Friday, September 12, 2008

Eat Local Now - Day 3 of the Localvore Challenge

As I said on the Local Beet this morning, the best way to convince you to eat local is to have you eat local. I am sure your first few days on the challenge have got you revved up to the deliciousness of the challenge. So revved that you need places to re-fuel, see my Local Beet post for places to shop local. As you visit these shops, take in some of these items.

Some of these things are not exclusively local, i.e., you could get them in other areas, but the key thing is that to best take advantage of these things, you have to eat local.
  • Fresh lima beans - One of the last crops to come into season is the fresh or shelling beans. It is easy to walk in to the typical grocery and find dried, canned and frozen lima beans, but if you ever want to know why people started eating limas in the first place, try fresh. Need to know how to make real succotash, see here.
  • Concord grapes - Can you deal with a pit. Spit a seed. If so, you can stand the immense difference in taste between Concord grapes and supermarket Thompson seedless. It continues to amaze me that something so complex in flavor as the Concord makes such awful wine. In fact any cooking of the grape, like jelly, seems to reduce the Willy Wonka-ishness of this fruit. So go for them raw or freeze them to make quasi-sorbet.
  • Holland Family Farm's "Marieke Gouda" - I'm the kinda guy who's favorite cheese is often the last one tried, but right now this farmstead cheese from Wisconsin is my favorite. I am sure I could find something this good in Holland, but I have never tasted a Gouda even close to this. It is aged on wooden boards so it is much harder and more intense than typical Gouda, at least the ones I know. It is also far from one dimensional, the result, I know of using raw milk. Track this one down.
  • Perch - It was just yesterday that I was reminding you that your local meals could include fish. Here's the thing, not only can your local meals include fish, but you can have fish not available to those locavores you envy in California. I am talking about Great Lakes perch. I've been known to throw perch out as one of my top ten favorite foods. Iron Chef-testant Paul Virant knows too, he has perch on his menu now, and I can specifically vouch for this dish having had it last Friday. It truly tastes different than ocean fish.
  • Black walnuts - Nuts seem to remain a conundrum for area locavores. The problem with black walnuts is, the crop is prevalent but their appearance in markets is rare. This is partially due to the ridiculously hard time it takes to crack and shell black walnuts--driving your car over them is one suggested methods. The taste, however, is exquisite, with a grapey must that you do not find in "regular" walnuts.

The eat local challenges tend to focus people on things they cannot have. After all, the first thing you do is lay out your exceptions. The second is ruminate on what you appear to be missing. It's like while I fast for Yom Kippur all I think about is eating. Instead of praying for slab of salmon or the out-of-season asparagus, think about the products that are there waiting for you just because you eat local.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eat Local Now - Day 2 of the Localvore Challenge

Local Fish

Are you satisfied so far with your eating options after a day of Localvore Challenge? Are tomatoes boring you yet. Too many scrambled eggs. Are you in need of protein ideas for your sustainence. Ennui in the diet will lead you off the local path. Keep your diet diverse. Do you know that fish can easily fit within the parameters of your Challenge requirements.

I will confess, under my mantra of don't make yourself nuts eating local, that I have purchased during the last four years, various seafood--I'm a sucker for the marinated shrimp skewers at Whole Foods when they are on sale. I also very much eat canned tuna, sardines, anchovies, and herrings, but at least these fall into my made to travel exception. These purchases aside, I sometimes miss seafood. What keeps me missing it too much is the quality of seafood around here, at least for the price. What also keeps me from missing seafood is the good fish options.

If I do not purchase halibut at the store or some version of salmon, I am not without my fish. It can come from the Great Lakes, and it can come from area fish farms. Great Lakes fish include perch and whitefish, with the latter being cheaper and more available. It is common to find Great Lakes fish at area supermarkets, but it is really worth a trip to Devon Ave. for the last of the old time Jewish fishmongers, which these days means a Mexican fishmonger. No place sells a fresher whitefish than Roberts. Roberts alone will keep you from missing ocean fish. Farm raised fish carries mixed connotations. To some it can seem too tasteless and too eco-damaging. I am pretty sure the organic, sustainable system at AquaRanch is green. I'll leave the taste of their tilapia to you. Try this fish raised in Illinois from the freezer case at Cassie's Green Grocer. I'm plenty happy with the flavor of farm raised rainbow trout from Rushing Waters farm in Wisconsin. These fish are widely found at markets in the Chicago area, including Whole Foods. If you ever travel to farmer's markets in Wisconsin, you will find smaller producers of farm raised fish. The Chicago area local diet may not have seafood, but it does not need to be fish-less.

Success in your eat local challenge comes from keeping your diet diverse. There is no reason that local cannot be diverse. Make it diverse by including local fish.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Eat Local Now - Chicago's Localvore Challenge

Local Booze/Local Cold Cuts

Today begins the Green City Market Localvore Challenge, with rules or at least guidelines and all. As I wrote on the Local Beet, I am not exactly participating, but I also noted that I am not wholly against the Challenge. In that spirit, here's some ideas and insight to help you eat local now. If you have specific questions, raise them on the Local Beet discussion board.

The Green City Bloggers are realizing the first lesson of eating local, what I call the Smokey Robinson Rule. You Got to Shop Around. The Green City Market is bringing in more farmers this week to reduce that shopping around, but even if you could meet all of your cooking needs for the next few weeks at the Green City Market, it stands that you might not be able to be at Green City all of the time. Parking aside, there are locavores who cannot shop at Green City. More, does Green City meet all of your diet needs. What else do you want to consume these two weeks?

The Green City Bloggers all seem in a quandary over local booze. After all, the Green City Market is dry. Drinking local is one of the easier parts of the local challenge as was easily seen at this year's Green City BBQ. You can stock your bar with local gin, vodka, and rye whiskey; rum's a bit harder. You have wines produced in all of the states around Illinois, with some I really like from Michigan. If you cannot find enough local beer to take you through the two weeks, you are not trying very hard. You can relax over an after dinner drink made from local grappa. Your whole localvore challenge can be one drunken blur from local alcohol.

When you sober up, what else do you need. I'll fill in some of my favorite local products during the next two weeks, most of these things I have mentioned before on this site. For today, I'll mention local cold cuts. If your goal is to simply find sausages made in Chicago (or the suburbs), your choices are huge. Why not Bende Hungarian salami or the copas made by Riveria on Chicago's Harlem fringe. If you want more specifically local, how 'bout the Gunthrop Farms ham sold at Fox and Obel or the Nueske ham sold at Marion Street Cheese. If you want to lunch on more than salads this week, take advantage of our local cold cuts.

Take advantage of the richness and the diversity of the Green City Market, including the added vendors, but do not expect to get all of your food there. Or what I am really trying to say is, do not rely solely on what the Green City Market's vendors sell. Instead, continue to eat all of your favorite foods, just make them local foods.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Are You Up For the Challenge - Green City Market Eat Local Challenge

Chicago's Green City Market is sponsoring a "Localvore Challenge" [ed., still using that spelling huh?]. Last year they wanted you to eat local for a week; this year they are extending it a week. Eat local for two weeks!

At the Beet, Michael wonders about the challenge:.
I’m pleased by any attention brought to the idea of eating locally-produced foods, but I tend to bristle a bit at these short-term “events” where people try to endure the pain of changing their habits for a short period of time. Changing your shopping and dietary habits is a difficult process and not something that can be taken on in a cold turkey mode.
I’d love to see the organizers of this event follow up with some participants a year later and see if they held on to any of the changes they made during the two-week event. I’m skeptical about the effectiveness of these challenges and I don’t like how they frame eating locally as something that you need to “endure”, but I’m still hopeful that the Locavore Challenge can turn a few people towards locally-farmed foods.
I think Michael is right-on, but I am a little more generous to the benefits of the Challenge.

I am, however, a bit miffed that the wisdom of this blog and the Local Beet are not more fully drawn on by those blogging for Green City. I've taken my complaints to the Beet's forum. Hope to see you there--and not just to talk about the Green City bloggers!

Eat Local Cheese - The Guide

Via, you can get a guide to Wisconsin cheese.

Who the Hell Dries Their Food

Readers, I asked you a few weeks ago, the question of our times: Who the Hell Cans. I followed that up by asking you if you do not can, can you simply concentrate and freeze? Yet maybe to my warped mind, canning seems downright mainstream to question, who the hell dries their food. We have have a local chef popular and notable enough to be asked to compete on Iron Chef America, who is also popular and notable for his work with the canner. Just yesterday, he was teaching a class on canning at Vie, and he will soon be teaching a canning class at the Chopping Block. If canning can be hard work, it also evokes nostalgia. It brings well-worn but favorite foods back to the home. A good deal of the interest in canning, I believe, is about the recipes, the relishes, chutneys, jams and jellies, pickles, that canning produces. It is only partially about the preservation. If you are really serious about putting aside, you not only can, you dry. Drying your food makes you sound not just like a locavore but like a survivalist.

Now, I say all of this as someone who's desire to dry has long succeeded more than his actual work in drying. My plans for drying have frequently gone awry. A 1/2 bushel of plums intended for prunes instead turned to mold. Ideas for celery powder for use in soups and braises remain conceptual. Still, when my wife and I purchased a new toaster oven last year, we specifically picked the one with a dehydrate setting. We are more than canners. We are driers.

OK, not we, like most of the hard work, it is she that has dried. Last week she took a big batch of Michigan plum tomatoes and dried them away. The nice thing about drying tomatoes is that you skip the skinning step. The tomatoes still need to be halved (the long way), cored and seeded, so pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees while doing the knife work. Put the tomato halves on a trays lined with parchment paper. Salt the tomatoes but not too much. Turn the oven down to 175 and insert the sheets. After a few hours, open the door but otherwise continue. Monitor the tomatoes after that, you do not want them to start cooking too aggressively. Occasionally, turn the sheets. The tomatoes will take about eight hours to dry nicely. Turn off the oven but allow the tomatoes to continue to air dry for several days, some recipes call for up to seven to ten days of air drying. My wife is not sure if she will wait that long. At this point, the tomatoes are ready to use but not ready to save. Long term storage requires the tomatoes one more step. Either the tomatoes can be frozen for a few days or they can be put back in the oven at 175 for a few hours.

Dried tomatoes are frequently used these days as a product in and of themselves, the dried texture being a feature of the recipes, like say a dried tomato pesto. Dried tomatoes, however, can be re-hydrated and used somewhat like you would use other forms of preserved tomatoes such as in sauces.

Complete list of what's been put aside here.