Friday, May 18, 2007

So You Wanna Eat Local

Think Ahead

It was a very good day at the first Green City Market of Chicago.

The Bennison Bakery girls had nothing to sell by 11:00.

Green Acre Farms was equally sold out.

And Hoosier Pie had not got around to changing their sign to reflect their lack of inventory.

After our (usual) (typical) (dreadful) winter, Chicagoans are starting to revel in fresh, local food. Stories and reports on the farmers markets were all over the media last week, print and e. The hype seemed to work. A late start and the (usual) (typical) (dreadful) traffic on North Avenue got my wife and I to Green City on the late side. We still had plenty of asparagus

I went crazy over all the fresh herbs at Growing Power; who's so local they're farming in downtown Chicago.

A day after the market, I got my weekly CSA box from Genesis Growers. More asparagus, more mint, broccoli, chard, lettuce, carrots, spring onions. What did I do. I blanched. I froze. All my broccoli from the last few weeks will be available for a long time. Broccoli, for instance, is pretty useless raw, so blanching/freezing does little to the final product. Defrosted, I can even make a salad from my handiwork. Next February.

One thing I plan on doing more this year is drying. It's easier to freeze fruit than veg, but we found limited use for frozen fruit. I cannot put it in the kidz lunch. Therefore, I'm gonna try more drying this year, peaches, apricots, grapes especially. Then, I'll have plenty of local fruit to fill their brown paper bags.

Eating local should not be a pastime that begins with the first outdoor markets in May and rolls up come fall. Buy now what you can eat later. Preserve. You will find it very worth it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why...Local Potatoes

Wondering why I tweaked John Bubula today about getting local potatoes

SDritz on
To go with the chicken meatloaf I whipped up last night, we had half of the asparagus and the fingerling potatoes from Nichols that I picked up during my lunch hour on Tuesday. The asparagus were terrific -- very sweet and tender. My husband kept saying, "Boy, these are the best potatoes EVER." I just threw them in the oven with a little olive oil, kosher salt and pepper in a separate dish while the meatloaf was cooking. They were really good. I'll have to get more next week.

In Season

The Chicago Tribune discovers today that some restaurants around town like to present seasonal menus.
North Pond serves up "exceptional ingredients at the height of their season," according to its Web site, which includes a list of 19 mostly local farms that supply the restaurant with just-harvested food, including one in a Grayslake subdivision. Add to that list dozens more -- mk, Blackbird, Green Zebra, Spring, Volo, Seasons, Va Pensiero, Sola, Everest, Timo and on and on....That means ramps in March and morel mushrooms, spring onions, spring garlic and radishes right now. This is why you're seeing asparagus on the menu these days, and soon you'll see corn.
My problem with the notion of seasonality is that while I'm seeing morels now, I'm also seeing ramps (big time) and corn will not be so soon, surely not how most people consider soon.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of my new gurus, provides some needed context. He says exactly what I've been saying for a while, just substitute Chicago for Britain.
This is a big and important question. And I am aware that not all supposed food lovers agree with me about the answer. Much of the way cookery is presented in Britain – in books, colour supplements and on television – works against our understanding and appreciation of the seasons. It does so by fostering a ‘grass is greener’ mentality, making us aspire to someone else’s seasonality (or, ironically, their relative lack of it). It implies that the food and produce of sunnier climes (the Mediterranean in particular) are more worthwhile than our own. In short, it idolises the exotic. To those who perpetrate this idea, it may be a genuine source of regret that we do not have an endless summer in this country. I feel no such pangs. On the contrary, I think we have one of the richest experiences of the seasons of any country on earth. And we have a range of produce and a culinary heritage that reflect that experience and help to make us who we are. Our weather may be the butt of longstanding jokes among our Continental neighbours, and consequently, in that self-effacing British way, among ourselves. But don’t we love it really? Isn’t our summer so special precisely because, just like our autumn, our winter and our spring, it doesn’t last forever? (His full take on seasonality here.)

While I'm a half-full kinda guy when it comes to farmers markets--I loved the nearly sold out Green City Market yesterday, I'm a half-empty kinda guy when it comes to seasonality. I appreciate, I really do, what many local restaurants are doing with seasonal menus. I'd just love to see some crazy purists out there.

My wife happened to finish reading the quoted article as I was wrapping up this blog post. Her take was even stronger than mind, finding the author a bit too arch, almost mocking, that seasonality was just another trend, not a legitimate aspiration.

And in discussing with my wife, I was reminded of something else in the article that bugged me (a bit). Now, I hate to say anything bad about John Bubula, his heart is in many right places (see here for instance). But the article notes about him:
If Bubala can get potatoes locally in season, he will. Otherwise, he orders some from Idaho.
I gotta say, from my long stash of Genesis Grower keeper potatoes to a 50 lb bag of Wisconsin potatoes purchased at the wholesaler, Restaurant Depot to Igi Farms stuff that's at Trader Joes and other places to even what was just at Whole Foods, is it that hard to find local potatoes year round, round here?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's Local at Whole Foods (Hell's Gate Edition*)

*North/Sheffield in Chicago

Not much really.

There were these potatoes from Minnesota, on the far cusp of my local boundary. And the ramps that Whole Food's still pushing at sales prices. (I guess I'm not very typical of the clientele.) Yeah-yeah, there was the Organic Valley cultured butter and the Trader's Point yogurt, and even some Lynfred Winery cranberry wine, but overall, not too much local. I will say that the merchandising at this Whole Foods is worlds better than the one in River Forest, Illinois.

I should also report that the morels at this Whole Foods came from California, and were even more expensive to boot!

198 Pounds of Ground Beef to Go

In Which I Make Meatloaf

OK, no one's gonna accuse me of conspiracy to distribute food porn, certainly not with this beaut. Still, I may not be proud of my pic, but I'm proud of my original concoction. Our first use of of our local cow. Before getting into my recipe, let me, again, plug the use of local meat. It's easy to think local, buying a bit of lettuce here, an apple there, yet unless you are a vegetarian, your localness is limited without meat. Luckily farmers markets around Chicago are starting to offer meat with their veg. You may not want to do what we did, buy directly from a farmer, but you can still get your fill of local burger.

What I decided. I decided that we had a window, with the forthcoming cool front, to use the oven. A meatloaf takes over an hour, and in our air conditioning-less kitchen would not be a great idea soon. I've never made meatloaf before. The plan, the method seemed straightforward and easy. I could whip up my own creation on the first go-around.

I only made one boo-boo. With ramps still present, I knew they would be the key feature. I separated bulb from leaf. Chopped and sauteed the former. The leaves, I placed on the loaf after it went in the pan, my intention that it would provide a wrapper. Look French if you can picture. Unfortunately, the leaves just kind of pooled up on the top after an hour or so of cooking. I tried to crisp them up with the broiler and nearly burnt. They became an accent. Everything else worked if it made for an ugly product. Besides the ramp bottoms, I added a bit of cooked diced carrot to the meat, two slices of soaked, Whole Foods country wheat bread, a Farmer Vicki egg, a splash of cheap French cognac (purchased at a Russian style fish market), salt and pepper. The meat went into a clay loaf pan. A wrap of aluminium foil, a pre-heated 350 degree oven, and about an hour got us to dinner.

Although we have fresh vegetables, broccoli and kale, the dish seemed to demand certain classics. We still have a good amount of Michigan potatoes. I could use the already burning oven to roast those (Italian olive oil). To the chagrin of my wife, I took a package of last year's peas from the freezer ("I could use those in soup...stew..."). We ate a salad of Illinois lettuce, Illinois radishes, Illinois carrots and French cheese while the meat finished. Dressing, as mostly, was not local. Neither was the wine. When I sampled this, "soon to be next designated Beaujolais village" at House Red in Forest Park it had the fruitiness of the breed with a good deal of backbone/acid. A great buy at $14. The bottle we took home seemed to lack all the Beaujolais characteristics, reminding me instead of a mediocre California pinot.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Half a Cow Looks Like

It was a trip that began like so many trips of ours, with a delay, a detour, as now brace-less daughter once again forgot a permission slip. From Hatch Elementary School, our trip also proceeded as many of our trips proceed. Slowly. The long way. Faced with highway congestion and side streets, why be stuck where it's boring. At least stuck south on Cicero, with camera, I could find things like this.

Actually, for all its traffic lights, Cicero, through Oak Lawn, Alsip, Crestwood, etc. is a chowhound's delight. Wife and I were filled with, we gotta go there, we gotta go there, places. First, soon, definitely, has to be House of Hughes, a classic suburban roadhouse (in the nicer division, from the outside at least, it reminded me wholly of Melrose Park's lamented Homestead, yet oddly enough, in 2000 the Reader noted its BBQ). And surely, as we turned East on Lincoln Highway, there were some old time Italian places in the Heights to explore. We soldered on as it was between breakfast and lunch. Soon into Indiana. At US 41, stood the House of Hughes looking Teibels (scroll down), a place that has been on my short-list for eons. Still not quite lunch time. Suburbia changed like/that, to Indiana countryside. Just as we got darn hungry and in need of facilities, dining options became less. Of course, my wife, who happened to be driving, needed know assent to pull into this place.

It provided about what we expected in a countryside lunch, although we always wish for better.

Our method, about 180 minutes after leaving Oak Park, Illinois, we pulled off of Main Street, Brook, Indiana, into the parking lot of the Brook Locker.We waited as two families loaded their cars (one car, one pick-up truck). They roll out your meat in the mesh trays, and you put it into large clear plastic bags. It easily fit into the way-back of the Volvo. We took the highway home (yet stopping at the Fair Oaks Dairy for cheese, duh), contemplating what we would do with so much ground beef.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's Local at Whole Foods (River Forest)


And I spent $7 on the mushrooms pictured just so Whole Foods will sell local to you next time. First thing I did when I saw the mushrooms today was ask how much. I winced. Then, I asked where. It took a bit of digging from the pit boss, but when he finally said Antigo Wisconsin, I bought.

Ramps, sunchokes and burdock root all remain as they were from last week.


In which I add to other posts.

The Reader's Farmer's Market Calender
My additions:
- May - Morels
- July - Cherries, sweet and tart, apricots, sweet onions
- August - Peaches, nectarines, dry onions
- September - Grapes, plums, root vegetables, various wild 'shrooms
- October - Asian pears (papples), black walnuts, pumpkins

Time Out Chicago's Featured Farmers
My additions:
Genesis Growers - Obviously, I'm gonna name my friend Farmer Vicki (and name her first). Vicki grows a bunch of vegetables and a few fruit organically, yet because she is not certified, her prices are much less than others. Her vegetables exude intensity, borne out by the deep Illinois prairie soil and hot summer sun. Especially special are her hot peppers, her lettuces and her melons. Vicki is one of the few farmers around here to grow sweet potatoes. You can find her Wednesdays at Green City Market and Saturdays at Kankakee and Oak Park.

Green Acres Farms - Rivals Nichols on variety and is the strongest in the area, by far on Asian vegetables. Many types of potatoes, radishes, eggplants, onions. Green City and Evanston.

Hardin Farms - Oak Park's finest purveyor of stone fruit, especially the short season of apricots.

Oriana's Oriental Orchard - The Papple Lady. Asian pears and black walnuts. Green City Market.

LTHForum Forest Park French Market Report
This is more of an addition to my post from last week. Ann Fisher adds to the database of this market.

Local as I Wanna Be

Another Ramp Dinner

Bruschettas, two: Illinois garlic, Illinois arugula, Italian white anchovies, Indian pepper, Italian olive oil; Illinois garlic, Illinois chard, Italian white beans, Italian olive oil, Indian pepper. Then, frittata from Illinois eggs, Wisconsin cheese, Italian olive oil, Illinois asparagus, Wisconsin ramps. In my Vie like inspiration, I garnished with Michigan pickled asparagus.
Beer brewed in DuPage County
. Polish water.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

La (1/2) Cow Est Arrivée

And boy do we have a lot of hamburger.

More soon