Thursday, July 24, 2008

Desperately Seeking Rolled Oats (photos and video)

Oats have been an important part of our diets for years. We all just love a bowl of thick, uncooked oats with milk or yogurt and nuts or fruit for breakfast, especially Neva. We use oats in our pancakes, our muffins, our breads, and many of our desserts - and that’s just the rolled form, I also grind oats for flour (and of course we cook them in winter for a hot breakfast as well). We knew all along that we would want to find local oats.

Back in March, we were returning by bus from O’Hare when we met another couple and struck up a conversation about our respective trips. Small talk with strangers inevitably leads to the “so where do you live?” and “what do you do?” questions. We learned that they own a farm outside of Paw Paw and grow, among other things, oats and wheat. Although we were still a few months away from beginning our year of eating locally, we were already trying to source the things we knew we would need. So we were excited to learn about the oats.

Then at the end of June, we were going to central Illinois for a wedding and would be driving right past Paw Paw. Of course, Paw Paw is within 100 miles of our home but we wanted to be efficient. So I talked with the farmer, Johnnie, about picking up some oats. I learned that a bushel of oats weighs 32 pounds, and that he charges 50 cents extra to gather them from the top of the grain bin. All-told, we paid $3.50 a bushel for four bushels and also bought some bails of straw to use a garden mulch. Johnnie was friendly and helpful and his kindness was extended further when he insisted on giving us a bouquet of wheat for our table and a bucket of lime to amend the soil in our garden (which I haven’t tested the ph of yet so I don’t know if it needs to be amended for next year!).

Neva enjoyed looking at the freshly-washed combine and walking up to the edge of the wheat and oat fields. I loved standing at the edge of that field of almost-ripe grains and listening to the wind whip it around and watching the waves work their way back and forth across the expanse.

If you watch the video below of the windy wheat field, turn the volume down... the wind makes a terrible racket against the microphone of our little camera.
video

We brought back our oats and then set about figuring out how to process them. We decided that even if it didn’t work, we were out less than $15 and we could give the oats to someone we know who boards horses. But, if we were successful… we would happily have oats all year!

We had a small hand-operated mill that we could use to grind oats into flour and Kevin’s parents have another one with two metal rollers that would allow us to roll the oats. The first thing we tried was to run the oats through the mill as they were. This created rolled oats with flattened hulls pressed firmly into the groats… not so appetizing. So we needed a method to remove hull from groat. Kevin began researching methods and found that it’s not as easy as removing wheat chaff. Apparently, the process is best done with a spinning stone wheel and the oats dropped from a height or with two stone wheels rotating at a distance from each other. To further complicate matters, oats contain more fat than other grains and so are not shelf stable unless they’ve been heated in a kiln (or steamed in the process of hull removal). If left untreated by heat, the oat groats will turn rancid within four days once the hulls are removed. Here is a link to Wikipedia that describes how it works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oat

Then a few weeks ago I met someone at Angelic Organics who was picking up her vegetable share and she told me that she once had oats in hulls and had had some success with soaking the grains overnight and then having her kids agitate them underwater. She said the hulls just floated up to the top of the water. I tried that too, even soaking and agitating in turns for 48 hours and far fewer than 50% of the hulls came off, making this method less-than-successful for me.

Now Kevin is looking into mills in the area to try to learn if any process oats. Some, like Graue Mill in Oakbrook, IL, used to process oats back when you couldn’t buy Bob’s Red Mill or Quaker off the shelf but don’t seem to do so anymore. Incidentally, Graue Mill does still grind corn and they make the freshest, finest (in coarse or fine grind) corn meal I’ve ever tasted. I haven’t talked with them yet to determine if the corn they use is local but I intend to do so. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and fondly remember a class field trip to the mill when I was in the fifth grade… my mom has been buying their corn meal ever since.

Back to the oats… we’re still seeking a good way to process them as we look forlornly upon the four large bags in the corner of our kitchen. We haven’t given up yet but I guess we can always do what our friend did when she came to visit last weekend, she just snacked on the grains, hulls and all, and spit out the hull like a sunflower kernel hull. It’s just not the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wine Update

I learned from one of the farmers at Tomorrow's Harvest CSA that there is a winery in Woodstock that produces wine from estate-grown grapes! It is called Saluté! Farm (which also has a CSA for those of you in that area). I haven't tasted the wine yet but I placed their link in the web links column. The wine they sell is from their first production year. I will have to save it for a special ocassion, however, as it is a little pricey for an everyday wine (for me, anyway). But I will be sure to try it.

Also, "vi" commented about the previous wine post with some names of regional producers of spirits. Two are outside of our 100-mile radius so won't work for this year and the third is closer but I have yet to contact them to learn about the sources of their raw grains and such... I suspect therein will lie the problem. Here are the names/URLs for each though, so you can check them out!

Death's Door Spirits (Washington Island, WI)
They source their grain and ingredients right on the island from small-scale farmers. Their website does state that they buy things they can't get on the island "as locally as possible." They produce gin and vodka.
http://www.deathsdoorspirits.com/

Templeton Rye (Templeton, IA)
Originally created and distributed during Prohibition (or so their marketing claims), they make whisky from high-quality rye.
http://www.templetonrye.com/

North Shore Distillery (Lake Bluff, IL)
Small batch spirits including gins, vodkas, and specialty "artisan collections" including absinthe and aquivit. I doubt the ingredients are local (with flavors like mango and vanilla) but it looks like some interesting stuff!
http://www.northshoredistillery.com/

There is just such cool stuff in our region!

Giddy Satisfaction (photos and video)

I finally had a chance to return to my work in the garden Tuesday morning. I actually hired a babysitter in order to have a few uninterrupted hours – we don’t hire babysitters to go out, only to get work done! Hmmm. Anyway, the raised beds are looking quite good, very few weeds, happy and healthy plants. However, the ground-level beds are a mess, growing a fine crop of crab grass along with our vegetables. Still, I spent most of my time on the raised beds which have not had our attention for weeks.

The cucumbers must truly like the amount of rain and humidity we’ve had over the past weeks because they have all grown together and are slowly infringing upon the space of the other plants in that section of the garden. I think I need to nickname the cucumber Audrey II. Not that it’s craving blood but it’s definitely growing fast and taking over; it’s even trying to fill the walkway between two raised beds!

I had to be a bit brutal with it, first tying up what I could to the tripods I had placed for this purpose when I seeded, and then trimming off a large section that had no good place to go (good compost, right?!). I swear that when I looked at the cucumber vines last week I saw only a few very immature fruits. Well, yesterday I harvested ELEVEN good-sized cukes! I didn’t even realize they were there until I started to sort out the vines that were escaping the side of the bed and realized they were hanging below that mess. My analogy comparing myself to the kid watching seeds sprout for the first time continues as I squealed with laughter when I realized my new bounty.

We have given a few cucumbers away, to the family of the babysitter and some friends of ours, but we’ve already eaten six or seven ourselves. Neva polished off one by herself while we were making dinner! Does anyone know a good way to preserve cucumbers (besides pickling)?

When I loosed the twisty cucumber runners from the top of the bush bean supports I also found that I had more than a quart of green beans awaiting picking. Yummy! We eat green beans raw as a snack around here so I sampled as I was working and then Neva dove in when I brought the basket into the house. The cucumbers and green beans were SO GOOD! Each sweet and flavorful in their own way and so crisp and juicy – I don’t know that I’ve ever had them so fresh from the plant.

I moved a few bell pepper plants that were being encroached upon by the beans (since they were being encroached upon by the cucumbers) and did a little weeding in the beds (less than a dozen weeds in each). I harvested a few more beets (I’ve been taking a few each week) and then moved on to the tomato bed.

Ahh, the tomato bed… a scary situation. When I planted the seedlings I planted them quite close together. I had read about a method for producing tomatoes where they are grown more like a vine than a bushy plant. So I had intended to construct a frame and string the tomatoes up, trained as vines. My first design for a frame and string system was not going to work, I had planned to string twine between two tripods but I set it up and realized there would not be enough strength to carry the weight of the plants and fruit. Kevin had another idea which utilized some old posts, still set in concrete, that were lying around in the barn (gotta love repurposed stuff!). He planted the concrete bases on either side of the bed and then devised a sturdy wooden frame to mount on top and go the length of the bed. Unfortunately, he has been so busy (and had some technical difficulties with tools) that he just finished this frame on Monday night, many weeks after we had planned to rig something up.

So, when I went out Tuesday morning to string up my tomatoes, the inevitable had happened… they had grown! They look like a solid four-foot by twelve-foot shrub that stands about three-and-a-half feet high. I started to prune and place my strings but felt like I was fighting hopelessly. The main stems are thick and water-filled and, as such, not very flexible and I’m having trouble making out which branches belong to which plant. I think I need to thin the plants and then work to train them as well as I can at this late date. To further frustrate matters, as I was working with them, unripe fruit fell off. I guess I’m back to where I started in my garden in the woods so many years ago… to my green tomato recipes.

I also discovered that the tomato hornworms have already found my tomato bed. I had rather hoped we wouldn’t be seeing them this year, figuring it would take them a while to find the new planting. Not so! They sure are cool looking caterpillars though; I almost hate to kill something so beautiful… almost. Two of them were covered with oblong, white, egg-looking things which I took to be hornworm eggs. I stepped on them even more ferociously. After a brief internet search, I’ve since found that they are actually another insect parasite! They are the eggs of a parasitic wasp which will eventually kill the hornworm. I also learned that I should not have killed those with the eggs… oops. My knowledge grows by leaps and bounds!

I did see evidence of many helpful insects in the garden. The bumblebees were noisily pollinating the cucumbers and tomatoes (didn’t see my honeybees though) and each cabbage was happily inhabited by a helpful spider, presumably gobbling up any white cabbage moths that try to feast on my food.

video
So, the learning continues, the plants keep growing, and I spent some time feeling the giddy satisfaction of knowing that I am producing something terrifically yummy out of practically nothing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Garden Progress (photos)

It seems I can't help but be two weeks behind reality with the photos. Here are a few taken June 29th. I keep sharing the raised bed photos for comparisson and progress. As you can see, we harvested all the rest of the radishes that day, although I admit that I waited about a week too long, they were better the week before. We enjoyed both the radish and the greens in various dishes for several weeks! I will have to go out and take a few more recent photos again soon!


W(h)ine Shopping

A friend of mine was relaying to me her dismay with her own experiences when trying to source local food while making dinner last week. She had gone to a local meat seller and asked the salesperson where the pork came from. I think the first answer was something like, “a pig,” so she switched tack and asked which of the meats available that day came from local animals. Not only could the woman not tell her (which could be understandable, I suppose) but she got rather snippy with my friend, acting exsapserated that she would even ask such a question.

I must admit that I, too, have experienced such poor customer service/human interaction. Of course, most of the producers and local storekeepers I deal with are fantastic, friendly, helpful, and thoughtful. However, some just don’t fit any of those descriptions!

The week prior to Independence Day I knew I would need to find some local wine to serve to our guests. We had consumed the two bottles from Wollersheim in June so I thought I might set about finding some more. I learned from their website (see web links) that it could be purchased at Woodman’s in Wisconsin. The site only listed Wisconsin locations though so I thought I might try Woodman’s here in Rockford. I called the morning of July 3rd to see if I might have any luck and talked to a very friendly gentleman who sounded knowledgeable enough to have been a manager (unfortunately, I did not ask his name). He knew the Wollersheim name and immediately explained that only the Wisconsin stores carried that label.

He asked if there was anything else I was looking for and I thought I would pose my question to him… "Are there any wine producers within 100 miles who grow and use their own local grapes?" He was able to immediately list off some Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin wineries, as well as a few in Iowa, but he was unsure about who grew their own grapes and who did not. I took the list he gave me to the Web to do a little research and here is what I found (in relation of our local eating project):

Fox Valley Winery - Tasting rooms in Oswego and Sandwich, IL. Much of their grapes are grown by R.A. Faltz Vineyard, just south of Sandwich. However, they purchase many of their grapes, although quite a few come from southern Illinois and those that do are clearly marked "Illinois Wine."
Illinois Cellars – too far, southern Illinois
Oliver Winery – too far, Bloomington, Indiana
MassBach Ridge Winery – quite close! It’s outside of Elizabeth, IL (near Stockton). Their website states that they make wines “primarily” from grapes grown in Jo Davies County. Unfortunately, we haven’t tried any of their wines yet because I failed to ask the Woodman’s manager for a spelling and didn’t find it when I searched incorrectly. I see that their Reserve just took a silver medal in the Illinois State Wine Tasting competition and will look forward to trying it in the future.
Prairie State Winery – they seem to purchase all or most of their grapes so I did not try them. This is definitely also the case with Galena Cellars, they do so much volume that they must purchase grapes (they call their Galena-area vineyard “experimental.”

I had looked at one grocery store (Logli’s) a few weeks prior to this and found no wine local enough to count for our project (although they did have some Illinois and Indiana wines).

Going to Woodman’s

I used to shop Woodman’s when I lived in Wisconsin and go occasionally here in Rockford, although more often when I worked in that part of town. I was a little surprised to see how busy they were when I arrived late in the morning on July 3rd. I made my way to the liquor department and started looking in the areas where I expected there to be Illinois wine. I found some, but not what I was looking for (Fox Valley Winery). As I came to the end of an aisle I could hear something heavy rolling toward me from the cross-aisle at the back so I stopped and waited for it to pass. When it didn’t, I made my way into the other aisle and saw a woman stocking from a heavily laden cart. Going past her proved impossible (I had Kai in the stroller and Neva in tow) as she had parked smack-dab in the middle of the narrow aisle. I said, “Excuse me” and she pulled the cart out of my way while saying, “You have to watch it around here.” Her comment was not so much kind advice as accusing, as if I had been in her way. I decided not to ask her for assistance. I made my way up the next aisle, looking at all of the California wines that were now forbidden fruit. At the far end of the aisle was a younger man pulling a dolly with boxes of wine bottles. I asked him where I might find the Illinois wines and he answered that he was unsure but did I try this section (walking me to a rack). Yes, I had tried that section, merely Illinois and Indiana fruit wines from farther away.

He asked me to wait a moment; that he would ask someone else. Much to my chaigrin, he returned with the grumpy woman from the back of the store, now without her cart. I explained what I was looking for and she told me it would be near the front on either side of the registers. I had looked there and would look again with her but to no avail. She asked for the vintners I was trying to find and I showed her the list. She looked at it and said they probably don’t carry any of those. I patiently explained to her that I had spoken with someone who sounded like an older gentleman that morning who... “Did you read him this list?” she snapped back, before I could finish my sentence. “He gave me this list,” I explained. “Well, they would be with the fruit wines here,” she said. I told her that these were more traditional grape varieties and could there be a section of actual Illinois wines made from grapes? “No,” she said, clearly getting frustrated, “any Illinois wine would be with the fruit wines, not the grape wines.”

At this point, I said what I shouldn’t have: I joked that “technically, aren’t grape wines made of fruit as well?” She shot me a look and stalked off, muttering, “I’ve looked everywhere I think they could be. If they aren’t here then we don’t have them!” The younger guy who had brought her to me, apologized and told me that he didn’t even work there (he was from a distributer) but he was sorry he couldn’t help me more. I thanked him and said I would take another look around.

Two aisles later: jackpot – a whole section of Illinois grape wine (I believe it was aisle 4). I studied my options and made a few selections. I only purchased wines that indicated Illinois-grown grapes, even though I knew that this would likely mean that some of them had been grown beyond my 100-mile radius. I figured that Illinois is pretty close for wine. I selected 7 different varieties (I wanted to offer my guests a wide selection on the Fourth of July) and made my way to the register. I never saw the grumpy sales woman again but was pleased to see that the checker in my aisle who had just assisted a man with his $700, two-cart order, was happy, polite, and pleasing. She reminded that not everyone has to be grumpy. My hope for myself (and all of you): May your week have no whine.

Post Script: Sadly, I can’t say that any of the Fox Valley Winery wines we’ve tried have been anything fantastic. They were all drinkable but not to the point where we’d necessarily buy them again. We did think that Faltz Vintner’s Reserve varieties (red) were pretty good and these we would purchase again.

Post Post-Script: If you are going to Beloit (or to Prairie du Sac, home of Wollersheim Winery), here are the Wollersheim wines that are made from estate-grown grapes:

  • Prairie Red
  • Domaine du Sac
  • Domaine Reserve
  • Eagle White
  • Prairie Blush
  • Ice Wine
  • Ruby Nouveau (the first taste of harvest, intended to be drunk the fall it is produced, look for it in time for Thanksgiving)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Strawberry Fields are Fleeting (photos)


The last week in June was strawberry week around our house. We had been eating strawberries purchased at local farmers’ markets for the previous two weeks, a few quarts a week (and the few handfuls we’ve had from out own new plants), but I decided that I wanted to go into mass strawberry-saving mode. As has been mentioned in a comment to a previous post, eating locally could be a whole lot harder in the winter. So, to give us variety this winter, I’m working to put up some yummy things for those dark, cold days.

Some great friends of ours graciously volunteered their morning to come with me (and the kids) to Susie’s Garden Patch in Garden Prairie (just east of Belvidere) to pick strawberries. It was much-needed help as their youngest entertained Neva after she (Neva) tired of picking berries and the two older kids, along with my friend/their mother were able to pick about 22 quarts with me! In one hour I was able to pick about 6 quarts. Our friends only took four quarts home for themselves so I was left with a whopping 18 quarts to process. (yay!)

Freezing

I started by washing and sorting, drying and hulling. I then began freezing whole berries spread out on cookie sheets (the same way I did with our own fresh raspberries last year). After they were frozen I loaded them into freezer bags and placed them in our chest freezer (which is now full… I really need to decide on a larger one so I can get that ordered).

I had done a lot of reading on the proper ways to preserve strawberries and I realize that the technique I chose is not supposed to be the best… I just think it is the best for me. Freezing them in water or sugar syrup did not sound like it would work well for me and canning was definitely out (except as jam, keep reading). So, we’ll see how long they last and what quality we find when we thaw them this winter. I suspect that we will be so happy for strawberries that we won’t mind if they aren’t perfect.

I did use two additional techniques to preserve the strawberry harvest. I dehydrated enough to fill a half-gallon jar, and them some (after they were dried, of course), and I made jam.

Drying

Dehydrating was not difficult but it was more time-consuming than freezing the berries. I still had to wash, dry, and hull but I also needed to cut them (in half for the small ones and slices for the larger ones). Then I laid them out on the grates of our two food dehydrators and let them dry over night and then a bit in the morning. I had read that you should only use a dehydrator with a temperature control because otherwise they can get too hot for strawberries but, alas, neither of ours has that feature so I took my chances and it worked out fine. There were two racks that got a bit over-dried which is apparent in their taste but I’ll take what I can get.

I did have to flip the jucier berries on some racks to encourage thorough drying and I reordered the racks in the stack a few times during the drying process. It took 10-12 hours to complete a batch. After letting the dried berries cool, I placed them in glass mason jars and set them in the dark pantry. I am now just a little nervous that there might be a berry that retained too much moisture that will mold and spoil all that effort (and my planned winter snacks!) but I check the jars every so often and they seem to be OK. I touched each berry and didn’t pull them from the dehydrator until they were firm and dry to the touch, but not crispy (except the few I accidentally over-dried).

Making Jam

I had made strawberry freezer jam on several occasions; it was the jam I grew up with my mom making. However, I had never experienced cooked and canned jam/jelly-making until last fall. Our good friends came over to help us gather the wild grapes that grow on some of our fences. Mind you, we needed a little help with the picking as the grapes were fairly abundant and Kai was born just two days later so my belly was pretty unwieldy! Later that day we went to their house with buckets of grapes and my father-in-law’s wine press.

There we met another couple and their son; friends from work who hailed from Italy. They had not made jelly before either so it was to be a fun learning experience for us all (followed by a yummy spaghetti supper made by one of the Italians!). The first order of business was for me to sew up a few jelly bags from cloth our friends had bought for that purpose. We then placed the grapes (stems, seeds, and all) into a bag and squashed the dickens out of it with the wine press. The juice ran a deeply regal purple and stained anything it touched, especially our hands. After pressing we made jelly the traditional way and tossed the skins, seeds, and stems (is it called “must” when you’re not making wine?) into the compost.

That jelly was delicious… so flavorful. I am usually not a fan of grape jelly but I have to say I really enjoy this one. Each couple ended up with about a dozen jars so we still have a few left. I’m allowing them this year (even though the sugar wasn’t local) because they’re pretty close to local, the grapes having been planted by birds in our yard!

Anyway, so now I was ready to make some jam on my own. I had been searching the Internet for proven recipes for jam made with honey instead of sugar. I don’t know what I would do without the Internet… I think it’s just a terrific tool! So, I found some recipes from Mother Earth News that used only honey to make jam. (see web links at right).

Neva wanted to help so one day during Kai’s afternoon nap we set about making our jam. She was my expert fruit masher (as was the neighbor boy who came by to play while we were working only to have Neva tell him she didn’t want to play until she finished making jam). It took seven cups of honey per about two quarts of strawberries so that makes it more expensive than traditional jam but it’s still cheaper than can be had in the store.

I did buy powered pectin, as strawberries are a low-pectin fruit. For anyone crying foul at my non-local pectin, I did look into making my own but that would require either citrus (definitely not local!) or apples (which won’t be ready to harvest for several more months).

The recipe says to boil the jam longer than the sugar recipes, which I did, but I wonder if it would have set without the additional minute because the jam I sampled (what little didn’t go into jars) was a little stiffer and more gelled than I might have liked. Also, the flavor of the honey does come through somewhat. I used a fairly mild honey but you can still taste it in the finished product – it’s not bad, it’s just different from the expected.

In the end I purchased an additional eight quarts of strawberries from a sweet family at the Edgebrook Farmers’ Market to supplement what remained from our picked berries after I had frozen and dried more than a dozen quarts. I made two batches of strawberry and one batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam (from our own rhubarb). We currently don’t eat much jam, just a little on pancakes or in desserts, but I suspect that come winter, when we are eating fresh bread most mornings for breakfast, we will appreciate a little sweet taste of summertime.

I hope to make more jams in coming weeks including raspberries (our bramble is just starting to produce!) and, perhaps, mulberries as we have several trees fruiting and each mulberry I pick and eat is one less sapling I will have to weed out of my garden!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Garden Progress (photos)


Hello again,
I have three more posts of our adventures in the works but Kevin's mom pointed out yesterday that we hadn't posted any updates on our garden progress so here of some photos, taken one week apart.

These represent the state of our garden on June 14 and June 22 (there's no mistaking which is which). I also photographed our first radish. (I know, I'm like the kid who watches a seed sprout in a Dixie cup on the windowsill for the very first time!). In one of my posts this weekend I'll post the photos I took this week - I can't believe how fast everything grows with all this rain!

Happy Independence Day! We are having friends over for an all-local dinner! Future posts will include today's wine shopping expedition.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So What Are We Eating?

Warning: in the interest of getting this post live (and getting my daughter to the library today) I have not proofread this post! There may be typos...

It has not even been two weeks and I’ve already fallen behind in the blog… The only excuse we have is that we were out of town for a wedding this weekend (at University of Illinois, our alma mater, in Champaign) and every free moment (when I’m not wrangling kids) I have either been weeding vegetables, planting our hillside prairie, or preserving fruit for the coming winter. OK, excuse time is over… here are some updates.

We’ve been eating well these last few weeks but, as I admitted in the post I wrote last Thursday, we haven’t been able to go entirely local. I just won’t waste the food we already have (the non-perishables didn’t go to waste but won’t be used by us… see previous post).

Anyway, we’ve been enjoying salads, radishes (both raw, as greens, and sliced/chopped and sautéed in butter!), and a wide variety of other greens at just about every meal. I’ve been making a loaf of bread about every other morning for breakfasts. Yesterday Neva and I made a big batch of pancakes (made with our Kansas flour, eggs from Pine Row Farm in Roscoe, goat’s milk from Angelic Organics Learning Center, honey from Raines Honey Farm in Davis, and the last of our canola oil). We ate some for lunch (with maple syrup from southern Wisconsin) and I froze the rest for Kevin to heat and eat for breakfasts in the coming week.

Our first weekend we made Swedish pancakes for breakfast one morning using the same list of local ingredients. Kai has been eating mostly local baby food (there are still a few cubes of non-local stuff in the freezer; organic corn and peas, diced steamed carrots, etc) but I’ve been blending local broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, and spinach for him to eat as well as the leftover chunks of a roast chicken from Open Range Products in Pecatonica. As I mentioned in the previous post, Kevin made an awesome loin of goat (and I made a quart of stock for the freezer from the bones and drippings in the foil). We’ve had some fantastic egg scrambles with all manner of onions and greens and local cheeses.

I intend to create a new section in the right column of the blog with recipes we’ve used or developed but I want to get caught up on our activities first. I have added some new web links at right which link to the websites or reference sites for the local producers I have mentioned – please check them out!

Meeting Producers

I went last week to get some eggs from Pine Row Farm and I happened to be there when the four producers who make up the Tomorrow’s Harvest cooperative were packing the vegetable boxes for pick-up the next day. I was able to meet them and chat a bit about our project and what they have to offer. The area farms that are represented in Tomorrow’s Harvest are: Mighty Sprout Farm in Rockford, Freedom Organix in Harvard, Brookwood Farm in Cherry Valley, Pine Row Farm in Roscoe, and the Zarante Brothers who are called the “farmers at-large.”

We were able to get our box a day early since they had all just been packed and I’m happy to report that it was beautiful. Bags of mixed greens, baby Swiss chard, bunches of luscious radishes, and young turnips, all very clean and fresh. I can’t wait to see what we get next week! They still have shares available so if you are considering a CSA, this is a great opportunity to try it out. Their website (with photos of each of the farms) can be found in the Web Links section to the right.

Last week I also made a trip to Belvidere to pick up some Prairie Pure Cheese at the Boone County Farm Bureau office on Locust Ave. The cheese was good, although one package was out of date and I didn’t realize it so I need to take it back (if it weren’t for the mold I would otherwise eat it). The milk comes from two farms right in Belvidere and is sent the day it’s collected up to a cheesemaker (Edelweiss Town-Hall Dairy) in Monticello, Wisonsin. There it is made into four types of cheese: Butterkäse, Mild and Sharp Cheddar, and Swiss. They had all but the Sharp Cheddar at the Farm Bureau office and it was not cheap but reasonably priced. The cheese is sold at a variety of local places (including a few Whole Foods stores in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago) but some seem to have trouble keeping it in stock so you might want to call ahead for availability. The list of retailers is available on the Prairie Pure website (see web links).


With all this great green stuff, what do we miss?

We’ve been eating really well and enjoying the project so far but there are a few things we miss.

  • I miss my morning bagel and cream cheese (although I fully intend to make both of these things once I get a little free time (which will be when?)).
  • Kevin misses his rolled oats but we have an exciting update on this, check a future post.
  • We both really miss our glass of wine with dinner every night. We have had two bottles of wine from the Wollersheim Winery in Wisconsin (from a visit we made there a few years back) but for the most part it’s water with dinner!). We also have some bottles of wine from vineyards in California and Spain which we picked up during our travels (and, as such, qualify for the Travel Clause II exemption) but we don’t want to plow through those special bottles all at once. I think Woodman’s Grocery Store liquor department might carry some Wollersheim so I’ll have to stop there sometime when I am otherwise making a trip to the other side of town. Not all of their wines are made from grapes grown in Wisconsin, though so our selection is further limited. I need to locate some other options as well.
  • We miss nuts. We used to eat plain nuts (of any type) in our cereal, in our baked goods, and just by the handful... oh well, not this year.
  • I do miss some of the convenience of ready-made snack food like crackers and cereal, and we still haven’t found local butter (I may end up making it myself from cream but in the meantime we’re sparingly using up the last of what was in the fridge), and I’m spending a lot of time working to put food away for winter and working in the garden. Luckily, those two time-sinks are quite enjoyable.