Eggscellent! Egg Labelling and Natural Egg Dyes

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Posted: March 31, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Easter’s on Sunday and tomorrow I’ll be at the Downtown Farmstand demonstrating how to dye eggs naturally. Perfect time to resurrect the following post from last year.

Eggs are on many of our minds this week with the impending arrival of a fuzzy, fictional creature. It’s Good Friday and the Easter Bunny is coming. What kind of eggs will he bring to your house, and how will he color them?

In pagan culture, the egg signified the rebirth of the earth during spring. Christians adopted this symbol for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, allegedly having occurred in early spring. Eastern Christianity has created several myths regarding the connection between the egg and the Easter story, including a claim that Mary Magdalene brought eggs to share at the tomb of Jesus, which turned bright red when she saw that Christ had risen.

With all of these associations with life and the earth, it only makes sense that the eggs that we dye for our baskets, egg hunts and rolls be good for the earth and respect life. To do this, we need to be educated consumers and understand the labeling on the cartons.

Sustainable Eggs

Three separate certifying systems have been created by egg producers.

Certified Organic: This is the only certification that is regulated by the government. To earn it, a farmer must pass an inspection showing that the eggs came from hens that eat an antibiotic-free, 100% organic diet, and are allowed access to the outdoors and sunlight. What it does not require is a certain barn or shed size or limit on the amount chickens housed inside such facilities. It also does not require that the chickens spend any time outdoors and specifically allows a farmer to temporarily confine his hens for a variety of reasons, with no definition of the term “temporarily.” It does, however, require certain humane limitations including that a bird must be anesthetized prior to de-beaking, a common practice in egg farming.

Certified Humane: This certification is regulated by Humane Farm Animal Care and is concerned less with what the birds eat than with how they are treated. Hens must eat a “wholesome” and “nutritious” diet, they may only receive antibiotics in the case of disease. The certification requires that the hens have “sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress.” In Illinois, Phil’s Fresh Eggs has been Certified Humane under this system. To find other producers, visit Humane Farm Animal Care’s website. Organic Valley may not be “Certified Humane,” on its website, it states its promise to the consumer that its eggs have been:

“Produced on family farms in harmony with nature without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides. Our hens are raised humanely and given certified organic feed—never any animal by-products—and range freely outdoors.”

A note on hormones: a hormone-free claim is a bit of a non-sequitur given that hormones are never given to hens being grown for laying eggs or during the egg-laying period unless sick.

The United Egg Producers Certification: This is quite a dodgy “certification.” According to Marion Nestle, the certification “merely attests that a company gives food and water to its caged hens.” Unsurprisingly, a large majority of industrial egg producers have received this certification. The website is chock full of double speak. On the home page, we see a wholesome young family on their bucolic farm. There is a large section called Myth v. Fact. My favorite myth v. fact is the first:

Myth: Farmers only care about profit.

Fact: U.S. egg farmers are committed to the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Many of the farms are family-owned and operated.

While I’m sure that majority of family farmers treat their hens humanely, having recently watched HBO’s “Death on a Family Farm”, family-owned and operated can not necessarily be equated with humane treatment.

A Note on De-beaking: It’s important to note that none of the certifications prohibit de-beaking, though the Certified Organic and Humane standards do require that the birds be anaesthetized during the procedure. Birds are de-beaked to prevent the aggressive behavior that is almost inevitable in close quarters. In the “The Ethics of What We Eat
“, Peter Singer identifies a handful of farmers who do not de-beak their birds. I have emailed several of the egg producers who sell locally at our farmers market to find out their practices and will report back with what I learn.

Sustainable Egg Dying

Ever since my son was born 5 years ago, we’ve coloring our eggs naturally. What we’ve done is to use the by-products of our home cooking that would otherwise be destined for the garbage or the compost bin. For example, yellow onion skins create a lovely beige shade, red, a purplish one. I’ll blanch spinach, a traditional menu item on Maundy Thursday, for green. Boil some beets for red. Leftover coffee stains not your teeth for brown. The only virgin ingredients that I use are dried spices – really, how many of you are going to use up that entire jar or turmeric? I also have a huge jar of tomato powder that is past its prime (a donation from the very generous Spice House for a Purple Asparagus project) that when combined with vinegar turns up orange. When using spices, boil water to fill a bowl just large enough to hold an egg or two and add a tablespoon or more or the desired spice with a bit of vinegar. But my all time favorite natural egg dye? Red wine. Not only does it color the egg, but it gives it a sparkly sheen – I’ve always assumed that it’s the sulfites. The best part? When you’re egg is done, it’s cocktail time.




Eat Seasonal Food with the Local Calendar – UPDATED

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Posted: March 31, 2010 at 10:00 am

You can do a few things this week to eat local.  You can market outside this week, in Grayslake. You can start cooking from fresh produce (see our Spring recipe collection for ideas).  On the other hand, you cannot go to the Logan Square Farmer’s Market, which is now on hiatus. 

WHAT TO BUY NOW

Hey!  New local foods to use.  We are seeing the earliest Spring produce in our area including sorrel, green garlic, and onion shoots.   From the warming hoophouses come lettuces (often stretched with other greens), spinach, chard, and rocket as well as micro-greens.  If you are fortunate, you may find a farmer who over-wintered carrots or parsnips–do not fear mondo sized veg either, these may be the sweetest you will encounter.   There are the wild edibles, like watercress and nettles, that start to show now too.

There is also, that very last of last year.  We still see  apples and potatoes.  We have also seen cabbage, beets and sunchokes.   

Continue to use quality preserved items.  Tomato Mountain and River Valley Ranch are good sources for canned goods, and Freshpicks has frozen fruits and vegetables from Michigan.  You might find dried fruits.

Local foods also include our great cheeses, meats, grains, beans, nuts, milk, eggs, etc.  There’s even local tofu at some markets.

Need ideas for your Spring produce, check our our seasonal recipe collection.

Let us know what other local goods you are still seeing for sale.

 WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

These stores specialize in local foods:

WHAT TO DO

MARKETS  AND EVENTS THIS WEEK

Wednesday – March 31

Head to your Hideout for Soup and Bread – 1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago – 530 – 8 PM

Thursday - April 1

New! - Beer dinner including Metropolitan, Goose Island, Dark Horse, Two Brothers and Lakefront at Vie – 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs – 630 PM

Saturday - April 3

Community Winter Market – 11 North 5th Street, Geneva 9 AM – 1 PM

New!Grayslake Farmer’s Market – Downtown Grayslake; Vendors are located on Center Street and Centennial Park – 10 AM – 2 PM

Wednesday – April 7

New! – Whole Foods River Forest – Healthy Foods Seminar with Seventh Generation Ahead + Shop to benefit SGA – 7245 Lake, River Forest – 630 – 730 PM (you can shop for the benefit of SGA all Wednesday)

New! – Whole Foods Evanston (1640 Chicago Ave. & 1111 Chicago Ave) – Shop for the benefit of SAGE (Schools Actively Gardening in Evanston/Skokie)

MARKETS AND EVENTS COMING

Saturday - April 10

Chicago Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m (Directions) – The theme is Cheese

Winter Farmer’s Market, Chicago/Beverly – Beverly Unitarian Church (the Castle) – 10244 S Longwood Ave, Chicago – 9 AM – 1 PM

SOLD OUT! – BaconFest Chicago – Chef’s participating here –  Ticket info here.

Community Winter Market – 11 North 5th Street, Geneva 9 AM – 1 PM

New!Grayslake Farmer’s Market – Downtown Grayslake; Vendors are located on Center Street and Centennial Park – 10 AM – 2 PM

New! – Adapting our Gardens to Climate Change – Evanston Ecology Center - Co-sponsored by The Garden Club of Evanston, Citizens for a Greener Evanston, the Ecology Center and ISEN, The Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern.  The plants and trees in our gardens can help reduce the impacts of climate change that are now projected for this area.  But warming temperatures and changes in precipitation will stress many of the species now growing here.  This program will explore choices of plants, trees and water management techniques that will help our gardens adapt to changing conditions. No fee, but please pre-register at 847-448-8256.

Tuesday - April 13

Geneva Green Market, NFP Green Chatter Matters – Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan – Inglenook Pantry, 11 North Fifth St, Geneva IL – 7 pm

Sunday – April 18

New! – Let’s Retake Our Plates  – Whole Food Earth Month Film Series – No Impact ManEntrance donation is $10 and all proceeds will be donated to The Talking Farm. Location: Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., 2nd Floor, Chicago. In celebration of Earth Month, join Whole Foods Market for two award-winning documentaries paired with locally produced food and beverages, green goodie bags, and an expert panel discussion following each film, including those from The Talking FarmClick here to buy tickets or get them at the Whole Foods Market Sauganash.

Monday - April 19

New!Three Course Earth Day Menu – Vie – 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs

Tuesday – April 20

City Provisions Supper Club – Earth Day Dinner

Wednesday- April 21

New! –  Three Course Earth Day Menu – Vie – 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs

Thursday- April 22

Go Green Day Management Earth Day – Flair Tower – 720 N. Franklin, Chicago

New!Three Course Earth Day Menu – Vie – 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs

Saturday – April 24

Chicago Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m (Directions) – The theme is Cheese.

Portage Park – Irving Park and Central, Chicago - 10 – 2 PM

 




Spring Recipe Collection

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Posted: March 31, 2010 at 9:16 am

The earliest seasonal eating in the Chicago area is all about odd little sprouts and intensely flavored greens.  It is just the time of year that some good recipes are needed.  We’ve collected our Spring recipes below (check back for updates).

Note, all the primary ingredients for all recipes are currently available in the Chicago area.  We will not post recipes for peas, favas, strawberries, etc., until those items show up around here.

Bratwurst and greens

Baked Prosciutto Cups with Sorrel and Coddled Eggs

Beet, watercress and fennel salad with pink peppercorn dressing

Sorrel and sunchoke soup

Swiss chard and chickpea stew

Sauteed asparagus with green garlic aioli

Ramp and goat cheese tart

Carrot quinoa cakes




Wedding Cake Tasting

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Posted: March 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Specialty cakes have, sadly, been in the news recently with the fire at CakeGirls. Here’s some happier news.

Another specialty cake maker, in Humboldt Park, is offering a tasting event for brides and grooms-to-be who want to meet cake artists and help raise money for Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center.

Tipsycake (www.tipsycakechicago.com) is holding its tasting on April 11 from 2 to 7 p.m. at 1043 N. California Ave. The cost is $7 per person and half the proceeds go to benefit the Advocacy Center. Tipsycake can be reached at 773 384-4418.




Greens from Green Youth Farm

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Posted: March 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Like every proponent of local foods, I often face legitimate questions from my globalvore friends about my dietary choices. The carbon footprint argument doesn’t hold much weight for me – I’ve read too many counterarguments to rely upon this. Also, the suggestion that a fruit or vegetable is “greener” simply because it’s grown within a certain distanc is just plain ludicrous. It’s the quality of the farmer not the quantity of the miles.
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My rationale for these friends is twofold. First and foremost, the foods that I buy from the farmers market taste fresher and, in my opinion, better. A second benefit, at least for me, is knowing the story behind my food. It doesn’t come from nameless, faceless, farms, but instead from friends and, in some cases, my heighbors. It was one of these back stories, that made me happy to see the Chicago Botanic Garden stand at the last Winter Market at Ebeneezer Lutheran Church.

I recently learned about the Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm program at the inaugural Growing Healthy Kids event. The Botanic Garden operates four Green Youth Farm sites. Students work 20 hours a week for 10 weeks. They participate in workshops regarding topics of food systems, sustainable food production, plant, maintain, harvest, sell and cook with fruits and vegetables, and participate in community events and markets.

The Green Youth Farm program offers students the opportunity to learn all aspects of organic farming — from planting seeds and starts to managing a hive of bees, from cooking with the food they grow to selling it at farmstands and markets.

The Botanic Garden stand staffed by the Green Youth Farm’s students was stocked with pristinely fresh greens: Swiss Chard, Green Leaf Lettuce, Basil, Spinach and a braising mix of Collard and Kale. I bought them all. Late last week, we enjoyed the braising greens with a package of bratwurst from another set of farmer friends, Beth and Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

Bratwurst and Greens
Serves 4

4 bratwurst
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cup tomato puree
1 bag, approximately 6 cups of braising greens, stemmed and roughly chopped

Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Brown the bratwurst in the skillet. Remove the sausage to a plate. Heat the oil in the pan and saute the onion until softened. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and cook until reduced slightly. Dump in the greens, the tomato puree and a 1/2 cup of water. Salt and pepper to taste and cover. Cook until the greens are softened and the sausage is cooked through. Serve warm.


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Raise up your voices on Washington for better school lunches

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Posted: March 30, 2010 at 9:15 am

And a child shall lead them…

Okay, we’ve heard that phrase before. But protests by children in Chicago did make an impact on changing the menus in the Chicago school lunch program.

There is a bill going through Congress that will try and improve school lunches. Except for inflation, there hasn’t been an increase in what we spend on school lunches since 1973. Yes, since before cable and gas was under 50¢ a gallon.

But the increase has been watered down so far. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) stepped in and reduced the increase to 6¢ per lunch.

Our children deserve so much better than this.

This is the time to step up interest. There is a lot more to the legislation than just the cost of school lunches. Where they can get the food, and the quality of the food itself is up for grabs in this debate.

And this is an election year, so stepping up and letting your elected representatives know what you think is a great way to start.

For more on this issue, I invite you to read my newest entry in my blog: BalanceofFood.com.




Clean Greens: Sorrel

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Posted: March 29, 2010 at 10:47 pm

IMG_5629
While the calendar tells us that it’s spring, we’ve got a long way before the season’s beauties, asparagus and strawberries, populate our markets. No, in these cold gray, March days, we need to console ourselves with the variety of greens that have begun to sprout. Alongside the celeriac, turnips, and potatoes, we’ve begun to see the season’s early dwellers: sweet spinach, spicy watercress, and lemon-y sorrel. Sorrel is an unusual green with a tartness that is uncommon among its brethren. The flavor is clean and refreshing – evoking the verdant days we’ll soon see.

Three Sisters had beautiful bunches of a ruby-flecked variety, with a feathery shape. A twitter about my purchase of this beauty inspired some questions about how to use it. Years back, I had found a deliciously simply hors d’oeuvres in the dearly departed Gourmet: wrap a beet wedge and cube of fresh chevre with a sorrel leaf. Beet lovers take heed. A delcious treat, but we’re not hosting a cocktail soiree anytime soon. I often turn sorrel into soup, but this tiny little bunch would make only about a teacup full. Luckily, on this same Saturday, I also bought some La Quercia prosciutto and some eggs. With these two accompaniments, I set out to create an Easter brunch recipe: Baked Prosciutto Cups with Sorrel and Coddled Eggs.

Baked Prosciutto Cups with Sorrel and Coddled Eggs
Serves 4

4 slices of prosciutto
8 sorrel leaves
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Push the prosciutto slices into 4 muffin cups of a tin. You could do this with silicone muffin cups. Set another tin or muffin cups on top of the prosciutto. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cups are formed and are slightly crisped. Fill a small baking dish with hot water. Lay the sorrel leaves in a x pattern in each of the prosciutto cups. Crack an egg on top of each cup and set into the baking dish. Place the pan into the oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until the eggs are set. Serve with bread for dipping.

NOTE: Despite the confidence that I have in the eggs that I buy from the farmers’ market, I prefer not to serve the little locavore undercooked eggs. For him, I would fill the cups with scrambled eggs.




Waste the Whey? No Way!

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Posted: March 28, 2010 at 10:36 pm

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The Local Beet has a new cheesemaker, Keighty Alvarez. I’m looking forward to reading more of her cheese recipes. Her first, Lemon Sage, is a variant on ricotta, the one cheese that I have made (other than yogurt cheese, which isn’t really cheese making so much as straining). Ricotta is a super simple cheese to make, especially if you pick up one of these home cheesemaking kits from Zingerman’s. In my view, however, the best result of cheesemaking isn’t the cheese – I can get great cheese at a multitude of outlets in Chicago, I’m a fan of the whey. Substitute it for water, in your bread or pizza dough to give it a real boost in flavor. Fill your pizza dough with the fresh made ricotta and sausage for a Sunday night calzone.

Calzones
Serves 4

1 cup whey
1 ¼-ounce package yeast
½ teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Coarsely-ground cornmeal
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
½ teaspoon good red wine or balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups ricotta
1/2 pound Italian sausage, cooked until just no longer pink

Heat the whey in a microwave for approximately 30 seconds until 110° F. Sprinkle yeast on top and add honey, stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture sit for 5 minutes while it foams. Scrape the dissolved yeast into a large mixing bowl. Add white wine, the flours, olive oil and salt to the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon or with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook until the water is absorbed. If kneading by hand, remove the mixture from the bowl and knead on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. If using the mixer, knead with the dough hook for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from the bowl before the dough is completely smooth and knead by hand for a few minutes or until smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. Put the dough into a large bowl coated with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven at this time. Preheat the oven to 500° F. Uncover the dough, punch it down and let rise for another 45 minutes.

While the dough is rising, make the sauce. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, preferably in a blender. Finely mince the garlic clove. Heat the oil in a medium-size sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté approximately 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until slightly reduced, approximately 20 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.

Cut the dough into four pieces with a chef’s knife or a dough scraper. Press or roll out each piece on a lightly-floured surface to an approximately 9-inch circle. Fill each circle with equal amounts of ricotta and sausage. Fold in half and crimp to seal.

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If using a pizza stone, sprinkle a sheet pan or a baker’s peel with coarsely-ground cornmeal. Set the calzone on top. With a flip of the wrist, transfer unbaked calzone to stone in the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, bake the calzone on a baking sheet. Close oven and reduce the temperature to 450° F. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes until the calzones are browned.


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Market Report: Spring Greens

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Posted: March 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

I’ve just returned from Green City Market and I’m pleased to report that the Spring greens have arrived. Genesis Growers brought in bagfuls of their spicy wild watercress as well as tiny turnips with their greens still attached. Three Sisters had delicate red flecked sorrel bunches, as pretty as the tulips stationed at the stand nearby. Growing Home had bagfuls of spinach and arugula, bright in color and brimming with flavor. What a sigh of relief this sight gives me, weary from the last burst of Winter days in March. For those of you lucky enough to score a bag of the watercress, try this salad – a bridge between the scarcity of Winter and the abundance of the growing season.

Beet, Watercress & Fennel Salad with Creamy Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette

For 6 servings

3 medium beets, greens removed
1 bulb fennel
1 bunch watercress
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
2 teaspoons good white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon good mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman’s)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
Kosher salt to taste
Coarse sea salt, optional

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast on the oven’s center rack for 1 ½ hours or until tender. Rub off their skins and cut into quarters.

Crush the peppercorns by enclosing them in a paper towel and smashing with a flat metal round, such as the bottom of a metal measuring cup or a meat mallet. Combine the vinegar and peppercorns in a small bowl. Add the oil by droplets, stirring with a whisk to emulsify the mixture. Add mayonnaise and whisk until well combined. Add salt to taste.

Very thinly slice the fennel, use a mandoline if available. Soak in a bowl of ice water for at least 30 minutes. Remove the thicker stems of the watercress. Wash and dry.

Arrange the watercress on a platter and place the fennel and the quartered beets on top. Dress with vinaigrette and garnish with coarse sea salt, if desired.


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Disposition Changing Dinner at Custom House Tavern

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Posted: March 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Can a single dinner change one’s disposition? I sure hope so.

If I ever needed a readjustment in attitude, it would be right about now. March’s foibles and follies have left me these days with a perma-frown, one that not even good chocolate could turn upside down. But something about last night’s dinner seems to have (hopefully) shifted something.

While March’s madness for me involves disintegrating houses and life-altering break-ups, for my husband, it’s all about the brackets. Every single living being in our household has to fill out a bracket sheet, even the dog (known at Mike’s law firm as Samuel the Spaniel). Thus, any dinner during the last three March weekends must be spent at a restaurant with televisions.

Just yesterday, we sent Thor on a flight to Florida with his grandmother opening up the opportunity to explore more the adult-oriented dining pleasures of Chicago. Adult-oriented with TVs? A bar, of course. This seemed like the perfect time to try out the newly transformed Custom House. With a tv at every table, my hoops loving husband was satisfied.

At the bar, you can order from either the dining room menu or the small plates menu intended for the libation-loving patrons. We chose a hybrid. Enjoying an extraordinary South African white blend, I started out with the Swan Creek Devilled Egg, a delicious indulgence. My Arctic Char with Chick Pea Spaetzle and Sea Greens couldn’t have been better. It was right after I had finished up my very Springy White Chocolate Mousse with Candied Celery and Rhubarb and was about to devour the paper thin crackers that paired Mike’s cheese plate, that I realized that we had just experienced the effortlessly flawless restaurant meal in year. In large part, this was due to great service by our server who was doing double duty as the room’s bartender, no mean feat. Portions were perfectly sized and so when we departed, despite the richness of my selections, I felt just sated.

Something about this dinner, perhaps it was the promise of Spring, has been something of a disposition changer. When I departed for my first meeting this morning, the day seemed somehow brighter. While cold, I had remembered my pink gloves, and I recalled why I love the color salmon, which made me forget the cold. My meeting went swimmingly and fast – as a partnership opportunity was quickly identified. So fast, in fact, that I was able to fit in two needed errands before a parent-teacher conference. Said conference yielded good news – our favorite piggy bank was doing swimmingly at school. The day went thusly, parking spaces were easily found, lines were short, and things in general were just simple and smooth, an experience that I’ve not had much of in March.

Tomorrow may be a different story, but for at least today, things seem to be looking up.




My distractions

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Posted: March 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Late March and early April are busy times – after a long winter away from the garden and fields I’ve got my work cut out for me. Tree limbs and branches need to be cleared from the wooded areas of the sheep pasture. The garden sage needs to be trimmed back. Asparagus needs to be mulched. Manure needs to be spread before I even think about pulling out the rototiller. . . but I get easily distracted by the sheep. My own fault. I’ve tamed them down to make caring for them easier (try chasing after a scared flock in muck boots during shearing time!) but now they’ve gotten used to being handled and nearly beg for attention whenever I walk past.

Nibbles for greetings

Nibbles for greetings

Another nibbler

Another nibbler

Twins!

Twins!

The ram

The ram




What’s in Season Now: Watercress

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Posted: March 26, 2010 at 7:39 am

We don’t find much in the way of Spring produce in the Chicago area.  Such so-called Spring crops like peas won’t hit our shores until the near end of Spring, like June.  The newest new potatoes done come around until the Local Calendar really says summer.  Even local asparagus is several weeks away.  There is, however, one crop already thriving in the grounds around us, watercress.

It’s called water–cress for a reason.  It sprouts up by all the creeks and ponds and  tiny rivers that help make the land around us so fertile.  It’s one of those plants getting signals from Mother Nature to spring up as soon as the days turn a bit longer, an edible daffodil if you may.  You can sometimes find watercress growing through melting snow.  She don’t mind.  Some area farmer’s grow watercress; perhaps to feed the needs of French bistros used to putting a sprig or two on every plate of roast chicken.  Still, there is much cress for the taking.  As I say, any farm with a little old body of water nearby (and most seem to have this), will likely find watercress for the taking.  The big problem for you local eaters, who will supply the Spring cress.

Seriously, that’s a problem.  While we have more than a few markets running this time of year, we do not have many farmers with a habit of picking off their wild cress.  Please, prove me wrong.  Show up at Green City or Logan Square or Portage Park this weekend and find some wild watercress.  If you do, great.  If you don’t challenge the farmer.  Why not make some money harvesting what God put at the back of your property.  Maybe with a little urging we can get some watercress out there.

Do we need watercress in our diets?  Do we need to eat it just because we can, because something grows when it is this cold.  To some that’s a good enough reason isn’t it, a little relief from those root crops.  I’d also tell you to eat watercress because it tastes so good.  Maybe a slightly acquired taste.  Wild watercress (especially) can be hot on the tongue, like dabbing some Chinese mustard.  There’s also a strong vegetal taste, the result of all that plant energy driving it forward so soon.  So, take advantage of its strength.  Those French knew something.  Its bite offers relief from heavy, plainly cooked meats.  It contrasts expertly against eggs, and an eggsalad sandwich on a really good whole grain bread, with a sprig of watercress is one food’s great marriages.  You can forgo cress as an accessory.  Make yourself a cress salad, but use an assertive dressing like a home-made green goddess.  I mean if you do get some watercress, get yourself some fresh eggs too.  You’ll need to make the egg salad, and you will need to whip up a batch of good mayo.

We may not have much truly in season yet.  We have watercress.  We have farm eggs.  We can eat local with great pleasure.  As long as we can find it.  (As noted the other day, this Local Family got its first of the year watercress at the farmer’s market in Madison.  It’s always a locavore pleasure to go there.)


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Winter Market Pictorial

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Posted: March 25, 2010 at 11:25 pm

There’s still a little bit of life in the Chicago winter farmers markets. The last weekend of March has a few indoor markets scheduled including the Portage Park Farmers Market and Green City (with an amazing chef demo lineup). I’ll be at the final indoor Logan Square Farmers Market (with green garlic and baby sorrel) inside the Congress Theater with my fellow vendors Cook au Vin, Crumb, Tomato Mountain, Macaron Chicago, Herbally Yours, and others.

Logan Square Farmers Market * Videnovich Farms handspun wool

Logan Square Farmers Market * Videnovich Farms handspun wool

Logan Square Farmers Market * Cook au Vin's bread

Logan Square Farmers Market * Cook au Vin's bread

Logan Square Farmers Market * Cook au Vin

Logan Square Farmers Market * Cook au Vin

Logan Square Farmers Market * Anne from Crumb

Logan Square Farmers Market * Anne from Crumb

Logan Square Farmers Market * Tomato Mountain

Logan Square Farmers Market * Tomato Mountain

Logan Square Farmers Market * Macaron Chicago

Logan Square Farmers Market * Macaron Chicago

Logan Square Farmers Market * Herbally Yours

Logan Square Farmers Market * Herbally Yours


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New Chicagoland Farmer’s Market – Glenwood

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Posted: March 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

We are long on record saying that we love all farmer’s  markets.  Actually within the confines of the Local Beet news room, you will some difference of opinion.  You will find market snobs, turning their heads at the first whiff of kettle korn, but you also find others, like your Editor, who can practically stand the most hazy of places, where the produce is wide and ample all the time and always seems to comes from “Southern Illinois”.  Yes, there are bad, pretty much bad, markets out there, but we love farmer’s markets.  We will tell you about as many new ones as we can.

We are hot on the trail of several new markets set to launch in 2010.  Brad has already kept you well informed on the Morton Grove market rolling out this season.  We should have information soon on a PM market in Forest Park, and the agrarian fair mid-week in Oak Park.  Of course, Robin Schirmer’s Market Watch is the place for all the gossip.  Please also let us know of any new markets you come across.

One market we have been tracking for over a year is the new Sunday market in Glenwood/Roger’s Park.  Not only do they have a snazzy logo (the T shirts look great), but they are committed to being one of those good markets.  They will be one of the few places around to get local, organic apples.  There should be a nice mix of farmers and artisan producers like our friends at Tomato Mountain. 

The Glenwood Market launches on June 6, and will convene weekly through October 17.  The market will be localed at Morse and Glenwood, within the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Rogers Park, conveniently located at the Morse “L” stop.  Market hours are 9 AM to 1 PM.




The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month

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Posted: March 24, 2010 at 10:48 pm

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Most days in most months, I think that I’ve got it pretty good. I’m head over heels in love with my husband. I have a terrific son, who is almost always a source of laughter and inspiration to me. We live in a comfortable home in a city a we love. As for my job (or jobs), I always say that while it’s less lucrative than my lawyer days, it’s far more rewarding. So on most days in most months, I feel pretty lucky.

And then March roars in and takes me down like a lame gazelle on an African plain. I can’t remember exactly when it started, probably because it has been going on for as long as I can recall, but March is routinely a series of misfortunes and mishaps. The traumas and bad luck ranges from the mundane to the profound. To provide some context, here are a few examples:

- I’ve had more than my share of break-ups in March, including separating from and ultimately divorcing my first husband.

- Last year, we embarked on a minor home renovation project (insulating an extension) only to learn that the back of our house was in shreds from water damage hidden from us by the prior owners more than doubling the cost of a simple project.

- Two years ago, we were forced to rip out a whole wall of cabinets when I stumbled upon a Rattus norvegicus (that’s fancy talk for brown rat) taking up residence in our laundry room, slithering through a gap left at the base of our basement wall. At least we knew he was dead, when the stench of rotting flesh emanated from the walls.

My health has not been immune from this streak of misfortune. In March 2007, I came down with a nasty case of shingles just weeks before I was scheduled to cook for our now FLOTUS, Mrs. Obama (fortunately the dinner was scheduled for April and the medication went into overdrive starting April Fool’s Day – of course).

I could go on, but it hurts to relive these previous Marches, especially when this one has followed an equally icky pattern.

This year started out with a bang. On March 1, I received news so disappointing that I’m not the first person to blog about it and it’s only gone downhill from there. Several friends have noted that I look tired. Others have seen my scowl-like frown and turned on their heel when approaching. Not such a terrible idea, who knows bad luck is catching.

I’ve tried all sorts of solutions, remedies, distractions to at least sooth the troubled mind. One of my favorite food-related means of chasing the March blues is comfort food. Everyone’s got their version, whether it be chicken soup or macaroni and cheese. Mine is the silky strands of slow simmered swine. When March started its downward spiral, I pulled out a beautiful bone-in pork shoulder from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. After searing the exterior, I cooked it with the gentle heat of my All-Clad slow cooker in a mixture of apple cider and onions. After a day in the fridge, I pried off the layer of golden fat, returned the meat to a simmer, while I boiled a batch of Pasta Puttana’s luxurious butternut squash noodles. After plating, I snapped a few pictures of it and then sat down to enjoy it with the little locavore, my darling husband, and a glass or two, or three of wine.

The glimmer of comfort was short lived. Thor came upstairs when called, clearly agitated. “I think I swallowed a penny.” My usually smart 6-year old who’s never, ever ingested any other kind of inedible object has chosen on this particular day in this particular month to eat a penny. The thought of comfort had passed with visions of coins sliding down his esophagus.

Perhaps, my recipe for braised pork will provide some comfort for others surviving the Winter blahs.

Me? I’m moving to Australia, at least until April.

That is unless anyone has an idea on how to cure such bad luck. If so, do tell. I’ve still got 6 days to get through.

Cider Braised Pork

1 medium pork shoulder, preferably bone-in
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sparkling apple cider
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/8 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, 1/8 teaspon coriander seeds, and 1 clove
1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Dry the pork shoulder and season with salt and pepper. Heat a Dutch oven or slow cooker insert over a medium-high flame. (If using a Dutch oven, preheat the oven to 350 F). Brown the pork shoulder on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the butter. When the foam subsides, dump in the onion and cook until soft and light golden, stirring frequently. Pour in the apple cider and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Pour in the apple cider and chicken stock and add the bouquet garni. Bring the liquids to a simmer. Return the pork to the pot. Put the slow cooker insert onto the pan or place the Dutch oven into the oven and cook for 4-6hours or until the pork is very tender. If possible, let the pork come to room temperature and refrigerate so that you can easily remove the layer of fat from the top. Serve on top of noodles or mashed potatoes.


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