Monday, May 29, 2006

Marsey Doats

The Eat Local Challenge is wrapping up in a few days. I finally got down to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Saturday, expecting to find the pickins pretty slim—maybe a few radishes and some arugula. Nothing to get too excited about. But as I neared the entrance I detected the overpowering, siren scent of basil and could see (and smell) that I'd underestimated the bounty that can be produced by an Oregon spring. (I guess I'll never quite get over my Midwestern upbringing.) Sure, the market's far from being in full swing, but the variety was pretty impressive, I thought. Here’s a sampling:
  • artisan cheeses
  • asparagus
  • beets—the standard purple kind and an arrestingly beautiful blood-red variety
  • bok choy
  • breads and pastries
  • carrots
  • collards
  • elephant garlic shoots
  • fresh pasta
  • honey
  • kale (several varieties)
  • lamb
  • leeks
  • lots of different lettuces
  • morels, porcini, and other wild mushrooms (tres spendy at $24/lb, but naturally I appreciated their presence)
  • mustard greens
  • onions
  • parsley
  • patty pan squashes (?)
  • pears
  • peas in the pod
  • potatoes (new and fingerling)
  • radishes
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes (hothouse grown, but local)
  • turnips
I was totally unprepared and hadn't much cash with me. As luck would have it, the farmer (from Junction City, Oregon) with the gigantor bouquets of basil had a “rainy day special” going on the basil. I bought two bunches ($2 a bunch) and a pint of strawberries, which, I’m sad to report, were only so-so; I really think it’s still too early for strawbs. I made pesto with the basil, and it totally rocks. I will be eating pesto and goat cheese sandwiches for the next week. Yum! I’m really hoping that I in the upcoming months I will be able to make local-in-the-extreme pesto, as I’ve planted some basil in my garden. I have a poor track record with basil, so it’s good to know I can always just buy up a bushel of it there if mine gets all pallid and spindly.

Perhaps the coolest discovery I’ve made doing the Eat Local Challenge has to do with oats. At the beginning of May I didn’t even know that oats were grown in the Northwest, but it turns out they are! The downside, though, is that that a 2 lb package of local oats from Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie, Oregon (just outside Portland) costs about three times as much as the oats I can scoop out of the bulk bin at WinCo or Fred Meyer.

Bummer. But. Whilst snooping around at WinCo one day, I happened to spy the giant brown sacks of oats that they use to fill the bins and noticed that the oats came from a mill in Eugene, Oregon. Score--or so I thought until I went home and checked the Web site of the mill in Eugene. The mill is part of a huge corporate enterprise that is “positioned to handle all of your ingredient needs”--a far cry from the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you visit Bob's site. (On Bob's site he tells the harrowing tale of the mill being burned to the ground. Fortunately, the firefighters were able to save Bob's pride and joy--his quartz millstones from France.) At the Eugene mill, it turns out that only 30 percent of their oats come from the U.S. (who knows which part); nearly half come from Canada; and about 25 percent come from Finland and Sweden. So… not very local.

Then yesterday I happened to be at Fred Meyer, and I thought maybe I’d see if Freddie’s leaves their big sacks of oats lying about near the bulk bins. They don’t, but they do label their bins with the source and--wonder of wonders--Freddie’s gets their oats from Bob’s Red Mill! And here's the beauty part--because Freddie's buys in such bulk quantities, Bob must cut Freddie's a fantastic deal, because the oats sell for the very attractive price of 59 cents/lb for “regular” and 79 cents/lb for organic. That’s cheep! And it’s local. I’m sure most people wouldn’t go that nutz over finding a local source of oats, but it’s very good news for me because I make my own granola and eat it every day for breakfast. It’s nice to know that I’m benefiting the local economy and getting a bargain to boot. My Scottish ancestors would no doubt approve heartily of my thrifty oat-eating self.


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