Chicken Noodle Soup

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We’ve issued challenges to our “green” families and asked them to share their experiences. Challenge #3: A Green Valentine’s Day? Vote online for the family that got the most creative with this task!

With our buttery climate and enthusiastic siphoning of water for farming, you’d think it would be a piece of cake to rustle up the ingredients that are made, grown, and raised within a 100-mile radius of San Diego for my world-famous chicken noodle soup. I seized the opportunity to prance over to our Sunday Farmer’s Market, grocery bags in hand, to “hunt and gather” for our Green Valentine’s Day feast (albeit a few days early, due to the Challenge #3 deadline). My chicken soup will be good for the soul and the heart!

Our Farmer’s Market is awesome, and I have seen a fresh chicken vendor (the chickens are fresh, not the vendor) there that has a farm in nearby Ramona. Unfortunately, he chose to take Super Bowl Sunday off from the Market, so I asked around for LOCAL alternatives and was told that Whole Foods would be the next best place. So I shopped for my veggies (carrots and onions) that were grown within 100 miles of San Diego and figured I’d have to bite it, so to speak, on the celery and get it at a grocery store.

How fortuitous that the Sage Mountain Farm booth had my carrots AND freshly picked celery! Wow. It took the farmer, Phil, seven years to figure out how to grow it here. He has been trying for a summer harvest, but as it turns out, when he plants it in the fall and picks it in the winter, it works! It is “Utah celery” and hasn’t been lying under misters in the grocery store listening to fake rainstorms for days on end–it is fresh from his farm! I was so ecstatic about the celery that I picked up a bunch of carrots from him, too (on the small side, to be honest, but LOCAL dirt still on them!) and spent $4 of my crock-pot budget.

I found another vendor at the market who sells pasta and beans and such. She had multi-grain, multi-colored pasta from Italy, and I figured BUYING local might offset the international origins of my noodles. Spent $4 on the authentic, colorful Italian pasta.

For an appetizer, I found locally made pita chips by a company that also makes varieties of hummus (Babafoods in Chula Vista), so I picked up a spicy bean hummus and lemon pepper pita chips for $9. Still within my budget, but the fresh organic chicken was hanging over me and my pocket book like a hungry raptor, so I figured I’d better head over to Whole Foods.

The meat counter was bustling, but I got a fellow to help me. “Do you have chickens raised within 100 miles of here?” (He stifles a chuckle, I think.) “No, but our chickens are organically grown, with specific space criteria, no hormones, and ‘air chilled.'” “Where are they RAISED?” (I cringe at the word “grown” for creatures that can scream when we smite them.) “In Northern California. We don’t use farmers around here, but these chickens are 100-percent organic.” I was reeling with this new information, as I was determined to stick with ingredients in a 100-mile radius, and I’ve come so far with my epicurean delights. Should I fold now or jump back in the car and blow through a quarter tank of gas to make my point? He reassured me that the chickens lead “happy” lives, have plenty of space, and then regales me with the benefits of “air chilling” (with air, you don’t get the chlorine and chemicals that you’d get from chilling them with water). As I mull this over, I look at the now-bald chickens that have given up their lives, pecking order, avian dreams, etc. so I can prepare a “local green” dinner for my (at this point not-so-funny) Valentine. Their bumpy pale skin glares at me: Look, we lived our lives out in Northern California as “happy chickens,” so you can enjoy us for a meal or two.

I say, “OK, I’ll take a small one, so it’ll fit in the crock pot.” He unceremoniously plopped it on the scale, and before I could say, “What’s all that stuff inside it?” he had it wrapped up in brown paper. “It’s the innards,” he said. I blanch at the thought of reaching into it Monday morning to pull out its organs. Wincing–there’s a line behind me now–I ask if he can take them out and package them up separately, so if I get the moxie, I can fry them up for Cashew, my dog. With nary a roll of his eyes he unwrapped the bird to withdraw the guts. “Give them to your dog raw, it’s better that way.” Yeah, if you don’t mind me passed out on the kitchen floor, I murmur to myself. At this point I realize I really have no business eating meat of any kind if I can’t stand seeing any inkling of it alive. I am briefly ashamed of myself until he hands me the package and it is $15.64 for a 4.4-pound bird. My now-funny Valentine better like my soup!

Getting my ducks in a row for the chicken noodle soup includes chicken broth, which I had on hand. Strangely, I had three varieties, and I thought the “organic” version would be appropriate. But looking at the label, I saw it comes from CANADA! That would totally blow my mileage on this (I’m pushin’ it with a Northern California chicken!) so I’m going to take a gamble and rely on the “organic, air-chilled” chicken to release enough broth to make this delicious. And the Utah celery. And a few prayers to Julia Child and Al Gore.

Stay tuned for how my organic, largely locally grown meal turns out! Will it be worth $36?

Karyl Carmignani
Read Karyl’s previous post, Toasty House, Hasty Shower, Part II