Friday, February 22, 2008

Inventory Soup

Inventory Update

Our poor kidz, they have a habit of getting the wrong apples from the attic. The other day, one of them brought down some precious Granny Smith's--we must save these for salads or cooking, not mere snacking! After allowing a lunch's worth of apples, I returned the apples to the attic. I had not spent much time with my food lately, and this attic visit gave me time to assess.

Not good.

Or an excuse to make soup. One of the things about storing food for the winter is the tug between using and having. It reminds me of the great MASH episode where Hawkeye and Trapper go searching for an incubator. They find a supply officer with three. They beg for one. "But then I'll only have two", he replies in refusal. Still, with food, food stored in the attic, there is surely a use it or lose it problem. We need to make our food last for a few more months, but if we never get to use it because of spoilage, what's the point. We continue to experience shrinkage.

We had already mapped out our Friday Night meal for the week, a boiled dinner. This would use up some, maybe all, of those rotting turnips as well as the parsnips that were weakening. The critical nature of some of the food warranted quicker action. Hence the soup.

The recipe (my own!): cube some Nueske slab bacon and render in a strong bottomed stock pot; sweat onions; chop a stalk of pathetic looking celery and add, do the same for woody winter carrot. If you have some garlic and dried local peppers use them for seasoning. While these things soften, peel and quarter the salvageable bits of your turnips. A few russet potatoes can be used too. Fill with water until it looks soupy but not thin. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, about an hour (your time may vary). Before serving add pre-cooked wheat berries. Adjust the seasoning. And, and right before serving, chop and add sorrel that's survived admirably in the fridge.

After the soup but before the corned beef, here's the updated inventory: (Two notes, here's the last inventory update to see the progress; here's the freeze/can inventory, which has been separated from the general inventory).

Cranberries - two packages
Pie pumpkins - 1
Celery - about 2/3rd of a head, usable for cooking
Herbs - rosemary, thyme, parsley
Winter squash - about six including acorn, delicata, turban and butternut
Keeper onions - good stock
Sweet potatoes - low stock
Garlic - about 20 heads
Cabbage - 3 heads of white cabbage, one head red; the whites have varying states of decay
Sunchokes - 2 lbs
Carrots - low stock
Parsnips - low stock
Beets - very low stock, about six usable beets
Turnips - very low stock, about four usable turnips
Potatoes - very good stock
Apples - medium stock
Lettuce - 1 bag of mixed greens, one head of boston lettuce (non-local)
Microgreens - 1/2 bag of sunflower shoots
Mushrooms - cremini, mixed oyster/shitake (cultivated)
Celery root - 2 lbs

Additional local stock includes dry beans, grains, dozen eggs

Eat Local Meat

More 1/2 Cow Use

Cholent again, an Ashkenazi version. Two cuts of meat, short ribs and rump roast; Michigan beans, Wisconsin potatoes, Illinois carrots.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Every Week a Market

This Week's Winter Market

Winter Farmers Market
Sunday, February 24 ~ 10am to 2pm
Epworth United Methodist Church,
37W040 Highland Ave., Elgin 60124
(NorthWest Corner of Highland Ave. & Randall Rd.)
Free admission ~ open to the public ~ plenty of parking

The Winter 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 (no mercury!)
    Cheeses in a variety of flavors
    Infused vinegars & dried herbs
    Honey and beeswax products
    Fresh, organic lettuce, kale, basil & other herbs
    Apple & pear butters
    Fresh mushrooms, several varieties
    Onions & shallots
    Goats’ milk soap in heavenly scents & fun shapes
    Chocolate-covered fruit
    Spa & beauty products
    Jams & preserves
    Wool batting for quilts & comforters
    Mattress toppers & comforters
    Raw Icelandic wool
    Wool rovings for felting
    Pet soaps & pet beds
    A variety of organic milled flours
    Wool yarn & knitted items
    Maple & sorghum syrups
    Fair trade coffee
    Fair trade olive oil from the Palestinian region
    CSA subscriptions for weekly produce this summer
    Beautiful fruit tarts, croissants & more from Fraternite Notre Dame’s patisserie
    And much, much more!

Reserve your Easter ham now for delivery in the weeks before Easter!

*Note, an order form for Arnold Meats can be found on the Chicago Locavore's Yahoo site:

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!

Ø There will be additional Winter Farmers Markets throughout the Chicagoland area through March of 2008. Coming in the next few weeks:
· Sat., Mar. 1 ~ Third Unitarian Church, Chicago (in the Austin neighborhood, just East of Oak Park) ~ BRUNCH served while quantities last
· Sat., Mar. 1 ~ St. Benedict Parish, Chicago (in the St. Ben’s / North Center neighborhood)
· Sat., Mar. 8 ~ Beverly Unitarian Church, Chicago (in the Castle on the Hill)
· Sun., Mar. 9 ~ Park Ridge Community Church ~ BRUNCH served while quantities last
And we’ll be back in Elgin at Unitarian-Universalist Church of Elgin on Sunday, Mar. 16, open to the public from 1 to 3pm. Go to for more details on these and other markets.

You Know You Are a Localvore When

Onions, the Vegetable

I wish I could have Ronnie Suburban come to my house and take better pictures our our food.
When the supplies are dwindling (to be reported anon), what becomes the vegetable side dish? Well, onions of course.

"Mommy it looks as good as the book", my daughter said, commenting on what we had, not what's posted. That book is Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie*. He calls it "The best onion gratin", and he may be right (although until I adopted this whole localvore thing, I did not have much of a history of eating onion gratins). Oliver sez:
Make this gratin and it's bound to be the talk of the meal because its got ballsy flavor and sweetness.
It's an easy recipe, as easy as any recipe that uses "glugs" of olive oil. Essentially you "petal" the onion, pour over the glugs of oil, bake covered for 45 minutes, re-bake uncovered for a bit longer, then add creme fraiche and good grating cheeses; he recommends Gruyere and Parmesan, we've used a variety of things around the house including Maytag blue and Wisconsin fontina, the ultimate local version, would be Pleasant Ridge Reserve. After the cheese, bake again until golden.

*Bob's your uncle, Jamie ran me the wrong way in his Naked Chef glory. I was surprised to like and enjoy his Italy show on Travel Channel. Then, just when he got me, he's left me cold with his latest TVFoodnetwork outing. I do like the book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vie Pics Posted

See The Fuss

Here. Sure, I'm such a Vie-aholic that I would have linked to this post anyways (and even if it was not just my favorite restaurant, the pics are great), but I have the added advantage of actually having been at this meal presented in pixilated glory.

I don't have a lot to add to Ronnie Suburban's post. Not only does he nail the pictures, he nails the spirit of the event.
Vie continues to hit me on such an emotional and spiritual level, it's hard to analyze it. Each time I go there, I'm impressed by the way the dishes build in impact as the meal progresses. At so many other restaurants, after the short, intense burst of flavors provided by the starter courses, the entrees often fail to compel, and the momentum is lost. But at Vie, the exact opposite is true. Yes, the appetizers literally appetize -- hell, they dazzle -- but the inspired, imaginative and satisfying entrees just blow you away. There is no palate fatigue at Vie. Chef Virant and his crew may have the best senses of culinary build and pacing that I have experienced. The menu at Vie changes frequently and while that definitely benefits the diner, it's significant in that seems to be a natural extension of how this crew is constantly pushing themselves to build on what they have already accomplished. When you dine at Vie, you're tapping into the ongoing creative process of a uniquely-talented chef and a kitchen with a truly artistic sensibility. I'm sure customer satisfaction is important at Vie but I get the feeling that no one is harder to satisfy than chef Virant himself.

All I can do is comment around the edges. Since every dish hit home, of the ten or so times I've been to Vie in the last year, this was the best meal, I'll toss off a couple of nitpicks. Truffles on eggs is a great idea; the scrambled eggs fantastic--I'm not quite sure how Vie can do what appears to be a very slow cooked egg in a restaurant setting--but these truffles were not that pungent. OK, I've said my peace.

What's most interesting about Vie right now is the direction that Vie's heading. I'm hardly a fine dining snob. I am not one who seeks innovation for the sake of innovation in my food, nor do I think that the presence of foie gras, lobster, truffles and the such make the experience intrinsically better. But Vie is getting a bit classier in its approach. He's using truffles! The Au Bon Carnard local foie gras, has been on the menu for about a year, in ever changing variations. Now, it's showing up in the ice cream. With Vie, it works for a few reasons.

First, the food remains so tied to local, seasonal, and artesanal. There was nothing we ate the other night that was a "cheat" (beyond the sense that Vie gets fish from non-local waters). Second, the food is so precise, so well executed. They cover the basics so well; the time the fish is on the grill, the way things are fried. Third, as I have noted before, I love the repertoire. The dishes are always familiar but with enough twist to be Virant's. Finally, as Ronnie S notes, its the spirit of the place. Chef Virant walks out of the kitchen in a T Shirt, big smile on his face. Jenny who runs the front of the house is also all smiles. Everyone of the staff I talk to speaks to how much they respect Chef V and enjoy working there. This so much shows up in the dining room. I never worry about Vie getting too big for its britches because it's so comfortable to be there.

4471 Lawn Ave.
Western Springs, IL 60558

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

People Want Safe Food

More From CTrib

Blogger Julie Deardoff continues the crusade.

Yet, as the largest beef recall in history shows, most of us have no idea where--or from whom--our food is coming. And because we're disconnected from the process and the environment, we no longer eat intuitively or instinctively. Instead we read confusing labels, we listen to marketers, we look for so-called "health claims" and we follow diet plans. We rely on a mechanized system of food production that is not in sync with the earth; it relies on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetic modification.

Eat local.

Order Local - Order Arrives

Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks

Just yesterday I was saying that a Chicago based localvore needs to set aside and preserve to maintain local year round eating. Luckily, there are some options to enhance and supplement the larder. I was glad when a commenter got me to explore Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks. Here waiting on my computer was a source for certain local foods in the worst time of year. I made an order.

The lettuce, which I'll get back to, obscures some of the order. Essentially, I ordered everything they had last week advertised as local.
  • Boston lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Horseradish
  • Cremini mushrooms
  • Red cabbage
  • Burdock root
  • Arugula
  • Brussel sprouts (outta stock)
  • Limes (I needed a dollar's worth of something to push my bill over the $35 minimum)

When I first went through the stuff, I was mostly happy. The advertised six ounces of arugula looked like about 10 ounces--I mean it was a generous pour. My wife on the other hand, grr'd a bit at the carrots; she has a thing against chubby carrots. Actually, we both grr'd a bit at the horseradish, because, here instead of chubby, it was about six pencils of horseradish. We've never seen horseradish this skinny, and this was a bit galling because the site does not include an image of the horseradish. Still, it seemed A-OK. It was only after we examined the enclosed invoice that our grr turn more to growl.

As I have advertised before, our family is not one of extreme. We do not eat from within 100 miles, nor do we make sure that everything that goes in our mouths is local. I mean our order included limes for Pete's sake. Our rules are, however, that if it grows around here, then we will only eat it from local sources. It turns out that that generous helping of arugula and those healthy heads of lettuce came from somewhere, not here, not local, as recorded on the invoice and confirmed by Shelly in an e-mail. We aint gonna toss the produce, but we did feel a bit gypped. After the peril we went through to get local in Madison a few weeks ago, we expected a soft landing from Fresh Picks.

I'm not too angry though. Soft landing is good. How unhappy can I be with a source that delivers local, at least some local to my house in the middle of February. Really. Take away the lettuce and arugula, and it is still a robust inventory of local this time of year.* It beats the heck out what's local at Whole Foods. Shelly mentioned in her e-mail that I can stipulate in my order form that I only want local, so no trayf accidentally shows up at my door. I'd also say, that overall, I prefer market shopping. It's not just looking over the carrots and horseradish; it's that interaction with the vendors and shoppers and French Nuns. That's what got me into eating local. Yet, the markets only go so far this time of year, and Fresh Pick's serves a very needed need. I will surely order again, soon.

A word on price, local and organic food is not particularly cheap, e.g., $2.75/lb for carrots. Fresh Pick's prices are about in line for what one would pay at a farmer's market or Whole Foods, give or take, depending on the product. There is a $35 minimum order, at least to Oak Park, which I did not find unreasonable, and was a bit surprised that I had to lime to reach. The delivery charge was $5.50 to Oak Park, which, again, I did not find unreasonable. Cheap as the hotel we found via Hot Wire in Madison, it was more than $5.50.

*I did not buy quite everything local on their site last week. Other local products available were potatoes, a few kinds, and various sprouty-micro things.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Eat Local Later

What's Been Set Aside

(updates below)

Editor's note: During the summer months, this list included items set aside in the larder such as beans and onions, but during the rest of the year, this list will only include reports on items canned, frozen or dried.

Eating local in a place like Chicago requires a certain amount of advanced planning. I'm a hoop house a-lovin' kinda guy, but they really cannot supply my family's produce needs in the winter. One must preserve the harvest. Some of that preserving is just putting stuff away, and I've been tracking that stuff since December. I have not, however, done a good job of keeping a running tally of food that we have canned or froze (we have one full size freezer and the freezer halves to two refrigerators). In fact when I mentioned to my wife that I've been recording the inventory, she said, "great I've needed to know what's in the freezers."

"Um", I sheepishly had to reply, "that's not what I've been inventorying." Until now. With the fact that my wife froze all the cranberries that she did not use in last week's dessert, I will now track what we are preserving. For the most part, I am not going to retroactively update this listing with what's in the freezers now, but I've listed some of the food that I know is there. As to canned goods, I'm only gonna add right now, what we have canned ourselves. We also have a variety of local jams, jellies, pickles, etc., even some local Amish canned chicken [ed., just in case?] also lying around. (So much jelly and related that we have a moratorium on buying new.)

Freezer Inventory

  • Cranberries - 2/15/08
  • Beef from our 1/2 cow - cuts left include ground meat, tongue - Update: have eaten some of the strip steaks, more burger, much shank and short ribs, although we have more of both; the entire brisket; sirloin steaks (6/27/08); rib steaks (7/08); 2 lbs burger (7/25/08) flank steak (8/13/08) 2 lbs burger (8/28/08); liver 9/08; 4 lbs burger (LTHForum picnic); strip steaks (9/08) 2 lbs burger 9/08; rib roast (10/1/08) -- A somewhat greater effort to eat the older meat; 2 lbs burger (10/08); rib eye steaks (10/31/08)
  • Lamb from our 1/2 lamb - cuts left include leg, rack, shanks, all offal - Update: Used 1/2 of the leg
  • Pork including chops and ground
  • Poultry including capon, duck and chicken - Update: Current status: have two chickens from our Genesis Growers CSA
  • Greens - Update - Some used some during winter 08
  • Broccoli - Update: Much but not all was eaten during late winter, early Spring 08; froze several stalks of broccoli on 10/24/08
  • Green beans
  • Cauliflower - Update: Some eaten
  • Peas - Update: Some eaten - Peas added 6/21/08 & 6/28/08 & 7/5/08; used a bag of peas on 10/28/08
  • Corn - Update: 12 ears of corn frozen Aug 08
  • Rhubarb
  • Sour Cherries
  • Apple Sauce
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries -
  • Blueberries - added 7/1/08
  • 1/2 hog, see here for details, less 15 lb shoulder roast and 4 bone-in chops - 7/5/08
  • Peaches - 7/28/08
  • Blueberries - 8/8/08
  • Peaches, peeled - 8/15/08 and 8/22/08
  • Crowder peas - 8/17/08 - About half have been subsequently eaten
  • Tomato concentrate - 8/25/08
  • Peaches - 9/08
  • Red peppers - 10/31/08
  • Habenero peppers - 11/24/08

Canned Goods

  • Peach jam
  • Blueberry preserves
  • Pickled green beans
  • Pickled ramps - done ca. late May 2008
  • Tomatoes - 8/21/08
  • Spiced peaches - 8/23/08
  • Tomatoes - 8/26/08
  • Peach chutney - 8/27/08
  • Tomato puree - 8/29/08
  • Tomato sauce - 9/2/08
  • Tomatoes - 9/08

Semi-Preserved (i.e., meant to last but not sealed)

  • Caponata - 6 quarts - 8/18/08; Update: have eaten 2 quarts
  • Red peppers in vinegar - 10/25/08
  • Red pepper in oil - 10/25/08
  • Marinated beets - 10/31/08
  • Oven roasted delicata squash - 11/1/08 - Consumed
  • Brussels sprouts, shredded - 11/1/08 - Consumed
  • Tomatillo salsa


  • Oven dried tomatoes - 9/5/08
  • A second batch, oven dried tomatoes - 9/08
  • Red chili peppers - 11/2/08

Pickled but not sealed

  • Mixed middle eastern style - carrots, broccoli, cabbage, jalepenos, red bell pepepr - 10/29/08

Eat Local Resource

Yahoo Group

From comments, I learned about Nina's Eat Local Chicago Yahoo Group: . It has a great collection of links; farms, CSAs, local meat and various related items. The message board is a little slow so far, but I'm sure we can spice things up soon!

People Want Safe Food

Meat Recall

It seemed like only last week that the CTrib was editorializing about the need to eat local for food safety. Was this story in the works:
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Sunday that a California meatpacking company had launched the recall of 135 million pounds of beef -- the largest meat recall in U.S. history -- following questions about the company's treatment of cattle that were slaughtered even though they could not stand up.

Now, I have two obvious reactions to this article, that is reactions after I decide to blog it. First, could not one argue that this meat was local to someone, someone in California. Is it really an eat local issue? Second, and kind of the flip side issue, one of the stock counters to eat local generally; that is, a processor, this processor, may have had issues, but only through mass/factory production can the population be fed. Together, these issues draw together the complaints that eating local is elitist, expensive and unrealistic. Yet, the very nature of the recall suggests needed change.

I am, first of all, unconvinced that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world. Our agriculture land presently is poorly utilized. So much of it is turned over to corn-soy when it can be used to farm consumer products. Then, you have my favorite idea of converted brownfields and urban agriculture. Food (at least a lot of it) cannot be outsourced. Places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit (especially the latter two) have land that's not good for much else these days. Farm it. I believe the trend is going to be toward bringing food closer to the people. We do not need factory farming that is so prone to careless standards to keep hunger away.

Yet, that gets to the other question here. This operation was local to someone, was it not. Is there any inherent connection between food safety and local? I believe so, believe so for a few reasons. First of all, eating local as an exercise tends to (should) bring you closer to your food providers. There is implicit trust between say me and my friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers. She's not gonna let me down by cutting corners on food safety. There is the issue of transparency that I mentioned last week. Visit your local food. Moreover, the worst in processing operations try to hide themselves. Better to keep the eater from knowing how they do things, and what I mean about doing includes not just food safety but some of the environmental practices of some of our big guys. Eating local does not equal food safety, but eating local stands for food safety, it stands for land stewardship, it stands for real food. It stands for meat that will not be recalled.

Winter's Just a Market Away - From the Trench's

Market Report

Robin was nice enough to provide a little insider report from last Saturday's Winter Market
The Winter Farmers Market at Epiphany Episcopal Church this past Saturday was quite lively. Epiphany is, to say the least, off the beaten path. It's located near a gentrifying area, and is neighbors with several union halls. There's nothing going on for several blocks on a weekend day; very little foot traffic. It's a beautiful church with a progressive and innovative minister (Rev. Meigan Cameron), but a very small congregation, so not a large built-in constituency for the markets. Markets there have tended to be small (number of customers), and this one was no exception, but as our word has spread and our range of products has widened, I'm finding that those who do attend this market at Epiphany have made the trip there from all over Chicago--sometimes through snowstorms and freezing weather--specifically to support the farmers, to buy locally, to find organic and other sustainably grown foods.

We generally have anywhere from two to eight growers/producers in attendance at our markets with their products. But in recent weeks, I've realized that some vendors can't or won't make the trip to the market (for a lot of understandable reasons), so in order to provide a wide variety of products and in particular to get fresh, local produce to meet the growing demand, I've been making connections with local growers and cooperatives and have been procuring their products (tilapia, fresh lettuce and herbs, mushrooms, cheeses, etc.) and bringing them to market--to a very appreciative clientele. Though I've educated myself as much as possible about the products I bring, the savvy shoppers at these markets have questions about the growing and processing methods, and it's frustrating that I can't always answer to their satisfaction.

There's no substitute for having the grower there to respond directly, but it's just not always possible. My hope is that the success of these Winter Farmers Markets this season will encourage other growers and producers to plan for an extended season and participate next season. I hope you'll consider attending one or more of the remaining markets this season (ending March 30). Let's get the word out that "if we build it, they (the customers) will come" to encourage more vendors to sign on for next year. Be sure to let the vendors who do come know how much you appreciate their presence. And buy generously! For a list of the remaining markets this season, go to 19510. If you have any questions or would like to be put on my email list for reminders of the markets with pre-ordering info and a list of products represented that week, email me robininwinter AT I look forward to seeing you there!--Robin Schirmer, Chicago Area Market Coordinator for Churches' Center for Land & People