Eat Local Out

Posted: April 30, 2009 at 8:51 am

This Local Family like a lot of families likes to eat out.  We eat out for a host of reasons: to celebrate, to explore, to be inspired, and many a-time, just because we have to.  Our vast eat local rules very much allows for us to partake in all the non-local food we want when eating out.  So we eat the best tortillas in town and other fine foods at La Quebrada or see if the new Thai place in Berwyn equals the fuss it got.  We are, however, very spoiled when it comes to food, and as much as possible, we like to have our food local, out as well as in.  Not only do these places make great food, they abide by the same principles that inspire our locavore decisions.

Myself and others at the Local Beet are in the process of adding data on restaurants that feature local foods.  I’ve started with pretty much my two favorite restaurants in the Chicago area, Vie and Mado.  Please feel free to add to your experiences at these places or at any restaurant that includes local foods in their larder (that’s you too @Gachatz). 

DISCLOSURES: I want to make two some very clear disclosures.  Foremost, we are not presenting these restaurant listings as reviews.  At least in the conventional, wear a wig, book under an assume name, wait three weeks, school of reviewing.  We are very much friends with many of the chefs and restaurateurs we will be writing about on the Beet.  Some of the chefs will be writing for the Local Beet.  We do not want to shirk from telling you what we think about a place, but we want you to know where we are coming from.  In addition, as some of you know, my wife apprentices at Mado.

Working from the ground up

Posted: April 29, 2009 at 4:40 pm

“Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells.” —Jean Paul Getty

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Last year I was working in ground so dry that my tiller wouldn’t go past the sparse green growth. I was basically tilling green mulch with no soil getting disturbed. Nothing that a good rainfall won’t cure.

This year the ground is too wet.If you tinker in the garden you know working with wet soil can create cement when it dries. It’s even worse if you have a clay-based Chicago plot. Try making a ball with it. . . it should hold its shape without falling apart or turning into a Dali-esque sculpture. Solutions? Add water. Or wait. Add compost either way. When I was a renter on Addison my next door neighbor, Nan, lent me her front and back yards. I dug small trenches and added kitchen scraps and covered them with dirt. It didn’t take long to break down and I didn’t have to look at it or smell it. Kept the rats away, too. Oh, and for Pete’s sake, don’t plant too early! The average last frost date is May 15 so wait to plant those tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Also some seeds don’t like cold soil so they’ll just sit in the ground and rot (white-seeded green beans, anyone?). I work on a larger scale on the farm, of course. If I were to plant too early I lose hundreds of dollars worth of seeds (and greenhouse propane, water, potting soil. . .).

On the topic of composting, I still throw everything into giant piles. . . leaves, sticks, paper, kitchen scraps (eggshells!) and add generous amounts of sheep manure. Last week I turned a few piles and was amazed that all of last years twigs had broken down to a light brown powder. I stood on the pile with a pitchfork and turned and loosened the pile. I’m planning on using this “black gold” as side dressing in my garden once the plants get going. One year, when my garden was smaller, I dug trenches along the plant rows and added well-rotted sheep manure then covered them back up. In theory, as the plants grow their roots reach into the natural fertilizer. I had the best beans that year. . . and the “salad” garden behind the house had the largest spinach I had ever seen. With my garden growing in size every year I’m reconsidering adding even more labor-intensive activities.

In addition to the compost piles I also have a manure pile. This week I was digging into last year’s with a shovel and filling a rusted wheelbarrow with it to spread into the larger garden. What I wouldn’t give this time of year to have a mechanized manure spreader and an ATV. . . . It’s been a little wet and the pile is at the bottom of my field, a low area that’s a bit swampy and my boots and the wheelbarrow made slurpy sounds in the muck. I was not happy.

If anyone’s thinking of farming with animals this is something you should think about before investing. . . you have to do something with their waste and there are safety precautions and regulations to think about. Manure has to be “incorporated” within 48 hours of application, that means tilling it under. Manure can’t be stored near common water sources (ponds, wells, creeks, etc) because of run-off concerns. Remember the big stink about the government stimulus package earmarking $1.7M for hog odor research? If you lived near a large pig operation in Iowa (pigs outnumber people in that state by 8:1) you’d want somebody working on that issue. Most of that cheap bacon in the grocery store comes from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and their waste has to go somewhere and there are limits to how much can go into a nearby field. Not to go too far into the politics of farming, but if the six million plus people that live in Chicago want to eat three meals a day, cheaply, it has to come from somewhere.

Of course I’d like to feed as many people as possible with my small garden. The work I do is labor-intensive but I was brought up to think taking care of my animals and working the farm without taking short-cuts. There is no shame in work. At this point it’s also keeping expenses low in hard economic times so I can keep my CSA shares at last year’s prices. You can also buy from me, a la carte, at the new Andersonville Farmers’ Market. I’ve been accepted as a vendor at their Wednesday market which runs 4-8pm, June 24-September 9, 2009 and am looking forward to being a part of this great neighborhood.

Local Food Love and other Linky Wednesday Stuff

Posted: April 29, 2009 at 9:21 am

Swine flu free links below.

Last week, Lee Zukor inspired us with a post on how local food changes you.  This week, Lee asks what local foods do we love.  My problem about making a whole column stealing Lee’s work (again), is the question, is the local foods I love that different from my 50 Quintessential Local Foods?  Well, yes, I believe Lee is talking about local food producers, not just generic local “food”.  He cites a local chocolatier, a cheese company, grass-fed beef.  What local foods do I love?  Which do you love?  Me, I have so many I’ll go and post a comment on Lee’s site and get on with the rest of Linky Wednesday.

10 Ways to Support an Urban Food System from Civil Eats.

Want to know how your local milk rates?  The Cornucopia Institute looks at organic dairies around the nation.  They’ve recently updated their results–note a few key local milk guys are not in the current list including Blue Marble Dairy and Sugar River yogurt.  Still, their survey gives you questions to ask your local milkman.

Does your fridge look like this?  Mine is not even close.

You have until the end of the day to get your order in from Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks.  Ramps are yours for the click.

Our friends at Baconfest will explain a bit more this Baconfest thing, this Friday between 6 and 630 PM on Outside the Loop Radio on WLUW 88.7 FM. 

An outsider’s perspective on Midwestern food.

Could Steak-umm’s possibly be improved if made “local”.  Maybe you wanna give it a try.

Are you wild for the watercress you should be able to find in the earliest markets? 

A couple of new books.  Or this.

Many links in one (via) at Yes Magazine.

Need 10 more reasons to eat local?

Share your eat local links with us.

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Don’t Eat the Weeds

Posted: April 28, 2009 at 7:47 am

I told you yesterday of leftovers from Friday night’s dinner.  I also mentioned dandelions.  Notice I did not mention the dandelions with leftovers.  If you thought it was just because we finished these spring greens, you would be wrong.  If you surmised that the dandelions, despite my best efforts tasted of arsenic and old lace, well you’d be about right.   If you wonder what the hell the Local Beet is doing, tales of canning woe, soon to be published tale of local meat woe, and now dandelion woe, well I have to say to you.  You aint seen nothing left.

Like I say, I tried my best with the dandelions.  I used balsamic vinegar.  I used sugar.  I used olive oil and then more olive oil. The good stuff too, organic from Crete, the land of wild green eating.  Nothing worked.  But they did bring joy to our Shabbat table.  Laugh.  Laugh.  Laugh.  Inedible dandelions segued into “remember when Dad made lamb with applesauce–another Greek inspired goof of mine.  I grabbed something red from the freezer with the idea that I would stew the lamb in it.  Really, it came out kind of good, in a caramelized kind of way (that’s what I told them), and don’t forget the asparagus instead of green beans.  The kids found it too funny though.  Funnier still when recalled the other night.  Tony Soprano may have called Remember When the worst form of conversation.  Did he know that the fontina you would use from Roth Kase was a “shmear washed” kind, that the idea of placing  the cheese on baked pork chops created a kitchen that smelled of a lab experiment gone wrong.  Remember that, the kids asked me as I tried to convince them that scarfing down some bitter greens would make them strong.  Remember when you nearly flamed out Thanksgiving by trying to brown up the sweet potatoes?  Remember the undercooked grilled chicken (sadly there’s been more than a few of those to remember).  Remember.  Remember.  Hahahahahahha.  Hohohoho.  I am Mr. Mirth Provider to the Local Family. 

We laughed.  I can take a good ribbing.  I’m not going to stop buying local, cooking local.  I will encourage canning and local meat even as I warn of their pitfalls.  In fact, I will probably try to prepare dandelion greens again.  Whatever we lose in imperfect meals, we gain in hilarity.

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Task Force Act Goes To Committee

Posted: April 27, 2009 at 3:16 pm

From Debbie Hillman of The Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force:

HB3990, Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act of 2009, goes to the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee of the Illinois General Assembly on Tuesday, April 28 (1:00 PM) for a hearing. In conjunction with the bill’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Julie Hamos, State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, has entered an amendment to HB3990.

Readers of The Local Beet are encouraged to contact their state senators to (1) ask them to support HB3990, and (2) to become a sponsor of HB3990. Currently 30 Senators are signed on; that means that 29 have not yet signed on as sponsors. We hope that every Senator will sign on because HB3990 is an economic development bill that will benefit every community in Illinois. Using the state’s abundant natural farm resources and heritage to feed the state’s large consumer population, the State of Illinois can quickly grow the Illinois economy by supporting the natural economic partnership between Illinois farmers and Illinois consumers.

To follow progress of the bill, go to Type in “HB3990″ in the box at left (“Search by Number”). Sponsors are listed; if your Senator is not listed as a sponsor, please call them. You can say that a Task Force coordinator will follow up to answer questions. Then, let us know what your Senator said and we will follow up. Calls to Senators should be made in the next week.

For more information, contact the Coordinators of the Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force:
Debbie Hillman (Evanston) 847/328-7175
Jim Braun (Springfield) 515/229-2679

Menu Monday

Posted: April 27, 2009 at 9:37 am

The first thing you need to know about Menu Monday is this is a week with no CSA.  Farmer Vicki just found herself too much a victim of our wild spring conditions.  When she scheduled spring CSA, she scheduled a mix of storage crops, overwintered crops, hoop house crops and field crops.  This plan worked well for three weeks.  Very well if you ask me, from almost overly sweet carrots to generous packages of herbs in our boxes.  Yet, it was not working to her.  See, too much rain, too much cold kept her off her fields.  Her storage supplies and hoop house crops were running thin.  She just could not meet the demand.  Doing something she has never done before, she put a halt to a weekly CSA run.  No one will be the victim of these circumstances.  Farmer Vicki has offered several options to her subscribers to make up for the missed week.  Me, I’m going to see if I can negotiate my own deal, taking it out in her fantastically hot, hot peppers when they come to harvest many months from now. 

The second thing you need to know is that this Monday like most Mondays, proceeds not so much with a CSA box but with a box or two or three of leftovers from our weekly Friday night dinner.  My wife braised up  local chicken parts with some of her home processed tomato concentrate plus some stock veg we had in the house (leeks, carrots, onions) as well as some not so local olives.  Her polenta on the side came from Weisenberger in Kentucky, beneficiary of the local when we bought it rule.  Me, I made the starters Moroccan.  Three salads: beets, carrot-turnip and radish-orange.  What makes them Moroccan you ask?  A good hand with cinnamon, cumin and paprika (in fact too good a hand for some in the Local Family).  We have extras of all of that to eat this week.

The third thing you should know is that we are never ones to rely just on a weekly CSA.  One day last week I stopped in the Downtown Farmstand and picked up some prized local parsley.  A daughter and I stopped in at Cassie’s Green Grocer and walked out with dandelions (to be told in another post), arugula and salad greens.  Three members of the local family visited the Green and Growing Fair at Garfield Park on Saturday and we returned from that with kale, chard and Easter egg radishes. 

The fourth thing you need to know is that one day this week is a daughter’s birthday.  The menu is set for this night.  Hamburgers still left from our local cow, grilled; ramps still left from a last week’s foray to Cassie’s, also grilled; attic potatoes also well left, maybe grilled maybe made into a salad; plus my classic garlicky lemon cabbage salad.

At least one night this week we will be too caught up in events for much of a solid dinner.  I think we may be hard pressed to resist the call of Five Guys or its ilk, but I will try.

At least one night this week will be Friday, so we will make it an event.  Around Wednesday or so my wife and I will start thinking of what should we take out of the freezer (meat) for dinner.  We cannot think too hard about that, so the meat will be ready by Friday.

At least one day this week I imagine the kid’s lunches will contain non-local fruit.  I think this time of year is an especially trying one for locavores when it comes to fruit.  Is it apples again.  Not even our apples but rather crappy ones leftover from Michigan.  Yet, even the oranges are past their prime now, as we found out above with the radishes.  There will be local veg in the lunches, the radishes or some side-salad.

That’s all the things to think about for me on Menu Monday.  What local foods do you have, and what are you thinking?

Will Alice Waters Find Spring with This Local Calender?

Posted: April 24, 2009 at 9:24 am

Before getting to the Local Calender, can you all indulge me in an extraneous thought: Is the era of Chicago sports dominance over?

Will the era of spring food ever come to Chicago?  Like the performance of Jeff Samardzija in Iowa, we see glimmers.  Cassie has had ramps at her Green Grocer.  The Downtown Farmstand had some produce from my pal Farmer Vicki and a few others.  Any other sightings?

And it’s a full calender.  A mid-week Earth Day had many organizations feeling, let’s just shoot for the weekend. 

Get a jump start on the weekend with the  Green Fest, featuring the Local Beet’s Vera V and others at the University of Chicago today.

Now what to do on Saturday?  Teach your kids composting with the Urban Worm Girl, Stephanie Davies and the Beet’s Sustainable Cook, Melissa Graham?  Several Chicago parks have not Earth Day, Earth Day events.  You can spend the day at Loyola where there is a whole package of workshops, talks, vendors, etc.  Some of our favorites will be there including Helen Cammeron from Uncommon Ground, Rep Jan Schakowsky (D. Local Food), and  Me, personally, I’ll probably be at the Green and Growing Fair at Garfield Park.  Go to the Greenheart shop for their Living La Vida Verde happenings.  Oh, and you may have heard, an Alice Waters will be at Green City Market (expect madhouse).  Top your day with a slightly secret pre-industrial pig dinner; Sula has some details.

Gosh, so many events, what about just a little local shopping.  I so wish I could point you to the Local Beet’s Market Finder ’cause there’s more and more markets getting going this weekend*.  Chiefly, the various “French Markets” around the Chicago area begin this weekend.  There’s an ongoing debate amongst market people about whether food should mix with crafts, let alone whether local foods should mingle with other foods.  The French Markets may not be for purists but they give you buying opportunities.   Maybe you’ve been hankering for a trip to Kankakee.  A spring market starts this weekend there.

Sunday and Monday you should be pooped, but by Tuesday, how ’bout heading out to Geneva for a class on cooking local foods with the Geneva Green Market?

Our friends at Uncommon Ground stay busy too.  On Wednesday, they host a fundraiser for Slow Food Chicago, featuring the newly issued and well recieved beers from Goose Island (hint to sound more like a beer geek, know that sour is the new hep thing in beers.) 

You cannot keep a good woman down.  Another great event Wednesday: Martha and crew return with more soup for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  There will also be a discussion on TIFs at the Hideout.

If you want to hit a restaurant on Thursday, hit one of the ones participating in Dining Out for Life, an AIDS benefit.  The list includes some of our favorites like Blackbird as well as places very much on our to-try list like Big Jones.

As always, please add to our listings, and especially, please tell us if you spot any signs of spring including ramps, morels, rhubarb, nettles, etc.

What’s Up Doc?

Posted: April 23, 2009 at 8:59 am

Earth Month has been a busy one for me. It seems that this sustainability thing is finally catching on around here and, sheesh, has my schedule booked up fast. For example, this week I began at Fresh Picks distributing 400 tiny ramp tartlets, last night my staff and I served vegetarian appetizers to 100 guests at Conscious Living TV’s launch party, last night a panel discussion with Michael and Rob at North Park University on eating locally, today a Cook Green class at Smarty Party, Friday is Purple Asparagus’ Earth Day potluck, Saturday Garbage to Garden at A Cooler Planet and Sunday, a sustainable cooking class at University of Chicago. I’m exhausted just writing that and I’m only a third of the way into it.

But today, while my head is above water for about an hour, I wanted to share a wonderful new recipe that would be perfect for your Earth Day celebration. Rob recently revealed one of his resolutions, which was to eat more carrots. I couldn’t agree more. Whether over-wintered or freshly dug, carrots are a savior come early spring. Kids love them, they’re nutritious, and they’re sturdy, holding well in the crisper drawer of the fridge. Carrots can be roasted, shredded raw, or cooked in chicken stock or water and pureed. It was, however, my motivation to create a bite size morsel, which would capture the carrot’s sweet sunny deliciousness, that inspired this recipe for Carrot-Quinoa Cakes.

Carrot-Quinoa Cakes
Serves 2

1 large carrot
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive plus more for sauteeing
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked according to the package
1 tablespoon quinoa or all-purpose flour

Method: Peel and slice the carrot approximately 1/2 inch thick. Cover with water in a small saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender approximately 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Puree in a food processor or mash until smooth. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Cook the onion until softened. Add the cumin and cook for another minute. Mix the carrot puree, quinoa, onions and flour. Form into cakes and saute in olive oil until golden on each side.

This is a great main course vegetarian meal given that quinoa is very high in protein. It would also be a lovely side dish for shrimp or scallops as it would only complement their delicate sweetness. I served them last night with a touch of Greek yogurt mixed with finely chopped dill. Adorable, colorful and flavorful – a caterer’s dream dish.

Local Food Will Change You

Posted: April 23, 2009 at 8:15 am

Pre-earth day,  I told you how the act of eating local could improve the state of the Earth.  The day after, let’s talk about how eating local will change you.  Too late for my Tuesday link collection, I came across this great article, “10 Ways Local Food Has Changed My Life” by Lee Zuckor on the site, Simple Good and Tasty.  I wish there were not things like copyright laws and ethical standards, ’cause I’d just like to re-print this whole thing.  I went through the list, and I was like, uh-huh…uh-huh…Go to the link and see what you think. 

Lee disdains greasy spoons (and living in Minneapolis, he has access to one of the best in Al’s) for a new found appreciation for fresh, tasty, foods.  I too eat out way less, especially of the breaded veal cutlet, off-texture burger and frozen fry type of meal.  Me, I disdain with a passion the Costco type fruit platters with winter melons and insipid orbs masquerading as grapes.

There’s the connections: Lee rattles off a bunch of names that mean nothing to me, but would he know Terra Brockman, Paul Virant and Farmer Vicki?  Would Lee be impressed that a few weeks ago I sat down to lunch with Marc Shulman and talked local?  Still, I believe we both agree that eating local puts you in touch with a host of farmers, producers, chefs and other foodies.  Not only food people that share your values, but food people that expand your horizons.

Lee also states that eating local has enabled him to connect with people he knows in new ways.  Yes.  Not the least my two co-editors here at the Local Beet, but also other friends.  And stories come out.  We all got to recently share David Hammond’s canning adventures, another well known Chicago foodie will soon share his tale of local eating woe–as an aside, we actually believe that publishing these pieces furthers the cause of eating local because we want to show that we try and try and sometimes get not quite as far as we want.

His kids know the meaning of local, sustainable and organic.  My kids berate their friends who eat white on the inside strawberries.

Lee discovered the joy of cooking.  We’ve discovered how to put our vast collection of cookbooks to use.  Really, the joys of cooking are in the joys of eating, and sharing a table.  The eat local lifestyle means, especially to me, gathering around the table most nights (lacrosse season excepted) for delicious food.  It can be as basic as some Michigan beans cooked up with nothing more than olive oil, garlic and a few herbs or as elaborate as a multi-meat, multi-sauce bollito misto.  Eating local breaks the tyranny of packaged food.  Us locavores skip the vast prepared food section at Whole Foods, going instead only for the Indiana air-cooled chickens and similar products.  Even if the popcorn is local, we do not make it our repast.  We avoid the TV dinner in all that means.

Appreciate farmers?  Pshaw.  How can a lover of food not appreciate those that make it happen.  My commitment and passion for local foods fermented in visits to Henry’s Farm and Genesis Growers.  Show me a nice farm dinner KennyZ and I’m there. 

Call me crazy, but I need coffee.  But I always say, don’t make yourself nuts trying to eat local.  It need not be about 100 miles or two week challenges.  You will impress yourself with a resolve to pass up the low hanging fruit for that schlep to the market.  Keeping an attic full of food may sound crazy, but a good piece of food in winter may be hard to find.  You will find yourself up to all the challenges of eating local.

Lastly, Lee calls out his wife who has supported his eat local goals.  Here.  Here.  This column is the Local Family and it is a team effort.  I do more than appreciate my wife.  I rely on her.  Do you think I have the patience to can tomatoes?  Breakdown a whole local chicken?  The Local Family works as hard as I do to live the local lifestyle.  I guarantee you will find the same thing.

One Comment

The 50 Quintessential Local Dishes/Foods

Posted: April 22, 2009 at 8:39 am

At least once a week, I like to share some materials I come across on the Internets.  Through one of my Google alerts, I came across a compilation of 50 quintessential American dishes.  I mentioned in passing that I did not agree that it was the 50.  I mean not to disparage the work of ChefGwen, but if you give me 50 of anything, will I agree with all of it?  I’m the kinda guy that’s gonna start debating when a list gets to three.  So, Gwen commented on yesterday’s post, not so much taking umbrage but at least throwing down the gauntlet.  What was my 50.  It would not have frito pie, and, honestly, I have no idea what is King Ranch Chicken Casserole.  I’d for sure include Chicago hot dogs and Florida stone crabs with mustard sauce.  I starting thinking up a list.

Then, I thought, nah, 50 American dishes.  I’d do 50 LOCAL dishes.  That is dishes native to my locality, the Great Lakes area, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin.  And, of course, there’s no way I can come up with 50 dishes, quintessential local dishes.  So, I’ve padded the list with some local fruits and vegetables too.  Fruits and vegetables that are not necessarily unique to our region, but ones especially associated with our region or that show especially well in our region.  As I said yesterday, I’m not sure you’ll agree with the list.  Call it a conversation starter.

Chicago hot dog
Coney dog
Chicken vesuvio
Frozen custard
Friday fish fry
Corn on the cob
Maid-rite/loose meat
Italian beef
Italian (fresh) sausage
Persimmons/persimmon pudding
BBQ ribs
Boned + buttered perch
Black walnuts
Concord grapes
Black truffle explosion
Pork tenderloin
Deep dish pizza
Thin crust, square cut pizza
Sheet pizza
Maple syrup
Red haven peaches
Panfried chicken
Sugar pie
Sour cream raisin pie
Cole slaw
Long cooked green beans
Skillet breakfasts
Turtle candies
Shrimp de Jonghe
Fish boil
Cheese curds
Cheese spread
Summer sausage
Carmel corn
Steak tacos
Jello salads
Relish tray/plates

There’s 50. I did not include hamburgers. We have plenty of great burger options in this area including some unique variations like the butter-burger. Still, burgers are so quintessentially American, I did not feel they belonged in a local list.  Moreover, I went from struggling to fill the list at around 35 to quickly going over 50.  Pumpkin pie and biscuits and gravy were two things that almost made the cut.  Argue away.

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Tuesday’s the Day Before Earth Day, So Lists, Links, Calender (Our Green Edition)

Posted: April 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

Psst, do you know what tomorrow is? 


Here at the Local Beet every day is earth day.  Then again, to be a legitimate member of the Media, twitter and all, one must do certain things.  Would you respect the Local Beet if we did not publish this here Green Edition?  Let’s move on to the show.

Five Ways Eating Local is Green:

  1. What ever study you can find me, you cannot convince me that Food Miles do matter; if not every time, then most of the time.  Reduce the distance it takes your for your food to arrive.
  2. Local food has Less Packaging, meaning less solid waste.
  3. You pay the real costs for local meat, practically forcing you to Eat Less Meat.
  4. For a host of reasons, local farmers tend to use Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable Farming Practices.  If you know your farmers, they are accountable to you.  More, when in doubt, go visit the farm.
  5. Eating local Fosters Community and Builds Local Economies.  Local eaters know how their decisions affect those around them, including how those around them are treating the earth.  They also know their decisions provide local jobs, preserve existing infrastructures and retard the decay facing our rural areas.

In my Village of Oak Park, a series has been running on “Greening the Village”.  Tonight there’s a presentation focusing on food.  One of the presenters raises chickens in Oak Park.  To read more about urban chicken farming gawk here.

Tomorrow, the City of Chicago is sponsoring three events to help raise awareness of easy steps people can take to help the environment.  Details here.

On Friday, the University of Chicago is hosting a Green Fest, featuring the Local Beet’s Vera V and others.

Greenfest is a few weeks away and Green Team volunteer slots are already gone, but there are other volunteer opportunities including with FamilyFarmed and Angelic Organic Learning Center.

CNN discovers local food!!

It’s not a green reason to eat local, but as Editor-in-Chief Michael likes to say, food around the country should taste different.  An appreciation (nay requirement) for regional food is part of being a locavore.  I’m not sure if I agree that this is the 50 quintessential American dishes, but it’s a discussion starter.

What else?

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Eating Green

Posted: April 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Each year starts thrilling, almost intoxicating, for me. I find it even more exhilarating than the holidays preceding. Instead of mass consumption, mass excess and mass amounts of cookies, I seek fresh, clean, strict and healthy…or at least that is how it starts. If you are anything like me, you find yourself making all sorts of lofty promises. This year my promises ranged from the ambitious (“Do an hour of yoga every day!”) to the stringent (“Eat no sugar, flour or dairy ever again!”) to the downright stupid (“Lose the same 10 pounds you’ve been resolving to lose the last five years!”). Typically the “new me” lasts about 3-4 days until I get so annoyed with my own rules that I promptly order a pizza and decide to try again next year. On the other hand, here we are, into spring and I am still on tract with some very important goals made before the New Year began.

Early in 2008, I opened Green Grocer Chicago, a small market dedicated to selling the best local and organic foods possible. In coordination with my new business, I had the goal to simply try to eat as many local and organic foods as possible. I have always enjoyed eating healthily, with an occasional cookie/brownie binge for balance. But with the store, I realized my food choices could actually benefit the greater good (yes, one person can make a difference!).

Through my research for the store, I realized how much one person’s eating choices can add up to a lot of good for their own health, the health of their local economy and the health of our shared planet. I had always belonged to the club of “eat your vegetables and fruits” but until the past couple of years, I had never thought about where my food came from, how it was grown, by whom it was grown and how it got to me. Once I started thinking about those things, it became increasingly clear to me that I needed to give my eating habits a makeover (not the EXTREME kind where I hardly recognize the old version but just a gentle shift in the daily choices I make). One thing I try my best to stick with is to eat within the seasons. I have found that eating locally and seasonally has allowed me to eat the sweetest fruits and most flavorful vegetables. I do not crave asparagus in January, strawberries in October, or tomatoes in April. Why? Because I have tasted all of those foods in their growing season and for lack of a better term, they rock. When they are out of season here (and shipped anywhere from Chile to Australia to Florida), they look like their sweet seasonal counterparts but taste like nothing. And they are expensive! Why would I deprive myself of great taste?

It’s April in Chicago, and it snowed not too long ago. Other parts of the country are enjoying their first harvests of peas, asparagus, and other spring vegetables, not us. We live in Chicago. Certainly, nothing can grow around here this time of year you say. Well, I thought those exact same things. I have learned that there are things being harvested (as well still ticking away in cold storage) now. A century ago, before one could hop in a car and head to the grocery store that stocks everything under the sun, people actually grew their own food regionally and (gasp) lived! People found a way to make it through April snow. They even found things that would grow well and be delicious harvested under a spring frost. Am I suggesting that you pour a bunch of soil on the 2 x 3 wooden slab your realtor calls a deck and start farming to tide you over? Well, if you want to, absolutely! Luckily, we have options that require less work and less mess. How about buying food grown in the Midwest? Right here in Chicago!

I continue my resolution for the environmental impact of eating local and organic foods. Where ever you stand politically or even where you stand on global warming, there are a few things we can probably agree on: less chemicals in our food/bodies=good, less chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in our soil and drinking water sources=good, less air pollution from unnecessary cross country food shipping=good. These are not political statements; they are just “good common sense” as my Depression-era grandmother would say. (“Duh” as my 12-year-old cousin would say).

So now you see why I have managed to stick with this resolution. You might be asking, “How can I eat more locally and organically?” especially on a budget and in April. You can do it! Here are my top ways to make local eating possible during the leanest times.

Get to know your root vegetables. Hate to say this but spring kicks off where winter just ended. Some of the earliest products farmers coax out of the cold ground are beets and turnips. Farmers also have carrots and parsnips that can safely be stored away all winter, ready when there are no other fresh foods. Sometimes these items are “overwintered”, left in the ground, where they gain incredible sweetness. There are also supplies of potatoes and onions from storage that will do you well.

Experiment. Ever taste a ramp before? Chicago was named for this wild onion, one of the first thing emerging from our soils. Local chefs have taken to this vegetable, creating many dishes. It is possible now to find ramps and other rare spring treats at farmer’s markets and my store.

Eggs-they are not just for breakfast. Traditionally, spring was the time when hens took to laying again. There is no more potent symbol of spring than the egg. Whip up a simple frittata with onions and potatoes for a great dinner. Eggs are an excellent (or egg-cellent as it were) and economical source of protein. Local, pasture raised eggs are the only way to go. They taste vastly better and offer more nutrition. Be wary when an egg carton says, “Cage free or free range”. It certainly does not tell the full story. The only places to buy truly good and fresh eggs are from the farmer directly or a store like ours.

Say “mooooooo”. Small, local dairies whose cows are eating grass (not corn) offer the sweetest and freshest milk. Spring also means the time of year that our cows are getting away from a diet of hay and silage and back to pasture. Milk is a spring thing too. Whenever possible, buy non-homogenized milk. Homogenization means that the fat molecules have been irreversibly forced with the sugar molecules, making it difficult to digest. In fact, studies show that people with lactose intolerance can often digest non-homogenized milk. Also, you’ll open up your milk bottle to find a delicious line of cream at the top. This is normal and how milk should be. Milk from grass fed cows has also been shown to be vastly more nutritious than milk from corn fed cows.

Urban farms find ways to grow. Chicago farms like Windy City Harvest, Growing Home and Growing Power have cold weather facilities. Hoop houses and green houses allow the harvest to keep on rolling. Experiment with nutritional powerhouse Spring greens like collards, kale, Swiss chard and mustard greens.

Freeze the summer’s harvest. I realize this doesn’t help you today but plan ahead for the upcoming big growing season by buying lots of local fresh berries, peaches, beans, asparagus, corn and every other fresh fruit or veggie you love and freeze it for exactly this time of year. You can find information about how to freeze and otherwise preserve your harvest from this Local Beet article.

Befriend beans. Dried and canned beans from the northern Midwest are a healthy way to bulk up your meal without slimming down your wallet. Eden Organic brand works exclusively with US farmers, most of which are in this region or north of us. They are a great source of fiber and protein.

Use meat as a treat. Much of the meat we find in stores and restaurants is chock full of hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, fecal matter, mercury, toxins and other unsavory things. Meat-producing animals have eaten foods they were never meant to eat while being kept in quarters so close that any living thing would lose its mind. This is why most meat is so cheap. Is it cheap for your health, the environment, or the welfare of fellow living things. On the other hand, when farmers raise meat on small family operations, with open pasture and care, it tastes much better. This meat has been given a true life. It enhances the environment around it. While this causes the price tag to rise, the benefits match. To offset the higher cost, make meat a treat (once or twice a week instead of once or twice a day). Buy meat from small, local farms. You support better taste, health, animal treatment, and environmental practices.

Get the special meat treat. There is such a thing as spring lamb, although few people have ever tasted this delicate, special meat. Eating locally means having relationships with farmers who can supply this seasonal special.

Know your resources. In a society that generally considers local eating to mean stopping at the McDonalds at the end of your block instead of the one two miles away, it can be hard to find people who actually can help guide you on your new and yummy way of eating. Green Grocer Chicago is full of ideas on how to eat locally and healthily.

Be flexible. You will not always be able to eat local or organic foods. I still enjoy citrus fruits, bananas, and avocados. They will never be local. They can be nutritious and organically grown, at least at our store. I do not beat myself up for choosing those foods on occasion and you should not either.

Empower yourself. You live in a country where change is just a step away. Start demanding your grocer stock local food. Choose to buy foods when they are locally grown, eat them until you are sick of them and then do not buy them again until the following year. Know that when you start spending your money on local and organic foods, more companies will start to do business that way (they follow money the way a lion stalks its prey). One person can change the world.

Here are some recipes to get you through the final few days of cold.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Hash (serves 2)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2 inch cubes)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons cumin
1 shake or two of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion for a couple of minutes. Add sweet potatoes, lower heat and sauté until fork tender (could be 15-20 minutes-add a little water to the pan if it’s getting too dry). When sweet potatoes are done, add beans and seasonings. Stir just to heat up. Enjoy!

We make this for breakfast many times and add a fried egg on top. Or for dinner, prepare a side of greens or a salad (spinach and lettuces are growing in those urban farms I mentioned) and bread.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches (serves 2)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 Portobello mushrooms-stems removed and cap wiped with a damp cloth
4 tablespoons ricotta cheese (or any other soft, spread able, mild cheese)
4-5 sun dried tomatoes, chopped finely
4-5 black or Kalamata olives
2 fresh buns or English muffins (whole grain preferred)

Heat a stovetop grill pan (you can do in a sauté pan but the grill is nice). Brush mushroom on both sides with oil and place on pan for about 5-7 minutes each side. Meanwhile, mix cheese, olives and sun dried tomatoes to make a spread. Toast buns and when center of mushroom is tender to the fork, remove and place on bun. Spread cheese mixture on one side of bun, assemble and enjoy! Also serve with a side of greens or salad.

Roasted Root Vegetables (serves 2-3)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 potato
1 sweet potato
1 beet
1 turnip
1 parsnip (if large, remove woody center)
1 carrot
Rosemary and thyme (fresh use 2 tablespoons each, dried use 1 tablespoon each)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 425.

Chop all vegetables into somewhat uniform pieces (1 inch or so). Use a combination of whatever vegetables you like or have on hand. Toss in a bowl with oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet and bake in oven for one hour to one and a half hours or until all veggies are fork tender.

Serve as a main course with a side of sautéed Spring greens or a salad and some bread. Serve as a side for a piece of meat or tofu. Use as a filling for an omelet along with some soft goat cheese.

Keeping Up Appearances

Posted: April 20, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Spring cleanup always reminds me that I should be using the cardio-bike over the winter to keep in shape. The leaves from several giant oak trees in the farm lawn kept me busy for a few days as I ran a rickety rake along the groun, dumbed the leaves and twigs into a tarp and dragged them to the sandy spot of my vegetable garden: a mini-sand dune that I call the Sahara on 90+ degree days of summer. I’ve actually witnessed sand storms on a windy day! Not much can grow in that spot so I’ve been adding lots of organic matter like the oak leaves and tilling them in, hoping to “thicken up” the soil. It makes the dirt a little sour so I use the location for acidic soil-loving flowers that I’ll use to dye wool: orange cosmos, marigolds, and calendula. I waste nothing on the farm.

cosmos flowers in "the Sahara"
cosmos flowers in “the Sahara” – 10/1/2006

I finished trimming all the fruit trees before the buds opened. A challenge every year. As I tried to apply a dormant oil spray I noticed my shot-gun style sprayer had a leak in the muzzle area. A minor set-back that I’ll have to remedy with the soldering gun. Later. Did I mention the rototiller needs some work as the pull-chain has been threatening to pull my shoulder out of its sockets? The push-mower also needs some blade-sharpening before I can tackle the newly cleared lawn. OK, so I jerry-rigged the back yard with fencing and the sheep have already mowed it down to the dirt, but there’s still a lot of grass to maintain.

Working on the farm isn’t always in the vegetable garden. I wish I had more time to spruce up the place. The chicken coop needs window replacements and a quick coat of paint. A few rotting sheds need to be torn down. Those are farm projects for “down time.” Let’s not talk about keeping up with house maintenance (or laundry).

I always worked in the flower beds and learned as a child what was a volunteer flower and what was a weed as my dad watched over my shoulder. While at college I used to bring back flower seeds and perennials for my dad to plant in his nearly immaculate flower beds. His flower beds were some sort of holistic therapy for his failing health.

These days I try to keep up the beauty but without as much work. I’m a big fan of perennials and hope to have something pretty to look at without a lot of labor. Spring always looks great in there but the weeds take over by late summer. I consider the flower beds a “work in progress.” I think it’s the nature of a gardener to think that one year everything will be “perfect” but I still appreciate these simple treasures.

Helleborus aka Lenten Rose
Helleborus aka Lenten Rose

Monday is for Menu Planning

Posted: April 20, 2009 at 11:16 am

To set the agenda for this week’s meals, we have to look back at last week’s meals.  Because Thursday’s CSA box came with three bunches of kale, and we had the previous week’s turnip greens and even a bunch of kale from the week prior (slightly tired greens can withstand the big pot), we had extra for Friday.  Because Friday I grill-smoked 13 pounds of Wettstein pastured turkey (that’s a half a turkey) and used part of the grill to work up the remaining delicata squash; because my wife, we fight constantly about her need to cook for a family of 12, made her beans in buckets, and there was also cole slaw from Thursday green’s night, we have food.  We did manage, us and another family of four, to finish a bowl of green sauce and a pan’s worth of corn bread.  Did I mention the slices of pickled tongue yet?  We have plenty of leftovers to work around for this week’s meals.

And turnip pickles to work with.  Our CSA box contained four nice sized “classic” turnips, you know the ones with the purple ring around the top. My wife used Claudia Roden’s recipe for Middle-Eastern style pink pickles.  She ran out of canning jars before she ran out of turnips.  The one remaining turnip I’ll probably grate and serve as a salad with oil and garlic one meal.

Besides the kale and turnips, our CSA box came with two heads of leaf lettuce.  I imagine at some point this week, my wife and I will have a Mado-esque salad of the tongue, the lettuce, some Wettstein eggs and some attic fingerlings.  The box came with several red norland potatoes, good for a potato salad with the aioli still in our fridge.  Also from Vicki’s storage vaults came onions, maybe three large yellow ones and a few large red ones too.  (I’ve had to toss some of the onions we’ve stored ourselves but between the ones that have lasted, Vicki’s and a strategic Madison purchase a few weeks ago, we are strong in onions.)  Finally, the box came with two heads of savoy cabbage, which I have not figured out exactly how to use.  There’s half a Whole Foods Indiana cabbage also in our bins.

A day after our third CSA box came in, I stopped by Cassie’s Green Grocer, mostly looking for herbs and also some ar…, I mean rocket.  I found a ton of NW Indiana ramps (don’t fear the price, a half a pound of ramps is too much.)  I’m thinking of grilling them.  No herbs or rocket though.

I mentioned my foray to GCM on Saturday here.  After the market, the  local family day-dreamed away: my wife of evening plans for a movie, a daughter of the bat mitzvah cake sample we picked up; me, I dreamt of my Bennison’s ciabatta.  Thing is, due to some unforeseen events, we missed our window.  Now the bread needs to be toasted, bruschetta one night, probably with the beans.

As you can see, there’s a lot to work with.  I’m not wedded to many specific dishes.  Maybe a big salad here or there, soup from the turkey carcass…if you have any ideas for me, please let me know.

Was There a Whiff of Spring in this Week’s Green City Market?

Posted: April 19, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I shared a taste of a canelle from Floriole that my wife found a bit burnt.  I sampled some Prairie Fruit Farms goat cheese but turned around and bought from Capriole because I cannot resist a sale.  I missed the cups of milk from Blue Marble Dairy to try, and I pretty much missed an signs of spring at the last indoor Green City Market. 

No.  I take that back.  Nichols Farm in a clever bit of demand sating, lopped off the greens growing from their shallots and sold them at the market as a form of onion-y sprout.  Use like chives Nick encouraged, and damn it did seem like a good idea.  He did not even bother to sell me on the spring-ness of the item.  Because it was not the only whiff of spring.  Right across the street, at the Heritage Prairie stand, resting in its own manger, a single representation of spring, one bunch of green onions.  Now me, as much as I want my spring, I’m not much of a scallion guy to begin with, and I know there will be a period where Farmer Vicki will inundate me with them.  Weeds and a bunch of green onions, what spring looked like at Green City Market.

I’m saying I did not thoroughly enjoy my time at GCM.  In addition to the cheese regulars, the folks from Saxon Creamery where there, making their fine cheese more well known.  I’m happy with some sprouts, and got a big bag from Three Sisters.  I also purchased some of their spinach.  I could practically go just for the Bennison’s breads, and got a ciabatta and some kind of Irish batch pull a part wheat thing.   My wife has a mushroom monkey on her back, and we fed that habit with a mixed bag from River Valley.  If I had not got some Michigan apples at Caputo’s, I might have bought some from Hillside, and if I did not have a fair amount of potatoes, I might have taken advantage of the great prices on fingerlings at Nichols.  I liked all of this and more, but like I say, on the down side of April, this was a market that could have been the middle of February.

Next week Green City is outdoors with a special Alice Waters edition market and then the week after it’s at its regular Lincoln Park location.  I bet I’ll taste some spring in there some where.

Will This be the Week to Taste Spring with the Local Calender Friday, April 17th, 2009
Molly and the Eat Local Lifestyle Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
The Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Canning Catastrophe Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Tuesday Reading Materials Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Monday Menu Planning Monday, April 13th, 2009
GGM Local Cooking Class Monday, April 13th, 2009
The Bantam who came to roost Friday, April 10th, 2009
A Parent/Child Sustainable Sushi Class Friday, April 10th, 2009
Kids Composting Class Friday, April 10th, 2009
Eggscellent! Friday, April 10th, 2009
A Bit of Catching Up in Time for the Local Calendar Friday, April 10th, 2009
Michigan mash-ups Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
Advanced Thoughts Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
Composting Bill Update Monday, April 6th, 2009
New Year’s Resolution Delayed – Eat More Carrots Monday, April 6th, 2009
Sowing Our Oats Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Will You Be Able to Taste Spring w/Today’s Local Calender Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Another April Fool Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Thursday is Blogday at the Local Beet Thursday, April 2nd, 2009