This week is the beginning of the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge!
What exactly IS the Dark Days Challenge, you may be wondering.
It's a group of fabulous and talented bloggers who have banded together to cook and eat one meal per week that is completely sustainable, organic, local and ethical (known as "SOLE" in locavore speak) and then write about it. This goal is easy enough when the farmers markets and backyard gardens are overflowing with fresh veggies and fruits through the summer and early autumn, but it's a real challenge to do it through the winter.
The challenge will run from November 27th through March 31st. We'll have to rely on hardy winter vegetables and our freezers and larders to meet the challenge. However, along the way, I'm hoping to gain some recipes and ideas from other "Dark Day-ers" around the country. It's super-fun. Take my word for it.
Typically, "local" is defined as a 100-mile radius. However, the closest sustainable commerical dairy that I have access to is about 248 miles away, so I have defined local as a 250-mile radius in the past. Also, the Dark Days Challenge (as well as the Eat Local Challenge) allows for obvious exceptions such as salt, spices and oil, since it's hard to cook a meal without those, and for most of the country, those items cannot be sourced locally.
If you would like to play along, we'd love to have you! Sign up here, but hurry, as the first week of the challenge has already started. If you don't have a blog, no worries. You can leave a comment on the weekly wrap-ups of all the entries describing your Dark Days meal. The wrap-ups will be hosted by Not Dabbling in Normal on a weekly basis. Also, if you are a Facebooker, you can "like" Not Dabbling in Normal and post pics and blurbs of your meals on its Facebook page.
So. Down to the nitty gritty...
I mentioned that my definition of local is food sourced within 250 miles. I have made exceptions for oils, vinegars and spices.
Last night, I made Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. It. Was. Heavenly. But, in my opinion, when you add bacon, onions and garlic to ANYTHING, it improves it dramatically.
The butternut squash is from Spangler's Greenhouse, and the apples are from Morgan Orchard, both in Monroe County. The onion was from Kroger's but it was organic (I have some local onions, but I was trying to use up the older ones first). The bacon was from Sandy Creek Farm in Ravenswood, WV. The garlic was grown by my mom. The turkey stock was made from my Thanksgiving Tom, which I bought from Almost Heaven Farm in Monroe County, along with some vegetable scraps I keep in the freezer for making stock. I'm not sure where they might have been from, but I'm confident they were at least organic, if not local. I also added a little bit of 2% milk to the soup to make it creamier. The milk is from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA, which thankfully, my local Kroger's carries.
I got most of the ingredients for the soup from the Monroe Farm Market, which delivers twice monthly Charleston. The set-up is actually genius. The MFM has website where customers place their orders online, and the orders are delivered to a handful of locations twice monthly (every week in the summer). Farmers work with the market manager to have their items listed on the website with quantities available a couple days before ordering is open. The website pretty much works in real-time, so when something is sold out, it's just sold out. I have been a member of the MFM for three years, and am absolutely delighted with it. There is a yearly membership fee of $80, but the MFM experimented with having a $5 delivery surcharge vs an annual membership fee, and I think this is clearly the best way to do it. I would encourage anyone in the Charleston or Beckley areas to look into joining. It's totally worth it.
I also had a handful of kale leftover from the big bunch I bought a couple weeks ago, so I made it for dinner, too. It was from Spangler's Greenhouse, and I added a little bit of garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and bacon grease to it. The bacon grease is from bacon I bought from Sandy Creek Farm. It's so nice to have fresh greens this time of year. Especially with bacon grease on them. Yum.
Here is the recipe, slightly modified by me.
Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon, from The Food Matters Cookbook
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 slices of bacon, cut into pieces
2 Tb minced garlic
salt and pepper
3 Tb olive oil
1 Tb chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried (I forgot to add this)
1/2 cup of dry white wine
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk or cream