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.