My 10 #LocalThirty Cheats

a sunflower head on a towel in a bowl

Ten “cheat” items produced outside the 200-mile radius provides additional interest and flavors for the #LocalThirty challenge. Here are my choices.

A bowl of red cherrie tomatoes sitting on a marble counter

Earlier this week, I wrote about how I would be attempting a #LocalThirty challenge. For the month of September, I will only eat foods grown and produced within a 200-mile radius of where I live, plus 10 ‘cheat’ items.

No, those beautiful cherry tomatoes aren’t one of them. Produce won’t be an issue. But choosing those 10 non-local items has been harder than I anticipated. Of the top of your head, can you identify what 10 things you couldn’t live without? There are many foods that that pop into my head that I really enjoy- green tea, chocolate, Parmesan cheese. But are these required as crucial ingredients to create wholesome and tasty meals?

In hindsight, I should have started preparing for this months ago. I could have looked carefully at what I add to my dishes, determining what ingredients that are used over and over again. But I didn’t.

Instead, I spent the past few days racking my brain, thinking about what I make and what actually goes into those dishes. As someone who rarely eats out, preparing homecooked meals comes as almost second nature. I’m comfortable in the kitchen. And while I love to try new recipes and new ingredients and techniques, I mostly move through the meal prep with ease, picking up and adding things on instinct, not giving it a much second thought.

When I finally sat down and compiled this list, the first 2 were easy: salt, pepper. The cornerstone spices to 99.9% of dishes. But what about others? Lots of maybes, and I am faced with trepidation that I’m forgetting something crucial, without a beloved meal will just not work. 

But the challenge starts now, and I have no more time to debate. Only time and the practice of this adventure will tell!

a sunflower head on a towel in a bowl

My 10 #LocalThirty Cheats

1: Sea Salt

The first ingredient I identified as crucial. Salt has been used for flavoring and preserving for eons. Its ability to preserve is said to have been one of the founding contributions to the creation of civilization. According to the interwebs, trade of salt has been documented as far back as the Bronze age, and in Europe, towns ending in -wich are historically related to salt production.

In my kitchen, I use kosher salt for cooking and preserving, plus sea salt for table use. I choose sea salt as my ingredient. There used to be an amazing small sea salt producer on the Northern CA coast, but he passed away and had no one to pass along his trade to. If I was super industrious, I could make my own sea salt by going to the coast, collecting salt water and evaporating it, but I don’t. Instead, I buy sea salt in bulk and have no idea where it comes from.

2: Pepper

Like salt, another crucial ingredient. I buy bulk whole organic black Malabar Peppercorns, which comes from a tree that grows on India’s Malabar coast. As a tropical plant, there is no way of growing that in the US. Pink peppercorns, which is sometime in peppercorn mixes, is not a peppercorn and has a different flavor, and does grow as an ornamental landscape plant in my area.

3: Baking Powder

I won’t pretend to understand the science of chemical leavenings. I just know it’s required for cornbread, scones and muffins. I can make things rise with my sourdough starter, but I don’t know how to bake without baking powder. Supposedly, you can substitute baking powder with more homemade and possibly local ingredients, so perhaps I’ll experiment on some cold and rainy day.

4: Sunflower Seeds

I have plentiful sunflowers growing in my backyard right now, producing tons of edible seeds, so this may seem like an odd one. In fact, there are acres and acres of sunflowers grown commercially right down the road. However, I can’t find anyplace that locally shells sunflowers. it may be a pastoral and quaint past time to eat whole seeds, worrying out the tasty meat from the shell with your tongue, but to crack enough to add to a salad or a cracker? Nobody has time for that.

The organic raw sunflower seeds I buy in bulk from my coop come from “the US”. Otherwise, no idea. I use sunflower seeds in salads, on savory granola, and out of hand in handfuls as a snack. Normally, I eat peanut butter on toast, but I hope to experiment with making my own sunflower seed butter.

5: Rooibos Tea

I don’t drink coffee, but I love tea. I enjoy drinking a cup of green each morning and then rooibos as iced tea or a hot cup in the afternoon. This certainly isn’t a requirement for good meals, but I decided to include it on my #LocalThirty cheat list because I love the ritual of brewing a morning cup of tea. Rooibos is the oxidized needle-like leaves of a plant that is grown in the small mountainous area in the Western Cape Region of South Africa. This unique growing zone is very similar to the growing zone of much of California, so it logically could be produced locally.

When we traveled to Cape Town last year, I enjoyed having a morning rooibos latte at the cafe down the street from our hotel, made with strong rooibos tea, milk, and honey. I look forward to learning how to craft the perfect cup and enjoying it again.

6. Quinoa

I was really hoping to find local quinoa, you guys. I tried so hard. It grows here, in fact, thriving with very little rain and hot sun. I grew some a few years ago. But, there is no one producing it commercially. I thought I found some, but alas, it was a false hope. A friend told me that Lundberg Family Farms, which is local in my area (and the main producer of local rice), was growing it locally, in fact, the only US producer (it traditionally grows in the Andes). I got super excited, thinking I could keep it off this list!

I found their rainbow quinoa sold at my local coop. They have it in bulk and in prepackaged bags, which said it was grown in Humbolt County. I called to find out exactly where and after being transferred several times, was told “I think its grown in Washington state.”

Not local.

Sad day.

My family eats quinoa as a source of plant-based protein and the basis of grain bowls at least a few times a week.

7. Cinnamon

How does one choose spices? Like salt, spices were one of the first things to be traded, leading to commerce but also colonization. I use cinnamon in both savory and sweet dishes.

8. Cumin

Cumin is native to the Middle East and parts of India, and I use it in my kitchen in a variety of dishes in both powdered and whole seed form. I have tried growing cumin before but did not have luck.

9. Barely

Barely is my favorite grain. Unlike most grains, where the fiber and nutrients are stripped away, the fibers in barely are distributed throughout the kernel, instead of just the hull, so pearlized barley is still very nutritious. I love it in risotto in lieu of rice, in soups, as the base of grain bowls. I buy mine in bulk at the coop. I have no idea where it’s from. Barely grows similar to wheat, so I’m assuming in the mid-west and in Canada, alongside the main commercial wheat production areas.

10. Dark Chocolate

I hem and hawed (is that the right phrase?) on this one a lot. Would mustard seeds be better? What about ginger? I don’t use chocolate for cooking, but I do eat a square of free-trade and organic dark chocolate almost every day. My afternoon snack often comprises of almonds and a bit of chocolate, or a bite after dinner with my evening tea. I decided this went on the list because normally ice cream or cookies is my sweet treat, but without cane sugar, I would be missing something sweet.

Want to know how the challenge is going for me or share your own experiences? Make sure to follow me on Instagram, and use the hashtag #LocalThirty!

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