It has been neither a long nor lonely winter. Yet, spring rushes in a burst of strawberries and daffodils, asparagus and tulips. It is time to bid goodbye to the dark days of winter and with them, the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge.
Of all the challenges I've participated in, to date, this one has affected me the most. I undertook the challenge with an earnest intent to eat locally grown produce through out winter. I soon realized that eating local goes beyond produce and beyond the farmers' market - though that is the best place to start. Like a detective, I kept my eyes open for local sources for other food stuffs. While hiking in a mystical manzanita forest near my parents' home, I came across an ancient mill, powered by a two hundred year old water wheel, that ground a variety of wheat and corn flour. At the recommendation of another dark day-er, I lurked through the aisles of the independent health food store and uncovered additional flours and baking additives that are locally milled and processed. I began to make more and more of our food from scratch and developed an adventurous streak in the kitchen.
On this, the last week of the challenge, I intended to go out with a bang but it was my oven that went out instead. Waiting for the repair man, we've feasted on frozen food - not the Lean Cuisines of years past but frozen portions from meals I cooked throughout winter: sweet potato gnocchi, pumpkin soup, winter squash risotto and slow cooker vindaloo (inspired by a fellow dark day-er). We've also dined on our share of local salads and omelets, from local pastured eggs from the buying club I host, stuffed with local cheese, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and asparagus, and quesadillas made from buying club cheese and locally made tortillas and paired with homemade Spanish rice.
Even as I welcome spring, laden with her peas, fava beans and rhubarb, I will miss those dark days. I will miss Not-So-Urban-Hennery's thoughtful recaps of each participant's meals. I will miss checking out the other dark-dayers blogs, like a peeping tom peering in through a foggy window to discern what delights they are cooking this week. I won't, however, miss the surprise of a new recipe that is truly seasonal, the sample of an untried fruit or vegetable from the farmers' market, or the joy of an undiscovered local food source. I will still be experiencing all of those things. The challenge lasted only a season. Its impact will last indefinitely.