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Flash in the Pan

Taking the slow boat home

My friend Bill is a locavore, eating as much as possible from within a couple hundred miles from his home in northern Vermont. Last winter, he and his family feasted on things like roots, tubers, squash, stored veggies, meat, cheese, eggs and apple cider, while foregoing things like sushi, California-grown greens and orange juice.

Bill’s diet is motivated largely by the desire to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released by long-distance transport of his food. But don’t call his family martyrs. Their effort is rewarded by a dramatic increase, he says, in quality of life.

Unlike their East Coast forefathers, these folks aren’t puritanical. They allow certain ingredients from faraway places via a loophole Bill refers to as the “Marco Polo Exception.”
“Anything that could have come back from the orient in a saddle bag is okay,” explains Bill. This means small items that won’t spoil easily—like spices—are allowed because they don’t require fast, refrigerated transport.

I follow the Marco Polo Exception under a different name: “the slow boat rule.” It means no refrigeration, and only cargo that won’t spoil easily, like coconuts, dried fruit and olive oil. The slow boat is a mode of transportation that’s about as efficient as you can get with petroleum (and in an ideal world, we’d get it to Missoula from Seattle by barge and train).

The slow boat rule prevents one of the more insidious manifestations of global trade: the costly transport of items which grow in your region but are currently out of season, such as New Zealand lamb, Mexican cardboard tomatoes, Chilean strawberries and California carrots. My rule requires you to find it closer to home, wait ’til summertime or find a substitute.

In the case of tomatoes, the Good Food Store has half-dried spiced tomatoes in the olive bar and they aren’t bad. For carrots, we should be able to store enough Montana carrots to eat them all winter long. Lamb? Give me a break—our lamb rocks! With strawberries, we have a three-month season of fresh strawberries. If you want to eat them year-round, stash them away by freezing, jamming, drying or otherwise preserving them. And you can do the same with raspberries, blueberries, cherries, plums, apricots, apples, pears, etc.

Acquiring enough strawberries to put away a year’s worth will mean a trip to a local U-pick farm or a farmers’ market. Then hours in the kitchen, processing it into leather, jam, whole frozen fruit, dried whole fruit and jam—sometimes with peach or rhubarb. All this at the expense, perhaps, of some other recreational Saturday afternoon pursuit.

Or you could consider the stashing of those berries as your recreational pursuit. The trips to the market or the U-pick will make you all kinds of new friends, and generally bring you in touch with your community in ways you never would in a supermarket.

Some items, meanwhile, like salt, pepper or curry powder, can’t be cultivated locally. Curry is a general term for a spice mixture that often includes things like cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves. It’s amazing how spices like this can transform local ingredients like lamb, yogurt, onions and garlic into something straight outta Calcutta.

On a recent Sunday morning I put my slow boat rule to the test when three friends—the Legalist, the Brewer and the Blasthole—came over for brunch. (While most of my friends remain anonymous, it’s safe to reveal the Blasthole as Indy political columnist George Ochenski, who’s also a varsity locavore.) As we drank slow-boat coffee, the Blasthole shared some of Helena’s more interesting developments that have yet to make his column.

We feasted on quiche (made with eggs from my personal coop, and local spinach in the crust), bacon-fried elk sausage and my slow-boat secret weapon: curried eggs.

To make the latter, you want the most local eggs you can find. Crack them into a bowl, then crush the shells and drop the crumbs into the chicken bucket (formerly the compost bucket). You smash the shells like this so your chickens will get their calcium back without realizing that they’re pecking at their own eggshells, which can be a bad habit.

Stir in some Patak’s brand hot curry paste. Paste is not as slow-boat as curry powder, but I’m no puritan. Plus, Patak’s has the right flavor, and one of these days I’ll figure out how to make it myself with dry raw ingredients.

Beat the Patak’s and some minced garlic into the eggs. Then heat local butter in a pan, and add a quart bag of frozen broccoli flowers from last summer. When the broccoli is getting warm, add the garlic-curried eggs and scramble.

Garnished with pickled peppers and served to good friends, in good cheer, with good news and bad, we were living the locavore’s dream.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Early bird gets the corned beef

Dear Chef Boy Ari,

In recent visits to Missoula, I have been unable to find a decent place for breakfast. Any suggestions?

—Early Riser

A: Dear Early Riser,

As you can read above, the best breakfast in Missoula is in my kitchen.

But when I go out, the place I frequent most for breakfast is the Hob Nob Café on Higgins, and I always order the corn beef hash. I was tempted to believe that the beef, which is corned on premises, would be naturally raised in Montana like the Nob’s hamburger meat. But alas, after some investigative reporting the owner, Justin Alterowitz, confessed that the beef is of origin unknown. He says he can’t find a local supplier to keep up with the amount of corned beef he goes through, since each cow only has two briskets, and he uses six a week.

The only other place I go for breakfast is the Catalyst, on Higgins downtown. The breakfasts, which, as far as I know, incorporate the highest percentage of local ingredients in Missoula, are amazing, and they make the best macchiato I’ve ever had. They also have a big magazine rack full of reading material that'll make you feel smart, even if you only look at the pictures. The only drawback to the Catalyst is that there is no corn beef hash, but the local food points they score make up for it.

I’d mention Two Sisters and The Raven Café as well, but both have recently gone out of business.

So, that’s my list. If I missed any good breakfast spots, readers, please let me know.

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