Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

Posted: March 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm


Eating locally means more than just buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers markets every week. It requires thought and planning to maintain a local diet, especially in the week. Eating local meat and eggs can be expensive, so it’s worth conserving in other areas in order to get the best product. Bread is one of those essential parts of a diet that can save a lot of money and it’s better! Bread and I have had our ups and downs. We sometimes get along. Don’t misunderstand me. I love bread. I can’t imagine my life without it. But that also means that I feel obligated to make my own. It is so much cheaper to buy a $3 bag of flour and make it from scratch. I am hoping to find local flour as soon as I can, but for now, making it from the store bought flour will have to do.


I mentioned before that bread and I have had our ups and downs. The reason for that is because I am only just getting the hang of making it. But Mark Bittman once again is a genius and his recipe for Real Whole Wheat Bread is not only delicious, but it’s easy. I can do that. This for me is a weekend task right before bed on a Saturday night because it needs to rise for 12 – 24 hours. All you have to do is combine 3 cups of flour with, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, and 1 1/2 cups of water and stir until it becomes a wet, thick batter. Cover with saran wrap and let rise in a warm place for 12 – 24 hours until the surface is covered in bubbles.

For the last year I have had an admittedly stubborn mental block re yeast. It’s unnecessary and I get that now, but hey, at least I recognize that I have a problem. So the trick for yeast is this: buy the kind that you refrigerate. Ten minutes before you’re going to make your bread take out however much you need and let it come to room temperature. Then before you add the yeast to the flour, let it bloom in the water that you’re going to add to the flour for about 5 minutes.

When you wake up Sunday morning, it will be bubbly and beautiful. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with olive oil and gently put the dough in the pan. Brush with olive oil and cover with a towel (I wet mine) let it rise until it has doubled in size.

This will take between 1 and 2 hours. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Bake for about 45 minutes. The bread will be a deep brown and sound hollow when you knock on it. Let cool on a wire rack.

Now you have a beautiful, preservative-free loaf of bread that is a canvas for the week ahead of you.

This is a favorite snack of ours. The honeycrisp apples and the sharp white cheddar cheese are gorgeous specimens from the farmers market, and the honey is from Ian’s family’s property in Wisconsin.

To me, this is a local meal. Maybe the flour isn’t from a nearby farm, but I have made the attempt at making the bread myself. And while I must admit that this recipe couldn’t be simpler (no-knead, areyoukidding), I am still very proud that I was actually able to make a successful loaf of homemade whole wheat bread!

Real Whole Wheat Bread by Mark Bittman

3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups water
olive oil

Kelly Hewitt cooks her way through life forcing herself to try new things. Her obsessions include canning and learning how to grow her own vegetables this summer! Kelly loves cooking fairly minimally and buying my food from people that she actually knows. Catch up with Kelly’s blogging at eatatkellys.blogspot.com

Are You a CSA Purist? We’ve Got You Covered.

Posted: March 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm

The Salt, NPR.org’s food blog, pointed out the growing number of gripers about what they claim are “fake CSAs.” Traditionally, CSAs (short for Community Supported Agriculture) are programs in which shareholders front a small farm with seed money in the beginning of the season and, in return, receive a weekly share of the farm’s yields later on. But some are taking umbrage with non-traditional “CSAs”, in which a company gathers produce from several farms or even a co-op, and dubs the program a “CSA.” Here, at the Beet, we take a moderate approach; if the food is local, and is ultimately derived from a small(ish), independent farm or farms that practices good stewardship of the land, it’s up to the consumer to make distinctions between the programs. But, we recognize that it may matter in making your choice of CSAs, and to that end, we separately designate “aggregators”  with an asterisk (*) in our CSA Guide so as to minimize confusion.

How do you feel about non-traditional CSAs? Do you think CSAs should be limited to small farms?

Recycled – Freezing Asparagus: What I’ve Learned

Posted: March 30, 2012 at 9:00 am

Editor’s note: Amazingly, we think you’ll start finding asparagus in the Chicago area in March.   If you cannot eat your asparagus as you buy it, you may want to freeze it.  A few years ago, Local Beet c0-founder, Michael Morowitz, contributed this report on lessons he learned on freezing asparagus.

One year ago, fresh off the purchase of my new chest freezer and Foodsaver(tm) vacuum sealer, I found myself anxious to take home a springtime haul from the farmers market and get it into the deep freeze for winter local eating. I thought that it made the most sense to buy a large quantity of something  I really liked. Buying in bulk helped me bargain for a better price (making my haul very competitive with supermarket prices) and gave me some economies of scale during the labor of blanching, chilling, tray freezing, packing and sealing.

So, about eight pounds of asparagus came home with me and found their way to the chest freezer.

This past winter, I started breaking out these packages and quickly learned that thawed asparagus (one of my favorite vegetables) isn’t good for much. It gets very stringy and doesn’t maintain much good structure. I decided that my mountain of frozen stalks would only be useful as a puree. Sadly, my stick blender wasn’t up to the task (it yielded a mucus-like texture). The full-size blender had to be used to make a smooth, even puree.

So, what to do with 8lbs. of asparagus puree? A lot of soup. Homemade chicken stock with asparagus puree and a little milk or cream makes a nice soup. Paired with a winter salad and some hearty bread, it made many nice winter meals.  A couple other options I came up with: mash and mix with cheese for a ravioli filling, stir into risotto, or sneak it into the toddlers’ beloved smoothies.

I suppose a little googling would have quickly revealed that asparagus didn’t make a good freezing vegetable, but some lessons it’s good to learn on your own. I would have much preferred ten jars of pickled asparagus than ten packages of the frozen stuff.

Will I freeze any this year? I might freeze a package or two of puree for soup or risotto next winter, but not too much. I’m going to direct my freezing energies in a different directions this spring.


What’s In Season Chicago – Yes, Asparagus!

Posted: March 30, 2012 at 9:00 am

We may gripe about the troubles of getting local food in the Spring, but that never stops us from getting local food in Spring. We know from Jeannie Boutelle’s excellent weekly Local Calendar that there are enough places to get local food in the Chicago area, including some farmer’s markets as well as stores like Green Grocer Chicago. What can we find there?

We remember a time, several years ago, when our Spring CSA from Farmer Vicki’s Westerhoff’s Genesis Growers had asparagus in April. April, and late April, we never remember seeing asparagus in a CSA box or at a Chicago area farmer’s market before April. Yet this Saturday, March 31, our sources suggest that Farmer Vicki will have asparagus at Green City Market. We also hear of other area farms like Ellis and Mick Klug having asparagus this weekend. Wow! We love combining asparagus with eggs, and we will probably eat our first asparagus under some fried local eggs. Once we get a little motivated to do more with our asparagus, we will probably use a simple Sauce Mimosa. Recipe below.

Asparagus storage notes: There are several reasons why local asparagus tastes so much better, but probably the most important reason is the speed our area farmers can get the stalks to the market.  Asparagus starts to lose its succor as soon as its cut, so you need to eat it as soon as is it’s cut.  We advise eating or freezing your asparagus as soon as you can–see these lessons from Beetnik Michael Morowitz for tips on freezing asparagus.  If you do keep it around, it stays best, pointed up, in a little water.

In addition to asparagus, we expect to see many other early season crops in the Chicago weekend on this last weekend of March. These include early forms of onion, green garlic, rocket, lettuces, radishes, cold hearty herbs like cilantro and lovage, rhubarb, and Asian greens like Napa cabbage and bok choi. We think there may be some hoop-house items too like turnips and beets. If we’re lucky, there will also be over-wintered crops like leeks, spinach, parsnips, sunchokes, and carrots. Finally, you should also expect a certain amount of storage crops including apples, potatoes and celery root.

What about the real treasures of Spring, harbingers like ramps, the in the moment stinging nettles and  fiddlehead ferns. Morel mushrooms. We know that these items and other wild plants like watercress and garlic mustard may show up at area markets, we really cannot guarantee you will show up somewhere and find them. If you do find this kind of Spring, please share with us.

Do note also, the products of this very early season may be limited. Take advantage still of items like tiny greens/sprouts, cultivated mushrooms and canned tomatoes. Still, get your hands on some asparagus and try it with Sauce Mimosa.

    Asparagus with Sauce Mimosa

Prepare first, Sauce Mimosa with the following ingredients

2 hard boiled eggs (we like ours just barely set, about 8 minutes)

Juice of 1 lemon or key lime

1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar

Olive oil

Minced herbs, lovage if you got it

Separate the white from the yolk with the egg. Mince both. Mush the egg yolk in a small bowl with the lemon juice and sherry vinegar, drizzle in some oil to make a thick sauce. Add the chopped egg whites and minced herbs to the bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Then, boil your asparagus in salted water until fork tender, about 5 minutes.

Spoon sauce over cooked asparagus.

Ellen Malloy Says What Most of Us Are Thinking…

Posted: March 30, 2012 at 8:37 am

… in her very frank blog post about industrial farms rebranding themselves as “family farms” doing the Lord’s work. In this era of “pink slime,” it’s worth a read to remind us to think about where our food comes from.

ETA: Here’s another post from Chicago Foodies that provides some context regarding the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance lunch, held recently, which is characterized by some as a PR campaign for industrial family farmers to tell “their side of the story.”

One Comment

Eat Maxwell Street with Beetnik Rob Gardner, April 29 – Part of the Greater Midwest Foodways Program

Posted: March 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

It seemed like just last week we were talking about Midwestern food traditions, as exemplified by the Chicago hot dog, on the Beet.  Well, for all those in love with our local food traditions and all those who want to learn more about our local food traditions, our friends at the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance are putting on a great show at the end of April.  We’ll have much more on this event soon, but we wanted to let you know early on, to make plans for a tour of Chicago’s Maxwell Street market that we are co-leading, with food historian Bruce Kraig, on April 29.  The tour starts at 11 AM. Expect to eat some good stuff that day.

Additional details on the full program can be found here.

Wish Irv and Shelly a Happy Anniversary this April 1

Posted: March 29, 2012 at 9:36 am

A couple of years ago, Beet Reporter Brad Moldofsky attended the Financing Fair for what was then called the FamilyFarmed Expo, and is now called the Good Food Festival. He listed to a man named Irv Cernauskas speak.

If we’re really going to bring this mainstream and increase the volume of local food reaching Chicago, it’s going to take some capital investment.

Irv talked about founding Freshpicks.com through borrowing where they could, and digging deep into their own accounts. Six years later, he and his wife Shelly remain. They remain as an outstanding way to get local and organic foods in the Chicago area. Freshpicks delivers to a big part of our area each week from an ever changing inventory. We love best of Irv and Shelly, a few things. For one thing, at nearly any time of year, there will be some stuff local, and we mean not just eggs and bacon. You can go to that site in January and find locallly sourced carrots or go now and find local produce including apples, potatoes, bok choi and rocket (which they call arugula). For another thing, as we just said, there’s always local eggs and bacon, but also there are all sorts of other local products like grassfed, organic beef and locally made jams. On any given week, there’s hardly any other place that has as much local food. It really helps you eat local.

To celebrate six fantastic years in business, Irv and Shelly are hosting an open house this Sunday, April 1. It will be a fun day, but go, especially, to thank them for all the great work they’ve done to help you eat local. Details below from Irv and Shelly.

Please join us for the Fresh Picks Open House!

Bring a friend & get a gift
Please RSVP to openhouse@freshpicks.com

Come Meet Us & Each Other

It has been a pleasure to provide great fresh food to all of our customers and now we want to meet you! We think you might also like meeting each other. You and your friends can come see how we do things at the Warehouse and hear more about the sustainable practices we and our farmers employ. We’ll be offering tours of the warehouse so you can see just exactly what it takes to get you your food each week.

Meet our Farmers & Producers
Many of our farmers will be at Fresh Picks to meet you and talk with you about their passion for growing healthy food. Come find out what they’re growing and how they work hard to use the most sustainable practices. Farmers from the following farms will be there:

Genesis Growers
Green Acres
Hillside Orchards
Springdale Farms
Living Waters
River Valley Ranch
Angelic Organics Farm
Oriana’s Orchard & Nursery
And More!

Taste Local Treats
Some of the great chefs in Chicago who are committed to using local and organic foods in their dishes will provide us some tastings. So far chefs from the following restaurants will be serving up delicious bites:

MANA Food Bar
Flying Saucer
Bleeding Heart Bakery
Green Spirit Healthy Living (will also be providing a raw cooking demo!)
River Valley Kitchens
Chef Ryan Nilson (our very own warehouse manager!)

Enjoy Local Drinks
Half Acre Beer Company will be serving up tastings of their amazing local brews and we will be pouring local and organic wines from Lush Wine & Spirits

Win Fun Prizes
We will be raffling off gift certificates to local businesses, restaurants & of course to Fresh Picks!

Kids’ Activities
Be sure to bring the whole family as we’ll have fun activities to entertain the kids while you’re here.

Hear/See Our Local Musicians & Artists
We are fortunate to have some talented members of the Fresh Picks team who will play some music for us & put up their art. Driver Paul Gulyas (of the Shams Band and New Deal Crew) & warehouse member Ellis Seiberling (of Jon Drakes & The Shakes and Mucca Pazza) will play music. Cashier Justin Homer Jackson will have paintings on display and driver Sean Michael Bell will display sculptures.

4:00 – Doors Open, Food & Drinks Served
4:30 – Warehouse Tour
5:00 – Farmer Spotlight
5:30 – Warehouse Tour, Live Music Starts

Our Location
We are located at 5625 W Howard St in Niles, just off Central Avenue. The Blue line Jefferson Park stop, Yellow line stop in Skokie & the Edgebrook Metra Station all come close enough to take a bike the rest of the way.

Weekly Harvest – A Roundup Of Local Blogs Here and Yonder

Posted: March 29, 2012 at 9:29 am

One thing is for sure about the Good Food Festival last week, it generated lots of fodder for the weekly harvest, so here goes!

Number one suggestion, and as Chief Beet Rob Gardner suggested, we are giving the hat tip for recommending this piece of wisdom to our friends at Fresh Picks, from Grist.org, “Make Yourself Useful: Five Food Actions in Five Minutes”

Blue Island Community Development had this to say about the Good Food Festival.

Eleanor Baron has a new post at Nourishing Words, “Politics of the Plate” as her self guided study group goes through the course, “Hungry for Change” designed by the Northwest Earth Institute out of Portland.

A great pic from Ben Hewitt.

Nourishing the Planet is always a beehive of productivity and here is a link to some of their recent posts. One new development the World Watch Institute just released a book, “Vital Signs 2012 – The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future”, go here for more information on it. Their weekly email is always filled with tons of information on projects going on around the world on sustainability and their annual symposium, State of the World Moving Towards Sustainable Prosperity is being held on April 11 in Washington, D.C.

The Salt at NPR’s site always has new thoughts on food issues in the news, the latest one is on consumer attitudes towards GMO’s.

Concerned about the Farm Bill that is up for renewal, FilleduporFedup has a great post on it.

PHLP.org (Public Health Law & Policy) developed a great primer for all communities on the Farm Bill called, “Growing Change -Getting Involved With the Farm Bill

In terms of local food blogs, if you were wondering about what Food On the Dole is all about, Hugh Amano, the organizer of his food “salons”, has updated his “manifesto”. As one who has sampled the hospitality of one of his salons, a vegetarian one, they are a combination of class, idea exchange, a little, okay, maybe a lot, it depends, of imbibing and a lot of eating, making new friends and sharing a spirit of community and fun. Unfortunately, his classes/salons seem to be selling out ASAP, so my only suggestion is to check his site often for either last minute openings or new offerings.

Thanks to Grubstreet Chicago for keeping what’s going on in local foods in their rotation of posts! Wonder what happened to the Chicago Honey Coop’s bees? Grubstreet was the first media source to report on it. GC,  thank you for caring about local, sustainable, farm dinners and food!!!

Of course, I had to include Iliana Regan’s local blog, Finding Food!

If you aren’t aware of Heidi Swanson or her site 101recipes, here it is…

Never fails I hit the “Publish” button and then I see another local blog post that is great, here is Lottie and Doof’s latest.

And another hat tip to Cassie Green of Green Grocer for providing this link to the New York Times writeup on recipes for green garlic. This time of year when green garlic is strewn all over the tables at the markets and looks so fresh and green I want to buy it but then always struggle with how to use it. (I am sure a lot of you Beeters don’t have this issue.)

Finally, one major omission that I will admit did come after I hit the “Publish” and thanks to one of the Senior Beets Wendy Aeschliman to highlight it as it owns piece,”Ellen Malloy Says What Most People Are Thinking“,  it deserves it, Ellen Malloy”s blog, “The Backyarditarian”!!!!

As always, please, we love comments! If you have a favorite blog here or yonder, let us know in the comments below and we will highlight it in the next post.

On being named “scum of the [beer] industry,” and getting serious for a change

Posted: March 28, 2012 at 11:17 am

Not really an investment portfolio

Not really an investment portfolio

My recent story on “Local Beers as an Illiquid Investment” got a bit of reaction. That story commented on the practice of reselling rare beers. The intent of the story may have been misunderstood. Forgive the length of this treatise, but it’s a complicated issue.

First, the comments:

From Yep, on 2012/03/26 at 3:27pm

Tom, you are the scum of the industry. It’s the lowlife idiots like you who make rare beers the hyped frenzy-producing entities that they currently are.

You’re a dumbass to write an article about this practice, as it is universally shunned by the legitimate beer community. Not only do people like you drive up craft beer prices, they also reduce purchasing options for the consumer since breweries have stopped bottling and allowing growler fills of “rare” beers, to prevent the secondary market.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

From Jimmy on 2012/03/26 at 1:40pm

This is the most despicable piece of advice on investing I have ever heard. You are recommending that people invest in beer that they then need to send and ship ILLEGALLY. Also, your small animal big machine isn’t selling because you could have also bought it directly from De Struise. In order to prevent scumbags from reselling their beer on EBAY they have started their own webshop so I guess you might actually have to drink those beers you douche.

From Eric on 2012/03/26 at 1:32pm

Wow, please do not listen to this person. If you are purchasing rare / hard-to-find beers, solely for the purpose of re-selling?

1. You’re going against the wishes of the brewers who work hard for you to buy and enjoy this beer.

2. You will become reviled in the craft beer community, ensuring that if you’re seen at a beer release… well lets just say you won’t be very welcome.

I feel like I shouldn’t even have to explain this, but come on people. Don’t be a douche.


Obviously (or maybe it was not so obvious to some) the article was written, as many of my others are, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I have never re-sold a beer or a ticket to a beer event on eBay, or any other venue, and I have no intention of doing so. (In fact, the Dark Lord bottle on the right was shared with friends last Saturday.)

That said, if I have to get serious for a while, there are several points that warrant discussion.

1)    eBay’s loophole regarding selling alcoholic beverages based on the value of the package, and not the contents, is clearly a ruse — it’s an excuse to allow eBay sellers to sell alcohol directly, circumventing licensing regulations for retail sales of alcohol. But, to my knowledge, no regulators or states’ attorneys general have chosen to pursue the issue of rare beer sales on eBay. The cost of pursuing it, for the tiny handful of bottles that go into any given jurisdiction, may not be worth their time and effort. They probably have more important issues to pursue.

2)    The brewing community has mixed feelings about the practice. Some, like Natalie Cilurzo of California’s Russian River Brewing, disliked having an eBay listing of their well-regarded Pliny the Younger Imperial IPA, contacted eBay, and had the listing removed. Others, like David Walker, Co-Owner of Firestone Walker Brewing, compared the practice to reselling fine wines, saying “Who’d have thought a bottle of beer would be valued at $100 plus. It is an affirmation that there is real passion for beer out there.” Most brewery owners whose products have appeared in the secondary market haven’t commented publicly, but also haven’t taken the steps Cilurzo did to get the listings removed — which might be considered tacit approval of the practice.

3)    Breweries have the right to set a price point for their products wherever they desire. Three Floyds (to use them as an example) could probably sell out Dark Lord at, say, $40 a bottle (although there would undoubtedly be some grumbling), instead of its current price of $15. That would reduce the incentive to resell the beer on eBay, because, based on online sales, its true market value is somewhere in the $50 to $100 range. If the true market value is, say $60, and if the original price per bottle was $40, that’s a much smaller profit potential than it is at the current sales price of $15. So why does Three Floyds choose to sell Dark Lord at less than its market value? I’m guessing it may involve a couple of reasons: a) Three Floyds feels they can make an adequate profit selling Dark Lord at $15; and b) the lower price helps keep customers happy — it’s a “thank you” for their loyalty. If someone buys a bottle of Dark Lord, it becomes that person’s property, and Three Floyds doesn’t suffer financially if that beer is subsequently sold at a higher price.

4)    Three Floyds (and others) could make Dark Lord, and the others could make their rare beers, year-round. By making them available only briefly (and in the case of Dark Lord, only through a relatively onerous ticketing system) they control the scarcity of their beers, adding to their cachet, and upping demand (i.e. frenzy-producing). It’s different than the case of rare wines. Wines can be relatively variable based on the growing conditions of the grapes, which can be different every year, affecting the resulting product. Hops and barley aren’t subject to the same variables in terms of the quality of product they can produce; the scarcity of these rare beers is largely based only on the breweries’ marketing decisions.

5)    Relatedly, many rare beers are distributed only in certain geographic areas. If you want a bottle of Bell’s Hopslam, but you live in Boston or San Francisco, and you don’t want to buy a plane ticket, acquiring it from someone online may be your only option.

6)    eBay is not the only option for acquiring rare beers online. Ratebeer.com and Beeradvocate.com both have forums dedicated to trading rare beers with other craft beer aficionados. Most trade proposals involve individuals from disparate areas of the country trading for beers they can’t get locally, but in a few cases traders have admitted they purchased certain beers for the sole purpose of trading them for beers they really sought. There’s a fine line between paying for someone else’s beers with another beer that person never intended to consume, and paying with cash.

7)    The breweries actually benefit in some ways by having their beers resold on eBay and other venues. It may not have been designed that way, but it’s turned out to be a brilliant marketing move. The word of mouth created by someone opening a Dark Lord for friends, and being able to tell them “this stuff sells for $100 bucks on eBay,” makes it seem even more special. It also creates a halo effect for Three Floyds’ other beers — it creates a buzz around everything Three Floyds does. That may be one reason why most breweries don’t contact eBay and ask them to take down the listings. In fact, there are unconfirmed rumors of breweries releasing limited edition beers, but holding back a few bottles to list on eBay. Are they just trying to create more buzz, or are they simply using eBay as a tool to determine the true market value of their beers, for the purpose of establishing pricing levels for future limited releases?

I had a brief conversation with Pete Crowley about some of these issues yesterday afternoon. He’s the owner/brewmaster at the highly acclaimed Haymarket Brewpub in Chicago’s West Loop, and President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. He compared reselling rare beers to scalping tickets for concerts and sporting events. Scalpers make it tougher for true fans to get opening day tickets at Wrigley Field, just as scalpers were a factor in the rapid sellout of Dark Lord Day tickets. “Craft beer is all about sharing, and celebrating the craft beer culture. If someone’s able to share by going online, that’s great [referring to trades on Ratebeer and Beeradvocate]. I just don’t like it when someone buys a craft beer for the wrong reason … solely to turn a profit.” But what about the guy who couldn’t get through to purchase Dark Lord Day tickets, but really wanted to go? Crowley doesn’t appreciate the sellers who purchase tickets only with the intent of reselling them at a profit, but for the guy who wants to get tickets, even at an inflated price, “Well, a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do.”

So, it’s a complex issue. People who purchase rare craft beers for the sole purpose of reselling them at a profit are generally, but not universally, reviled. But these people wouldn’t exist if breweries didn’t sell their rare beers at less than their true market value — which is, in part, impacted by their own limited-release policies. In general, there’s a more understanding view toward buyers — they’re just trying to get their hands on something they think has value to them at or above a stated price. Hardcore critics, though, condemn buyers for supporting the sellers.

And that’s a very long, laborious exposition of what was intended to be a light-hearted look at the practice of re-selling craft beers, in the previous article.

There’s a very interesting academic study of beer re-sales here: http://ratebeerians.hoppress.com/2011/04/18/market-behavior-for-rare-beer-ebay-auction-prices-in-review/

Finally, I’ve never been called the “scum of the industry” before. It’s an honor to know I touched a nerve.

Local Calendar 3/28/12- Ramps, Ramps, Ramps

Posted: March 27, 2012 at 9:51 pm

ramps illiana
It is that time of year for ramps. Thanks to Iliana Regan of One Sister and of the forthcoming Elizabeth’s Restaurant for the picture. The tag lines on her blog are Love, Forage, Bounty, Sustain, Grow, Give, Farm. She is known as the urban forager, so, if there is anyone who knows what comes from the woods, it is Iliana.  Thank you for the great picture!! Many of you Beet readers are far more knowledgeable than I on what is available at the markets. For those who are not familiar, a ramp’s Latin name is allium triccoccum or wild onion, some call it wild leek while others call it wild garlic. The common element is that it grows wild and is the first sign of Spring in Chicago. Some say that the name of our city, Chicago, really is derived from the Potowatomi Indian name for wild onion, shikago, aka, ramps. One thing is for sure, other than people like Iliana who know where to go on a ramp hunt, the ramp is very elusive at the markets. Ramps get scooped up immediately by local chefs shopping at the markets. The early bird gets the greens in the wintertime in Chicago, and the early bird gets the ramps in the Spring. Now on to local events for the week.


These stores specialize in local foods:

Butcher and Larder 1026 North Milwaukee in Noble Square, Chicago

City Provisions Deli 1818 West Wilson in Ravenswood, Chicago

Dill Pickle Food Co-op – 3039 West Fullerton, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand 66 East Randolph in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer 1402 West Grand Ave in West Town, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market 100 South Marion St. Oak Park

Publican Quality Meats – 835 W. Fulton, Chicago

Southport Grocery and Cafe 3552 N. Southport, Chicago


Ongoing through June 10th Chicago – Feast:Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art Smart Museum University of Chicago Go here for all the projects associated with it. And more soon on the Local Beet!

March 28

Chicago - Soup and Bread at The Hideout 1354 W. Wabansia 5:30pm – 7:30pm Soup & Bread is a free weekly soup dinner to benefit hunger relief efforts across Chicago – to sign up to serve soup email soupnbread10@gmail.com Each week we round up a handful of Hideout staff and regulars, plus local musicians, writers, artists, and professional cooks to donate pots of homemade soup. We heat them up in crock pots and serve them up, along with fresh bread and the occasional muffins, pie, or cookies. All are welcome. We’ve got soups this week from: We’ve got soups this week from: Kent Kessler, Jason Adasiewicz, Mike Reed, Dave Rempis, Mitch Cocanig, Mariapaz Carmargo, Trea Fotidzis, Nate Lepine, DJ Ryan Hembrey

Chicago – Growing Power Winter Market menu at Sepia - 135 N. Jefferson St. 6:30 pm Sponsored by the Green City Market Junior Board – $115 per person, inclusive of wine pairings, welcome reception with cocktails crafted by head bartender Josh Pearson, tax, gratuity and donation to Green City Market. Erika Allen from Growing Power will speak and if it is at Sepia, you know the meal will be fantastic!!!!

Chicago - Desserts for Deserts – A Sweet Fundraiser for Fresh Moves – Sponsored by the Chicago Green Restaurant Coalition, Greenhouse Loft(housed in Chicago’ Green Exchange) 2545 W. Diversey Ave. 7-10:00pm Fed Up a food blog devoted to better food ideas for a more sustainable world is behind this event. Almost everyone has a sweet tooth and Fed Up wants to take advantage of this fact. The fundraiser will be an evening of sampling desserts from some of the finest bakeries, chocolatiers, restaurants, caterers and pastry chefs in Chicago. Buy tickets here $75 VIP, $55 regular admission.

Springfield - Local Foods Awareness Day 10:30am – 4pm at Illinois State Capital Complex This is the 3rd Annual Local Food and Farm Lobby Day Sponsored by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Local food advocates, farmers, and citizens from across the state will come together in Springfield to encourage their legislators to support local food and farms. The day will consist of a legislative update, orientation, lobbying training and lunch. After lunch the group will descend upon the capitol to meet with legislators to advocate for positive policy solutions that support local food and farms. Following the lobbying efforts there will be a round table discussion with Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon.

March 29

Springfield – Illinois Environmental Council –  It’s time for the annual Illinois Environmental Council Springfield Day once again. This year Faith in Place is sponsoring two buses, one departing from 6th Grace Presbyterian Church at 600 E. 35th Street in Chicago and the other departing from River Forest United Methodist Church at 7970 Lake Street, River Forest. Participants can sign up for one or the other bus, carpool or drive to either site, leave their car on the church parking lot for the day, and be returned to it by evening. Cost per person is $50 including round-trip transportation, lunch and dinner.
We’ll be emphasizing our fracking bill and a bill increasing standing for citizens to bring direct suits in court against polluters when the regulatory agencies are not acting to prevent an environmental harm. Come to one of our way fun policy workshops in February or March to prepare for Springfield Day and then reserve yourself a spot on the bus.

March 31

Chicago – The Green City Market Held at the Peggy Notebaert Museum 2430 N. Cannon Drive 8am – 1pm The chef demonstration from 10:30am to 11:30am will be Sarah Grueneberg from Spiaggia.

Chicago – Faith In Place Indoor Farmer’s Market - 10:00 – 2:00 pm Beverly Unitarian Church 10244 S. Longwood Dr.

Elgin – Elgin Winter Market – 166 Symphony Way (right across the street from Centre-Kimball/Douglas) 8am – 2pm

Evanston –  Evanston Indoor Farmer’s Market, at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd at Bridge St., (there is a large parking lot across the street), thrown by the Friends of the Evanston Market – Expect many of the vendors found at the summer Evanston markets, see here for a list of vendors and other information on the market – 2024 McCormick – 9 AM – 1 PM — Read a report from the market from Beetnik Peg Wolfe here.

Geneva - Geneva Green Market – 27 N. Bennett (Geneva Place) – 9 AM – 1 PM – Read a report from Beetnik Melissa Owens who finds, among other things, basil, at this market here.

La Fox – Heritage Prairie Farmers Market – 9-1 pm. 2N308 Brundage Road, La Fox, IL

St. Charles – Farm Fresh Food Stuffs sponsors a market at St. Charles Place Steakhouse and Banquet -NEW MARKET(weather permitting)  in St Charles this Saturday. We will be on North Ave (route 64) on the east side of town between Kirk & Dunham Roads in the parking lot of St Charles Place. Open from 9am to 3pm.

April 1

Chicago(Rogers Park) - Glenwood Sunday Market - The Glenwood Bar 6962. N.Glenwood 9am – 2pm They are expecting ramps and watercress to show up. They are ,also, kicking off their Token Payment program to make your shopping experience even better – they accept Discover, MasterCard, Visa and LINK.  Purchase your tokens at the Payment Table and shop away!  Their tokens never expire and are available in $1 and $5 increments. Say hello to Paula at Tiny Greens, you will really make her day and let her know the Local Beet told you to! (P.S. We are not getting any financial rewards for saying this, just putting some more savings in the karma bank!)

Niles - Fresh Picks Open House – Amazingly, Irv and Shelly and their band of fresh pickers have been packing boxes and sending local, organic foods to your door for six years.  To celebrate, they’re having an open house.  Many of the great products featured in their virtual store will be there offering tastes and samples, and they’ve wrangled some area chefs also to make it a party.  You can read more about it here. RSVP at openhouse@freshpicks.com. Bring a friend and you both will get a gift at the door!

April 3

New!!! Chicago – Re-Thinking Soup – Hull House Kitchen – Jane Addams Hull House 800 South Halsted St – 12pm – 1pm Topic “Diasporic Soup” Join them to explore diasporic identities through the poetry and stories of Anthony Joseph, one of the U.K.’s most innovative voices, poet, muscian, lecturer. Experience how food is often at the nexus of the intersection of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and national identity, and how through the act of eating, notions of belonging are affirmed or resisted.

Chicago – Lincoln Square - C & D Family Farms selling their all natural free range meats from 7 to 11 am in the parking lot at Lincoln & Leland.

Chicago – Andersonville – C & D Family Farms selling their all natural free range meats from 4pm to 7pm on Ashland at Berywn in front of the First Evangelical Free Church

Evanston - NU Sustainable Food Talks Potluck – Know Your Farmer – 6-8pm Technological Institute, Romm L361 2145 Sheridan Road

Western Springs – Dinner at Vie to celebrate Paul Virant’s new book, Preservation Kitchen – $125. The first dinner sold out so this is a second chance, the ticket includes the meal using recipes from the book with wine pairings, a signed copy of the book and a jar of jam, yum! Proceeds go to DuPage Medical Group Charitable Fund.Call 708-246-2082 to reserve a spot. Vie is a short walk right off the train and it takes 20 minutes at most from the city.


April 4

Chicago - Chicago Food Day(10/24/12)  Planning Meeting – 9:30am – 11:30am James R. Thompson 100 West Randolph Center Room 16-604 All are welcome, RSVP to mhoward@cspinet.org to reserve a spot.

April 7

Grayslake – Yes, The Grayslake Farmer’s Market Opens for Spring!! Centennial Park and Center St. 10:00 Am – 2pm

April 8

New!!!! Chicago – Return of the Longman and Eagle (Adult) Easter Egg Hunt – 1pm 2657 N. Kedzie Yes, this Easter Egg Hunt for Big People is taking place again, here is a description of the hunt last year. If it is sponsored by Longman and Eagle, it is sure to be tasty, fun and very creative and will probably involve whiskey!!!!!!!!!! Go to the links for more information or contact Elana@LongmanandEagle.com

April 9

New!! Chicago – Fundraiser for Ground Up at Spacca Napoli 1769 West Sunnyside (Between N. Hermitage and N. Ravenswood Ave) 6-9pm. To support their first project, an incubator farmer’s market is being held at Browntrout. $100. For tickets, go here.

April 14

Chicago - BACONFEST – UIC Forum If you don’t know what Baconfest is, you should!!! Go to this link to find out more.

April 15

Chicago – Food Fight - 4th Annual Celebrity Chef Competition benefitting Sclerodema – Kendall College 4:30 – 8pm

Chicago - Dose Market - Yes, it is the monthly beloved Dose Market at River East Arts Center. Go to the site to get more details of all the artisanal food, clothing, object d’art vendors that will be there.

April 17

New!! Chicago – Floriole Monthly Dinner Series with Werp Farm – 1220 West Webster Ave. 7pm For their April dinner, Floriole is celebrating Werp Farms of Buckley, Michigan and their spring bounty that is a sight for sore, winter eyes. You have probably read “Werp Farm” on menus ranging from Perennial Virant to Brown Trout, Nightwood to Alinea, Publican to Next. The reason so many chefs clamor for their produce is because of the intense care and precision with which Mike and Tina Werp run their 80-acre farm. 7 pm $75 per person excluding drinks, tax and gratuity

April 19

Chicago – Chicagourmet Hosts a Dinner at Les Nomades in honor of Anne Willan – 222 E. Ontario 6 pm, Champagne reception. 6:30 pm, book signing and dinner.  Anne Willan has over 50 years experience as a teacher, cookbook author, and food columnist. She is the founder of the French Cooking School La Varenne, and has received numerous awards. Her long awaited book, “The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers and Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook,” will be published in April 2012. This will be a unique opportunity to meet an iconic name in French cooking, and have an amazing meal with Chef Roland Liccioni in the kitchen and Owner Mary Beth Liccioni in the front of the house. $159. Go here for reservations.

April 21

Chicago – Edible Gardens workshop sponsored by Green City Market -9:30am – 10:15am. Join us for our FREE Monthly Hands-on Gardening Workshop Series with Jeanne Pinsof Nolan, founder of The Organic Gardener, Ltd.  Spring Start: Soil Preparation and Planting Cool Weather Crops. The key to a successful organic garden starts with proper soil preparation.  Learn the techniques of good soil stewardship including soil aeration and the beneficial use of compost, soil amendments, and organic fertilizers.  We will also discuss how to successfully direct seed cool weather crops such as peas, spinach, chard, and radishes.

New!! Chicago – Pasta Puttana‘s Chef Table Series – Conservas Seafood – 1407 West Grand Ave. 7pm – 9pm This month they bow to conservas seafood: gourmet imported seafood preserved in olive oil, brine, or its own juices. New to conservas? Your first bite of salty white anchovies, sweet king crab, or succulnet razor clams will make you a conservas convert, they swear! Their  Chef’s Table dinners are intimate gatherings set right in the Pasta Puttana production space. The meal is prepared before your eyes and served on our custom-made pasta table. Ingredients are sourced locally and sustainably.$85 per person including tax and gratuity, BYOB Please contact Jessica at 773-439-9623 or jvolpe@pastaputtana.com to reserve a seat.

April 22

Chicago – The Pasta Puttana Chef’s Table Series continues tonight, see above for the info.7-9pm 1407 West Grand

April 24

New!!Chicago – Taste of the Great Lakes – Local and Invasive Species Dinner- Dirks Fish & Gourmet Shop 2070 N. Clybourn 7:30pm – 9:30pm Join acclaimed fishmonger, Dirk Fucik, and his wife Terry, in celebrating our Great Lakes region and the distinctive seafood it provides us – including the controversial Asian carp you’ve heard about in the news! This family-style dinner includes eight of Dirk & Terry’s original recipes, featuring local & invasive fish that were caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Special guest include the folks from the Shedd Aquarium. $65 per person, BYOB Part of the proceeds go to Slow Food Chicago and there “Send A Farmer to Terra Madre” program. Go here to reserve a spot!!

April 26

Chicago - Green City Market Spring Fling – A New Leaf 1820 N. Wells 6:30pm -9:30pm Join Green City Market chefs, farmers, and supporters for an evening of cocktails, small bites, music and a unique auction experience as we raise funds to support our market education programs.Ticket information and prices here

April 27,28,29

Chicago – Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance Presents “Road Food – Exploring The Midwest One Bite At A Time” – Kendall College This 3 day symposium is about what it says, exploring the midwest and all its nooks and crannys when it comes to eating. Here is the jam packed program that covers all three days.

April 28

Chicago – 2nd Annual Pastoral Artisan Producer Festival at the Chicago French Market 11-3pm This year’s line-up features more than 70 producers, in addition to tastings and demonstrations from a wide variety of your favorite French Market vendors. In addition to cheese-makers and mongers from around the world, there will also be producers of beer, wine, and accoutrements in attendance as well as the vendors in the Chicago French Market. From confectioners and beer and spirit makers right here in Chicago to vintners from Bordeaux, this year the festival includes artisan producers from around your neighborhood and around the world!

April 29

Winnetka – Pop-Up Wine Tasting and Dinner – Sponsored by ChicagourmetsKamp Gallery 996 Green Bay Road. Meet Jens Baerle, the founder of Gourmetdestinations, that puts together Farm to Table trips in Italy. The event will feature an olive oil tasting with appetizers and prosecco reception followed by an Italian Wine pairing dinner. Check Chicagogourmets for further details on this.

May 1

New! Chicago - Growing Home’s 10th Birthday  - Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum 6-10pm Keynote by Steve James, Director of The Interrupters and Hoop Dreams. Buy tickets here and more information.

May 4

Elgin- Elgins’ Green Expo- 1-8pm at the center of Elgin and is the biggest green event in the Fox Valley. This family-friendly event will include a Green Car Show showcasing some of the latest hybrids; a Farmer’s Market with artisan breads, cheeses and wines; the Garden Area to purchase native trees & plantings; an Eco-Bazaar where visitors can get the latest recycled goods; a Wellness Center with eco-friendly products & chair massages; plus food & drinks from the Locavore Cafe/EcoBar and much more!! Thanks to Melissa Owens for pointing this out!!!

Ottawa, IL - Morel University – This is part of Morel Mania. LEARN FROM EXPERTS – SHARE THE MORELS! Tom Nauman of Morel Mania, Inc. and other morel hunting experts will be your instructors for Morel University. The class is for beginners or anyone who wants to learn the finer points of shrooming: morel habitat, tree identification, correct harvesting techniques, and tricks of the trade. Morel-gathering will last approximately two hours.

May 5

Elgin- The Green Expo in Elgin continues.

Ottawa, IL – Morel Championship Hunt – This continues as part of Morel Mania. General Info: There is a set limit of 440 entrants on a first come-first served basis, and entries will close on May 1, 2012. Walk-ons will be permitted only if space allows also on a first come-first served basis. Also, the entry fee for walk-ons will be $5 additional. Check the website for last minute details.

May 26

FD!! Champaign – Prairie Fruits Farm starts their dinner season – “A Dinner of Spring” 4410 N. Lincoln Ave – H2Vino, Caveny Farms lamb, 5 courses, $100.

June 9

FD!! Champaign – Prairie Fruit Farms Dinner “Early Season Vegetables Unite” – 4410 N. Lincoln Ave,.(Champaign, not Chicago) Go to the link for more information  $85 per person

June 10

Chicago – Slow Food Chicago Pig Fest – The annual fundraiser for Slow Food Chicago is back. Mark your calendars and further details will be up coming.

July 14

Chicago – “A Day in the Country” A Celebration of locally grown cuisine, a bus tour to Indiana to visit the Vandermolen Blueberry Farm, stop at Sweet Corn Patch and tour the Belstra Milling Pork Farm. Sponsored by Chicagourmet.

July 18

FD!! Glencoe - Chicago Botanic Garden Farm Dinner Series – 5-8pm Cocktail hour by Death’s Door Spirits Dinner by City Provisions, Finch’s Beer Company and Vinejoy $200 For reservations call the Chicago Botanic Garden (847) 835- 5540.

July 21

FD!! Chicago – City Provisions Farm DinnerLa Pryor Farms in Ottowa, Illinois with Greenbush Brewing Company & Koval Distillery For tickets, please call (773) 293.2489.  $275 This is a mini-vacation, all day affair typically running from 11am to midnight.

June 23

FD!! Champaign - Prairie Fruit Farms Dinner “Smoked” – 4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) Chef Nathan Sears of Vie will be the guest chef.$100 BYOB Go to link for more information

July 7

FD!! Champaign – Prairie Fruits Farms Dinner “Texas in Illinois BBQ” 4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) BYOB $85 per person, go to link for more information.

July 21

FD!! Champaign – Prairie Fruits Farm Dinner – “An Ode to Frances Mallman” 4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) Chris Pandel of The Bristol and the recently opened Balena will be the guest chef. $100. BYOB. Go to link for more information.

August 4

FD!! Champaign – Prairie Fruits Farm Dinner - “French Country Cooking” 4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) Thad Morrow of Bacaro Restaurant in Champaign will be the guest chef and the guest farmers will Trent and Jackie Sparrow of Catalpa Farm in Dwight, IL. 5 course meal. $100. BYOB.

August 12

FD!! Elkhorn, WI - Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner - Dietzler Farm, Chef Dan Van Rite, Hinterland, Erie Street GastroPub, Milwaukee. $200.

August 13

FD!! Elkhorn, WI - Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner - 4pm Dietzler Farm, Chef Jared Wentworth Longman & Eagle Chicago, $200. This is going to be really good!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 15

FD!! Caledonia, Il - Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner - 4 pm Kinnikinnick Farm – Chef Brian Huston, The Publican, $200.

FD!! Glencoe - Chicago Botanic Garden Farm Dinner Series – 5-8pm Cocktail hour by Death’s Door Spirits Dinner by City Provisions, Two Brothers Brewing & Illinois Sparkling Co/August Hill Winery $200 For reservations call Chicago Botanic Gardens (847) 835-5540.

August 16

FD!! Chicago - Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner – 4pm City Farm Chicago Chef Jason Vincent Nightwood $220 [SOLD OUT]

August 18

FD!! Champaign - Prairie Fruit Farms Dinner “Al Fresco Cucina Italiana” – 5pm 4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) 3 course meal BYOB $60

FD!! Chicago - City Provisions Farm Dinner - Dietzler Farms in Elkhorn, Wisconsin with 5 Rabbit Cerveceria & Few Spirits For tickets, please call (773) 293.2489.  $275 This is a mini-vacation, all day affair typically running from 11am to midnight.

August 19

FD!! South Haven, MI – Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner – 4pm Seedling Farm – Chefs Michael and Patrick Sheerin of The Trencherman $200

September 1

FD!! Champaign – Champaign - Prairie Fruits Farm Dinner -”Fish Fry”  4410 N. Lincoln Ave. (Champaign, not Chicago) Meal prepared by Sunday Dinner Chefs Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski out of Chicago, 4 course meal BYOB $65.

September 5

FD!! Glencoe - Chicago Botanic Garden Farm Dinner Series 5-8pm Cocktail Hour by Death’s Door, Dinner by City Provisions, Bell’s Brewery & Lynfred Winery

September 8

FD!! Chicago - City Provisions Farm Dinner - Heritage Prairie Farm & Apiary with Metropolitan Brewing & Templeton Rye $275 This is a mini-vacation, all day affair typically running from 11am to midnight.

The Gripes of Spring – Part 2

Posted: March 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

If you think the that Chicago area locavores thought the deepest, darkest, coldest, cruelest time of year was winter, you would be wrong.  If you thought we eat localers griped the most during January and February you would be wrong.  We gripe the most in March and April.  I summarized some of the gripes last week.  I complained about too many otherwise locally focused chefs jumping ahead this time of year.  I feel too many look to what is in season elsewhere, not what is in season here-where.  Today, I get on to the more serious gripe, that our best intentions for Spring get stymied by the lack of outlets for Spring produce in the Chicago area.

To battle our Springs issues, it helps mostly to understand what is in season in April and May in our part of the world.  Hint: it’s not peas, artichokes and fava beans.  Maybe not this year, but nearly any other year, it’s not asparagus either.  It is not, as I griped about last week, the stuff that fills too many menus of the restaurants “tired of winter”.  What we can eat in the Spring are three types of things.  First, we can have a robust harvest of hoop-house crops.  This includes hearty greens and small roots.  Second, farmers can start wringing from their fields, rhubarb, green garlic, leeks and other early onions.  Third, we can eat the first shoots and leaves that burst fourth as the globe slowly tilts us closer to the sun.  For instance, watercress can start sprouting even when there is snow on the ground.  Look around.  My lawn is already fully in-bloom with dandelions.  A forager could find stinging nettles, fiddlehead ferns, ramps, and various other edible plants all around.  The problem remains, not what is in season, it’s where to find it.

Ten or so years ago, Mike Gebert raved about the multiple courses of “hillbilly food”, a/k/a ramps, served by the then, VERY avant garde, Grant Achatz, at Trio [the link to MikeG’s Chowhound post appears lost, but this other Trio thread mentions the hillbilly reference.]  Now, sometime Beet reporter Mark Smrecek, claims there is a  ramp backlash.  Between then and now, ramps have become the signature plant for chef’s looking to show their committment to Spring.  To me though, ramps also epitomize the inability of every day eat local eaters to get their hands on Spring.  Ask yourself every time you see a reference to ramps on a Spring menu, where did they get that ramp?

The potential to get your Spring ramps does get easier in 2012.  For the first time (I believe), there will be key farmer’s markets in Evanston and Green City Market during March and April.  Other farmer’s markets are getting a-goin’ earlier too.  We used to have no farmer’s markets to shop this time of year.  We now have some farmer’s markets to shop this time of year.  Yet, the larger question remains, will be able to find ramps at these markets?

It’s not just outlets.  The problem with Spring is that a lot of the produce is not cultivated.  I mean does a farmer grow nettles? So, to get this fruits of Spring, one needs to forage.  Now, one of the great things about running an organic farm like Marty Travis of Spence Farms, is that anything that touches your fields, assuming the lack natural poisons, can be eaten.  So, some farmers roam their fields for the cress coming up near the creek, the wild onions rampant.  That helps.  Those farmers may be good enough for a chef or two, us?  What about a freelance forager, can they supply us?

As far as I know, or can tell, our area farmer’s markets have no vehicle for letting seasonal foragers in for a few weeks.  This is different in Madison.  If you go to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in April, when it first hits the streets for the season, you find guys and gals who come just to sell the morels they gather.  The bottom line, you will find a lot to buy there in Spring. Here, what you can buy mostly looks like what you can buy months earlier.  You know, canned salsa, eggs, good cheese…soap. And those other crops of spring, the hoop-house turnips and bunches of leeks, they’re fine for keeping us from starving, but they’re not what makes us excited.  We want to eat what’s new too.

I gripe when area chefs cheat Spring by using produce not around at all in this area.  I gripe even more though when area chefs use products that are around that I have a hard time getting.  I have a big gripe over local eating in the Chicago area over the ability for consumers to get their hands on ramps, morels and than other items they see on good menus.

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The Compost Chronicles: Urban Composter

Posted: March 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

Editor’s Note: We have Spring cleaning on our minds at the Local Beet. We’ll have more to say forthcoming on our wisdom (or at least ideas) for the Spring clean-up, the eat local way. In the meantime, we’re re-posting this excellent and informative guide by Melissa Graham, the Sustainable Cook, on composting because we believe a good way to start your cleaning is to turn your garbage into dirt.

It’s been almost a year [now 2 years] since the Illinois legislature passed S.B. 99, intended to make commercial composting viable in Illinois. Prior to the passage of this act, Illinois required a commercial food scrap composting facility to obtain a pollution control permit, an arduous and financially prohibitive process. The bill amended the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to remove food scraps from the definition of garbage so that now Illinois treats food scrap composting in the same manner as landscape composting, allowed in the state for years. To read more about the legislation, click here.

Despite the passage of the bill, the dream of commercial composting for residential purposes (i.e. curbside composting found in cities like Portland, OR) is still just that, a dream. Given the financial climate, it would be very difficult for a businessperson to raise the funds to build a composting facility available to the general public and the City just doesn’t have the resources to fund one at this time.

Given this reality, any Chicagoan wanting to reduce their organic waste that heads to the landfill will need to explore small scale, home-based composting systems. About a year and half ago, Michael Morowitz had asked me to prepare a down and dirty guide on these systems for The Local Beet. At the time, I was having my own composting struggles so I begged off. Fifteen months later, with my electric composter churning away and my worms fat and happy, I think I can provide a brief introduction to the realm of urban composting. I’ll also explain how to tap into the more expert worm wranglers and compost keepers for more knowledgeable advice.

To start out, I want to make it perfectly clear, I do no outdoor composting. We live in an old rowhouse a few door down from Ravenswood, the el, and Metra. We’ve had rat problems in the past, including one that nuzzled its way through crumbling brick outside our back door, glided down what must have been a rodent slide, and peeked its way through the gap in our laundry room cupboards. Seeing this, we called our contractor who removed said cupboards and found no rat, but three tiny dead mice babies. Sealing up the hole, replacing the cabinets, we seem to have been rodent free (knock on wood) since then. But I will do NOTHING, not one thing, to attract any of these critters to my back yard. If you’re looking for advice on compost piles, rack composting systems, solar composting devices, or the drums that require turning, look elsewhere, I’ve got nothing for you.

What I can tell you is how we, as a family of three who eat at home regularly, have diverted most of our food waste from the garbage to the compost bin.

The High Tech

Almost two years ago, I ordered the Nature Mill electric composter. The marketing materials suggested that this machine could do it all. Not only would it churn vegetable and fruit waste into finely ground compost, but it could take on meat and bread scraps (two no-nos for the worm and outdoor compost bins). My first disappointment transpired when I opened the box and realized the size of it. The Nature Mill people suggest their machine will fit under the sink (a replacement for the garbage disposal). In fact, it does fit in a standard under the sink cabinet as long as you don’t plan to open it up, which is how you add the scraps. Okay, small impediment. I located it downstairs in our laundry room, set it up according to the directions, and began adding our waste.

The first week or so, all seemed to be a go. But then, it began to stink. Reviewing the instructions, I realized that the mixture needed balancing so I added some baking soda and sawdust pellets and it evened itself out. Feeling confident, I then decided to add the protein that I was assured it could handle. About a half a cup of shrimp shells (spent from making stock) were tossed in with veggie waste and coffee grinds. Within a day, the stench emanating from the machine could knock you back. Note to self, no more animal protein.

A few more weeks went by and it seemed to operating smoothly until it wasn’t. The machine shorted out. I called the company and they replaced the control panel and everything seemed fine, that is until the couscous incident. Along with vegetable waste, baking soda, sawdust, coffee grinds, I added a whole mess of cooked couscous left over from a DIY Couscous table that Purple Asparagus organized for Lab School. I’m not sure what happened but within a week or so, I found these little tiny seeds (or so I thought) clinging to the interior sides of the bin. They didn’t concern me that much at first, until they started to multiply. For those of you who know your bugs will realize that these multiplying seeds weren’t seeds at all, but maggots.

Vowing not to be beaten by the machine, I cleaned out the machine with a mask covering my mouth and nose and gloves on my hands. I started it up again, but something that I did in cleaning must have damaged the apparatus, and the machine wouldn’t churn. Harumph. I gave up for the time being.

A few months later, I put aside the maggots from my imagination and called the company. Unfortunately, at this point the warranty had expired. After some sweet talking and firm talking, they finally offered to sell me another at cost (allowing me to upgrade). Hoping that I wasn’t throwing good money after bad, I agreed.

It arrived, I unpacked it, I set up the culture, waited two weeks (a step not explained in the first manual) and it seemed to be working. Until it wasn’t. Another call to the company, another package returned, and another composter sent. This was last year.

Fast forward to today, after all that headache, it’s working. Situated in our kitchen, it churns a few times a day. We fill it with fruit and veggie scraps, an occasional bread crust, balancing this all with a judicious amount of baking soda and coffee grinds. With a pretty deep well, we divert a large percentage of our daily food scraps to our Nature Mill so despite the effort and cost involved, I do think that it was worth it. I also do know that the company, a new one, did work to improve their product and their manual, so that us first-generation owners probably worked out a lot of the kinks for them. If you’ve got the resources and want a simple composting with less ick factor this may be the way to go.

The Low Tech

In between all of the hassles we endured with the Nature Mill, friend and author Tim Magner, gave Thor his book Earl the Earthworm Digs for his Life, which inspired the little locavore to ask for a pet worm (along with his sports jerseys and Wii games) for his 5th birthday. Ordering a worm ranch from Montana with a 1000 red wigglers, we started our experiment with vermicomposting.

A far easier process (with just a bit more ick), we have a large green perforated rectangle that sits another rectangular box slightly bigger than the first. We lined it with newspaper scraps, dumped the worms with the accompanying castings, and covered them with a bunch of food scraps and another layer of shredded newspaper. I closed up the hard cover of the box and we waited. A few weeks later, most of the foodstuffs had been processed into soft brown bits and the newspaper soaked through. Our little red friends wriggled in and out of the shreds. I added more food and more newspaper and covered it back up. Things were going very smoothly. The bin emitted no odor and it was a pretty easy to maintain. As it got warmer, things got a little dicey as we saw some little flies around the box, both in and out. I pulled out my used copy of Worms Eat My Garbage, which recommended covering the bedding with a thick sheet of plastic. Once I did that our bug problem ceased.

The worms are pretty easy to maintain. I feed them every other week, allowing my food scraps to rot a little in a compost pail that I keep under the sink (apparently it’s easier for the worms to work through partially decomposed foodstuffs). Quarterly, I need to drain out the worm poop that accumulates in the bottom tray. Cutting it with lots of water, I pour that as a fertilizer in our garden. While there’s a bit of ick factor involved in the worms, once you get over it they are actually rather easy to handle.

Over the course of these two years in these adventures, I’ve learned a few things about worm wrangling and compost keeping. Here are my top 5 tips.

1. Always maintain a balance between browns (paper, coffee grinds, sawdust, wood pellets) and greens (most everything else). Otherwise it will stink.
2. Keep out the protein, fats, and bread. After my shrimp shell incident, I keep the animal protein out of my compost. Otherwise it will stink.
3. With your worm bin, make sure the food waste is always covered, at least by shredded newspaper and preferably with a thick piece of plastic. Otherwise, you’ll get flies.
4. Be patient especially at first. With either the worm bin or the electric composter, don’t put in too much waste to start. Otherwise it will stink or you’ll get flies.
5. Make sure to chop or tear your organic matter into small pieces, it’s easier for both the electric composter and the worm bin to process the waste. The longer it takes, the more likely it will stink.

Since this is more a story about composting than a guide, I have a few resources for those of you wanting to find more detailed information on composting.

Editor’s note: Melissa wrote this piece a few years ago. As we have spring cleaning on our minds, we thought t
In Chicago, there’s no one who makes composting more fun than Stephanie Davies of Urban Worm Girl. With her school programs and Worms and Wine events, Stephanie makes composting fun and easy. She sells what has to be the most attractive worm bin, deep green and shaped sort of like a pagoda.

In the suburbs, you can find the grand dame of the garbage heap, Kay McKeen and her organization SCARCE.

The bible on vermicomposting is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. Anyone starting out with worms need to have a copy of this book.


Why Eat Locally? (Original Reasons Apt)

Posted: March 26, 2012 at 6:17 am

Editor’s Note: Michael Morowitz originally contributed these reasons for eating local in August 2008.  Three plus years later, they sound pretty darn apt.  See, just this weekend we heard of people, farmer’s market people of all people, looking for a simple list of why eat local.  We think we’ve addressed this well already.

I don’t eat locally for any one reason. There are a number of reasons that have a bearing on any local food decision that I make. First and foremost, I’m interested in food and I like to know a lot about where my food comes from. Below are five other reasons that might make sense to you. You might not agree with all of them, but I hope that one or two resonate with you:


First and foremost, what drew me to local, seasonal eating was simply taste. My passion for new and exciting flavors taught me that the closer something is to its original source and natural state, the more likely it is to have a better, stronger flavor. Of course, “better flavor” is a subjective notion, but I believe that there are few people who would argue with the taste difference between a fresh peach picked ripe from the tree and a peach that was picked underripe a week ago, and gassed during its 2000-mile journey to force ripening.

Global Environment

There are a number of studies and statistics on both sides of the question of the environmental impact of local eating. I don’t find it interesting or compelling to quote studies and statistics, but I do believe strongly that supporting local farmers, especially farmers using sustainable practices, lessens our impact on the environment.

Local Economy

Eating locally helps support local agriculture and local small businesses. Choosing to do business with our friends and neighbors helps keep a healthy and diverse local economy.

Diverse Culture

I find it depressing that you can enter a supermarket almost anywhere in the country and see the exact same produce shipped from the exact same places. Grapes from Chile, oranges from Australia (I even saw this in Florida!), berries from Mexico. I believe that what we eat defines a large part of our culture. When we homogenize our diets from Maine to California we’re degrading what makes our cities and states interesting and enjoyable places to live.

Food Safety

When you know exactly where your food comes from, it’s much easier to find the source of a problem. Multi-state large-scale salmonella or e. coli outbreaks are harder to diagnose or control when our food comes from all over the world.


Local Beers as an Illiquid Investment

Posted: March 24, 2012 at 2:23 am

I’m potentially set for life. Well, maybe not for life, but at least for a couple of days.

I’ve invested in local beers.

Part of my investment portfolio

Part of my investment portfolio

With friends, we had several computers going at the witching hour of noon on St. Patrick’s Day, for a chance at two of the available 6,000 tickets required to get you on the property; tickets that give you the right to purchase several bottles of the 2012 edition of Three Floyd’s legendary Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. Tickets sold out within three minutes, but within an hour the $15 tickets alone — which only let you in, you still have to purchase the beer — were being auctioned on eBay for $495 a pair. Bids for the tickets were running over $800 per pair at last check. That’s a potential 2,666.7% return in one day. Even Bernie Madoff couldn’t pull off that kind of return.

But I’m not selling the tix. I want the beer.

Last year, after being lucky enough to acquire a couple of tickets, I spent several hours in line in Three Floyds’nondescript industrial park in Munster, Indiana. It was a fun time — some described it as a mini-Woodstock.

I left with four bottles of the precious Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. $15 each. Similar bottles are listed on eBay now for between $50 and $100 per bottle. At the low end, that’s a 333% return. I consider myself very lucky if any of my accounts at Fidelity Investments do even one-fifth as well.

EBay’s policy on these sales is that the value of the item is in the collectible container and not its contents, the container has never been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption, the item is not available at any retail outlet, and the container has a value that substantially exceeds the current retail price of the alcohol in the container.

In the words of Monty Python, “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.”

But it’s not limited to Three Floyds. My Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout (paid $42 for the bottle) is now listed for $78, an 85% return. A bottle of Bell’s Hopslam, for which I paid $18 for a six-pack two months ago, is now going for $34, an 89% return (or 1,133% on an annualized basis). And the Bell’s Batch 10,000, which was also $18 a six-pack, is now listed for $15 a bottle, a 500% return.

We’re fortunate in our region to have Ratebeer’s three best breweries in the world: Three Floyds, Founder’s and Bell’s. Because if you’re going to invest in beers, you need to get less-common releases from well-known breweries.

Which brings me to the basic principles of beer investing:

1) Buy beers from breweries that have good cachet. In addition to the three above, New Glarus and Goose Island (especially Bourbon County Stout releases) frequently get premiums for their limited releases.

2) Invest in only big, high-alcohol, age-worthy beers. No one wants a 1997 bottle of Old Style.

3) Buy limited releases. The harder they are to get, the better. Anyone who can get through during the three minute window to get Dark Lord Day tickets, and then wait in line for a couple of hours to buy the beer, deserves a significant return for the time and effort.

Other breweries have caught on to the Dark Lord Day model; it’ll be interesting to see if they can get as much traction out of the one-day-only style of selling their beers.

It doesn’t always work, though. I still have a couple of bottles of Small Animal Big Machine, a collaboration from Half Acre, Pipeworks, and DeStruisse. It’s a great beer — I had to wait in line to get it — but there’s no online market for it. I’m guessing that Half Acre, Pipeworks, and DeStruisse don’t have the name recognition of Three Floyds et al among beer collectors. I might actually have to drink it.

Hey, I might even give you a bottle or two … in return for a generous annuity.


The Weather Outside is Frightful?

Posted: March 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Right now, the sun is beaming here in Chicago and we’ve just set another record day for high temperatures.  My car Indicated it was in the 80′s today. All of the talk here has turned to the weather, so much so that you would think we were Brits, but we aren’t.

Here are some of the weather-comments I’ve heard and seen:

I’m worried about a hard freeze.

I’m worried about global warming.

I’m too hot!

With comments like the one’s above you would think we weren’t the same folks who managed just fine during Snowpocalypse 2011.

Folks, the USDA hardiness zone changes make the odds of a freeze about as likely as the odds that I will win tomorrow’s Megamillions $290 Million alone. Can it happen? Of course it can. But right now, stop fretting about this delightful, not the least bit frightful, weather and just plant already!

Heritage Apple Trees at Logan Square Farmer’s Market Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
The Gripes of Spring – Part 1 Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
The Weekly Harvest – Roundup of Blogs Here and Yonder Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
UPDATED! (TWICE) – We All Thought It Was a Good Food Festival Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinners on Sale Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
Garbage Disposal Pasta Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
It Was a Good Food Festival Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
Local Calendar – Farm Dinner Scheduling Has Started Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
The Annual Spring Migration Came Early Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Additional Thoughts on the Chicago Hot Dog Monday, March 19th, 2012
Stay Involved – Fruit Grafting Workshop with Slow Food Chicago and the Papple Lady Sunday, March 18th, 2012
Stay Involved – AUA Steering Committee This Tuesday – Open to All! Sunday, March 18th, 2012
Welcome to the Local Beet Sunday, March 18th, 2012
Far North Side/Evanston Winter Markets: March Update Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Follow Us Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Just Because It is Called French It Can Still be Local Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
The Local Calendar – 3/14 Soon Garlic, Spring Onions… Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Sky Full of Bacon’s The Butcher’s Karma Premieres as Part of the Good Food Festival Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
The Local Beet’s With The Good Food Festival Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Weekly Harvest 3/8 Blogs Here and Yonder Thursday, March 8th, 2012
The Weekly Calendar 3/7 Greens, greens, everyone wants greens! Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Beet Farmer-Reporter Has Fun, as Usual at 23rd Annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference Friday, March 2nd, 2012
UPDATED! – Learn from the Masters with Gold Package Workshops at the Good Food Festival Thursday, March 1st, 2012