Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Break

The family and I are off to Boston tomorrow. I hope to indulge in as much local food there as possible (as well as partake in that sacred of customs, Chinatown on Christmas). I may or may not blog between now and January 2, 2008. Happy Holidays to all. Eat Local. Eat Well.

For those in need of something to read look at my meager blogroll. There's always activity on and this may be the greatest blog ever!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Between Nose and Tail Eating

The Neck

Fergus Henderson, through his books and TV appeaarances has (at least) raised the foodie awareness towards odder parts of the animal. He extols not only the liver (usually salted) or the marrow bone (now famous). He pleads for you to try the parts at the extremes, say frying up an ear and including it in a salad. In this spirit, there is the neck.

Our organic, local lamb from Wettstein's farm had a neck. It gamely lowered its jaws to the ground so he (or she) could nibble and nosh in his (or her) short but happy life. It is a cut less used in American cooking. Joy speaks silent of its joys. Yet, there is was. Taking up a great use of our upstairs freezer. It became the centerpiece of our Shabbat meal.

There really is no way of cooking a neck beyond braising. That said, there is, I imagine after one neck preparation, no hard way to ruin a neck. A pan, some flavored liquid, some aromatics and time, time, time. It is a hunk of product, mostly bone and fat--and long solid bone. We had expected we could cut the neck into something approaching osso buco style steaks, but that bone is long and big. You need a band saw. Our neck bubbled away for about 3 hours with stock and assorted middle eastern style spices like cumin. Local red potatoes and not local green olives went in twenty minutes before the finish. Local (frozen) peas and local parsley went in at the final five minutes. It took a certain amount of poking and digging to get morsels of meat to feed the crowd. For that you get very rich, to some a bit too fatty, rich, soft, lamb meat.

If you do not have a lamb neck in your freezer, I do see them at Middle Eastern butchers like Sahar, 4829 N. Kedzie, Chicago.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Farmer's Markets

Don't Fret

Tomorrow is the last day of the Green City Farmer's Market for several months. Eat localers might think themselves stuck with their inventory on hand. Fret not, there are some markets open in the coming months. For the most part, I cannot vouch for these markets, or more importantly, tell you what will be there this winter. Still, it's a start. I DO hope to visit many of these--if anyone has any intel on these markets please pass them forward.

I've included a couple of Wisconsin markets. I'll post about options in Michigan and Indiana in another entry.

[Unless other indicated, the quoted material comes from the Illinois Department of Agriculture's web site, which has excellent eat local materials.]

Churchs' Center For Land & People

Via Bill Daley at the Trib's blog, I learned of this organization and the series of winter farmer's markets and market/brunch's being held in the Chicago area. Here's the schedule.

Twin City Farmers Market
"Indoor market. Historic building. Meat, permanent freezers of beef, pork, pastured chicken and pastured bison. Fresh eggs. Seasonal produce(much of it grown organically), baked goods, some locally made products (soaps, candles, baskets, rugs, woodwork, metalcraft, etc.)and gift baskets. 106 AVENUE A, STERLING, IL 61081
Heritage Farmer's Market
Located on Route 9 East of Pekin; 18837 STATE ROUTE 9 PEKIN, IL 61554

Geneva Winter Market
The Winter Market in Geneva, IL starts Thursday, November 1st and will run every Thursday (except Thanksgiving Day, and between Christmas and New Years) through the middle of May. You'll enjoy shopping for the finest local produce, cheese, meats, eggs, cheese, nuts and honey; as well as baked goods, and more! Farmers and Vendors who will be there are: Curds & Whey Cheese Company, Pine Row Farms, Unicorn Farms, Grandma's Eggs, Schramer's Meats, and Inglenook Pantry! Location: Winter Market at Inglenook Pantry 11 N 5th St, Geneva, IL 60134
Dane County Farmer's Market
One of the premier farmer's markets in the USA. So great that is makes me depressed--I can never fully hit all the stands, by the time I have shopped a part of the market, put some stuff away, taken a coffee break, the other part is packing up for the day! The market meets once a week during the winter at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace. Here's what the Market web site sez about the winter fare:
Wondering what you can find at the DCFM Winter Market? Here's a listing to help guide you.

Apples; Cider; Jams, jellies, and preserves; Pears; Pear and apple butters; Raspberry products

Stored Vegetables
Carrots, Garlic, Potatoes, Shallots, Turnips

Fresh Vegetables
Chard, Greens, Kale, Lettuce, Micro-greens, Radish, Spinach, Tomatoes

Beef, Bison, Brats and sausage, Chicken, Conventional and special cuts, Emu, Ground beef, Highland beef, Jerky, Ostrich, Pork, Roasts, Turkey, Steaks

Bison products, Emu products, House plants, Orchids, Ostrich products, Potted flowers

Flavored cheeses, Goat cheese, World-class aged cheeses, Fresh cheese curds

Baked Goods
Flat breads, Biscotti, Cheesecake, Pastries, Cinnamon rolls, Sweet breads, Torts, Cookies, Muffins, Panettone, Sourdough bread

Specialty Items
Mushrooms, Maple syrup, Wool products, Candles, Honey, Pesto, Vinaigrettes, Eggs, Hot sauces, Flavored sea salt, Goat milk soap, Salsa, Yarn, Sheepskins, Hides and leather, Soups, Pasta sauce, Fresh-ground whole wheat flour, Herbal vinegar

Milwaukee Public Market
The sheen has faded slightly from this market, with the closing of some of the food stalls. It does not help that last year I got a chance to visit the even cooler Detroit and Cleveland Markets (to be discussed in a forthcoming post). Still, last year, the Milwaukee market sold a bit of local produce all winter, including some much need garlic. This is a stellar source for Wisconsin cheeses, and the C. Adams bake shop is worth the visit alone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Inventory

On Hand

I vacillate over whether we are prepared for the winter. I think we have enough until we make a big meal (like Thanksgiving), and then I feel like we have used too much!

The following is a good list of produce. In addition to the produce, we have plenty of frozen local cow, local lamb and local pork (chicken we buy live from John's at Fullerton and Central). We have about five pounds of local walnuts, bags of local wheat (several types of flour plus bulger) and cornmeal. I'm not listing general kitchen staples, canned goods, beans, noodles, etc. Some of the staples are local, some are not. We get eggs weekly from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers. We buy milk and cheese (local) and bread (sometimes local) as we need it.

Cranberries - about twelve packages, in our basement fridge
Cabbage sprouts - 3 heads - basement fridge
One of Vicki's greens that I've never heard of - basement fridge
Bok choy - one head - basement fridge
Swiss chard - 1 bunch (this will be used tomorrow for dinner) - upstairs fridge
Broc - 3 or 4 good sized heads - basement fridge
Pie pumpkins - maybe 4 - Storage room, attic, living room and basement
Celery - 2 bunches - upstairs fridge
Herbs=parsley, cilantro, sage, thyme and mint - upstairs fridge (to the extent they are not spoiled)
Bacon - upstairs fridge (generously gifted by MikeG); downstairs fridge (not local)
Winter squash - plenty including acorn, delicata, turban and butternut - storage room, attic, living room and basement
Keeper onions - - about 30, at least - storage and kitchen
Sweet potatoes - a good amount, 20 or more - attic and storage
Garlic - about 25 heads - storage and kitchen
Cabbage 1 whole/1 half - basement fridge and upstairs fridge
Sunchokes - good amount, say two meals worth - basement fridge
Carrots - plenty, at least 20 lbs - basement fridge and upstairs fridge
Parsnips plenty, at least 20 lbs - basement fridge and upstairs fridge
Beets - red - plenty - basement fridge and attic
Turnips - good amount - basement fridge and attic
Potatoes small round red, yukon gold, russet, fingerling - we are especially long on the red and we have a 50 lb bag of russet (less those used for latkes) - attic and storage
Apples - rome, gala, sungold, yellow delicious, others - about 50 lbs - dining room and attic

I do not have an exact tally of what's frozen but it includes many bags of greens, green beans, peas, asparagus, corn, apple sauce, pesto, broccoli, red peppers, cherries, grapes, raspberries, blueberries.

How We Did Local Yesterday

Paul and Us

At the Green City Market, Chef Paul Virant of Vie demonstrated his signature dish, gnocchi. The Vie menu is an every changing guide to what can be done with gnocchi. Showing that winter cooking is not all root vegetables and stews, Chef Paul cooked up a gnocchi made with Illinois produced goat cheese from Prairie Fruit Farms. He garnished the gnocchi with oyster mushrooms from Wisconsin's River Valley (at the market) and escarole from an un-named Wisconsin farmer. He finished with a sauce made with butter and sorrel purchased from Growing Power (at the market). The goat cheese gave the gnocchi a pleasant tang, and the tang balanced well against the buttery-earthy oyster mushrooms. He sure made it look damn simple.

For us, first my wife thought about trying the gnocchi. Then we considered our leftovers, either Monday's pasta with Farmer Vicki's cauliflower or Tuesday night's stir-fry with Vicki's bok choy, carrots and broccoli. Instead, we were mesmerized by a gorgeous loaf of ciabatta bread we picked up at the Green City Market from Bennison's Bakery--outside of Fox & Obel's peasant sour dough, I would say Bennison's is my favorite bread in Chicago. A simple dinner, Whole Foods smoked salmon spread (not local, but it could have been their smoked trout spread from Rushing Waters in Wisconsin, so it feels less a cheat!), washed rind "petite frere" cheese from Wisconsin's Crave Brothers (one of the few local cheeses I have not adored, and I've liked other things from Crave Brothers, it was way too mild for a washed rind); Maytag Blue from Iowa, canned bread and butter pickles from some local farmer's market, and butter from the Amish in Indiana. Winter's been easy so far.

At the penultimate market, we were disappointed to not find Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers. It turns out because of the heavy August rains, she has not enough crops for Wednesday and Saturday, so she is holding out until Saturday. So, there was not that much for us to buy. Grower Power had carrots and parsnips; we bought nearly 10 lbs or each (both last an incredibly long time). We skipped their red potatoes as we are pretty long on tubers, and we skipped their brussell sprouts because we will be out of town for a week. Hillside Orchids still had a good amount of apples. We purchased big bags of rome, gala and sungold.

Because this is when eating local gets fun, I promise to post a lot more regularly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vie - va

Vie and Me Eat Local

New Vie menu posted yesterday (here). See how they cope with the changes in weather.

Chef Paul Virant demonstrates at the last Wednesday Green City Market of 2007. 10:30 AM.

I will be at the market picking through the scraps tomorrow. I hope you show up as well. I will say that if you are planning on stocking up tomorrow, you may be hard pressed. As of a couple of weeks ago, the market was fairly bare. Still, Vicki should be there and she has a good selection of root crops and hoophouse greens. Likewise, Growing Power has their green houses working to good effect. There should be squash and potatoes (just not a lot of variety) and apples that can still be stored away. Don't forget to get enough onions and garlic to last. Next week it gets tough.
I am reasonably confident of our ability to hack it out the rest of the winter. We have plenty of carrots, parsnips, cabbage, beets and turnips that should last. We are very well stocked on potatoes--helped by a purchase of 50 lbs of Wisconsin potatoes at a wholesaler, and garlic and onions. I'm not even sure we can eat all the squash we have. We have our sources for hot house materials that should give us some stuff green. Yes, lettuce can be had! Finally, we have a freezer full of stuff: peas, green beans, asparagus, a lot of corn (we could not eat it fast enough). While we will be buying citrus and bananas and maybe an avocado or two, I otherwise expect to be local these cold months. I know Vie will be too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Two Faces of John Kass

In Defense of Coffee Snobbery

John Kass is the male Maureen Dowd (or something like that). You love him when he's tearing apart your villain, but when the poison pen turns to your side, ouch. There was good Kass last week, at least from a professional perspective. His column last Friday showed some of the things that can be done with a bit of public record research, the same type of research I do for my clients. Bad Kass showed up yesterday, maligning my friend Monica Eng (who he cannot actually name) and her work in drinking the city's coffee. [Registration required for the CTrib's web site.]

"Spiros, are there nutty, smoky traces of oak or salami in the coffee?"
First of all, this bothered the heck outta me. Kass using a trick from his old political reporting days, the quote without the context. In describing the awful coffee at White Hen, Monica stated there were salami flavors in the coffee. Sure, certain wines have been described as having bacony flavors, but I am pretty darn positive Monica was not talking about some inner porcine quality to the White Hen bean. Rather, it was a point that the coffee was not so fresh and picked up the odors of the store.

Then we get this:
"When I go for coffee, I want a cup of coffee. What I don't need is some kid wearing a sweater and his shirt tails sticking out because it's the style, pointing to a list of coffees, each of which are described sensually, in language that would have caused my mom to wash my mouth out with soap. It's coffee, dang it. Wake up, America."
As someone who's done his own research on the city's coffee (a really hard job), I appreciate the work Monica did. Why not determine where to spend one's coffee dollar. Still, Kass is mocking the idea that people should care about a drinking a nice cup of coffee. Why is that. Substitute beer or whisky, wine (of course) or even BBQ ribs, something Kass is seeking connoisseurship on, for coffee. Why subject ourselves to percolated coffee as Kass subjects. Really, there is a reason why percolators went out of fashion.

Well, I've about run out of things to say on this subject. I need a good cup of coffee.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Green City Winter Market - November 7, 2007

Did We Bump Into Each Other?

OK, first of all, the name thing. It's the Green City Winter Market but aint it still fall? I'll call it the Winter Market though. Now, what'd I think? Well, I think it was a lot like I expected. Genesis Growers and Growing Power, farms that are geared up for 3(plus) season farming had plenty to offer. Green Acres seemed there out of a sense of commitment. Nicholl's and Kinnickinick said the heck with it. Which all means it was good enough.

Really good, really; Vicki at Genesis had anything an eater could need this time of year. This was not a surplus stand. She was still a growin' away outside and had gorgeous broccoli (artfully displayed) and cauliflower to prove it as well as rutabagas, turnips, five or so kinda radishes and the usual squash, potatoes, onions. She also had a good range of herbs including parsley, oregano, thyme and mint. Growing Power was more geared towards their greenhouse crops, but the pea sprouts and sunflower sprouts were still especially tasty. I appreciated the big bag of mixed lettuces. If that was not enough to last us, we got chestnuts from Hillside Orchards (after really liking them at Vie) and celery and Japanese sweet potatoes from Green Acres.

Right now we are hardly in keeper mode. Between our fall Genesis Growers CSA and this market we won't go hungry for several more weeks. I will say that we did a great job of taking care of one of our big needs from last year, garlic. One week, Tomato Mountain made a deal with us and we took their on-hand inventory. We've put away a fair amount of potatoes, but I do not see a huge need here as I believe I can find local potatoes year-round. Same with apples, we have plenty now in the attic, but I believe we will be able to buy for several more months. On the other hand, local onions are harder to find as the months progress. We surely need to put more away. Remember, late fall and early winter are not hard times to eat local. It's the times the keeper stuff have run dry and the earliest crops are weeks away.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Are You Shopping Today?

Yes, I Have a Blog and I Can Use It

I actually had draft post up for days last week before one of the kidz shut the computer down. I know I've let you all down during these key moments of eating local, but I'm still here; still eating local. I'll be doing some shopping at the Green City Winter Market today. Hopefully you will be too.

One of the real limitations on eating local around here is the lack of winter markets. There is no reason, climatically or ecologically that we cannot have winter markets. First of all, farmers can be growing right now and on and on, harvesting cool weather crops and using greenhouses. Second of all, there are plenty of things that can be sold after their growth: potatoes, cabbage, onions, apples, etc., etc., etc. It should be easier for farmers (or related) to store keepers than consumers. I'd rather buy as I need than store myself. It can happen.

Our limited winter markets, however, are not thriving. Sarah Stengner told us at her localvore lunch that few people were attending the mid-week fall Green City Markets (hence one of my reasons for going today). I heard from one of the vendors at the first indoor Green City Market that lookers way outnumbered buyers. To a good extent, the farmers are no so keen on the idea either. It's a long season, and they are ready for a break. Many manage their inventory so that they have nothing left by November, now. For instance, by last week already, Nicholl's Farm had little left beyond apples and potatoes. Hardin Farms said they were about out of apples. It's an uphill battle when people are not shopping and farmers have noting to sell.

Eating local does not end with a one week challenge, nor does it end when most markets pack up. As more people commit to eating local year-round, the more incentives there will be for year-round markets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Local as I Wanna Be

Happy New Year Edition!

My wife (and I) make some pretty good briskets, but we were not really ready for something heavy this New Year. This was not your Bubbie's holiday meal. We designed a Rosh Hashanah meal awash in traditions though. Moreover, it was exceedingly local. In fact, our ample supplies of vegetables steered us more towards Sephardic type foods. I have pictures that I will post soon.

Apples dipped in honey - Start with a classic, from all branches of Jew. We used Macoun apples from Nicholl's farm, a firm apple with some, but not an overwhelming, tartness. The honey came from an Mennotite farm-store in Indiana.

Green olives, round challah w/raisins from Prairie Bread Kitchen in Oak Park - After coffee, my most excepted food is the olive, and at least a few times a week, olives grace our table as a nibble, a relish, sometimes even a contraband vegetable. Sephardic tradition is that no "black" foods are eaten on Rosh Hashanah including black olives and eggplants. Instead, it is traditional to eat green olives. Ours came from Italy via Caputo's (my wife likes the giant Italian kind, not the more bitter Middle-Eastern variety). Of course Askenazic Jews often end up with dark raisins in their challah, like we did.

A riff on Claudia Roden's black-eye pea salad with Sandhill Organic heirloom tomatoes (an Egyptian Jewish New Year special, echoed in Low Country traditions) - The closest thing I could find to black-eye peas at the Oak Park Farmer's Market before the holiday were Genesis Grower's crowder peas. Still, before I could nab, another person bought out her whole stock. Instead, we used Genesis Grower's fresh cranberry beans from our CSA box dressed in a garlic vinaigrette, augmented with those tomatoes.

Libyan spicy fish, using Whole Foods Great Lakes whitefish - This dish shows up in many Jewish cookbooks. It's more of a Shabbat dish than a Rosh Hashanah dish, where spicy foods are supposed to give sway to sweet. What the hey. Very good. Very simple. The fish is poached in lemon juice, garlic, hot peppers and tomato paste (guess the non-local). So good that my getting to be fish lovin' older daughter ate.

Wild rice with pomegranate - Originally we were going to make couscous, a traditional holiday meal for both Jews and non-Jews in Morocco. Instead, when we were in the couscous aisle, my wife saw some wild, Minnesota wild rice (as compared to cultivated). It made our meal that much more local and certainly more interesting (as the kidz would say). Pomegranates are highly traditional for any Jews that can get their hands on them, this time of year. First of all, one is supposed to eat a "new food" at Rosh Hashanah, and pomegranates are usually just coming into season. Second, the pomegranates are supposed to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of mitvah or commandments in the Torah. They do make an ideal garnish for the wild rice, the vivid magenta against the drab brown and the sweet against the bitter.

It was supposed to be seven vegetables steamed with the couscous. We switched to seven roasted vegetables (carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, zuke, cauliflower, red pepper; and turnip; all local). Seven being a lucky number. Carrots, especially are associated with the Jewish New Year in European traditions, being one of the few available vegetables. There's something Yiddish there about it's name and coins too.

Beef-leek patties - Using more of our cow (at this point, we've made a very decent dent in the supply of burger). Leeks are yet another traditional vegetable associated with Rosh Hashanah. Like the Libyan fish, this recipe shows up in a lot of Sephardic Jewish cook books. It is a holiday item, also popular on Passover (when another crop of leeks has arisen). The recipes call for a dish 3/4th leek and 1/4th meat and binding. We made them a lot more meaty.

Swiss chard w/caramelized onion and raisins. Chard is one more traditional vegetable (there are seven in Sephardic Jewish tradition, and chard is also very much in season at this time). As I noted above, the Rosh Hashanah meal is supposed to be filled with sweets, for a sweet year. Typical, we made the onions sweet by long cooking, then we made the dish even sweeter by adding raisins (only golden!). I will say that the Sandhill chard needed all that help, it was a put hair on your chest kinda veg.

Finally, my wife made the Bee Sting cake from the Chicago Tribune Magazine. The recipe was not set out to satisfy the need for honey cakes, but it certainly did a good job at it. - The bee stinger cake came out quite nicely, even in a 10 inch spring form instead of the required 9. The recipe called for stuffing the cake with flavored whip cream. My wife asked if I wanted that. At first, I said no, why bother, let's just throw the cream on top. Then, I noticed how pretty the top was, so I said can you stuff. Stuffing did not work so hot, the cake, being so honey-infused, crumbled a bit. She used the whipped cream to hide the cracks. So, it was still very good but no longer as pretty.

L'Shana Tova. May your meals in the coming year be as local as you want them to be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What's Local in Oak Park (soon!)

Answered Prayers

As probably a few people new to this eating local thing are finding out, it's not necessarily easy to find local food in Chicago. I mean it's abundant. At farmer's markets like Evanston, Oak Park and Green City. Easy. Nah. What if you do not live near a good farmer's market. What if you are busy the day it's around. What if you shopped there but forget something (or lost it, like I did with some parsley and thyme). And how are you gonna make dinner tonight if that piece of meat you got is rock solid frozen--worse, what about that local, organic chicken you bought, you have this narrow window between in being thawed and it being spoiled. You need a store to shop at all the time.

Minneapolis has something (God, I love Dara Moscowitz). Grafton Wisconsin has something (Slow Pokes) Soon Oak Park will have something at the expanded Marion Street Cheese Market. My wife and I stopped on at Marion today to pick up some Prairie Fruit Farm's goat cheese for our dinner tonight. My spirits were wonderfully lifted by talking to one of the new co-partners. He told me that as the cheese shop expands, taking space across South Boulevard, the existing place will turn into a butcher, They will be carrying an array of local meat, chicken and eggs. I really look forward to this. Am certainly glad I live in Oak Park.

More to come soon, I am sure.

Eat Local Grapes

Spit Away

The New York Times has an interesting story (reg. req.) today on the quest to create better tasting table grapes.
In the United States, convenience reigns, and in California, where 97 percent of American table grapes are grown, “neutral-flavored” grapes like Thompson and Flame, sweet but bland, dominate production, largely because they are seedless and hold up well to long-distance shipping.
The solution, it seems rests on finding new places to grow flowery Muscat grapes or try to cross-breed some flavor into the Cali grapes. Here's a third idea. Eat local grapes.

Today's article points out that our Concords have flavor, but notes it's not necessarily one worth remembering. It seems that Concords and similar grapes share a gene with certain glands from foxes and weasels, hence the term foxy to describe the grape's flavor. I do not believe it's the flavor the detracts from our grapes, nor the skins, which this article notes is thick and astringent and slips off the grape's soft flesh. What really inhibits a lot of eaters are the seeds. There's a lot of spitting going on when a local grape is eaten. Is that really so bad? No one needs a seedless cherry; I mean so-called seedless watermelon still have those white seeds. We can handle it, can't we.

I've read that certain Southern grapes like the Scuppernongs are more flavorful than our Concords. If that's true, I'm pretty happy with second place. Our local grapes exude character. Each grape acts Wonka-like, offering multiple flavors and textures (right down to those hard seeds). It's good eating. And we have them. At least in farmer's markets, they are easy to find. Caputo's, in Elmwood Park, also has some Concords, but theirs came from Canada of all places.

Local grape season will last for until early October. Buy a lot now. First of all, grapes stay long in the fridge. Second, they freeze wonderfully. Come winter you can have little grape sorbet balls for a snack.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How to Eat Local

Local Reporters Find it Not Easy


Are you attempting the Chicago Eat Local Challenge? Faring better than some of our local food reporters and writers?

I wouldn't mind eating more local food if the selection and quality is there and it doesn't cost a fortune.
That's Kelly Mahoney of Kelly the Culinarian commenting at the Reader's food blog.

I'm not bragging when I say that two days before the challenge, I was at the Oak Park Farmer's Market purchasing a locally raised, organic pork shoulder from the Wettstein's, getting about four pounds of heirloom tomatoes, large red peppers and Swiss chard from Sandhill Organics, a few peppers and arugula from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers, sweet potatoes, two types of apples and radishes from Nicholl's Farm, red peaches, white peaches, nectarines and raspberries from Skibbes. Of course this supplemented my weekly CSA box that included spaghetti squash, kale, white potatoes, more apples, onions, I think beets. If I know anything about an Eat Local challenge, it's that you need food. That's something Martha Bayne at the Reader recognized. Her eat local was not going so good because she had no time to shop like me.

Not having shopped, Martha Bayne could not have commented on the cost. God yes, local food costs money. Five dollars can seem like a lot for a container of berries that can be gone in one sitting. My wife preferred it, did not press, when I told her she did not want to know the price of the Wettstein's pork. Time Out Chicago's, David Tamarkin found that $40 was not getting him the ingredients needed to bake a cake. I've justified my expenditures by calling it a hobby. Instead of going skiing, I eat rare breeds of melon. It's true that I am willing to accept the costs of local food, but I also do not believe the costs are as outrageous, what I really mean is as outlandish, as they seem. Like I said in response to Kelly in the Reader's comments, I often find farmer's market produce cheaper than Whole Food's produce. If you have made a decision to pay for quality, both intrinsic (organic/sustainable/food miles, etc.) and extrinsic (freshness, taste) than you can do no worse than eat local. It does cut back in other ways. My family used to eat out a lot, a lot. We don't. We do not eat out because we want to eat our local food. More important, we find so many restaurants now lacking compared with our farm food. Why waste the meals. Believe me, restaurant food, even cheap meals, are more expensive than eating at home.

David Tamarkin also reached local ennui (after less than a week!). He ate "prisoner lunches" of local tomatoes on local bread with local eggs, suffering because tomatoes need some salt, and he did not want to give in. Exemptions, he asked, you could have exemptions. He wondered if all us localvores were simply too soft for drizzling our fresh tomatoes with long traveled olive oil. How dare. The wet marinade that my local pork sat in contained nary a local ingredient. Should I have been eating it. I do not mind thousands of exemptions as long as I try to follow one simple rule: can I get it local. So, last week we wanted to try figs. Guess what, we got some. What I'm not gonna do is buy Washington apples or Colorado peaches or Idaho potatoes. Yet, I don't fill up on mangos, avocados, and the like. If my prime consideration is getting it local, my second consideration is that in general, I favor local.

Kelly the Culinarian wonders about quality. I suggest she try one of the figs (organic) I purchased. It was fun to eat. There's a certain pleasure in a fresh fig, the way the tiny-tiny seeds squish around your mouth. Yet, our figs had the barest wisp of fig flavor. It was a tease, poltergeist food, the memory of a flavor. I knew that if I lived in California or Israel or some other place, I could get a fig with real figginess. I eat local because I want quality in my food. So, I satisfy myself with tomatoes that taste the way they are supposed to taste, potatoes that taste like you would not know they taste.

Eating local spoils you, it's that good. Perhaps David and Kelly and Martha can stick it out and find out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Eat Local Pie

Something Sweet for the Coming Eat Local Challenge

My wife got a chance this summer to bake pies for the Hoosier Mama Pie Company. When she started, I thought she'd be bringing home a pie each time. Boy was I wrong about that. Mostly, what I've got is lessons on how really (really) hard the pie business is.

Still, I've had a few pies along the way. Lucky me. Not every pie Hoosier Mama makes is purely local--the really local pies can be purchased Saturday at the Green City Farmer's Market. They make lemon chess and chocolate creams, but they also make great use of local fruit. I've tried the peach and the blueberry, and bias as I am now, it is really hard to find pies as good. There was just a clarity to the fruit that is missing from most other such things. The all butter crust is pretty special too, if those things matter (mais oui!). So, for people looking to eat as much possible local next week, and don't have time to fix a dessert, think about getting some pie.

Local as I wanna Be

Put It On the Menu

How many food bloggers have aspirations of opening a restaurant. Perhaps, someday, the VI clan will open its exceedingly local driven restaurant. Until then, we tinker with the menu, inspiring the above phase if a dish really works. This one did. I did not photo it, but pasta does not necessarily photo well anyways. Plus, the key ingredient of this dish would have been nearly invisible.

My wife's dinner creation: local Nicholl's Farm cauliflower ("what can I do with such a small thing") par-boiled; then added to a good does of Italian olive oil heated to near shimmer in a large saute pan, followed by local garlic (what a pleasure to begin using the new stuff as we finally tossed the remaining shriveled garlic of old), thin slice of Genesis Grower's red hot peppers that look like jalepenos (but are not, I forget what), and Wisconsin baby green and yellow summer squash and Genesis Growers pimientos. Cook over medium heat while pasta (non-local) gets ready. Just at the point of al dente she added the pasta to the pan with several chunks of Maytag blue cheese. Finished with an aggressive shake of pepper.

First of all, blue cheese really plays well against heat, the Motown rhythm section. In other words they made the dish sound right. The hooks, those wonderful Motown elements that differentiate the songs came from the assorted vegetables, mixing sweet and crunchy, suave and vegetal. I'd say a plate for young America, but I'm afraid my allusions run into the fact that many a youth detest the strength of blue cheese. On the other hand, my younger daughter liked it. Even she thought it ready for the place.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How to Eat Local?

Does Fruit Have Recourse?

As typical, last Saturday I was up early. I went to hit the market before myself and the family would be volunteering at the Oak Park Food Pantry. I could not find much hard cash beyond a $50. At the market I did what any good localvore would do. Buy something big.

My wife had previously expressed a desire to can some peaches. I decide to fulfil this desire by buying a 1/2 barrel of peaches. Now, I won't name the vendor, which is a bit consumer unfriendly of me, I know, but these peaches really sucked. They seem dense and leather inside. I'm thinking of returning the bunch. Can I do that?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's Local at Costco (Oak Brook), What's Local at Caputo's (Elmwood Park) + Offally Good at Caputo's


Carr Valley's award winning cheeses, from Wisconsin were well stocked at the Oak Brook Costco on 9/2/05, at prices about $5/lb below Whole Foods (in River Forest). Varieties available included Cocoa Cardona, Morbay and 4 year cheddar.

Costco also had Michigan apples.


The local selection at the Capututo's in Elmwood Park is high. In past weeks they have had Michigan peaches. No more, but they have a few types of Michigan apples including Paula Red. I forget to blog about the big bushels of Michigan plum tomatoes for canning, but they're still there, if starting to looking a bit picked over. There were local onions, cukes, zukes, green peppers, eggplants and 10 lb bags of Wisconsin russet potatoes.

On LTHForum, Cathy2 asked about various cuts of offal for a stew she is making for the LTH picnic on September 8 (on that date, Forest Glen Forest Preserve will be the best place to eat in Chicago, and unfortunately I cannot make). I expected Capututo's to meet her needs, and when I visited today, as Cathy2 said to me when I gave her the lowdown, "offaly good." Fergus Henderson would feel right at home at Caputo's, at least the Harlem branch in Elmwood Park. They had the elusive calves brains, they had liver (beef, veal and pork); kidneys both veal and pork, tripe, lotsa extremities like tails and feet. The only couple of things I did not see were tongue (I'm sure it's there, just did not look) and sweetbreads.

I mention the offal not so much to gross people out, but because I think that eating offal is part of the whole Eat Local thing, that is showing respect for the creatures we eat, eating mindfully, and not just supporting the worst in factory farms. Of course, the offal at Caputo's may not be local, but it's one of those things, like buying in bulk, that's local in spirit.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Not to Eat Local

The Thursday Morning Massacre

Sweet corn's half-way to ruin the minute it's picked, why bother with what's been sitting in my fridge for over a week. Those patty-pan squashes that looked so damn cute, even at $6/lb, are now just a squsihy-sqaushy science project. I so much designed a slaw recipe for kohlrabi that I got my mother to make it, mine just languished. There were turnips that I thought would last longer, and celery I think I'm just putting in the wrong spot in the downstair's fridge. My older daughter can easily gobble up a whole cucumber in a sitting, but her habits did not get to all we had. The window for certain greens is small. I meant to cook the beet greens, the kale, the what not. Instead, I cleared it all out before loading today's box. I buried a lot of formerly good produce in my green Waste Management coffin. After more than two years of dedication to eating local, I wonder, am I so good at it.

OK, I'm trying to make a point, not self-reflect. My point, a point that I have made before, that others probably hear better than I, is that eating local takes time. Past time, future time. I need more time to figure out my storage. Like I say, when will I learn the right spot in the fridge to place the celery. How long will things last. Some things, carrots, for instance, seem immortal, the horcruxed veg. Other times, as in those turnips, I am surprised. Beyond that, as we move into the storage phase of the year, what to do. Where to put it--I have some ideas on this, but that's for another post. I know whatever I do, I will ruin some food. There will be waste. It still takes time to understand what works best. I am not there.

It takes time I did not have. Or time I used up. I could have saved that corn by freezing it that day (and believe me, that's what I'm doing as soon as I finish this post). A lot of those greens could have been saved. There is surely a burden on eating local. Not only must us localvores process our food more than the supermarket customer, but we need to take the time to make do. As Farmer Vicki will often say, the summer CSA boxes are supposed to be too much food. We are supposed to have more food now than we need because we will not have enough food later. We can eat local in Chicago all year round. If we have time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eat Local Cheese

We're No. 1, We're No. 1!

Drive-thru reports that Wisconsin cheese maker Carr Valley scored big time at the recent American Cheese Society judging. Beyond Carr Valley, cheeses from the Big 10 killed at the competition. We cannot win the Rose Bowl, but topped the cheese championship. This year's Best of Show came from Black Star Farm's Leelanau Cheese (aged raclette) of Sutton's Bay Michigan. Roth Kase, from Wisconsin, was third runner up in the Best of Show championship.

I'm sorry, I'm horribly chauvinistic when it comes to local cheeses. I know Cyprus Grove, Cabot and Red Hawk put out good cheeses, but it just bugs me when I see them on local cheese lists, when they dominate the selection at the cheese counter (when you can find any domestic cheeses). This year's results (pdf) again show how good are our area cheeses. Up and down the list you will find Fair Oaks Dairy, Capriole, Crave Brothers, Widmer's Cheese, Prairie Fruit Farms (how their Huckleberry Blue did not get a prize I do not know); BlueMond Dairy, Hidden Springs, etc. etc. etc. and etc. If I anything, I find myself thinking, why did we not win here; where's my friends at Brunkow, we gotta do better a feta next year...I guess that what happens from 30+ years of rooting for the Cubs, you take an intense interest in your cheese team.

There is no place better to find Midwestern cheeses than at the Dane County Farmer's Market (the one farmer's market that makes me sad, but that's for another post). The Oak Park Farmer's Market has Brunkow and Prairie Fruit Farms, so it's a good to dabble. The cheese shop in the Milwaukee Public Market also has a great selection as does Zingerman's, which, unfortunately, is a little far for regular shopping for me. If you like cheese, you can do no better than to eat local.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Local As I Wanna Be

The Summer of the Greek (Village) Salad

Last year was the summer of zucchini. We seemed to eat summer squash every other day. This summer, we have been incredibly lazy in our cooking. More often than not, it seems like this is what we've eaten for a meal.

Local yellow tomatoes, local green tomatoes, local hot red pepper, imported Greek olives, local cucumbers, local baby lettuce, local feta, imported olive oil, imported vinegar, local dried oregano.

What's Local at the New Maxwell Street Market

Michigan Fruits and Vegetables

If you have even a passing interest in the Chicago food media buffet over the last five years, you know that the weekly (Sunday) street market up and down Canal Street called the New Maxwell Street Market (in deference to the original Chicago street scene) is one of the best places to eat in Chicago. If you have been snoozing all this time, start here and then get this documentary, a good peak of the video can be found at this link. Maxwell Street is a top foodie destination. At the bottom of this post, I'll tally of eating over the last two Sundays.

To eat. To shop, I'm less enamored. Granted, there is some shopping I like. My family can hardly ever resist a pound or so of candied Mexican plums (cirules) when they are available. I marvel at the secret herbs. The dried pepper stands impress me. On the other hand, I've never been much for the vegetables and I certainly bypass the big crates of ultra-ripe fruit for sale. After all, I am a localvore. I have better places to get this stuff.

Except maybe now. The market yesterday was awash in the kinda ugly ripe tomatoes that signify taste. There were imperfect zucchini and their accompanying imperfect blossoms. All around me there was horrible looking fruits and vegetables, and I was happy. Granted, I did not buy any, having a pretty full larder at home, but I would if I wanted.

Still, the ample showing of local food at the Maxwell Street Market underlies a key issue with eating local around here. For a few months, it is not hard to get good tomatoes, better peaches, musky muskmelons. Then it all disappears. These vendors return to selling their crappy Cal stuff. Yes, summer tomatoes sell. Why cannot we also see fall root crops and winter potatoes and greens grown in hoop houses. I wish the small part of the food industry that still exists around here could expand beyond August.

And not just beyond August, another problem, not just with Maxwell Street, but with the local food economy in the Chicago area, it consists of about five crops. Apples, eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, corn and cucumbers. These things, plus maybe onions and peaches, and potatoes can be obtained locally in their season. Rich and varied diet? It is not that our soil does not support other crops. Visit a farmer's market. Even Whole Foods has gone beyond in their supply of local--although the demand for its local burdock root, I gotta imagine stays low. Maxwell Street should be awash in tiny shiny plums, purple cauliflower, fresh shelling beans, fragrant (if seeded) grapes, big beets, bigger hard squashes. While I can dream and pine for what's not there, I am still happy that Maxwell, about now, is a source for local food.

If you like eating, you should really get there. Here's what I ate over the last two weeks (last Sunday was rain delayed): four tacos de birria, two cups of consome, three grilled steak tacos, one fresh made churro, one empanda de rice pudding, one bean pupusa.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Welcome Chicago Tribune Readers

Decoding Today's Recipes

Well, if you found this site via today's nice spread in the Chicago Tribune on eating local, I should probably thank Google. My wife asked was I bothered that they did not include my full Internet address. I said no, I liked anyone who called me sensible.

Anyways, however you got here, I hope you are that much more encouraged about eating local, both in September and in the months that follow. Surely, in some teeny-tiny way, your eating local will make an impact on the environment, on the economy around here. Still, if you choose to eat local, you will make the single biggest leap possible in your food quality. You will find, like my family, that most other food will not taste very good. If you like to eat well, you should eat local.

Today's Trib spread on eating local includes several recipes. The paper tells you that aside from condiments and cooking oil, the ingredients can be found local. In a broad way, that's true. It may not be easy. Here's some tips on how to track down some of the ingredients in today's recipes. If there is anything else you cannot find, ask.

Grilled portobello mushrooms
Portobello mushrooms are a cultivated mushroom, really a big version of the standard button mushroom. As such, most are likely grown in Pennsylvania, and while Penn State is part of the Big 10 (I always say my eat local boundary is the Big 10 Conference), Pennsylvania seems a bit far for me. There is a source for local cultivated mushrooms, River Valley Kitchens. They show at several farmer's markets including Green City, Daley Plaza and Lincoln Square. If you ever visit the giant Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison, WI, you will find other local mushroom growers.
Chilled roasted red bell pepper soup with summer vegetables
Bell peppers are one of the easiest local things to find. Many produce markets and supermarkets will be carrying local bell peppers now. It's some of the other summer vegetables in the recipe that may not be as easy. Take celery. If you ever make soup or stew, you probably need celery. Yet, local celery is not particularly easy to find. I've never seen it outside a farmer's market, not at Whole Foods, Caputo's, anywhere like that. At the farmer's market, you will also not find it at every stand. Nicholl's Farm, at 20 area markets, however, is a source. I recommend buying much celery now, cutting it and freezing it, for later use in soups/braises.
Caramelized cavolo nero with slow-poached chicken breast
There is one grower that routinely sells cavolo nero or Tuscan black cabbage, Kinnikinnick Farm, at Green City Market. I'm sure you can make something just as good with the many types of greens from Green Acre Farms, Henry's Farm or Genesis Growers. You will have to shop farmer's market again, for this one.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wettsteins Pork Shoulder Confit, Huckleberry” blue", Local Cranberry Beans, House Made, Michigan Blueberry Parfait, August Hill Winery

New View Menu Posted


Want more?
local plum crisp, fresh raspberries, wild watercress, roasted and pickled peaches, preserved meyer lemons*, kinnikinnick farm heirloom tomatoes, marinated and wood-grilled, lovage, hand cut
I don't know about you, but those are the kinda words that I look for on a menu.

BTW, I'm a menu old on my links, before this, a menu was posted on August 3, 2007, so if you are collecting, you missed one.

In other Vie news, Vie's been nominated for a GNR (Great Neighborhood Restaurant) at

*Not a local ingredient, but I know that Chef Virant gets them "local" from a friend of his.

Monday, August 20, 2007

How to Eat Local

The Price You Will Pay

The Chicago Eat Local Challenge is almost here. I imagine a few more of you signed up this weekend at Green City. The melons and tomatoes and what not, I am sure, had you salivating. You'll be eating fresher. You'll be getting more varieties. You'll be doing your part for the environment. Have you stopped to think of the cost.

No, not the price of tomatoes. You can get cheaper heirloom tomatoes from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers or Nicholl's Farms than you can get at Whole Foods. Not the price of gas from running to some u-pick in Indiana. Not the cost of having to plan your meals in advance as you wait for your local meat to defrost. I mean the price you pay in water.

Local food is wet, really wet. The descriptor I've used a lot for local food, especially fruits and vegetables, is that it tastes alive. Not alive like the tiny worm that crawled out of one of my tomatoes last week; not alive as in so close to the farm I can practically smell the manure. I mean the food has a vitality, a spunk, that supermarket food does not. This summer, which has been the summer of the Greek salad, I really pinned down what made that alive-ness.

The cooking utensil I used the most of, of late, is the strainer. It started with salting the cucumbers, crisp them up. Soon, I needed to lay tomato slices across a strainer or else the salad would be in a pool. Now, I find that so many of my farm fresh veg throw off an enormous amount of water. Take my bell peppers, are these supposed throw off so much precipitation? Chile peppers? I do not, not, have enough colanders, strainers, salad spinners and other such devices to dry my food. I do not especially like wet food, makes dressings all watery and gets the rest of the plate soggy. It is a price I pay for having my food exceedingly fresh. Local.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In the Fruit Belt

"Finally, there is the daily market. Here small farmers from the region sell produce ripened to a peak of sweetness on the plant, often picked just hours earlier. It is the kind of summer produce many people pine for. And yet it is not what most of them will end up eating."

The New York Times discovers that things grow outside of California (registration required). Sadly, as the article notes, so much of this food will not end up on your plate. one of the farmer's pictured, Walt Skibbe, can be found weekly at the Saturday Oak Park Farmer's Market, you can partake if you shop right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How To Eat Local

5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

I assume you have signed up for the Green City Market Eat Local Challenge. I bet you are still noodling over what you can eat that long hard week.

Chicago is smack dab in the middle of one of the richest farm zones of the world. Most of the land around us, in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana is given over to agriculture. We grow tons of corn and tons of soy. Hardly any of that goes directly into our mouths. Indirectly, of course via high fructose corn syrup and cattle feed and thousands of other products, it feeds us. (And thousands of things we don't eat like plastics and inks and brooms and what not.) Can the budding localvore, the non-Atkins localvore, meet his daily requirement of fruits and vegetables? It depends on where you shop.

Here's what nearly anyone can find, around now, if you wanted to eat local: apples, tomatoes, cucumbers (often in two sizes), green peppers, cabbage, sweet corn, zucchini and eggplant, oh and if you are lucky some melons. I spotted local peaches and blueberries at stores in the last weeks but these seem diminishing. Oddly, potatoes and onions, two stalwarts of our climate have not really shown in their local variants. These are the items that can be found at produce stores like Caputo's, local farm stands and grocery stores making the effort. With little effort this is what you can eat.

On the other hand, if you had already committed to a farm's CSA, your box last week would have looked something like this: lettuce head, baby lettuce, sweet corn, peaches, watermelon, green beans, cantaloupe, cucumber, pickles, onion, sweet chocolate peppers, mustard greens, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. A little more full your diet would be.

To get the full range of the season, you really need to visit a farmer's market. Now, you would find several types of peppers in all ranges of colors and Scovilles, fresh beans like limas, okra, beets, a wide range of potatoes, not quite as wide of range, but a range of onions; things to make your vegetables taste better, garlic and herbs; beyond apples and peaches there would still be raspberries and blueberries, all the colors of plums coming into season now and the first grapes as well. It is a great time of year to eat local.

Your eat local week can be narrow or it can be wide. It's up to you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Drink Local Milk

Good Options Here!

Over at the site, someone mentioned that they liked the quasi-organic milk owned by Dean Food's called Horizon. I'm not a fan at all of Horizon. See how they rank against other organic milk companies here. Not only are there much better dairy companies, but there are great companies local to us in the Chicago area. Note, while I'm still too nervous to try raw milk, I could surely find many sources for raw milk in Wisconsin. Me, I'm happy with the non-raw but local sources available to me. Mostly, I use the ones described below.

Our default milk is Farmers' All Natural Creamery from Amish and Mennonite farmers in Iowa. It's organic, low temperature (VAT) pasteurized and non-homogenized, about all you want in non-raw milk. More importantly, it is widely available at Whole Foods and other places in the Chicago area. If you don't shake well, you will use all the cream (fat) in the first pour. Sweet.

Three other dairies of the same (or even better) quality are Crystal Ball Farms from Wisconsin, Trader's Point Creamery from Indiana and Oak Grove Organics from Illinois. The last sells a cream that is, well to be trite, to die for. Crystal Ball and Trader's Creamery can at times be found at Whole Foods (Trader's Creamery's yogurt is there). Both sell in small bottles. I like that as I can buy fresher milk. I'm a believer that newness matters with dairy. Fox and Obel is another sources for these milks and creams.

Organic Valley is based out of Wisconsin. It's a cooperative. In general, they have great practices (see link above). It's likely that the products sold around here would come from local farms, but there's no guarantee as they sell nationally/they use farms from around the US. What I especially don't like is that Organic Valley's milks and creams are all ultra-pasteurized. I will buy other stuff from them like cottage cheese and cheddar cheese.

For reasons having nothing to do with taste, farming practices, hormones, localness, etc., we do not buy Oberweiss stuff.

Friday, August 03, 2007

How to Eat Local

Tell Me Already

If you have not signed up for Chicago's Eat Local Challenge, you can do it tomorrow at the Green City Market. You can draw your foodshed wide. Make exceptions wily-nily. Maybe you are just waiting to hear what you can really eat when you eat local. Fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, bacon, eggs, herbs, peppers, honey, syrup, beer, wine; does that not sound like dinner. You can spend the whole week eating local cheese (start here). What exactly you eat depends on three things: the markets, shops, stands, CSAs and gardens you can get to; what's in season at these markets, shops, gardens, etc., and what do you have stored away in your freezer, fridge, cellar. When it comes time to eat local for a week in September, what will you eat?

Let's start with the storage possibility. If you trying to Eat Local all the time, you think a lot about storing your food. You want local food in the many months without farmer's markets. In those months, your local food has to come from your stores, from canning, drying, putting away in a cold room, and especially, freezing. I'm guessing that the planners of this Eat Local Challenge wanted abundant food for this Eat Local Challenge. They probably did not expect you to have to dip into stores at the height of our growing season. Still, you have to ask yourself, will I be able to do all the shopping I need during that week of local. Maybe. Maybe not. It may make lots of sense for you to put some things aside starting now for your Eat Local week in September.

Where can you get local food. Farmer's markets fer sure. Chicago has many and many good ones. There are several downtown, including decent ones at Federal Plaza on Tuesday and Daley Plaza on Thursday. Drake at the site has a good calender for finding farmer's markets. The Illinois Department of Agriculture produces another good farmer's market directory/calender. The Local Harvest site is a great way for finding not only farmers markets but farm stands and other sources for local food. The problem is, not every farmer's market has everything you need to Eat Local. Do you want to be a vegetarian for the week? Now, both the bi-weekly Green City Market (Wednesday and Saturdays) and Oak Park Farmer's Market have vendors selling meat and eggs to keep your inner Atkin's happy. I know other markets have protein as well, but I cannot necessarily speak to them. Do your due diligence before the challenge starts.

No farmer's market near you or your hours don't match theirs? It has become more possible than ever to buy local at your grocery. (If fact, NPR notes it as a trend--hat tip to Jen at the site. Jewel and Sunset Foods are advertising their local food in their weekly fliers. Whole Food's has promised local, but 1/2 the time I'm there it never seems beyond burdock root. I was in the Caputo's on Harlem, in Elmwood Park this morning. One could eat decently enough on what they had local: cucumbers, zucchini, corn, two types of Michigan apples, two types of Wisconsin potatoes, Indiana onions, peaches, muskmelons, blueberries, milk.

Milk, that's the thing, until this year Green City had local milk. Now they do not. I'm not aware of any one stop for all your Eat Local needs. Caputo's may have got you as far as your weekly chicken dinner, but did they give you a chicken. You could go down the street to Kolatek's, one of my favorite Polish stores. They had Amish chickens from Indiana. Eating local means you can't slow down.

It also means you have to know what's in season. When you eat local you either eat what's in the ground now or what's in your storage now. Early September, when the Eat Local Challenge starts, you will have plenty to choose. Here's a small shapshot of what you may find. Here's another. You should be awash in apples. About the only major local food that may not have arrived for your challenge are the local papples.

A lot of the fun, the challenge in the challenge is the search and the creation. I don't know what exactly you will find local in September. You probably will not either. Tomatoes, eggplants, peaches, plums, bell peppers for sure, but what else? How long has it been since you tried local grapes. Do you remember grapes with seeds? Follow the lead of David "Hat" Hammond who has documented some of his Eat Local discoveries on Try new foods, new dishes. However you define your local, whatever exceptions you grant yourself, you will find plenty of things to eat during the Eat Local Challenge. I look forward to hearing how you do. Let me know what else I need to tell you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How To Eat Local


Did you sign up yesterday at the Green City Market for the Eat Local Challenge? This Eat Local lesson is for all those on the fence, but for all those who have dived in too. My message to you, don't eat local.

Nah, I'm kidding. I want you to take up the Eat Local Challenge. Reduce the huge amount of miles required to get food to your table. Partake in food grown by farmers you can meet. Reveal in freshness, forgot the noted heirloom tomatoes; can a cucumber really taste like that. Who knew you could enjoy okra. And yes I do like rutabagas (a wrongly maligned vegetable if there ever was one). The last two lessons covered picking your local, defining where your food could come from to be local. It could be your city, your state, 100 miles from where you lived, or your broad region. I'm sorry but, "from the USA", is a bit expansive even for me. Now, before figuring out what you can eat local, figure out what you can eat non-local.

You cannot eat exclusively from the Chicago area, even for a week. There is no local salt, no local pepper, no local chocolate, hell no local coffee. Many people attempting Eat Local Challenges just give up certain favorites, it's like Lent to them--"damn the headaches, no lattes for me this week." That's fine but, to me, somewhat unnecessary. To me, eating local is about making choices, replacing. Replacing corn so far from the stalk in tastes like ethanol with corn picked nearby; forsaking big-big California peaches for juicy Michigan Red Havens; not having asparagus anymore (unless it's from your freezer) and instead having Blue Lake green beans. Get your eggs from a farmer instead of a multinational entity. Try pastured pork instead of industrial pork. Drink beer brewed in your backyard. That's eating local.

Will eating local drive you nuts. In Plenty, the couple seeking to eat from only 100 miles commented about how obsessive they had to become. How they drove mile after mile in an effort to reduce their food miles. I'll cover in another lesson sources for eating local, but it is obvious that eating local takes work. The food may not be at your grocery, your meat may be frozen when you want to eat it. Moreover, there may be things local out there that you just cannot get too, like grains. Grains, whoa, even if you have a cache of local wheat, do you have time to bake your own bread? Some of your exceptions are just gonna be the practical.

Do you want to do all your cooking with lard or butter, more power to ya. I'd still like to use some olive oil. Should you only try the blossoming Midwest wine business. Perhaps, but you may not have a lot to drink. Use fresh herbs. My friend Farmer Vicki at Genesis Growers sells many. She also has an array of hot peppers. Your food will not be bland on local, do you need to forsake the rest of your spice cabinet. I don't. You may be the type that wants a nice piece of halibut. Me, I don't go there, preferring to buy only freshwater fish. Or I do. I have purchased the Whole Foods marinated shrimp skewers. I eat canned tuna, anchovies. I don't fret that every morsel that goes in my mouth does not come from the states around me.

You should not either. Don't be afraid to be non-local during your Eat Local Challenge. Just think about it. Make mindful choices. Realize the items that matter to you. Then, with the other stuff, go for it. Be like my kidz, never let a whittled away "baby" carrot touch your lips again.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How to Eat Local

What's For Dinner

Have you signed up for the Green City Market Eat Local Challenge?

Good. You want to know what you will be eating while you are eating local. As I noted in this post, what you can eat depends on how you draw your circle of local. On the other hand, maybe you wanted to know what was there before drawing your circle. Chicago sits in the middle of prime farm country. Thick black prairie soil brought people here. Wet springs and hot dry summers make for good fruits and vegetables. Except for those plants that cannot take a freeze, it nearly all grows around here. From varying distances from where you live, you will find farmers that milk cows (and goats), raise goats, pigs, lamb, cows, turkeys, chickens, trout; sell eggs, make cheese, smoke fish. Grains grow abundantly (for sure), but usable grains are a bit trickier. The Great Lakes are still fished. You can find whitefish, trout (now out of season), pike in stores. No almonds but hickory nuts and butternuts can still be tracked down, and walnuts, no English but the much more exquisite if so burdensome black are here. Cook with available lard or butter if you are a zealot. You will not starve.

There are vegetable farms inside the Chicago city limits. You will find mostly greens (including lettuce) and tomatoes from these farms. If you are a Chicagovore, however, I think that's about all you can eat unless you have a fishing pole. The 100 mile diet brings in most of the area farmers who show at local markets. You can get a huge array of vegetables from Nicholl's Farm in Marengo, Illinois; Genesis Growers in St. Anne, Illinois; and Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana, but you will miss out on Henry's Farm in Congerville, Illinois. Some of these farms also sell fruit including apples, berries and melons. More fruit comes from the farms in Southwest Michigan: cherries, peaches and other stone fruit especially. Meats, cheese, dairy may be found with this limitation, Heartland Meats, available at many farmers markets fits within the 100 mile barrier, but many others do not such as Wettstein's Organic Farms. If you choose to go 100 miles, your options are limited.

You could do pretty well on an Illinois only diet. You can even look downstate for peaches. You have some cheese, including the outstanding Prairie Fruits Farm, and other dairy including Oberweiss (if politics allow). Better milk (in more ways) comes from Oak Grove Dairy (available at Fox & Obel). There's some wine but better beer, even vodka and gin. Still, to really take advantage of local, do like me and take an expansive view. I love-love Prairie Fruits Farm, but no goat cheese I have ever tried is as good as Fantome Farm in Ridgeway, Wisconsin. We are blessed with quality products all over our place. Stone ground grains in Indiana, Minnesota wild rice, outstanding hams both the raw and the cooked, farm raised trout. Maple syrup and sorghum is widely produced. The Indiana persimmon, on our far fringe is a truly special fruit, something only a localvore can eat. There will be many good things to eat on your Eat Local diet.

Next: Good things to eat now!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What's Local in NW Indiana

A Lot

The pies may be made with shortening and whipped topping, but good ingredients abound in NW Indiana.

That's Ms. Pavolka. She sells fruit near Michigan City. She is famous for her banana apples, a particular heirloom native to her yard. These, however, need at least another month of ripening. She did sell us tartly-delicious yellow transparents as well as some very ripe peaches. Right now she also has blueberries. She'll have her apples through March.

I appreciate that the South Bend Farmer's Market is open more than one day even if 4/5th of the stands were closed on Friday. Lotsa cukes and summer squash, some home made candy and two meat vendors--the woman at Hiatt's Meat told me that her chickens and rabbits had been processed the day before. Not that I'm strange or anything, but the raw rabbits were gorgeous; if I was not still traveling.

Another meat option could have been Old Hoosier Meats in Middlebury where they put a lot of garlic (a lot) in their ring bologna. They also dry their own beef and smoke their own hams. We were driving to a cheese factory in Middlebury, but changed course when we saw a parking lot full of buggies. Forks County Line Store (508 E. Warren Street Middlebury) is the closest thing to an Amish Costco that I know, the real thing. A dim warehouse, not nearly as huge as Costco, actually organized a bit like a normal supermarket with shelves not pallets, but most of the products came in large, large quantities. The better to feed a family of 10, no?

A mix of surplus foods from who knows (I saw material with the Texas H E B chain logo) as well as products of the area. Forks does reveal many Amish secrets: raspberry pie filling and gravy mix and a lot more food science than I would not expect. We still found much to buy, at bargain prices: hand made noodles, locally ground flour, jellies and pickles, candies, popcorn (pick from 3 colors), honey, more if I'd go down stairs to check. There are other Amish stores. We found more honey, more noodles, more jam at Dutch Country Market (11401 CR 16 between Middlebury and Shipshewana), but Forks is more worthwhile.

We found local flour at Forks but we saw local flour milled at Bonneyville Mill, slightly NW of Middlebury. I save the best for last. An existing water driven stone mill, now being run by the Elkhart County Park District. Is the grain local I asked. No, the mill master replied. My heart dropped a bit. "It comes from near Rochester". Rochester being a town about an hour South Bend. Well, that seemed pretty damn local to me. They find several types of local grain to grind: wheats, corn (in two grinds), buckwheat, rye, and they sell it all at absurdly low prices. I cannot to return. Of course, I'll have plenty of other places to try nearby.

How To Eat Local - Continued

More Basic

Tomorrow starts the sign-up for an Eat Local Challenge being encouraged by Chicago's Green City Market. I believe the actual Challenge is in September. I want to do my part in getting participation. Take an Eat Local holiday. You may not look back. A week or so ago, I posted some tips on how to eat local. Then, I realized the tips were a bit short of the practical. Those tips were better suited for someone already wading. What about someone still on the beach? Over a series of posts, I'll provide what I see as the basics on how to eat local.

The Eat Local plunge requires three pools: what's local; what's available local and where can I find what's local and available. The questions revolve around each other, but have to start with the parameter of what the heck do I mean when I mean local. How do you (or we) define local food. From what area can I get my food, so that the food would be considered local. Where is the wall that keeps in my local food and excludes all traf. Eating local is about eating food within this zone. There is, however, no church of local (or localvore). Define you locality as you want.

A hundred mile boundary is certainly used. See here to get an idea of what are falls within your 100 mile diet area. Your local does not have to be 100 miles. If you live in the Chicago area, you may find that a good portion of your 100 miles is lake water. Do you want that. Local could mean just eating food grown in Chicago. That's possible if limited, with Growing Power and City Farm and honey made in Garfield Park. You could fish the waters, although you could not find the same in any store. Your local can be your state, or it can be your region. I go for the last. I take an expansive view of local. I consider local any food grown, harvested or reared in the states that about comprise the Big 10 Conference. That is, for me, local includes Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.

Grown, harvested, reared--what about made, manufactured or produced. Tricky. Most soft drinks are made with high fructose corn syrup derived with Big 10 corn, local? Mars candy? Generally, for me, local production is not enough. I'm looking at the ingredients. Still, as I say a lot, I am realistic. My family is finding more and more local grains, and I think we will be making use of it, but our pasta and bread is generally not made with local ingredients. We do seek out local producers of these things (if possible).

Define your local. Know where you can get food, and it will be possible to know what food is available. Likewise, know what is your local and you can be more comfortable with you exceptions. As I also like to say, I'm a believer in the don't make yourself nuts school of eating local. Use salt damn it (your body needs it) and pepper and whatever other spices you need to make your food taste good. Drink wine, coffee, pop. Be comfortable with your exceptions because it makes your commitment that much more real.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Eat Local Cheese

BelGioioso Burrata

I noticed this a week or so ago, in the dairy section of Caputo's--note the Harlem Caputo's (at least), keeps cheese in two separate places. Most cheese, including the house ricotta and mozzarella, as well as the harder cheeses are in the deli; a lot of the other fresh cheeses (Polish and Mexican) and packaged cheeses are in the dairy area. Anyways, as we were long on fresh mozza in the Bungalow, I decided to wait.

Mike Sula at the Reader Blog finds it quite good, exclaiming:
This luxurious cheese fully lives up to its hype.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Open to the Public

The Wisdom of Children

I had the seeming brilliant idea that we would find a good breakfast place between Shippeshawana, Indiana and Chicago by driving West on US 12. Remember nothing is open in Amish Indiana on Sundays. Well nothing much existed at all on US 12 for a ways until we drove past the Cass County Conservation Club in Union, Michigan. Open to the Public on Sundays, the sign said. I was the only one brave enough to enter this domain of John Deere capped, playing pool, perhaps eating breakfast and brushing up on their Fox News. After my peek-in, I could hear the line from Animal House, "we're leavin'" as they fled Otis Day and the Night's Club. This lead, of course, to this pearl of wisdom from daughter 1:

"I'm not going to any place open to the public'

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Local as I Wanna Be

Local Lamb, Local Beef, It's All Burger to Me

While a 1/2 lamb does not leave quite as much ground meat as a 1/2 cow does, was there any doubt how we'd first dig in?

Wettstein Organic's ground lamb mixed with Genesis Growers sweet summer onions, flat leaf parsley, egg as well as local company but non-local Penzy's sweet curry powder; ancient Milwaukee garlic, stale bread. Grilled. Served with a sauce of Greek (and I mean Greek) yogurt, Italian olive oil, grated Genesis Growers cucumbers and Genesis Growers mint.

Salad of earliest season Genesis Growers house tomatoes, Genesis Growers cucumbers, Harmony Valley Romaine (Whole Foods!), Wisconsin feta (forgot where).

Genesis Growers zucchini, Sandhill Organics fennel

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Shawarma Sandwich

Can the Best Middle Eastern Sandwich be Found in the Loop...In the Basement?

OK, have I got your attention? Do I really think that the Middle Eastern sandwich stand, part of the Under 55 complex of loop lunch is the best, most authentic in the Chicago area. Nah, probably not, but I would say that like the recently finished Potter and the Dealthy Hallows, it gave me a lot of pleasure.

Like many, Potter's been on my mind. When Dad wants to discuss bad beats on computer poker and Mom wants to talk non-profit politics and one daughter thinks news on Brangelina matters and the other treats the happenings of her crew with as much reverence and detail; we can settle on a family conversation: Potter, Harry Potter. Good or bad Snape, what happened to Dumbledore in the tower, R.A.B., the missing horcruxes, the Gleam of Triumph, the place of Elves. We could always talk Potter as we waited endlessly for book seven. The well done Order of the Phoenix movie barely satisfied. Would we ever get the book, the answers. Younger daughter finished first, I a day later. It was a testament to how the action in the last book enthralled me, that I resisted the urge to start at the end (even as daughter gave a few things away). I dozed off last night revisiting all that happened at the end of Deathly Hallows.

I started thinking of Harry Potter at lunch again today. I thought this. The decent time between books stems not from Rowling's need to figure out how to meld the plots together. No, I think that stuff flows fast. Even in she gets stalled, she has magic to help: turn back time, faked identity, false thoughts, etc. What takes time is the amusements, the names. Many names have clear meanings, Remus Lupin or Xenophiliac Lovegood. More are just plain clever. The Monster Book of Monsters, blast ended skewts. I love the way Nicholas Flamel (the famed alchemist) runs off my tongue. I need Rowlingesque skill to name my sandwich. As many tiny explosions went off in my mouth today eating my Under 55/Caravan lunch, it seemed very Potter. It needs a name.

Anyone (anyone who loves to eat) who has ever been to Israel dreams of the falafel stands. It is not the falafel, good as it may be. It is the toppings. Any falafel stand worth its pita would offer at least 10 if not 20 toppings for your falafel. All of us who have tried that can never be satisfied with a barely dressed falafel. We want the package. Until today, I knew of no place in the Chicago area that came close. Sultan's Market could throw in some salad, hummus and baba ganoush, and some hot sauce, getting there. Pita Inn does a falafel with potatoes, also getting there. They remain far. Only this place, Caravan within the Under 55 food court gets close.

They offer three types of sandwiches, all variations of ground something. There is a dark beef version, a unnatural looking chicken and the classic chickpea. I believe these bases may be somewhat irrelevant. The falafels are not fried to order. The server fills a pita pocket sliced in two, then lets you go to work. A green and a red hot sauce, white garlic called toum, tahini, another white garlic sauce called tzatziki, "Armenian chopping board salad (a little Potteresque, no?); a tiny dice of potatoes mixed with cilantro; fried onions, a slaw, giardiniera, pickled turnips, "wild" cucumber pickles, humus, and a few other things I do not recall. You just pile.

I had this idea that I would do each 1/2 different, to try variations. It was useless. It was one big garbage plate of a mess. After a while I could not even eat it as a sandwich. I should say that the meat itself was quite tasty, well cooked and well spiced. It could have been a good sandwich by itself. Instead, I got Potter. I got Fred and George pulling little stunts in my mouth. Each bite was a mess of hot, spicy, crunchy, sour, fatty, smooth, bright.

I believe some gullets could not take all this. They might not be able to handle the full monty. Still, take the chance. You may find this the best, most authentic Middle Eastern sandwich in Chicago.

Under 55/Caravan
55 E Monroe St
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 849-9512

Friday, July 20, 2007

How To Eat Local

This is a slightly expanded version of some tips I posed on the site.

Wisdom gleamed from nearly 3 years of attempting to eat local:

Be realistic. I like the challenge aspect of eating local, but I do not believe I need to deprive myself of items that make sense. I'm not giving up coffee; I'm cooking with olive oil; I'll buy some bananas. I do have a rough system to what I will eat non-local. It has to carry. It should be a product that is meant to be eaten beyond its boundaries. Put another way, could you have eaten it in Chicago 50 years ago. I think by allowing myself certain things, it makes the overall dedication to localism that much easier. Don't make yourself crazy. Eating local will grow on you.

(I should add that we have no eat local restrictions when we eat out. It is not as if a shrimp or a mango never touches my lips.)

It takes time. Time to know sources. Time to know what to put away. Time to know what works. We are so disconnected from our historical farming/eating habits. You just cannot reconnect. Local does not happen in a day. My wife and I still marvel at how naive we were on our long ago first visit to the Oak Park Farmer's Market. How we were disappointed with its seeming bareness. Now, we know what to expect in the Spring, come Summer, Fall, and especially, what it's like living through the non-market months. We know because we've been doing it. We still learn, and we expect to be better local eaters next year.

Eating local does not end when the farmers markets pull up their stakes. One must take advantage of the fuller months. My CSA box this week features a huge bag of green beans, five or so zucchini and 8 ears of corn. All of this stuff is not meant to be eaten now. I'll pickle some of the zuke and freeze all the beans and some of the corn. Eating local requires a commitment to eat what's in season and what's not in season. Eat your full of asparagus in June, but also eat your asparagus in January. Freezing is easy, although freezing space can be an issue. A full size freezer is not that expensive, as things go. My wife and I are still neophytes when it comes to other preserving measures: drying, pickling, canning. As I said above, eating local just does not happen. It takes time to learn to do the things necessary.

Local is where you find it OR (as Mad-Eye Moody would say) constant vigilance. You may find Michigan apples and Washington apples at your supermarket. Well, did you know there would be Michigan? Do you know there are often Wisconsin potatoes as well as Idaho. Seek out the local and then buy the local.

Build relationships with farmers. This last one is so key. You might be able to buy fresh produce, in Chicago, in the dead of winter. You can purchase home canned foods if you are a CSA member (and your CSA farmer cans). Or you get the inside scoop on cows, lambs, pigs, buying bulk to save $$ Full consumption of local meat was our biggest hurdle, and it was a cost issue. Meat raised locally and sold at farmers markets is very expensive. This cost gets drastically reduced when buying in bulk. While it is possible to find farmers selling whole, 1/2 and 1/4 animals on the 'net, it is easier and more reliable to know a farmer that will sell directly to you. My fascination, respect and interest in our local farmers helped drive me to eat local. Their returned favor has made it a lot easier.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Condiment Queen Strikes Again

You(r) Fool

Perhaps because it implies more involvement with the food board universe than she has, my wife has disavowed the moniker, Condiment Queen. She's a luker she'll say. Condiment Queen is not a poster, not a nom de Internet. Still, as I explained long ago, it represents a certain improvisational style of cooking of hers. A style put to good use to address a daughter's birthday wish.

This story starts either at Target or with a box of gooseberries. I'll start with the gooseberries, that's a bit longer. I cannot resist buying things like local gooseberries. Gooseberries, as represented by Phil Smidt's pie, were a traditional fruit of the region, one now overshadowed by peaches, raspberries and blueberries. That and twin devils of ultra-tartness and tops and tails. A few local farmers fill the odd request. A worthwhile request as the puckishness is matched by a complex muskiness, like a good grape. Gooseberries are worth using. And if not in pie, then in the classic Joy of Cooking, gooseberry fool. An English fool is a fruit puree mixed with custard. Cook the gooseberries and run through a strainer. Voila, no need to pick off all those twiggy things on the berries. Us Yanks simplify things further, the puree folded into sweetened whipped cream. We had our gooseberry fool a few weeks ago.

Target, that goes back to about four years, a four year birthday. Given her choice of a birthday dinner, daughter number 1 picked target. What could be finer than a Target hot dog and a side of popcorn. The lesson: one gets what they want on their birthday no matter how bizarre. Fast forward nine or so years. What does one want? Carrot fool.

If you could make a fool from gooseberries (and sour cherries, my idea), why not with carrots. OK, I was not so keen, but the CQ took to it. She cooked down a bunch of Genesis Grower carrots in a bit of orange juice, added some honey, a bit of grated ginger and pureed. As is, it tasted not unlike an Indian dessert. Halwa, however, is not fool. In went the whipped cream. The final product was a layered glass of sour cherry fool (whipped cream, sugar, sour cherry syrup), the carrot fool, golden raspberries, and passion fruit fool (passion fruit curd from CQ's employer and whipped cream).

Fools do make an ideal summer dessert. They are both intense and light. Obviously, they match well against fruits that need balance, sour cherries or gooseberries, but as my wife and daughter surmised, there's a few other possibilities out there.

Monday, July 16, 2007

So Local, Even Our Artichokes are Local

Oak Park Farmer's Market - July 14, 2007

Last spring there was a brief debate on on the idea of local vs. seasonal. Someone demurred over my spring produce. It was not seasonal because it came from a greenhouse. Well, not that long ago (as his books have arrived from Amazon) I found that my guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall supports me. He also argues in favor of the use of hoop houses to affect and alter the notion of seasonality. Like me, he sees a difference between a bit of plastic that seals in warmth and growing in laboratories. Ground matters to us.

These kind of greenhouses allow farmers to grow year-round around here. They also allow farmers to get things to the market sooner. For instance, Genesis Growers has tomatoes now. The other thing is, technology can change what can be local. Lloyd Nicholls is somewhat famous (notorious?) amongst the farm market community for his desire to get anything to market. Not just happy with 10 types of potatoes and 39 kindas of apples; he needs pink gooseberries and Nigerian eggplants and...and..artichokes. For at least a few weeks Nicholls is bringing local artichokes to the market. I'm no purest here. (Of course I do not really like artichokes). I bought one for each of the girls. I just wish he could coax out some figs.

Eat local does seem to be everywhere. Jewel Foods and Caputo's ("the original farmers markets") advertise their localness. I have no checked out the former, but I know the latter had more local products than Whole Foods including cucumbers (2 types!), zucchini, eggplant, and apples. The apples especially impressed me as they were summer Lodi apples, a highly specialized product (sauce). The kinda thing one only expects at farmers markets.

In other Eat Local news, the Green City Market BBQ made the strong case that one eats best when one eats local. Green City is also sponsoring an Eat Local Challenge come September. The more the merrier! And trends, I sense a movement towards local fish. Several chefs at the Green City BBQ were doing things with local fish, abet farm raised fish. Regardless, National 27's farm raised perch escabeche was one of the top dishes at the Green City BBQ. While I wait for more local fish, I've expanded my supply of local meat. On Saturday I picked up my 1/2 lamb from the Wettstein's. Our freezer can barely stand it.

As I've said many a time, eating local now is easy, so ask me later. If you cannot make it to one of the many, many farmers markets, at least you can hit Jewel.