Going underground

Local carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes,beets and more put variety on the winter table

Don’t try this at home. On second thought, do!

Don’t try this at home. On second thought, do!

Winter, albeit California winter, as my Midwestern friends are inclined to remind me, is upon us in full force. In culinary terms, that means all the local citrus you can eat, but not so much in the way of other delightful produce. As always, January brings the question: What’s a good locavore to do when there’s not much in season? While we’re at it, what about those foods that will never be in season in California—chocolate, for example, or coffee, not to mention tropical fruits?

The locavore’s dilemma with respect to seasonal vegetables in winter can easily be solved with the application of root vegetables: High in vitamins, fiber and taste, low in fat and calories, they’re a gorgeous solution. Local carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beets and more are available, and my favorite quick fix is below. It’s worth braving the chill and drizzle to hit the farmers’ markets for varieties seldom seen in the produce section of your grocery store.

Non-native foods are more of a puzzle. It’s difficult for even the most ardent locavore to give up chocolate and coffee altogether, even for the good of the biosphere. Fortunately, the very ideals that lead us to eat local in the first place point a clear path to righteousness and chocolate. Whether we eat locally to support the farmers that feed us or to express our ethics, we can bolster those same values with judicious purchases of the foods we love. Herewith, some factors to consider:

Grower co-operatives: A form of business that helps build local equity, ensure fair prices and support small farmers, co-ops have been important players in fair food for decades. Ocean Spray and Blue Diamond are senior players in this area, but new up-and-coming co-ops like Pachamama and Equal Exchange help build coffee, tea and cocoa companies we can all support.

Local importers’ coffee will never grow in Sacramento, but you can get organic, fair-trade beans that were roasted here using bike power, from the folks at Pepper Peddler. Supporting innovative local businesses encourages more of the same.

Fair-trade-certified companies ensure a fair price to growers in Third World countries, as well as helping to improve conditions for workers. Fair-trade organizations have taken some flack for not being progressive enough in challenging inequities, for requiring expensive certification and for being a form of subsidized trade. It’s not a perfect system, but it does offer some assurance that your chocolate isn’t the product of slave labor.

Small producers, whether within the magical 100-mile radius or not. Three Sisters Farmstead Cheese, for example, is 244 miles away from my chair as I write this. To skip their delectable Serena cheese on those grounds would be unfair to a very small family operation, as well as a crying shame on culinary grounds. Good food made by small producers, wherever they may be located, is something we should all support!

Roasted Roots
1 bunch carrots, Nantes if you can get them
6 small parsnips
1 sweet potato
4 beets, preferably golden
3 small onions
mushrooms to taste
olive oil
dried thyme

Peel vegetables and cut into bite-sized pieces. Cut tough stems from mushrooms and half or quarter depending on size. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a sheet pan and toss with just enough olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and dried thyme. Bake at 350 degrees for a half-hour, then add mushrooms. Bake another 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and slightly caramelized.