Many people have asked if we are still doing the Alaska Food Challenge or are back to eating “normally.” The answer lies somewhere in between and depends on what you call “normal.” If you compare how we eat to the average American, I would say we are definitely not normal! And proudly so! If you compare our eating habits now to how we were eating before the challenge, I would say we are eating more Alaskan food, but not 100%.
Drinks and candy: Coffee, black tea, and wine have all returned… although I no longer feel like I need them! Our juice is now rhubarb, raspberry, or cranberry. We got a chocolate subscription from our friends at Nova Monda Chocolate to fulfill all of my deepest chocolate desires. (Use the promo code “Saskia” to get a 10% discount.)
Wheat products: Tortillas have been around occasionally, but I’m finding we just don’t eat them like we used to. And they are not as tasty as the ones I make myself. Ditto with bagels. Matt is back to eating pretzels and loving it. We have also been buying crackers, but my friend Sara showed me a recipe for some very easy home-made ones that will hopefully become my new cracker standby. After buying bread this summer, I am now back to making it, although I re-introduced a little white flour, as it makes the bread so much lighter. We got some packages of dried pasta, but have become more proficient at making it ourselves, and usually prefer to do that.
Sugar: I also brought back sugar into my pantry for those treats where honey just won’t do. I think that was one of the hardest things to do without because I have a huge sweet-tooth and I love to bake. But I did learn to be more moderate with my sugar intake, and I was amazed by all the great things I could make with honey.
Dairy: Although I was relieved to be able to buy butter, I think I’ll go back to making that as well. It was so nice to have cream and buttermilk around, especially in the winter! I’ve perfected my yogurt-making and it is now a part of my routine. However, it is nice to have parmesan, manchego, and brie cheese back in our lives!! When our chickens were on strike recently, I was blown away by the inferior quality of even the organic “free-range” eggs from the store. The yolks were pale yellow, the whites runny, and taste bland.
Cooking essentials: We are using olive oil for some things, but have not brought back vegetable oil. We have a few kinds of vinegar and love to have lemon juice (or lemons) around. One of my potted lemons is blooming, and I would love to get all my lemon and lime fixes from my house-plants someday. I also really love having a box of white wine for cooking.
Condiments: We decided we couldn’t do without dijon mustard. All the other zillion bottles in our fridge? Meh. But we have a very good zucchini relish recipe that is great with caribou burgers, Matt’s mom’s recipe for pickled hot peppers, and we developed fantastic rhubarb ketchup and BBQ sauce recipes. Gooseberry chutney is still in the works.
Vegetables : We continue to eat 98% local, from our own garden. We didn’t go back to buying tasteless winter lettuce, tomatoes, or avocados. We did buy canned tomatos from Costco since Bells did not have their cheap deal on tomatoes this summer and our own crop was pretty poor. But I’m really happy with my stocked freezer, pantry, and root cellar.
Fruit: Graysen is a huge fan of fresh fruit, so we have been buying apples, cantaloupe (his favorite), and bananas, which I haven’t bought in years. It’s pretty much the only special thing we are buying for him. Otherwise, he eats what we eat.
I am surprised by some of the things I missed, that have not really returned to my diet. A block of blue cheese I picked up at Costco in July is still lingering in my fridge. A bag of walnuts is chilling in the freezer. We haven’t even opened a brand new bag of quinoa. The rolled oats that used to be essential have pretty much gone unused as well. Matt finds he misses rice, but I’m pretty happy with potatoes and barley.
I suppose the point of the challenge was to get us to change those non-local habits. It’s not to deprive us of them for ever, but show us local alternatives. It is still nice for a holiday treat to break out the chocolate bourbon pecan pie recipe, and it’s also nice to have an all- local pumpkin pie as well.
Overall, I feel our diet is healthier and more delicious than before. But we are still learning and getting better at growing, preserving, and cooking local food. A cookbook based on local, seasonal foods is in the works. Our journey is far from over, and we are still enjoying the ride!