A few years ago, around this time, I made a decision. You could probably call it a self-challenge. I committed to only eating and drinking at local food businesses. That is, if a business had locations outside of Los Angeles County (or perhaps Orange County) I decided not to eat there for a year. So I was determined to frequent only local coffee shops, coffee roasters, fast food, bars, and restaurants. I like giving myself challenges like this. Maybe some day I will talk about the year I gave up processed sugar and vis-a-vis decided I don’t like candy bars.
Of course I allowed a couple exceptions. For example, if a friend wanted to eat a birthday meal at a chain, I would go and happily celebrate. Or, if I were traveling through an airport without local options, I would buy whatever I needed. (And, let’s be honest, who isn’t relieved to see something familiar in midst of the stress of an airport?) By and large, I wanted to see what it took to eat local.
At this point I imagine you are asking yourself, “Why would she do this?” Honestly, when I made the decision I probably wouldn’t have been able to give you a thoughtful answer beyond “to see if I can.”
In retrospect, I was tired of not knowing what was around me. I was tired of the marketing ploys and the bland predictable flavor profiles. I was tired of knowing exactly what would be on a menu. I also had friends who were starting their own coffee roasting business (shout out to FreshGround Roasting!). Hearing how and why they were running their business, I became particularly aware of what it takes to follow your dreams. So, with my resolve set, I had one last meal from In-N-Out and embarked on a twelve-month journey of eating at businesses that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
I will admit that adhering to the guidelines of my challenge was incredibly difficult. The hardest part was giving up the habitual and convenient places, that happened to be chains, that had become part of my life because of what they were near. (Read: the ubiquitous Starbucks that is oh-so convenient for a quick coffee break at work) For many habitual places, I initially needed to lean on Yelp or Google to find something new. My least favorite part of this strategy? You have to rely on reviews from total strangers to tell you if food will actually taste good! Despite the difficulties, my year eating and drinking locally was really rewarding.
Fast forward to today. I am no longer under a local-only challenge, but the majority of my eating and drinking out is still local. I developed favorites in my city and county that cannot be found in other cities. The best part is that, in addition to eating from and therefore supporting local businesses, I have developed relationships with the owners. I know some of their stories and learned about their passion for food, sweet, or beverage.
Looking back, I discovered a few valuable things on my journey. First, there is incredible creativity emerging from the minds of chefs, cooks, roasters, and brewers. Second, eating locally is a chance to explore! I discerned different subtle flavors in my coffee and discovered who did the best latte art, served the freshest and most delectable pastry, or made the best pumpkin spice latte (see this former post!). Sometimes I would go to a restaurant with other local locations and would discover a specialized menu item designed for the city or neighborhood I was in! Lastly, eating locally leads to a new awareness of other local options. Several months into my journey I found myself seeking to drink more locally brewed beers, whether or not I was at their brewery. When I traveled, I asked friends to take me to their favorite local place. It was a challenging adventure, but it was a worthwhile and enjoyable one.
To celebrate both local food and the almost-here full abundance of citrus season, I have for you a recipe featuring the delicious lemons. A Southern California produce favorite, you cannot go wrong with the combination of lemony-tart goodness and slightly floral sweetness.
If you are reading from a location without access to Meyer Lemons, this recipe has been a great starting point for me. I typically use Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free (also cornfree) flour for the crust (both here and in the alternate recipe) and to thicken the custard. To top the beautiful bars, I use a sprinkle of turbinado sugar instead of the corn-containing powdered sugar.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp sea salt (for those new at gf/cf baking, regular salt has corn in it)
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- ½ cup butter, room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1⅓ cups sugar
- 1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained
- 1 tsp- 1 tbsp of flour
- Prepare by preheating the oven to 350F. Line 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or grease.
- First, make the crust. In a large bowl, mix together everything except the butter. Cut the butter into ½ inch pieces and add to flour mixture. Blend in with an electric mixer at low speed, or use a hand-held pastry blender until mixture forms coarse, sandy crumbs. Pour into pan and press mixture down (with your fingers or the back of a spoon) into an even layer. If you need to, you can refrigerate the crust for a while, but I haven’t found it necessary.
- Bake the crust for 16-19 minutes. When it is done, the edges will be lightly browned.
- Wait a few minutes before making the filling. You can mix all of the ingredients together using a whisk or other hand held mixer. My personal favorite for custards is an immersion blender.
- Pour the custard mixture into the crust as soon as the crust comes out of the oven.
- Bake the lemon bars for about 20-22 minutes. The edges of the filling will be just beginning to turn golden, and there will be a slight wiggle in the middle. This will set as the bars cool. Allow a couple hours for the bars to cool. If they have not set to your preference, refrigerate for an hour to two.
- Makes 20 bars about 1.5”x1.5”