I celebrated my birthday yesterday in the best possible way… sharing food with friends. I spent the whole afternoon cooking…. beef stew in red wine, made the Julia Child way with Alaskan beef, homemade red wine, caribou stock, and freshly dug potatoes and carrots. A leek and goat-cheese galette, french onion dip made with yogurt cheese for the crisp carrot sticks, and garlic butter and bruschetta that went on baguette’s my brother brought. Guests brought imported wine, beer, cheese, and fantastically non-local desserts…. browned butter shortbread and a chocolate-almond tart with citrus flavorings.
My favorite gifts were local and non-local food items… blueberry jam, honey-butter, decaf coffee, chocolate, imported cheese, oranges, and nectarines. I know how much work goes into making things like jam and honey-butter, and I really appreciate these efforts. And when you can’t have fruit, coffee and chocolate at every whim, somehow you also appreciate the specialness of these items as well. This morning I savored every bite of my sweet, plump, juicy nectarine. I studied the label carefully to figure out where it came from and appreciated its journey from tree to my mouth. It was a delight and a treat that I would not realize it I were not going without.
Many people participating or observing the Alaska Food Challenge have expressed guilt or frustration at the non-local foods that they are unable/unwilling to give up. That’s not the point of this challenge! The point is to celebrate in the abundance of the local food that we are eating and to make us think twice before buying or eating foods that come from afar. Sometimes if we just hold off on buying those items, even just for a little while, we open up the space for alternatives to appear that we might not have thought of. You might find that kale chips satisfy the salty/crunchy craving, pie crust can be made from wholewheat flour, and yogurt cheese makes fantastic french onion dip.
My mom brought me back some dutch cheese with cumin seeds from her recent trip to Holland. Creamy and smooth, delicate yet fully flavored, I shave it off, savoring each bite. You can buy cheese similar to this in Anchorage, but it’s not really the same as this, hand-delivered with love. I eat it with my whole-wheat sourdough bread, local tomatoes, and boiled eggs and think about how in this day and age of globalisation and, free trade, and cheap transportation, maybe our nation has lost appreciation for the simple pleasure of good food.