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Friday, September 6, 2013

Kingsolver's localism, sweet as zucchini cookies

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and it has inspired reflection, cooking, and future projects on the horizon. I am a long time fan of Barbara's (I feel like she is now my pal after reading this year long journal); I was first introduced to her writing more than ten years ago, when I read The Poisonwood Bible for a High School english class. Over the years, I have devoured her other books, enjoying the mix of human relationships, science, environmentalism, and feminism. My obvious favorite is Prodigal Summer, and this novel likely had a role in my fascination (obsession?) with farming. In AVM, Barbara in effect plays out Prodigal Summer and moves her family from the urban desert of Tucson back to her roots in Southern Appalachia to embark on a year long hyper local eating project.

The book begins as Barbara, her husband Steven, 18 year old daughter Camille, and 4th grader Lily pile into their family car and start driving East. Upon leaving Tucson, Barbara waxes poetic on all that Tucson has to offer. Basically Tucson is a pretty fabulous place to live, if it only had more water. As she mentioned universities, museums, and other urban treasures, I couldn't help but feel a little bitter that Jamie and I were stationed here in Georgia rather than in Tucson. But, here was Barbara Kingsolver abandoning Tucson and heading to the American South!

Once at the Farm house in Virginia, the family set to work fixing up the house and preparing for the upcoming planting season and the commencement of their year of eating solely local food. As the spring began and crops began being planted and harvested, the book became part garden and farm journal, part food diary, and part exposé on the cruelties of industrial farming. I have to say that the book was rather winding and there were a lot of tangents. Occasionally, I found myself a bit distracted, wondering if I would ever finish the book. Part of the problem for me was that the majority of the shocking exposed secrets of industrial farming and U.S. farm policy were not new news for me. The first time that I learned these truths, however, I was rapt, so it is not fair to hold this against Barbara. The information is of high quality and well presented, just nothing novel or terrifying. Upon further reflection, I also realized that this book is chronicling an undertaking that required a huge amount of physical labor. From my experience working on a farm, I know that type of work can often feel like drudgery. So, I suppose that it makes sense that reading about it can sometimes feel similar.

Despite respites of boredom, I did enjoy the glimpse into Barbara's family's dedication to a noble cause and all the hard work that went into their success. Not too secretly, I long for a homestead that is self sustainable and this book deepened those longings and also made me feel a tad guilty that I was not doing more now. I have a ton of land in my backyard, mostly full sun, that is not being used for anything, save for my dogs stomping ground (he really likes stomping). My garden is rather pathetic, with only a few plants, and my 3 chickens are not even laying eggs yet. My excuse has been that we are moving soon and it is not worth all the work to create growing spaces. The next family that lives here would probably prefer grass, anyways. But, the book provides some really fabulous ideas about living more sustainably and eating locally that would not require me to till my entire backyard.

Two of the ideas that appealed to me most, that would not be terribly difficult or expensive and could make a big difference, are canning and baking bread. The book correctly identifies that for many of us, it is relatively easy to eat mostly local in the summer, when farmer's markets are in season, but it is more difficult to eat locally in the winter when markets are closed. The Kingsolvers can their own vegetables, but it would be just as local to buy up all the tomatoes at the farmer's market and can them, so you can have local tomatoes and sauces in the winter. The Kingsolvers also grew a huge over-abundance of zucchini. They tried their best to eat it and give it away to friends, but there was just too much. Not wanting to create waste, they shredded the zucchini and stored it in freezer bags to be used in breads and cookies all year round. In addition to specific instructions on how to can tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chutneys, and salsas, the book also included an amazing recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies (see below). Other vegetables, like greens and broccoli, can be blanched and frozen in freezer bags. Tomorrow is the next farmers market in downtown Valdosta (Valdosta Farm Days), and I plan on stocking up on local veggies and trying out the canning process for the first time this weekend.

I am also looking into buying a bread machine. It appears that I can buy a decent machine for about $60, which is the price of 20 loaves of bread at $3 a loaf. If Jamie and I eat a loaf of bread every week, the machine will pay for itself in 20 weeks, or 5 months. Furthermore, we are having trouble finding bread without high fructose corn syrup and specialty healthy breads like spelt or whole grain in Valdosta supermarkets. Baking our own bread would solve that problem, as well. I haven't placed the order yet, but it is on my mind and there is an amazon tab open in my browser.

Since I couldn't head straight to the farmer's market or start baking bread as soon as I finished "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I decided to try out the zucchini chocolate chip cookie recipe instead. I am glad I did. Jamie was skeptical of these cookies when he observed the bits of green, but seemed to forget all about them once he indulged in a cookie (and then another). I modified the original recipe to be dairy-free and only used white flour, rather than half whole wheat, because I did not have whole wheat flour in the cabinet and wanted the cookies right away. The modifications worked out deliciously.


The wet stuff
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (real)

The dry stuff
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

The good stuff
1 cup finely shredded zucchini
12 oz. dark chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Combine the wet stuff in a large mixing bowl; I used my new Kitchen Aid mixer bowl for this (thanks again, Mom!). I used honey that we purchased from an apiary near Jamie's grandparents house in upstate New York. This honey is extra flavorful, and I attribute at least part of the success of this recipe to the magnificent local honey.

3. Combine the dry stuff in a separate mixing bowl. Stir the ingredients with a fork until they are evenly mixed.

4. Stir half the dry stuff into the wet stuff. Mix thoroughly before adding the second half of the dry ingredients, and again mix thoroughly.

5. Add the good stuff into the mixture and continue mixing until evenly dispersed.
 6. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto greased cookie sheets (unless you have parchment paper handy, which is a better choice). The recipe should make about two dozen cookies, if you don't eat too much batter. I only got 20 cookies out of the recipe...

7. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes or until brown around the edges.

8. Remove cookies from cookie sheets and place on cooling racks to prevent burning.

9. Cookies will be soft, spongy, and cake-like. Enjoy!! Share with your friends... or eat them all.