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A Bowl Of Local Wisdom: The Cleaner Plate Club

Originally posted on the Basic Country Skills blog at Mother Earth News.

By Beth Bader, co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing.

When my little girl and I head to the farmers market, we leave the house with an empty market basket and open minds. Of course, she already has her list in her head — cheese bread from the local baker, honey sticks from Joli’s bees, and fresh sheep’s milk cheese with rosemary. It’s a great list for a six year old, really.

As for this bigger kid, I’ve finally learned not to make a list mental or otherwise. What ends up on the dinner table on Saturday night just … happens. Almost always, it’s one ingredient that catches my eye. One flavor that makes my imagination work, and the recipe comes to me in that moment.

One of the first farmers we visit at the market is a Thai family. Over the years, they have added new ingredients to our menus weekly; small green Thai eggplants, water spinach, fiery peppers, amaranth leaves, and some kind of greens that have no name in English and taste heavenly sautéed and paired with fish. Their table is a weekly source of inspiration for me, and this week is no exception, offering up lemongrass and cilantro.

Across the way is one of my regular stops, heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors beckon next. The farmer knows me well due to my pumpkin addiction. Come fall, I’ll buy over 100 lbs. of his exotic squash. He nods at my kiddo and puts in an extra pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes just for her along with my four ears of corn and three pounds of heirloom tomatoes.

Two more stops, one for a head of red Russian garlic. I promise the farmer there that if he would just bring in the scapes in spring, I would buy these. For now, he’s been giving them away to restaurants, not realizing consumers would buy them. The last stop is the farmer on the end who only comes to market in August with fifty different varieties of peppers. I get a basket of the sweet ones that include chocolate-colored peppadews. He hands a curly, red sweet one to my kiddo and puts in a couple of extra hot pepper varieties for me.

Along with the ingredients for my recipe, somehow my basket is overflowing with a tiny heirloom melon that smells heavenly, a larger watermelon, peaches, berries, and beans to shell later.

On the way home, the kid and I stop at the grocery store. We won’t even need a hand basket. We’re here for just limes, ginger root and fish sauce, and a pound of sustainable seafood — a few things that cannot be sourced locally. The final ingredients come from home; okra from a friend’s garden and three kinds of basil, lemon verbena and mint from my own.

As I serve dinner that evening, a tangy, tart and spicy Lemongrass and Tomato Fish Soup, I realize our meal is a reflection of all my Eat Local food values in single bowl:

  1. Buy as much locally, in season as possible from small, family farms.
  2. Grow what I can myself.
  3. Cherish bounty from friends’ gardens.
  4. Buy only ingredients that cannot be grown locally at the store, buy USA products first before sourcing from other countries.
  5. Buy organic when possible.
  6. Embrace the cultural diversity of the farms in my food shed.
  7. Support farmers who grow heirloom and rare varieties.
  8. Buy only sustainable seafood.


Smash a bit with a mortar and pestle:

2 cloves garlic

4 stalks lemongrass

½ bunch cilantro

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into three pieces

Add to:

8 cups vegetable stock.

And simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids and return liquid to the pot.

Mix in a small bowl:

1 tbs. fish sauce

1 tbs. soy sauce

1 tbs. sugar

3 tbs. white wine vinegar

Juice of three limes


1 lb. sustainable white fish, cut into four portions.

Add to the infused vegetable stock. Bring back to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes until the seafood is cooked.


4 large tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped into small wedges

Kernels from 4 ears of corn

4 okra sliced

Add to the soup, simmering for another 10 minutes. Place one piece of fish in each bowl, add soup and vegetables.

Garnish with:

Leaves of basil, mint, cilantro, lemon verbena, sliced hot peppers, and wedges of lime. Serves four.

Beth Bader, co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club , has been a photojournalist, writer, and shark wrangler. As much activist as cook, she is most of all a mom determined to make the world a better place for her child, one meal at a time. She is a food blogger at Expatriate’s Kitchen and contributes to and . She lives in Kansas.

For HOMEGROWNers this week: Leave a comment here on the blog telling us how you cook using similar tenets to what Beth lists in her post:

  1. Buy as much locally, in season as possible from small, family farms.
  2. Grow what I can myself.
  3. Cherish bounty from friends’ gardens.
  4. Buy only ingredients that cannot be grown locally at the store, buy USA products first before sourcing from other countries.
  5. Buy organic when possible.
  6. Embrace the cultural diversity of the farms in my food shed.
  7. Support farmers who grow heirloom and rare varieties.
  8. Buy only sustainable seafood.

Definite bonus points for including a recipe or link to one of your recipes, which we’ll also consider for the last week of The Great HOMEGROWN Cookoff of 2011. One lucky person will get a copy of The Cleaner Plate Club book, too! Happy cooking and happy eating!

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8 Responses to “A Bowl Of Local Wisdom: The Cleaner Plate Club”

  1. michelle davis Says:

    I’m not there yet…but that is our plans for the future…we are days away from ownership of a house on an acre. And we going to plan everything around what we grow in our garden and we plan to have chickens in the spring too. We are very excited. I plan to buy all organic, heirloom vegetable seeds for the garden as well. We try to buy local produce whenever available. tomorrow we are going to go pick summer apples and italian plums. Today we are going out to pick some blackberries that are growing wild.

  2. Lots of folks are heading in this direction…which is a very GOOD thing! The book looks great! Thank you.

  3. There is a particular farm stand that I love to go to, since they are always introducing me to new and uncommon things. Last time I went, they had an amazing array of peppers, eggplants, greens, okra and beans. That day we bought a rainbow of things we had never seen before. Purple peppers, red amaranth, serrano chilies and tiny fiery red chilies (not uncommon, but the first time I bought them), purple green beans, and red okra (so beautiful) were just a few of the things that graced my kitchen that week.

    I used the serranos in my favorite salsa. My friend ended up eating the whole batch for lunch! I was inspired to lacto-ferment the red okra, since it was such a special color, I wanted it to hang around a while. Days later the color leached and turned the brine an amazing maroon color! I had added sliced red chili peppers to the okra ferment, and the combo tasted amazing. I added the sauteed red amaranth leaves to quesadilla with corn and black beans and roasted poblanos, jalapenos and garlic from my own garden for a fabulous dinner. My kids laugh at my love of unusual produce. Colorful food makes me happy. A Facebook friend and I decided to have a “pepper beauty contest,” since we both posted pictures of our prized pepper bounty! It’s so nice to find people as obsessed with uncommon farmer’s market items as I am.
    In addition, I found a great place to buy organic Holy Basil (tulsi) seed. I grew that for the first time this year and enjoyed my first home-grown tulsi tea last night. I am hoping that Hurricane Irene didn’t knock all the plants’ seeds off yet. I was hoping to save them for next year.

  4. 1. I buy from farmer’s markets, and Whole Foods as much as possible. The rest I order from Azure Standard.
    2. This is my 2nd year gardening & I’m growing lots of herbs, cherry tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, peppers and onions.
    3. My lovely neighbour gave me a sack of her potatoes and beets that she’s grown. I exchange it for Kombucha that I make and Kefir.
    4. see #1
    5. see #1
    6. My CSA last year introduced me to a whole bunch of new produce.
    7. I bought a CSA last year and this year buy as much heirloom’s as I can.
    8. I buy my seafood from Azure Standard and Whole Foods.

    Fingers crossed I get the book ;o)

  5. You asked for a recipe to share and this is one I love to make this time of year when jam’s are everywhere at the farmer’s markets. It’s soo easy and delicious!

  6. 1. Buy as much locally, in season as possible from small, family farms. We get almost all of our produce, dairy and meat from either our farmer’s market or CSA.
    2. Grow what I can myself. We live in the city and have a few tomato plants in pots, but that’s about it, unfortunately. But we have such great, local, organic produce available to use from our farmer’s market and CSA that we really don’t feel like we’re missing out.
    3. Cherish bounty from friends’ gardens. Toby’s parents have an amazing garden and are kind enough to share their copious cukes, zukes, and ‘maters with us (among other goodies).
    4. Buy only ingredients that cannot be grown locally at the store, buy USA products first before sourcing from other countries. We do still go to the local grocery store for certain things we can’t get from the CSA or farmer’s market – citrus, cereal for the kids, certain spices. And there are some conveniences I haven’t let go of yet (canned beans being the big one). But we do minimize what we get from the store, and we’re much happier for it. We put up (canning and freezing) a TON of food during the summer, so that during the winter we don’t have to buy canned and frozen vegetables from the store.
    5. Buy organic when possible. Our CSA is organic, and most of what we buy at the farmer’s market is organic (although not necessarily certified as such).
    6. Embrace the cultural diversity of the farms in my food shed. I can’t really complain because we LOVE our farmer’s market, but there’s not much in the way of cultural diversity there. That said, we do have a lovely collection of cookbooks from around the world which we cook from often.
    7. Support farmers who grow heirloom and rare varieties. Our CSA and farmer’s market have tons of heirloom varieties, and we’re always quick to snap them up.
    8. Buy only sustainable seafood. This isn’t something we’ve really focused on, largely because we only cook seafood at home on occasion, so it’s just not at the forefront of our minds.
    We recently made an amazing venison should roast which incorporated most of these concepts. All of the fresh ingredients came from either our CSA or farmer’s market, except for the venison, which came from Toby’s parent’s woods.

  7. I practice everything Beth lists except growing my own is #1 and I do not do #8 (I don’t think) because I so rarely buy seafood that I’m not sure what sustainable seafood is. 🙂
    Here is a link to our family’s staple summer dish:
    And another for the best pizza going:
    Both of these recipes are kid tested on the pickiest eaters.
    Would love to be entered to win a copy of this book.

  8. 1) We get as much local produce in season as we can from area Farmer’s Markets (as well as local raw honey). We also eat meat and get grassfed, pastured, organic meats and eggs from a local online food co-op as well as local maple syrup and cheeses. The food co-op has vendors offering produce, so we will see how the late fall and winter go for that. We get raw goat milk from another family farm, and pastured, organic chickens from another farm.

    2) We have 96 sq.ft. in raised beds plus grow along two sides of the house. I buy and grow organic and heirloom varieties. We replanted two failed blueberry and 2 failed raspberry bushes this year and hope to add some apples, asparagus, onion, potato and other crops to come. I would love chickens, but not my husband (he says if we move to the country he wouldn’t have a problem with it).

    3) I am the friend with the garden (which did poorly this year so I’ve only done sharing of a tomato plant and some Dragon carrots with one neighbor).

    4) We do try to source USA first for produce we can’t get in our West Michigan area.

    5) Organic and local, then local either, then non-organic and not local. It requires careful budgeting, flexibility with what’s available, and varied tastes -we love all sorts of ethnic foods.

    6) We buy from lots of different farms and love to try new things.

    7) How can you resist gorgeous heirlooms lol.

    8) This one is mostly mine to work on since the rest of the family aren’t in love with seafood like I am. Most of the family will eat Wild Caught Sock-Eye Salmon. I always buy wild caught if it’s on sale, but have to check up on shrimp-is farmed sustainable? I also love sushi but don’t get it often ($) and that’s probably where the biggest challenge would be.

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