Eating New Jersey

Devoted to the great foods of New Jersey

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Forgot This Local Food

One of the local foods that NJ is famous for is seafood and I nearly forgot to include it in our menu. A visit to a couple of fish markets however, showed that it is nearly impossible to discern where the fish is coming from. The only thing we could do was select types that are native to NJ and hope for the best. Of course we could have gone to one or two of the "buy off the boat" type of places, but even then there's no assurance that the fish is caught in NJ waters. So we selected bluefish which is a very common local species this time of year, bay scallops which are "farmed" on Delaware Bay, and Tuna also common this time of year. We also could have selected a number of different types of clams, but that would have been too much. Clams are however, the most famous of NJ seafood products. Since we were planning on eating the fish fresh that same day, we had enough.

So we marinated the tuna steak in an orange-pineapple sauce from Hoboken Eddie's (NJ made) and grilled it. The accompaniments were a peach salsa (100% locally grown) and some sauted string beans with garlic. The beans were from the garden and the garlic was from a farm stand, but the cashews we added were not local. The bluefish was covered in a homemade marinade and grilled also, along with eggplant (farmstand). The scallops we sauted in garlic butter that included local butter, garlic and wine. It turned out to be quite a feast for two.

On the subject of seafood there's an interesting situation going on nearby. There's a large preserved farm not far from here where the owner wants to establish a shrimp farm. This would require the building of a couple of larger buildings (barns). The shrimp farm is an OK use under the farm preservation rules, however the township will not grant a permit for the use or the construction of the buildings. Seems the neighbors are up in arms over the idea that the farm's current look will change and the production will create odors. Its the ongoing problem here in NJ with preserved farms no longer being production farms that contribute to the agricultural economy, but instead become senic wonders and protected estates for the wealthy. I say let's have some locally raised shrimp! If you take the economic incentive away from farm operations by not allowing them to produce, what's the point. By the way, these neighbors who are against this operation live in an area that nearly backs up to the NJ Turnpike where the constant din of trucks and cars is overwhelming. So they bought homes completely accepting the noise and pollution, but are somehow worried about the smell of a shrimp farm?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Less Than a Week to Go!

With less than a week to go in the August Challenge we are still keeping the local food first on our list and first on our plates. However there are some kinks:

Breakfast is still the most difficult. Keeping in mind that locally made bagels and muffins are readily available along with melons and peaches, that's about the limit. Cereals and granola have crept back into the diet and are not local. We gave up on the local yogurt because it contained high-fructose corn syrup and we avoid that. Speaking of granola why is it that so many brands on the store shelves contain partially hydrogenated oils? We won't buy those either.

With the garden producing so well right now and the roadside farm stands full everything else is pretty easy. If fact we're going to end up with left-overs of poultry and cheese that we bought locally at the beginning of the month. There's a frozen duck, a pheasant, a whole chicken, and a pound of ground turkey. One or two of those will get us through the week ahead.

So it looks like the local food challenge may become the local food habit! Which was one of the goals anyway. Good luck to everyone else this last week! Look for a post soon from us revealing our menus and some recipes. No time now I'm afraid.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Returning to Eating Local

Of course it was impossible to eat local New Jersey food while traveling, but we got right back on course upon Sunday's return. A visit to the NJ Wine and Food Festival was an interesting trip this year. It was really hot out, maybe 97 degrees and that kept people away. Good for us, but bad for the event. Last year's we walked away from because it was too much of mob scene. This year we got the time to actually visit, taste and talk to the vendors, both wine and food. Again our friends at the Silver Decoy Winery took care of us - none of that tiny sip stuff like the other booths. They gave nice full glasses - oh and gave Michele a beer!

The find of the day however, was Esparrago Asparagus Guacamole & Salsa made by Cedar Run Farms in Pittsgrove, NJ These guys have been asparagus farmers for generations and make this stuff right at the farm with mostly their own ingredients. This is really good and I would say that you don't even have to like asparagus to enjoy it. To me this is the way it should be when you have prepared foods made locally with local ingredients. Individuals have been preparing and canning etc. their harvests for generations. Now maybe there is a commercial reason for the farmers to do so. In our explorations of local foods we have found lots of locally made prepared items, but no one can say that the ingredients are local. For instance, tomatoes abound this time of year and we have three or four jars of locally made tomato sauce, but are the tomatoes in that sauce local? I'll just have to track the producers down and find out.

I made another good stop yesterday: Lee's Turkey Farm in East Windsor very close to where I work. This is a real working turkey farm and orchard with a farm stand full of their own vegetables. The nice thing is that they stay in business there while surrounded on all sides by mcmansions. I hope they stay there forever, but I used to think that they only did the turkeys for the holidays. Turns out you can get frozen turkey and parts any time of the year - that's good to know. They had an article about them in the local paper. Seems they got a bunch of money from the state to install solar panels on their barns to generate their own electricity. Infact they may be able to generate enough to sell some back to the power grid. That's one of the greatest ideas I've heard off. Who gets more sun around here than a farm and with that kind of investment, they are going to stay around for awhile.

It's taken all week to catch up after being away for four days. The garden was nearly out of control - not with weeds, but with food. Tons of tomatoes, green beans and okra.
I gave away nearly all of the grape tomatoes and processed the plums for future sauce making (this weekend?). The okra got cut, blanched and frozen same for the green beans except for those that were used right away. All this harvesting, preparation and maintenance (oh and work too) has kept me from posting all week. Hopefully I'll have some time soon to give a review of some of our menus and a few recipes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

NJ Beer!

Wow, there is so much time spent finding, procuring and preparing the food it's hard to find time to post on the blog. This past weekend we explored another avenue of local products - local beer.
NJ has 16 micro-breweries and brewpubs. Unfortunately, in exploring a couple of those, local food was an afterthought. However, since the bulk of our consumption was the beer...

On Friday we visited, for the first time, Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. It turned out to be a quick train trip from our work locations to the brewery. Very good beer, non-local food and numerous folks who come to a brewpub to drink wine or Coors Light. I don't get that? Seems like brewpubs rely heavily on food sales for their business so the crowd around us was primarily diners so we appeared to be the only one's bellying up to the bar for decent beer tour.
When the hell are they going to outlaw smoking in these places? Every smuck who needed a cigarette left the dining room and planted themselves near enough to allow us to share the smoke. Yuck! Michele came up with the great idea of taking over each person's vacant seat at their table during the interlude. Someday she'll actually try it.

On Saturday we attended an open house at Heavyweight Brewing in Ocean Twp A very small craft brewer with some very different but very good beers. Snacks were in abundance, but none were confirmed local foods. Missed again! But we did bring home a bunch of bottles so our beer consumption for the rest of the month will certainly be local.

Sunday the bug was just too great and we went to the Brewer's Apprentice to brew our own beer. If your into beer and don't want to mess up your kitchen with a homebrew, this is the place to go. You pick out a recipe and they pull together the ingredients and you can brew your own 13 gallon batch of beer. We'll go back in three weeks to bottle it and bring it home.

All the food that we've prepared at home has been majority local. One exception was Saturday's traditional Irish breakfast for my birthday. The eggs and the tomato were the only local foods in that cholesterol leaden feast. We knew that eating outside the house would be the biggest challenge and that's proven to be true. This weekend will be impossible for me since I'll be in Chicago.

On Monday or Tuesday I'll report back on the NJ Wine and Food Festival that we will be attending on Sunday.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

First Failure

I had my first major failure of the August Challenge yesterday when I forgot to pack my already prepared lunch for work (sauted vegetables with organic ground beef and non local rice). Walked right out the door without it! The choice was to turn back and get it and be late for work, rush home at lunch hour and pick it up, and be late or to go to the local deli and buy a sandwich. The final option won out. I'll definitely try not to let that happen again. The good part is I got to eat the lunch for dinner.

The local cheese arrived via UPS. We had it shipped because it was just too far to drive to get to their farm store. Even though it was hot, the cheese came in an insulated container with freeze packs so it arrived in good shape. There is now Cave Rippened Cheddar, a cheese called Frolic, and another called Drumm. Should be enough for the whole month, but this stuff's expensive. Hopefully the taste will be worth it! On Sunday and Monday morning I also made a Melomel (Mead) from local honey and blueberries. It's fermenting in the basement (the yeast is not local) and should be perfectly aged by next year's August Challenge.

Next weekend is the NJ Wine and Food Festival at a park not far from home. I'll be coming back from a trip to Chicago, but we will try to make it. The local paper is already playing it up, but our experience there last year was a disappointment. Big crowds of people with kids in tow taking up space in front of every booth. Not easy to get a good bit sampling in, just a cheap day out with the kids for most. I'm sure this is a tough event to put together.

This is heavily touted as a NJ product event, but I'm not sure attending it and sampling and eating would qualify for the local challenge better than what we are already doing. To Sherry's comment to an earlier post all I can say is that I agree that the Dept of Ag could do a better job of promoting and in fact encouraging the use of actual local ingredients. Many, if not most NJ wineries do not grow their own grapes (our local one, Silver Decoy does). The restaurants that will be preparing food are being promoted as using local food, but we'll have to see if that's true. Hopefully, we'll be pleasantly surprised.

Now maybe this post will stir up some comments from the New Jerseans who are lurking out there?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Day One has Come and Gone...

So far it hasn't been perfect but it's working out. Without boring anyone with details of each meal or snack I'll just provide quick rundown on what we had that wasn't local:

asparagus - ironic because NJ is know for the stuff, but it's out of season here now.
Assorted spices and olive oil.
Butter - even though we bought a local brand, we didn't want to waste what was already opened.
Tortilla Chips
That's it, everything else was locally grown or produced.

One challenge we faced over the weekend was getting rid of things that we had on hand and would not be using. Anything that wouldn't last was tossed and what could be stored was pushed back on the shelves to make room for our growing supply of local products.

The subject does come-up as to where to draw the line on items that are produced locally, but we know the ingredients most likely are not. For example, we got pasta from a Trenton Italian market that they make on site. Or, the prepared polish mustard locally made and bottled but where do the ingredients come from? It would be great if there were prepared items that were 100% local, but that may be too much to ask. For now knowing that we are buying from small local producers rather than giants will have to be adequate. Even defining large from small is an issue, but I'll stay away from that one. Let's just say that Mars, Nabisco, Anheuser-Busch (thank God I don't know how to spell it) and many others, though all made in NJ, are off the list.

Sweet Corn

This is the most popular common food here for this time of the year and it is sooo good. This year is especially good so far I guess because it got hot so early this summer. Right off the cob with butter is the best way to eat it, but I like using left overs in other things.
I made a Salsa Verde with roasted tomatillos, roasted corn, roasted peppers and onions - all locally grown. Too bad there are no local tortilla chips.

Oh don't forget musk melons (cantaloupe) unbelievably good.

More later...

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Time is Almost Here!

Final tune-ups are in order for this coming weekend to get ready for the August 1st start of the Local Food Challenge. After our visits to local farm markets, etc. This weekend we'll have the basis of the first week's menu in order. Hopefully it will be organized enough to post it here.

I was checking out the blogs of some of the other participants and saw some comments regarding the usefulness of the channeling. Eventually I'll comment on those blogs, but I wanted to make a statement here on my own first. I think some people are taking the challenge way too seriously. When comments are being made about participants being "elitist" or "food snobs" I recommend not bothering to defend against that sort of thing. Everyone has their own agenda and ideals for doing the challenge and I don't see anything negative about anyone's efforts. You can set your own standards and then try to live by them. My own wife asked me "what happens if we fail?" I said "nothing!" I don't think any punishments are going to be doled out at the end. Its just an effort to try to learn.

My own agenda is to examine the feasibility of using local products on a regular basis throughout the year. Not just farm produce, but also prepared foods. Even if the ingredients of those foods are not local, as long as they are made on a small scale and are produced in NJ they're fair game (no pun intended) in my book. I'm thinking that people here in NJ have no idea of the diversity and quality of the locally produced food products and it can't hurt to try to get the word out. For the most part in our efforts to source food we've found great stuff that we never knew about and I've lived in NJ for most of my 47 years. These producers are great at what they do, but for the most part they are bad marketers and salespeople. If I can help them in some small way that's a good thing. It's not easy sometimes to get our hands on these items, because they are spread all over the place and as I pointed out in a previous post, driving around is not fun. However, it is worth it short term just to experiment. Maybe some comments by others along the way here will help some producers come-up with better local marketing strategies.

More later...