Food & Drink: The Foodie New Deal
Resolutions to make iton the cheap, sustainablyand from scratch
Remember when we were all going to “party like it’s 1999”? Back then, I always thought, “I’ll be old by then.” Yet here I am, 10 years later, summer of ’09 and still kicking.
I also figured I would have practically done everything there was to do by now. Lucky for me, I’m not even close. So this summer, I owe it to my older and wiser self to do some of the things I always wish I’d done. Believe me, the list is long—but as a happily obsessed culinarian, the top of it teems with food projects.
Some of my best memories come from making things from scratch, whether it be a loaf of bread or a bookshelf. I got the satisfaction of doing it myself—and also got to enjoy it. And it was usually cheaper than buying the item at a store. With food projects, the double bonus is that I’ll get to eat or drink whatever I prepare, and share with friends. In this economy, making it cheaper and from scratch seems like a sage rule of thumb.
So here are the top five food projects that I intend to undertake during this best damn summer ever—one that no doubt will be full of tasty memories, sticky fingers and lots of reasons to hang with friends.
Make my own ice cream
Sure, we have some great old-fashioned ice-cream parlors in Sacramento. But have you ever made your own ice cream?
I have vivid memories of slicing fresh peaches into a huge aqua ice-cream maker every summer growing up in Delaware. We ran an extension cord from outside into the kitchen and gleefully threw rock salt on the ice around the canister. A short time later, we got 4 quarts of creamy goodness and never had to leave the yard.
I have a small countertop ice-cream-machine model, but to truly make it homemade, it’s much more satisfying to use ice and salt and sit outside cranking a machine, sweating up a storm. I haven’t decided yet whether to go really old-time and buy a hand-crank model or ease into the future with an electric/crank version. I have a few books on ice cream, so I’ll try doubling or tripling a recipe and then experimenting with flavors and add-ins.
This will make me a very popular neighbor.
Learn to use a solar cooker
I’ve been seeing these at food festivals for a few years, and they look like those reflecting boards that sunbathers used to put under their chins, pre–cancer awareness. The theory behind solar cookers is simple: Use the heat from the sun and reflect it onto your food, thus cooking it. It doesn’t require a flame, making it perfect for a summer camping trip in California, where fire hazards are always high. The bonus is that it’s very eco-friendly, with no pollution or ash production.
The Central Valley apparently has the ideal climate for these portable ovens: lots of daytime sunshine and low humidity. I’ve been wanting to resurrect my old tent and do some camping, so I see solar-baked brownies in my future.
Become a home brewer
OK, I’ve done this before, but it was a long time ago. There was that April Blizzard Amber I brewed that went over pretty well when I lived in New York (we used melted snow for the water). Now that craft brewers are all the rage, it’s easier than ever to find resources for home brewing. Armed with a big pot and a good book (I started with The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing), I can have a party’s worth of beer for pennies on the bottle.
Brewing your own beer does take some trial and error, though—but you get to drink the errors. I might even gain a new appreciation for the nuances of commercial beers, and I’ll have plenty of friends willing to help me taste-test.
Plant an edible yard
Have you ever tasted a strawberry right off the plant? Or a tomato so freshly picked it’s still warm from the sun? Eating something you’ve grown is unequivocally gratifying. And not only is it usually more delicious than something you’d buy at a store, it’s also amazing to see a plant grow and reproduce because of your tending.
Fortunately, Sacramento is a great area for gardening. I started here with zucchini, since it’s super easy and plentiful, and in no time at all I was sneaking bat-sized squashes onto my neighbor’s porch and wondering why I’d ever spent money on summer veggies.
This year, I’ve got six raised beds and a few fruit trees. My goal is to grow some more challenging plants—all organically—and get a compost pile up and decomposing. Then I can use my own (free!) compost for late-summer and fall crops. It won’t negate any farmers’ market trips, but I might grow enough to trade with other gardeners and save on grocery money.
I’ll admit, I haven’t quite worked out the specifics on this, but it seems like a great invention. Sacramento is flat, perfect for cycling, and full of places to have picnics. I ought to be able to rig up a trail-a-grill for my bike, no? I could just bungee-cord a small barbecue to a trailer, of course, but I think someone local (maybe my husband?) needs to invent a grill on wheels that I can pull behind a bike.
The trick would be to avoid the natural but danger-laden instinct to pull the grill while the food’s cooking. Until the Easy-Bike Oven is invented, though, I can stash a camping stove in my bike basket or make do with the barbecues in area parks. I’ll pack up some sausages, that zucchini my neighbor gave back, and some of my homemade beer and host the best summer picnic of all time.
New Foodie Deal shopping list
1. Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation: They have an online list of park amenities, including picnic areas and maps; http://cityofsacramento.org/parksandrecreation.
2. Gold Country Brewers Association: Check out their events calendar and brewery on a trailer at www.goldcountrybrewers.org.
3. Original Home Brew Outlet: for all your beer-making supplies; 5528 Auburn Boulevard, (916) 348-6322, www.ehomebrew.com.
4. The Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition: info on seasonal planting charts, tool pools and lists of community-garden spaces; (916) 508-6025, http://saccommunitygardens.org.
5. Solar Cookers International: Based right here in Sacramento, they export thousands of cookers to Africa, where fuel is scarce and water purification often a matter of life or death; (916) 455-4499, http://solarcookers.org.
6. White Mountain Hand-Crank Ice Cream Maker (or motorized and crank version; 6-quart capacity): available at area Targets. You might also look at yard sales and your older relatives’ garages.