I always say the best thing that came out of moving to a small town is it taught me how to cook. The second best thing is it taught me how to be resourceful, especially when it comes to getting ingredients I want but can’t find at our local Kroger.
I thought of this last week when the UPS man rang my doorbell. Though we’ve never done more than wave to each other as he runs back to his truck, the UPS man is one of my favorite people, always dropping off anxiously-awaited packages like treasure. On this day, he dropped off a big box with a sticker that screamed PERISHABLE on the front step. I opened the door immediately and took the box in. Inside was a carefully wrapped 16-pound turkey, the heart of the Canadian Thanksgiving meal that I hosted Saturday. Finding a frozen turkey, never mind an heirloom one, anywhere in October is actually much harder than you might think. Grocery stores don’t start carrying them until November and local, heirloom turkeys are hard to find at any time of the year.
But over the years, I’ve been bothered less and less by ingredients that I can’t find, in large part because there are so many websites selling what you need. If you’re in a similar boat, I thought I’d put together a list of go-to websites I use to source some delicious food.
I found the turkey — which turned out beautifully and made some intense broth the next day — at www.localharvest.org. This is a great website that helps you find what you need in places near you. You plug in your zip code and what you need, whether it’s fruit and veggies, meat, seeds, honey, eggs or herbs, and the website will show you farms nearby that are producing anything from grass-fed beef to chocolate truffles.
For example, the turkey I got was from a farm in Georgetown — not exactly next door, but not exactly in Pennsylvania either. Localharvest also provides the website of the actual farm so within minutes I was drafting an email to the farmer asking if she could slaughter a turkey in time for Oct. 13. An hour later, I had my answer. She even figured out the shipping cost to see if it would be more economical for me to have it shipped or pick it up myself. Turns out, with gas prices so high, overnight shipping was cheaper.
When it comes to fish, I have to admit I’m picky. I see the farm-raised salmon in the blue Styrofoam plates sitting in the freezer at the grocery, but it doesn’t mean I want it. So one day I looked online and discovered a number of small purveyors in Alaska that ship to you directly.
I use Two Sisters Alaska Seafood (www.northwest-seafood.com) and have never been disappointed. On one occasion, I ordered one pound of Alaskan King crab legs and received, yes, one giant leg, so long it couldn’t fit into my narrow freezer. Now that’s what I call authentic.
Two Sisters sells scallops, shrimp, black cod, usually three different kinds of salmon — king, sockeye, coho — along with the best halibut I have ever had anywhere. If you order eight pounds of the stuff at the same time, they give you overnight shipping for free and, since the fish is all vacuum-sealed in one-pound increments, it freezes beautifully.
I always like to serve cheese at the end of dinner parties, the stinkier the better. For this, I usually turn to iGourmet.com, although a lot of websites are getting into this these days so if there is a particular cheese you want I bet you can find it online. Like the others, iGourmet.com mostly ships overnight, though it’s generally not free, which is a little annoying but still cheaper than a trip to Lexington or Danville (side note: I do have to say V-The Market in Danville has some great wine and cheese and is worth the drive).
Blackberry Farm in Tennessee (www.blackberryfarm.com) also has a great website and is selling more and more of its home-grown products. Their pimiento cheese is absolutely out of this world, the peanut butter is salty and perfect, and the blackberry jam, naturally, is delicious. It’s expensive but worth checking out.
Finally, for my Vegemite-loving husband and stepdaughter, I turn to Simply Australian (www.simplyoz.com), which sells big jars of the salty stuff. You have to buy six of them to make it worth it, but it’s cheaper than buying them individually and they’re based in Cincinnati so even ground shipping is quick.
Anyway, hope these little tips are helpful to you and that I don’t sound ridiculous for being so particular. But the better the ingredients, the better the meal.