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Serving Lawrence's bounty
At the beginning of "Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally," an impromptu dinner party in the Alaskan wilderness prompts the authors to take on the 100-mile diet challenge for one year. It was a dinner party - as authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon soon found out - that helped spark a nationwide trend of eating only foods grown or raised nearby.Since embarking on my own 100-mile diet and reading the book, I had images of a similarly warm, festive gathering of friends and local fare. A dinner party - just two days before the self-imposed, eat-local sentence lifted - would be my crowning achievement.Of course I was a tad apprehensive. Over the past month, I had some spectacular cooking failures. There was the cardboard-tasting pasta and stomach-turning cheese popcorn. Regardless, I e-mailed invitations, promising at the very least whole-wheat bread smothered in butter and honey (something I had grown quite attached to in the past several weeks).On the day of the big meal, apprehension deepened to panic when I realized the main course, pork chops simmered in homemade applesauce, was going to be a no-show. Neither The Community Mercantile nor Local Burger (two of my meat-providing constants) sold pork chops from within a 100 miles.Plan B was a roasted chicken. Plan B also required me to dash home from work so said roasted chicken would be quite toasty by the time my guests arrived at 7:30 p.m.So there I was 10 minutes before game time with the chicken just out of the oven. I still had potatoes to mash, squash to chop, eggplant to puree and peaches to peel.It's at this point that I cursed my thoughts of warm, fuzzy dinner parties and blessed my friends who seem quite comfortable nibbling on appetizers, carving the chicken and washing dishes. I never promised them a free meal.Thirty minutes later, the overworked guests were gathered around the living room as I proudly rattled off the origins of the food on their overflowing plates. The eggplant in the baba ghanoush was from Kevin Irick's stand at the Lawrence Farmers' Market. The bread was bought fresh that afternoon from Wheatfields Bakery. The milk in the mashed potatoes was poured from glass bottles provided by Iwig Family Dairy in Tecumseh, and the potatoes themselves came from Hoyland Farm. The Lawrence organic farm also had grown the summer squash (now sauteed) and the gazpacho's mixture of tomatoes and cucumber. The chicken came from Cedar Valley Farms, 53 miles away and owned by the Bauman family. And, the chicken's honey glaze was from Anthony's Beehive just outside of Lawrence. For the finale, there was a warm, bubbling peach cobbler. The peaches were acquired from Mike Garrett's fruit and vegetable stand across the road from the Lawrence Airport. The fruit had been trucked in from St. Joe. The whole-wheat flour was from Lee Quaintance's farm just south of Edgerton.Of course some cheating did occur in the name of culinary correctness. Olive oil was used, as were sesame seed paste and red wine vinegar.However, the meal remained a testament to Lawrence's bounty of local foods. And it showcased my expanding knowledge of where to find them. I could put a face and a name to most of the main ingredients. At the very least, I knew how far each of the items had traveled. The dinner - and its leftovers - proved a growing hunch. While eating local takes far more time and planning and the costs are slightly higher, its toils are well worth it. I won't go so far as to claim that I am now one with my food, but I am one or two steps away from where it is grown. That's far closer than a month ago.That's not to say that far-away foods don't have a place in my cabinets or stomach. In fact, two days later, when the diet expired, I woke up, went straight to La Prima Tazza and ordered a large mocha. Whipped cream and all.