Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn in the Ozarks

Since moving to Northwest Arkansas almost two years ago I have had to change my food buying habits dramatically. We live twenty three miles from the nearest grocery store that carries any sort of decent selection. Almost thirty miles from one that carries good produce on a consistent basis. There is a fine coop in town too. But as much as I love their mission and their food, nowadays I have to think twice about shopping there though due to financial considerations. I do want to buy their organically grown bell peppers but right now just can't justify spending four dollars for a bell pepper.And if you are living out in the woods like I am, you just don't hop into your car and drive to the grocery store everyday.

Summertime is a completely different story though. Locally grown fresh produce is plentiful, near and inexpensive. Eating vegetarian and/or vegan is cheaper than eating meat and especially so in the summer. But now with autumn in full swing and winter approaching, I have to alter my menus and plan accordingly. I am lucky to know a local couple who grow greens all winter long in a hoop house. The taste of spinach that  was harvested the same day is really quite different than that of spinach cut a few weeks ago and trucked a few thousand miles in refrigerated semis.If you are lucky enough to live near a source of locally grown produce, it's just the best option.

Here in the mountains there is a small Seventh Day Adventist church that has a food buying club that I take advantage of. I don't know anything about Seventh Day Adventists or what they believe but I think they are vegetarians if not vegans. At least the local pastor and his wife are. They are a healthy looking lot! Each month we order from a natural foods catalog and it is delivered to the church a week later. Some items are in large quantities but many are not. This is important to me as I am living in fewer than six hundred square feet of house. Storage  space is at a premium.The church offers this service to anyone wanting to purchase and there is no markup on the food items. I wouldn't call it wholesale but it is cheaper than retail, the food is of extremely high quality and I don't have to drive to town to get it. And I get to see some wonderful neighbors and have a nice chat when we get the call to come and pickup our boxes.

Sure, I have learned some lessons and made some mistakes when buying through the church. Twenty pounds of rice is much more than I am going to use quickly and I have no place to store that much. This week I bought five pounds of sesame seeds. It cost eight dollars for five pounds. Such a deal! But really, do you know what five pounds of sesame seeds looks like? Quite a lot. Probably more than I will use when making Christmas cookies but I know the birds will love them come winter. It's nice to have this option for buying food though when living so far out in the country. And we still have winter squashes, potatoes, onions and other root vegetables for sale at the farmer's markets for a few more weeks. I can stock up on those items to keep in the pantry for a month or more. I have a great source for locally grown turnips that taste like spring radishes when just plucked from the ground but no one seems to share my love for them. Where I come from we eat the turnip roots and throw the greens to the pigs but here in the South, it is just the opposite. When you roast them in the oven with their skins on they are as sweet as candy. Yum!

One of my great discoveries when buying through the club has been La Chicky seasoning. It is a powdered broth mix that does give a chicken taste but it contains no salt. Have you ever bought a bouillon or broth cube or powder at the supermarket that wasn't almost all salt and MSG? No. La Chicky makes a great stock. My only complaint is that it does not come with directions or recipes. You have to figure out through trial and error just how much to use. To my taste, about two tablespoons to a cup of water is just right. And if you are going to make a soup (like I am tonight), you will probably need to add salt. But you get to salt it to your taste.

Tonight, split pea soup. Adapted from a recipe from Jacques Pepin.  A great soup for a cold autumn night. No chicken broth, no cheese, no ham.  But oh, so good!

Split Pea Soup with Croutons

1/4 cup olive oil
2    cups chopped onions
1    tablespoon or more chopped garlic
2    cups or more of diced, peeled russet potatoes
2    diced carrots
1    pound green split peas
7    cups stock made with La Chicky seasoning
2    teaspoons fresh chopped thyme or dried herbs de Provence
      salt to taste
      a dash of hot sauce such as Sriracha or Tabasco

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil  for a few minutes over moderate heat to soften but not brown. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for one hour. If the soup is too thick, add water or more stock to thin.Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with croutons and serve.

Easy, inexpensive and tasty. And like many bean based soups and stews, even better the next day!

1 comment:

  1. John, love this blog entry. Making me want to live in NW Arkansas. Truly a wonderful place to be!