Friday, February 08, 2008

Winter's Just a Market Away

Mark Your Calender - UPDATE ON LOCATION!

I have yet to post about my visit to the Winter Market in Oak Park last week. Needless to say, it was great, great, great. Here's info on the next such market.

Fair Trade + Farmers Market Saturday, February 16 ~ 10am to 2pm
Epiphany Episcopal Church,
201 S. Ashland Ave. (Corner of Ashland & Adams) CHICAGO

Free admission ~ open to the public

The Fair Trade + Farmers Market will feature
Beef, both grass-fed and grain-fed, all hormone-free*
Pork, grass-fed and hormone-free*
Chicken & turkey, pastured and hormone-free*
Tilapia, farm-raised in Illinois without exposure to mercury
Infused vinegars & dried herbs
Fresh greens & herbs
Apple & pear butters
Chocolate-covered fruit
Soaps, salves & spa products
Jams & preserves
Wool batting for quilts & comforters
Mattress toppers & comforters
Raw Icelandic wool
Pet soaps & pet beds
A variety of organic milled flours
Wool yarn & knitted items
Maple & sorghum syrups
Fair trade coffee, tea & chocolate
Olive oil from the Palestinian region
Handmade note cards & writing papers
Organic wool stuffed animals
CSA subscriptions for weekly produce this summer
Beautiful baked goods from Fraternite Notre Dame and Sweets by Carolyn
And much, much more
*For best selection, consider pre-ordering; e-mail me at Vitalinfo AT AOL for a form.

Support these local farm producers, eat locally, and shrink your carbon footprint by purchasing food and other local items that haven’t traveled thousands of miles. Quantities of some products are limited, so shop early!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Local As We Wanna Be

Pizza Again

Last week my wife discovered her inner pizzaiola. I did not take pictures last night, but if anything the pizza was more delicious. No, we did not jet over to Ann Arbor to pick up fresh mozzarella. It was not so much the toppings: River Valley Mushrooms on one, smoked mozzarella topped with salad on the other. It was the crust. Just a bit more time in the oven. The crusts crisped more, in a good way. An ideal platform for what is local in the fridge. I'm looking forward to next week's tweaks.

Eat Local Fish

The Phil Vettel Game

There's a fine line between advocacy and reporting in the CTrib's At Play section. It's not that Phil Vettel is above a little push and shove. I've seen him use his space to seek improvement in Chicago's eating. Maybe today's piece on codish fish and chips represents a state of affairs he's happy with. Maybe.
Atlantic cod is the preferred fish because it's an inexpensive fish that's moist, flaky and sturdy enough for the deep-fryer. Just as important, cod has a very mild flavor. "A lot of people who think of themselves as non-fish eaters will still eat fish and chips," says chef Dirk Flanigan, who sells a lot of fish and chips at the Michigan Avenue gastropub The Gage. "That's what people are looking for." The trouble is, overfishing of cod has become a serious issue. Many chefs take care to buy cod from countries that avoid overfishing; Iceland is considered progressive on that score, and so Flanigan and many other chefs feature Icelandic cod (not a separate species, just Atlantic cod caught in Icelandic waters). Some local chefs have turned to less-overfished species, such as hake, haddock or pollock, members of the cod family whose populations aren't considered to be as endangered. Creative chefs will employ halibut, tilapia and walleye -- but these more expensive fish kick up the prices. "I was thinking one day I'd do mahi-mahi, the next day St. Pierre," says Flanigan, "but getting someone to pay $25 for fish and chips would be hard."

Phil hits on the problems with the cod, tasteless and scarce. He recognizes a solution in more expensive fish, but he fails to mention the best solution. Local fish.

There was a time, in the greater Midwest that fish n' chips, at least Friday fish fries, meant one fish, perch. These days perch still swim away in our Great Lakes, but the commercial fishing in many of the Great Lakes states is next to morbid. Still, lake perch is out there. More importantly, there's efforts to farm raise perch, and what I've tried so far, from has been pretty darn good (I've long been impressed with Growing Power's operations, but read the linked article to really be impressed). Let's pine for more perch in our fish fries.

Think of all impacts of ocean caught cod. Sure, not all cod stocks are decimated, but so many are. Beyond that, there's the impact of the miles and miles that these fish travel back and fourth from boats to shores to markets to markets to our restaurants. All that for a product tauted for its "very mild flavor". It's not that perch is fishy. It's no herring. It is, however, sweet and distinct and with a flavor that will soon addict. Ditch the cod.

Don't get me started on the chips.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Did You Know

Topics That May or May Not Show Up

  • The best paczki's I've tried were at Oak Park Bakery. Make a note for next year.
  • Pasticceria Natalina has justifiably got a lot of renown since its opening last year, but what about Giuseppe, who recently took over the operations at Claudio Bakery in Elmwood Park (7308 North Avenue). His products may not be as fancy. He does bake up some great breads, especially the classic Sicilian bread called malfada.
  • There's such a thing as local shrimp in the Midwest. And do you know Eric Villegas. When we were in Michigan a couple of weeks ago we found Villegas's great celebration of Michigan foods (Fork in the Road: a book/PBS series). We also learned about the shrimp farm in Okemos, Michigan.
  • Cassie's not selling Michigan shrimps yet at her new store, Green Grocer, but hopefully she will soon. She's hell bent on local, quizzing her potential suppliers for her new market. All ready she has a great stock of Michigan beans, local beet chips (worth the visit alone), Bennison's bread, one of my favorites, meat, eggs, Tomato Mountain products...
  • Like Cassie, Robin Winters did not just talk about local. Inspired by a few events, she pretty much single handily; OK with Tony of Scotch Hill Farms, she's brought local to the Chicago area while the farmer's markets hibernate.
  • I'm willing to buy a non-local cheese if (only?) it's as good and as special as Jasper Hill Farms Constant Bliss, as close as possible to true Brie in the USA.
  • At one time, Maywood had a Cuban community. Today, a bodega called Oriente is one reminder. Another is the cafe, El Prado (612 Lake). It's like eating in Senora's home. You order what she has each day. Which more often than not consists of flat breasts of chicken/beef with tons of garlic and onions or something long cooked and on the side, plantains, yucca and the necessary beans/rice. Boliche is a braised round roast stuffed with ham, a bit on the touch side. Carne asada is not steak but another form of stew, with potatoes. Garbanzo soup is emblematic of her touch.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What's In Season Now, Chicagoland - February

New Vital Information Feature

To those eating local, you should/could find these foods available this month:

Updated 2/13/08
Beef, lamb, chicken, pork - Winter markets; farm direct, Internet/
Grains - Winter markets, farm direct
Eggs - Winter markets, farm direct, grocery,
Farm raised tilapia - Winter markets
Farm raised rainbow trout - Grocery
Great Lakes fish - pike, whitefish, pearch, white bass, lake trout, carp - Grocery, speciality stores
Microgreens, sprouts and related - Winter markets,
Lettuces - Winter markets, farm direct,
Arugula - Winter markets, farm direct,
Carrots - Winter markets, farm direct,
Cabbage - Winter markets,
Potatoes - Winter markets, farm direct, grocery,
Apples - Winter markets, farm direct, grocery
Herbs - Winter markets, farm direct,
Mushrooms - Winter markets, Grocery,
Onions - Winter markets, farm direct, grocery
Burdock root -
Horseradish -

Inventory Update


Lula's - The Restaurant I Just Cannot Seem To Like

Tried Again

We try to be a Monday through Friday local-a-eatin' family (reserving eating out for the weekends). We were pretty set for Friday, having all the local corned beef (Vienna, local at least in production), turnips, red potatoes, parsnips, and cabbage needed for a nice boiled dinner. A combination of things including the snow put a kibosh on our plans. But I still wanted to eat local. Vie was a bit more money than I wanted to spend. Lula's.

It was one of those dinners that during it, neither my wife nor I did much complaining. For one thing, the kidz seemed very happy with their food; for another, since we could not get a read on each other, we did not want to appear to spoil the other's experience. You know. If you both hate it, crap away, but if she likes it, she may feel bad if you start trashing. It was not until the next day that I realized she disliked it about as much as me, and she's not nearly as predisposed to dislike Lula's as me. For her, it was more the service, a bit of the food, me it was mostly the food, some of the service. Bottom line, food on the banal side, service on the inept side.

We shared all: duck liver pate with a bit (and I mean bit) of blackberry preserves and black kale soup for starters; some type of pasta (the menu featured about four pastas whose names I did not recognize) with goat and a "24 hour" lamb shoulder with beans and greens. Let's take the last first. I expected 24 hour cooked lamb shoulder to be one of those, the French have a name for it, eat with a spoon, kinda dishes. Nope, it was hardly soft, rich, unctuous, any of the things the dish implied. Both the goat pasta and the kale soup were excessively bland. The soup, I could taste some cream, some type of acid, but pretty much no kale. The pate was, well excessively smooth, soft. The problem, it worked less as a mousse than it did as a pate.

Service, my wife was mostly bothered by how the staff constantly reached across our table to grab plates. Yeah, that bothered me, but what bothered me more was when I tried to quiz a bit on the actual local. I got a general answer that they used local organic. When I pressed, what was local, what farms, etc. I got a well, there's City Farms, and...and that was about it. No real explanation of what was actually local on the menu. At least if I'm gonna eat non-local food, I want to eat more tasty food.