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                                               With apologies to Titian.

Last night, I dreamed about apples — tart, juicy Granny Smiths; shiny Macintoshes; Golden Delicious with the mellow taste of autumn beneath their skins. I dreamed of glistening chunks of apple piled on a plate, just waiting to be speared with my fork. They looked delicious. And then…and then…

I woke up. It was Day 6 of the 2008 Eat Local Challenge, and if there are apples grown within my 200-mile range northward from the Gulf coastline, I haven’t found them. Nor bananas. Nor rice. What I HAVE found in generous abundance are sweet potatoes. I got out of bed and had a plump, baked sweet potato for breakfast.

As a longtime vegetarian with a big organic garden, I didn’t realize how dramatically my diet would change with the onset of the October challenge month. Before last week, the major part of my daily food intake consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and soy. I occasionally ate bread, and my moderate dairy consumption came mostly in the form of homemade yogurt and cheese. I drank lots of juices.

Now, under the 200-mile rule, most of those fruits and vegetables are off limits. It’s planting time in our subtropical gardening zone, so all our winter greens and cole crops are mere seedlings this month. Kale, bless its fast-growing heart, will be ready to start eating next week. But the rest — four types of lettuces, three types of cabbage, the broccoli, cauliflower, collards, field peas and butternut squash — are weeks and weeks away from harvest. So, I’m eating LOTS of whole-grain bread and LOTS of our homemade dairy, which has been an unpleasant surprise to my fruit-and-veggie-based digestive tract.

Suddenly, shopping for vegetables has taken on a treasure hunt aspect. My Saturday trek to the weekly grower’s market was disappointing (plenty of candles, flowers, handmade soaps and honey, few edibles) until we spotted a table selling eggpant. Yay! And a pint jar of blueberry preserves from a neighboring county. Yesssss! I found some leathery-looking Alabama green beans in a neighborhood market this weekend, and — hallelujah! — some fresh squash from a grower in Lucedale, Mississippi (50 miles from home). I discovered on Saturday night that tiny red potatoes, roasted in the oven, taste even better when they’re seasoned with thankfulness that the soil they were pulled from lies only a little way down US Highway 98. Like pieces in a culinary jigsaw puzzle, we fit together a half-dozen zucchini here and a handful of green tomatoes there, as we find them. I’m learning that practically every item in the average grocery store —  roughly 50,000 different items — has been hauled here from somewhere far away. I’m learning to be flexible. I’m learning a deep appreciation for simple meals.

But man, oh, man. An apple sure would taste good.