Saturday, July 19, 2008

What's In Season Now - July (Everything!)

The Only Guide to Seasonality That Matterstm

It's Good to Be a Locavore!

I told you at the start of July that it was not time for an update seasonality guide (June guide here). It's time. What's in season now at Chicago area farmer's markets, local superstore's like Cassie's Green Grocer, Johnny welcome to the party, come latelies, like Fox & Obel; Irv and Shelly's Freshpicks. Everything. The burden of local now is to eat everything one acquires. At this time, there's a lot in season. Unless your guide's talking grapes, it has a chance as being as accurate as the one below.

Ending Soon
If you want to eat these, eat them soon, they won't be around much longer: cherries sweet and tart; some lettuces, snow peas.

Limited Window
Get these now: apricots have been around for a few weeks; they won't be around much longer. Certain types of plums, like the metheny may already be gone by the time you read this. Things like carrots and zukes and potatoes will be here for a long while, but them in tiny versions, well them's the time to get them. Now. Related, now you may also find squash blossoms.

Other things early
Garlic's pretty ossified now but onions are still in their soft stages. Look for Vidalia-ish (store in the fridge) onions as well as immature versions of other onions. Green garlic may be gone, but garlic scapes are around.

Stoned on Fruit
In the Chicago area, we are lucky enough to be near the SW shores of Michigan, some of the primest territory for growing stone fruits. The breezes over the lake keep things just warm enough, while the existence of cold brings extra sweetness to the fruits. Look for early versions of peaches and nectarines--I have not seen white versions of either yet. Mentioned above, apricots, cherries, plums. With plums, various varieties will be around for ages, with the Stanley and the like not get going until the fall.

Uncommon Fruits
The benefits to shopping local is access to items that will not find their way into grocery stores. In our fruit aisles you'll find currents and gooseberries and tayberries. Try, try, try. See here and here for a gooseberry ideas.

Common Fruit
Hard to imagine with all of the summer fruits in season that now is also the season of the apple. Several varieties of apples come to fruit now; now, when you think you should just be munching a peach. Summer apple varieties tend to have a few things in common. Most, if not all, are quite puckery in the mouth. They tend to be soft and are often (typically) used for sauce. Most importantly, they are not apples to keep. In selling me a few apples today (for a daughter who somewhat unexpectedly* had a taste for apples) Lloyd Nichols warned me that they would only last a few days.

All the Rest of the Fruits of the Season
OK, don't forget the raspberries (black, red and golden), blueberries, and blackberries around now. Theses berries will peter out for a bit then will reappear into the fall.

All the Rest of the Vegetables
Can I name everything in the market these days. Maybe. Maybe because this is the time of year it's all here. All you think of as summer produce at least: tomatoes (the ones now are mostly grown in hoop houses or early varieties of cherries); eggplants, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, summer squashes, sweet corn, cabbages, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, collard greens, fennel, celery, beets, and the dreaded k word, kohlrabi (which we took to calling jicama in our house, especially after we realized we really liked it!).

As always, there's River Valley with their organically cultivated mushrooms. I have not seen any wild mushrooms of late, although someone, somewhere must have some chantrelles. You should find plenty of fresh herbs in your market.

Speciality Vegetables
Oh, there's more baby. Kinnikinnick Farm at Evanston and Green City; Green Acres at the Tuesday Federal Plaza market as well as Green City and Evanston; Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers at Oak Park and Green City; Sandhill Organics at Oak Park; Henry and his farmstand at Evantson; Nichol's Farm all over the place; these guys will have plenty more things than I thought of tonight. It's good to be a locavore.

Coming soon: the melons, heirloom tomatoes, more types of potatoes, more types of peppers, okra, fresh (shelling) beans. It's good to be a locavore.

*One of the things that warms my local heart is the ability of my kidz to never tire of apples.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Night Local Reigned - Green City Market BBQ

Once upon time, an erudite culinary historian and linguist with the nom de Internet of Antonious stormed around LTHForum reminding us that the proof was not IN the pudding but rather in the eating of said pudding. Mr. B would agree then, if he attended last night's Green City BBQ that the proof of local came not in the local pudding but in eating said putting, although really we did not have pudding we had cheesecake made from local goat cheese (my pals at Eli's) that was like pudding and sweetened farmer's cheese from Fox & Obel that was pudding-ish (as was the filling in the Spring/Green Zebra/Custom House ravioli). This night was a very worthwhile celebration of all things local, and nothing could convince you more, the local food offered.

Really, this fete has been recorded as the homage du porc, but unlike last year where literally (about) every other stand offered a take on pig belly, I found pork not quite as prevalent. It was more, I believe, the year of the sausage: bunny weiners from Blackbird/Avec, a locavore version of the Chicago hot dog from Four Seasons, a newly emancipated chef at the Peninsula making a foie gras Polish saw-sage; clever square breakfast sausage "sliders" from Iron Chef-testant, Paul Virant's Vie, and my favorite, the Greek flavored pork sausage from Mint Creek Farm served by Prairie Grass Cafe.

I stuffed myself on encased meat. So stuffed, that well past mid-day, I have had nothing to eat beyond coffee (fact: we anticipated this yesterday and cancelled our planned Shabbos "Southern Night*" dinner in light or our need to eat spa food for a bit). Stuffed aside, my favorite foods were not the sausages. For all the efforts of all the chefs, the things that impressed me the most were the La Quercia ham and the sustainably caught hot smoked whitefish from Plitt Seafood. Perhaps because I am so stuffed still, ultimately it was not even the food that most made the night.

The closest I've come before to meeting someone who has inspired so much envy and admiration in me was when my wife and I kinda, sorta intermingled with the sister of Gus Hanson in Las Vegas. Last night I got to meet and schmooze with the most hated one herself, the Washington Island dwelling Martha Bayne. Of course where would I find her, but hanging out with the Death's Door Spirits people. For me it was a chance to meet Martha and also meet, in person at least, my editor at the CTrib, Colin; for one daughter it was the chance to chat up Dale Levitski in the potty line. The real celebrities of the night, the farmer's were in abundance. Look there was Mr. Nichols and Nick and Chad were both espied. Beth Eccles of Green Acres looked very happy as did the Heartland Beef people (why not it tasted delicious). And if the farmers were tops on the list of market heroes, and there were reporters with the best of beats; and chances to meet the Top Chef (and I swear I saw someone who looked like the man with the culinary boner, Andrew); there were also chances to meet with many more top chefs like Bayless and Zanella (fact: your kids are cute AND look a lot like you) and Carrie can't say your last name and Sarah who must just be proud of it all (all except Virant who was face deep in flames) and finally all the bedrock foodies of the city, especially the crew from We all got a chance to eat our local. Get your tickets early for next year's event.

*Planned dinner included local collards slow-cooked with local smoked turkey from a Wisconsin farmer; summer squash casserole, pickled beets, etc.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Eat Seasonal Food - Latest in Stuff

It bears repeating, but one of the coolest things in the markets now are true new potatoes, or to use the terminology I've seen some of the farmer's use to distinguish them from the misuse of new to mean any smaller, red potato; freshly dug potatoes. Chad Nichol's at Nichol's Farm told me today how they get way less (way, like 80%) when harvesting the potatoes as new potatoes instead of letting them grow out. The benefit is all for us, the eater. These are a true seasonal food, a taste that will be gone soon, a taste, my daughter declared last night, "the best potatoes ever." We purchased two pounds from Chad, hardly expensive at $3/lb. We also got our weekly CSA today. It was a good week on Farmer Vicki's plot.

Latest local stuff below.

Marion Street Cheese Market - 7/16/08

  • Apricots

Genesis Growers CSA - 7/17/08

  • 2 Daikon radish (eat the greens too!)
  • 2 bunches of collard greens
  • Mizuna (the one crop I could do without)
  • 3 medium size and 1 small zucchini
  • Summer onion
  • Basil
  • Beets (eat the greens AND the stems)
  • Oregano
  • 2 medium sized cukes

Eli's Cheesecake Factory Farmer's Market - 7/17/08

  • Nichol's Farm - New potatoes (Keep 'em in the fridge)

Oak Park Farmer's Market - 7/19/08

  • Genesis Growers - mint, 2 types of hot peppers, 2 types of cherry (ish) tomatoes
  • Catalina Garden - jalepeno peppers, multi-color baby carrots
  • Nichol's Farm - apples
  • Harden Farm - apricots, red (methany) plums, peaches, tart cherries
  • Walt Skibbe - tayberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes

Eli's Cheesecake Market - 7/24/08

  • Nichol's Farm - artichokes

Genesis Growers CSA - 7/24/08

  • 12 eggs
  • Green beans (a lot)
  • Peaches
  • 6 ears sweet corn
  • summer squash
  • cucumbers
  • pickles (4)
  • kale
  • savory
  • 4 green bell peppers

Oak Park Farmer's Market - 7/26/08

  • Genesis Growers - jalepeno peppers, kohlrabi, cherry tomatoes
  • Catalina Farm - heart shaped baby tomatoes
  • Hardin Farm - peaches, nectarines, apricots
  • Stover's U Pick - sweet cherries
  • Walt Skibbe - tart cherries, apples (Lodi), tayberries, red raspberries, tayberries, golden raspberries

Costco - 7/27/08

  • Michigan blueberries
  • Carr Valley Bread Cheese

Previous inventory here.

What's Local Oak Park - Marion Street Cheese Emporia

Remember this post? Have you been waiting as patiently as me for the expanded Marion Street Cheese store/cafe/restaurant in downtown Oak Park? Your wait is almost, kinda over. I will tell you the bad part first, then the dissenting part, and last the gushing part.

The bad part. About a year ago, the folks at Marion Street Cheese in Oak Park announced plans to expand their cheese shop into a space on the other side of the tracks from their current location. In the space of the old space would go a genuine butcher shop, one specializing in local meats. Cheese shops the world has. Butcher shops are few these days, and one specializing in local meats; that the Chicago world needs (bad). That part of the operation awaits.

The dissenting opinion. I visited the new Marion Street Cheese yesterday with my wife. In a nit-picking mood, she complained of missing local. "Why Vermont maple syrup" (instead of locally sourced syrup.) "I think they have more cheeses from Massachusetts than Wisconsin" (I think she's wrong on that count.) "I thought the gourmet products did not have any Midwestern feel to it--they had the peanut butter [Cream Nut] but that was it. I want grains." She ended her diatribe, "I'm ready to go there today."

After all, it is the only area store nearby for her crack, Trader's Point Creamery Orchard Trio yogurt. One item of many local. We did not see the produce displayed, but we ran into Chef Mike on his way in from the market. He took us into the kitchen and showed us his bounty (some to be used in their recipes); apricots and peaches, currants, bunches of white and pink French breakfast radishes that looked like a coral reef creature; apples (believe it or not) and more, we did not peek into every bag. Mike sold us the apricots at a very reasonable 35 cents each.

Reasonable. I could not, at all, believe it, when they rang up my fresh made, already one of the best local, pan au chocolate, at $1.33. I said to my wife, that maybe I should have mentioned to Chef Mike to increase the size of the item and raise the price. She shushed me on that one. That, I think she's right. Getting back to the local though, the chaucuterie case was filled with local hog. Four or five versions of La Quercia products, including stuff I had not seen before like local lardo. They had Nueske bacon in a slab the size of an old phone book. They carry local eggs too. Cheese, I guess the only place that I might agree with my wife would be on the cheddars. I saw Grafton cheddar, but no high end Wisconsin. I know Marion's carried BleuMont's stuff before. I'm betting it will be there soon. Still, throw me a bone, a Widmer or something. Still, the local goat got its day, with several offerings from Prairie Fruit Farms and Capriole. There's notable Wisconsin names like Sarvecchio (becoming one of my favorite local cheeses, read nice things about it here) and Roth Kase. Who can complain when this is the only place I've seen locally carrying Zingerman Creamery's exceptional cheeses--including the best cream cheese I know.

Like I was saying, Chef Mike's haul from the market (Green City) was partially going to use in the kitchen. We thumbed through the menus, breakfast, lunch AND dinner, and it seemed all good. Summer be damned, I am looking forward to the raclette, a fancy way of saying cheese melted on potatoes. And the aforementioned pan au chocolate showed consideable skill already lurking.

I'm saving the best for last. Of course I would be ga-ga over a store with so much local. The four beers on tap for the restaurant: Bells, Goose Island, Two Brothers and 3 Floyds, etc. What most blew me away, however, was the space. I think it was Mike, it may have been his cohort, Eric, that I said, "I can see why it took you so long to open." I have a hard enough time coming up with descriptors for good food, I'm at a loss for words for incredible design. What I said yesterday on LTHForum is that the place reminds me of Vegas, and I do not mean that to mean slick or artificial or faux. If you've been to Vegas in recent years, seen any of the Adam Tihany or David Rockwell conceived works, you would recognize Marian Street Cheese's new store. Serious work and serious capital went into this space to great effect. Again, let me backtrack, it is not Trump-y, show-off-y big bucks design. The burnished golds were not gold leaf.

Think they'd add a poker room for me. I could easy while away the hours, munching on Prosciutto Americano and other local faves when hunger strikes.

Marion Street Cheese Market
100 S. Marion, Oak Park
Open every day, 9AM-9PM

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's Good to be a Locacovore - 7+ Days of Local Eating

Local as I Wanna Be

Before all these meals drift off into happy memories, here's how we use our local bounty. I'll go has far back as I can remember.

Last night - The first of the year tomatoes (grown inside but in soil) dotted with Hidden Springs Creamery "Driftless" sheep's milk cheese. Chicken from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers new avian CSA, spice coated and grilled; chard leaves and beet greens sauteed with garlic and keeper onion (yes we still have); grilled radicchio; leftover bread pudding.

The night before - Batter fried squash flowers, then Pleasant Springs Hatchery farm raised perch "puttanesca" and a salad of kohlrabi, carrots and pea shoots.

Sat/Sun - Madison, WI

Shabbat Dinner - The Jews who eat pork for Shabbos! Fava beans grill/steamed in their shells for nibbling. Smoked Wettstein Organic Farm's pork shoulder, grilled summer squash, last year's fingerlings grill roasted and dressed with a cumin-allspice lemon vinaigrette; Farmer's All Natural Creamery buttermilk cabbage, carrot and kohlrabi slaw; roasted cauliflower with olives; bread pudding with Michigan dried cherries and freshly whipped Farmer's All Natural Creamery cream.

Thursday - Tuscan Night. Wettstein Organic Farm's thick cut pork chops, marinated in rosemary and garlic, grilled, served with salsa verde; kohlrabi arugula salad; grilled tropea onions.

Wednesday - Pasta with garlic scapes, asparagus, cultivated local mushrooms, green salad with fresh shallot vinaigrette. Strawberries and sour cream, brown sugar.

Tuesday - Northern Italian Night. Riso con asparagi with plus beets/beet tops with lime butter.

Monday - Big salad of local greens, carrots, sugar snaps, turnips, Saxony aged cheddar and Gunthrop Farms ham, shallot vinaigrette.

Sunday - Sandwich of leftover ribeye steak, local provolone, giardinara; cucumbers with sweet onions.

Saturday - Mado

Other Shabbat Dinner - Herbed farmer's cheese to staunch hunger followed by fava beans grilled/steamed in their shells; sitting down to bowls of fresh pasta dressed with arugula-black walnut pesto followed by locally raised ribeye steaks, grilled; salsa verde on the side; grilled beets, grilled tropea and cipollini onions. Eli's cheesecake.

Any themes emerging?

Hear Me Talk Local

Chicago Amplified

Cathy(2) Lambrecht and the Midwest Foodways Alliance provided me a platform (in fact a cool Emerlesque cooking theater) about a month ago to talk local. For those interested in what I said, you can now find the podcast at WBEZ's Chicago Amplified page.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Eat Local Events

Land Connection Summer Abundance Meal

The Land Connection and Va Pensiero (1566 Oak Ave, Evanston, IL) invite you to their Summer Abundance Dinner on July 26 from 6:30 to 10:00 pm. Enjoy a delicious meal created by owner Jeff Muldrow and chef Eric Hammond from fresh, seasonal produce from Henry's Farm, supplied that day from the Evanston Farmer's Market!

Megan Lewis, executive director, and Terra Brockman, founder, will share what The Land Connection is doing to increase the number of sustainable farmers in Illinois and increase the amount of acres being used for local food production. The 3-course menu with wine and hors d'oeurve reception is only $80, all inclusive. A portion of the proceeds will go to support The Land Connection's work. Please call 847-475-7779 to make your reservations today. Limited to 60 guests.

Purple Asparagus's Project Dine Out

August 3, 2008 5:00pm-7:00pm

Join for an evening of music, food and fun at Uncommon Ground on Devon Street. The second Project Dine-Out includes a family-style meal created from locally-sourced ingredients. The menu includes:

Roasted Green Acres Farm Eggplant Salad with Mint Tzaziki & Pita

Zucchini & Carrot Fritters with Capriole Goat Cheese

Gunthorp Farm Pulled Pork with Seedling Farms Cherry BBQ Sauce
on Jalapeno Corn Bread

Asian-Style Heartland Flank Steak with Asian Market Greens, Cucumber & Herbs

House-made Chorizo Empanadas & Smoked Jalapeno Creme

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta with Fresh Mozzarella

Market Green & Fruit Salad

Dessert Platter

$40.00 for teens and adults, $20.00 for children 5-13. For $10.00 more, adults can purchase a wine, beer or spirit package. To purchase tickets, please visit Brown Paper Tickets.

Uncommon Ground is located at 1401 West Devon Street, Chicago

What's Local, Whole Foods - River Foods, IL

Stopped in at Whole Foods last night for some bread and milk. Lo and behold, the aisles were loaded with local. Well, not really, but much more local than normal for this Whole Foods: Michigan blueberries; cucumbers, collards, kale, herbs from farms scattered around the Midwest.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Still Mad for Madtown - Madison, WI

Schedule Your Staycation?

I am mad for Madison, Wisconsin. Not the least bit mad that my usual choice of stay, the Concourse, was out of my budget this trip, nor was I mad that Priceline found me no place within my budget at all. Instead, I turned to Plan B,, which provides the uncertainity of a hotel name with the certainty of a price--with both Priceline's "name your price" and Hotwire, you do not know the name of your hotel until after you hit the pay button. Anyway, I'm mad enough to say OK to a $32 "two star-er" on Hotwire in West Madison. After all, my wife, who will not be known as the Condiment Queen, takes it as a matter of pride and principle to spend less that 12 hours in a hotel room, check-in to check out. How bad could the Rock Star Inn (i.e., Road Star) be. I mean it did not get featured in this apt cover story in this week's Isthmus. Answer: gross, but just barely tolerable. Vital advice: take slippers when ever staying in Hotwire 2 star hotels. Cheap room equals more food budget.

So, I'm not the least bit mad over the prices at Lao Laan Xang, Madison's foremost Laotian restaurant, which seem a bit high, about $16 for house specials. We hit Lao Laan Xang because my older daughter, on the verge of birthday, felt Laotian would cleanse her after two nights of Ann Boylen (i.e., our Wettstein's Organic Farm hog, so named because it's head had been lost). (Also, Mom and Dad had just watched Tony Bordain mope through Laos on the DVR.) To daughter's chagrin, we ordered more pork as well as catfish, not a fave either.

I'm madly in love with Laotian food, at least as served at Lao Laan Xang. I cannot say I know much in the way of Laotian food. I figured the best way to start was with the four house specialities on the Lao Laan menu. My younger daughter balked, something about house specialities and spice or what not through her off (and she was mad we were not at Old Fashion or the Washington (Island) Hotel Coffee Room). Utilizing her enormous skill to pick dishes she will later dislike, she opted out of the family plan for a private beef salad. Trouble brewed further as goaded by her sister, she switched her heat level from careful to adventuresome (the rest of us going for "native Lao"). Her lunch turned out to be mostly gobs of sticky rice. We on the other hand, loved-loved the beef salad, heavy with fish sauce and maybe something else that gave it a funkier taste than similar Thai salads. Of course the adventuresome spice level helped.

I'm not mad that I did not pay attention to the name of one house speciality, tum som to realize it was papaya salad (in Thai, "som tum"). The menu describes
pounded in a mortar, fresh garlic, chiles, shrimp paste, tamarind, lime, cherry tomatoes, Thai eggplant, fish sauce, unripe papaya
I had in my mind, nam prik, pounded dishes used as dips. Instead, papaya salad and a quarter of fried chicken. The other funny (not as in ha-ha funny) thing about this dish was about 25 minutes (at least) after we ordered it; the waiter came by and said they currently had no papaya on hand. They were in the process of getting some though. Would we like the dish with cucumbers they asked. We said no, papaya, just bring us the other dishes first. Without going into a detailed review of Lao Laan Xang, let me say that the restaurant showed why they needed the time and the money. Our dishes, the papaya salad with chicken, a catfish stuffed with herbs and grilled-steamed in banana leaves and a variation on that dish, the catfish with ground pork, all tasted complex and labor intense. Ordering Lao meant eating fire, but it also meant eating a range of intense flavors. Nothing was dumbed dumbed down for us. I'm madly in love with this place.

And not the least bit mad that our raison d'etre for Madison, the World's Greatest Farmer's Markettm gave ground this weekend for Art Fair. All the more excuse to visit a new market. We highed early Sunday morning to the Northside market [ed., could not wait to get out of the Rock Star huh?]. As a known flamin' liberal, I got the cred to say this market mimicked the Democratic National Convention. The vendors: a Mexican, a few Asian, the organic, the lesbians (no stereotyping, they flew the rainbow flag at their booth), an African-American, the not bitter white working class, the yuppies with the yogurt enterprise. As a flamin' lib, I enjoyed the hell out of it all. The Mexican guy, who spoke nary a word of English had squash blossoms nearly the size of sunflowers and herbs like epazote and papalo--of course I had to buy. My wife and I had to buy something from nearly every vendor. We are madly in love with this market from its dairy to its fish farm called Pleasant Springs Hatchery to woman who makes caramels from local elderflowers and various jams at her Pamplemousse Preserves. I think I captured all our purchases here (scroll down), but don't be mad if I forgot something. You can do no worse if in Madison on a Sunday than visiting this market.

I am certainly mad that this post has gone on much longer than I wanted. I'm mad that the IGA market, Pierces, contains more local than any Whole Foods, but I'm not the least bit mad that we joined the Willy Street Coop (I'm just mad we don't get to use our membership more often). I'm mad for Old Fashion, the supper club-y place on the square and especially mad in the best of ways for an event my wife luckily, oh so luckily, found while reading the Isthmus, namely Pie-palooza, an eat local benefit. Eating local is as easy as pie they said. So, don't be mad if it takes me a bit to blog about it.

Travel Local

Scheduled Your Staycation?

I found the Learn Great Foods people when I attended the Green Fest last May. I meant to blog about this outfit that led tours of local foods around the Midwest, but then I meant to blog about a bunch of things at the Green Fest (local caramels, how recyclable is Organic Valley packaging). I believe then, as I believe now, that a foodie in good standing should be familiar with his or her food. Visit farms. Know your food. Napa Valley may not be close, but with a bit of effort, you can find a lot of interesting foodstuffs nearby. If you need a guide, Learn Great Foods may help. Moreover, this is the year of the staycation.* Monica Eng's enjoyed her trip to Northwestern Illinois with the Learn Great Foods folks:
In the morning we wake to the sound of songbirds and the intoxicating smell of raspberry cream cheese coffeecake. I wander onto the second-floor veranda, where Fern has left a pot of hot coffee and two mugs. I sip and sway on the porch swing looking over the Prairie Path's 36 acres of wood and fields that provide fruits and vegetables for Fern's lavish brunches.

Before breakfast we head downtown (about five blocks away) to catch the Mt. Carroll Farmers Market. We meet David Seger, an 87-year-old shiitake mushroom grower whose Seger's Tree Farm near Thompson is a stop on another LGF tour.

We score a sack of fresh mushrooms, banana cake and a loaf of wheat bread from a vendor who says she had milled Amish wheat for the bread flour that morning. I'm such a sucker for stories like that.

Is that not another reason I've always been a fan of Monica as well as always been a bit jealous [ed., except for the cuy and the eating of everything at Taste of Chicago?].

*Word of the year candidate