Thursday, April 10, 2008

What's Local Andy's Fruit Ranch

Local Expectations

My wife loves to tell the story about our first trip to the Oak Park Farmer's Market, back in 2000; first market of the year. Just about all flowers. Not even good donuts. Almost lost us as customers on that day. Luckily, we stuck it out. Now, we go to Ann Arbor, 10 degrees below zero, find one bag of lettuce (practically) and are overjoyed. Finding just a bit of local makes us happy.

We did not have much expectations when we went into Andy's today. I had agreed to take my wife to Albany Park for falafal on the condition that we could buy some house made merguez sausage from Sahar Meat to saddle up along side tomorrow's planned kefta. So, in the neighborhood, we ran into Andy's mostly to get a few pieces of non-local fruit. Which we got, a few oranges and tangerines, but we also got some needed local. It made us very happy.

We are not lacking in onions, but neither are we filled up either. If my wife is to make her Jamie Oliver onion gratin next week for Passover, we need lotsa onions (don't tell anyone there's dairy in the casserole). Andy's had three pound bags of, abet small, Michigan onions for $3. They also had 1o lb bags of Wisconsin russet potatoes for less than $2 and 3 lb bags of Michigan apples in multiple varieties (Empire, Cortland, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious) for $1.69 each. Finally, there were Macintoshes without a sign a label. Because they did not have a sticker and were wonderfully imperfect, I'm betting these are Michigan too--betting enough that I bought a few pounds. I was happy to find some local, especially some things we need.

The finds at Andy's also spoke to something else that's been on my mind. When I had my talk local lunch the other day, we talked a lot about the cost of local food. I'm not denying that local food can cost more than conventional food, that there is a premium so to speak, a premium at least on any "fancy food", but it is also true that if you buy what is in season, including local, you will often find produce at its cheapest. Yes, yes (yes!), most people are not going to want to eat as many apples, potatoes and onions as my family did over the winter. Maybe, however, a bit more onion gratin and a few less stalks of Mexican asparagus in the shopping cart? There are ways to save money and eat local. We got local and we did not spend much.

Anyways, let me end by giving another shout out to Sahar. It is right up there, near the top, of my non-local meat stores. There are certain parts of the lamb, that if, if I ever had the need to try, I would want to buy them from Sahar. In the meantime, I'm happy with their sausage, their incredible prices on lamb, or their cut to order veal shoulder.

Andy's Fruit Ranch
4733 N. Kedzie
Chicago, IL

Sahar Meat
4829 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL

Who's Got Ramps?

A Good Produce Is Hard to Find

I'm generally down with Top Chef (although the Chicago part seems rather missing from Top Chef Chicago). My main bugaboo, especially with the show this year, is the quality of ingredients. As much as I'm a Whole Foods shopper, call me crazy if I think Top Chefs should be shopping there. Do ingredients matter to the Top Chefs? Even when the chefs went to Green City Market, their subsequent creations did not play to the quality of the ingredients. Is this a trend? A sign?

I do think that for the most part, home cooks, let's not call us chefs, have the edge when it comes to ingredients. We can subscribe to CSAs. We can hit the markets. How many Top Chefs are getting access, right now, to crops like I'm getting weekly from Farmer Vicki. But, but, but... but, but, but; there's one thing right now that they have, and I covet. Ramps.

First there was Hat Hammond making us ramp-envious. Now, we got Janet Olvera in yesterday's Sun Times (h/t)
In case you were wondering, the Spence Farm ramps don't make it to farmers markets -- only to select Chicago restaurants and a few grocers in Fairbury, including Dave's Supermarket, to which the farm supplies seasonal produce. After all, keeping it local is a mission for the Travis family.
Of course, there's no farmer's markets right now for Spence Farms to market. Last year, Whole Foods was carrying, for several weeks, ramps from Harmony Valley Farm, but as far as I can tell, they have not shown yet. I'm guessing some ramps will be at the Dane County Farmer's Market when they go outdoors next weekend. Otherwise, for now, it's advantage top chefs.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Do You Want Local Food

Rebecca Gray, in today's Tribune (quite the publicist you have Ms. Gray):
I once read an article that had the rather gloomy title, "Is Cooking at Home a Thing of the Past?" The author cited convincing research from the Food Marketing Institute in Washington, D.C., which reported that with each generation meal-preparation time is being cut in half, that our grandparents spent two hours, including picking their vegetables and killing the chicken, on the evening meal. Our parents spent an hour, we spend half an hour, and our children spend 15 minutes on dinner prep—or sometimes less, depending on how much time speed-dialing for pizza delivery takes. What the author concluded from this was that declining minutes in the kitchen was a sign of an anti-cooking trend. We want to eat; we just want someone else to prepare the food.

Baloney, I say to the anti-cooking thing. Cooking is as basic and central to our being as the fire we use to accomplish it. And if we've really lost interest in cooking, then what's all that foodie stuff—a gadget for every kitchen task, the lessons in Tuscany, the explosive proliferation of food magazines and TV shows—helping us do in our kitchens? I don't deny that we're looking for quicker fixes for dinner—quick is part of the culture now. But beyond that we're searching for novel cooking prerogatives, innovative methods for building good meals—and meals that taste great. For better or for worse in America we no longer eat only because we are hungry.

But there is a solution for fast and good that also gives us a chance to cook the meal. Somewhere between reconstituted mashed potato flakes and Julia Child's pommes souffles is a simple, delicious and very flavorful plate of mashed potatoes—I'd use Wood Prairie Farm's Rose Golds to get there.
Of course I agree with Ms. Gray's basic sentiment (although I bet there are potatoes as good as from Maine around here). Still, this bit dovetails into a big eat local issue. Yesterday, someone bought me lunch so I could talk local (how's that for a treat). She wanted to hear problems with eating local. To me, more than cost, more than availability, more than anything, the problem is time.

Because I work at home and my wife does not work, we have the luxury of working with our local ingredients. The forty-five minutes it took to boil beets to prepare them for a dish; the hour to make good polenta; the surprising amount of work (and time) to prepare a dish as simple as mushrooms with pasta (brush the mushrooms clean, slice, mince garlic, 10 minutes in the pan, turn, another 1o, add the garlic, cook a few more minutes, add some herbs, some butter, some cream, all this while water has come to a boil for the pasta). Now think of this, do you want to eat just mushrooms and pasta for dinner. Some salad? That CSA lettuce does not come triple washed.

As I lamented yesterday, my companion brought up some solutions. Make your local food ahead. She says she makes a few weeks worth of food every few Sundays. Or, make like Rachel Ray, prep your food when you first get it. In other words, some investment in time can allow for much needed time later. Rebecca Gray points out that great ingredients demand less work. My family has found eating pleasure in our local potatoes plainly boiled, baked or roasted. Dinner time does not have to be a hassle.

OK, some hassle. I want you to eat local, so I am not gonna pull any punches. Local takes time.

Local As I Wanna Be

Polenta 2 Ways, 3 Ways

One of my favorite eat local finds has been the water driven Bonneyville Mill in Elkhart County, Indiana. We are still working our way through bags of stone-ground corn meal. And of course to foodies like you and me, stone ground corn meal has a sexier name, polenta. We were saying at dinner the other night, that's a bit odd, with all the corn around these parts, that polenta, however you wanna call it, is not more a part of the local cuisine. For now.

Monday, my wife made some of our local cornmeal into polenta. The key to good polenta, we have learned, is to follow Alice Waters directions. Cook the stuff a long time, an hour. The corn gets so fluffy you could sleep on it. Monday the polenta made a nice bed for the leftover beef carbonade my wife had made over the weekend (chuck roast from our cow, local onions, Leine's Big Butt Doppelbock). The rest of the polenta went on a sheet pan for the next day.

Next day, my wife cut well shaped triangles of polenta. She offered the polenta with three toppings: leftover Wisconsin cultivated mushrooms (sauteed); Farmer Vicki's kale (boiled, dressed with olive oil and a splash of Dane County chili vinegar), and the horribly non-local but awfully delicious burrata we picked up the other day at Freddy's in Cicero.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rick Bayless Drinks Local Milk

Shake Your Milk Thang

Last night I watched the first episode of a new season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Rick did a Mexican take on Spanish food. He needed milk for the flan. I could easily tell from the bottle and a brief glance at the label, that Rick uses the same milk as my family, Farmer's All Natural Creamery. Still, Rick or his daughter Lannie, I forgot who, was adding the milk, did not shake. When you use this milk, do shake as the milk is not homoginized. On the other hand, maybe what happened to Rick is what's happened to me before, all the cream went out in the first (lucky) pour.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Eat Local Fruit

Michigan Blueberries

This little excerpt from American Artisanal: Finding the Country's Best Real Food, from Cheese to Chocolate by Rebecca Gray on e-Gullet will get ya hankering for fruit still a few months away.

A Moment of Triumph

Inventory Update

It's been a bit since I've updated the inventory list. Plus, we got our first Spring CSA box last week, and I have a picture I can post too. Still, I needed to get my Winter recap post up over at the Eat Local Challenge blog.

The latest inventory includes a shopping spree at Robin's last Winter Market and the arrival of our first box from Farmer Vicki as well as a trip to Madison a few weeks ago.

The previous inventory report; from there you can follow the embedded links to all the inventory reports/updates. In addition, you can click the tag for storage to the right.

One very apparent thing, from the reports, is that we never came close to running out of food this winter. Even when it seemed like onions would be our sole vegetable, we seemed to run across stocks of indoor lettuces and such. It gave needed variety to the diet. The family also took very much this winter to mushrooms. We ate a dish from cultivated Wisconsin mushrooms about once a week. Eating local this winter was doable first by the discovery of our attic and the ever staying natural refrigeration. We stocked away enough food, and it stayed stocked away until needed. It was further doable, in a great way, by the supplies provided by Robin and her winter markets, Cassie and her Green Grocer and Irv and Shelly and their Fresh Picks. As I wrote today on the Eat Local Challenge Blog. I am here to tell you it is possible to go all Winter eating local in the Chicago area.

The current inventory/recent changes to the inventory:

Cranberries - They wait for...?

Celery - My plans to preserve the celery, like so many of many preservation ideas, has fallen by the way side. We've been using, a few stalks at a time.

Herbs - rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro, mint, oregano - We purchased everything AquaRanch was selling a few weeks ago.

Winter squash - Our pace right now is: toss one about every two weeks; that still leaves about five. Like cranberries, the problem is, who wants squash now?

Keeper onions - We got got three or four in our CSA box, but have already used them; these stocks are getting pretty low.

Sweet potatoes - Blink and its gone. I thought the remaining sweet potatoes would last until Passover, but low and behold some mold found them. All gone.

Garlic - We are very good here.

Cabbage - A head of red cabbage remains from the winter, tired but eatable.

Sunchokes - I peeked in on the sunchokes last week, about 25% were going/gone. As I say, tired but eatable.

Carrots - The time of carrot restraint has past. We have stocks as well as new supplies from Vicki. The newest, wide "over-wintered" (i.e., stored in the ground) went into one of the trio of Bistro salads I made the other night.

Parsnips -Hanging in there.

Potatoes - OK, plus some reds from Vicki last week.

Apples - All Winter long, Robin's been talking about the apples being stored away by Hillside Orchards. They finally came out at her last market. We got some but have ate them already. We are still working through a big bag of Michigan red delicious from Costco.

Lettuce - Long on lettuce. It took so long to finish the mondo head from Vicki that we tossed before it was over. We picked up the last bags available at Madison; then got a few more from AquaRanch, and we got a head of butter lettuce in our CSA.

Microgreens/Sprouts - At Madison, my daughter took an over generous sample from one bag. After buying that, we had about four bags of sprouts/micro-greens in the bungalow. They go in the kidz lunch a lot.

Mushrooms - We picked up mushrooms both in Madison and at Robin's last market. Most of them have been eaten.

Celery root - I finally used the celery root, with remoulade as part of the Bistro salad trio.

Burdock root - 1 lb - No change, but I'm not quite sure where it is.

Wild watercress - Some, maybe.

Arugula - See lettuce, we keep on getting.

Beets - Local beets from Whole Foods (they swear!) as well as some from Vicki last week. The last of the Bistro salads.

Kale - From the CSA box.

Local Pantry
Cheeses, yogurt, eggs, noodles, pork, beef, lamb, bacon, granola, grains, milk, cream

Gardening, Farming and Foraging Chat

New Sub-Forum Added

The folks at LTHForum have added a new area to their site, focusing on growing food. Read about the launch here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

First of Many

Time Out Chicago 2008 Eat Out Award to Green Grocery Chicago

The envelope please:

Best Localvore Leader
Green Grocer Chicago
Unless you live in some fairy-tale neighborhood whose local market brims year-round with local produce, freshly butchered, grass-fed meat and still-warm bread, you have to expend a lot of effort to be a localvore in Chicago. That is, until Cassie Green and Gary Stephens decided to jam as many local products as they could get their hands on into their five-month-old Green Grocer Chicago. They pack a lot into their small store: Papa Lena’s veggie chips, Temptations soy ice cream, Mu Tofu tofu and tempeh, Terry’s Toffee, Metropolis Coffee, Bennison’s breads…all made right here in Chicago and all finally under one roof. 1402 W Grand Ave, 312-624-9508.


In other Green Grocer news, Cassie e-mailed me this weekend on some of her ever expanding inventory of local stuff:
Fresh lettuces and greens from Windy City Harvest (greenhouse at 28th and Western) [this is a new one for me, very intriguing and exciting]
Tilapia, lettuces and herbs from Aquaranch (IL)
Mu Tofu and Tempeh (Roger’s park)
Rishi Tea (Organic tea, fair trade offices in Milwaukee but tea is clearly not grown locally)
Grass fed, pasture raised beef (steaks and ground beef) from James Family Farm (Sherman, IL)
Grains and flours from Ted’s Grains (IL)
Stop by to try the new products. And give her and her husband to be, Gary Stephens, congragulations.

Eat Old Cheese

Hook's 10 Year Old Cheddar

Sometimes I'm in bliss eating a local cheese that's less than a week old, find some Fantome Farm goat cheese at the Dane County Market. Other times, like today, I get my cheese bliss from the aged. And I mean old, Hook's ten (plus) year old cheddar, which I had for lunch today.

You can read about the Hook's and their aging process here. The Hooks say.
Some people say they don't like aged cheese," Julie says. "They think it's bitter. But chances are they haven't had an aged cheese that's done well.
Well, maybe it's not bitter, but 10 year cheddar is not starter cheese. It does not taste like cheese you may know. For one thing, it is crunchy. Do you expect your cheese to crunch. Hook's 10 year cheddar is not the only cheese to crunch. Most often from calcium lactate, the crunch, or crystals, can be found in other aged cheeses, including English cheddars and older Parmesans. The tiny crystals in Hook's aged cheeses add an unexpected pleasure. The other thing though, that's maybe not as unexpected. That is the funks of aged cheese. OK, it's not bitter, but it aint smooth. Maybe a bit sour, whiffs of ammonia, the taste of aged cheddar is not one of decay or stink like a mold ripened cheese, but it is far from nuanced. It helps to balance a cheese like this against something, some keeper apples, the maligned red delicious add the necessary off-setting sweetness as I had with my local ploughman's lunch.

The Hook's are usually at the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison, so you can learn about their operations and buy many of their cheeses; they make excellent blue cheeses too. I've heard that some Chicago area Binny's carry Hook's cheeses, but I have not seen them. Keep an eye out. It's a local cheese worth finding.