Dark Days Week 8 Part I: Bratwurst Pizza

Dark Days Week 8 Part I: Bratwurst Pizza

Up until this week, I have firmly taken for granted that good local food is accessible everywhere, as long as you know where to look for it. It may take a trip to a specialty retailer, a few phone calls or a visit to a farmers’ market, but in the end everyone is able to find something local to eat. Right? Why is that at all naïve? Someone should have let me know I live in a dream world!

This past weekend I learned a difficult Dark Days Challenge lesson. Leave it to my big sister to clunk me on the head and say “duh. not everyone gets to live like you do.” That’s what big sisters are for after all. The kitchen partner and I were in our hometown in North-Central Wisconsin this weekend for some much-needed car repairs. While he was in the garage with my dad, I decided to cook my Dark Days Challenge meal for Saturday lunch, using local ingredients from their area. My sister, who lives near my parents was headed into town to do her weekly grocery shopping anyway, so I decided to tag along for some ingredients. She would whip up something from whatever we could find and I would blog about it for the upcoming challenge meal.

Let’s pause for a moment for a bit of education about where the kitchen partner and I grew up. It’s a small town of about 8,000 people 3 hours straight East of St. Paul.  20% of the residents are over 65 and over 90% are White. The median income is about $35,000 and around 20% of the population lives below the poverty level. There are two main places to grocery shop in town (a large chain supermarket store owned by the Roundy’s corporation and a Super Wal-Mart), a few smaller family owned grocers, several convenience stores, and one natural foods store. The nearest co-op grocery store is more than 60 miles away. There is a small summer-only farmers market under 5 years old that is just starting to gain some steam. It’s a few weekly produce vendors and some crafts, but a promising start in the agriculture-based community. So when my sister and I set out on our “buy local” shopping adventure, I’m not sure why my findings caught me so off-guard. With that many choices, all in an ag-based community, it should’ve been the easiest meal ever!

Grocery Store Aisles

I literally wandered around the supermarket aisles for an hour to find just over a dozen Wisconsin-made items. No grass-fed milk or local eggs. No local meats. Produce was for the most part USA-grown, but none from regional farmers. On the shelf at the St. Paul grocery stores I shop at (including the Roundy’s-owned stores!), I am at least able to find one or two food options in each of these departments. I was floored. disappointed. angry. confused. concerned. and hungry. Dark Days lunch was looking grim.

Big Bay Pale Ale

Death's Door Whiskey

But we did manage to find a few locally-made products. Mostly in the liquor and cheese aisles. Way to stay true to form Wisconsin. We wouldn’t be the home of Miller Park and Cheeseheads without good local beer and cheese.  My sister grabbed a pale ale for a chili she was making later in the week, and I was excited to put a bottle of Death’s Door White Whiskey from Madison, WI in my cart. We spotted cheeses from the Sartori plant in town and from Crave Brothers in Waterloo, WI as well. I may be Wisconsin-born but beer, whiskey, and cheese was NOT going to cut it.

We left the supermarket and stopped next at the small health food store.  A few more local options, but a drastic change in price and quality. In a community with income challenges, paying $24.99 a pound for local meat is not going to happen. I don’t think it even happens here in the Twin Cities. And it should happen only if the products were of highest quality and freshness.  Two things I couldn’t guarantee from the store’s inventory that day.  I was floored. disappointed. angry. confused. and concerned all over again.  and still really hungry.

Kim in the Kitchen

At this point, I was dodging my sister’s “see…I told you so” looks and feeling pretty shameful about only bringing home a bottle of booze for lunch. Thankfully, when we pulled into my parents’ driveway I could already smell my mom coming to the rescue in the kitchen. She has tried to shop locally since I started the diet and already knew the limited ingredients I would find in town. She was grilling some bratwurst made by our local butcher and had thawed some of their homemade sauerkraut for lunch. Determined to make this local meal happen, I watched and photographed as my sister topped a flax-seed pizza crust from the bakery in town with a made-from-scratch parmesan white sauce. She sprinkled on the sliced grilled bratwurst and topped it with sauerkraut and more cheese. Not at all what I had in mind, but amazing none the less.

Cream Sauce

Tomorrow in part II of Dark Days Week 8, I will have more about our shopping trip including additional photos and some thoughts about accessing local food in rural communities. It’s the part where I processed all of that disappointed. angry. confused stuff.  But for now, enjoy a slice of homemade pizza and hug your big sister if you have one.  They sure make the Dark Days a little brighter.

Bratwurst Pizza

Made by my big sister Kim 

Ingredients

1 pre-baked pizza crust (or make your own using this recipe)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 C. milk
1/2 C. grated parmesan cheese
1 C. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 fully cooked bratwurst, sliced into 1/4″ rings
2 C. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
more cheese for topping

Instructions
1. Make the pizza crust according to the instructions. While crust is pre-baking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add in flour and continue stirring until golden and bubbly. Slowly add in milk and whisk constantly until sauce begins to thicken (about 5 minutes). Stir in parmesan until melted.

2. Pour white sauce over baked pizza crust. Top with bratwurst in an even layer. Sprinkle on sauerkraut and remaining cheese. Bake for 10-13 minutes until cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve warm.

13 Comments

  1. Good thing you have such a great big sister next time in town you could try kens 45 for your meat maybe that’s where will and I get ours from miss you!




  2. Came to visit via Not Dabbling… Great post. It’s something very important to think about.

    1. Author

      Thanks for stopping by Deb! It’s so nice to hear from the Dark Days Challenge readers!

  3. Thank you for the slap upside the head! I think we should all be challenged to address this issue in our upcoming posts. Good work! Also, pizza dough freezes and thaws really easily … we often have leftovers-pizza to clean out the fridge, or when we’re in a rush.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your comments Grace. I’ve had so much fun reading all the Dark Days Challenge posts and am so inspired with the work everyone’s doing in their communities. I’d love to hear if anyone else has these same challenges outside of metro areas. And thanks for the tip about pizza dough. The kitchen partner and I would have it more often if it was more accessible!

  4. I admire you for putting forth the effort despite the circumstances. I guess that’s why they call it a Challenge! I have lived in places where chain groceries and Super Walmart are the only places to buy food. I’m fortunate that I now live in the DC area where CSAs, farmers’ markets and local dairies are very common. But it’s still more expensive (purely in terms of dollar cost per product, not considering health, benefits to small business, fuel etc). Sadly our culture has shifted away from locally produced food in favor of what’s inexpensive, as you well know. I think continuing to support the local butchers, bakeries, etc. is a good step toward making a bigger change.

    1. Author

      You are so right!! I struggle sometimes when I have to justify to my friends and family how much more my grocery and eating out budget is. I could easily take advantage of the supermarket 10 for $10 sale on boxed pasta dinners and save hundreds on my groceries each month. I could buy chicken for $0.99 per pound and certainly feed the kitchen partner and I for much cheaper. But in the end I feel like I have a moral obligation to NOT take the cheaper/easier way out.

      I agree that supporting our local businesses (even when it costs a bit more) is a HUGE step towards bigger change.




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