Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 1

I've been curious about the Dark Days Challenge for a number years but this is the first year I've signed up to participate. Started in 2007 by the folks at (Not So) Urban Hennery, the idea is simple: cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients, during the lean months of the year,and write about it on your blog. This year the challenge is being hosted by Not Dabbling In Normal and the post round ups are being split between the two blogs. It runs from the beginning of December until the end of March.

There are some basic guidelines to follow:

Local- Local is defined for this challenge as 150 mile radius. Now I'm not a stickler for rules in any case but this graphic that I stole from Joel and Dana at Well Preserved kinda demonstrates why that is a tad impractical and that's just a 100 mile radius! (If you are interested , they did a whole series of posts of how they define local for the Toronto area but be warned- there's geometry and other nerdy stuff going on here!)

For the purposes of this challenge I'm defining local as primarily Southwestern Ontario but in a pinch I'm okay with anywhere in Ontario (and for maple syrup only, I include Quebec- don't get me started on Ontario syrup).

Sustainable- this one's bit trickier to pin down. There's so much information (and misinformation) that it can be difficult to know what constitutes sustainable practises in food production. If I figure out why something is sustainable I'll post about about it in my recap.

Organic- I'm not a huge proponent of the organic labelling system so I tend to ignore it. The only time I pay attention is at the Sorauren market and only because I am speaking directly to the farmer/producers. I rarely buy organic unless it is reasonably priced or the only option.

Ethical- I'm going to assume this applies to meat, dairy and eggs and try to obtain these from sources I know to raise animals in an ethical manner.

Somethings I use frequently will not fall under any of the above: olive oil, sugar, sea salt and spices are the four most common but I will note any others as I use them.

I signed up for the challenge back in October and then promptly forgot about it, as I do frequently. So when I got my reminder email this week past week I was happy to see that I haven't missed any post deadlines. And I was even more delighted when I realized I inadvertently prepare a meal on Friday that fits the above criteria for the most part, so I didn't have to scramble to come up with anything before today (sometimes I am my own fairy godmother!) The only part I didn't manage to take care of was take any photos of the meal so a shot of the ingredients and some of previous meals will have to do for this round.

Back in Sept when local produce was cheap and plentiful we loaded up on potatoes and onions. I made a few batches of pierogies and froze them. The basic ingredients for them included local garlic, potatoes and onions, with goat cheddar from Monteforte in the filling, and Red Fife wheat flour, free range eggs and olive oil for the dough. On Friday I cooked a batch of them with local smoked bacon and more onions. The store where I purchased the bacon has an in-house butcher who cuts and prepares all of the meat they sell as well as sausages, bacon, and other charcuterie. I did not inquire where they source their meat however which I will try to ascertain on a future visit.

I also made beet roesti which I discovered during a different challenge last year. I grated local beets (the ones I still haven't gotten around to pickling) with the above flour, salt and chopped fresh rosemary from the plant that's overwintering inside for a fourth year. I fried these in store bought butter and served everything with homemade horseradish and sour cream produced by Western Creamery. Although I know little of where the milk is sourced, Western Creamy is family run creamery located in Brampton (about 30 minutes from Toronto) who use no additives, preservatives or stabilizers in their products. Once I connect with a recently discovered source for raw milk I hope to make my own butter and sour cream in place of the store bought.

All in all I think I did pretty well for my first attempt, especially since it was without any forethought or planning. It will be interesting to see if all the meals come together as easily!


  1. Too funny. I wrote a nearly identical post for next week on NDiN! I think we're "SOLE" sisters!

  2. Hi Xan, I assume everyone will have their own interpretation of SOLE and I imagined many will be a lot more stringent than mine - glad to hear you are on the same page. I'm looking forward to the Round Up!

  3. We are in the same area (I am northwest of the city - rural)
    I get my maple syrup from a guy one line over from me and yep, I'd like to know why you are riled up about Ontario maple syrup.

  4. Hi and welcome Elizabeth!
    I do have some strong opinions on maple syrup, it's true - in fact I think I will do a whole post on it after Christmas. Looking forward to reading more updates on your Dark Days Challenge!

  5. Your food philosophy is similar to mine! Organic just isn't a priority for me - local is!