I Visit My Food

Posted: October 30, 2008 at 7:10 am

To can, it takes a bunch of work to clean and sterilize, probably some peeling, maybe some long cooking; freezing usually needs some prep, an initial blanch; cold storage needs that, cold and storage.  Except, after the cans are canned and the peas frozen, there’s not much else to do.  Absent some act of God, things should be fine.  Not so with stored food.  As Mad Eye Moody would say, “constant vigilance.”  One must visit their food.

Am I the only guy in town not pleased that the weather’s warmed this week?  I’ve already got big bucks in food sitting around the attic, and that food (and me) won’t be happy with warmth.  We need chill.  So, I stepped in on them yesterday to see how they were doing.  There’s two big plastic bags containing half bushels of apples, a box with another half bushel as well as five or so smaller paper bags of apples.  In a different part of the attic there are several bags of potatoes, both regular and sweet, plus some celery roots and rutabagas.

Everything seemed fine yesterday.  I was most concerned about the roots.  I believe the potatoes and apples are more forgiving of the weather variations.  They all seemed hard, what I want to see.  In my inspection I found one Raritan apple going soft in a spot.  Who knew what bad apples would have resulted from this example.  Good thing I was there.  I snatched.  Cut away the icky stuff and snacked away.  Take that.

I firmly believe that cold storage as a quiver in the locavore arsenal, and I will stand guard to watch and protect this arsenal.

Working Off the Harvest

Posted: October 29, 2008 at 9:44 am

In our feature on storage and preservation, we make the twin points that these are on-going tasks as well as tasks especially suited and needed in the harvest season.  At this point of year, the harvest is essentially over, but the need to work through the bounty is still acute.  It is not so much that we are canning tomatoes anymore, it’s that we have to deal with all the food we have.  We have a lot of food because of big CSA boxes in recent weeks, and we have a lot of food because I’m busy doing things like buying the last red peppers I can find.  A lot of the food we have, will stick around, the potatoes, the beets, the celery roots, but all those red peppers and such, well some food is not forever.   I plan on some work today.  This on top of work the other day and work my hard workin’ wife did on Monday.

  • Vegetable stew – On Monday my wife made a big batch of this to use up certain older veg.  Sweat an onion in some olive oil.  Add the near dregs of the fridge, here 1/2 cauliflower, the remaining green beans and two eggplants with some bad parts cut-out.  Find some decent liquid, here a mixture of tomato sauce and vegetable stock.  Season.  Cook until all is soft enough. 
  • Roasted sweet potatoes – Somehow, I think a mistake, we ended up with a few extra sweet potatoes that had big nicks in them, the result of having to cut around squirrel bites.  Because these would not be long keepers, they needed sooner cooking.  Peel.  Chunk.  Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment.  Coat the potato chunks with oil.  Season.  Roast until soft at 350.  Leftovers microwave well or can be turned into a sweet potato salad.
  • Roast some more peppers – The ongoing ordeal, but roasted peppers will last a lot longer, in oil, than non-roasted peppers.  Trying the broiler this time.  I have to say it smells a lot nicer this way.
  • Freeze some peppers – As KennyZ pointed out with the preservation article, peppers (being a fruit) can be frozen without any blanching.  Frozen peppers turn limp but can be otherwise used in pastas and cooked dishes.
  • Mixed pickle – Using Claudia Roden’s recipe for mixed vegetable pickle in The Book of Jewish Food, with a few spicing twists of my own (read turmeric).  This will deal with some cabbage that is otherwise not diminishing, some carrots, a turnip or two, some peppers, hot and sweet, and maybe some cauliflower.  Oh, and the one stalk of broccoli I forgot to freeze the other day.
  • Turnip pickles – The pink kind found in Middle Eastern restaurants.  Ms. Roden (whom I love) has a recipe for these too.  I might not do these today though.

Except for the peppers going in the freezer, nothing else is being truly preserved.  Instead, I and my wife are just doing things to make it last longer.  Cooking extends vegetable life.  Pickles extend their life even more.  Keeping in oil, as with the peppers, is also an extender.  All of these things will ensure that this Local Family has plenty of local food to eat for the week’s ahead. 

How are you working off the harvest?

To Do List

Posted: October 28, 2008 at 8:42 am

Those attempting to eat local in an area like Chicago must dance a delicate dance.  Do we rush to the first squash and apples of the fall season, or do we gorge on tomatoes until the last taste of sour green.  How to divide the weekly food budget, eat now or buy for later.   It’s not just how to spend, it’s how to save.  What facilities exist for storage?  What time exists to process? 

I am glad to report that lasting these days is easier than ever.   There are more winter markets.  Cassie has the goods at her Green Grocer and Irv and Shelly deliver–just look at their site to get a sense of what is still available.  The days of eating local on your own are gone.  I plan my winter with these places in mind.  And with that in mind, here are my short-term eat local goals; rather I should say, here are my short term eat local buying goals.

  • Get more “regular” potatoes – Since this Local Family has an in at a wholesaler, we can get a 50/lb bag of Wisconsin russet potatoes for about $7.  It is such a good deal that I do not even mind that by the end of the season, there will be some that we will have to toss.  Russets are a great keeping potato.  These high starch potatoes bake great, fry great and go well if you like your mashed potatoes fluffy.  Wisconsin potatoes taste just fine (for russets, not one for potato intensity), but are much smaller than Idaho potatoes (if that matters to you). 
  • Get more speciality potatoes – OK, russet potatoes are vehicles for fat, no.  When flavor counts a bit more, use the heirloom varieties such as still available from Nichol’s. 
  • Find my roots – As I have noted, we apparently blew our rutabaga window.  We have beets and parsley root and turnips and celery roots (and a few rutabagas), but we can use more of all.  I am already torn when it comes to our celery roots.  There is now, in the house, home-made mayo, so do I make celery root remoulade now or hold these roots until there is less to eat.  I’ll get more celery root when I find it as well as any other decent root I can get my hands on.
  • Nuts – Because I have not made it in ages to Chicago’s Green City Market, I have not had the chance to buy Oriana’s black walnuts.  I fear she has sold her supply.  There are many uses for black walnuts including baking, pasta, and salads as well as an Edwardian finish to a long meal.  The recent family dinner at Mado showed some of the good uses for local chestnuts.  We can use some more.
  • Hard squash – Can’t have enough of this long keeper.
  • Tomatoes – My keeper tomato project failed.  I’ve gotten a decent amount of green tomatoes to chutney-ize and pickle, but I’m not tired of good old red tomatoes.  Any decent local tomato I can still find, I’ll be happy.
  • Chilies to dry – I have many hot peppers lying around, mostly jalepenos.  I also have seasons old dried peppers.  I do need to add to my stock of peppers for the winter.
  • Garlic – Last year, at one of the fall Green City Markets, a vendor sold me all her garlic for a song.  It kept me in garlic pretty much until the new crop arrived.  I cannot necessarily count on something like that happening again.  I have been buying garlic throughout the summer and fall, but I will keep my eyes open to a good steal again.
  • Onions – One can just never have enough onions
  • Apples – See onions

What’s on your to-do list?

Head Start

Posted: October 27, 2008 at 9:42 am

Local eating may save the planet, improve the economy of your community, and make you spoiled for most anyone else’s meals, but it requires the necessary act of food preparation.  I complained about the cooking thing the other day to David “Hat” Hammond.  He rejected this critique of local.  Podding peas.  “I like it,” Hammond said.  “Beets?” I asked.  “Piece of cake,” Hammond countered (although I don’t believe).  So, I admit that cooking, including the initial prep is rewarding to some.  I will still counter that many people just do not have the time.  I’m blessed to local with my ability to work at home.  The challenge of having time to prepare food is the hardest part of local eating I maintain.

I specifically do not need to do the weekend cooking thing.  I usually have time to make meals to order.  Still, a desire to be productive yesterday as well as the knowledge that many of the kinda foods I want to eat can be made in advance, I took to the stoves.  I also wanted to make some headway in our over-crowded fridges and deal with some aging items.  Those challenged for dinner each night can mimic these dishes.  Even without these specific dishes, they should well consider a little advanced cooking.

  1. Cabbage salad – Don’t call this one cole slaw.  My kids and I both have taken a real shining to this Greek inspired dish.  It requires two elements.  First, the cabbage must be shredded as finely as possible.  Second, one must use much more salt and finely minced garlic than thought possible.  Otherwise it is simple.  Combine the above ingredients, plus some chopped parsley–adds color and an important brake on the other flavors; white wine vinegar.  Taste to make sure you have not gone over the edge, then add some olive oil for lubrication and balance. 
  2. Fennel Marmalade – This one was based on something I saw Lida Bastianich do as well as something I recently saw in an Alain Ducasse book.  The essential idea, that fennel takes very well to long, slow cooking.  Another easy one after getting rid of all of the inedible parts of the fennel (a plant with a lot of waste).  Rough chop.  Cook in about 1/4 inch of olive oil over medium-low heat, a clove or two of garlic flavoring too.  Just cook until the fennel is really soft.  Then, add a spoonful of honey and a chopped herb.  I used tarragon to play off the anise element.  Jar, topping with a bit of the cooking oil, and use as a side or topping to bruschetta.
  3. Grilled vegetable salad – Rex is one of these places that should be a LTHForum GNR if more people talked about it.  When I look at all of the good foods on display, I also ponder how much better they could be if made with local ingredients.  Since I espied their grilled veg salad a few weeks ago, I have been wanting to do such myself.  I toyed with lighting the grill, but went lazy and used a cast iron grill pan.  I grilled eggplants and red peppers, no oil, then marinated the cooked veg with about equal amounts of oil and white wine vinegar.  They rest in their bowl with several crushed cloves of garlic. 
  4. Roasted red peppers – Not so much a recipe but an ordeal.  I took care of six large red peppers that can serve a lot of purposes in the coming week. 

About 90 minutes, if that much, of cooking on Sunday, and I have lotsa good local food to enhance my week.  I could have put in more time, made more dishes, but like I say, I am blessed with weekday time.  For those without such luck, make local more possible by getting a head start.

One Comment

Last Oak Park Farmer’s Market, 2008

Posted: October 26, 2008 at 9:08 am

Before laying out all my wife and I bought, let me also direct you to my latest whine on the lack of four season farming.  Also, just because my main market, Oak Park wrapped up, and many other area markets wrapped up, does not mean yours has gone to sleep.  Green City is outdoors for one more week, then indoors for at least another few months, with apparent plans for even longer marketing.   As I wrote last week, you have some Loop-based options.  A full slew of winter markets, starting November 8, will meet weekly around the Chicago area. Follow the Local Beet for more details, but for now, you can find the latest schedule here.  Still, for me, yesterday was a market like there was no tomorrow.

We got:

  • The only two good looking red bell peppers left at Farmer Vicki’s Genesis Growers – Most likely will be roasted and used in some sort of cold dish.
  • Poblano peppers – from Genesis Growers, jalepenos from Catalina Farms.  Some time soon, but not too soon, my supply of fresh peppers will end.  Sob, sob.  I have this idea of braising a pork shoulder with peppers, that’s where the poblanos come in.  The peppers just sit in bowls in the dining room.
  • Sweet potatoes – several more pounds, from Genesis Growers.  These were a more traditional garnet style, not the “yams” from the other day.  Good keepers but Vicki’s smaller potatoes will need to be eaten before the bigger ones.  Being kept in the attic.
  • Various fancy, heirloom style potatoes from Nichol’s – fingerlings, German butterball, red thumb, something blue – These are the potatoes to call on when you most want to show off the flavor of potato.  Cannot go wrong in the roaster.  These were priced to sell yesterday, and I am hoping to steal a few more if I can make it to other markets in the coming weeks.  Of course they keep well.  Attic.
  • Butternut squash – two, from Genesis Growers.  A good, versatile, well lasting squash that can at times be a bit bland, so season accordingly.  My wife has soup in mind with these.  Stored in the basement “canning room.”
  • Golden cauliflower – one large head, from GG.  In the fridge, this will last fairly long.  Cauliflower is one of my favorite veg.  I like to roast it and dress it with a strong vinaigrette, olives alongside; I like to puree the stuff with cheese and milk (or cream!), and I like it cold with my wife’s home-made mayo–amongst other preps.  Fridge.
  • Beets – two bunches of three, with greens, from GG.  One of the best keeping veg, it’s survived in our attic, which is cold, but does better in the colder fridge.  Although a pain to peel, beets taste great.  They go well with fresh white cheeses and also stand up well to garlic.  Why the Greeks traditionally serve beets with the garlic heady spread, skordalia.  I was just reading Jane Grigson last night on how insipid beet greens are.   I do not find that at all, but I do note that beet greens have a short shelf life.  Use as you would cooked spinach or chard.
  • Eggplants – several skinny ones, from GG.  My wife wants to make again, her Mado-based eggplant with rosemary honey dish.  A great thing about this dish, it’s good hot or cold.  Eggplants in the upstairs fridge.
  • Green tomatoes – We got all left from Catalina Farm and then about seven pounds from Nichol’s.  We have three plans for them, but not sure if we will do all three things.  We want to make a chutney.  We want to pickle and we want to bread and fry.  The tomatoes went to the dark attic.  Caution, the greenest tomatoes will ripen, so if it’s the sour, green flavors you want, don’t dawdle.
  • Red torpedo onions – two quarts from Genesis.  Because only one person in this Local Family really likes raw onions, these will almost all go for cooking needs.  Basement canning room.
  • Red onions – eight pound bag from the Farm.  See above.
  • Cippolini onions – 2 quarts, from Sandhill organic.  Like the green tomatoes, there is no end to my plans for these, but mostly I am hankering for them roasted agrodolce.
  • Brussels Sprouts – We could not resist the Christmas tree sized stalk of Brussels Sprouts at Stovers.  How big?  It would not fit on the stalk into the fridge.  Instead, I had to battle for about forty-five minutes to de-stalk the heads so as to bag ‘em.  I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but we loved-loved another Mado copied dish, shredded Brussels sprouts with lemon and Parmesan cheese (we used Sarvechio).  Brussels sprouts take well to pork (Mado’s also serving them now with their house made bacon) and mustard.  Fridge.
  • 1/2 bushel Granny Smith apples – Ellis Farm.  When I did picked out a variety of apples last week, from Skibbes, I included some Granny Smith.  It’s good, however, to have a pile dedicated just to this type.  The great thing about this apple is, well the kids, who like sour, would eat them outta hand, but we mostly reserve them for culinary use.  And not even for pies, although that would work.  Rather, there are all sorts of salads, certain soups, other dishes, that require a tart apple or two.  We are prepared.  In the attic.
  • Garlic – Can never have an enough, so on impulse, I got five heads from Nichols.
  • Cucumbers – Three, the Farm.  ‘Cause we still can.

Wheelin’ and a-Dealin’

Posted: October 24, 2008 at 9:25 am

Last Friday, I advised you all to seek out some of our regions more unique food treasures.  This week, while it may still be fun to buy up some delicacies like wild mushrooms or track down an elusive paw-paw, it is vital to address your most basic needs.  Most farmer’s markets will close up shop after this weekend.  The end of the line means, obviously, a chance to stock-up for cooler months, and it is an especially good time to stock up because farmer’s are likely to wheel and deal.  Make offers they cannot refuse.

This Local Family gets a good amount of its food each Thursday via its Genesis Grower’s CSA; then, we supplement, mostly with weekend farmer’s markets (mostly Oak Park’s).  I usually report back around Monday with our haul.  Because our CSA box was so full yesterday, and we did so well with Chad Nichol’s at the Eli’s Cheesecake Factory market yesterday, I am going to recount what we have so far this week.  Expect another report after the weekend buys.

  • Rutabagas – I’ll recount first, a goof.  As I have mentioned before, I’ve waited to stock up on roots.  Yesterday came time to buy.  I found the 16 inch softball sized rutabagas Nichol’s had already gone.  Not only that, but many of the remaining rut’s had dinks and digs that negated their long term potential.  I got all that were good.  Rutabagas sound funny, perhaps remind of the Depression, are a pain to peel, but are actually quite delicious.  Think a turnip with little bitterness.  Mash, roast or boil.
  • White Potatoes – Wait, did I say white?  I got Yukon gold, Caribe blue and all-red.  These are all versatile and well keeping potatoes.  I’d use them for anything but baking and certain types of frying, although I’d use the Yukons for home fries-ish type of frying. 
  • Sweet Potatoes – I’m sure a lot of foodies have heard the bromide that yams are not the same thing as sweet potatoes, yams being a large African vegetable not nearly as sweet as sweet potatoes.  Well, what we got yesterday, Beauregard’s and Carolina’s certainly looked liked the one’s incorrectly called yams.  I mean we got football shaped/sized ones, 15 or so lbs worth.  Bigger are better, of course, to keep.  Some advice on sweet potatoes, use them too, or also, as you would use regular potatoes.  You can fry them or make potato salad. 
  • Leeks – Great deal on yardstick sized leeks.  Leeks are a good stock veg, but they are good on their own too.  Steaming or boiling really taps down their potency, and they are very fine with a mustard vinaigrette.
  • Celery root – First of all, another keeping plant; second of all, another versatile winter veg.  We got four.  Use it like other roots, roasted or mashed, but it’s also great raw, classically at least in a remoulade or mustard-mayo dressing.  The tops look like celery but are very intense.  They can be useful in stocks.
  •  Arugula – Priced to sell at the market, two bags, and then another bag via the CSA.  I love the versatility of arugula.  I can stand its peppery bite alone, especially with an assertive dressing for balance, maybe a good homemade buttermilk ranch.  It also accents other salads well.  For instance, a salad of pears, nuts and blue cheese is pulled together with a few arugula leaves.  Arugula also makes for a familiar yet slightly different pesto.  As I mentioned the other day, it can also be put to use in the stockpot.
  • Sweet peppers – Like tomatoes and cucumbers, I never tire of sweet peppers, and I want to have as many as I can for as long as I can.  Because of frosts, all peppers have been picked.  Any peppers not yet ripe will be never ripen.  At Nichol’s, I rooted around for all those red or orange, five.  Our CSA box contained like three red and three green, but I about half of these were bruised to the point they need to be used soon.  I plan on roasting these today, then semi-preserving in oil (stored in the fridge).
  • Hot peppers – If I may not tire of sweet peppers, I am rather addicted to hot peppers, and I am not quite sure how I will soon cope.  At the market I got three poblanos and six pasillas; the latter for drying.  I use all over the place.  They really liven up chopped salads.
  • Carrots – The CSA came with about a dozen.  Nothing lasts longer in the fridge than carrots, and nothing probably has more uses.  It’s the stock veg.  It’s a happy find in the kid’s lunches.  I like salads made with raw and cooked carrots, and it stands nicely to any root veg recipe.
  • Baby lettuces – A bag for now
  • Apples – Not so much storage oriented yesterday.  The CSA box came with six Jonathons that the teens have mostly attacked already.  At the market I got about a dozen Pink Ladies that will go soon in the table fruit bowl.
  • Yellow onions – Three in the CSA box
  • Turnips, with their greens – The CSA box contained six nice sized turnips, which also meant a good amount of their greens.  See below, collards, for greens ideas.  Turnips are another stock favorite, are traditional paired with roasts in French cooking, and add a nice zing to mashed potatoes.  I plan on pink-pickling, ala Middle Eastern restaurants, at least some of these turnips.
  • Collard Greens – Another week, another bunch of collards in the CSA box.  I find it best to wait until there is a good amount of greens before cooking as greens really cook down.  I’m happy with these greens long cooked, Southern style, and I am happy with modern saute’s.  Something porky would not hurt regardless of the cooking method.
  • Broccoli – Gobs of it in the CSA.  I’ve already blanched it with the intention of freezing it.  Amongst its future uses, with pasta.  Don’t forget to do like I did, keep the stems.  Peeled, they are certainly edible and actually sweet.

You know what, after all that, I may not even remembered everything, like I forgot the chestnuts we bought last week.  Plus, I did not even mention the local eggs and local chicken from Farmer Vicki.  The challenge of eating local, not finding the food.  The challenge, eating all that food.

The Weekly Harvest

Posted: October 24, 2008 at 8:48 am

The week in news and blogs in the world of local eating:

  • Cafeteria food features regional flavors [Christian Science Monitor]
  • Fresh Moose: Why Sarah Palin is a locavore. [Slate]
  • Ode’ to the First Frost…. [Locavore Chronicles]
  • Why craft beer has real meal appeal among diners [OnMilwaukee.com]

  • In the Loop, Local

    Posted: October 23, 2008 at 7:57 am

    I’m gonna skip the accessible/affordable report today.  I did spot some stuff in the weekly inserts, but I have not had a Caputo’s run this week.  I think we all recognize that the era of easy local is coming to a close.  Therefore, I want to point you to where it still reigns, the Loop. 

    Now, it appears that the Daley Plaza market wrapped up for the season, but the local food seeker has other choices downtown.  Today and next Thursday, there is a market at Sears Tower.  Next Tuesday is the final appearance of the Federal Plaza market.  I did some shopping at Federal Plaza the other day.  The shopping was testament to what is still out there as well as testament to what a shopper can do this time of year.  First of all, this was no skinny market of gourds and pumpkins.  Farmers showed roots and greens and berries and even nectarines (although my last nectarine buy turned out to be what I should have expected this late); there were tomatoes and lettuces and eggplants and peppers to keep winter at bay.  The Federal Plaza market has a vendor selling local honey and local cider vinegar to expand your local pantry.  Second of all, the farmers, at least some, were willing to wheel and deal.  I ended up with a very large amount of pears for seven dollars from one farmer.  Make some offers.  Everything needs to go, no?  So much this time of year will last, the pears and apples and roots and squashes.  Moreover, as I am constantly reminding, ensure your cooking needs for herbs, garlic, and onions.  See if you can especially bargain for these items.

    I highly doubt the Downtown Farmstand will let you haggle.  In fact, they will mostly require you to play prices slightly higher than the Farmer’s Market.  On the other hand, you can pay by credit card.  And in a week, it will be your only game in town, loop-wise.  I made my first visit to this vision of a public market.  I had misgivings about this market the moment I heard of it, and my initial visit did not dissuade me of these feelings.  When I found higher prices, I thought they did that so as not to undercut the farmers at the market.  It turns out the excess prices cover margin.  Yet, given this is a city venture, what are the real costs?  As I heard the farmers were not being charged to place their stuff, I thought it would be more like consignment.  Rather, they are treating the farmers as wholesalers.  All-in-all, the mark-up does not bother me.  I would, however, like to see more products.  The fruit and vegetable on sale was less than at the market, but that part was OK.  There was a range of speciality products like the very good Das caramels as well as items more mundane like Eli’s Cheesecake and Lou Malnati’s pizza (personally I have no problem with these things).  Where it was really missing the chance was to provide the types of day-to-day foods that people need to live la vida local.  No meat.  No eggs.  No dairy.  Also, to start picking nits, while I am fine with them carrying the Eli’s level stuff, I would have liked some finds too.  I’m not the person to be too surprised these days, but I would have loved to find something new besides some rooftop herbs.  And honestly, I did not find the same welcome that I’ve received at Cassie’s.

    Whatever displeasures I have with the Downtown Farmstand pale to my happiness that there will be a source for looptime local shopping for several more weeks.  Also, to relate to one of my peeves, I am very happy with a source of local food that is daily and with later hours (although I wish it also opened earlier than 11 AM).  We are ending a period where local food was accessible via neighborhood grocery stores, let alone via neighborhood farmer’s markets.  Local food is not, however, going away, and options remain for those in the Loop.


    Honest Update

    Posted: October 22, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    When I was thinking of unwelcome thoughts the other day, I had three things that I wanted to report, in the vein of just the facts Ma’am.  Well, when time came to do the post, I could only think of two things, the rotten tomatoes and the over-priced apples at Costco.  I tried to remember the third, but when my brain failed me, I resorted to the more greenly packaged apples at Trader Joe’s.  A stop by Gaper’s Block today reminded me of that other one.

    I’ve crowed about the victories achieved by our local cheeses.  Thus, I must also report that our local beers did not do especially well in the recent Great American Beer Festival, at least on the scale of local cheeses.  Now, I’m plenty happy with my local beers.  I really liked the Oktoberfest beer from Three Floyds.  Still, I must honestly report ‘em as I see ‘em.

    Yes, There is Such a Thing as Local Grain

    Posted: October 22, 2008 at 8:40 am

    It has been asked before on the Vital Information blog, I’ve addressed the question on other blogs.  I’ve heard from chefs what David Hammond has heard, that sourcing local grains was a challenge.  Can the local diet include grains grown and milled around here.  My experience, born from traveling and visiting farmer’s markets is that yes, yes, there are local grains.  The challenge, though is twofold.  First, if you expect to find all of your local foods at your nearest farmer’s market, even if you shop at Chicago’s Green City Market, you might not be able to find local grains.  Second, even with the few markets with grains, like downtown’s Daley Plaza Thursday market, the places selling local grains are few and far apart.  Roadtrip to Elkhart Indiana anyone

    Before getting to the local grains that can be found, let me relate my wife’s biggest peeve, the difficulty in finding the plainest whitest flours to use for pies and other baked goods. We did eventually find such, at a gourmet store in Detroit, who’s name I cannot quite remember but I can tell you it’s on Woodward just north of downtown Detroit. And I could not even remember the name on the flour, so I went to our basement, and it turns out the flour has no name. It just says “Michigan Grown Unbleached Pastry Flour” “Recommended by Achatz Bakers” (yes that family*). Anyways, this is the only stuff quite like it, local, we have ever found in our travels.

    That said, it’s not that hard to track down local grains.  At the Daley Plaza farmer’s market, there is a stand featuring the products of the Midwest Organic Farmer’s Co-op.  Included in their fare are grains from Ackerman Farm from downstate Illinois–you have tomorrow and next Thursday to try.

    Near DeKalb is a small operation called Ted’s Grains. And I mean small, the grain grinder is no bigger than a meat grinder you might have on your counter. He procures and grinds a variety of grains. Cassie frequently carries his stuff at her Green Grocer, and I know that you will be able to find it at the forthcoming winter markets (info soon).

    If you run around with the Amish crowd, especially in NE Indiana, you are likely to find places that sell the “New Rinkel” flours of Greenfield Mills.  I wish some places closer to Chicago would carry their stuff.

    My absolute favorite place for local grains is the Bonneyville Mill near Elkhart, Indiana. This is an hones-to-god water driven gristmill that dates to the mid-1800′s. It was taken over and revived by the Elkhart Park District. If you can make the trek out there until 10/31, you can get things done the rightest of ways.

    Speciality sources aside, there is a decent amount of wheat farming in Wisconsin and more than a decent amount of rye farming in Michigan. There is also oat farming in Michigan. At the Dane County Farmer’s Market, you will usually find someone selling something grainy. At stores in Wisconsin like Outpost Natural Foods and Willy St. Co-op, you can find local grains–except probably for pastry flour.

    So, yes there is a thing as local grain.  It does not mean tracking it down is easy, nor does it mean that at the end of the day, you will even find the grain you need.

    Honest Local

    Posted: October 21, 2008 at 7:08 am

    I told my wife, a key member of the Local Family, about this post looking at negative facets to local eating. I said I was going to call it “Brutal Honesty”. She suggested something softer and nuanced. I know she would never use “Fair and Balanced”, but now I cannot remember what she had said. I cannot get her idea because she’s already gone a-bakin’. I’ll just note the notes below as “Honest Local”. See, I may a huge advocate of local eating in Chicago, but I am also eminently fair. No one challenges more than me, no one makes a better case than me (in my honest opinion).

    Disconcerting thought number one: At least once a week, I report back on the fact that local food is currently accessible and affordable, basing my data on weekly inserts in the poorly designed Trib and visits to Angelo Caputo’s in Elmwood Park.  Well, over the weekend, I visited a Costco, the Coscto in Oak Brook.  Given a choice of apples, the consumer could find apples from Washington and apples from Michigan.  Going just on price, the consumer would have to had chosen Washington.

    Disconcerting fact number two is related.  We also stopped in at Trader Joe’s, in Downer’s Grove, this Sunday.  They had apples too.  One came in plastic; one came in farm fresh white paper.  Yes, my friends, it was the Michigan sealed in petro-plastic.  It was the New York in the olde thyme sacks.

    Switching subjects, when were were putting together the article on storage and preservation, I was met with a bit of scepticism about the keeper tomatoes.  I stuck to my guns, and it stayed in the final draft.  Putting money where my keyboard was, my wife and I bought about fifteen pounds of keeper tomatoes from Nichol’s at the Eli’s Cheesecake market.  I dutifully wrapped the tomatoes in newspaper and put them aside while we still had other tomatoes.  Then, the other day, I noticed something stinky.  After getting my daughter to put away her dirty soccer uniform, I noticed the smell again.  Soon, I zeroed in on the source.  It seemed that white gobs of mold had attacked most of the tomatoes.  I salvaged maybe five.  The rest went in the garbage disposal.  Really, this surprised me.  I am not sure why they spoiled so quickly, but as I tell the kids all the time, poop happens.  At least I am honest with you all.  And I guess disconcerting fact number three is that tomato season will be over a bit sooner than I thought. 

    Never let it be said that I do not give the full experience of eating local, nor do I hide any facts (in my opinion).

    One Comment

    Stock, Where all Good Vegetables Go to Die

    Posted: October 20, 2008 at 9:14 am

    I like to eat many things, but I only like to cook some things.  I reluctantly use recipes, and I hate the act of measuring.  This puts baking beyond my kitchen skills.  Likewise, my patience or lack thereof, limits my desire to tackle things like stocks.  Or so I thought.  I told you that vegetables have a very long life, indeed, but they do need a peaceful place eventually to be put to rest.  Facing a couple of dishes that could have used vegetable stock, I decided, what they hey, give it a swirl.  It pleased like hell, the miser in me, using a bunch of items in the fridge that would have otherwise gone in the compost heap.  Then, it turned out to be something at my level.  And it turned out really darned good.  From now on, all my old vegetables are going into the stock pot.

    Clearly, I am a convert to vegetable stock because vegetable stock requires no formula, no recipe.  It is a dish with one guideline and three easy steps.  The guideline: use about any vegetable except for those in the cabbage family.  The steps: 1: sweat an onion in a some pure olive oil or other light oil; 2: add a bunch of odds and ends vegetables found–I used arugula that had wilted, a chunk of daikon still around (similar to turnips often called for in stock recipes), parsley stems (see why to save), two over-ripe tomatoes (good for color too), a few thyme stems, a few carrots; 3: cover with cold water.  OK, those three steps will not quite get you stock.  Season aggressively with salt.  I added several peppercorns, a few cloves of garlic (don’t have to peel) and a few star anise seeds (a brilliant touch if I say so myself).  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer until you decide you got other things to do.  Strain into another pot, pressing down on the veg to extract as much juices as possible.  Use.

    Use.  This was was rich, complex broth that could meet many kitchen needs.  The specific dishes that I needed to draw vegetable stock from were in the Sephardic Jewish repertoire.  Kosher laws requiring milk and meat apart makes vegetable stock more versatile in the Jewish kitchen.  Vegetable stock is parve or goes both ways.  I would be happy, however, to use this stock in a braise or for poached meats.  I could see using this stock for some gravies, after all, my intended purpose was for an egg-lemon sauce.  Soup would be just around the corner with this stock, and with a bit of bones, a chunk of sausage or something, it could be properly carnivorous.  It really opens opportunities to have good stock around.  It really is not difficult to have good stock around when you can turn your oldest vegetables into stock.  If I can do it.


    Weekend Founds

    Posted: October 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Just because we returned from the market with more tomatoes, cherry and heirloom, and that our CSA included eggplant, did not mean that it was another week of wistful shopping.  When we were unpacking, I remembered that I had forgot to even look for cucumbers.  I would have been very happy if I found them, but overall, this is now a time to look ahead.  I did not take my advice and seek out interesting products (and add chestnuts to that list).  Instead, we took care of some key long term needs yesterday.  First, we purchased many onions.  Second, we purchased apples and pears to store.  Our CSA has been so full, this week and such, we have plenty of food in the Bungalow.  Maybe we could not afford the luxury of speciality shopping, but we could afford this week to look ahead.

    We addressed our onion need.  We bought a boat-load of onions from the eponymously named Farm, a sack with over 20 lbs of yellow onions.  From Farmer Vicki’s Genesis Growers, we got 2 quarts of red torpedo shaped.  From Vicki and Nichol’s, we got cipollini’s.  As I have noted before, one needs to buy onions to last not just for now, but all the way until next May.  Also, as I may or may not have mentioned, onions are not quite as easily found around town as potatoes, the other main winter vegetable.  Do stock up.  I know we will get plenty of onions from our fall CSA, and we will continue to buy, but we are in good shape onion-wise.

    I mentioned on the Vital Information blog that this winter, we want to be a bit less devoted to the apple.  We are counting on pears to spread the burden.  Thus, we have been buying a lot of pears of late, including some Michigan pears we are finding in sources besides the farmer’s market.  Yesterday, from Nichol’s Farm, we got a few more pounds of pears.  Most of the pears are being stocked away in the basement fridge.  For everyday fruit, we have seasonal berries, 2 quarts yesterday from Skibbes, and grapes, a few quarts from our CSA.  We are buying apples too, to put away; I acquired a 1/2 bushel of mixed apples yesterday from Skibbes that went straight to the attic.  The apples that are coming in our CSA, go to “daily eating.”   I expect to continue to buy apples for several more weeks at the various markets.  I also expect apples to be available in the months ahead, both at winter markets and in more conventional sources (we found Michigan apples at Costco last March), but now is a good time to buy for variety and price.  While apples and pears will not be our sole fruit options, we will buy some citrus, some bananas, maybe a kiwi or two, we will still draw heavily from our stock of apples and pears.  And frozen fruit, we have frozen fruit for pies and other desserts.  And, and, we also have canned spiced peaches!

    Like I said above, it is easy to look ahead because the CSA is doing such a good job of keeping us with fruits and veg.  Besides the things already mentioned, we got this week, several green peppers, more collard greens, turnips with their greens, one of those odd Asian greens that Farmer Vicki always socks us with, in this case bekahna (or something like that), which looks like a big head of romaine lettuce.  We also got two acorn squash that will last a bit, and carrots that will also last us a bit, but one big red onion that has already been used even if it would have lasted us a bit–see do any bit of cooking and you will find your onions gone soon.  Oh, and a head of red cabbage.

    For all of the stocking done, we have a few acute needs.  We have hardly got potatoes.  This is mostly on purpose as I plan one of these days to buy a 50 lb bag or Wisconsin russet potatoes at the wholesale market.  I also expect to find potatoes fairly easily throughout the year.  Any time we hit Madison, I know I can come back with delicious heirloom potatoes.  We do need, however, to buy more root veg.  I am counting on Vicki’s operations at Green City Market through November to supply me.  Because root vegetables are the hardest thing to store in a Suburban house, I just do not want to get too ahead of myself on these things.  There will be a time for rutabagas and other roots, just not this week.

    It’s been another easy week to be a Local Family.  It was also a week to take steps to ensure it stays easy to be a Local Family.  Good luck in your local eating.

    Weekend Finds

    Posted: October 17, 2008 at 9:27 am

    A while back, the Editor-in-Chief and I were talking why’s.  Regardless of the arguments over food miles, Michael made the excellent point that local food is special because it gives you a taste of your region.  That it is still a very good thing that we all do not eat the same things every day.  To eat local is both to wallow in our native products and to be fortunate enough to get a hold of certain tastes.  Fall is especially a time when the best or most unique of the Midwest foods come to bear.  You might be able to find some of the items below at area farmer’s markets; some you might need to roadtrip or work to uncover. 

    • Black walnuts – One of the most frequent questions I get is about local nuts.  A lot of nuts come from warmer climates.  You will not find an almond or pecan in a Chicago area farmer’s market.  You have to go awfully far down state in Illinois to find English walnuts.  Yet, right up here, we have a nut, a nut that is probably tastier than any, the black walnut.  Of course, it has the drawback of being incredibly difficult to crack and unravel.  Be aware though, that when you get to the fruit you will find something so intense that Chefs have been known to disavow them.  You may find them tasty or too tasty.
    • Paw-paws – I will admit that while I have been to Paw-Paw, Michigan; I have never actually tasted a paw-paw.  I am dying to.  Here’s a native fruit that sounds tropical, looks tropical, like a breadfruit, and reportedly tastes tropical.  They are in season now.  I’d love to track some down.  Maybe you will.
    • Persimmons – The Midwest is strong in p fruit.  This one is probably better known than the paw-paw but still difficult to find in the Chicago area.  Some of that, I will admit, comes from the fact that its prime zone is a bit South of us, in the regions of Indiana below Indianapolis.  It still counts as Midwestern.  The best persimmons are the ones that ripen fully on the tree and are only reaped after they fall to the ground.  Drive around Indiana this time of year and you will find homes where they have gathered from the family tree.  Remember the Midwestern persimmon is not the same as the persimmons found in the supermarkets.
    • Wild mushrooms – We are not special in the Midwest for our wild mushrooms, and some of the most prized, like the chanterelle, are not really found around here.  There are plenty of wild mushrooms to try.  Dried, they can be enjoyed all year, but the flavor and texture of fresh mushrooms should be partaken.
    • Grapes – There are other parts of the nation that have native grapes.  Our style of grapes can be found in the Northeast.  The South has their own seeded grapes with intense, odd, musky flavors.  That does not diminish the local grapes.  It is often noted how tastes can trigger ancient memories, and the taste of local grapes always transports me back to the days as a kid when we picked at small grapes off a backyard fence.  Perhaps that is when the seeds of my local obsession were planted.

    Finding and eating unique foods is one of the best reasons to be a locavore.  Great luck this weekend in your hunt.


    The Weekly Harvest

    Posted: October 17, 2008 at 8:22 am

    The week in news and blogs in the world of local eating:

    From The New York Times Magazine “Food Issue”


    The Return of Accessible and Affordable Local Food Thursday, October 16th, 2008
    The Lifecycle of Eggs Wednesday, October 15th, 2008
    Can’t Quit Summer Tuesday, October 14th, 2008
    The Last of Accessible and Affordable? Monday, October 13th, 2008
    The Weekly Harvest Friday, October 10th, 2008
    The Very Long Life of Vegetables Wednesday, October 8th, 2008
    Between Two Worlds Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
    Where Stands the Era of Accessible and Affordable Monday, October 6th, 2008
    The Weekly Harvest Friday, October 3rd, 2008
    When Does the Challenge Start Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
    A Head’s Tale Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
    The Challenge Starts Tomorrow Wednesday, October 1st, 2008