Last year’s Dark Day Challenge was so enlightening that I’m excited to do it again. Every week from the end of November through the end of March, a group of people from all over the country is cooking a weekly meal using Sustainable Organic Local Ethical (SOLE) ingredients and blogging about it. Since last year, I have learned so much about who grows what and how within a 50-mile radius of where I live, which is in Central New Jersey. Local, for this challenge, means a 150-mile radius and because of the disastrous growing season here, I may need all that territory, if not occasionally a little more from just barely outside that radius (e.g., for organic vegetable oil, cornmeal and dried beans from NY Finger Lakes if I can’t source them more locally). We’re lucky to have excellent local meat, poultry, and dairy, all organic and ethically treated. We’re close enough to the ocean to get dayboat fish. We have great vineyards and farms all around us. I also belong to a CSA, now closed for the season, and I have my own small and sustainable in-town garden, which is still producing greens. I am a fanatic canner and jammer so our pantry is well stocked. I may occasionally use a few homemade pantry items that might not qualify for the challenge if I were making them now, Otherwise, my exceptions are the normal ones like oil, vinegar, spices, and salt, though I’m moving closer to home in finding alternatives for those.
The first week of the challenge started right after Thanksgiving and I had more leftover turkey than two people could logically handle (it’s a new definition of eternity… two people and a turkey). I had made a stock from our organically raised local bird, using organic carrots from our CSA, organic onions from a local market, and Asian celery from my garden. Part way through cooking the stock, I removed the meat that still clung to the carcass and shredded it, supplementing some that had been carved. I decided to make a turkey hash topped with blanched chard from my garden and a poached egg, from a chicken raised at an organic farm just up the road. Last year, I struggled with local organic butter, though I made my own. This year, I’m on to an organic ghee made by a local family, though I’ll eventually make my own. That’s what I used to fry the hash.
I also used some of the turkey stock for a delicious pear and parsnip soup. The pears were grown at a local orchard that uses sustainable practices, with some crops (apples but probably not the pears) being organic. The soup was garnished with organic shallots sautéed in ghee. The thyme (dried that I preserved from our CSA and fresh from my pot garden) counterbalanced the sweetness beautifully. This is so simple and satisfying that you don’t miss salt, pepper or dairy.
I’m glad so many people are enthusiastic about this year’s Dark Days challenge to eat locally during the most challenging part of the year. I thought it made me a better cook by having to be so thoughtful and considered about my food choices so the exploration continues!
4-5 medium cooked potatoes (red or yellow), peeled
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 green bell pepper, diced
1 small hot green pepper (I used poblano but jalapeno would be fine)
3 tbsp butter or ghee
1½ c or more shredded or finely diced turkey, mostly dark meat (about the same amount as potato)
Salt and pepper
Optional: green chard, blanched
Optional: poached egg
Optional: minced parsley
Grate the potatoes on the large-holed side of a box grater.
Melt the butter or ghee in a medium frying pan. Add the onion and peppers and cook over medium-low heat until translucent. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the potatoes and turkey. Cook the mix, flipping and stirring it to scrape the crispy parts into the center. This takes about 15 minutes. Regulate the heat to avoid burning.
You can serve this as a nest for a poached egg, or shape it into patties.
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and diced
1 tsp ghee or butter
2 or 3 medium parsnips, peeled and diced (2-3 c)
4 small pears, peeled and diced (2 c)
2 c or more homemade chicken stock or vegetable broth (I used light turkey stock)
Pinch of dried or fresh thyme
Optional garnish: 1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced and dditional ghee or butter for cooking the shallot
Saute the leek in a saucepan and add the parsnip, cooking it lightly before adding the pear, stock and thyme. Cook until the parsnip is tender, Puree the soup. Saute the shallot in butter until crispy and use for garnish along with fresh thyme if you have some.
Categories: Chicken, Dark Days Challenge, Parsnips, Soup
Hello! I can’t remember where I first found your blog, but I read it all the time now, and I believe we may belong to the same CSA. I am trying to do the Dark Days Challenge for the first time this year and since we are in the same area was wondering if you could tell me any places that I can get some basics locally – onions, anything else like that. I’m fortunate to have a great local source for meat, cheese, and eggs but I know I will have to make a lot of exceptions if I can’t find somewhere to get veggies. I am also curious about where you might get dried beans locally?
Thanks in advance for any help you may be able to give me.
I belong to Honey Brook Organic Farm’s CSA. Usually, we have plenty of onions distributed but not so this year. I stock piled some organic onions from a farmers’ market this fall. Now, for local ones, probably not organic, I would go to the Trenton Farmers Market. There are plenty of veggies available now and will be for another month or so. Yes, it’s going to be a tough one this year. I’m hoping my own little garden holds up for greens.
Thank you for the suggestions! We do indeed belong to the same CSA. We pick up at Pennington. This was our second year.
I will try the Trenton market. I’ll try Princeton’s indoor market this week since it’s closer and try to get down to Trenton over this weekend or next weekend.
This is my first year doing the Dark Days challenge. I’m already not doing too well but my goal for this year is just to give it a chance and find things to improve upon for next year.
Honestly, I’m a pretty seasoned cook and I learned an amazing amount from participating last year. More than I would have predicted. The challenge makes you re-examine your food habits, what’s produced around you, and so on. All of it makes you a better cook, I promise. Don’t get frustrated. This is a challenge after all!