Food and Resolutions

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Posted: December 31, 2008 at 10:19 am

I like new year’s resolutions, but I am not an absolutist. I like to set goals and incorporate small changes that become habits over time. I believe that if I try to do anything 100% from day one, it will be a distant memory by day 30.

At the beginning of 2006, I resolved to change the way I shop for food. I wanted to focus more on “shopping the perimeter” of the store (bread, meat, dairy, produce), placing less of a focus on pre-processed and packaged foods. Three years later, I’ve made great progress and feel as if I’ve always been shopping this way. In fact, as of 2007, major supermarkets have basically been eliminated from my food shopping altogether.

Many of my resolutions have to do with food, because it’s one of the things I think about more than any other subject. I constantly think about mistakes I made cooking and meals I’m going to cook next. I wake up in the morning with cravings for dishes I ate many months earlier, and I plan vacations around what and where to eat. After years of being an indiscriminant foodie, my tastes and interests shifted to seasonal, ingredient-focused cuisine. I found myself less excited by the new, cutting-edge restaurants and more in love with crafts and artisans. I began to look for the emphasis on ingredient and flavor rather than method and skill.

This style of eating appealed not only to my taste buds but to my left-wing ethic. It was this combination of forces that inspired my 2008 resolution.

At the beginning of 2008, I resolved to drastically increase the percentage of local food that we buy and eat in our household (this resolution is one of the forces behind the creation of this site). We joined a CSA (twice) and significantly increased our farmer’s market intake. I started favoring locally-grown products at my local Whole Foods (and telling the manager that I was doing so). I wasn’t 100% perfect (I wasn’t going for that) but I was 200% better than I used to be.

Looking back, I can say that all our household eggs and dairy were locally-produced (not difficult) and that I spent very little time in a regular produce department this year. We ate much less meat and I tried to buy locally and sustainably-produced meats where possible. We also ate out much less, although that might have something to do with the fact that our family is twice the size as it was a year ago.

A resolution won’t take hold unless you enjoy it. You won’t go to the gym if it feels like work to you. You won’t quit smoking if you truly love cigarettes. I can say honestly that I love the changes I’m making in my food habits.

Going forward, my resolutions for 2009 are to “take it to the next level” in terms of preservation and preparation. I want to bake more bread (we don’t eat much bread at home, maybe two loaves per month, and what we do usually comes from the Whole Foods bakery). I want to purchase a chest freezer for my basement and purchase a meat share from Cedar Valley Sustainable. Most importantly, I want to preserve more of the summer foods in the freezer, in jars, and dried: tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, broccoli, and more.

If you ever think about changing your food habits, the new year is a great time to act on those feelings. You can start small by favoring locally- and humanely-produced eggs in your supermarket like Phil’s and dairy like Organic Valley. You can resolve to use the city’s farmer’s markets or even join a CSA (our 2009 guide will be published soon). Resolve to be more aware of where your food comes from and how it’s produced. Over time, I believe you’ll feel better physically and mentally when you eat fresher, less-processed foods.

Have a happy, and healthy 2009,
Michael Morowitz
Editor in Chief
The Local Beet


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More Local, Less Plastic

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Posted: December 27, 2008 at 10:56 am

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Trine Tsouderos writes about her family’s attempt to live plastic-free for one week. In her research, she uncovered a noteworthy fact while talking to Katrina Davidson, local eater and author of the blog Kale for Sale:

I talk to Katrina Davidson, who keeps a blog called Kale For Sale. She lives outside San Francisco and accidentally became plastic-free when she started eating local.

“It’s about not going to the grocery store,” she say. “At the grocery store, everything is packaged.”

Davidson goes to the farmers’ market and brings her own containers. After doing this for a while, she realized she wasn’t creating much plastic garbage.

The interesting word here for me is “accidentally”. An unexpected bi-product of focusing your diet on locally-grown foods is a reduced amount of wasteful plastic packaging.

There are a number of ways to reduce plastic use if you shop in chain grocery stores (reusable bags, fewer produce bags, “shop the perimeter”). Once you start focusing your shopping on farmer’s markets or join a CSA, you’ll find yourself with much less packaging waste.




The Weekly Harvest

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Posted: December 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

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

  • A photo essay to a NY greenmarket in October [La Vida Locavore]
  • Commentary on Time Magazine’s Top 10 Food Trends 2008 [Local Foods Research Project]
  • Say (artisanal) cheese! [Grist.org]
  • More colleges serve locally grown food on campus [Press-Enterprise, Riverside County, CA]
  • Jewish Groups Embrace Sustainable Agriculture [Center for American Progress]



  • What We’re Reading

    By
    Posted: December 26, 2008 at 9:35 am

    I’m committed to making massive changes in the 2009 garden, so I’m snuggling under a blanket on the couch, reading books. Here are some compelling ones.

    All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

    If Chairman Mao had written gardening books, they’d look like this. Mel peppers his pages with photos of himself fondling vermiculite, presenting his vegetables with a “ta-da” arms-open flourish, teaching some young whippersnapper to install a climbing fence, or grinning broadly on his ubiquitous floating head to emphasize a crucial point.

    Though a handy book filled with some strong ideas, Mel sells it like it’s a pyramid scheme, working hard to convince the reader to follow the SFG method. Perhaps this is to keep us from being evangelized to follow the Cubed Foot Method instead. (Yes, that’s a book, too. And it’s one dimension more!)

    I like Mel’s plan of throwing a 4 x 4 wood frame atop of a patch of lawn and filling it with custom mixed soil. A plastic tarp beneath the frame keeps the weeds below the tarp from mingling with the raised bed. This is far easier than treating existing soil with whatever pH-balancing chemicals are necessary to reach dirt Nirvana, and makes more sense than extending the wood frames that encompass my garden beds into longer rows, as I had planned.

    SFG’s modular design advocates planting in carefully measured squares instead of standard rows, which, after all, mimic the shape of a traditional farm where equipment is hauled in long, straight lines by animals or tractors.

    Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte

    I’m reminded of Bill Murray’s line in Ghostbusters, “Dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria.” And the book continues in much the same vein for a few hundred pages.

    Once I’ve compiled my short list of what to plant, Riotte’s going to help me identify what additional flowers or herbs to plant, and which vegetables to keep away from each other. Her book shamelessly reveals the “secrets of companion planting,” for all the world to know. Here’s a good one: tall-growing okra serves as a windbreak for brittle sweet pepper plants.

    Guide to Illinois Vegetable Gardening by James Fizzell

    This is a helpful bible, discouraging Cook County residents like myself from growing pineapple or coconut, but offering time-tested instructions on when and where to plant in the Land of Lincoln. The books focuses less on, say, soil preparation or watering techniques and delves deeply into specific characteristics of the vegetables that grow well around here.

    As I was browsing the library’s recent acquisition shelves, snickering at the titles of “How To Invest” books published last year, I stumbled across Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) by Steve Solomon.

    Although I don’t believe we’re headed into Great Depression II, I’m sure 2009 will be a challenging year in many regards. So it’s interesting to hear from a guy who endured a hardscrabble life building a seed business in the early ‘80s. Though he skimps on the illustrations, I enjoyed his writing style—neither too folksy nor too preachy. Solomon includes many personal reflections and stories of starting and running his business, as well as graphs showing the root structure of many vegetables. Too much information for my liking, but interesting in its own way. His book makes a better cover-to-cover read than many of the other manuals.

    Solomon’s book is geared to people who desperately need to get their garden right the first time and avoid mistakes. Me, I don’t mind making mistakes and working towards perfection over the long run. Also, Solomon admits that no one can tell you exactly what to do or when to plant. There is too much variation in soil, sun, weather, water and skills to give precise, failsafe instructions. As a backyard farmer, my quest is to become more intimate with my own property, and note how it changes over time, adapting my technique to its strengths and weaknesses.

    Tips for the Lazy Gardener by Linda Tilgner

    I was swayed by the cover illustration of a couple relaxing atop a flower, as well as the title and the fact that it’s a free library book. But I haven’t gotten around to reading it.




    Better Butter

    By
    Posted: December 24, 2008 at 9:53 am

    While I’m an equal opportunity user of fats in my cooking for most of the year, butter holds sway in December. The flaxen logs are the building blocks for the cookies, cakes and confections that play such an important role in holiday celebrations.

    Of the many things that I love about butter, I always appreciate that, unlike the other two parts of the holy trinity of sweet baking – flour and sugar, locally produced butter is plentiful and available at many grocery stores. So while there’s still a little bit of time for holiday baking, I wanted to give a run down of my favorite butters that are either produced locally or made by sustainable producers.

    Organic Valley

    Organic Valley is such a cool company and so I’m always happy to buy their products. Organic Valley is a cooperative of family farms whose profit sharing model provides 45% to the farmers, 45% to their employees and 10% to the community. Because the butter is made from organic milk, it’s free of pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones. While they’re a nationwide cooperative, with members from New Hampshire to California, their model is regional dairying. The milk that we buy in our Chicago stores is from Heartland Pastures, while milk purchase in a Boston grocery is from New England Pastures. The butter is unfortunately not sourced from a specific dairy; however, it is a superior ingredient made by a sustainably minded producer. I use three of their varieties for baking:

    Cultured

    The standard, 4 part-pound box, with each stick wrapped in wax paper, is soft on the tongue, with a rich, full flavor and a clean finish. I use this for the majority of my baking and cooking. Around the holidays, Whole Foods usually offers a pretty significant discount on both salted and unsalted cultured butter. I buy a ton and freeze it.

    European-Style

    Like Presidente or the Plugra gold, the European-style is sold in an 8-ounce package wrapped in foil. Richer than the cultured with 84% butterfat, it also has a tangy finish that makes it perfect to use in recipes where butter is a predominant flavor, like pastry dough, butter cookies or shortbread.
    Check out my recipe for wheatmeal shortbread here.

    Pasture

    The Pasture butter is awesome. It’s available only for a certain time during the year because it is made from the milk of cows that have grazed on pasture from May to September. Like other “grass-fed” butters, it’s high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and Omegas 3 and 6. Like the European-style, it’s available in 8-ounce, foil-wrapped packages and has an 84% butterfat content. It’s deeper in color than the previous two because of higher levels of beta carotene from the pasture grass. It’s mellower than the European-style. The best comparison between the two that I could come up with is that the European-style’s tang is like fine vinegar, while the Pasture is like wine. It’s got a roundness that coats the entire mouth. I use this when the flavor of butter is paramount to a recipe, like puff pastry. I also use this as table butter as it is addictive on good bread. When baking with the pasture butter, remember that it is salted so you need to reduce the salt in your recipe.

    Read More: A note on the importance of buying organic butter

    PastureLand

    PastureLand is another butter made from “grass-fed” milk. It’s produced in southeast Minnesota where the milk is transported the day of collection to a creamery where it’s churned in small batches. Like the Pasture butter, it’s deeper in color, yellowish like a dahlia. Again, this butter is higher in nutrients like CLA and Omegas 4 and 6. No hormones or antibiotics are used in the production of the milk. It once was available from Zingerman’s, but now can be purchased on-line. Again, like the Pasture butter from Organic Valley, because it’s rich, both in quality and in price, it’s better used in a recipe for which butter is a predominant flavor or as a table butter.

    The first time that I used this butter was for puff pastry – it was amazing. Get the recipe here.

    Grassland

    A Wisconsin family-owned company, Grassland produces rBGH-free butter from the cream of 100 Midwest suppliers. Grassland butter is only available at Jetro/Restaurant Depot. Price-wise, it’s more reasonable than either Organic Valley or PastureLand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much oomph. Compared to the Organic Valley cultured butter, it tastes flat and lifeless. It doesn’t make as much of a difference with regards to savory cooking, but in baking, better butter makes a better product. The website does note that they produce a European-style butter, which I would love to try, but I’ve never seen available for purchase in small quantities.

    Homemade

    Even skeptics such as Peter Singer (The Ethics of What We Eat) admit that an ethical reason for eating locally is the ability to build a relationship with the farmers who raise or produce your food. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet a farmer or creamery owner churning butter commercially selling it to the consumer. So, unfortunately, the butter that most of us eat will not be produced by someone we know unless we make our own, which is a pretty easy thing to do. In fact, some of you may have already done so unintentionally if you’ve ever over whipped heavy cream.

    Blue Marble Family Farm (a little “o” dairy farm) produces some of the finest dairy that I’ve ever tasted, including heavy cream that isn’t ultra-pasteurized – perfect for making butter.

    The process is simple. In a scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer, dump the heavy cream. Whip with the whisk attachment at high speed until the cream has solidified and separated into butter and buttermilk. Wrap the butter in cheesecloth and squeeze out any remaining liquid. Refrigerate the butter. Either discard the remaining liquid or use as you would buttermilk – though understand that it will not have the same consistency of commercially produced buttermilk.

    Blue Marble sells at Green City Market and directly to the consumer, delivering to Chicagoland residences.

    More Resources

  • Why Organic Butter is Better, New Hope.com
  • Sierra Club List of rGBH-Free Cheese Companies, Organic Consumers Association



  • The Importance of Organic Butter

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    Posted: December 24, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Not everything I eat is organic. While I would love to, it’s just not yet feasible. Leaving out the issue of expense, I eat out and order in. In Chicago, we have only one certified organic restaurant, so unless every time I ate there each and every time I didn’t feel like cooking, my diet will necessarily include non-organic foods.

    Read my complete breakdown of local, organic butters.

    There are certain foodstuffs, however, that I try to buy organic whenever possible – dairy products top that list. Conventional dairy uses a lot of chemicals – there are pesticides and fertilizers used to grow the feed and then there are growth hormones and antibiotics to keep the cows healthy under stressful living conditions. Because the largest consumer of dairy in my house is my five year old son, I buy organic – I’m not comfortable seeing what the long term effects of consuming these chemicals will be upon him. For example, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, non-organic butter is ranked first as the food most contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (“POP”), a class of some of the most dangerous toxic chemicals. The chemicals enter the loop when a cow eats feed contaminated with POP, it then becomes concentrated in the cow’s milk and is concentrated even further when the milk is manufactured into the butter. I highly recommend eating either USDA certified organic butter (big “O” organic) or buying it from producers who use organic methods but are not financially able to meet the USDA certificate process (little “o” organic).

    The Organic Consumers Association has posted an excellent resource from the Sierra Club: a guide to which dairy farmers and producers do not use genetically engineered bovine grown hormone (rBGH) in their cheese products.




    See You Next Year

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    Posted: December 24, 2008 at 9:01 am

    This Local Family is hitting the road, south, but not too far south.  Expect infrequent to no blogging over the next week.  Happy holidays!  I do want to leave you with something I wrote on the VI blog a while back.  I ranted on desired improvements to our local food system in Chicago.  As we enter 2009, it’s a good list to keep in mind. 

    The Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force held “listening sessions” [yesterday]. The session leaders informed us that only a small fraction of the food grown in Illinois went directly to consumers in Illinois. Moreover, Illinois consumers were spending a host on organic foods and about none of that came from from food grown within the state either. The result, as we were told, the real ghettos around here were the boarded up and declining rural communities of Illinois. The Task Force hopes to rectify that by ramping up, tremendously, the local food system. Eat local.

    The listening session gave a bowl of soup, a delicious fresh baked roll and a soap box of 120 seconds to who ever wanted. Beyond the time limit, there were no rules. One person read a poem that turned soup into sex. Another person had a poem, with no connection, as far as I could tell, to food, period. Jason Hammel, from Lula’s in Logan Square made some very good points. Others railed against GMO’s and wanted to give it to the Man. I planed on just being a listener myself, but when most of the talkers seemed 10,000 feet in the air, I thought it would help for someone to speak from the ground. I wanted them to hear from someone eating local. I asked for non-frozen meat and better hours and more available food. If I really had myself collected, and perhaps could talk fast, I would have given this list:

    • A central, year-round, daily market, somewhere triangulated between Milwaukee’s recent Public Market, the Ferry-Terminal Market in San Francisco and Cleveland’s Westside Market.
    • Markets open in the afternoon and evening
    • More winter markets
    • Farmers growing for winter markets. In other words, producing surplus quantities of potatoes, root vegetables, apples, pears, onions and the lot then storing them at optimum conditions. These crops will be released over the course of the Winter.
    • Farmers growing in the winter using hoop-houses and other technology–lettuces, greens, herbs, maybe even berries.
    • Fruits and vegetables grown for ethnic markets.
    • Local food served in schools.
    • Mills grinding local grains into the full range of desired grains including white flour.
    • A viable commercial fishing industry, including river fish and Lake Michigan fish.
    • Pecans grown at one tip of the state and hazelnuts grown at the other; in between a revitalization of the native black walnut crop.
    • Artisanal consumer (that’s consumer) products derived from local corn and soy including tofu and cooking oils.
    • Clearly marked sugar derived from locally grown sugar beets.
    • Efforts to ensure the survival of our honeybees.
    • Marketeers selling a range of foraged crops including watercress, ramps, paw-paws, wild burdock, dandelions and plenty of mushrooms.
    • And last but not least, local meat that is not frozen when I go to buy it!

    If you’ve made it this far, you can review the year in local here.




    That Crazy Local Family

    By
    Posted: December 22, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Dear reader, would you brave the blackest ice lurking beneath your tires for a mere farmer’s market?  Read on about a family probably crazier than yours.

    Which part of the Local Family is more nuts.  Dad needs to get to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, Wisconsin “because this is the last week at this location.”  Mom needs to leave the Bungalow for nights in hotels, “as long as you can get a deal on Priceline.”  Like the worst in a Bukowski tale, they enable their addictions.  Is it simply a metaphor that it snows nearly every time they go. 

    (It is not just snow either.  For whatever reason, the state of Wisconsin has a thing against salt.  I believe it is a source of pride like the Packers and summer sausage to tally up the cars off the lanes of I-90 each storm.  This non-cheesehead counted, I believe five on our trip back Saturday.)

     What did this awful journey produce?  Late night grilled poundcake at a restaurant Tim Burton invented.  A new African restaurant making us wonder was it African food we did not like, or African food produced here we did not like.  On the other hand, beer battered walleye and Jordandahl ham (amongst other things) was predictably good at Old Fashioned on the Square.  Still, we came for the market.  We left very stocked.

    At a party a few weeks ago, I talked market shop with a Californian.  He said, “does yours have 15 kinds of citrus right now.”  Sigh, that would be nice, but does his have cheese?  We found it impossible to not buy cheeses from every cheesemaker at the market.  We went first to the one we knew we had to get, Fantome Farm.  We came for the freshest of fresh, but also left with a pungent goat cheese aged just past Federal regulations for raw milk cheese.  Capri also makes goat cheeses, their freshest is a good feta, but we really (also) go for their aged, raw milk cheeses.  The Munster (as in real Munster) had too strong of a microbial “schmeared” taste for some in this family; the washed rind St. Felix still tasted funky enough. 

    Goat cheese, check.  Sheep cheese: Butler Farms is a bit less known these days, in Wisconsin sheep milk cheeses, but name is not everything.  More feta, some marscopone, to bring home.  Then on to the most normalist, so to speak of the market cheese vendors.  Tony and Julia Hook make good old blocks of cheddar, in ages from curd to 12 years (we’ve seen even older at some markets) as well as three styles of blue cheeses.  They just happen to make these standards very, very well.  More cheese.  We finish with a man not quite as conventional, Willi Lehner, who’s samples sold us his blue and his washed rind Irish Gem.  His reserve cheddar we know as about our favorite, favorite cheese period–if one could possibly pick a favorite.

    It was not just cheese.  In the good thing we came category, we found the last of the year produce from Harmony Valley.  We easily hit the >$20 category for a free pound of radishes with horseradish, crosnes [ed. what?!?], rutabagas, carrots, chiogga beets, parsnips, sunchokes in two colors; carnival squash.  Or was some of that from Driftless Organics.   I do know that Driftless will be at the market in January.   Black Earth Valley sticks it out too, but we still stopped by to purchase some celery root.  We also know we could buy later in the winter, apples from Ela Orchards or potatoes from Butter Mountain, but why wait.  Ela enticed us with an heirloom called Black  Twig.  Butter Mountain argued that his Rose Finn for sale now were even better than his La Ratte he’ll bring later in the winter, and those are damn good. 

    We’d knew we’d find apples.  Pears, that surprised us a bit.  Happy with pears we did not blink at the price, but the woman at the Future Fruits stand did say that many are often surprised at the prices for organic fruit.  Fiddle around on here to find some info on Future Fruit Farm.  Future Fruit expects a few more markets until they run out of stuff.

    We are a mad Local Family.  Mad out Madtown.  And a local family nicely stocked for the cold months.




    The Weekly Harvest

    By
    Posted: December 19, 2008 at 10:08 am

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




    Local Calender

    By
    Posted: December 18, 2008 at 9:19 am

    No Winter Markets this weekend.  Winter markets this weekend.  The Local Family roadtrippin’

    After filling us up last week with Indiana ham and Iowa produce, Robin’s Winter Markets go on hiatus for a few weekends.  See her again on January 10.  Schedule here.

    Green City Market is giving you one last gasp, with a demo from the Chefs from Blueprint.  They will re-convene on January 17.     Geneva  and Heritage Prairie Market  are here this week AND next week!  Cassie’s Green Grocer is there every day.  Note, last week we passed on word from LTHForum, that the Wettstein’s will be at Oak Park’s Buzz Cafe with local, organic meat. Well that was a slight boo-boo on Ann’s part. The Wettstein’s will be there, I believe, this Saturday.

    We are skipping all of that.  To the road (hopefully in a different car, but that’s not for here).  When David Hammond talked local with local chef, Paul Virant, they talked about how our local includes the greater Midwestern region.  For the Chicago area locavore, the road offers chances to find more local food.  More importantly, it offers the chance to encounter dedicated food artisans and special products.

    We wanted to see the Madison farmer’s market in its early winter format, at Monona Terrace.  This is the last weekend to do that.  The market takes a week off and then begins, a bit smaller in the Madison Senior Center in January.  Wisconsin is so much deeper in local.  We expect winter produce (just see what Harmony Valley still has) and we also expect the food artisan thing, especially in the form of cheeses.  Can anyone spell BleuMont or Fantome.  The great thing about winter shopping: no cooler required!

    A large path of Wisconsin cheese runs right smack through Monroe.  It’s worth a visit for a sandwich and ambiance at Baumgartner’s.  It’s really worth a visit for the low priced, high quality cheese available at Alp & Dell or the Maple Leaf outlet (which has the added attraction of being in a gas station).

    You can tour a big brewery in Monroe, but you can find smaller craft breweries to tour and sample all around Wisconsin.  How ’bout Capital in Middleton?

    Brats with your beer?  You’ll find all sorts of country butchers driving around Wisconsin.  I’ve been very impressed with Hoesly’s in New Glarus.

    I could not possibly list all of the other options, so go here to find a ton more.

    What about Michigan wine country or a whole world of local food in Indiana I (at least) have hardly explored.

    Near and afar, us locavore have a lot to keep us content this time of year.




    Mmmm, Tastes Like Summer

    By
    Posted: December 17, 2008 at 8:40 am

    So, it was the thin, powdery snow.  It needed clearing even if it had not yet ended.  I returned to the bungalow for a nice hearty platter of sliced tomatoes, arugula, cucumbers, roasted red peppers; along side, fresh beans and greens. 

    We used all the tricks in our winter arsenal.

    Somewhat preserved: I’m still going strong on fall’s red peppers that I roasted an marinated in equal parts vinegar and water, kept in a jar in the upstairs fridge.  A little soft now but tasting fine.

    In season: God love the hearty little radish, who pokes its green leaves out of ground just about frozen.  And those green leaves can be damn tasty, so do not just throw them out.  Do, do, I warn, wash the greens good.  For one thing, your farmer might not think you so clever as to eat the radish greens; for another, even with a wash, radish greens collect tons of grit.  More on the greens below.

    Canned: tomato sauce.  See below.

    A crime against nature: poly vinyl hoophouses don’t seem so magical by appearance.  Just a lot of heavy looking plastic with something holding it up.  Some farmers have a half barrel of hoop barely a foot off the ground, others have  actual walk-in houses.  The trapped heat of these structures keeps ground from freezing.  Cold capable plants can grow even in our climate.  From such structures emerged the tomatoes, arugula, and cucumbers we ate last night.  Were these the finest of the breed’s?  I’d say not, but they did taste better than supermarket fare.  Moreover, they had distinct flavors: the cukes with a pronounced cuke-ness; the tomatoes more sugary–that I liked.  It tasted different.

    From the freezer: One day this summer we did a meandering ride from Urbana to Chicago.  Somewhere east of Kankakee we found a farmer selling crowder peas by the bushel in his front yard.  $20 got us a lot of beans.  We used some then, dried some that were already on the drier side and froze the rest.  It’s easy to work with frozen fresh beans as they need no soaking prior to cooking.  Moreover, they have that taste of fresh, plumper, brighter.

    Let me backtrack real quick on something.  I listed all of the fruits and veg obtained over the weekend, but I forgot to mention the pork.  I’m real glad that Robin’s gathered Indiana’s C&D Pork into her winter market market fold.  It’s pasture raised for happy pigs.  C&D makes just excellent bacon, thick and meaty.  We got several packages.  C&D also got us and several others to buy their hams through the vehicle of sampling and a simple recipe.  Crystal spreads her her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, “about this much water…frozen ham…ten hours in the slow cooker…”

    So, about four of those slices of bacon, chopped, rendered a bit (keeping the meat from getting too crisp); an onion sweated in the bacon grease.  A jar of home-canned tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil, reduce.  Add package of beans.  Add more water when you see there is not enough liquid–the beans should be about an inch under water (so to speak).  About five minutes before serving, I added the radish greens picked from their stems. 

    Leftover: Polenta made the day before from Ted’s Grain’s cornmeal, spread on a sheet and baked. 

    Winter.




    Planning to Plan

    By
    Posted: December 16, 2008 at 8:42 am

    As the bitter snow conceals our streets and lawns and the world’s businesses and markets shrink and cower into fetal position, it’s hard to have faith that not only will a warming spring return, but that our economy will climb back up that roller coaster hill.

    Few who know me would call me a doe-eyed optimist, but I am sure this will all pass. Those same people know that I constantly second guess, re-evaluate and edit my numerous lists and plans in my quest to gain more control over my world. And that’s where gardening comes in.

    This year will be the first in which my family grows vegetables unspontaneously. Typically on a pleasant spring weekend when it feels like the last frost has thawed, we stop by a grocery or hardware store and grab a few seed packets or potted plants that look decent, inter them underground and deal with the results. This has worked out fair to middling so far. The bag of sprouting potatoes and onion bulbs we bought last May at Mukwonago’s Elegant Farmer ultimately grew into a September breakfast my boys still remember fondly. On the other hand, tomato plants we purchased at Jewel/Osco broke our hearts with mealy, scarred red things that only a squirrel could love.

    Some plants thrive until our harvest feast and others die as seedlings or get eaten by varmints. I shrug off my failures stoically because they were cheap to acquire and it’s not like we’re gonna starve. With the minimal effort we invest into the garden, it’s no tragedy if we don’t reap a bounty.

    This year, however, all that changes. I’m committed to investing the same level of planning into my garden as I do to my professional activities and other aspects of life. Having read many farming essays and books, I’m convinced that a bit more care this winter and spring will give us a greatly improved fall. Of course, if I’m wrong about the garden planning, a bad harvest would be all the more humiliating. I can take it as a personal failing and not just Mother Nature having her way with me again, but I’m headed full speed down this road. The next stop is the library to Dewey Decimal section 635 to further my education.

    And if I’m wrong about the economy, well, there’s that much more incentive to grow more of my own food, huh?




    The Taste of Winter

    By
    Posted: December 16, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Why the hell is global warming making it so damn cold in Chicago (and non-scientist that I am, I believe that IS what is happening).  I’m damn sick of winter already.  The cold at least.  Winter local eating, I’m not getting the least bit tired.  Last night we ate a very typical winter meal.

    My wife, who apprentices at Mado, sponges up all their recipes, making them her recipes.  If Chef Levitt uses milk for his polenta, Chef Sheila now uses milk for her polenta.  If he makes a porcini broth from dried mushrooms for his mushroom ragu, she’ll make a broth from the dried mushrooms she has around (not porcini).  Me, I’m not complaining.  I just do not think Mado uses the very coarse cornmeal from Ted’s Grain’s.

    In the Chicago area, we have excellent cultivated, organic mushrooms available year-round from River Valley Ranch.  Although, I think of these mushrooms as an always there veg in the darkest times, we mostly eat them as the main course.  It makes a filling dinner on top of polenta.

    On the side, we had some of the last frost-kissed kale.  Like I said, winter eating has its periods; if mushrooms are a balm all year round, then kale is something to go for early.   The last of the kale’s been picked, but you can probably still find it at the remaining markets.  Kale’s not a plant many reach for when thinking tasty dinners, but its flavor now is not severe and its texture always makes it fun to eat.  My wife did a quick sautee with a bit of anchovy that married well to the kale’s structure.

    To round out the meal, one big girl and one almost as big, ate apples.

    Notes on sourcing: Ted’s Grain cornmeal from Robin’s winter markets.  These markets will not convene again until JanuaryCassie Green sells River Valley mushrooms.  Michigan fruit farmers Seedlings and Hillside Orchards should be at the final two Green City Markets in December.


    One Comment



    Was I Dreaming

    By
    Posted: December 15, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Sunday, this Local Family woke up to a bungalow full of strawberries, arugula, lettuces, raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, hot peppers and green beans (amongst other food).  What happened to seasonal eating?

    As I am wont to say, some of us eat local food, but some of us make local food happen.  No one makes it happen more, this time of year than Robin “Winter” Schimer and the Church’s Center for Land and People who organize winter markets from November through March.  Robin is a fiend for finding new sources of winter (local) food, but more important, she takes her sticker laden Scion all over the place to get the food to sell.  This week she found herself at Jewel.

    Not the Jewel by you.  The big Jewel in Melrose Park.  What was once a corporate headquarters but now a mere regional hub.  At Jewel she met the people from Stone Creek Farm.  Stone Creek, according to Robin, is a rather large greenhouse outfit in Iowa that specializes in flowers.  They also produce a limited supply of indoor, hoophouse (i.e., grown in ground) vegetables that are normally only for sale in Iowa. Yet, since they had a huge shipment of seasonal flowers to deliver this week in the Chicago area, they also brought vegetables.  Robin made the pick-up and made them available at this week’s winter market.

    It was not enough that we bought the oddest collection of winter food, including small Middle Eastern style cucumbers from Stone Creek.  We also purchased winter raspberries from the WinterFresh Fruit company of Vicksburg, Michigan, two packages!  Believe me, the samples of these berries showed they were no local solace.  Good berries.  Picked ripe.  I’ll return to indoor produce in a second, let me regale all of the other things gotten in the last few days. 

    First came the CSA box.  Farmer Vicki fretted this week over lettuce frozen.  So, she filled our boxes with extra apples, turnips, onions, escarole, tiny beets and big cabbage.   Saturday morning took us a long time to get out of the house.  We still found the market ripe.  We sated appetites with the freshly fried, don’t call them egg rolls, spring rolls made by Angie Ackerman with ingredients from her farm.  Then we went a-buyin’.  Four packages of dried apricots from Seedlings (for some other time); herbs from Ackerman; Hercules carrots from Scotch Hill; the raspberries and all the indoor stuff mentioned already.  While enjoying some fine Middle Eastern food at the newly opened Chickpea, we remembered we needed milk.  Ah, a visit to Green Grocer.  Because of the close knit local food community we have, Cassie had a bunch of things from Robin (you can buy away this week).  We decided, what they hey and bought one more package of raspberries.  We also got Vicki’s carrots that we’ve taken to oven roasting, mushrooms for my wife’s attempt at Mado’s ragu and a few more herbs.

    Before signing off, I want to return to the subject of indoor fruit and veg.  High on the backlash reasons against local is the supposed energy requirements of indoor produce.  First of all, count me unconvinced that the energy used overall–not discounting that some farmers use some fair amount of heat some time–is so much greater than any energy used in other winter production.  The complainers act like no energy is used for those South American grapes or in keeping the California stuff from freezing on its way to you.  Second, and obviously, there are other important reasons to eat from the local, indoor guys.  If we want to support our community farmers, do we not want to support them always?  And quality, the indoor produce is still better because it is still picked riper, it still comes from varietals known for flavor.  Indoor produce is not perfect, but this locavore will gladly go for all he can get.


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    The Local Calender

    By
    Posted: December 12, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Winter markets, Green City, Mado, yada, yada; this week’s calender sounds not too different from previous weeks calenders.  That’s good!  Local food is here.  Do see what else is on offer for the localvore.

    Markets: Another chance to try local spring rolls Saturday at a winter market in the west loop; Sunday’s winter market serves the far suburbs (Elgin).  Joelle Molles of the Peninsula is doing the demo at Green City on Saturday; Geneva superstore and Heritage Prairie Market both also far west, Saturday.

    if you cannot make any of the markets, don’t fret.  There’s Cassie’s Green Grocer and plenty of local cheeses, meats and sparkling wines at Marion Street.  Do not forget Downtown’s Farmstand.

    On LTHForum, Ann Fischer lets everyone know that the Wettstein’s will bring their local, organic meat to Oak Park’s Buzz Cafe this Saturday from noon to 3.  Duck!

    It’s another weekend, I know I won’t be able to hit the brunch at Mado, but I really want to try soon!  And in other Mado events you should attend ’cause I can’t; they’re doing a Juleboard on Christmas Eve and a gala celebration dinner on New Year’s Eve.  I’ll post more details soon.

    In other events I wish I could attend, there’s this dinner Monday (12/15) offered by City Provisions, featuring fermented foods, sounds so up my alley.  One of these days, I’m gonna make my own kraut…

    But we won’t put kraut on our hot dogs will we?  Bob Schwartz will tell you exactly what a Chicago hot dog is all about.  Hear Bob Saturday 10 AM at Kendall College, organized by the Culinary Historians.  His book would make an excellent present for any foodie you know.

    Link love: Lanae got some press for her eat local efforts near Rockford; she’s dipped her toes back into blogging about it.

    No excuses to forgo local food this weekend now are there?




    Sunday Winter Market – Elgin Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
    Saturday Winter Market – West Loop Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
    What Will Winter Taste Like – Continued Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
    Slow Food Chicago – A Book Reading with Chef/Author Kurt Friese Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
    Winter Market Report from the Other Day Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
    What’s Local, Costco (Oak Brook); CSA + This Should Get Melissa’s Ire Monday, December 8th, 2008
    The Usual Suspects Friday, December 5th, 2008
    The Local Calender Friday, December 5th, 2008
    Talking Local With Paul Virant Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    Winter Market – Sunday – Andersonville Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    Winter Market – Saturday – St. Bens Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    Compostables: Friend or Foe Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    The Never Ending Soup Pot + Bobby Flay not so Bad? Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    What Will Winter Taste Like Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008
    Slow Food Holiday Pot Luck Monday, December 1st, 2008
    Living the Local Life Monday, December 1st, 2008