Saturday, May 17, 2008

Overflowing with Local

The Inventory Update

So, I was walking over to the Green City Market the other day, and who should also be pulling up. None other than market celebrity #1, Paul Virant. I say, "congratulations on the Iron Chef thing." He sez thanks, sez he does not know the exact air date. We both buy a lot of stuff.

OK, now that I mentioned that (hehehe), let's get to the inventory. Last December, I started tracking our inventory of food in the bungalow. The exercise was mostly to show how me and my family were able to eat local all winter through a combination of stored foods and winter shopping. Now, I need to write down the inventory just to keep track of all the food we have.

(Last inventory here)

Ramps - As I mentioned the other day, we have a lot of ramps right now. This on top of ramps in 3 meals last week: spring vegetable ragout, grilled, and in pasta with morels and asparagus.

Watercress - Used as a bed for grilled chicken, some remain.

Nettles - Purchased from a few farmers in Madison. Went into the ragout, some remain--I planed on using some in a stuffing for morels until we ran out of meals.

Mushrooms - Speaking of morels, we got a several good handfuls in Madison, both larger stuffers and other sizes. Also went into the above mentioned ragout and pasta, some also remain, ostensible to be stuffed. In addition to the wild morels, we have cultivated cremini's and oysters from Madison.

Herbs - Cilantro, lovage, rosemary, chervil, mint

Asparagus - Several stalks purchased/provided in the CSA and eaten this week, we still have a bit left.

Keeper onions - 2 more in our CSA box this week; keeping us in stock of onions required for cooking.

Garlic - Like onions, a locavore needs to stock enough garlic for not-so-bland-cooking, and we were able to do that. We still have plenty of garlic. To this store of garlic, we added about six stalks of green garlic purchased in Madison. I love the taste of green garlic, and it contributes strongly to the "spring" flavors in our current cooking.

Dried hot peppers - In talking about the need for stored garlic and onions in cooking, I remembered that I have never noted that our inventory has always included a stock of dried hot peppers, local peppers. Some of these we have dried ourselves, some have come from Farmer Vicki, and some we have purchased in Madison.

Cabbage - There is a head of red cabbage from the winter lying somewhere in the basement fridge; I doubt it will be eaten. On the other hand, from Farmer Vicki's hoophouses, we got two lovely heads of red cabbage this week. These will be eaten soon.

Carrots - Yes

Parsnips - See last report

Potatoes - Used a bunch of red potatoes last week in the spring vegetable stew and grill roasted our remaining La Ratte; that leaves us with about 3 lbs of russets and about 5 lbs of reds. Nicholl's Farm is selling last year's potatoes now in their market stands and I may or may not add some potatoes if we run out.

Apples - There may be crops coming to market but no fruit yet. We have bags of red and yellow local apples, but last week we only ate non-local fruit.

Lettuce - As I mentioned, we bought a big head of butter lettuce in Madison. We ate this during the week. At present, we have last week's CSA head of lettuce and this week's head of CSA lettuce.

Spinach - We bought a bag at one place in Madison then at another place and then we got a bag in our CSA. Lotso spinach.

Arugula - From Madison

Burdock root - 1 lb - No change

Beets - OK, here it comes: we got the beet. God, do we have the beet. We used last week's beet greens, but we did not use the bottoms. Several more beets in this week's CSA, greens included. Many beet.

Kale - No change

Radishes - No new ones, but a few leftover

Turnips - I believe I have been forgetting turnips in the last reports, but we have received several turnips in our Spring CSA.

Misc. - One small bok choi, one large bok choi; sunchokes (just when we threw out the last, we pull some in).

Local Pantry - Cheeses (tons of cheese as a result of being in Madison), yogurt, eggs, noodles, pork, beef, lamb, bacon, granola, grains, milk

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's Local Whole Foods Hamamntashen for Passover Location (River Forest, IL)

Fire Sale

I'm not always thinking about food. Sometimes I'm thinking about blogging about food. Or just plain eating. Or playing computer poker. We had spent a bit of time hanging out at Blue Max Cafe in River Forest waiting for our Farmer Vicki CSA box to arrive. As we were driving away, I announced to my wife that tonight's dinner would include a radish/raw asparagus spread like Bruce Sherman did at Green City yesterday. ( I thought he made the spread with butter but it seems the base was cheese.) Then, she seemed surprised when I pulled into the Whole Foods on Lake in River Forest. "We need bread."

We always need ramps. Their days are fleeting first of all, and second of all, they're pretty hard to find around here anyways. Surely not a ramp at yesterday's Green City Market (if you want to start cataloguing its faults, there's one). Of all places, Whole Foods was our ramp source last year. This year we had not seen any, at least at our standard place. Today, I had the keen idea of asking. It turns out there is a box in the back. They are selling them for 99 cents a bunch!!

We got $19 worth. Some probably will go on the grill; some in meatloaf, my kidz in an act that nearly brings me to tears, have asked for my ramp crusted version again, and the rest my wife is promising to pickle. I have a very good family.

And I'm lucky I was thinking about food today.

In other eat local news at this Whole Foods, they had morels from Minnesota. Not the same bargain, but not that badly priced at $15 for a quart sized package.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eat Good Food

Green City Farmer's Market 5/14/08, etc.

"It's been eight years since I've eaten fruit"
The League of Woman Voters of Glen Ellyn inaugerated a book club last year. They picked Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as their book. When it came time for their annual meeting, they needed a speaker. After several reach-outs, the Women became convinced that Ms. Kingsolver would not be available. From who knows how many other choices they found me. I gladly jumped at the chance to provide my eat local, not on the farm, experiences to these recepative ladies. The best line of the night, however, did not come from me. It came from one of the organziers of the event, and it came as we were wrapping up. This woman revealed that for over eight years she had not eaten any fruit. She realized she was not eating fruit because the fruit she was buying just did not taste very good.

When I lectured, I lectured on the benefits of eating local. I talked about food miles, proliferating the 1,500 to your table mantra. I talked about how most local farmers were stewards of their land, using better-than-organic, sustainable practices. How local food, purchased in a CSA or at a farmer's market reduced solid waste because of the lack of packaging. I told how I wanted to support my farmer friends and support the farm economy. Still, at the end of the day, I implored, I wanted to eat better.

This is farmer's market fanfare time of year across the media. The Tribune has their spread and directory today. Gapers Block beat them to the punch a few days ago, but the Chicago Reader was hot to the top over a week ago and should have more eat local stories soon. I know Time Out Chicago's got something brewing. Follow the buzz.

The buzz generally will lead you to Chicago's Green City Market. Honestly, it's not my favorite farmer's market. I mean if nothing else the dulcimer music drives me batty. It's hard to bottle feel for a market, but the Green City Market just does not quite have it. Without cataloguing all my slights and quibbles, let me say this, the feel of the market would be a lot better if the vendors were either lined up all in a row, ala a Parisian street market, say with one collective canopy, or if the vendors made a circle or square of something. It would provide cohesion at least. Maybe it would remind me a bit more of the Dane County market even if that's an unfair comparison. This one aint even close. Still, at the end of the day, it is the most complete market around Chicago.

The vendors are good. Bennison's bakes some of the best breads in Chicago. I related the story to them today of what I heard from an Evanstonian who I had regaled about how good is Bennison's bread. Surprise. Shock. It seems like a lot of Evanstonian's associate Bennison's with mediocre birthday cakes, and the woman selling bread said she's heard the same thing. If the ciabatta I got from them was crisp and short lasting and hardly healthful, the sunflower rye from Dobra's aptly named Delightful Pastries balanced things. Great eating should start with great bread and Green City has you covered there. The fruit and veg people are some of the best in the area. Surely, you should start first with my pal, Farmer Vicki, who today had spinach and baby bok choi's (that caught the eye of the Penisula Hotel) and the long, skinny, early season allium that her and her son argued over which would sell it better "scallion" or "green onion" (Mom gave in and changed the sign to the latter). Nichol's Farm and Green Acres can load you up with the new and the varied. Beth Eccles at Green Acres can provide you with your own watercress motivations, but sadly, she was out of fiddlehead ferns by the time I arrived. Oh, and please do not forget Growing Power who is doing great things in Milwaukee parking lots. I got some edible flowers from them today. If the cheese selection cannot even come close to Madison, the cheeses that are there are very good, especially from Brunkow. The meat counters vary. I had to buy actual spring lamb (a shoulder) today from Mint Creek Farm. I passed on the elk although I liked the tiny taste, and I have more than enough meat still to bypass Heartland.

Don't go to Green City expecting the greatest farmer's market. Do go to begin your eat local quest. It will get you very well started. You would not have found any fruit today but as soon as the strawberries appear, in a few weeks, I guarantee you won't go another eight years.

The Green City Market will run outdoors on Wednesdays and Saturdays until October 29, 2008, 7-1:30. It is located just north of the Chicago History Museum on Clark Street, around 1700 N.

With Watercreess

Let me get a housekeeping matter out of the way. If any of you are coming to this blog for solicitous food porn, you are gonna have to wait. Sure, I did not put up that many pics, and few would qualify as food porn, but there were some. Not for a while. At Looptopia a few weeks ago, while older daughter had the camera, someone stole it. All the text you have to suffer now, until I can spring for a new camera, blame on some all-nighting miscreant.

Too bad too. Last night's dinner would have made a show stopper. Two platters to film. First, a smaller, elongated, octogon-ish, white plate neatly framing about twelve spears of asparagus. A nearly un-natural shade of intense green contrasted with neat ribbons of black grill marks. If this frame would be orderly, composed, the second frame would be a jumble, abstract-expressionist. One of our large wooden, gullied platters overflowing with food. At the rims, logs of La Ratte fingerling potatoes, the grill bringing out their latent yellow properties. In the body of the platter, a mess of locally-raised chicken, grilled to deep golden, with splotches of black here and there. From the photo, you would notice those burnished colors but not really make out the chicken because the chicken was covered with grilled ramps, which themselves were shades of burning green and white. And off to the side of the chicken on the platter, in a little fox-hole I dug for it, the star of the show, the reason for the rest of the food, the watercress.

If it's not egg salad I am working my watercress around, it's a grilled chicken dinner. So French right, watercress with grilled meats. The dripping juices on the platter do make for a nice dressing for the watercress. This watercress, a month into its season, was not nearly as mustardy as last time but had a very pronounced licorice flavor. We will be eating a lot of asparagus in the next several weeks. Before I got too deep into that, I needed at least one more watercress meal. Wish I could have shown you it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There are No Bad Farmer's Markets

FEDERAL (NOT) Daley Plaza Market May 13, 2008

Update: Good comment the other day about putting in some market basics, and I tried to do that with my report on Green City, but God, I never paid enough attention to the fact that I mis-wrote the name of the market on this post. For the record, the Federal Plaza market is on Tuesdays and the Daley Plaza is on Thursdays.

It's time to bring on the maiden Oak Park Farmer's Market story again. About how when we moved to Oak Park in the Spring of 2000; hit the market as soon as it opened; great donut scare, etc. The punch line, as always, is that the market left us unimpressed and almost lost us to the path we follow today.

Granted the market back then was not what it is like today. No Farmer Vicki. Stands with supermarket produce (how one of these places survives I do not know). One thing, though, has been pretty constant. Little produce at the beginning. It bothered me then. Not now. There are no bad markets.

If a few vendors withstanding below zero in Ann Arbor can make a market, then what was at Federal Plaza today was down right splendid. Asparagus, a lot of asparagus, including expensive stalks from Nichols Farm and purple stalks from Mick Klug, where Chef Virant gets his 'sparagus(maybe Chef Virant will have Mick Klug with him on Iron Chef) [ed. Are you going to stick your Vie Iron Chef scoop in every post?]. It was not all asparagus. Nichol's had last year's potatoes holding up quite well and a few other green things. This market has honey and two bakeries and Stovers canned goods and River Valley mushrooms who were long sold out of morels at 1:30, and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless coffee, which is everything I want in coffee: organic, fair trade and for a great cause; and there were two guys selling cheese, not cheese they made or farmed or had any special connection to, but rather cheese they thought would sell at a market. They had Pleasant Ridge Reserve and a few cheddars. Still, these were all side shows to the asparagus.

What really does a market need about now beyond asparagus. Eat it now. I'd say buy some from each farmer, but that does not really work with asparagus. Asparagus is one of those crops that needs to be eaten fast, now. So, unless some is going into the freezer, don't buy too much. It does, however, freeze pretty well after a short blanch. Makes a nice pasta in January. Get your asparagus. Eat local. Eat seasonally. There are no bad markets.

Mad About Madtown

Mad About Spring

Yes I'm mad. Mad about Spring, mad about Spring shopping; mad over Madison and its farmer's market, mad that I have to venture the two plus hours to Madison; mad over our haul of Spring, the morels small(ish) and the morels large for stuffing; the nettles and then more nettles because the price seemed so good--make money selling your weeds you farmers; mad for asparagus finally here. Mad enough that after finishing my transaction with on of my favorite Dane County meat vendors (for chops), I turned right around and bought a fluffy head of Boston lettuce because I heard him tell someone how this was the ideal time of year for his lettuce. Mad, of course, that Madison is a month in and markets in, and near Chicago we are just about to begun.

The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison went outdoors on April 23. We had plans that day. The following Saturday we had plans and then the one after that too. May 11 was finally a plan-less day. So we made a plan. To Madtown. We like to head out the day before, we get such a deal at the downtown Concourse Hotel through Priceline. Quick aside, I'll tell you another thing that keeps me on the madly in love side of mad in Madtown, the parking. We always pull into a public lot 1/2 block from the Concourse when we get in, then we can leave the car there all the way through Saturday after the shopping--there's been times when I've had to run to the car to drop off the bags weighing us down--and when we leave, $7.

Getting to Madison the night before, we have less must-do's for dinner but too many options for breakfast the next day. A fish-fry is mostly in order at night, all you need to know about Madison and fish fries is that the 'net has both and (and the not exclusively but mostly Madison, After the highly disappointing Avenue Bar last visit, we hit Kavanaugh's Esquire Club, a Wikipedia version of Wisconsin supper club if there ever was one for this fry. There is only one site devoted to Madison brunch, but we already have so many favorites here. Could it be the piles of food at Mickey's Dairy Bar, Old Fashioned, which I wholly disagree with Mike Sula on it's rated-ness; crispy pastries at Cafe Soliel, Madison even has a better bagel place than Chicago gosh darn-it. The problem is, we can never get past the market.

My wife lasers, always, on Ingrid's LunchBox. She gets the breakfast sandwich with farm egg and horseradish hollandaise. I am advised, don't eat the first pastry I espy. I don't, but the potato donut I finally settle on, about three bakeries in, turns out to be a poor choice, too cold. I really make my breakfast of samples of cheese. Here they are, America's top team of cheese-ists. Willi of Bleu Mont Dairy and Julie Hook and her old, old cheeses and Anne Topham snarls that her knee replacement did not come from stooping to milk the goats ("I don't stoop"). She does, however, make the best fresh goat cheese you can find at her Fantome Farms. You could fall madly in love with this market just for the cheeses.

I am, as always, never fully satisfied. Not satisfied with the lack of farmer's markets in Spring around Chicago. It was not just cheese we bought the other day. It was spinach, the market had lots and lots of spinach, a crop that can be over-wintered and frost-kissed to lovely Northern sweetness. Take that bagged-ifornia. And ramps, that harbinger that's near impossible to actually buy in the Chicago area, the cool weather was keeping them in supply at Harmony Valley Farms. We got 4 for $10. Please, please Sarah and Rick and Abby and the rest of our market maker powers that be, we need markets much earlier. We will probably never get a market like Madison (and I am satisfied with that), but can we get one a little bit more like Madison? At least one with a schedule like that?

I'm mad about Madison. Take the short drive. You'll find yourself getting oh so mad too.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's Local -- Fresh Farms, Wheeling

Which Supermarket Would You Save

My wife agreed to drive home yesterday from our activities so I could make a few notes in my new beloved toy, the Blackberry. A few notes turned into some fixation, and between me and that, one daughter reading and the other daughter napping, the driver got a bit perturbed. To make up, to make needed conversation, I asked, "what's your favorite grocery store?" It did not work. She stayed mostly perturbed for the rest of the ride home. It was not until this morning that I remembered the right way to phrase the question. "Which, if you had one grocery (or supermarket) in Chicago (area) would you save?"

We love the which can you save game. If you only could eat one sandwich; if you only could eat from one type (e.g., Italian, Jewish) of food; if you could only go to one other state...invariably our, if only one questions lead to which five (at least), but this one was pretty straight forward. See, I was in the thrall of Fresh Farms of Wheeling. I could see some advantages to Fox & Obel as "the one", but because I was, yesterday at Fresh Farms ( especially) it was the one. My wife answered back, "Whole Foods."

I pishawed her. "Whole Foods." Clearly, for all our bitchin', we shop there a fair amount; surely for milk and soy milk and yogurt. Yet, there was nothing that I can think of that is at Whole Foods that is not at other places that we also frequent, at least nothing really necessary so to speak. Moreover, is there anything Whole Foods really does better beyond being convenient to the Bungalow.

"How could you pick Whole Foods over Fresh Farms" I asked incredulously. "Seasonal produce," she justified. "Ah" I snorted. I think she'd even concede she was hasty today. I mean can you walk into Whole Foods this week and get Michigan apples, Wisconsin potatoes?

Fresh Farms, to backtrack, is a Russian geared store, or I should say better, it is a food store geared toward Russian food habits. These habits include a need for zaruska (plural zaruski) appetizers/food to be eaten with vodka or tea/food for light meals. This habit is fulfilled in stores like Fresh Farms with ample stocks of smoked, salted, dried and cured fishes. Fresh Farms has a large selection, although not quite as good as the infrequently opened Renee Gourmet with its slabs of salmon, captain, etc. The habit also means an array of sausages I could never get around to trying en total unless this really was the one grocery store. I tend to get the beef sausage called, with no irony, Jewish Dry Salami on most visits. The habit includes plenty of pickles and yesterday there were two types of cucumber pickles, marinated apples and pickled green tomatoes. Finally, and most important to this post, there is the habit for outstanding dairy. The Russians, like other Eastern Europeans, like their milk. In fact the one thing we had to stop for on the way home yesterday, was milk. I was reasonably confident Fresh Farms would have our kinda milk.

They did. Beyond Farmer's All Natural Creamery milk and buttermilk, they had Farmers All Natural Creamery cheese (first I've seen of that); sour cream (no ingredients!), and cottage cheese (likewise without extra ingredients). They had the Cultural Revolution yogurts from another dairy in Kaldona, Iowa, and the yogurt my wife likes best, Trader's Point Creamery. She really appreciated that they had low-fat vanilla. Butters included W├╝thrich European Style made by Grassland Dairy and the best, Clarendon Hills. Those Russians know what I know, to get the best in dairy, get local.

Until I hit some other favorite food market, the one to keep is Fresh Farms, 291 E. Dundee, Wheeling, IL (intersection of Milwaukee and Dundee).

Benefits of Locally Grown Food

Like You Don't Know

The Angelic Organics Learning Center is leading a discussion on eating local this Wednesday at the Chicago Public Sulzer Library in Lincoln Village. Details here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Next Iron Chef?

As far as I can tell, no other source has picked up on the latest in Vie news. Look here for more details soon. Good luck Chef Virant.

Perhaps the secret ingredient will be hearts of palm...paw-paws? heritage turkey? gooey butter cake?