As I believe I've mentioned, my family and I are insufferable food snobs. (Yes, even the 2 year old.) Upon moving here, we were bereft without easy access to our beloved Whole Foods. However, there has been an upside to moving to a small town, and that is proximity to farms.
Within days of settling into our house (if you could refer to waiting for the entire contents of your house to arrive as "settling in") I discovered that the local farmer's market operates 6 days a week. Saturday is the big day, where there is wide variety of produce, meat, baked goods, honey, fresh flowers, and handmade soaps, but during the week there is always at least one local farm there selling the basics. E and I quickly settled into a routine of going downtown for a trip to the library or the coffee shop, and then swinging by the farmer's market for ingredients for that evening's salad. The tomatoes never looked quite as attractive as the perfectly shaped, blemish free ones I used to purchase in Whole Foods, but they were local and they tasted fabulous.
I began to appreciate our proximity to farms even more this summer, after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. I have to say, I never thought I would be so fascinated by reading about how grass grows, but I was, and this book has really been the catalyst for changing how our family eats. After reading it, I did a little research to see if sustainably raised meat was available in my area, and I stumbled upon a truly wonderful organization, The Local Flavor. It's a farm buyer's club that operates in our area, bringing grass fed beef, pastured poultry and eggs, and organic produce from the farms that produce them (about 90 miles from here) to consumers in the area. You place your order online, and once a month go to a local site to pick it up. It's an easy way to access sustainably raised meat and organic produce, and after just one order, I was a total convert.
I know what you're probably thinking. Yes, it is expensive. It would be hideously expensive, if not for the fact that grass fed beef and pastured chicken and eggs taste completely different from their supermarket counterparts, they are healthier for you, better for the environment, and buying these products supports the local economy rather than huge agribusiness. Once you take into account all of those factors, it's practically a bargain. But the question still remained - how was I going to pay for my newly discovered sustainable meat addiction? Easy - eat less meat!
I took a good look at the meals we eat on a regular basis to see if there were any that I could turn vegetarian, such as tacos. Now, instead of tacos made with ground turkey, we eat black bean tacos. I've also been experimenting with different ethnic recipes, both to find new ways of cooking balanced vegetarian meals, and to find ways of stretching the meat we do eat a little further. I've been working on this for about 6 months now, and I've come to see meat consumption differently; it's no longer the centerpiece around which we plan our meals. I also think more consciously about what we eat and where it comes from, and I've become downright passionate about lentils. (Fabulous source of protein and iron! Quick and easy to cook! A dollar a bag! Frees up money for grass fed beef!)
As much as I miss city life and the ease of accessing good food, I am incredibly appreciative of the ability I have here to buy food all but directly from the farm, and the healthier diet my family and I eat as a result.
Black Bean Tacos in the Crockpot
The night before, put 1 pound of dried black beans to soak in 8 cups of water. In the morning, drain and rinse the beans, and then place them in the crockpot with 6 cups of water. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. About 30 minutes before you're ready to eat, add in the taco seasoning (recipe follows) and cook on high. Serve with warm flour tortillas and any of your favorite taco fixings. We really enjoy this with an avocado salad that resembles deconstructed guacamole (recipe follows), which has the added bonus of providing some nice healthy fat and additional protein!
Taco Seasoning for Crockpot Black Beans
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Stir spices together and add to crockpot.
1 ripe avocado
2-3 ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic (optional)
1/2 jalapeno pepper (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
few tablespoons olive oil
Cut avocado in half, remove seed with spoon. Using a sharp knife, cut the flesh into small cubes and scoop them out with the spoon. Chop and seed the tomatoes. Finely chop the onion and cilantro. Finely mince the garlic and jalapeno if using.
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and add lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Can be eaten immediately, but the flavor will be best if it's allowed to sit for at least an hour. Can be made up to 24 hours in advance.