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San Rafael couple have local eating down to a science, but aren't immune to cravings
You can't feel too sorry for Debbie and Rob Morse. It's not like their week long frugal-local experiment left them feeling deprived.
Take Day Six lunch, with a guest, served on their sunny San Rafael patio: Four courses, plus mint-lemon tea, all made from foods sourced locally -- some as local as the pots of herbs and citrus just a few feet from the table.
First came gazpacho, made from a freezer stash of last summer's roast tomatoes, plus minced Fully Belly radish and a flash of Happy Quail Farms habanero powder.
Then, the salad: baby romaine and roasted baby beets from Marin Roots, with Full Belly toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of Point Reyes Farmstead blue cheese.
Main course: chicken hash, made from leftovers of a Martinelli bird roasted for the Day One dinner, Prather Ranch bacon for flavor, and David Little potatoes, the end of last year's crop.
We were so full we could have easily skipped dessert -- but who could resist trying bay leaf-infused yogurt made from Clover Stornetta milk sweetened with Marshall's Farm honey?
Total cost: $13.19 for three people. And it was by far the most expensive meal of the full week the Morses, both recently retired from San Francisco daily newspapers, spent previewing the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge (see main story, Page F1), designed to see if it's possible to eat locally on a budget.
Their budget for the week, as a two-eater family, was $144 -- but they made it a sport to stay well under that while denying themselves as little as possible. Suffering definitely wasn't in the plan.
Through lunchtime on Day Six, they'd chewed and sipped their way through just $70.90 worth of food bought mainly from the San Rafael farmers' market, Whole Foods and Bryan's meat counter in Corte Madera. Their patio gave them a few freebies, too.
The Morses had some advantages. For one thing, they aren't working, so they could devote lots of time to the project. And if they were employed?
"We couldn't do it," Rob says. "You have to cook too much."
For another, they're old hands at the eating local thing. They took part in the first monthlong Eat Local Challenge in 2005, and have stuck to about 75 percent local since then. Debbie writes about it on her blog, I'm Mad and I Eat.
For a third, they live just a short bike ride from the Marin Civic Center farmers' market, so it's easy for them to cruise by twice a week.
But the Pennywise wrinkle taught them a thing or two.
Among them, expensive or hard-to-find foods like meat, cheese, olive oil and eggs need to be used in small quantities or they'd bust the budget. So they made their chicken go three meals, plus stock, extending it with rice and foraged sea beans for a chicken salad, and with potatoes for the hash.
"You end up getting the right food pyramid -- lots of vegetables, only a little bit of bacon or oil," says Rob.
But they also discovered that because these foods have the most punch, a little goes a long way.
The Morses had already figured out that they would make exceptions for their morning tea and an occasional bottle of Spanish sparkling wine.
"It's like being Catholic. You do things and go to confession," Rob says.
But they made their own vinegar from local cider. They waded out into the waters off Bolinas to collect water to boil down into salt; it has a brownish tinge that Rob says is iron oxide. Probably.
Having to count pennies forced them to bring out the measuring cups and spoons; they even bought a kitchen scale to help track their costs. (From Debbie's daily diary: "11 1/2 ounces of David Little potatoes, $1.44.")
And if they didn't stock up on everything they needed at the farmers' market, they ended up buying Full Belly produce at Whole Foods -- for $1 more a pound.
Junk food cravings never surfaced, they claimed. Except maybe for nachos. "And Gummi Bears," adds Deb. (She resisted.)
What they missed most was going out to eat a few times a week. They couldn't afford it, and knew restaurant food wouldn't be all local.
"I'm counting the days till I can go out for a steak," Rob admitted on Day Six.
By sunset on Day Seven, having whipped up three cottage pies from leftover Fatted Calf marrow-stuffed beef shank, the Morses bailed out on the week one meal early.
They headed to the nearest Chili's, where they toasted their frugal gourmandise over beer and nachos -- neither one local.
That brought their grand total for the week to $103.90 -- still well under their Pennywise allowance.
"One of the things you learn when you do this is that local is not a cult," says Rob. "You learn about things and you make exceptions."
Pollo Local Hash
Leftover roast chicken, especially dark meat, is perfect for this dish from Debbie and Rob Morse. You can also start with raw chicken -- simply roast, saute or poach it until just done, cool and take off the bone; you may need to add more cream to keep it moist. Feel free to substitute your favorite sources for ingredients. If you are not concerned about the 100-mile foodshed, substitute cayenne or other chile powder for the habanero.
3 small potatoes, about 12 ounces (Kennebecs or any russet, from Little Organic Farm)
5 or 6 small, tender, fresh (foraged) grape leaves, stems removed
1/4 ounce bacon (Prather Ranch), diced
2 big scallions, white part only, sliced (Coke Farm)
1 tiny pinch habañero powder (Happy Quail Farms)
1/2 cup cream (Clover Stornetta)
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken (Martinelli), diced
Salt to taste
Instructions: Peel potatoes and boil until just tender; drain and cut into small dice. Blanch grape leaves in boiling water for a few minutes, then mince.
Cook bacon in a cast-iron skillet until crisp. Remove and set aside; leave drippings in pan. In a bowl, mix the potatoes, scallions, grape leaves, reserved cooked bacon and habanero powder until well combined.
Heat bacon drippings over medium heat, and add hash mixture. Spread in an even layer and pour cream over. Leave to cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes), checking now and then, and stirring up browned bits from the bottom. Stir in chicken and cook for 10 minutes, or until well browned but not dried out. Add salt as needed.
Per serving: 680 calories, 59 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 31 g fat (16 g saturated), 231 mg cholesterol, 187 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.