Friday, July 11, 2008

What's Local By You

What's Local Caputo's, Elmwood Park

At the start of Terra's presentation yesterday, she asked, "what have you eaten local recently." She was impressed with our local sour cream (and you should be too, it's better than super, it's ultra-good*.) She was impressed also, somewhat surprisingly, to find that most of the attendees had recently tasted local, although most of it came in the form of backyard raspberries or related. Terra mentioned, what I am always saying, that there's not much local at your supermarket. Her suggestion, request it so they stock it. Good one. I also believe it pays to look and ask.

Today at Caputo's in Elmwood Park, we espied Melrose peppers (a true local product!) grown in Michigan. A lot of the other produce was not labeled but had that clumsy look of local--in fact to jump ahead of myself, later today, I noticed that the bunch of dill was tied with a piece of jute. Believe me, that's a sign of local. We asked. We learned that much of Caputo's produce selection is already local including mint, basil, and the aforementioned dill and peppers.

I'm not saying that there are veritable farmer's markets in our mainstream stores. You may be surprised, however, to find local. My mother for instance, said that Jewel has been advertising local. See what you can find.

*I've said this before, but how many ingredients does your sour cream have?

Eat Local, Save the Earth

Terra Talks Toxic

Last week we stumbled into the terrific program being offered at Eli's Cheesecake. Right now it's basically my wife and I, plus the kidz from Chicago Ag School. You should come too. We got a great talk yesterday from Ms. Brockman of the Land Connection as well as a few sage words from Joel Smith of Slow Food (whose pitch of eating well while doing good finally has my wife seeking to join, and if she wants to do it, guess who won't be far behind). Terra talked local. Her vehicle, the tale of two farms. She contrasted battery egg production and other industrial farming against her brother's organic farm. She offered much, in a witty and engaging way, but what I most took from the hour was that eating local was even better for the environment than I thought.

OK, I'll say that I am pretty familiar with the ills of factory farming. I'm aghast at the idea of a huge penned milk line going up in Western Illinois. Still, when I've thought about local and the earth, including in my recent speeches, I've focused almost wholly on food miles. And when I try to think of other environmental reasons for local, I tend to think of the lack of packaging in my CSA box. Terra fully reminded me of a range of problems with standard ag.

Battery eggs, the slightly nicer term for caged in total confinement is gross in many ways. Think about that again, caged in total confinement. It is also bad for the earth. These factories produce huge amounts of, well, chicken shit. The shit as well as the occasional chicken that cannot handle the heat (so to speak) get poured into a brew known as the lagoon. Regs require these pits of animal hell to be sealed and otherwise set off, but of course it does not always work that way. This toxic water finds its way to where it's not supposed to be. Terra also talked about the typical industrial ammonia based fertilizer, which is really a off-shoot of petrochemicals--she cited some numbers of the amount of natural gas that is needed to make fertilizer. I did not write it down, but believe me when I say, a lot. Again, you have problems of run-off and seepage. She showed a picture of a sign in a Wisconsin farming community cafe, where the denizens were warned that the local water was not safe for the young and infirm...because of the nitrate stew of washed off fertilizer, unsaid in the warning. She ended her talk with the notion that no human activity causes more earthly harm than the production of food.

Wait you say. Terra's brother Henry, is an aberration. His farm is totally solar powered. He rides to the market in a biodiesel powered truck. The only fossil fuels he encounters occur at the locker where his chickens are processed. That's not local, that's a freak. 'Tis true. It's not like there are not factory farms that are local to me. I love the foodstuffs at Fair Oaks Dairy, hate the farming practices. My response would be that local, local food, locavore, means more than just food within my foodshed, food grown or produced near me. It means getting my food from the places I want. Making choices about my food. Choosing my farmer. Knowing my farmer. If you question anything Terra said, go visit the farm this weekend. She reminded me that there's more to local than good food.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chicago Area Farmer's Markets

Via my little friend, Stat, I know that there's several hits each day to this site on the phrase, "Chicago Area Farmer's Markets". Google brings them to a post from last year, with a link to last year's Chicago Tribune's listing of markets. So, as a public service to all those who find their way here looking for Chicago area farmer's markets; this is the best listing I know. It covers markets all over the Chicago area, not just city markets, and it also lists markets downstate.

I like all farmer's markets, but I can pick a favorite: the Saturday market at Oak Park, a true buyers market, with a full array of organic, local meat, and variety. I'm not immune to the charms of the Wednesday and Saturday Green City Market, especially for the chance to visit Green Acres Farms and Kinnikinnick, two farms not at Oak Park. On the other hand, Sunday's Logan Square market has some otherwise hard to find farmers, most using organic practices. Downtown shoppers can do no worse than Tuesday's Federal Plaza or Thursday's Daley Plaza; the Daley Plaza featuring my pal, Robin "Winter" and the not seen enough Illinois based Midwest Organic Farmer's Coop. Don't avoid the Hyde Park market if you live there. Mr. Ellis spends all winter cracking his black walnuts for you, and there's Indiana raised pastured pork.

I'm all for helping my friends like Jim the Vinegar guy and the market he organized this year at the Hines VA Hospital, but on the other hand, I am impressed with lecture series at the Eli's Cheesecake market. I'm all for helping emerging markets including my friend Loretta and her Maywood (twice a month) Saturday market as well as emerging markets I have no personal connection to like Englewood and Bronzeville. This Evanston market needs support and it serves the added purpose of being an evening market. That other market in Evanston, on Saturday's, I hear it's nice, it's the only place to sample the organic veg from Henry's Farm, but it's been years since I've been. 'nother one I hear is nice and I really need to get to, is the organically focused Geneva Thursday Green Market (What's with Thursdays!).

Gosh getting to them, look at the links, the directory. I bet you'll find a good market to shop, they're all over the place. Let me end, with the this little quote from the old Chicago area farmer's market post:
Buying locally grown food supports our independent farmers, preserves open land from development--and fresher food is better for you," said Veronica Resa, media relations specialist and community relations liaison for the Mayor's Office of Special Events.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sustainable Agriculture Entreneurship - Eli's Cheesecake Factory

During the summer, a farmer's market--not a big one, but one at least--occurs at the Eli's Cheesecake Factory on Thursdays. This year, they are also running a lecture series with some great speakers on local and sustainable. Last week, my wife and I stumbled on the chance to hear Lloyd Nichols explain how he got started. Hint: when the other kidz were playing ball, he was tending his garden.

This week (7/10/08) is Terra Brockman of the Land Connection. She will speak from 1-2 PM. Eli's is located at 6701 W. Forest Park Drive, Chicago, which is not too far from Harlem/Irving.

Upcoming lectures all from 1-2PM:

7/17/08 - Lynn Peemoeller, an urban foods planner

7/24/08 - Stan Schutte, of the organic Triple S Farm

7/31/08 - John Caveny, raiser of heritage poultry (as well as lamb and beef)

8/7/08 - Donna and Natasha Lehrer, founders of Illinois Green Pastures Fiber Co-op.

Eli's has a stand selling lunches with market produce. Last week they made paella.

As I wrote this, I found out that we're having a bit of car problems. I still hope to be there tomorrow, but even if I cannot make it, you should go.

The factory itself has great deals on imperfect cheesecakes as well as samples galore. That alone is practically worth the visit.

Is it really true that our President said the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneurship?

Eat Local Meat

Buy Cow

At least one person has asked me about purchasing a local cow, and I know at least a few more of you have at least thought about it. Buying a whole, 1/2 or 1/4 cow is the best way to ensure a good stock of local meat at a reasonable price. I'll confess/warn you need a full sized freezer to fit a 1/2 cow, but you can get by, maybe with a regular freezer and a 1/4 cow. Not only will you save money, but you'll have access to head-to-tail eating. This was one of the best cooking ideas I've ever seen! This particular cow is all grass fed and grass finished, but other than that, I cannot speak to is deliciousness. I post this only as a public service.
Prairierth Farm of Atlanta, IL (Dave Bishop) has one head of cattle ready for processing in a few weeks that is certified organic, grass-fed, and grass-finished. He's hoping to sell 1/4 or 1/2 sides and would be glad to discuss price and delivery/pickup options. Better yet, get some friends together and buy the whole thing! He's a member of the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative and grows a wide variety of certified organic produce and grains, in addition to about two dozen head of cattle and a few dozen chickens. Contact Robin at robininwinter @ if you'd like to be put in touch with Dave.

More Mado

Eat Local Out

As I mentioned the other day in my bitterness, I have Mado on the mind for reasons that will be revealed some other time. With Mado on the mind I had practically no choice but to visit for a meal. As they say in the critic notebook, you gotta hit Mado today 'cause you might not be able to taste that menu tomorrow.

Satuday night was Spanish night at Mado. I know Rob's more sophisticated than 1080, but he must have been reading something that got Spain on his mind. Maybe he's a Euro soccer fan. And what made Saturday Spanish day at Mado. Well let me put it another way, maybe it was not so much Spain on his mind but incredibly good deals on Marcona almonds and chick peas. Each appeared on several menu items. I've enjoyed Mado's take on octopus before, so an appetizer of octopus and chick pea puree appealed, but you know what? While chick peas abounded on the menu, we never had one.

We did get some almonds, and you know what? As much as I love almonds generally, and Marcona's specifically, I found there too many in the dish we sampled. On the other hand, that particular dish was probably the best thing I've eaten at Mado. Coddled egg with spring vegetables. He coddles the egg for the barest of times. I do not know if he uses some fancy contraption, but in the end product is just this side of set. It is not, however, gross. The runny egg mixes with a strong dollop of butter in a bowl with the freshest of peas and favas plus the almonds. The almonds add nice crunch, textural contrast as we critics say, but ultimately I would have liked a few less as the almonds distracted. Poor me.

Poor me having to eat at Mado. Is it cliche to say Rob Levitt is hitting his stride? Improving each day? Getting his groove. Maybe it's all the advice I leave him on the blog [ed. say what?]. Although I am supposed to say you cannot have the same dishes I tried when talking about Mado, I have to say that my wife and I had versions of dishes we've already tried. In both cases, we liked the current versions even more. With the hanger steak, there seemed little space to improve, but Mado did. The Chef never came out to shmooze, so I never got the chance to ask if he changed beef suppliers. I found this week's hanger steak fattier, i.e., richer, a good thing in steaks. The pike wisely included a sauce this time, a well executed walnut. The strong flavor of the nuts bounced well off the mild fish. Of course if the Chef came out to shmooze, I would have bugged him to use local black walnuts instead of standard Cali-nuts. I suppose there's some room for improvement at Mado.

I hope the Chef did not stay in the kitchen because we did have one wee problem. See, the pike was cooked about perfect. A big hunk of fish, the skin crisped, about 1/2 cooked until just done. Then, we got to the other half. That's where we get to the about. It stopped being done. Freshwater fish is not the fish for medium rare (and less). In the end, however, I cannot complain too much as they fixed it, re-sauced it completely and added more of the cauliflower garnish.

I aint complaining about the rest of the dishes that graced our table: duck rilletes with just enough French espice to offset their heaviness; and a smoked steelhead trout with beets. Did I say above that the coddled egg was the best dish ever at Mado? What about the trout, an amazing collection of flavors from smokey to salty to sweet. I could have eaten a big moundful. We started intense with those appetizers, we finished light and etheral with a coffee pana cotta. If Rob had had time to shmooze, I would have told him I was one happy eater.

Eat local, eat local out. Mado's at 1647 N Milwaukee. Reservations advised, (773) 342-2340. For now, it's still BYOB. It's always seemed like a bargain--do order more than you think you need, the prices are that good--and BYOB makes it that much more of a deal.

I read the post to my wife, as I do most of my breakfast posts these days. She's not in favor of the rhetorical flourishes of this review, but we'll agree to disagree on that. She does bring up a good point though. She says, what they hell am I doing talking up almonds and chick peas when you want to emphasize the localness of Mado. For instance, she says, "what about the cauliflower with the pike, how can you call that just a garnish." I guess my short answer would be that the almonds and chick peas do not distract from the localness of the Mado menu. It is still nearly wholly derived from what happens to be in the market that day. Spanish day aside, there is no place right now in Chicago more committed to such an up-to-date menu; that and his ability to use local animals, the whole beast, make Rob Levitt a Chef to admire as well as enjoy.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's Local at Cassie's Green Grocer

Channeling My Inner Bubbe

The Chicago Tribune writes a front pager on eating local. They skip any mention of the one store with local as its raison d'etre, Green Grocer. I mean I'm in it for the delicious food, the saving the earth, the friendships, but mostly for the title, "World's Best Locavore." Cassie's got a business to run! Get ye to Green Grocer.

As can be expected, July's looking good for Cassie. She went small with City Farm, pinkie wide carrots and beets the size of gumballs. Maroon raspberries and darker cherries, some herbs and other some green things. Cassie stocks more than local produce. My wife calls Indiana's Traders Point Creamery Triple Orchard (or something like that) yogurt her crack. Cassie carries that as well as other products from Trader's Point including cottage cheese, ice cream and fresh mozzarella. Proteins today included tilapia from Aquaranch, James Farm beef, and a rarity for locavores, chicken breasts, that's breasts alone--me and my pals, we usually have to buy our chickens whole.

Getting back to those baby beets. As we've been discussing on LTH [ed. and here too!], it may make sense to eat like your grandparents. Eating that way means playing the part of your Bubbe, getting in that zone where you can effortlessly peel a bunch of beets. It does seem that the method to do such escaped me. I needed more than the zen of the paring knife. I needed Jaques Pepin in the kitchen.

On my last beet, my wife, who would later yell at me for not cutting the beet greens uniform enough, says, "I'm shredding them anyways, you do not need to be too careful." Too late, she took my exquisitely skinless beets and quickly shredded them in the processor.

It was Northern Italian night at the Bungalow. She made riso (think soupy risotto) with the end of the year asparagus. Our side, shredded beets and their tops, sauteed with a good hand of butter, lime zest and a sprinkling of chive. If nothing else, we enjoyed the break from our usual extra virgin olive oil cooked food.

Irv & Shelly, Not Bitter

No mention by Irv & Shelly of the CTrib's locavore article in their latest e-mail, but they do link to their well done newletter. Go read it here for good stories on why your CSA looks a bit odd this year and about Prairrie Fruit Farms of downstate, Illinois.

Wither Blog Day? (+Newest Inventory)

(Updates below)

Last we met, I promised hours of blog fun as I assuaged my grief over being left out of the CTrib's locavore article. Yet, I could not bare to be in the Bungalow any more Sunday for fear that I might accidentally see the paper (and find out yet again that when Kerry Woods walks the first batter, no lead is safe). I did the only thing a good eat local guy could do to feel better, I went to a farmer's market. Of course as an avid eater, I also went for a local flavored brunch.

You think I'm bitter, what about Mindy Segal and her nice little place, Hot Chocolate. The Trib sidebars restaurants serving local and skips her place entirely, noting instead such arrivistes as Osteria Via Stato [ed. perhaps you just have a"thing" against OvS?]. Ms. Segal's had local on her menu before it became word of the year. My brunch the other day was awash in local: Gunthrop Farm bacon, local strawberries, Nueske ham, and although not really thought of as such, the smoked whitefish on my wife's plate is pretty local to us. Besides the use of local on the brunch menu, Hot Chocolate serves one of the best selections of Wisconsin cheeses around town. I was decidedly less bitter after brunch. More so because Mindy also offers little bites of some of her sweets, for the taking by the cash register.

Still, only one thing could be-still my stirred up heart. We moved on from Hot Chocolate to the Wicker Park Farmer's Market. We could not possibly need more food (could we?). Our holiday weekend local:

Genesis Grower's CSA - 7/3/08

  • 2 bags arugula
  • 2 heads leaf lettuce
  • The biggest head of Napa cabbage
  • The K word a/k/a kohlrabi
  • Kale
  • Bekana - I love Vicki to death but I wish she'd not foster the bekana, an odd Asian green on us

Eli's Cheesecake Farmer's Market - 7/3/08

  • Fava beans, strawberries, young onions (tropea/cipollini), sweet onions, baby shallots - Nichol's Farm
  • Interesting talk - Lloyd Nichol's, Nichol's Farm
  • Cheesecakes, both purchased and comped - Eli's Cheesecake

Fox & Obel - 7/5/08

  • Farmer's All Natural Creamery, cream, sour cream, cottage cheese
  • Trader's Point Creamery yogurt
  • Grunthrop Farms ham

Oak Park Farmer's Market - 7/5/08

  • 300 lbs or so of organically raised, local hog - Wettstein Organic Farm
  • Sour cherries, apricots - Hardin Farm
  • Basil, mint, eggs - Genesis Growers
  • Asparagus, peas - Stover's U Pick
  • Curly parsley - Nice woman farming a plot in Forest Park whose name I keep on forgetting!

Wicker Park Farmer's Market - 7/6/08

  • Green garlic, with scapes (which is mostly not green anymore) - Nichol's Farm
  • Black raspberries - Seedlings
  • Carrots - Two nice people with a farm in ILLINOIS but whose name I also forgot

Green Grocer Chicago - 7/8/08

  • Beets, carrots - City Farm
  • Raspberries - Unknown Michigan farm

Genesis Growers CSA - 7/10/08

  • Yellow summer squash
  • Thyme
  • New potatoes
  • Sweet cherries
  • Carrots, including some white carrots
  • Scallions
  • 4 chickens

Eli's Cheesecake Farmer's Market - 7/10/08

  • Tropea onions, fava beans - Nichol's Farm

Northside Farmer's Market, Madison, WI

  • Veg: organic cucumbers, seedless cucumber, garlic scapes, sugar snaps, snow peas, carrots, green beans, blue, tomatoes, collard greens, beets, cauliflower, summer squash, squash blossoms
  • Fruit: blueberries
  • Herbs: papalo, cilantro, epazote, parsley
  • Fish: farm raised perch
  • Dairy: Sugar River yogurt, Sugar River sour cream
  • Pantry: Pamplemousse Preserves (elderflower caramel, rhubarb vanilla preserves)

Pierces Northside Market, Madison, WI - 7/13/08

Willy St. Co-op - 7/13/08

  • Wisconsin grown veg: pea shoots, chard, romaine, radicchio
  • Wisconsin cheese: Widmer 2 year cheddar, Roth Kase Gruyere, Hidden Springs Creamery "Driftless" sheep's milk cheese, Antigo StarVechio
  • Sugar River yogurt

2 Girls on a corner at State Street, Madison - 7/13/08

  • Raspberries from their back yard

Liquor store on Washington St. on the way to I-90 - 7/13/08

Whole Foods, River Forest, IL - 7/14/08

  • Farmer's All Natural Creamery Milk
  • Cucumber - some Indiana farm
  • Blueberries - some Michigan outfit

Previous list of acquisitions here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I'm Not Bitter - Blogday, Cont.

One last thing that needs to be blogged about, Fox & Obel has greatly increased their supply of local. I tracked down someone in the produce section when I was there the other day. I said, "your produce section looks much improved." He said, "I was hired three weeks ago."

I'm Not Bitter - Blogday

I am NOT motivated to blog all day by my bitterness towards all things Chicago Tribune. I mean if I refuse to look at the paper this morning, the Cubs might have won yesterday. Besides, does Gerry Smith know I'm a Tribune vendor. It's just with the holiday and all, I'm very behind in my blogging. I've been blinded by bitterness, but I've got lots to say.

First, some link love. I hope you all have seen MikeG's video on local, the guy with the passion for roof tops and roof top gardens as well, Bruce, now has a blog. Check it out.

Other things that should show up today or soon:

Eli's Cheesecake hosts a farmer's market on Thursdays. They are also hosting a series of lectures on local food related topics (a series that seems to have slipped by everyone's radar). Last week Lloyd Nichols spoke. Next week it's Terra Brockman of the Land Connection.

Bitterness aside, I don't buy this quote from the CTrib's article

"Illinois does not have a lot of local vegetable producers, so when you go to farmers markets you see folks from Wisconsin and Michigan," Slama said. "It's a regional approach if you still consider yourself someone who eats primarily local food."
It is true that when you go to farmer's markets in the Chicago area you will find farmer's from Michigan like Hardin Farms, who grow the best stone fruits or Walt Skibbies with an outstanding selection of apples and pears, but when it comes to vegetables, market shoppers are most likely to find Nichol's Farm at their market. They can also buy vegetables from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers, Henry's Farm, Kinnikinnick Farm, Sandhill Organic; there's the Midwest Organic Farmer's Coop that Robin "Winter" fronts at Daley Plaza; hell there's City Farm who show up each week to the Logan Square Farmer's Market. And speaking of Logan Square, what about Farmer Rob and his Montalbano Farm. He's also at the Ridgeville Market in Evanston that needs your love. Of course, maybe you are not a market shopper, there's that small outfit out of Illinois serving the CSA needs of many, called, um, Angelic Organics. I could go on, but I have other things to not blog about.

Scotch Hill Farms, who oddly enough, are in Wisconsin, but show up at the Oak Park Farmer's Market, are seeking interest in a milk and cheese CSA. The CSA, with a delivery at Oak Park, would provide high quality local products such as Sugar River Dairy yogurt. Stop by their stand and tell Tony or Dela you are interested.

I've had Mado on the mind for reasons that will be revealed some other time, but 'cause of that, my wife and I decided to dine there last night. It's been good before, quite, good, but last night was the best meal so far. Still, despite Rob's promises, they're not serving bread. I'm not bitter about that either.

No, grapes are not in season yet, but the market is awash in new products. Concentrate now on the products with the most fleeting of season. Chad Nichol's tricked us into buying fava beans with this clever conceit, he grilled them for us. We bought a pound and a half. Unlike last year, the Chicago area locavore has apricots to eat. Grab 'em now.

Besides apricots and favas, we keep on getting other local foods, including a whole half-a hog (which my wife did a masterful job of squeezing it into the freezer). I'll be updating the inventory soon.

Hey you, don't eat local. Instead of a year on a 100 mile diet, try a lifetime of reasonable eating.

I have infusions to write about and pics from a lavish Shabbat dinner, but until all that, go read Valeree's blog, it's very good. She's not the least bit bitter.