Friday, January 15, 2010

Illegal Food

I just finished Plenty by Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon. The authors, a couple from Vancouver, spent a year eating only foods that came from a 100-mile radius of where they lived.

That would make me illegal by their rules. Am I prepared to do without chocolate chips? Cool Ranch Doritos? Lean Cuisine? Even if the authors claim that your average meal travels 1500 miles to get to your table? Not until I really, really have to. I myself am not about to scour the countryside, finding the local growers of squashes and nuts and honey. I already know some of the tyrannies of agricultural life (and it sure was funny to see the authors discover this. "Hey, James, we've got 160 lbs. of sweet corn here! Um, James, that lady said we have to shuck it, blanch it, cut it off the cob and freeze it tonight or it won't be any good." They stay up until 2 to finish the job. And what does this do to their relationship? Read the book and find out!) and I kind of like the predictability of a life lived closer to sidewalks than pastures.

I agree, there's some screwy things about our food system. Maybe I'll visit my local farmers' market and buy my green peppers there.

The variety of foods produced in lush and moody British Columbia was amazing. About the only illegal item they had to use was salt. Eventually, they learned how to make it: fill a pot with sea water, boil until dry and there's your salt.

It helped that James (or J.B.) was able to whip up stunning meals by looking at whatever food lay within reach and blending it together into something memorable and delicious. The closest I can come to that is what I had to do last week when the snow piled up and I didn't want to dig out and go to the grocery store. I was supposed to feed the missionaries so I had to come up with something filling, using only what was already in the house. Here's what showed up on the table:

6 oz. tube pasta
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (like when do I ever have that laying around? But I did last Friday.)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 to 2 TB dijon mustard
1 cups diced cooked ham or chicken (I used chicken)
1 (16 oz.) package frozen broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, thawed and drained
1 (4 1/2 oz.) jar sliced mushrooms, drained (oops, didn't have that. So what.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook tube pasta until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.
2. Add cream cheese and milk to pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until cream cheese is melted and well blended with milk. Add pasta and toss to coat.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in mustard, meat, vegetables, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very hot and crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4, 495 cals. each. From 365 Easy One-Dish Dinners.

To round out the meal, I made homemade bread. (I had the time, stuck at home and all that.) and Peppermint Cream Brownies: Mix 1 batch of cake-like brownies. Bake in two 9x13 pans that have been lined with wax paper, then greased and floured. Shorten the baking time because these layers are thinner. After the brownies cool, frost one layer with Peppermint Cream Frosting: Mix together 4 TB soft butter, 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 TB milk, couples dashes of red food color, 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract, 4 tsp. white corn syrup and a couples dashes of salt. {Place the unfrosted layer on top of the frosting, cut and then try no to eat too many of these. Should yield about 36 pieces at 140 cals ea. From the same disintegrating cookbook that gave us Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, the founding recipe of this blog.

Next up: Redneck Nation by Michael Graham. The author grew up in South Carolina, hated the Bubba-ness of it all and fled to the North. But what did he find up there? A nation whose favorite sport is NASCAR, who watches reality shows on TV where people eat pig rectums, who is overly race-conscious. Hmmm, said he, sounds way too much like where ah cum frum.

Next up: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Many cow patties, but I excuse most of them because I could see most of them clearly enough to step around them (except for the language) and because the author of this novel worked it all into the growth of the character. The story follows a girl from age 4 to 40, through her confusing childhood, her grossly obese teen and young adult years and her getting-it-together adulthood. I really enjoyed the journey.

Next up: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. This is Rash's first novel and it shows, a little. A murder takes place in up-country Appalachia. The book is firmly divided into sections: the sheriff's story, the husband's, the wife's, the son's etc. I had the sense of covering the same territory four or five times, but from different angles. A more skillful writer could have woven these threads closer together. Which is not to say I didn't like the book. I enjoyed the Appalachian lingo. I felt bad for the hard luck of the characters, whose were going to lose their land anyway when a new reservoir covered it all up.

Well, that's all for now. Talk to you again soon, unless a new grandbaby throws me off my schedule.


  1. This eating local food sounds like the Slow Food Movement, which is promoted on USU campus. Also sustainability, a new term which I wasn't familiar with.

    Did you know there's llegal basketball numbers on jerseys, now there's illegal food too? What next?

  2. Ok, that sounds like a very interesting book, I might have to look into that!

  3. In enjoyed your summary of Vancouver's Illegal Foods. I visited a chiropractor friend of mine a week ago. In our conversation he suggested that everything that we need to eat can be found in a 5 mile radius of our homes. This includes dandelion greens which are best picked in the alleys because the ones in your grass are often sprayed.

    I tend to agree with him, that we can find everything we need within 5 miles. I would even be radical enough to say 1 mile: within one mile we have a Paul's, an Albertsons and a Walmart. Paul's even has an alley.

  4. Kevin, you crack me up. You set up that punch line so perfectly.

  5. I'm glad you liked "She's come undone". Do with it what you will, I don't think I'll read it again.