“Oh, do you know the muffin man? The muffin man, the muffin man.”
What about the milk man? The farmer? The fisherman? The baker?
Over the past century our relationship with the origins of our food has become quite detached. Try explaining the meaning of “The Muffin Man” to a class of Kindergartners as they recite it and their eyes glaze over with befuddlement. What do you mean fresh bread was delivered directly to homes by the person who made it?! Didn’t they go to the A&P and pick out a loaf of packaged bread made months ago and kept “fresh” by a large dose of preservatives?! And wasn’t that loaf made by an assembly line of industrial machines… not a skilled baker?!
It’s only in the past year or so that I have begun to discern the difference between the industrial organic Whole Foods style of foods and those that can be obtained from a local producer. I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and was shocked to discover that the average food item travels 1500 miles to our plate. That’s farther than many Americans will travel in a single trip during their lifetime! Just last night I quickly perused the produce section at my Whole Foods in NJ and found bell peppers from Mexico, potatoes from Oregon, clementines from Spain, and blueberries from Argentina. The sheer miles that separate these foods from their roots has an indisputable impact on their flavor, freshness, and nutritional value.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Whole Foods and find myself entering into a rarely paralleled state of euphoria when I step over its threshold. I feast my eyes on the aesthetic beauty of their bounty of colorful produce and eagerly explore each aisle in search of wholesome gems that I confidently know are unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives. Alongside the international far I also found locally grown apples and leafy greens. I applaud their efforts to support local farmers and provide shoppers with the opportunity to discover the unique flavor and diversity of local crops.
I have a growing sense of obligation to do my part as an individual consumer. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is a farmers’ market open each weekend… a place where I can attach a face to the produce I am buying and chat with that farmer about the agriculture practices, passion, and hard work that went into bringing it to my plate. From my perspective as a lover of healthful food the farmers’ market satisfies my desire for the freshest, most nutrient dense products. As a passionate cook it challenges me to have the ingredients lead to the recipe rather than vice versa. And as a responsible citizen it allows me to play a role in preserving farmland, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and support local business.
The bottom line…
I will continue to make my weekly pilgrimage to Whole Foods and consume strawberries in January if I desire them. But, at the same time I will make a conscious effort to become more of a “locavore.” After all, there must be some perks to living in “The Garden State!”
To prove my commitment I present you with a Martha Stoever original recipe. Inspired solely by ingredients purchased at our local farmers’ market (and Nick’s hankering for “stew”). Is it soup or is it stew? You decide.
Roasted Root Vegetable “Stoup”
- Root vegetables of choice (I used a combination of celeriac, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes): approximately 1 cup of each
- 1 leek (thinly sliced)
- 2 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 quart of vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
- 2 tsp Herbes de Provence
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- fresh chopped parsley (optional garnish)
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Scrub and trim ends and any bad spots off of all the root vegetables. I left all of mine unpeeled with the exception of the celeriac. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Place root vegetables on a foil-lined cookie sheet or roasting pan.
- Melt 1 TBSP of coconut oil in microwave. Pour over the root vegetables and toss to coat. Season with the herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss again and spread into a single layer.
- Roast vegetables for 30-40 minutes, until tender, tossing once to caramelize.
- In a large stockpot melt remaining 1/2 TBSP of coconut oil over medium low heat. Add the leeks along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until leeks are softened and translucent.
- Just before vegetables are ready pour vegetable broth into the pot with the leek mixture. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil.
- When vegetables are done add about 2/3 of vegetables (reserve other 1/3) to the stockpot. Let soup simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
- Remove bay leaves. Then using an emulsion blender puree everything in the stockpot to desired consistency.
- Add remaining 1/3 of root vegetables to the pot and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Garnish with parsley and serve with chunks of fresh bread