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.