Eat Local Asparagus Challenge – Saved by the Local Kid

Posted: May 27, 2010 at 9:35 am

We were nearly down for the count.  No local asparagus had been eaten in the Bungalow by 8 PM last night.  I had realized that I could have skipped the turkey sandwich and gone for something aspa-like for lunch, but now was too late.  Myself and 2 of 3 of the girls had skipped out of locavore eating for an old school Italian bargain in Cicero, the $6.95 all you could eat pasta special at Al’s.  With too much “samples” pawned on us by Joe at Freddy’s, where had stopped for follow-up ices, I had no appetite for an asparagus snack.  It would come down to the Local Kid back from a day at Great America.  Could she follow up all that garbage with something green?


Saved by her dinner of leftover asparagus-rice salad.  The Eat Local Challenge goes forward.

That was Day 22.  Day 21 was leftover roulade, the asparagus wrapped inside round steaks.

Eat Local Asparagus – Fatigue Sets In, Day 20

Posted: May 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I think it was overall dissatisfaction with last night’s dinner.  It was fish.  Frozen fish but local fish, a slab of lake trout from Costco.  I think it was me not the fish.  I steamed it with the best intentions.  It would be Asian-ish, with black beans.  Steamed asparagus along side.  Now, there was also dissatisfaction with the amount of udon noodles I made.  I blame the package on that as the udon came in 3 servings of 3.1 ounce and the package gave nutritional information for 2 ounce portions.  There was some kinda implication, I am sure that one bundle would serve over 4.  It did not.  Now, I have no one to blame for over-steaming the fish, which lead to awfully fishy fish.  Turning their noses at the foul fish, the Local Family turned their anger on the asparagus.  Had we eaten enough asparagus.

Well, I reminded my wife that she was not individually liable for asparagus eating; that the rules just required someone in the Local Family to eat the asparagus.  So, myself and the kids would eat leftover roulade tonight, with the asparagus inside.  By tomorrow, hopefully, she should be ready.  After all, she purchased duck eggs on Saturday to go with some asparagus.

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Eat Local Asparagus Challenge Met – Days 17-19

Posted: May 24, 2010 at 10:24 am

You know who suffered the most this weekend, meeting the Eat Local Asparagus Challenge?  The Cookbook Addict.  The Local Mom.  She Who Decreed.  It’s her Challenge, baby.  It’s not me carrying the load.  My problem, I just carry a smaller appetite (believe it or not).  Come dinner time Saturday, I was mostly full from an earlier Billy Goat Tavern cheezeburger cheezeburger (double) had on the way to Green Fest; OK, that and the Green Fest samples.  My dinner would be Fox and Obel toast.  Good thing the Local Older Daughter meets the Challenge head-on.  A bowl of asparagus soup, bring it on she says.  That was Day 18.

The previous day, Day 17, the asparagus came rolled up in pounded round steak with ham, cheese and pickle.  Several years after purchasing a half a cow from Farmer Vicki, about all that remains were the round steaks.  Turns out, myself and the kids really enjoy these roll-ups.

Day 19, yesterday, felt again like an obligation to the Cookbook Addict, and again I begged off support being stuffed this day from a lunch of carnitas and chicarron.  Her directive for meeting the Challenge, I would make her an asparagus dinner.  So, I did.  Pasta with green garlic, canned chick peas, ricotta salata and asparagus. 

Although one of us wanes and another hardly pulls his weight, the Eat Local Asparagus Challenge continues to be met.

Farmer’s Markets Shopping Tips on this Local Calendar

Posted: May 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Man, we’re running late with this Local Calendar.  We’ve got some good tips for you to use and our weekly summary of what’s best to buy.  There’s a few events noted, but come back later, we hope to get some more stuff in.

Even more farmer’s markets roll out this weekend, including the home of the market donut, Oak Park.  If fresh, hot donuts were not enough to lure you to the Village of Oak Park, it’s Go Green Day at the Market, with various initiatives and market add-ons including our good friends from Purple Asparagus.  Should not be too hard to find a market near you using our market locator

With a markets a-goin’, it’s market a-goin’ tip season.  Shake a publication and some kind of farmer’s market guide will probably drop out.  Do we need more advice.  Some advice is obvious and often given: bring your own bags; bring cash; bring your common sense–in other words do not expect peaches in May.  All good ideas.  Other really good ideas.  Come early if you have your eye on something unique or early in its season.  Strawberries were gone around the time the sun came up Wednesday at Green City Market.  On the other hand, looking for the best deals, get there near closing.  Here’s some one’s you might or might not have known.

  • Yes, bring cash, but those who pay everything with a debit card or some less liquid have options too.  For instance, you may find individual vendors who take cards.  For instance my favorite Michigan stone fruit growers at the Oak Park Market, Hardin Farms, takes cards.  Nearly all farmers will take a check, especially if you make a substantial purchase.  Ask.  Now, the Logan Square Market has made it possible to charge all your purchases.  I am sure other markets will be doing the same.
  • Know what’s in season (SEE BELOW).  Know also the adage, what grows together goes together.  When you go shopping, think complimentary flavors and dishes.  You can stretch that expensive box of local strawberries by baking them with local rhubarb. 
  • There is no more important piece of advice than this.  Farmer’s rarely want to bring anything home.  He or she that can make that offer for the rest of this, the remaining that, will get the best deal.  In almost all cases, the more you buy, the more you save.  It’s not the Casablanca souk.  You do not bargain down a bag of lettuce from 100 dollars to 50 cents, but as soon as you start buying more than a few of anything you can start wheelin’ and dealin’.
  • They’ll tell you to bring your own reusable market bags.  What about your reusable market containers.  Farmers will love you if you can dump their berries or whatnot in your own container.  They’ll love you almost as much if you bring their containers back the next week so they can re-use them.
  • Another way to get a bargain.  Take their yucky stuff off their hands.  If you plan on baking or something, do you need pristine fruit.  Many farmers already label “seconds”.  If you don’t see such, ask.
  • Something else really important to ask, keepability.  Some apples will last you all year.  Some are soft by next Tuesday.  Ask.  Same goes for onions or potatoes. 
  • Another way to save money.  Wait.  Do you know you can find tomatoes now at Chicago area farmer’s markets.  Grown indoors just for you.  And north of $4/lb too.  Wait a bit for normal tomato season, and you won’t spend as much.  OK< that’s easy.  The other thing to think about is not something several weeks (if not months) away, but something maybe just a week a way.  In other words, the first time something hits the market, it is often a lot more expensive than it will be the following weeks.  Buy the end of the season, it may be even cheaper.
  • Remember, farmer’s markets are not just for fruits and vegetables.  Around the Chicago area you can find pastured pork, grass-fed beef.  How ’bout spicy elk sticks, that too.  Butter, cheese, yogurt and more from the dairy aisles can be had.  Nuts for nuts, you can find ‘em local at the right time of year.  Robin Schirmer sez that the first vendors who sign up for any new market are bakers.  Expect them at your market.
  • One last thing (for now).  Cannot find those eggs.  Peak around.  Many farmers bring eggs to the market without the necessary licenses.  They just might be willing to lend you a dozen or sell you the cartons.

Share your own market tips with us.


We are high on the asparagus season.  Mick Klug, whose asparagus draw rave reviews from many chefs had asparagus line up at Green City Market in multiple sizes and colors, an aspragus-arama.   The onions and garlic are mostly green, although we are seeing more varieties of onions too.   We saw a plethora of fresh herbs including sorrel, parsley, hyssop, thyme, lovage, basil and cilantro.  Look still for wild watercress.  Other greens you may find include turnip greens, chard, rocket, lettuces (you can cook lettuces and rocket), spinach and Asian items like tsao choi.  Local apples and potatoes, last year’s crop, are still around and eatble.

Local apples remain.  There’s plenty of rhubarb and the first strawberries.

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.

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


These stores specialize in local foods:



Saturday – May 22

As markets roll out outside, one market remains inside.  If it’s raining all heck on Saturday, you can always get your local food at the Geneva Community Garden, 11 N. 5th St., Geneva, IL – 9 AM – 1 PM


Evanston Garden Fair – Volunteers needed for the Talking Farm.  The Talking Farm will also have organically grown plants for sale. – Independence Park, Evanston

May 26

Farm to Table Kickoff with Slow Food Chicago at Carnivale

May 27

Goose Island dinner at Vie, including Vie inspired beer recipe

May 29

Screening, What’s on Your Plate – Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – 11 AM – Presented by our friends Purple Asparagus and Myfoodshed.  Background here.

May 30

Pig Butchering – Mado 1230 PM

June 3

Growing Power Benefit – Chicago Cultural Center – Volunteers needed!

June 23, July 28, and August 25

Farm dinners at Chicago Botanical Garden with City Provisions

From Our Beet Reporters – Anyone Can Do This, Right? Stories of a First Time Gardener.

Posted: May 21, 2010 at 10:32 am

While I grew up with a garden in the backyard, my involvement consisted mainly of jumping square in the middle of snap pea plants to retrieve stray baseballs. So, why the interest in planting a garden for the first time? A lot of reasons many of us probably share: concern for what my kids eat as they develop, a few pennies saved on the grocery bill, and the childhood memories of how much better the vegetables tasted, having been picked and served in the span of 30 minutes.  

Seed tray planted

So here it goes, armed with a dozen or so seed packets, a bag of top soil and nary a clue, my wife and I are finally getting the garden growing. We’re starting a few items indoors. First to be planted are tomatoes, lettuce, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, kohlrabi and bell peppers.  With the supplies spread out on our family room floor, I toasted the endeavor with a locally produced beer and filled the seed trays with soil. Just a few seeds in, I feel like some starry-eyed preschooler learning about the growing process for the first time. I’m amazed at the smallness of the seeds and how they can possibly grow to fill a portion of our backyard.  It all feels a little magical. I press each seed into the soil and cover it. I hope I can remember to water them. I finish my beer, and for a minute, worry about writing a garden update about seed trays filled with nothing but dirt and labels announcing the names of crops that couldn’t grow.  My wife is more confident, already planning what we’ll do with all the tomatoes eighteen plants will bring.

No matter the outcome, I’ll check back in a couple of weeks with an update and hopefully pictures of something green poking through the soil. 

Starting the seed trays


The Eat Local Asparagus Challenge Continues Thanks to Favorable Rulings

Posted: May 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

After months of eating from a root cellar in the sky, we had the opportunity to gorge on something new and green, asparagus.  In honor of this movement in eating habits, the Cookbook Addict declared that we shall eat asparagus until we could not eat asparagus.  The Eat Local Asparagus Challenge of 2010.  As noted on these pages, the Challenge has not been much of a challenge; thanks however, from some favorable rulings.  We benefit from two caveats.  First, we can eat the same asparagus more than once, leftovers count.  Second, only one member of the Local Family needs to have an asparagus dish a day, we have joint and several ownership over this Challenge.

We made good use of our exceptions this week.  Until this evening, the Local Family will not dine together en total.  Thus, various family members had to carry the load each day.   To enable the continued success of the Challenge the Cookbook Addict turned to one of her favorites, Home by David Page and Barbara Shinn.  There she found an asparagus, rice and lemon dish.  With some crumbled feta one time and local yogurt another, it made an interesting and filling dish.  Something Mom had for lunch and Dad and Kids had for dinner.  The other big batch of asparagus the Addict cooked up, soup.  The kids settled for that one night.  And if that was not enough, at least two days this week, the Kids at asparagus vinaigrette in their lunches.

That’s 16 days of eating asparagus.

Corporate Whine: “Knowing Your Winegrower” Is One Way To Ensure Integrity In Your Drink

Posted: May 20, 2010 at 3:49 pm

“Know your farmer” is one of the many reasons why people eat local. “Know your winegrower” is one reason to drink local. If you like to know who grows the food you eat, then why not know the people who grow the grapes that are made into the wine you drink? A smaller producer is a smaller producer, whether they produce food or drink.

Although I admittedly drink Australian and California wines from time to time, I get a little fatigued with the corporate maneuvering inherent in Big Wine. Anyone who knows the history of Inglenook, one of California’s formerly great wineries, knows what the buy-and-sell mentality can do to the quality of wine. Unfortunately, there is a whole generation (maybe two) who associate Inglenook with producing wine on par with bad jug wine, not unjustifiably. Along the same lines, there is a reason why Yellow Tail costs only $7.99 and is available everywhere: Australia has perfected mass production of wine.

The most recent example of corporate decimation of wine is the shuttering of Rosenblum‘s winery in Alameda, California, in San Francisco’s East Bay. I am sure that many of you are familiar with Rosenblum wine, especially their Zinfandel. It has been widely available, almost always reasonably priced, and easy-to-drink. Rosenblum also came with a nice story: it was founded by Alameda veterinarian, Dr. Kent Rosenblum, and his wife. In 2008, Rosenblum was purchased for $105 million by London-based Diageo, the beverage giant that owns the brands Smirnoff, José Cuervo and Tanqueray. Alas, it is easy to predict what would happen next; before the latest announcement, Diageo had been trimming Rosenblum’s most highly regarded single-vineyard wines from Sonoma. Then, on May 12, 2010, Diageo announced that it would restructure its U.S. wine business, laid off employees, and now, with the closure of Rosenblum’s Alameda winery, is moving production of Rosenblum to Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley, California, already a big winery. In doing so, Diageo is focused on creating an “efficient, entrepreneurial wine business, focusing on core strategic brands,” which it cites as Rosenblum, Beaulieu, Sterling and Chalone. Kent Rosenblum expressed disappointment with the move, and said, “this is what happens when you let bean-counters run a company.”

Unfortunately, what is happening to Rosenblum — shifting production, decision-making by people not actually growing the wine — is all too commonplace in the world of wine.

If you’d like to keep your wine drinking simple and not have to wonder which “bean counter“ cost-cutting measures have resulted in the provenance of your wine being amorphous at best, then drinking local wine is one way to go. For instance, take a closer look at some of the extensive information on Shannon & Cortney Casey’s blog, Michigan by the Bottle. (For those who don’t know, the Caseys are tireless crusaders of Michigan wine.) There’s this interview with Doug Welsch, the winegrower and winemaker at relatively tiny Fenn Valley Vineyards. He’ll talk about how he started growing grapes and making wine with his family at his winery in Southwest Michigan. Read this interview with Bryan Ulbrich, of Left Foot Charley, about how he got into winemaking after graduating with a Master’s Degree in American Indian Law and Policy. Then, go drink some local wine — does it feel better than drinking a bottle by Big Wine Co. USA, Inc.? I thought so.

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The Trash to Table Challenge: Transforming Trimmings, Scraps and Leftovers into Delicious Dinners

Posted: May 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

There are lots of hateful statistics: the percentage of American kids overweight or obese, the unemployment rate of Detroit, or the U.S. market share held by just a handful of meat producers. But there’s one statistic that I despise over all others. Here in America, on average, we squander as much as 30 percent of post production food. This waste occurs during processing and transport; at supermarkets and restaurants; and of course in kitchens, both commercial and home. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this waste is a misuse of the water and inputs used to produce the food and results in the creation of methane gas as organic matter decays in our landfills.

We can do our part to reduce our personal contribution to this waste. First and foremost, by making better choices in our buying habits whether that be supporting restaurants that don’t over serve us or participating in CSAs so that farmers’ can produce what they’ll sell and minimize over production. But the biggest personal change that we can make is in our own kitchens.

Once upon a time, we knew how to be frugal. When food was dear, our ancestors at the hearth used every usable part of the plants and animals that they brought into their kitchens. Then food became cheap and time dear, and we all became wasteful. With the exception of the most careful among us, we’re all guilty of it to some extent.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and I want to issue a challenge to myself and to you readers. Let’s rethink our garbage can and compost bin as the last resort. Got herb stems? Throw them inside a chicken that you’re roasting. Got vegetable scraps, make stock. Think strategically about your menus. I’m going to start posting my successful creations and recipes made with trimmings, scraps, and leftovers and I welcome you to do the same. To start, I’ll share with you my recipe for Mushroom Braised Beef, which I made with the leftover Mushroom Broth that used up a bagful of frozen mushroom stems. Together, perhaps we can make a dent in reducing that hateful stat.


Mushroom Braised Beef
6 servings

2 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, trimmed and sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 carrot, sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 celery, sliced
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig
1 bay leaf
2 cups mushroom stock
2 cups beef broth
½ pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Mix together flour, salt, and pepper to taste in a shallow bowl. Coat the roast with the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven or slow cooker insert over medium-high heat. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add butter and cook leek, carrot, and celery until softened. Pour in the mushroom stock, broth, and add thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Cook over low heat or on the slow cooker for several hours, between 4 and 6 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat to a bowl and refrigerate. Strain the sauce into another bowl and refrigerate overnight. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan and cook ½ of the mushrooms. Repeat with remaining ½. Remove the fat at the top, reserving a tablespoon. Heat the tablespoon in a medium saucepan and add flour stirring until the flour is lightly browned. Whisk in sauce until it thickens. Add the beef and sauteed mushrooms and cook until heated through. Serve on mashed potatoes, turnips, or noodles.

Chevre may Mean “Goat” in French but It Means Delicious in any Language…

Posted: May 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

goat cheese

Goat cheese is one of those cheeses that everyone is nuts about right now. You may have seen goat cheese in the stores labeled as Chevre. Chevre is a generic term for goat cheese; Chevre means goat in French, clever. It can be found in many forms including hard cheeses like some Gouda, but here we most readily recognize “Chevre” as a creamy, crumbly but spreadable cheese, like Feta or Prairie Fruit’s “Little Bloom on the Prairie”

While goat and cow milk have very similar protein and fat properties, goat milk has more fatty acids.  Those extra fatty acids create that tart, almost sour taste that you find in goat milk or cheese. People that are scared of goat cheese because they say it tastes “too goaty” should know that they may have had a cheese made in the winter and that could affect its taste. Just like vegetables, cheeses have seasons because the animal making the milk is eating vegetables. In the summer, goats are outside eating the grass and the cheese can taste floral and herbaceous.  In the winter when the goats are eating hay in their barns, the cheese can have a more bitter taste. The people working in the cheese section of Whole Foods actually do know what they’re talking about and they can tell you the season that the cheese was made in so you can try it.

What you’ll need is…

1 packet of chevre starter

1 gallon of goat milk (pasteurized or raw but not ultra- pasteurized)

Pour the milk into you favorite cheese pot and bring it up to room temperature. Add the starter and mix in well. Cover and let stand for 24 hours. I keep mine on the top of the ‘fridge so there’s not draft and my cat won’t get curious. After 24 hours dump the cheese into a butter muslin-lined colander. Hang to dry – you know the drill. 24 hours later scrape off the cloth and store in an air-tight container.

Fresh cheeses are great to add herbs to because the have such a neutral taste. They easily pick up the flavors that are around them. Try stirring in some fresh chive blossoms (at Green City now!) or some thyme and letting it sit in the ‘fridge for a day before eating it to get the flavors all mingled. Your friends will be impressed. Also beets are perfectly matched with creamy goat cheese – it’s scary how good they taste together.

Bake a baguette (or buy one from Bennison’s, yum), slice it up, spread on the cheese and enjoy.

I am going on a trip to Costa Rica tomorrow and I’ll be gone for a week! But while I’m there I am going to visit a cheese factory started by Quaker expatriates in Monteverde. I will have pictures and tastings to share when I get back. Have a really great week and enjoy your cheese!



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Eat Local Asparagus Challenge Weekend and a Recap

Posted: May 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm

This Local Family has made it through its second weekend of asparagus eating.  While walking the dog last night, my older daughter and I discussed the reasons for such Challenge, which mostly came down to our lives were not quite nuts enough already.  Believe me, with Molly the Eat Local Dog; she of the crashed window, the packing away of a Rubik’s cube sized block of feta, the chewed shoes, the daily attack on the mail; who’s lives needed more craze.  Still, we proceed.  As we round the bend on to week two, needed yet another ruling.  Before that ruling, let’s cover Days 9, 10 and 11.

Risotto has been high on my wife’s list of asparagus recipes.  One of the most useful tricks she picked up from her long Mado apprenticeship was her risotto methodology, right down to the can of rice.  “Rob uses this one.”  Not only do I appreciate the outcome, I totally appreciate the inherent thrift of asparagus risotto, as the stock comes from the water used to cook the spears.  Day 9.

We had plans for dinner on Day 10, so had to ensure asparagus in a Saturday brunch.  As my wife is to risotto, I am to omelets.  Day 10.

Day 11′s asparagus went towards a brunch like creation even if we ate it for dinner.  On Friday my wife made salmon patties, finding use not only for some spare canned salmon but use for aged sunchokes and celery root.  She came up with this idea for leftovers: a riff on egg’s Benedict.  The leftover patty went  on a toast, topped with a poached egg (another Mado born skill), doused with Hollandaise and garnished with asparagus spears.

Hitting a new week, we ran into a major problem.  Not asparagus fatigue in the least.  Our problem, we had plans for every night through Friday.  There was simply no opportunity for asparagus come dinner time.  So, here’s what the Judge’s deemed.  As long as some member of the Local Family had asparagus each day, the Challenge would continue.  On Day 12, the Challenge was met by Mom eating leftover risotto for lunch as well as one daughter having cold asparagus in her school lunch.  Day 13 is covered because both daughters have asparagus vinaigrette in their lunches.  The kids should keep things handled until Friday.

The Any Family, Any Asparagus a Day ruling is the third needed ruling in this Challenge.  First, they ruled on Leftovers then we had to rule on asparagus nomenclature.  Perhaps we like the quibbling as much as the vegetable.

We like asparagus.

We like it raw and we like it cooked.

If most people call Milanese, with an  egg, we like that, but if famed cookbook author Sheila Lukins has her own version of Milanese, we like that too.

We have enjoyed asparagus with rice, with quinoa but not yet with pasta. 

Nor have we yet to have asparagus soup, asparagus pesto, or with hot butter or hot of the grill.  We have stuffed the asparagus into won ton wrappers, with ricotta cheese.

We have purchased asparagus from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.  Purple and green.  Some really thick ones, but never a batch of pencil thin ones.

We only look ahead on our Eat Local Asparagus Challenge. 

Share with us how you are challenging yourself to eat this valued Spring crop.



Midwestern Ice Wine Goes To The White House

Posted: May 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

If there’s one thing that Midwestern winegrowers have over the oft-preferred warm climate areas is the possibility of ice wine.

Ice wine is a natural for upper Midwest winegrowing because it can only be made with grapes that have been frozen on the vine. Although the water in the grapes freezes, the sugars do not; and as the frozen grapes are pressed, the resulting juice is sweet and concentrated. Ice wine is distinct from many other dessert wines, like Sauternes, because it is relatively unaffected by “noble rot,” a condition that is welcome (despite its name) because it causes grapes to dry out and become raisiny, and thus have more concentrated sweetness. Because ice wine does not achieve its concentrated sweetness through Botrytis (or, noble rot), but through freezing, many believe that the wine has a cleaner flavor, and a sweetness that is balanced by refreshing acidity. Ice wine is a good option for those who are turned off by the cloying nature of most dessert wines.

The vineyards at Fenn Valley, located in the Fennville AVA in West Michigan about 5 miles from Lake Michigan, are northern enough to be subject to early season, cold temperatures or snow that make ice wine possible. Fenn Valley’s “42” ice wine (named after the 42nd parallel where the winery is located) has long been a secret among Michigan wine drinkers.

The secret is out, though, as Fenn Valley unexpectedly received a call from The White House, which expressed interest in serving their 42 ice wine at a White House dinner. It was served at the Governors’ Ball on February 21, 2010 along with Baked Alaska. (I think the White House was aiming for a fire and ice theme here.) Here are some pictures relating to the event from Fenn Valley’s website. Virginia and Sonoma County wines were also served at this event. (If you’re really interested in this dinner, here is a link to the full menu, and more information about the entertainment, the celebrity attendees, and a glimpse of Michelle Obama’s dress.)

If you’re traveling through Michigan (as many of you soon will be as the summer vacation season begins), you can purchase the 2008 42 Ice Wine at Fenn Valley’s winery or at many grocery stores in Michigan. It is made from 100% Vidal Blanc grapes and exhibits a stone-fruit forwardness, with mango and peach flavors. It would be a natural pairing with summer fruit desserts, especially grilled peaches with mascarpone. It is a bargain at $15/bottle. (Wine geek facts: Harvest sugar is 37.8 brix; finished sugar is 18.9%. Alcohol is 10.5% by volume.)

Fenn Valley is having its annual wine festival on June 26, 2010. If you’re interested in attending, there is more information here.

Making Tracks

Posted: May 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

OK, that was a little bit too much rain. I spent a few rainy days in town writing something for the Chicago Reader and by the time I got back to the farm I didn’t realize how much rain had fallen. Oh, sure, on the drive out there I did notice a few fields in Indiana with standing water but I was keeping my eye on the road construction on the highway. On the farm I walked out into the field to find my rain gauge which for some reason had disappeared. I know I had put it in the middle of the field and I don’t think the groundhogs took it. There were no telltale tracks except for a few wild turkeys, a deer, and raccoons. The cultivated fields had turned to sponges and everyone, including me, sank deep in the mud.

My bootprints

My bootprints


White-tailed deer, wild turkey, and groundhog tracks. Looks like there was a party in my garden.

A field this water-logged means I have to wait for it to dry before doing any work. Walking on or cultivating soggy soil will compact it turning it to concrete when it dries and less “air” will get to the plants roots. Instead I worked a bit in the greenhouse, waiting for my brother to shift his tomato plants outdoors to harden off so I’d have more room to place my flats filled with basil seeds. On a whim I bought more seeds: sweet basil, large-leaf Toscano, lemon, and cinnamon basil. Somewhere I have heirloom basil seeds saved which I’ll direct-seed. They were given to me by a family friend who’s been growing them in her Chicago backyard from seeds brought back from the Mostar region of Bosnia. It’s highly aromatic basil is used to prepare holy water in the Orthodox Christian church and I usually use the plants as decorations in the flower beds or along the garden borders. I haven’t read the studies on it, but I notice that the basil plants help keep down pests and the basil flowers are filled with bees – which pollinate the vegetables.

We’re planning on the fields drying out by the end of the week so we can start planting seedlings, beans, cucumbers, and melons. Planning, yes. . . depending on how the fields drain and how much predicted rain falls to slow the process down.


It’s Craft Beer Week in Chicago

Posted: May 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

In any week, there are usually a few events around the area for those who appreciate fine beers. But this week is special. Starting today, May 17, it’s Craft Beer Week in Chicago.

The full schedule is here.


History of Beer, as explained in Rogers Park

Posted: May 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

In a previous column, I touted Rogers Park resident Randy Mosher’s latest book, Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. It’s a must-read for anyone who enjoys an occasional beer or four. But, the tale of the history of beer is in his previous book, Radical Brewing.

Radical Brewing001

Here’s an excerpt (quoted with permission):

c. 10,000 B.C.E. Glaciers melt, barley pops up everywhere. Neolithic people take flat rocks and pound it into a hearty nourishing gruel.

9,999 B.C.E. Neolithic people sick of gruel. Wonder what else they can do with barley.

9,998 – 9000 B.C.E. Tried everything: gruel loaf, gruel au jus, gruel fritters, gruel påté, gruel in aspic. Charred meat is still by far the most popular food.

8,999 B.C.E. Final contestant in barley cook-off comes up with a winner: crock-aged festering sprouted barley-cake bisque with bitter herbs, actually much more enjoyable than it sounds. Dubbed beer, it’s much better than gruel. The formerly neglected Goddess of Gruel becomes fashionable new Goddess of Beer, now in big demand at parties everywhere across Fertile Crescent.

5,000 B.C.E. Formerly nomadic people of ancient Middle East settle down to avoid having to lug around heavy jugs of beer. Civilization officially begins.

3,000 B.C.E. Egyptians start to build mighty civilization based on the motivating power of beer. The whole place gets drunk and stacks rocks into giant pointy pyramid things, frightening desert nomads. As a joke, they appoint a hippopotamus named Seth as the god of beer. Nation wakes up a thousand years later with a helluva hangover.

1740 B.C.E. Sneaky Babylonian brewery accountants encourage use of straw and papyrus chaff as cost-saving measure in breweries. Hammurabi gets mad and writes code of laws describing which body parts to chop off as punishment for such infractions.

45 B.C.E. Degenerate Egyptian ruler-god mistakenly trades Queen Cleopatra to Roman wine-drinking weasel for a six-pack of something “much better than beer.”

50 C.E. Roman Emperor  Julian says beer “smells of goat,” starting long tradition of effete wine snobs bad-mouthing beer. Rome becomes filthy with wealthy, effete wine snobs, and begins its long and inevitable decline.

410 – 455 Beer drinkers from the barbaric North ride their Harleys into Rome and smash up the place but good.

700 – 900 Vikings learn to make beer from grains and tree parts. Heaven envisioned as giant beer joint, with glorous death in battle as the cover charge. Thousands rush to join the army.

600 – 1400 Dark Beer Ages. Monks support religion by brewing beer using creepy-sounding medieval ingredients like bog myrtle. Strong beers reserved foe Abbots and other bigshots.

Monastic brewery accountants come up with the idea of “small beer” to give out to penitents as a cheaper substitute for expensive hair shirts.

Monopoly maintained on the sale of high-priced beer “gruit” herbs, guaranteeing the church a piece of the action on every beer sold in whole Dark Ages area.

1350 – 1450 Hops replace other herbs, weakening the church’s grip on beer revenue, eventually allowing free –willed scalawags like Martin Luther to vandalize church doors, inexplicably opening the floodgates of the Renaissance.

1500 Lager beer emerges from damp and chilly caves in Germany. Soccer not yet  the national sport, so England fails to see the point. A little later Scotland – way into damp and chilly – takes it up enthusiastically.

1516 Bavarians enact the fabled Reinheitsgebot beer purity act, creating the foundation for serious-sounding advertising puffery 475 years in the future.

1524 Flemish immigrants bring hopped beer to England. Ale lovers in Britannia show their appreciation by making up derisive ditties and rioting.

1587 New world Indians show Walter Raleigh how to make cheap watery beer from maize, and American beer is born. Raleigh later beheaded, but the warning was ignored by later brewers.

1620 Pilgrims stuck on small, stinky ship bobbing slowly across the Atlantic, sort of lost and really, really thirsty. They look for landmark, but can only find small ugly rock and decide to land anyway. They show their devotion to their religious principles by postponing church-building in order to make the brewery their first permanent structure.

1722 In London, the story of Ralph Harwood inventing porter is invented. Due to poisonous additives in beer, people start hallucinating, and worse. Consumers rail against the use of such adulterants in beer, which are eventually outlawed.

1773 American colonists pretty sick of stale, highly taxed English beer. They hold a meeting in the local tavern and plot to dump all the ale in the harbor as a protest. After a few more rounds, someone comes up with the much better idea of dumping tea into the harbor and history is made.

1750 – 1800 The thermometer, hydrometer and steam power all come to English porter breweries as the industrial revolution takes hold. Brewery accountants get nice corner offices. German brewers come and take notes. Belgium yawns, decides not to clean the spiderwebs off their fermenters.

1814 Giant beer vat collapses in London. Dozens drown, but in a pretty cool way. Impoverished hordes signal their approval by violently struggling for gutter space to drink the spilled beer.

1847 England’s Glass Tax is repealed, encouraging bottled beer and starting a trend toward paler, clearer beers (which reached its zenith with Miller’s 1994 introduction – and withdrawal – of Clear Beer.)

1840 – 1860 Germans immigrate to America, and lagers replace English-style ales. English finally start to feel better about losing Revolutionary War.

1873 “Golden era of American brewing” peaks with 4,131 breweries.

1890s Refrigerated railcars and national marketing signal the beginning of national breweries. Local breweries send out press releases stating they will survive thanks to “the undying loyalty of their local customers.”

1915 – 1917 World War I rationing cuts strength of beer, and brewers rush to convince us we like it this way. Local brewers start to report some of their local customers are dying off. “Golden era of American brewery accountants” begins.

1919 – 1933 Prohibition ushers in an era of gangsters, speakeasies, and homebrewing. The cocktail flourishes as the only way to hide the strong, bathtubby taste of bathtub gin.

1934 Beer can invented. Joe Six-Pack born in Steubenville, Ohio.

1976 American bicentennial year is low ebb of beer quality and diversity, as 90 percent of the beer brewed in the United States comes from just five companies.

1976 First American microbrewery opens, then soon closes. Lured by the sweet, malty smell of success, many others are inspired to open their own breweries.

1995 Industrial breweries jump on increased consumer demand for quality beer by redoubling efforts to to find clever animal mascots for their beers.

While the book is primarily targeted at brewers, it’s another fun read for anyone interested in beer, from beer author extraordinaire Randy Mosher.

Locavore Dinner at Hopleaf this Monday

Posted: May 15, 2010 at 9:34 am

This Monday the Hopleaf is holding a dinner you all may like

Designed by Chef Ben Sheagren, this multi-course meal features vegetables, meats, cheeses and other specialty foods from producers located within 200 miles of Chicago. Each course will be served family-style and paired with a selected beer from Chicago-area breweries.
Food scientist Jim Javenkoski (a.k.a. @localfoodwisdom) will share insights and stories about the provenance and production of the ingredients while advocating consumer support for local food systems (or “foodsheds”).
(Locavore: [lo·ca·vore]: \ˈlō-kə-ˌvȯr\, noun. One who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.)
Dinner at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 17 —Upstairs at the Hopleaf Bar
$75 per person (includes tax and tip). Seating is limited!
Tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Eat Local Asparagus Challenge – Day 7 and a Save for Day 8 Friday, May 14th, 2010
From Our Beet Reporters – Our First CSA: Lambs, Veal, Goats, Oh My! Thursday, May 13th, 2010
Rainy Days Thursday, May 13th, 2010
Eat Local Asparagus Challenge, Days 5-6 – More Disputes Thursday, May 13th, 2010
Blues into Green and More Kickoffs on the Local Calendar Thursday, May 13th, 2010
Sunchoke Gratin for Rob Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
A Bluesy Evening to Support Academy for Global Citizenship Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Opening Day at Green City Market Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Beet Reporters – Share Your Green City Market Experiences Here Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Welcome Chicago Tribune Readers Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Market Kickoff, Bag Design Winner – Thursday, Daley Plaza Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
Eat Local Asparagus Challenge – Day 4, Family Classic Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
What To Preserve Now, Part I: Ramps Monday, May 10th, 2010
From Our Beet Reporters – New Beginnings: Genesis Growers Monday, May 10th, 2010
Saved by the Farmers Market Monday, May 10th, 2010
Eat Local Asparagus Challenge – Day 3 (Plus a Ruling for Day 4) Monday, May 10th, 2010
Country Financial Brings Agriculture to the Windy City Sunday, May 9th, 2010
MARKET WATCH: More markets roll (steamroll) out Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Eat Local Asparagus Challenge – Days 1, 2 Sunday, May 9th, 2010
A Taste of Summer: Peach-Prosecco Pops Thursday, May 6th, 2010
UPDATED: Go Out and Shop with Our Local Calendar (Seasonal Changes in the Local Calendar) Thursday, May 6th, 2010
A Walk on the Wild Side with Crescent Dragonwagon, Nettle Pesto and a Blog Giveaway Thursday, May 6th, 2010
Victory Gardens: Part Two (2010) Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Lax Locavore Lately Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
The Raw Milk Debate Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Opening up the food revolution to the masses Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
How Does Your Garden Grow – More Beet Reporters Needed/Questions Answered Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Beet Reporters – Why I Chose My CSA By David Mendoza Tuesday, May 4th, 2010