Saturday, November 29, 2008

A New Year of Thanks Starts Now

Just as I ended my list of thankful's, I get a very new and nice present. Message on my voicemail yesterday from older daughter:
Dad, I just wanted to tell you that my favorite dish at Thanksgiving was your carrot-jalepeno salad.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Winter Shopping Option

Although the Oak Park Winter Market is probably more convenient to most of Chicagoland this Saturday, there is also another fine shopping option Saturday and all winter long, the Heritage Prairie Market in Elburn, Illinois.

(NB: No Green City Market this weekend, but a full schedule of Green City Markets all December. And there's always the Geneva superstore on Saturdays all winter.)

On the Heritage Prairie web site, they show what a farmer can do in this winter climate:
The season of Winter
Fall seemed to saunter in and out in a hurry, and we've changed gears into winter farming. Even as snow begins to accumulate on the ground, vegetables keep coming. At this point in winter season, there isn't much light or heat for growing. Beds of spinach and leeks outside won't get bigger but will continue to be harvested through Christmas and after. Inside our four moveable houses are carrots, scallions, kale, and a variety of salad greens. Root crops like beets and storage radishes have all been harvested and will keep for months in cold storage. Raspberries and other fruit trees were planted, along with next year's garlic. This season has also been one of stewardship for the land. Ted, Mike, and Katie have spent time amending the soil with dried leaves (to improve soil structure of heavy clay soil) and gypsum (to provide calcium to balance our heavy magnesium soil). On a side note, the farm team is already choosing side for the HPM Hockey teams. Pre-season training is happening now, as we wait weather cold enough to keep our new ice rink frozen. Look for more details to come as temperatures drop!

A representative from Heritage Prairie was at Green City Market the other day. He had a list of available produce. Pretty good! Here's some highlights:
  • Arugula
  • Cavolo Nero
  • Beets
  • Fennel
  • Chard
  • Lettuces

I have a feeling this winter will be even easier to eat local.

Winter Market This Saturday in Oak Park

Big supply of late season produce expected at this week's winter market in Oak Park. Winter Market @ Pilgrim Church, the same location as the regular farmer's market. Details here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Thanksgiving Hot Dog

+ Introduction of New VI Family Restaurant Scale

People have their cherished Thanksgiving food traditions; a special stuffing, a way with the turkey. Growing up, my mother cooked a good dinner for sure, and when it was not her, it was an almost equally talented Aunt. My mother even has a dish, a cheesy, gooey, 60's style, with canned green olives, corn dish thing that's on the table each year. Still, I have another cherished holiday tradition, one we revised this year, the holiday hot dog. See, each year, while my mother was hard at work, or we were otherwise waiting for the big dinner, we needed a meal. My mother would send me the two blocks away to our neighborhood hot dog stand, Ira's. Even with the big meal ahead, I'd have two Vienna dogs, all the works, minus onions, plus a bag of average fries on Thanksgiving.

This year, maybe because I was reminiscing anyways about the hot dog tradition, but also to reward the hard work that the three girls did raking leaves, we hit a newish hot dog spot not too far from us, Ody's at the intersection of Grand and Austin. I asked someone who looked vaguely in charge (he was not the owner), why they opened here. Ody's is a ground up, orange and red brick, investment of a building, and frankly one that baffles me. The stretch of Grand from Narragansett all the way to maybe Cicero, which Ody's sits in, is like the crash reconstruction center of the city, with endless junkyards, body shops, auto re-builders, window fixers and other related businesses. Perhaps dent and ding men make for a hearty lunch crowd. Perhaps such workers work late hours as Ody's is also a 24/hr operation.

Foodwise, it's striving for a bit of the Maxwell aura with a large, above average Polish saw-sage, grilled onions on top. I'm glad my wife ordered it as I have a reason to return. The hot dogs were only about average, with a skinned snap but also too luke warm, the bun being really too cool. The fries are fresh cut, but to prove some point, very below average. I tried to get them to cook some longer but that did not help in the least.

Now, I was realizing that when I do the occasional restaurant review, I need a gimmick so I can get picked up by Helen and the mmmmm midweek links guys. I cannot do food porn as after losing one camera, my older daughter went and broke the next camera. A new camera is out for at least 2008. I aint gonna wow them with MikeG-esqe wit, nor can I be as stunningly original as Hat Hammond. My odd finds never seem to strike the fancy the way ReneG's does, something I suppose having to do with his damn scholarship. But do they have the VI Family ten thumb system?

The four of us each has a thumb to rate. Then because my wife felt the scale too narrow, I decided to add in the Elijah thumb, two extra thumbs for contingencies, balance and a theoretical ten point scale. And how did it work at Ody's?

Both parents gave it one thumb. The kidz each gave it one and one-half thumbs, insisting that the scale allowed for such measurements, and Elijah gave it one thumb, for a total of 6 thumbs (outta 10).

Ody's Drive Inn
6001 W. Grand Ave., Chicago
6 Thumbs Up

Thankful for Local Food

(Cross posted from the Local Beet, with links galore below)

It aint fun to dwell on bad decisions made over the years. I like to kvel in the good ones, like the one to eat local. Eating local is something I like to celebrate over and over. For the most part (Nigerian eggplants aside), I know we eat exceedingly well in the Bungalow. I know we are doing our part to manage the Earth’s resources and conditions. I also know that I can be confident in my products. I support my community. I support practices that matter to me. Local. I am grateful for those who make the local life possible, better, easier.

I’m not gonna beat around the bush and throw a few ringers up top. Rather, I will start with the best. The local adventure would not be at all possible without the support and assistance of the rest of the Local Family. These are kids that willingly eat the Sheila Special: Wisconsin cranberry cheese, microgreens, jam for lunch all winter long, and they find it cool that Dad packs some tye-dye radish in that lunch. Mom works her butt off. This year she canned bushels and bushels (literally) of tomatoes. Put away spiced peaches and chutnized others. She even realized my long dreamed fantasy of drying our food, doing a few batches of tomatoes. Many an early morning, one arose with me to assist in carrying our food home from the market . We roadtriped to Wisconsin for cheese and spent hours at Detroit’s Eastern Market. Local is a family venture for the Local Family.*

I like nearly every farmer’s market I visit. I discovered this summer that maybe Evanston’s market is technically better than Oak Park’s: more vendors, more of my favorite farmers like Henry’s Farm and Green Acres, organic apples, better bread (grrr–inside Oak Parker thing). Still, I am extremely grateful to have the market we have each Saturday in Oak Park from late May through October. It is a buyers market; I mean it is a market that people actually buy, and it is stocked accordingly. My go to farmer is Vicki and her Genesis Growers, but I love the variety of Nichols, the stone fruits of Hardin Farms, the shelled peas from Stovers, a bunch of fruits, especially berries, from Walt Skibbes, other organic things from Sandhill. I bought my hog from Dennis and Emily Wettstein, and I should buy more cheese than I do from Joe at Brunkow. The greatness of the Oak Park Market got me to eat local in the first place. Could not do it now without it.

This was the year that my local shopping options extended mightily. Winter eating became so much easier–to balance a salad, from any lettuce, even water grown, against a diet of onions and potatoes really helped–because of the emergence of the winter markets thrown together through the hard work of Robin “Winter” and the Church’s Center for Land and People. Robin not only got me food to eat in the darkest months, she introduced me to a bunch of local products I did not know like Ted’s Grain’s from near DeKalb.

Robin was not the only woman working her tootsie off, making local food more available to greater Chicagoland. Cassie opened Green Grocer, the only store in Chicago with it’s raison d’etre as local food. As much as I like farmer’s markets, I also want local food available seven days a week, through normal retail hours. Besides carrying farmer’s produce, Cassie carries the full array of local foodstuffs: Blue Marble Dairy milks, Trader’s Point Creamery yogurts, Mint Creek lamb, local eggs, pastries baked up by the very large Bruno clan. She manages to get a lot into a not very large space.

My wife and I stumbled into the best program of local food this summer when we happened to stop by the Eli’s Cheesecake Farmer’s Market. For several weeks in July and August, they presented a local superstar: Lloyd Nichols of Nichol’s Farm; Terra Brockman of the Land Connection, Stan Schutte of Triple S Farm, local food activist, Lynn Peemoeller. My wife and I made it a point to be there each week to learn.

OK, when I say best, maybe it was the free cheesecake they plied us with, the closeness to the speakers, and the whole seridipitous nature of finding the program, but the Eli’s Cheesecake series does have some competition for local food program top-ness; that would be last week’s Family Farmed Expo. You’ve read a lot about it already, and expect to read more about it one of these days.

And, I’m running on forever. There’s much to be thankful for. I’m glad to live only a few hours from the nation’s best market in Madison; glad that my local boundary includes so many fine cheeses, glad that there is a newly expanded cheese store in Oak Park (Marion Street); glad that in nearly everywhere I turn, I can find better products by finding the local products.

I cannot stop. What about all the local chefs. I’m not just grateful for the good things Rob and Allie do in the kitchen at Mado, I’m quite grateful for the opportunity they are giving my wife to assist them. I always admire the things Paul Virant does at Vie. Lula’s really expanded the local food on their menu and it shows.

MikeG has given local food a much wider platform with his well recieved Sky Full of Bacon podcasts.

I’m quite grateful to the groups that gave me a platform this year to spread the message of local eating; the League of Woman Voters, Dilettante Ventures, Highland Park Cable Access (!); Midwest Foodways Alliance, Oak Park Temple, MENSA, the Chicago Tribune; WBEZ, the Oak Leaves, and the aforementioned Family Farmed.

Finally, obviously, to Michael and the Local Beet for putting a little more ooph, a lot more design and resources into the local eating publishing industry. I’m quite happy blogging here, and I look forward to many future posts.

Happy Thanksgiving

*SPECIAL BONUS COMMENTS FROM THE REST OF THE LOCAL FAMILY: “those Nigerian egglants were the worst things we ever ate” “it’s so embarrasing getting weird food in our lunches” “it’s so boring all the time at the markets” “why do you use aint in your writing” “we are never going near another Nigerian eggplant the rest of our lives” “can we just go to Five Guys”

Sad News This Week

Just when I am putting the finishing touches on a post on all the things I am thankful for, I am sobered up with this e-mail reported on MikeG's web site on a fire in Wisconsin destroying the hard work of Arie McFarlan, raiser of the rare mulefoot pig.

It is with the deepest and most profound grief that I write this message. At 5:30am November 19th, 2008, we awoke to our beautiful 100 year old gambrel barn engulfed in flames. Trapped within the barn was my beloved stallion, several rare Mulefoot hog sows with their litters of piglets, an extremely rare Wessex saddleback boar, a favorite guinea hog boar and all of my dearly loved cats. Although we made attempts to rescue our animals, we were unable to save any from the barn.

We were able to run pigs from their pens near the barn to the pastures and get them away from the heat & flames. Many animals in these pens were burned and have suffered smoke inhalation. Though it is several days after the fire, we are still losing animals we have been nursing and trying to save.

The fire burned with such intensity that it caught a large tree and our new barn on fire as well. The firemen were able to save our new barn, but our gambrel was a complete loss. The fire marshal reported that the fire was burning in excess of 2000 degrees due to the way the metal items in the barn melted and puddled. The fire was apparently caused by a failure in the main power breaker. When the power transformer began to melt, we lost power to the whole farm. This also left us without water, as our well is pumped by electricity.

All of our feed (approximately 1000 bales of alfalfa), our tools, watering troughs & feeders, buckets, piglet pens, fencing supplies, power cords, winter heaters, saddles & horse gear, construction materials for our new barn and so much more were completely destroyed.

We cannot replace our rare breed pigs. They simply do not exist. Our work for nearly ten years has been to preserve and save these breeds of pigs. We cannot begin to express our sense of loss over these animals, not just from our lives, but from all future generations.

This tragedy has made it even more clear to us that these rare breeds are in a very precarious situation. At any moment, a disaster, accident or disease could take yet another species from this planet.

Our friends have already begun to rally around us and offer support. We have received many calls and emails from the folks at Slow Food USA, Animal Welfare Institute, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Dakota Rural Action. Because of this outpouring of encouragement, we feel compelled to persevere and insure that future generations are able to raise and enjoy these breeds, and that biodiversity amongst pigs is preserved.

The Endangered Hog Foundation has been established to help us rebuild and to help continue work with endangered pig breeds. We fully intend to carry on with our DNA research, breeding program, establishing new breeders and promotion of endangered pigs. We have already begun the process of cleaning up the debris and will begin construction of a facility to continue working with our pigs as soon as spring arrives in South Dakota. Temporary measures to provide for the pigs during the upcoming winter are underway.

*We need your help*. Our immediate needs are for physical labor to help with clean up and building temporary shelter to winter the pigs. Additionally, we need to find a source for alfalfa hay square bales, to obtain portable shelters for the pigs due to farrow in early 2009, hog equipment and hand tools.

Donations can be sent to the “Endangered Hog Foundation” in care of Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. at the address below or through the link on our web page at

Thank you to everyone who has offered support. I cannot describe how it feels to stand in a place of profound grief and intense gratitude at the same time. We will carry on through the love and support of our friends.

Endangered Hog Foundation
Maveric Heritage Ranch Co.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bloggy Goodness

Great new stuff on the Beet.

I always say that when I ditch the last twenty-five pounds around my midriff, I'm gonna write a million dollar, best selling diet book. After all, who'll buy such a book from a chubby guy. On the other hand, and I hope she does not mind me saying this, but Melissa has quite the, er, integrity to offer diet suggestions. She has some great tips on the Local Beet.

Michael found someone (perhaps?) totally new to the Chicago online food world. Brad Moldofsky is our resident gardener, and he introduces himself here. I am fairly convinced I am going to try to add the local to my local food next year with a bit of a garden myself, so I really look forward to the online assistance.

Gettin' Thankful Early

While others around me will be whipping up big dinners, I plan on, tomorrow, whipping up a big post here and on the Local Beet on all the things I am thankful for (at least foodwise). High on that list will be the existence of Cassie Green and her invaluable Green Grocer. Still, before getting to that list, I want to put the word out from Cassie that she has tons of local produce and great locally made breads in store now. You can do no worse than have your last minute shopping needs met by our town's localist of stores.

Eat Seasonal Food - Winter Squash

Like every aspiring food producer in town [ed. and out?], I'm pitching video projects at local food celebrity MikeG. While at lunch yesterday, the Sky Full of Bacon auteur confessed that he does not use winter squash in his repertoire. He blames it on Home Grown Wisconsin having sold out of their CSA shares. "If I was forced to use it, via my CSA, I'd use it," he says. Or was it just not porky enough Mr. G.

The world of winter squash is indeed a bit daunting. Besides the whole, bake long enough just to get it soft enough to slice in half so you can bake long enough to peel issues, there are other issues associated with winter squash. Namely, what the heck will they taste like after all that trouble. See, although we call a lot of products winter squash, inside they are really three different veg. As today's NYTimes notes, even experts do not always agree on the profiles of various squash. Still, the article gives it a try.

Winter squash are one of the best things to have in a local house as they last nearly forever, with little effort needed in food preservation. Surprisingly enough, for a product associated with winter and cold and storage and such, I find that Sephardic Jewish--it seems that pumpkin's an especially Jewish veg in some parts of the world, Italian, and North African cookbooks are great sources for zucca recipes. There you go MikeG, instead of cooking something as mundane as winter squash, how 'bout you try something exotic like zucca.

Round Steak?

So, yesterday I went to the basement freezer for some meat. How could we stay a locavore family if my wife was grumbling about Kuma's. I'd make burgers to keep her. The 1/2 frozen state of the meat at dinner time, however, led to my version of keema instead of burgers with my secret sauce. But that's neither here nor there for the question at hand. As the supply of Bessie dwindles, we are left with the odds and ends, especially the round steaks. I found three packages of round steak on my way to ground beef yesterday. What does one do with round steak.

It's not that I keep kosher, nor have I had any trouble finding uses for the sirloin or other cuts from that end of the cow, but the round steak, for whatever reasons, seems like an especially foreign cut to me, goyish to me, or at least rural to me [ed. which is a more PC way to say it?].

Advice on the round steak much appreciated. NB: these are round steaks, not roasts or anything else.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Benefits of Bayless

One of the best things about this weekend's Family Farmed Expo was the Rick Bayless demo. We got an easy to make, seasonal recipe, and we got needed advice on where to hide some of the babies.

Bayless spent most of the time on a potato soup. We got to sample, so I can tell you it's good, but he other thing he made, we made last night, a zip, zap zooey of a dish, and I can tell you it's good too. As I keep on reminding people, there is still food very much in season and very much at its seasonal peak. Not many plants take to cold better than spinach. We picked up a bunch from a farmer at the Expo. Rick told us what to do with it. Make tacos.

His method: he sautees chorizo with some onions, flavors with rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt (truth be told, our Supremo chorizo was so nicely seasoned, we did not do much else with it); then throw the stuff over the pile of washed spinach. Serve in tacos with some salsa, queso fresco and such. I made a quick salsa fresca with a few of my lingering tomatoes, a jalepeno, a tropea onion minced, lemon juice and some cilantro I've recently picked (another cold weather fan). Sliced radishes provided a nice crunch. See.

For some peppers, I did not get a chance to ask Rick, but I asked his sous chef. I was like, what the heck do I do with all these habeneros I still have. Freeze she said. I did. (Full list of frozen foods here.)

I got my money's worth from the Bayless demo at the Expo.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eat Local Thanksgiving and Other Upcoming Holidays

At the Family Farmed Expo panel on Thanksgiving, us locavores did not talk much about the upcoming holiday. Rather, we talked about living the local life generally, including how much Whole Foods could meet that need. There are options available still for a local Thanksgiving. See my latest Local Beet post.

At the Slow Foods booth at the Expo, they would not give me a copy of their holiday meat listing. They did not tell me it's online. It may not be of help for a Thanksgiving bird, but the sources can probably provide meat for Hanukkah and Christmas.

As I mentioned on the Beet, I will soon post some local holiday drinking tips.