Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Still Eating Local Foods

Well, it's be years since I've posted but I just thought I'd point out that eating local foods near Rockford has never been easier. The farmers' market season has begun and last Wednesday morning I purchased maple syrup, chives, red and green leaf lettuce, and string cheese from the locals and some fresh pita with pesto hummus and pizza from the lunch from the non-locals (that's non-local food).

Kai and I had a great time visiting with so many friends and had a lovely lunch outdoors with two other moms and with their children. We can't wait to go back to Edgebrook tomorrow and see what we'll find!

On the home food front, the asparagus is trying but not ready to eat (the purple asparagus is looking the best this year!). We've harvested rhubarb already a few times (my grandmother used to tell me you should never harvest rhubarb in a month containing an "r" so we wait for the first of May here and celebrate with a yummy dessert - this year it was rhubarb custard pie!

We're still harvesting spinach from the plants Kevin planted in late September that we kept alive under old skylights this winter. Other greens appearing on our plates are the result of weeding... dandelion and garlic mustard. I think we'll make something special with violet blooms this weekend.

The garlic, planted last year, is well over a foot tall and the onions are tucked into their relocated raised bed. Perennial herbs are returning and we've been eating those since before Easter (thyme, chives, parsley, sage, etc.).

Kevin and the kids started sugar snap pea seeds and they're going to town along with other lettuces and greens. This promises to be another yummy year!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cook's Tour Ends Year (photos)

Well, thanks to those who voted... the unanimous result sent us to A Cook's Tour tonight, our last official night of our local year.

I do have to say that the food was excellent at most stops and a few (brio, Octane, Irish Rose, Cru, Chocolat by Daniel, Kuma's, and even Capri) were very creative. Served along with the food at most locations were samples of Goose Island Beer. Although the ingredients don't come locally, at least the beer is brewed in Chicago. We had a great time and enjoyed getting out and venturing into local restaurants again.

Although we didn't eat out with great regularity before our local year, we did occasionally treat ourselves to a meal at a local downtown (or elsewhere in the area) restaurant. It was fun to be out and about again.

The kids stayed home with a babysitter but before I left them I fed them a local dinner which included homemade goat cheese, sugar snap peas, milk, and strawberries.

Speaking of Strawberries
I can't believe the year has passed and it's strawberry season again. I've been sampling strawberries from many of the vendors at area farmers' markets (I've hit three markets, a roadside stand, and Sheryl and Ray Murray's farm since we got back from vacation). Plus, we have our own strawberry patch that we planted last year. It's not prolific yet but we have a steady stream of a few handfuls a day. It's enough to make weeding worth it... we snack as we go. Between eating fresh and dehydrating (already thinking ahead to wintertime snacks!), we've gone through more than 16 quarts!

I do have to say, though, that our favorite strawberries have been from Murray's "Market" at their farm on Meridian Road, just north of Latham. They're only a few miles from our house and their strawberries have the most amazing taste! Add to it that theirs are the most reasonably priced and how can you go wrong? I'm sure they won't mind me passing along their phone number... 815-969-8104 (please tell them I gave you the number). Just call them to let them know how many quarts you want and when you want to pick them up and they'll pick them for you and have them waiting. As the growing season progresses they'll have much more... raspberries, onions, cucumbers,cabbage, tomatoes, the most amazing sweet corn, etc).

Farmers' Markets and Recent Meals
I've definitely been having fun visiting my favorite markets again since our trip. I went to several before we left but it was early in the season and not all of the regular growers were there yet. Now that we're back and the weather is warming up the markets are getting into full-swing and it's like visiting with old friends for me. I really missed seeing some of these folks during the winter months! And I was surprised how many of them remembered me.

We bought some unusual and interesting herbs and tomato plants from Moonglow Organics (Heidi) and Juda Springs Farm (Dave and Cindy) at the North End Commons Market last Saturday and we learned about yet another new (to us) vegetable from Phil Bardell (who sells at North End and at Edgebrook; his farm is called Chestnut Hill and is in Freeport). The root vegetable is called scorzonera and it's a cousin to salsify (which Phil introduced us to last year when we bought a 5-gallon bucket for our winter food stores). Here is a site that has some nice photos of both roots and a recipe to boot. The recipe is not what I used for the scorzonera in this photo but it's a similar concept. This was Tuesday's dinner. As you can see, we're still going strong with yummy foods. The mixed greens in the salad were all harvested from our garden. The dressing was made with spring onions (purchased from Phil) and local yogurt (Bushel and Peck's) with some herbs and a little sherry. The grilled pork chops were from Kathy Spataro McGinty (Open Range Products - Pecatonica, processed by Eickman's in Seward). Kevin spiced them with some ground chipotle and garlic before we threw them on the grill. The Italian green beans were in our freezer (I didn't label that package but I think they were either either from Phil or from Pine Row Farm in Roscoe). What looks like French fries are actually the scorzonera, sauteed with a little butter and some salt and pepper. I didn't cook them long so they would retain some crunch (they were excellent raw as well). Another cool thing is that they can stay in the ground all winter. I think Phil said they had just dug them up for the market on Saturday! I really do appreciate all I'm learning from him and so many others who have taken the time to help me along the way.

First CSA Box
We got our first veggie box of the season from Angelic Organics on Wednesday (thanks to our friend Constance who picked it up for us, along with our cow and goat milk and eggs!). This officially book-ends our year. We received our first box last year on June 19th. This week's box has great stuff in it: greens and lettuce, bok choi, radishes, and more.

So... "What's for dinner tomorrow night?" you ask. Local chicken (meat more than once this week, that's unusual) and local salad and veggies to be sure... but Kevin's parents bought us a Chilean wine and Kevin has asked me to bake cookies - the real stuff, with sugar and oats - for dessert. The truth is, we're looking forward to another great season (and year) of good local eats, even if we let a few non-local foodstuffs back into our kitchen... more on that this weekend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 24-Hour Survey

Note: Poll is now closed - thanks to those who voted!
As we near the end of our year-long project we're faced with a quandry on our final night... Kevin has tickets to the Cooks' Tour of Rockford, a fundraiser for downtown Rockford featuring food from local restaurants. We've been downtown Rockford supporters for a long time and have wanted to go to this event before (samples of food selected by chefs at 10 local eateries, but that is, perhaps, the extent of the "local").

So, here is the question... please select your answer on the poll at right.
Should we go on the last night of our local year and partake of non-local food at local restaurants?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A sneak peek at the next post - traveling editions coming soon (photo)

I know I've been away from the blog for some time again but during some of that time I've been out of town. Lucky for me, I visited two places where local foods are the norm and there are so many wonderful things to come by, even in your average restaurant.

To whet your appetite, I'll include just one photo from one of these locales... as Kevin puts it, "these are some serious raised beds!"

Any ideas on where we went?

Check out the following two posts, also new today.

Sign up now for the first Openfields Local Dinner of the 2009 growing season!

The first in a series of 9 local dinners hosted by 7 area restaurants is coming up on Sunday, June 21st at the Celtic Thistle in Rockton. The price is $30 per person and the menu sounds great.

For menu details and to register/reserve your space, click here for the U of I - Winnebago County Extension website.

Here is the full list of participating restaurants and local foods dinner dates:

2009 OPENFIELDS Dinner Series Calendar:

* Sunday, June 21 – Celtic Thistle (104 W Main St, Rockton IL)
* Saturday, July 18 – Pine Row Farm catered by Kiki B's/A Moveable Feast (11449 Havenswood Rd, Roscoe IL)
* Thursday, July 23 – Octane (124 N Main St, Rockford IL)
* Thursday, August 6 – Brio (515 E State St, Rockford IL)
* Thursday, August 20 – Severson Dells catered by Toni's of Winnebago (8786 Montague Rd, Rockford IL)
* Thursday, September 10 – Celtic Thistle (104 W Main St, Rockton IL)
* Thursday, September 24 – Noonan's (Aldeen Golf Clubhouse, 1902 Reid Farm Rd, Rockford IL)
* Thursday, October 8 – Cru (509 E State St, Rockford IL)
* Saturday, October 24 – Kiki B's "Harvest Dinner" (1641 N Alpine Rd, Rockford IL)

Tips for Successful Farmers' Market Shopping

You may have seen that the Rockford Register Star has started to feature items of local foods interest on their Go Green blog and printed in the GO Section each Wednesday. This week the printed article was mine but, due to space limitations, the article was edited down (understandable). Here is the article in full:

Farm Market Shopping

Spring is officially here and most of our area farmers’ markets are up and running! There is a farmers’ market in our area almost every day of the week and any time of day (see list below) so you have many opportunities to add some local produce and other food items to your weekly meals.

It will be a few weeks before most of the markets are in full-swing in terms of number of vendors and breadth of selection but there are already good local eating options at each market. In the last few weeks I’ve seen asparagus, lettuces and spring mix greens (some with edible flowers!), spinach, baby radishes and other tender baby vegetables, and rhubarb, as well as jams/jellies and fruit juices made from local produce. Several vendors are also selling seedlings; young vegetable plants that you can take home and put in your own garden or container to grow your own and supplement what you have to purchase this summer.

As you have probably noticed if you’ve visited area markets, much of the food that is sold is local and was grown by the person selling it but some of it is not. So how do you know what you’re buying is locally grown and not just something grown elsewhere that a vendor bought from a wholesaler?

Here are a few tips on smart market shopping.

  • Talk to the person at the table. This is one of the benefits of shopping local markets; you can get to know the people who grow your food personally. Some of the vendors have family or employees staffing their tables but even they should be able to answer some basic questions.
  • Questions to ask. How long have you been growing food? Where is your farm? How do you grow/raise this? What do you fertilize with? How do your control weeds? Do you have help? Do you sell at any other local markets? Is this from your own farm? Did you, personally, grow this? (sometimes it’s best to just get directly to the point)
  • Answers to raise suspicion.

- “I have a farm…” down south, up north, etc. – this doesn’t mean the farm is around here and it doesn’t even mean the vendor owns/rents it or does any of the growing her/himself. It is a good possibility that the vendor drives somewhere to buy produce to resell.

- Evasiveness on answering questions about their farm or growing practices – use your judgement here: if the vendor is swamped with people or still setting up, they might not be able to easily answer your questions. Also, they may not want to give away their trade secrets, but if they truly don’t want to answer your questions or give shady answers, maybe it’s best to find another seller who has what you want.

- “We sell at every market in the area.” – Here you need a follow-up question about staffing – maybe they’ve hired someone to staff their booth but if not, how can a producer be preparing for and staffing a market table (a lot of work to harvest, wash, pack, load, unload, and staff for hours) and growing your food (time spent weeding, watering, tending, planting, etc.).

  • Give a little latitude. Some vendors grow much of what they sell but supplement the variety of foods on their market table by buying select items from local or not-so-local sources. Consider this: regional food is good too (unless you’re on the 100-mile diet, peaches from southern Illinois or cherries from Michigan are great additions to your local-food-laden table). If you want only to buy what you know is truly local, then ask that vendor what they grew and buy those items (keep asking as produce will change each week as the growing season progresses).
  • Know what’s in season. The Winnebago County Extension Office has created a list of what's in season when in our area so you can arm yourself with this information when head to the market. Corn or tomatoes in June? Fresh strawberries in August? Tropical fruit? Probably not from around here.
  • One more consideration. Food at farmers’ markets is usually very reasonably-priced. However, the producers who are selling their food are there not only because they enjoy it but because they are working hard to make a living. Sometimes, the prices we pay at large grocery stores are not representative of the actual cost of food production and those stores may be underpaying their producers in order to offer things below-cost or at lower cost to consumers. Just know that much more of your food dollar is staying in our community when you shop local markets and the producers are receiving a fair price. Some vendors will discount produce at the very end of the market so they don’t have to take it home. However, many producers have multiple outlets for their produce and won’t discount at any time.
  • Use your own shopping bag. Not only is it easier to sling a couple of long-handled canvas bags over your shoulder and navigate the market without plastic bag handles cutting through your hands, but it’s environmentally preferred AND it helps keep costs down… the fewer disposable bags vendors have to buy, the less they have to charge!

I’ll see you at the farmers’ market this summer – Happy shopping (and happy eating!).

List of local markets (in alphabetical order):

See the Winnebago County Extension's Local Foods Directory for details and location information for each market.

· Beloit Farmers Market – June-October – Saturdays 8am-1pm

· Belvidere Farmers Market and Crafts – June-October – Saturdays 8am-noon

· Byron Sunshine Park Farmers Market – through October 4th – Saturdays 8-11:30am

· Colonial Village Mall Farmers Market – May-October – Fridays 9am-1pm

· Edgebrook Farmers Market – May-October – Wednesdays 9am-1pm

· Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Gardens Farmers Marks – June 16-September 22 - Mondays 4-7pm

· Midtown Market – May 15-October 16 – Fridays 3-8pm

· North End Commons Farmers Market – May-October – Saturdays 9am-noon

· Perryville Farmers Market – June 7-September – Saturdays 9am-1pm

· River District Farmers Markets – YMCA of Rockford - May 27-October 25 – Tuesdays and Saturdays 8am-Noon

· Rochelle Farmers Market – through September – Thursdays 2-6pm

· Roscoe Main Street Square Farmers Market – May-October – Thursdays and Saturdays 9am-1pm

· Winnebago Farmers Market – May-October – Fridays 4-7pm

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Few More Weeks and Honeybee Update

Time easily gets away from me when it comes to this blog. My intentions are the only thing that's good in terms of my posting regularity. That said, here is our update from the last few weeks.

We're still eating well, although now we are starting to use up particular items but we still have plenty of other things. There is absolutely no doubt that we will not still have food remaining after the year is up. But, as my friend (and garden mentor) Tim pointed out, not only should we get through our year, but we should have enough food put up to last until that item is again available locally. With some things, this will not be a problem. Kevin, on the other hand, thinks that as long as we have successfully made it to the next growing season (which we have) when fresh foods are again available (which they are) then it doesn't matter if we've used all of something before it's around again because why would we want to be eating frozen or dried veggies in the spring when we could be enjoying the seasonal bounty. I think he's right (but that's not to discredit Tim's theory).

And the bounty is beginning again! I'm sure you know that many of the local farmers' markets have started up again (yay!). I wasn't able to get to my favorite market (Edgebrook) this week but I did stop at the Roscoe market on Thursday morning. McEachran Homestead was there this year (they only did Edgebrook and Woodstock last year). They had a great selection of jams, jellies, and concentrated juices. Unfortunately for us, we couldn't buy any yet because they all have sugar or lemon juices as preservatives but someone not being so strict should definitely try them out! I did buy jam and juice from them last year before our year began and everything was great. The juice is concentrated so you can add water to suite your taste. We liked to add seltzer water to make it fizzy (and you could even add cream to make a rich, French soda!).

I'm hoping that Liz Springler will be there again this year. She had a booth last year selling honey (Ed's Honeybees) and beeswax items produced by her husband, Ed (with help from his bees, of course). They had different types of honey, including a deep dark, flavorful wildflower honey. If you don't already know, honey color and flavor are directly related to "bee forage," or what types of blossoms the bees have access to and collect from. Anyway, the dark honey was unique and interesting. She also had wonderful beeswax candles and blocks of beeswax (rub some on a sticking drawer and solve the problem!). I was very happy much of the summer to not only serve my guest local food but also to burn local beeswax candles! I've now used the last of their candles and just about all the wildflower honey and hope to see them again at the Roscoe market.

By the way, our own honeybees did not fare well. I mentioned in a previous post that one hive died out over winter. The other seemed to be docile and slow but was active in the spring. Sadly, the queen must already have been dead because within a week or so the entire hive was dead. With the queen gone the bees can't reproduce. Were we more experienced, we might have looked for the queen and re-queened the hive in time but, alas, experience is not on our side. I fear it's too late to get more bees so we'll have to wait until next spring and try once again.