When I signed up to participate in Dark Days last fall, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Now that we’ve reached the end, I’m really happy I decided to participate. I haven’t always posted on time, but I’ve managed to make at least one local meal each week and eventually write about it. Twenty weeks of paying closer attention to where our food comes from have resulted in some permanent changes. For example, I’ve found a local source for flour, and although the flour my parents brought me from Montana lasted all the way through this challenge, we have reached the end of that flour
and I will be picking up a 50 lb. sack of flour in Sequim soon. And, as it turns out, it’s a good thing we’ve finished the flour: a few days ago I found out that the reason I’ve been feeling just generally not great for so long is very likely due to food allergies. The list is extensive, and varies in degree of severity, but if I want to start feeling better, gluten, dairy, and garlic have to go.
Which means just as one challenge ends, a new challenge has presented itself. I’m going to continue trying to write here regularly and I’m hoping to prove (more to myself than anything) that it’s still possible to eat really well even when many of my favorite foods have been eliminated. This week’s meal – a nettle and potato soup eaten at my desk between meetings and phone calls and the general chaos that seems to be my working life these days – bridges the two challenges perfectly, and is representative of the way I hope to continue eating even though the Dark Days challenge is over.
Over the course of the Dark Days challenge I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we eat. I’ve reevaluated what we really need to preserve during the summer and what we can skip because we don’t use as much (more pickles and less jam, for example). I learned how to make butter, and realized it’s totally worth making for table use, but maybe not worth it for baking projects. Not only did I learn I actually like eggs, I also realized local eggs really do taste better than grocery store eggs, and despite a questionable name, I’m thankful to have the Dragon’s Lair nearby for an easy source of said eggs and other interesting foods, both local and not. Homemade ricotta is completely different than store-bough ricotta, and completely worth the effort. Same goes for fresh pasta, but I’ll still be keeping a few boxes of pasta in the pantry, especially if I can find a good gluten-free brand. (Have any leads?) Most of these will be making less frequent appearances given our (hopefully temporary?) diet change, but I’m still glad to have all of these in my repertoire.
Other things I’ve learned and am writing down in hopes I remember next winter: Keeping a basil plant through the winter is a really good idea. A weekend trip to a warmer climate is a life-saver come January. Being kind to yourself and allowing for some winter indulgences from far away makes eating more locally much of the rest of the time much nicer. And, though it’s not something everyone can do, a chest freezer (or two), plus a garden (and gardening in-laws) make eating locally through the dark days of winter a lot easier, and a lot more interesting. We’re really fortunate in that regard, and I realize how lucky we are to have both the space as well as the time and ability to grow and preserve (and hunt/fish) so much of our own food.
Now, if I can just learn to be thankful for this next challenge ahead. Here’s hoping.
Quick and Easy Potato Nettle Soup
Serves one, though easily scaled up
Note: this soup is a lot more flavorful than you might expect from looking at the ingredient list. When the nettles are added to the water, their sting is neutralized and they lend a really nice flavor to the water – like a meat broth without the meat and all the simmering. If you don’t have nettles growing in your backyard, look for them at your farmer’s market. Or come to my house – we have plenty to spare!
Two large handfuls fresh nettles (and by handful I mean tongs, not hands – these are stinging nettles!), rinsed well
4 cups water
2 small potatoes, scrubbed well (leave peels on and don’t chop)
Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer the potatoes until tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove potatoes to a cutting board to cool, reserving water. Bring water to a boil and add nettles (again, use tongs, not your hands). Boil 1-2 minutes or until nettles are wilted. Season nettles and their broth to taste, then cube potatoes and return to the pan with nettles and water. Ladle soup into a pint jar or other container with a secure lid if you plan to carry it to work, or dump into a bowl and enjoy immediately.
Sources for this week’s meal:
Nettles harvested from my backyard
Potatoes from Full Circle Farm, Carnation, WA
Exceptions: Salt and pepper
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