Yesterday as I drove home, I caught a glimpse of Junior in the backseat. In one hand was a popsicle he’d gotten as a treat from a local farm after we’d gone berry picking. It was frozen local cider and raspberries and it was dripping, sticky and bright, down his arm. In his other hand was a half-eaten whole cucumber he’d pulled out of the bag we’d received this week from our farm share. He was alternating between the two. A few licks from his popsicle, a huge juicy bite of cucumber, and repeat.
To me, this snapshot in time perfectly summarizes two things that I love so much:
- Where we live
(And of course, 3. Junior. But you already knew that.)
Summer is the season of freshness. Everything is ripe and juicy. The boys are most often shirtless with the season dripping from their chins as they lap it up. Summer is indulgence and simplicity at the same time. Summer is rich and ready, sizzling and sweet. Summer is here, and it’s ripe for the picking.
And what better place to enjoy summer than where we live. I grew up on Cape Cod, and though its natural beauty is something to behold, it didn’t have the depth of agriculture that we have here, north of Boston. Here, we have hayfields that run for miles lining roads. We have farm upon farm upon farm. Dairy farms, vegetable farms, fruit, meat, you name it. And on the other side, just across the bridge, is America’s oldest fishing port, the docks bustling with lobsters and cod, haddock and scallops. Out our own front door are the clam flats. The beaches stretch for miles, and then miles more at low tide. The water and sand become our playground.
A few years ago, when Junior was ten months old and Little Bear was something between a possibility and a cluster of cells, I wrote a weeklong blog chronicling a different kind of family challenge. We had committed to eating only local foods for a week, even down to the seasoning and cooking oils. Of course we chose coffee as our cheat, but aside from that we challenged ourselves to eat only food produced entirely within 100 miles of our home for seven straight days. We took it to the extreme, drying our own herbs and making our own cheeses and yogurt. I even “made” my own sea salt by harvesting five gallon buckets of ocean water which I boiled down above high heat over the course of 12 hours, scraping the leftover salt crystals into tiny mason jars. Yeah, I was nuts.
But this week, as I gathered our weekly groceries around town, I appreciated how much of that original challenge has stuck with us. We went to one farm to pick berries and bring home a loaf of fresh bread. Then we stopped at another farm for our weekly bag of vegetables and herbs. I stopped at a roadside cooler for farm fresh eggs, and then made one final stop for local bacon, chicken, milk and cheese. It beats the supermarket any day, and I feel good knowing where my food comes from.
Part of the reason why we started the 365Outside Challenge was to reconnect with the world outside our own front door. I wanted my boys to grow up with a deeper understanding of our natural environment and an innate sense of seasonality and natural process. Eating locally is another way to connect and another way to grasp how the world works.
When we went to pick berries on Monday morning, Little Bear wanted strawberries, mostly because he remembered that the last time we’d gone berry picking, we’d gotten strawberries. But this time, we explained, the strawberries were gone. This time raspberries were in season and next will be blueberries. Similarly, the boys love peaches and always ask me to buy some when we’re at the grocery store. But, I explain to them, the peaches we see in the grocery store during the winter aren’t the same as the peaches we get from our local farm stand during the summer. We talk about how far the peaches have to travel during the winter to get to us, and I remind the boys that if we wait until summer, the peaches will taste so much fresher and juicier. (And then, like this year, there is a late season frost to wipe out the local peach crop, which is another discussion altogether.)
Our weeklong local eating challenge was a way to explore just how simply we could live and a way to reflect on our impact on our local environment and economy. It was also the week we found out that I was pregnant with Little Bear, so I suppose you could call it life-changing for sure. At the end of it I wrote a slightly sappy reflection which I blame on pregnancy hormones, but I think it still rings true:
There are a lot of fad diets out there these days. We hear all about “natural cleanses” and eating “caveman style.” Everyone wants their body to be a temple, right? And, to continue the analogy, I guess that there are all different styles of worship. Some religions require a sort of cleansing of the soul, others value sacrifice, and most honor tradition. I guess I worship through simplicity and by doing so, incorporate all three aspects to some extent. We didn’t do this challenge to cleanse our bodies, or to feel as those we have sacrificed convenience and flavor for a greater cause. We didn’t do this challenge to honor the traditions of settlers who came long before us. In the end, we did do all of those things, but none of them were the point. The point was to see how simply we could live and by doing so, maybe affect some longterm changes in our family values and eating habits. I think the way your family eats says a lot about you. Now that I’m raising a child, it’s even more important that I think critically about the values we are living on a daily basis.
Have you ever tried to eat local?
Here is a simple recipe that we’ve adapted many times, in many ways, to eat local on a relatively tight budget with simple ingredients:
Local Vegetable Frittata
- 1 onion
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 bunch swiss chard, with leaves and stems separated.
- 1 cup feta, or other local cheese as available, grated or crumbled
- 8 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Any local herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, etc. to taste
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large tomato, sliced
Preheat oven to 350. Sauté finely diced onion and bell pepper in 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add chopped swiss chard stems and cook until onions are translucent. Add coarsely chopped swiss chard leaves and turn off heat, stirring until the leaves are wilted. Remove from pan and place on paper towel to drain any excess liquid. Whisk eggs, milk, salt and herbs together.
Use remaining butter to grease a 10” cast iron pan. Spread vegetable mixture across the bottom. Distribute cheese evenly. Pour egg mixture gently over. Place tomato slices on top and add additional cheese on top if desired.
Cook in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, checking frequently. Remove as soon as the center is set.
Serve with side salad or steamed vegetables.
This meal is a staple of our summer diet for a few reasons. First, we can make it from 100% local ingredients that are readily available. Next, it is protein-rich but vegetarian. We aren’t vegetarians, but we try to eat meat-free several times a week as it’s cheaper and more friendly for our environment. Finally, it is delicious, the kids like it, and the leftovers are just as good for breakfast as they are for dinner.
This recipe is also super easy to tweak as needed, or desired. We’ve added bacon, ham, and sausage to this. We’ve added summer squash and zucchini. And, my personal favorite, we’ve added grated potatoes which make this hearty enough to serve as a camping breakfast (which we did!) It’s super versatile, budget-friendly, delicious and local.
We hope you enjoy!