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.