Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There Used To Be No Such Thing

"There used to be no such thing as organic food."  I think of this quote all the time when I am deciding what to invest in for my next meal.  This was a statement made by Fred Laughlin, one of my culinary school instructors when I was in Intro to Baking class my first year of culinary school.  We were talking as a class about the differences in farm foods and how organic food fits in to this day in age.

As me and my classmates worked at  rolling out dough, measuring ingredients or whisking egg whites Chef Fred was recalling his youth when all food was basically "organic" and it all came from a farm.  He said "there was no such thing as the terms "organic" or "natural" describing food because it already just was organic and that is how it was "back then."   We all agreed how remarkable it is that farm to table food is not really a new concept at all.  The food that Chef grew up on wasn't under a microscope, it wasn't questioned, it didn't get marketed as a superior product because it wonderfully already just was.  Like fashion trends we are seeing the same type of "organic" food come back into style its just called something else now and its a lot more expensive too.

It was an interesting turn around in my thinking to realize that my choice to know my food sources and the people who are growing it is apart of a great new old trend: where we as communities are coming full circle back to the way it used to be.  I have a choice when it comes to where my money is spent as a consumer on foods and food products. This a wonderful freedom to be thankful for and I love knowing where my food comes from and that it is "organic".

Whatever I can't grow for myself, I can rely on purchasing from my friends and neighbors.  This is a choice I make and probably a fortunate feature to where I live too.  Northern Michigan is rich with an agricultural community that provides just about every single type of food needed to lead a healthy life with a balanced diet.  Buying food outside a grocery store requires a little more communication and planning, sometimes even education, but that is the part I think I love more than anything.  As a food lover buying my food outside a grocery store I get to socialize with my friends who are just as passionate about food as I am.  We share recipes, ideas and encourage each other in what we are doing.  Its a community I am proud to be apart of and a lot of fun too.

When I pick up or receive:

  • Brussel sprouts, carrots, and beets at the farm market each from a different farmer
  • Bread from the artisan baker
  • Honey and bee pollen from the beekeeper
  • Maple syrup from the kind hearted gentleman farmer who lives a few miles away (I know it takes a ton of sap to make that pint sized bottle which then makes the syrup even more special)
  • Pumpkins and acorn squash from the roadside stand- the one that leaves a box out to put the money in- on the trusting honor system
  • Eggs from my sister or the farm market (she has offered them every time I stop by but we always get to chatting and I forget to grab them)
  • My produce order with my farmer friends Jim and Judy down the road
  • Delicious salsa, canned peaches and tomatoes from my Mom
  • Jams and jellies and baked goods from my family and especially Jon's sister Shelly
  • A happy chicken from my friends 

Its all considered "organic" to me- even if its not "certified".  These things I bring home are like golden treasure.  As a chef I see the individual ingredients and apply my innovating passion to create something really special.  I have such a wonderful time deciding what to do and then producing it.

Of course the other major part to all of it I will confess is the affirmation I receive when my loved ones are happily satisfied and full.  I have so much thankfulness for the ability and practiced skills I have to make delicious food.  I have so much respect for the people who take the time and attention to produce, grow and raise all this beautiful food that is available to us all.

What I am excited to share with you now is the most recent treasure our family invested in this last weekend- a happy chicken from Long Straw Farm, who is our friends Matt, Mindy and their sweet kids.  I did not know they were raising chickens until Matt posted a few weeks ago that they would be butchered soon:

Matt posted on Facebook- 
"Time to eat my chickens before they eat me! While putting them in tonight one grabbed my hand and drew blood. That's it...Friday is butchering day! Thank you chickens for all you provide"

So I typed up a message to Matt that I wanted to buy one of their family's chickens.  In the meantime I started to devise a plan for what we would do to really honor this special animal that was close to harvest.  My goal was to make four meals from the chicken and in the process share the experience with my kids. I hoped that they would learn what is possible when you make a plan to get the largest return on the investment not only of the money we used to buy that chicken,  but also to honor the time, care and love that went into that chicken from the farmers too.

Saturday morning, I drove out County road 667 with so much excitement and happiness.   It was a rainy chilly day, but I was warm with the anticipation of my oven soon being set to 375 degrees.  Upon arriving at the top of their winding hidden driveway, I right away saw the two wonderful smiles of Matt and Mindy as they came out to greet me.  It was interesting to see the set up at Long Straw Farm and realize all the work that went into the butchering process the day before.    This is possibly the freshest chicken I have ever worked with.  A cool thing about farm friends is they are so giving, Matt and Mindy gave us a bag of hearts and livers for Jon to play with in the kitchen- what a bonus!  They offered chicken feet to us too, but I admit I wasn't sure.  Now I wish I would have taken them up on that offer just for the curiosity of it all. Thank you Long Straw Farm!!!!!!

Here is what we did with that beautiful happy bird:

Meal #1:
Lemon thyme brined roasted chicken leg and thigh,
pumpkin potato parsley mash,
red, orange and yellow carrots,  and a pan jus.

Chicken, gala apple, and leek jasmine rice
stuffed acorn Squash, white wine apple cider reduction,
maple butter.

Chicken tacos with arugula, fresh tomato jalapeno salsa,
greek yogurt and vermont aged cheddar.

Chicken and mushroom soup over sage rice,
with mustard rye croutons

Meal#5:  BONUS MEAL CONTEST- Yes, we still have 4 cups of stock left!!!  Taking votes for what we should make with it-   I am going to see what suggestions we get, have the kids vote on the one they want and then make another story on it.

Having that fresh chicken and doing such delicious and wonderful meals around it, using ever part of it.... learning what I can do is what made it so special.  What I know is that chicken tasted better than any chicken I have ever eaten and I will remember the meals from it for a very long time.  Why?  Because it makes me feel connected to a time when there was "no such thing" as labeling what kind of food we are using.  I like that thought.

I confess: I feel like I accomplished the goal I set.  I feel extremely thankful for the opportunity to have shared it with the ones I love.  Now I want to do it this way every time.