Friday, April 20, 2007

Eat Local - Fish

Bill Daley in (the link free!) Chicago Tribune blog asks about local fish, namely local smelts. Sadly, as far as I know, there is no commercial fishing in Illinois, or much commercial fishing of any kind in Illinois. Perhaps there are people who know, but when I look at the regs, there seems nothing against fishing per se. Forces do conspire.

It's fishy. It's bony. It's toxic. (OK, there may be a point there.) Muddy, mushy, not so meaty, no tartare, no sashimi, hell no ceviche, who wants freshwater fish. And remember that cookbook culture that tells us we should be gorging away at artichokes and peas about now, well these books are filled with tuna and salmon and recipes just for the halibut (hahahaha). I can see why no one wants to dip their nets in our waters.

Maybe teeming is not the word, but the Great Lakes contain many delicious fish: whitefish, perch, the un-sellable coho, trout, Bill Daley's smelts, even (I'm sure) some remaining herrings. This is how I suggest demand gets re-built. Go to Washington Island, Wisconsin. Granted, it's like a $45 ferry ride but still less than half a tasting menu at Alinea. Commercial fishing thrives on Washington Island, meaning a boat can go out, catch 25 whitefish, 25 lawyer (burbot) and a mess of perch and have them all eaten by the next day. The fish can be done up fancy at the Washington Island Hotel , boiled at KK Fiskes or say a Friday fish fry at Findlay's Holiday Inn. No flash frozen, packed on ice, color added, farm raised fish tastes like it. Try!

After that, you'll not just pine for some smelts, you'll god damn demand we get fishin' in Illinois.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Welcome Sun Times Readers

(Thanks also for the plugs from Paul at Kiplog and Gapers Block.)

In Janet Fuller's other article today, she mentions hoop houses, the PVC(ish) tents that magically transform and extend the growing seasons for Northern farmers. Besides keeping things warm generally, the hoop houses keep the ground from freezing. Farmers like Vicki, can (and do) harvest year-round. (Listening, Whole Foods?). The hoop houses make Vicki's spring CSA more meaningful and robust.

My box this week:
  • Head lettuce
  • Mescalin mix
  • Radish bunch
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Carrots
  • Mint
Vicki e-mails, don't be so put off by all that green:

Spring is the time for greens. The cooler temperatures are perfect for growing greens. I don't know about you, but my body is craving greens right now. They are super nutritious - about as good as a multi-vitamin. I really believe we should eat according to the cycles of earth. Things are set up in nature according to what we need, when we need them. After a long winter of storage veggies, low light, cold weather and a lower activity level we need super foods to clean out the toxins and rev our systems back up. Nature helps us with this by providing greens. I will continue to provide green things every week - along with ideas on how to use them.

Welcom Sun Times Readers

Like Monica Eng before here, Janet Fuller managed to make me look saner than I thought.

So you wanna eat local.


It's hard. Not what you think. You do not need to live in California or work for Google [ed. which means you are already living in California, right?]. Winter is not your problem. Listen, don't let anyone from California tell you they have better strawberries. Don't worry that there is no year round public market. You live in the middle of the best farmland, probably, in the world. Shop at a farmer's market when it's there. Subscribe to a CSA. Freeze, can, dry, cold-store; You can live (fer sure) year round on the fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, butter, eggs, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, duck, pheasant, ham(s), cheeses (many) available within 100 (or so) miles of your house. Getting the stuff is easy.

Using the stuff, that's hard. I was reminded again the other day while dripping purple juice everywhere. Beets are a pain. Like mashing rutabagas and peeling squash (oy, what a pain) and triple washing the aphids off your spinach. Eating local, of course, requires you to eat what's in season, or if you don't eat in then in season, it must be processed for when you will eat it. This means your stuck eating what's around.

Often (typically?) what's around is beets or turnips or celery root. It aint all perfect, ideal, heirloom tomatoes. It takes work. Roast about a dozen beets. See how long it takes. Make a root vegetable mash. See why Rachel Ray is not a localvore. But then, see what she misses in flavor. Not the least enjoy the benefits of eating local...even if can be hard (at times).

You want to eat local. Here's some help:

Read often, the blog. Get inspiration and help from the several posters there. There, you can also find Jamie S.'s, tips for eating local.

Read often (also) the best Internet food forum, (luckily based in Chicago) where you'll find notices of local meat sales and threads about where to find local eggs (one of many).

Make friends with a local farmer. Our family was extremely lucky. A local farmer made friends with us, actually made friends with a daughter. "Farmer Vicki" Vicki Westerhoff took time from vigorous farm life to introduce and inspire the kidz at Hatch Elementary School in Oak Park. Three or so years later we are buying one of her cows. Through our relationship we gain access to products beyond what's at the market. More importantly, we learn about farming and even get to help. Unless (or until) you are a farmer, you cannot full understand and appreciate eating local without the guidance of a local farmer.

More anon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What's Local This Week at (My) Whole Foods


It's a truism of local eating, eat what's available not necessarily what you want. For instance, my local CSA provided me this week with a Napa cabbage. I use that for slaw even if I'm more in the mood for a red cabbage slaw. Obviously, things are a bit more complicated. A bit of attention to eating local, and you realize that whole categories of foods are seasonal. Take soup, I mean stock or related, braises. Good braises or stocks require aromatics like carrots, leeks, onions, and celery.

From the Eastern Market in Detroit, we had a sackful of Michigan winter carrots. Lying around our basement fridge from a late Winter Farmer Vicki delivery was "cutting celery" or German celery or leaf celery (i.e., stemless celery), which is good for nothing but seasoning. My thrifty wife preserved some leek tops in the freezer. There are enough onions in storage. We were ready for a red wine braised beef. We bought six pounds of chuck. Then, Bugs Bunny of a daughter number 1 ate all the carrots.

Even a dedicated localvore finds himself in the Whole Foods produce aisle once in a while. We needed carrots or the beef would be spoiled (heaven forbid we do the braise sans carrots). Now, localvores have been sneering at Whole Foods, and mostly for good reason. It is the epitome of global-cororganic food, with as much food from New Zealand, Mexico and Chile (it seems) than even evil California. Whole Foods has tried, realizing the Time Magazine spotted trend that is Eat Local. For instance, here I reported on some local food exposure at Whole Foods last September. Here in River Forest, through the fall they sold produce from Driftless Organic in Wisconsin.

And yesterday when I saw a sign, one sign amidst all the grown in California, for kale grown in Wisconsin, I went to buy it. I did not even need kale, having other greens from last week's CSA, but I wanted to help show Whole Foods that people would buy local. There were two different kales in front of me. Both had "cal-organic" labels. I asked. It seems that there was no local kale, only a sign for local kale..."it's our only sign for dinosaur kale." Perhaps, Whole Foods was capitalizing on the eat local trend without supplying local food. Maybe (!)

Typically, the produce guy sneered when I asked where was the local kale. The presumption remains that it is not possible to have anything local yet in this part of the world. Yet, my farmer filled (kinda) a box this week. There is no reason Whole Foods cannot develop better relationships with farmer's like Vicki that use hoop houses to jump start the growing season. There should be more than nothing local each week at Whole Foods