time someone thinks I'm so housewifey...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recipe: Squash Fritters with Roasted Creole Tomato and Shiitake Mushrooms

As I've said before, I've really just been making things up as I go along this food adventure. Some meals are actually based on recipes...others I've just been making up depending on what I have on hand.

I didn't submit any recipes to the recipe contest because 1. I didn't really think I made anything of note of my own creation until well into the challenge. 2. I'm actually really bad at keeping track of what I use and the amounts when I'm just making things up on the fly. Even the amounts for this recipe below are a complete guestimation. At the time, I just did what looked right and then thought about how much I used of each ingredient after the fact and took a stab at it.

But this meal in particular was so yummy I wanted to share the recipe. I even shared it on ehow's Rachel Ray contest. So if you like it, go vote for it here: I'll fully admit, I'm not a big Ray fan--I think I have a grand total of two of her recipes I've tried and liked--but I do like the concept of the contest: sharing meaningful meals. This whole Locavore experience has been educational and makes me feel more in touch with our community. This recipe in particular I was very excited about, so here it goes...

Squash Fritters with Roasted Creole Tomato and Shiitake MushroomsMakes 4-8 fritters
2 c. grated raw squash (I used patty pan and zucchini)
1/4 cup flour (I used corn flour)
2 eggs, beaten
3 oz. grated asiago cheese
salt to taste
2 large creole tomatoes, cut in thick slices
1 cup shiitake mushrooms

Pat the squash dry with a paper towel. Whisk together the eggs and flour. Add in cheese, squash and salt. Form fritter patties and drop into a greased griddle. (I made 4 really good sized fritters since it was a entree, but you could get more if you make them smaller.) Cook until delicate brown, turn and brown on other side.
While the fritters are cooking, place tomatoes on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Broil on high until the edges are crisp. Once the fritters are done, melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan and saute the mushrooms. Serve while hot with the fritter topped with tomato slices, sauteed mushrooms and a few sprinkles of cheese.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blog? What Blog? I've been cooking my heart out over here...

So it's day...what? 21 of the locavore challenge so we're in the home stretch here. Just 9 more days to go, and guess what? It's not that bad. Granted earlier today I was having a bit of a crisis in the grocery store, but in all honesty it was completely my own fault--I should know better than to go to the store hungry. It's bad enough any time because I just start grabbing junk I don't really need, since I couldn't do that today...well...yea, it wasn't fun.

Other then that minor meltdown, I've actually been doing great! I supper happy that I've been getting yogurt for breakfast, which has become my go-to breakfast during the week. I've actually been thinking less and less about the things I haven't been able to eat. I haven't had chocolate or pasta or bread in what seems like forever and I'm actually not letting it get to me because I'm having way too much fun exploring new foods.

The first week was definitely the most difficult--I really didn't have any kind of plan and I was just winging it, which normally works out for me, but I did feel overwhelmed at the time. I've been way more creative with what I've been cooking lately and if for nothing else, getting out of my cooking funk has most definitely made this whole experience worth it.

I still don't have a plan and I am most definitely still flying by the seat of my pants, but I'm having a damn good time doing it!

Side note: June 21 is National Peaches and Cream day, so I celebrated with boozy peaches and cream custard. Check out the recipe on Crumby--it was magnificent.

Anyway, here are some highlights of what I've been eating lately:

Day 21, Dinner: Tomato sauce with creole and heirloom tomatoes, bell pepper, eggplant, garlic and alligator sausage served over a bed of grated patty pan squash.

Verdict: WINNER! Tasty and totally let me imagine I was eating pasta instead. It was yummy and I will definitely be making it again before the month is out.

Day 20, Dinner: herbed chicken breast, feta tomato salad, cheesy potatoes with asiago and cheddar cheese.

Verdict: WINNER! The tomatoes were SUPERB. A dash of salt, vinegar and tossed with some feta and mmmmm. I was loving it.  

Day 16, Dinner: Sweet potato medallions with eggplant, pecans, bell pepper, and vache sante cheese. 

Verdict: WINNER! Veggie and delicious. I picked up the cheese at St. James Cheese Company and it's a little pricey (somewhere in the $22/lb range) but it really complimented this dish perfectly. I threw it on there on a whim and I'm so glad I did because it totally made the dish!

Day 16, post workout snack: yummy cantaloupe.
Day 16, Lunch: crab meat, pecans and cherry tomatoes with feta tomato dressing over mixed greens.

Verdict: Great quick meal on the go. I had quite a few of these for lunch last week. Tasty and easy to pack while I'm running out the house in the morning.

Day13,  Dinner: zucchini and patty pan squash fritters with roasted tomatoes, sauteed shiitake and asiago cheese.

Verdict: DING DING DING, WINNER! I've been struggling to figure out what the heck to do with all that patty pan squash I keep getting in the Hollygrove box. I had been thinking about fritters for a while and when Judy Walker mentioned it on her post in the forums, I figured it was about time to get on it. The roasted tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms totally made it work as a full meal. I can't wait to make it again. I put some asiago in the fritters too and it hit the spot.

Day 13, lunch: mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, crab meat, feta tomato dressing.

 Day 12, snack/dinner: watermelon cucumber salad. 

Verdict: One of my favorite super easy summer salads. A few dashes of vinegar, a few drops of oil, salt really makes the watermelon shine. Great light dinner after stuffing my face with crawfish for lunch.

 Day 12, lunch: crawfish, I love you. :)

Day 12, breakfast: yummy omelet with mushrooms, tomato, onion, bell pepper, asiago cheese.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting back to my Guatemalan roots

So I was really excited when I got an email from Nola Locavores that they were loving the posts and wanted to know if I could put together a breakfast, lunch and dinner recipe post for the challenge... Then the excitement that someone besides my mom was actually reading the blog wore off and I had my oh crap moment. What am I going to do? I've just been making things up as I go.

Thankfully when Lee stopped by to get some pralines to satisfy his sweet tooth, he said something that stuck in my head and finally set off that spark, "Don't be afraid to try something different--everybody's done the yogurt and fruit variation for breakfast."

That at least got me thinking about eggy breakfasts. I really had my breakthrough when my mom and I went to the Crescent City Farmer's Market and I picked up some green beans. She suggested I make some caites (I have no idea if I spelled that right and endless Googling has left me still clueless. My mom didn't even know how to spell it.)

My Mami Olga always made them and mom was super exited that I was going to make some since we haven't had them since my grandmother passed away a few years ago. She promptly invited herself over for dinner "to make sure you make them right, Yanna."

With the caites or envueltos de ejotes (wrapped green beans) as my inspiration, it was easy to build the other meals that would fit in. The green beans are usually served with rice and salsa and whatever meat you can afford (or none if you can't). I liked the simplicity of the veggie option for lunch. Since I would already need a salsa for the beans, huevos rancheros was the logical option for breakfast. For dinner, I did caldo or caldito, another staple my grandmother made with whatever veggies and meat she had handy--sometimes it had chicken, sometimes it had beef... maybe some yucca, carrots, green beans, garbanzo beans, depended on the season.

So I made the caites for day seven dinner. I'll probably do huevos tomorrow morning with the left over salsa. Whenever I actually get around to buying something other than seafood, I'll definitely make some caldo.

Another fun experiment today was dessert. Canillas de leche!! It's been a while since I've had these because we usually only get them when my aunt comes back from Guatemala (with entire Tupperware containers full of candies). I never thought about making them until I was brainstorming sweets that I could make without flour. My mom was REALLY excited to be the official taste tester for these and I know my aunt will be psyched to know I've learned how to make them. Special props to my mom for helping me with the translation since all of the recipes I found were in Spanish and mine is think rusty is putting it mildly. Check out the recipe post on Crumby.

Here's the rundown for the day. Hopefully I'll get around to posting the candy recipe on Crumby soon.

Breakfast: Coffee. What? Who needs food when I can just have that heavenly deliciousness.

Lunch: Mom and I stopped at Mat and Naddie's and FYI, they're really only doing a dinner option for Locavores, so I did my best since we were already there. I'm not 100% if the rice was locally sourced. The veggies were actually from Florida but considering the rest of the options it was as close as I was going to get. The shrimp was great. We also split the blueberry peach cobbler.

Dinner: Caites or envueltos de ejotes. I'll do a full recipe step by step soon.

Dessert: Canillas de leche

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cheater, cheater non-local food eater.

So, I can definitely see weekends posing a problem. When I decided somewhat on a whim that the Eat Local Challenge would be a cool and educational experience, I guess I was just thinking more about what I cook and not really what I eat when I go out. I have a tight group of friends that I consider family and hanging out with them this weekend totally caught me off guard--I just didn't think about how this would affect those situations. The weekend caught me by surprise and I'll have to plan how to better handle them in the next few weeks.

I got to hang out with one of my very cool girlfriends who wanted to go see the Freret Market around the corner and grab some lunch. She wanted to check out this very cool little uptown cafe, Tartine. I was really curious and wondered if  if there was anything I could eat and just either wing it or not eat anything there or whatever. Of course, when I got there everything looked so delicious...and I cheated...and it was mmm mmm good. I'll say this, cooking every meal myself for 30 days with just local products is completely achievable theoretically...but actually keeping up with my friends and living life and eating only local foods? I just don't think its possible for me without serious planning and awkward social situations.

We also had an engagement party for two of our very cool friends getting hitched this November (for which I will be making a super kick ass groom's cake and I'm totally pumped about it). I at least brought a bottle of local wine for myself and even brought some of the pecan macarons I made, but a dinner that does not make. Had I not already cheated for lunch, I would have felt better about picking at food. When all was said and done, I grabbed some cheese and strawberries but it felt weird not partaking in the food.

Even today, my mom and I went to the Oyster Festival and I grabbed some delicious raw oysters, but pretty much everything else was not doable because of all of the extras that went into the dishes. No poboys, no fried oysters, no Drago's char-grilled Parmesan cheesy goodness. 

It all made me go look at the June calendar when I got home today to see how many outings I have this month. One obvious event is just going to have to be an exception. Weddings are a one time thing (usually) so I'm just not committed enough to a voluntary experiment to not eat at someone's wedding. But there are also multiple other birthday and surprise parties that I'm just going to have to plan in advance to either eat before, bring something with me if I can, or just try my best to stay as local as I can. If I can at least just support local businesses and companies, I think that's just going to have to do for me when those social situations just don't work out to stay with completely 100% locally produced and sourced foods.

When I initially saw the post "This is going to be difficult" on the locavore page, I thought yeah, but not impossible. Well, guess what--it is hard. We're just coming up on week one and I already strayed an entire freaking meal and I imagine as the month stretches out it will either get slightly easier because you've adjusted better or its going to get really really hard to do without the things we take for granted. At least now I really know the things that are going to kill me if I ever get trapped on a deserted island!

Anyway, here's the rundown for Saturday and Sunday:

Day 4, Breakfast: Thank god I finally grabbed some yogurt! This was so refreshing to have just some fresh peaches and Ryal's goat yogurt with a little swirl of honey.

Day 4, Lunch: Cheater alert! I didn't want to take a picture because then there would actually be evidence, but if you get a chance in July, go check out Tartine on Perrier, uptown. The sandwiches were great, the specialty drink of the day was amazing (and has inspired a cocktail idea for the Old New Orleans Rum recipe contest), AND the bread was PERFECT! Just the way good bread should be, crusty on the outside but chewy and delicious on the inside.

Day 4, Dinner: I should have planned the night out better. Wine and macarons for dinner was not a good idea, but this baked sweet potato when I got home at one or two-ish in the morning was great. Even during the rest of the year, it is one of my favorite go-to I really don't feel like cooking quick eats. Baked in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and usually I do some Romano cheese, but to keep it local I used some asiago instead.

Day 5, Breakfast: Did I eat breakfast? Oh that's right, I didn't just coffee and a pint of milk. Sometimes I'm just not a breakfast person.

Day 5, Lunch: Oyster Fest! Mmmm... oysters... need I say more?

Day 5, Dinner: Gator nuggets and sweet potato fries!

Hope everyone else is making it alright!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Baking, oh how you brighten up my day!

I was pretty bummed this morning. The baking powder free sweet potato pancakes didn't turn out so great. The texture was a gross gelatinous mess. I broke down and added in some baking powder to try and salvage the second half of the batch. Wow. Totally different. 

If I would have thought about it ahead of time, I would have tried incorporating whipped egg whites to get a bit of air into them...but I forgot. In my defense, I hadn't made coffee yet, so I can't be held accountable.

Anyway, the whole experience got me pretty down and wondering whether I was actually going to make it these 30 days without making more concessions than I'd like to. After today's situation, I figured I'd implement a new rule going forward: If something isn't turning out right, and I have the chance to fix it, I'm going to salvage it any way I can. At the end of the day, I feel better about adding a little something extra to make a dish work rather than pitch it because I don't like the way it tastes.

Plus, I'm just ready for my husband to be back home. We've never been one of those needy couples who are attached at the hip. We do our own things and we do things together and it works. The first few days he was out of town, it was kind of nice...sadly quiet...but I got stuff done and kept myself busy. Now I'm over the novelty of being home alone. Plus I need my dishwasher. I don't like this cooking AND cleaning business. What's that line about hearts grow fonder?

Anyways...where was I? Oh right, baking. I really do love baking. It makes me happy, even when I don't feel like being happy. I made some pecan macarons today. They're awesome and seeing those little feet come out the oven just really made my day, especially since this is the first time I've ever made them. It totally restored my faith in being able to do this.

Here's the rundown:

Breakfast: sweet potato pancakes. The beautiful ones on the left have baking powder. The sad ones on the right don't.

Now, I couldn't really care if how my food looks if it tastes good, but let me tell you, the baking powder pancakes didn't just look better, they tasted WAY better. See those pretty little air pockets? Totally changes the texture and taste of the pancakes.

See? No pretty little air pockets meant these pancakes were a floppy gelatinous mess: 

Lunch: leftover sauteed veggies and rice.

Afternoon Snack: sweet potato chips I made. They were just okay. Slices needed to be just a bit thinner and cooked just a few minutes longer.

Dinner: wait....did I eat dinner...Oh thats right I had the leftover pancakes.

Dessert: Caramel Pecan Macarons! I'll be posting the recipe and a detailed review on Crumby hopefully this weekend.

Magical moment: that first glance of those beautiful little feet on the macarons. Totally made my day.

Random ramble: I definitely need to get to the store/farmer's market/wherever and get some yogurt. My morning meals have been entirely too fatty and I'm not really much of a breakfast person anyway. Hopefully some of my bananas will ripen soon. I'd like to get my hands on some rice flour too, because this corn flour business is going to get old real it pretty much already has. I mean, I'd like to stick as local as possible, but sometimes a girl just needs baking soda, or chocolate, or pasta. I'm going to challenge myself to go as long as I can without them, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ramblings on Costuming: Madonna and Soundwave Costumes

So I'm very happy that I have a very Aimée-zing friend who is as much of a costuming nerd as I am, because she totally gets my obsession. Coming up with ideas for Halloween costumes has actually never been much of a problem, or even putting them together for that's always actually committing to an idea that gets me.

Anyway, I just wanted to do a series of posts on costumes I've already done and some of the other ideas I have swirling around in my head...because you know I've only got 5 months until one of my most favoritest holidays of the year! Plus, our Mardi Gras costumes this year were pretty bad ass, so I just wanted to share them.

Mardi Gras 2011: I was Madonna, circa 1990, Blond Ambition Tour and some of my lady friends were also dressed in other Madonna looks. I wish we would have had a few more ladies participate, but I looked awesome nonetheless. My husband's costume almost drove me insane to build. He gave me a sketch of what he wanted it to look like and I did all of the construction design and he did all of electronic sound setup. That's right, since he's a Saints Soundwave Transformer, he wanted to make sure he had working speakers to blast his Saints music through (an upgrade from last year's JamzPak).

It took me weeks to put together his damn costume. I probably put together mine in about 3 hours...and I felt like I could have done it better if I had been able to spend more time on the bodysuit...but I know I'm no Jean-Paul Gaultier, so it wasn't going to be perfect anyway.

Unfortunately, as much time as we spent on the transformer suit, it was really not built to stand up to the tumble of Bourbon St., so most of it was dissembled and pitched (but of course after we took lots of pictures and notes for improvements)