Locavore (Kitchen) in the (Winter) City

I am certainly not in the minority when I state that I am sick of winter. There are still hefty drifts outside that haven’t melted despite almost two weeks where the temperature spend hours above freezing. Last night I watched the rain turn to snow – as in I saw that very minute that it happened – and it was almost beautiful. Almost. If it were a few months ago – hell, one month ago – I might have found it beautiful. But now I am done. And not just because of the weather. I am eager to get outside and do something, anything, with the earth. And the problem is not only the temperature, but the snow that still coats my tomato pots and provides obstacle to opening the gate and trudging to the compost bin at the garden. It is these little things that I did not anticipate in this particularly snowy and cold winter. And while I chose my home – the house itself and the location on which it sits – for many reasons that have to do with its proximity to people and places and things to which I want to be near enough to help weave the fabric of my daily existence – I also knowingly gave up space and traded open fields for fenced-in lots. But particularly in the winter, when my world always seems a little smaller and colder and darker, do I feel the import of these choices, both in the ways they improve my life, but also in the ways it is made more challenging. Below is a non-exhaustive list of thoughts, lessons and challenges of this year’s locavore winter kitchen – in the city.

– Root Storage 1: We are lucky enough to have a mostly non-leaking, and relatively vast and clean basement for a city dwelling. My husband has commandeered most of it for his music studio and the rest is filled with boxes and tools and holiday decorations and three studded snow tires and our tenant’s storage and our chest freezer. But in this one corner, right when one gets to the bottom of the stairs, there is a concrete shelf, about three feet high and equally deep, that runs along about ten feet of our foundation. A corner of this has been designated our wine cellar and root cellar. Who knows, maybe that’s what it was originally intended for one hundred plus years ago when it was built. I kept the red onions and butternut squash that I bought in bulk it separate, ventilated boxes, but some light got in and a few of my onions are sprouting. When they do that, they basically take the energy from the veg itself and put it all into a new, green shoot. The onion becomes mushy and inedible. I need to go through these boxes soon and chop up and freeze the squash I have left and sort out the good onions from the bad, maybe moving some to the fridge to slow the aging. Next year: better storage boxes.

– Root storage 2: I also keep root veggies (and a cabbage!) in separate paper bags literally throw atop each other in an area above our back stairs. It’s pretty chilly (but not as much so as the basement) but totally dark. The humidity is a bit less too, which shows itself in the somewhat wrinkled rutabegas and beets. But these are easily revived and I’ve successfully kept my winter farm share veggies here while I tried to cycle through them in stews and roasts. Next year, I plan to perfect this system, perhaps by storing some veggies hidden in wine crates filled with rice.

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– Canning storage: I know I am not supposed to keep these out in the sunlight, but frankly I am running out of storage space. I think I hit upon a generously perfect number of quarts of tomatoes – by far the item I miss the most in the winter. My goal for the canned tomatoes: not to “save” them. I’m always debating whether some use or recipe is “worthy” of my home-canned tomatoes. I have been better this winter (probably because of the amount I canned) to just use them up when a recipe calls for it – such as stews, marinara and other Italian sauces, chili, slow cooking braises, etc. That’s why I canned them after all.

– Compost: I have been very good about composting, even in the depths of winter. What I did not anticipate was that I would have no access to our community garden compost bin for such a long time. I have a smaller counter top bin that I will empty into my back hallway mini-composter but depend on the community bin when my at-home system gets too full. Like now. There’s nothing much I can do at the moment except keep cramming in scraps (my system depends on a microbe accelerant and not oxygen) until enough snow melts where I can access the garden. Next year – try to start with an empty at-home bin when the snow starts flying – oh and pray for less snow.

– Food: Like last year I rarely go to the grocery store. I depend primarily on our storage veggies, canned goods and frozen meat for most meals, supplementing it all with fresh greenhouse greens from our deep winter farm share that we pick up every two weeks. For additional items we try to hit the new winter farmer’s market that sets up camp on Saturday mornings about six blocks away. Dairy and eggs come from Sherman’s along with occasional grains, beans and lentils. We’re still picking up ten pounds of meat once a month from Chestnut Farms. I’m not militant – I drink coffee (locally roasted Rao’s) every day and go through plenty of peanut butter (locally produced Teddy). I buy a scone. We always have olive oil on hand. We go out to eat on occasion. My husband brings home dark chocolate and wine from the store where he works. I live a pretty delicious life.

Looking over this list, I am pretty proud of my decisions and I can honestly say that none of this is hard. Shopping locally is no harder than shopping at a grocery store. Eating locally sourced beef stew with root vegetables is no harder, and arguably more delicious, than eating anything else. Sure this depends on some planning ahead and general willingness to cook (planning and cooking being two things I genuinely enjoy) but now it is all second nature to us. And while the costs are more than if I were a pure bargain shopper (buying the cheapest eggs and meat and dairy are, well, much cheaper, but don’t at all coincide with my political or health beliefs), they are by no means extravagant and certainly within reach of a working musician and adjunct professor’s budget. Being locavores in the city (and I often use the plural because my husband is an active participant) – even in the winter – is relatively easy, certainly more kind and generally more healthy and delicious than however we used to eat in the depths of winter.

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5 thoughts on “Locavore (Kitchen) in the (Winter) City

  1. Enjoyable to read as usual. Do you get fruit flies and bugs with your compost inside? We did and gave up. Totally relate to the ‘save your canned tomatoes for a special occasion rather than use them’ mentality. I would feel the same way and then realize i was being ridiculous. I wish we had a basement. Anyway, I believe we are supposed to get some rain next week- that should clear away some of that snow!

    • No fruit flies once I switched to a sealed counter-top unit. Although it’s also been cold since I switched, so that might have something to do with it. Thanks!

      • Yes, it is Bokashi. I’ve had great success with this system! See my post on planting tomatoes from last spring. This fall I emptied the dirt from the tomato pots onto my community garden plot and it was fully composted, beautiful dirt!

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