Friday, May 23, 2008

What's Local at Cassie's Green Grocer

Back From the Honeymoon and Better Than Ever

It was about when Cassie was done ringing me up that I mentioned that I had come in just for some herbs. Cassie replied by snipping me some parsley and cilantro from the plants growing in her window. I would have still blogged 'bout Green Grocer. I mean the herbs came after she told me to help myself to a few edible flowers that were surprisingly not selling that fast but before she also filled a (compostable!) bag with a sample of baby mustard greens. I would have blogged. What a great place Cassie has going.

I mean can you walk into any other store in, and or near Chicago these days and find bunches of wild ramps, giant stuffer morels, deep green watercress? All local. Or French breakfast radishes, the size of D batteries, 1/2 red, 1/2 white; asparagus successfully kept fresh through vertical enclosure in a water bath? Local. Now, I skipped all of that but for the radishes. I did get strands of sage and chive, both with their flowers; a tub of rosemary (quite generous for the price) and baby arugula that bites like its teething. I at least admired the other salad greens.

I did not take a full inventory of all the cool products there yesterday, but I espied plenty of cool. Cool included local eggs, Trader's Point Creamery cottage cheese, and local/artisianal tempeh from Mu Tofu.

See, Cassie's local includes much that is not at Green City Market or any other farmer's market. Yet, even if you are a farmer's market junkie like me, you have to welcome and appreciate a shop like this. I really want local to be there when I need it. I really want to be able to supplement with a thing or two that I need now. Green Grocer is servicing these needs. Go visit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Eat Local Cheese

"Not that he’s trying to discourage mold. Inside the cave, resting on cedar shelves, 11- and 38-pound wheels of English-style cheddar wrapped tightly in muslin are covered with splotchy, gray microbial colonies that after months of aging help the cheddar develop the exquisite caramelly flavors that can send chills jolting down the back of your legs."

There are a lot of great cheeses from the Midwest, but gosh darn if I had to pick an absolute top-top favorite, a first amongst a lot of firsts, I would probably go with BluMont Dairy's Lil' Wil raw milk cheddar from cheese master, Willi Lehner. Mike Sula tells Willi's story in this week's Chicago Reader. Willi is easy to find nearly weekly at the Dane County Farmer's Market just around the corner from where the State Street carnival hits the capital square at the BluMont stand. Have him autograph a block of cheese.

I will add, or stress, or whatever, that as good at the cheese can be outta the fridge, it can only fully be appreciated if you let it come to room temperature.

Listen to Me

More Thoughts for the Illinois Food and Farm Task Force

To paraphrase a great local writer, will this VI guy ever shut up.

  • Turn locally grown beans into commercially sold dried beans
  • Turn locally cured/smoked hams into deli ham
  • Turn locally raised turkeys into deli turky
  • Create incentives for local food companies like Vienna, Mars, etc. to use local raw materials

Listen to Me

Scroll Down

On Tuesday, I went to a Listening Session for the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force at Hull House (props to Hull House too, btw). I started my report of the event early Wednesday but got distracted. I saved what I started as a blog/draft. I did not realize that the post, when done, would go below the other post I had made yesterday. Readers who go to the top of the blog may not see the newer post. Since getting a better local food system matters a bunch to me, here's the post. Read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farmer's Market News

Assorted tidbits of note:

  • The hardest woman in forage, the sidekick to the superheros who hang at the AquaRanch, the person who was one of the few things between me and a diet relying mostly on potatoes this winter, Robin "Winter" herself, is running a stand this market season for the Midwest Organic Farmers Co-op. She'll have frozen (Illinois) farm-raised tilapia and cheeses and vegetables grown in this state. See her Thursday's at the Daley Plaza Farmer's Market. What she has leftover she'll be selling at the new Woodlawn market. Tell her I said to stop by and say hi.

  • Also at Woodlawn are my latest heroes, the farmers from Windy City Harvest. The best advertisement for their work on the West side of Chicago is the fruits of their work. I mean the vegetables of their work. Picture-perfect, tastes even better.

  • It's Farmtastic. That's the clever tag for the new multi-cultural farmer's market running this year in Maywood on the first and third Saturdays from June through October at St. Eulalia Church 1851 S. 9th Avenue, Maywood. They have a nifty color flyer that I'll post as soon as I get a computer ready version.

  • Jim Vitalo, who many farmer's market denizens know as the "Vinegar Guy", is spearheading a new market this season, on Thursdays. The market will be at the Maywood VA Hospital. I'll have more news on this market soon.

Listen to Me

Report from the Soupbox

As I previously posted, the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force held "listening sessions" yesterday. The session leaders informed us that only a small fraction of the food grown in Illinois went directly to consumers in Illinois. Moreover, Illinois consumers were spending a host on organic foods and about none of that came from from food grown within the state either. The result, as we were told, the real ghettos around here were the boarded up and declining rural communities of Illinois. The Task Force hopes to rectify that by ramping up, tremendously, the local food system. Eat local.

The listening session gave a bowl of soup, a delicuous fresh baked roll and a soap box of 120 seconds to who ever wanted. Beyond the time limit, there were no rules. One person read a poem that turned soup into sex. Another person had a poem, with no connection, as far as I could tell, to food, period. Jason Hammel, from Lula's in Logan Square made some very good points. Others railed against GMO's and wanted to give it to the Man. I planed on just being a listener myself, but when most of the talkers seemed 10,000 feet in the air, I thought it would help for someone to speak from the ground. I wanted them to hear from someone eating local. I asked for non-frozen meat and better hours and more available food. If I really had myself collected, and perhaps could talk fast, I would have given this list:

  • A central, year-round, daily market, somewhere triangulated between Milwaukee's recent Public Market, the Ferry-Terminal Market in San Francisco and Cleveland's Westside Market.
  • Markets open in the afternoon and evening
  • More winter markets
  • Farmers growing for winter markets. In other words, producing surplus quantities of potatoes, root vegetables, apples, pears, onions and the lot then storing them at optimum conditions. These crops will be released over the course of the Winter.
  • Farmers growing in the winter using hoop-houses and other technology--lettuces, greens, herbs, maybe even berries.
  • Fruits and vegetables grown for ethnic markets.
  • Local food served in schools.
  • Mills grinding local grains into the full range of desired grains including white flour.
  • A viable commercial fishing industry, including river fish and Lake Michigan fish.
  • Pecans grown at one tip of the state and hazelnuts grown at the other; in between a revitalization of the native black walnut crop.
  • Artisanal consumer (that's consumer) products derived from local corn and soy including tofu and cooking oils.
  • Clearly marked sugar derived from locally grown sugar beets.
  • Efforts to ensure the survival of our honeybees.
  • Marketeers selling a range of foraged crops including watercress, ramps, paw-paws, wild burdock, dandelions and plenty of mushrooms.
  • And last but not least, local meat that is not frozen when I go to buy it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's Iron Chef Hype

Another Vie Review

Good example of why Paul Virant was asked to compete on Iron Chef America at this Flickr site. Well done Renka!


Sorry for the last minute-ness of this, but I only got the word on this late yesterday.

The Illinois General Assembly created a "Food & Farms Task Force to further the cause of local eating in this state. In other words, trying to better hook up non-commodity farmers in the state with consumers of their food. The Task Force has scheduled “Listening sessions” at various locations statewide to gather recommendations from the public on production, infrastructure, public access, public education, and economic benefits that can be derived from Illinois farmers directly serving the needs of their neighbors. They need input!

There are two listening sessions TODAY May 20, 2008.

- Hull House Museum on the UIC campus, 800 S. Halsted, 12noon to 1:30pm, as part of their Rethinking Soup series (free soup!)

- DePaul Center, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., Room 8005, 3pm to 5pm,

My wife and I are going to attend the session at Hull House. And a trip to Hull House is never complete, no, with a trip to nearby Manny's. We plan on being at Manny's around 11 AM and then walking to Hull House. We would love for anyone to join us at this last minute call to action (or for an early sandwich).

Here's the link to the Task Force for more info. Those who cannot attend in person can submit written comments at any time prior to July 15, 2008 to Debbie Hillman, (or call 847-328-7175 for mailing address).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Eat Good Bread

Bennison's at Pastoral

I asked a food savvy friend recently where you could get good bread downtown. His response:
"Where can you get good bread anywhere in Chicago?"
I'm not fully in agreement on that. There is a list, not a long list, but a list of good bread in Chicago. At or near the top of that list is Bennison's. Anyone in the Loop should know that Pastoral, 53 E. Lake, sells Bennison's bread. Become French, take home a baguette tonight.

Pastoral carries a pretty good selection of local cheeses. Today they had a wide array of Brenda Jensen's Hidden Springs Creamery products, both the aged cheeses and the fresh tubs. They are also now carrying Trader's Point Creamery yogurts, but not the one my wife craves/needs, the low-fat vanilla.

Latest in Iron Chef News

Fine Take on Vie

Want some Iron Chef news. Cora beat Faulkner last night. See, in anticipation of my culinary hero being on Iron Chef, I watched Iron Chef America last night (that and the fact that there was nothing on the DVR or the TV that my wife and I could agree on, why she was not interested in an old Minnesota Fats video I recorded beats the heck outta me...). I'll say this, most of the food they made looked awfully good.

Anyways, in other Vie news, Gary Fine, takes his excellent keyboard to Vie this week. He brings up the noise factor and it's a legit point for sure. My wife and I have commented to ourselves that Virant and his family did a wonderful job at Vie making the place appear posh without throwing a huge amount of $$ into the design/decor. We always thought of it as money well spent as his resources have been used otherwise quite well.

Eat Local is Green

Go Green Team

Over the weekend, my family and I volunteered for the Green Team at this year's Green Fest at Navy Pier. An outfit from North Carolina called Seven-Star marshaled the forces. Our mission: keep the landfill bound dumpster at Navy Pier to the barest. Our tactics: Mom and Dad went with the frontline troops, guarding four sets of garbage bins (and God help anyone who put compostable* material in my solid waste bin); the kidz went with the brigade in the rear. Although us frontliners tried to ensure that all garbage got neatly divided, those in the rear followed up to ensure it fully happened. Together, the Green Team/Seven Star put dry paper one place, metals and plastics 1-6 (although there was one number I believe that even we could not take-on) in another place; all food waste, plus all manner of bio-containers, plus soiled paper went to a third place (to be composed by some master industrial composter) (fact: Green Fest only served vegan food so that all food waste could be composted--meat in compost piles attracts the wrong kind). We did not stop there. We stacked and bundled the cardboard. We reconned for Cliff bar wrappers that would be sent back to Cliff, same with the juice boxes from Honest Juices. We isolated E-waste, with those dreaded heavy metals, for render-safe procedures (fact: yes there was some). We succeeded brilliantly, we can proudly proclaim mission accomplished.

And this has to do with eating local. Well, there's nothing like being knee deep in goo-goo muck to get you hep on waste. Clearly, the best way to reduce and eliminate landfill bound material is to compost. Remember, space is not the only landfill issue. Food waste, rotting away in landfills, produces huge amounts of methane gas, gas that's just plain horrible for the world. (Wanna whiff, drive the Eisenhower around Hillside, IL). Compost your food waste.

And...and, now we get to the local part. What's left after the food waste. How 'bout the packaging? the bags, especially the dreaded plastic bags? It's not that eating local necessarily reduces packaging, it's the nature of the way that one shops and buys if you are a locavore that reduces packaging. For instance, the bulk of my produce this week came from my Farmer Vicki's CSA box. That's one re-usable box. A few of the products come wrapped. Who wants a CSA portion with leaves of baby spinach spewed all over the place. Still, it is the barest of extra packaging. Compare greatly to the packaging at a supermarket or worse Costco where everything is packaged. Shop the farmer's markets, you'll find the same sort of thing (bring your own bags to schlep the stuff home!).

Want more? Snazzy packaging technology just does not seem to have reached the type of people you buy from when you buy local. I have tons of local jellies in the Bungalow. Not a single one is packaged in a PVC upside down squeezable container. When I buy berries or the like, it nearly always in cardboard, and when it's not, it's in balsa wood. (Fact: the farmers gladly will take back your used containers.) The actions of buying local encourage green.

The Green Team marches on.

*Leading candidate for 2008 word of the year?