Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Old Dog Keeps Learning New Tricks

When I decided that we were going to transition to a local diet, suddenly I found that I needed to learn to cook ... and more than just learning to cook, I had to learn to cook with local ingredients.

At first, there were so many things we couldn't have. It was like this neverending list of "Oh, that's not local. Can't have that." Looking through recipe books was frustrating and disappointing.

Eventually, though, I started learning to adapt recipes to my local ingredients, or leave out ingredients and make up stuff as I went along. I did that with one of Deus Ex Machina and my favorite foods from our days in Germany - Doner Kebabs. Real Doner Kebabs use lamb, but I didn't have lamb. I had venison. But my version was just as good as I remember from Germany, and much better than anything I've found around here.

My version of the cajun classic, red beans and rice, is the same way. I don't usually have chorizo sausage, and I'll substitute whatever I do have. I suppose that a real Cajun cook could argue that what I make isn't authentic red beans and rice, and that would be fine, because we're not looking to enter any Cajun cook-offs. I'm just looking to feed my family some good food.

It wasn't until I changed my mindset to "Oh, that's local. We can eat it!" and finding ways to cook the things we could eat that I started to see the possibilities rather than the limitations.

It was such a small thing, really, just changing from a "no" mindset to a "yes." Changing my focus from what we couldn't eat to what we could eat.

And once I started looking for all of the can haves, I started finding more can haves, and I realized that our diet, even here in Maine, with our short growing season and no oranges, can be incredibly rich and varied.

I've learned to make some really great dishes that sound complicated, but are really, actually, very easy. Like Yankee Pot Roast, which is one of my favorite things, and it's my favorite way to cook venison roast.

Then, I found that the more I changed, the more I wanted to change.

And we've change a lot!

But I don't miss one of the foods that used to be such a huge part of my diet, because the things we eat now are so good and so flavorful (learning to cook using fresh and dried herbs has really been key).

The next food I'm trying to take out of our diet is wheat flour, but I'm trying to find ways around using wheat flour without sacrificing flavor or comfort food. I mean, who doesn't love bread and pasta, right? But I'm afraid there might be some gluten sensitivity in my family, and also, wheat isn't one of those things that's widely available where I live. Like tea and coffee and sugar, we might still be able to get wheat, in limited quantities at a high price, forevermore, but not being confident that they will always be available, those things are not something we want as a foundation in our diet. So, bread and other wheat-based products are good for an occasional part of a meal, but not as a staple.

We celebrated a birthday the other day, and as I was contemplating what I was going to make for that special dinner, I remembered this book from the American Girl Series. It's Rebecca's birthday, but it's also Passover, which for Rebecca's family, means no flour, and she's afraid there will be no cake, but using lots of eggs, her grandmother makes her one, and I thought, "Eggs ... we have eggs!"

So, I googled flourless cake, and I found this recipe. Oh ... my! The name is perfect, and it was, indeed, Chocolate Delirium. It's almost fudge-like, but not quite. And it's not quite a custard, but that's kind of exactly what it is. It actually had the texture of a cheesecake, now that I think about it.

There are three ingredients: eggs, butter, and semi-sweet chocolate.

And it was delicious. The birthday girl enjoyed her non-traditional birthday cake, almost as much as I enjoyed making something new and very cool. In truth, I think I may have enjoyed making it more than she enjoyed eating it, and I almost had to call Deus Ex Machina at work to tell him what I'd done, because I was a little giddy that *I* had managed to make something that was so exotic ;). As a girl who grew up believing that I was cooking dinner when I made pizza from a kit, and for whom garlic was an exotic ingredient, the fact that I could make a torte just blew my mind.

Okay, I'm a little simple sometimes ... and it's quite possible that I'm easily amused ;).

So, I managed a flourless cake, but unfortunately, chocolate isn't local, either. Next I have to figure out how to make a flourless cake without chocolate.

Raspberries and strawberries are local .... Hmm? Strawberry Delirium??


  1. Ha ha! The guy who sits next to me gets a Passover birthday sometimes. I've always known about this cake, so I don't know what he was whining about!

  2. You might look into a torte made with a nut flour. Without sugar, the base might be bland, if quite rich. But you can make the torte itself, partly cook it, top it with (homemade, local) jam or fruit preserve, and then, if you want to be extra fancy and have a piping bag (or know how to improvise one) add a lattice of meringue-y stuff, and finish it off in the oven. Trust me, it looks very impressive.

  3. Congrats on the cake! It is fun doing something new, and figuring it out on your own. I'll never forget the recipe that told me to "stir until the right consistency". It took me 3 Christmas's to figure it out, but when I did, I successfully sent my Dad back to being a 5 year old in his local candy store.

  4. I'm starting to eat more locally as well, though I don't plan on giving up things like wheat or oats. Humans have been trading food for thousands of years. So while I agree that we should make most of our food local, I don't have any problems importing wheat or salt. But I appreciated your blog post, it does seem overwhelming at first, not just learning to cook quick and inexpensive meals, but meals with contents that change over the course of the I had learned this a while back :) Keep up the good work.

  5. Kevin - yep. The hardest part of transitioning to a local diet was at the same time changing to a "seasonal" diet. Of course, once we started listening to what it was our bodies wanted at different times of the year, it got easier. I mean, winter time meals are soup, right? And summer, it's fresh greens, which makes total sense, because during the winter, soups consist of a lot of hardy storage veggies and during the summer, we eat what is growing and is fresh.

    I wish I'd learned "how" to eat seasonally when I was younger, too, because it was a tough transition - especially with kids, who can see that there are strawberries in the grocery store and have a hard time understanding why we can't have them :).

    Thanks, Rach! I was so proud of myself ;).

    Kate, I would love to hear more about quantities of nut flour to use. I was also thinking, possibly, jerusalem artichoke flour? Have you ever heard of such a thing? I saw something one time that talked about jerusalem artichoke pasta, which made me think that it could be dried and ground into a flour, like acrons?

    Hey, Kaye - yeah, after eating that cake, I'm not sure why anyone would even want the flour-based stuff. They're not nearly as moist or rich as this chocolate torte I made.

  6. Wendy, technically a proper torte contains no wheat flour. But the term has come to be used fairly loosely and is sometimes just another word for cake. If you look at, you can either search for "torte" and then refine by "kosher for Passover," which should eliminate any recipe containing wheat, or just search for "flourless" and see what pops up. There are "torte" recipes there that contain flour, but you should be able to sift through and find recipes for several cakes made with nut flours (most often hazelnut) and sometimes potato flour. Does that last possibility claim your attention up there in Maine?