Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's Good to be a Locavore

Oak Park Farmer's Market - May 31, 2008

It's good to be a locavore because it's going to be a very good year at the Oak Park Farmer's Market. I chatted briefly with the River Valley Mushroom people, and they echoed my beliefs. They were very happy to put a stand up in Oak Park this year.

Know what that is? Unami central. Genuine porcini mushrooms, with a few morels in the back. I mean morels are pretty darn cool, but fresh porcini's. See those that often. I had to spring for all of them, that's about $20 worth of glutamatial glory. I'm thinking fresh pasta, Wisconsin Parmesian (Antigo) and the porcinin's sliced thin.

I did not see Sandhill Organics last week. I was a bit worried with our new mushroom bounty and the woman farming Forest Park that we left these guys to fend for themselves. Nope. A lot of lettuces that looked like this today at $2.50 each as well as chards and radishes both in rainbow assortments.

Farmer Vicki's Genesis Grower's was not gonna let you ignore her and her stuff.

Neither was Nichol's Farm who applied their trademark variety to the green onion business, kept on pushing the old 'tatoes and caught up on the wild watercress craze.

Of course rhubarb and asparagus were everywhere.

A very good year indeed. See you next week, when the market opens at its regular time, 7 AM; Pilgrim Church, 460 Lake Street (between Elmwood and Scoville) and runs until 1 PM.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Be a Locavore, Put More Local on Your Table

Discussion at Kendall College, June 14 2008 - 10 AM

The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance was kind enough to provide me a lectern on June 14 to discuss all things local. Details of the event can be found here. Hope to see you all there!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Eat Seasonal


The Epicurious map of seasonal foods got a few things right, for Illinois. Rhubarb is in season. Be trendy, make sweets from vegetables. Things eaten recently in the bungalow made with the season's finest.

Rhubarb Muffins

Pre-heat oven to 375

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar (we used vanilla sugar)
6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs vanilla
Turbinado Sugar

Cream butter, sugar, eggs and buttermilk. Add rhubarb and cranberries, do not over-mix. Whisk together dry ingredients in another bowl. Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture. Scoop into greased muffin tins. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top. Bake at 375 for approximately 25 minutes.

Rhubarb Shlump or You may call it Grunt

First, make a rhubarb compote:

3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 quart sour cherries (frozen)
1 1/2 cup blueberries (frozen)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Juice of 2 limes
Pinch of salt and cinnamon
Shake of fresh ground pepper
1/2 Cup of water

Combine all ingredients but for the blueberries in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until rhubarb starts to breakdown. Add blueberries cook for a few more minutes.

Make a batter:

1 cup flour
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbs melted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients. Add melted butter. Slowly add buttermilk to form a wet but not too wet batter.

Grunt while you do this:

Have the compote at a gentle simmer. With a teaspoon, form walnut sized dumplings from the batter. Drop into compote. Cover tightly with foil. Cook approximately 15 minutes until dumplings are firm.

With Shakey-Shakey

Pre-heat oven to 350. Put how ever many stalks of rhubarb you have in a baking pan. Cover with a good amount of sugar, probably 1 cup. Pour in enough water but not enough to drown rhubarb. Bake at 350 until very soft, about 30 minutes. Parcel out rhubarb into bowls while still hot. Pour over shakey-shakey (condensed milk).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Everything You Read About Seasonality is Wrong

Epicurious's Seasonal Ingredient Map

I'm sure Gemma at Gaper's Block had the best of intentions when she directed her readers to this Epicurious guide to what's in season. And not every guide to seasonality is wrong. I mean I think this one has it pretty close. I have not, however, seen the mainstream food press ever get it right. The people who put together these guides typically get two things wrong. First, they assume stuff is in season around here well before it is. Second, they miss things that are in season when they are in season. Epicurious and about every other such guide does not guide the Chicago area locavore very well.

The Epicurious guide has the following in season in Illinois NOW, May: cherries, peas, cucumbers (!) and potatoes. Of these the only ones you'll find in Chicago area markets now are potatoes, and those potatoes you might see are last year's potatoes, still viable from good storage. Of course, for Wisconsin, the guide states for May:
The growing season is currently dormant here;
opt for items from storage, such as apples, pears, and root vegetables.
Funny when I was in Madison a few weeks ago things hardly seemed dormant (and not a pear in site).

Our guardians of foodie discourse do not pay attention to the neat things popping up on our lands in the Spring such as nettles, morels, ramps, watercress, sunchokes and scallions. Likewise, they forget that farmer's can grab their over-wintered crops for us such as parsnips, spinach and carrots. Most glaring, they have no idea that farmer's around here use just a wee bit of technology to goad Mother Earth into all sorts of crops such as Farmer Vicki's baby bok choy (gosh that was good), beets and kale. They make you look for what's not here and fail to see what is there.

The other problem, obviously, is that Illinois is a long and varied state and the climate in Little Egypt hardly matches what is here in Chicago. For all I know, farmer's markets in Cairo are awash in peaches right now. Still, a map such as presented by Epicurious should be representative of the entire state, certainly where most of the people are. Most of the people shopping farmer's markets right now, in this state will not find a cherry, not a local cherry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

They Write Press Releases

Chicago & Midwest Wine Show

Did you hear that Paul Virant will be on Iron Chef America? Well, how about this, Virant's restaurant Vie features Illinois wines on its list. Wanna know more about local wine?
Prospect Expositions, LLC is answering the need for a comprehensive wine exposition serving the vast and affluent Chicagoland marketplace by launching the 2008 Chicago & Midwest Wine Show this fall.

In cooperation with the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association, the show will be Sept. 27 – 29, 2008 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 River Rd., Rosemont, Illinois. The event will cater to both individual wine lovers and those in the trade such as retailers, restaurant/bar owners, caterers, food and beverage directors, chefs, sommeliers, and others.

Show hours will be: Saturday, Sept. 27 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. for public and trade
Sunday, Sept. 28 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. for public and trade
Monday, Sept. 29 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. for trade only

“We have found wine shows to be successful in other markets but no one is serving the Midwest like we plan to with our unique event,” says Lawrence Skaja, President and Founder, Prospect Expositions, LLC. “Our Saturday through Monday event will give wine lovers and those in the business of selling or distributing wines an excellent opportunity to experience an expansive assortment of vintages from around the world and talk with producers. This will all be done in an upscale ballroom setting with a complement of accessories and equipment of all types.”

The Saturday and Sunday events will have special highlights including live music, food tastings from area restaurants, and other hors d’oeuvres. Individual tickets will be sold in advance via the event website and through beverage retailers, restaurants, and other sources throughout the Midwest. Advance tickets are $55/per day for regular admission and $145 for VIP admission which includes Saturday-Sunday admission plus complimentary valet parking both days. On-site prices will be an additional $10 for one-day tickets and $20 for VIP tickets.

Individual tickets will be available online starting around July 1 and at participating wine retailers throughout the Midwest. Discounted group tickets are available by calling 847-759-6900 around the same time.

Qualified trade attendees will have complimentary admission on all three days with exclusive access on Monday. Proof of a valid state liquor license will be required to register.

"IGGVA is pleased to be a Participating Sponsor of the 2008 Chicago and Midwest Wine Show to help increase the awareness of the consuming public on the varieties and qualities of wines available from Illinois," says William W. "Bill" McCartney, Executive Director of the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association.

For general inquiries, please call 847-759-6900 or email Complete event details including exhibit and sponsorship opportunities are now available on the official website

What Is and Is Not Local, Maxwell Street Market - May 25, 2008

The Lime That's Key

I figure any show that's good enough for Paul Virant should be good enough for me, so I've watched a few episodes of Iron Chef America. A Judge Jeffrey Steingarten comment irked me. It was something along the lines of "everyone knows the best pistachios come from Sicily." Maybe great pistachios come from Sicily, but one thing I have learned in local is that great anything come producers who care, who work for it. I bet, I bet for sure, that there's some farmer in California growing "local" pistachios that are as good as anything just plain ol' Sicilian. What I'm getting at, is that when I'm making the occasional non-local purchase, I want to get something that's more than just standard accepted foodie blather, the everyone knows stuff. Or put it this way, I may buy limes all the time, but I rarely blog about limes.

At Maxwell Street, last Sunday, I got limes worth blogging about. Yellow limes. As my wife, the native Floridian will tell you, "everyone knows that key limes are yellow." She, after all, had a key lime tree in her front yard. Yet, you rarely, if ever see yellow limes in the markets around here. And I'm talking about key limes that will show up at Mexican markets and even Trader Joe's. See most of the limes that hit are markets are pulled from the tree so far before ripe you never see their true colors. That's what I'm looking for in my non-local. At Maxwell, they were $1 per basket, about 15 limes per basket. Hopefully you can find them next week at the market, but given the seasonality of these limons, I wonder if you will.

I also wonder if you will be able to walk into the Whole Foods there, on Canal, and find some local asparagus. Local just aint easy to find at Whole Foods these days. Still, this Whole Foods on this Sunday was selling Michigan asparagus for $3.49/lb; I thought that seemed pricey, but at checkout my bundle came to less than a pound. They made a great addition to that night's fried rice.

New Maxwell Street Market run up and down Canal, near Roosevelt from 7 AM until 3 PM every Sunday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What Took So Long

Oak Park Farmer's Market - May 24, 2008

Oak Parker's love a block party. I have no actual statistics to base this on, but I believe that every block in Oak Park (but for the main streets) has a block party. Some have more than one. I have no statistics to base this on, but I bet you that at every block party at some point, talk amongst the neighbors (some who only talk this one time per year) will be about Village government. It won't be pretty. Me, my pet complaint used to be the gobs of money we spent on our recent library. I've changed that to the gobs of money spent on our recent Public Works building. Still, for all the complaints, I love my Village because as my family and I walked back to the parking lot on Saturday morning, we saw the Village Clerk, who we know well. We asked, is their free parking today (we had not paid the box), and she said, "I have no idea."

I had no idea how the pre-season market would hold. Oak Park had decided to open a limited market two weeks earlier than they normally opened. I saw one of the Nichol's guys a few weeks ago and he seemed psyched about the earlier market. Then, I read somewhere that it was for the sale of bedding plants. Me, I go to the Oak Park Market for donuts. I go for food to eat now. I no want no bedding plants. I can report back. Yes, there were bedding plants. Tomato plants galore. Food too. Donuts three. In fact the donuts were selling so fast that powdered sugar was out. See, when the donuts are too hot, the powdered sugar melts. High demand negates powedered sugar. When you're down to plain and cinnamon, you know your donut will be warm. Good I think.

Most but not all the vendors showed for this trial-run. All brought food beyond plants even if most of the food was rhubarb or asparagus. Nichol's also had old potatoes (more on that anon), some arugula, green garlic that I wanted more than anything this day and spinach. My pal Vicki was at another market, but her Genesis Growers had a full table with baby bok choy and mint and rosemary and scallions, which surprisingly have not been in the CSA box. I ordered a 1/2 hog (farmer talk) from the Wettstein's and was wowed by the new-to-the market Catalina Farm, which is farm in name only as she is putting the local in local, farming a small plot in Forest Park. She had a name for it. Swib or something like that. I'll take better notes next week.

There will be a next week, this abridged market that did not seem so abridged. Then, it's on to about twelve weeks of the best market in the Chicago area. You should find me there most Saturdays, usually before 8 AM. I hope to see you there too. The Oak Park Farmer's Market meets at Pilgrim Church 460 Lake Street (between Elmwood and Scoville). Market hours are 8 AM until noon for one more week and then 7 AM until 1 PM the rest of the season.