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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lastest Fun Finds

Yesterday the kids and I went to Bushel and Peck's Local Market in Beloit, WI (just over 10 minutes from our house) and I was excited to find a couple of new products and one I haven't seen in a while...

Turkey eggs (mostly from Bourbon Red and another red heritage breed), green cabbage (hoop house-grown over winter, I assume, as it's nice a green - a welcome change from our yellowish ones), and Feta cheese! I admit that I didn't ask about the source of the milk (which I have been considering in other cheeses we buy) because I have really been craving Feta lately and was just so happy to see some made in Monroe!

Here are my really cool finds:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Growth (photos and local source web links)

We took advantage of the beautiful weather yesterday to work in the garden. Even the rain that fell for a short time was gentle and warm so we stayed out in it and we all benefited from a day under the sky.

Food-related projects included relocating the compost bin, weeding the strawberry, rhubarb, and asparagus patches, cleaning out the root cellar, collecting garlic mustard for dinner (the actual task was weeding), and checking on our cold-hardy seedlings. We also checked on our honeybees.

One hive died over winter (it's lower on the hillside so may be cooler?) but the other is still there with a population of bees. They were very active a few weeks ago but yesterday they were rather sluggish. We opened the hive to check to make sure they had enough food and we didn't even wear gloves or veils as they were very docile and didn't bother with us at all. They do have honey so we're hoping they're just resting and gearing up for the season? Hmmm. I don't know.

I have to say that composting is one of my favorite pastimes. OK, OK, so it's not exactly a pastime but ever since we bought our first home 9 years ago I have thrilled at the idea of returning my food scraps and yard waste to my own yard (and thereby severely reducing my weekly output of trash). I know, it's the little things that excite me.

Anyway, for the first few months we lived in this house we had no kitchen and were in the midst of some major renovation (still are, it seems) and we didn't get around to building the compost bin of my dreams for quite some time. It absolutely pained me to throw away all the valuable food scraps during that time. So, we finally eschewed our plans to build a beautiful compost bin and just made a cylinder of hardware cloth to toss our compostable goodies into. That served us well and held what it needed to but this year we have decided to locate a sandbox for the kids where the compost bin was.

We decided to place the new bin at the end of what was our corn and brassica patch last year where it is still handy to the house (for delivering the kitchen scraps) but nicely hidden from much of the yard. The reason to hide it... we're still not building the compost bin of my dreams. Instead, we decided to be completely utilitarian and use what we had on hand to quickly get something going (it's really ugly). Kevin occasionally gets deliveries at work on wood pallets so we decided to screw three together to make a quicky bin. It took more time to haul the pallets over there then it did to screw them together! Here is it, not beautiful but functional. As you can see, we've set the old wire cylinder next to it for yard waste. Someday, we'll build a nice set of atractive wood bins with removable front boards... someday.

The Root Cellar
I will make a full post on our root cellaring efforts in the near future but I did spend several hours yesterday cleaning out some mice-caused mess, cleaning up from some spoiled food, and reorganizing what's left of the cellared, canned, and dehydrated foods.

Kevin and the kids (well, the kids played in the vicinity, anyway) spent some time weeding dandelions from the strawberry patch and turf and other non-native grasses from around the rhubarb and asparagus (which were planted in former lawn that was tilled only once prior to planting). I did a little weeding around the house of the dreaded garlic mustard which really needs to be actively controlled. The good news from that kind of project... good eats!

I know we can eat the dandelions as well (we'll be making salads all spring) but yesterday we just made use of the garlic mustard leaves. If you've never tasted garlic mustard, I recommend trying it. It has a distinct yet mild garlic flavor, coupled with the pleasant "green" flavor of most mustard greens. Now remember, we haven't had fresh greens for some time now (just frozen spinach, lambs quarters, and chard) so the prospect of fresh greens is really fantastic!

So, for an easy dinner entree after a day spent outside, I scrambled some eggs (Angelic Organics Learning Center - Caledonia, IL) with a little butter (Madison, WI) and splash of cream skimmed from my milk share this week (Zinniker Family Farm - Elkhorn, WI). As the eggs just started to form soft curds I added a scoop of marscapone cheese (Crave Brothers - Waterloo, WI - cool, large-scale, sustainable farm) and the chopped garlic mustard (my yard). Yummy! Later this week I plan to make garlic mustard pizza and garlic mustard pasta to dry or freeze for later. Although you can eat the greens all season, the tender, young leaves of the first-year rosette have the best flavor and texture.

Thing Are Growing Again
Two weekends ago, Kevin went out to prepare one of the three raised beds for planting. He pulled out the bulk of the old tomato plants, added partially decomposed leaves, and a few wheelbarrows full of dirt (this bed was not quite filled last year). He worked it all in and planted 10 kinds of frost-tolerant seeds.

He planted: Asian Early Mizuna, Green Curled Winterbor Kale, Roquette Arugula, two types of Lettuce (Green Romaine/Winter Density & Red Romaine/Rouge D'Hiver), Shunkyo Radish, Spinach, Claytonia, and two types of Corn Salad Mache (Vit & Jade). All of these plants will germinate in cool soil, thrive in cold weather, and can be harvested in baby stages in one month or less (two months to full maturity).

Here's what they look like after two weeks (and it even snowed for two days following planting!). He's trying a bit of a controlled experiment here too. A year or so ago, my parents replaced the roof on their house, and with it, their skylights. Dad offered them to me for use as cold frame covers. We were curious how they would work so Kevin planted rows that could be half covered by these windows.
The row of sticks in the middle of the bed divides the rows (there are five rows on each side of the sticks for a total of 10, one for each type of plant). The two skylights are placed at either end of the bed, covering half of each set of five rows (not all seeds have germinated).

As you can see, the covered ends are growing faster than those uncovered. I assume this is to do with both the warmth (kept longer overnight) and the trapped moisture (the uncovered center soil dries out quicker). Anyway, we hope that in two more weeks we'll be able to harvest some baby greens!

Another (perhaps?) happy accident is that in the neighboring bed I see onions sprouting (I must have missed a few at harvest time) as well as lettuce (I let some go to seed last year but I didn't expect it to survive a northern Illinois winter!).
We'll see if these result in edibles as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As you may know, the Rockford Register Star has a "Go Green" Blog with weekly posts on local eating in Northern Illinois (did you know that?). It can be found at here. I have my usual gripes with something like this... most "green" articles, blogs, TV segments, etc. tell you all about the latest and greatest "green" product that you need to BUY. Um, am I the only one who sees a problem with buying something new just because it's green?

Anyway, off that soap box... Here is my first submission to the blog which gives some basic information on getting started at adding local foods to your weekly table. Enjoy!

Eating Locally in Northern Illinois: A Beginner’s Guide

March 26th, 2009 04:36pm Lenae Weichel

You may have read about people across the country who are choosing to buy only foods grown and produced within 100 miles of their homes. Although this is fun and interesting, not to mention a great challenge, this all-or-nothing approach can be a bit daunting. You can easily begin to incorporate local food items into your everyday life by making small substitutions and changes to your weekly routines. The key point to remember is that every change you make, no matter how small it may seem, can have an impact in our community, to your health, to your pocketbook, and especially to your taste buds!

Here are a few things to consider both now and in a few short weeks when the local farmers’ markets open once again:

  • Seek out local foods now (yes, there are some available now, even in early spring!). Check out the Local Foods Directory to find what you are looking for. Items available now include eggs, cheeses and other dairy products, meats, grains, and some storage vegetables (potatoes, onions, garlic, dry beans, etc.).
  • Visit a local grocery store. There are several in the area (including The 320 Store and Choices Natural Market) but the best one for year-round availability of local food has got to be Bushel and Peck’s Local Market in Beloit. They have a variety of fresh, frozen, and raw ingredients (as well as processed foodstuffs) from the area in addition to great regional foods (and other non-local items).
  • Make a farmers’ market or farm stand visit part of your weekly routine – and go before your weekly grocery store trip. This will allow you to select the freshest produce to inspire your menus. If you have children, let each child choose one item and have them help you make a meal around that item; it’s a great way to involve them.
  • Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan; it’s an interesting look at just where our food comes from and how it gets to our tables.
  • Plant something – it could be a full garden but consider starting smaller if gardening for food is new to you. Plant some herbs and grape tomatoes or bell peppers in pots and place them in a sunny spot outside. Water them well and enjoy their production all summer long. If you have a sunny window or two, start your seeds indoors (right in the pots) now to begin your harvest all the sooner!
  • Don’t limit yourself to the point of frustration – regional foods are great for all the same reasons as those from within 100 miles. There is wonderful produce grown in southern Illinois and throughout the Upper Midwest and it’s still better to buy from someone in the region than from thousands of miles away.
  • Wait to enjoy produce as it comes into season here – it tastes better and you’ll appreciate it all the more. Here is a general list of when produce typically ripens in our area.

Enjoy finding ways to add local foods to your own table and please comment if you have other ideas or recommendations!

And here is my added comment when I realized a mistake:

I can’t believe I failed to mention Eickman’s Meats in Seward (south of IL-20 on Pecatonica Rd.) in my list of local grocery stores! I think I was just thinking general markets as opposed to specialty stores. But still, I'm sad I forgot it. I was just out there again last week and they have a large selection of local meats (and eggs and sometimes cheese) of all types. Not everything in the shop is local but you can ask an employee to help you identify the local things.

I bought some bacon with no added nitrites, some bison steaks, and some whole hog sausage as well as a dozen eggs. Everything was great!

Up for some Local Foods Reading and Discussion?

Severson Dells Environmental Education Center ( is hosting a book discussion about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingslover (with her husband, Steven Hopp, and daughter, Camille Kingsolver) on Sunday, April 26th at 1:00 pm. The discussion is being led by Joe Haverly, environmental biology professor at Rock Valley College, and Kevin and I will be there as "special guests."

If you haven't read the book, I recommend it. It is a fairly quick read and an entertaining story of Kingsolver's family and their own (often humorous) attempt at local eating. Peppered throughout are "articles" written by her husband that back up her already well-researched narrative with additional information in short, easy-to-digest snippets and each chapter is ended with Camille's own version of the family experience and recipes for some of the foods discussed in the chapter.

The book is available in paperback and now includes additional information about the authors and the making of the book itself. It is also readily available as a used book (check out the Amazon listings).

Please pick up a copy (or check it out from your local library) and join us on April 26th for some interesting conversation!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sweets for Dinner?

I must admit, that although we're in the groove and moving along as planned, and although we have plenty of food in the freezer/cellar/jars, some nights my interest in our little experiment wanes. Like tonight. I was in the mood for something savory but just couldn't get creative enough (my fault, not the fault of local eating, I realize). Anything that seemed good to me was going to take too much time or too many frozen veggies (that's how I felt at dinner prep time anyway).

So, we had breakfast/dessert for dinner tonight. I made Deborah Madison's Corn Meal Crepes (from her Local Flavors cookbook) and served them smeared with locally-produced marscapone cheese and my own black raspberry/wine sauce made with fruit from the freezer.

I don't think I can legally publish Madison's crepe recipe but I will say that I liked it except it wasn't corn-mealy enough for me so I would reduce the flour and add more cornmeal. Also, I used my last half of a vanilla bean for ice cream for my father-in-law's birthday breakfast on Sunday (Belgian waffles made with fresh-milled whole wheat flour, frozen strawberries mashed with honey, and homemade vanilla bean ice cream) so I substituted about a teaspoon of vanilla extract for the vanilla bean (and of course, local honey for the sugar).

I can also give you the recipe for the fruit sauce...

Lenae's Black Raspberry Sauce Simmered with Wine and Cinnamon

4 c. black raspberries (mine happened to be frozen in August)
1/2 to 2/3 cup red wine (any wine will do, even white - I merely used what I had left)
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey
2 to 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, simmer the raspberries in wine to thaw until they release their juices. Add honey and cinnamon and stir well. Bring to a gentle boil/simmer, stirring ocassionally, until sauce thickens to desired consistency (I let mine simmer for about 45 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be used on crepes, pancakes of any type, ice cream, cheesecake, or anywhere a berry sauce is desired. Refrigerate any leftovers and use at any temperature within the week.

So it wasn't savory... but as it turns out, we all loved it!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

We'll be speaking at the Cherry Valley Library

Tonight at 6:30 pm, Kevin and I will be showing photos and talking about the first 9 months of our experience. The event is free and open to all. You can call the Cherry Valley Library at 815-332-5161 to reserve your seat (although I'm sure walk-ins will be welcome!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brief List of Local Resources

This morning we had a very pleasant experience talking about our year-long project at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rock Valley in Rockton. At the end of the presentation we indicated that we would share a list of some useful weblinks of local foods resources. So, here it is - click the headings to reach the sites! Thanks for inviting us.

UIUC Extension of Winnebago County
Local resources, seasonal foods lists, preserving information, local foods reading list

Local Harvest
Database of CSAs, producers, and local food sellers, searchable by zip code

Food Routes
Interesting resources on food miles and the benefits of local foods

Local Foods Directory - Winnebago County
FANTASTIC comprehensive listing of local food producers and growers, includes details of area farmers' markets

As we said this morning, the most important thing to remember is that eating locally does not have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Start by adding one local item per meal or challenge yourself to have one all-local meal per week. Visit a farmers' market once each week during the growing season and shop for produce there before going to the grocery store. Seek out some of your favorite foods regionally (and in season!), you just might be surprised what you find!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hitting into the Freezer (begun mid-January) - (photos)

Well, it's official, I have started using foods in the big freezer with regularity now. I almost hated to do it! I often fail to use things I am saving or have deemed special in some way or am saving for a special occasion because I somehow feel they are so special that I can't or shouldn't use them; or I remove them from my daily routine in such a way that it never occurs to me to use them. With this in mind, I had not been able to bring myself to use anything in the freezer yet! Well, I'd used a few things that I could easily replace any time of year (meats for example), but I had not opened one package of green beans, tomato puree, or any other produce.THE FREEZER - LATE JANUARY

I had used one package of blueberries and another of strawberries for Neva's birthday celebration in October and a few times I used some of the frozen vegetable broth I'd made in fall but I really hadn't brought myself to use anything else. However, our supply of "fresh" vegetables that remained in the bottom of my fridge is starting to wane. I still have a few cabbages and root veggies such as beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc. but most have now been used and I was starting to miss green things (green veggies are my personal favorite and usually a part of every day).
Since writing the above about three weeks ago, we've used green beans, yellow beans, carrots, broths and soups, zuchinni (pre-grated and measured to make 2 loaves of bread per package), yellow squash, musk mellon, strawberries, raspberries, meat, butter, tomato puree, corn, par-baked bread, pre-made (by me) spinach pizza, lambs quarters (thanks Dianne!), asparagus, and Swiss chard (ours). We've also enjoyed some rice from California and Alaskan salmon - both gifts from family friends that come from beyond 100 miles but were procured while our friends were in those states (the salmon was actually caught by one of them).
A SPECIAL DINNER (IT FOLLOWS THE RULES BUT ISN'T ENTIRELY LOCAL - blogger turned several of my photos and I don't know how to right them)

Since fall, we've had no reservations about using the food in our cellar including pumpkins and other squash, potatoes (from our garden), onions, beets (also from our garden), cabbage (ours), and Brussels sprouts. We've also been enjoying all of the jams/jellies made over the course of the summer, jars of apple and tomato sauce, dry beans, apples, dried fruit, salsa, and some of the relishes, pickles, and spiced cabbage I canned.

When the winter began in earnest and it became clear I would get no more easy food (our last CSA share came the last week in November) I was a little worried that we had not put away enough food to get us through to the first farmers' markets and harvest of our own in April. However, now that we've come through January and we still have a mostly full freezer, two windows full of herbs, and a well-stocked root cellar I no longer fear that we will run out. In fact, I am starting to wonder how much we'll have left!

AFTER - SWISS CHARD SAUTEED WITH BUTTER AND GARLIC (my garden and Bushel and Peck's Local Market, Beloit, WI), STEAMED YELLOW FRENCH BEANS (Pine Row Farm, Roscoe), ITALIAN SAUSAGE (Open Range Products, Pecatonica and Eickman's Processing, Seward) WITH HONEY MUSTARD (Ed's Honeybees, Rockford and mustard made in Janesville, WI)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Finding local milk sources year-round was one of my concerns in starting this year of local eating. There are still a number of small family dairy farms in the area but they mostly produce for large milk companies or processing plants where their milk is combined with other milk that is shipped in from farther away. Still others send their milk directly to cheesemakers (which is good - yummy local cheeses to be had!)

When we were about to being our year, I called our local processing plant (Mueller-Pinehurst) which is right here in Rockford and, after being transferred to several people who could not answer my questions, I was finally connected with someone who could. He explained to me that the milk they process in Summer is indeed local, the demand can be met by dairies within 100 miles. However, he did tell me that not all of their dairy products are produced at their local plant. Milk in gallon jugs and (I believe) buttermilk are locally-produced. As is anything stamped with 12-274 (the local plant number). However, their milk in half-gallon jugs and their cottage cheese and (I think) sour cream are not made here or are not made with local milk.

He went on to tell me that in Winter, the demand for milk and dairy products rises. This makes sense as we think of winter as the time for comfort foods and cream soups while we'd probably rather drink iced tea on a hot summer day. Anyway, in the winter the increased demand is unable to be met by local dairies and so a portion (I did not ask him for a percentage) of the milk processed at the local plant is brought in from farther away.

When we began our challenge in June, I was content to purchase Mueller-Pinehurst milk but by September I was seeking other options, knowing that my all-local source would soon "run out." I was lucky to be able to connect with a group of people who are shareholders in cows. That's right, we buy a share of a cow and in return we receive a percentage of the milk that "our" cow produces. So, since September, we have been getting milk this way. Also, a great little grocery store called Bushel and Peck's opened up this summer in Beloit ( They sell single-source milk from southern Wisconsin under the brand name Sassy Cow. They also have Wisconsin milk in returnable glass bottles that's great but not guaranteed to be only from within 100 miles of Rockford (not good for me but great for the rest of you!).

Lucky for me, my current sources for milk are all organic (Mueller-Pinehurst was not) and not Ultra-Pasteurized (UP) so more of the nutrients are left in the milk (both due to lower-heat pasteurization and a shorter cold storage period). Also, I am able to use this milk to make cheese which one cannot do with UP or even high-temperature-pasteurized milk. Just today I received an e-newsletter from the company where I buy my cheese-making supplies that had an article that did a good job of detailing the changes in milk over the last generation or two. I'll excerpt it here and include the link to the full article:

Full Article "More About Milk" from
"In the 1930's when pasteurization was introduced, the milk supply in America was in a foul state with TB being one of the worst health problems transferred from dairies. Pasteurization was the immediate solution but proper herd management and inoculation was the long range solution. As dairies became larger milk "processing plants" and larger quantities of milk were cold stored for longer periods of time, shipped longer distances, and held for longer periods on store shelves the need for higher processor temperatures has evolved. All of this is good for the producers but not so good for consumers seeking quality milk.

According to several conversations with milk processors across the country during the past 2 years we have become aware of a tendency for regulating agencies to strongly suggest increasingingly higher pasteurization temperatures. This issue of higher pasteurizing temps and times seems to be an attempt to eliminate Johne's (pronounced yo-neez) disease (Mycobacterium .Paratuberculosis) from our milk supply. This disease has increased in recent years and seems to be most serious in the larger industrial herds.
The tendency has been to increase pasteurization temps to 174-180F plus and increase the hold times for this.
This is in spite of research done in Ireland and at Guelph Ontario showing that traditional vat pasteurization of 145F/30min totally eliminates the bacteria and that HTST [high temperature short time] pasteurization 163F/16secs shows small numbers in the milk. Further research is being done on holding at 163F but increasing the times. The research has also shown that exposing the milk to a higher temperature would not be a good option because a higher temperature could be detrimental to its nutritional value.

Rather than trying to force industrial dairies to clean up their act in order to improve the health of their herds, the FDA has put its support behind higher-temperature pasteurization.

Pasteurization should not be an excuse to produce dirty milk.

In other words much of what is being done for milk processing today is based on bad science"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Check out the GO Section of today's Rockford Register Star

Geri Nikolai wrote a short follow-up piece to the article that appeared this spring in the Rockford Register Star. It appears in her weekly column in the GO Section. Here is the link to the teaser which gives a photo and shares the original story as well:

Here is the link to the actual article:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Giving Up The Oats

Those four bushels of oats that we've been trying to get into? They go to an acquaintance who has horses in the morning. *sigh*

Happy New Year! Local Food ALASKA Edition (Photos)

This photo is purely for those interested in Alaska... it was taken about 11:15 am. As you can see, the sun was just about to break the horizon. There were just over 3 hours of official sunlight on Winter Solstice and the lowest temperature we experienced was 60-below (highest was right around zero).

Well, we returned this week from Fairbanks, Alaska where we spent two-and-a-half weeks with Kevin's sister and her family (including her four-month-old twins) and my in-laws (who have been living there most of the year helping out). In addition to spending quality family time, we also have had a long break in our local eating pattern. Our exemption for travel is, of course, necessary as we would find it difficult to either truck all the food we require along with us or to find it in a new place and so we enjoyed a few weeks of eating whatever we wanted. However, we did manage to find some sources of local foods - even in the dead of winter in interior Alaska! But more on that in a minute.

The first night we were there we went to hear two speakers at an installment of an alternative energies lecture series that Kevin's sister, Gwen, has organized. One of the speakers, Bernie Karl, discussed a variety of germane topics but the one fact he shared that struck me was this (paraphrased): the state of Alaska has only a two-day supply of food available in grocery stores and restaurants at any given time. TWO DAYS. I wonder how long Illinois' supply would last, knowing that we import something like 90% of our foodstuffs.

While we were there we experienced this first-hand... one day between Christmas and New Year's, Kevin's mother went to the local (very large) grocery store to pick some things up for dinner. She returned saying that there were no fresh vegetables to be had. The produce section of this store is actually quite large and varied (when stocked). We ate frozen veggies.

We did have several opportunities to eat some truly local (and truly wonderful) foods. Even before we arrived, my father-in-law had been talking about saving for us a jar of his own blueberry jam, made with blueberries he had collected himself. We were glad he did save it; we enjoyed it immensely as we spread it on our pancakes one morning!

There are lots of yummy berries to be had in the fall in Alaska. When Kevin's mom came home for a visit at the end of September, she brought us a container of low bush cranberries she had picked just as the first snow of the season was falling. I warmed them in a pot until they just started to burst, added a little honey and cinnamon, and served them for dessert with a dollop of yogurt. In addition to his own frozen blueberry jam, Robert proudly presented us with a jar of low bush cranberry jam he had purchased at the farmers' market just down the road. We enjoyed that one evening for dinner on sliced ham left over from Christmas.

The source of my food is always present as a thought in my mind (it already was long before we started our experiment) so I continued to pay attention to my options while grocery shopping in Fairbanks. I was happy to see that I had a number of good, local options - not all from within 100 miles but at least from the state). The store (Fred Meyer, now owned by Kroger) had a full selection of milk from the North Star Dairy in Delta Junction, AK. I could also get Alaska-grown carrots and potatoes and, of course, wild Alaskan salmon.

I think Robert (Kevin's dad) was having fun preparing for our visit because he also produced from the freezer some locally wild-caught caribou and moose in the form of stew meat and loin, respectively. Erika (Kevin's mom) made a killer goulash with the caribou and Kevin sister, Gwen, made some excellent ginger-marinated, thinly sliced and pan-fried moose loin.

It seems that even area restaurants are interested in serving local foods. We didn't eat out much (only twice) but we noticed on menus, even at a Thai place, that the use of local ingredients was highlighted (even in winter when they used local potatoes, dried and frozen berries, etc.).

Finally, our foray into local food in the deep Alaskan mid-winter was successful on the grounds of Chena Hot Springs Resort, just an hour outside of Fairbanks. Kevin's sister used to work there, developing all sorts of fascinating systems to harness existing resources and generate electricity and other things helpful at a completely off-grid resort. I could go on all day about the cool technologies she helped to develop there, specifically using the geothermal resources which are hot but not hot enough for traditional geothermal technologies (170-degrees vs. 220) but I won't. I'll just include the link to the resort:

The resort is owned by Bernie and Connie Karl (yes, one of the men we heard speak the first night) and one of the cool things to see and experience there is the greenhouse that can boast having the largest interior and exterior temperature differential in the world. In the winter it can easily be 40 or more degrees below zero outside (and it was while we were there) and stays a muggy 80 degrees inside; and it's all heated with the warm water coming out of the ground! Anyway, they grow hydroponic tomatoes and salad greens year-round. We were able to sample some of both, harvested the day we ate them, while it was over 40 degrees below zero outside. You may be interested in the Chena Hot Springs website not only for the food but also to see photos of their hot pools and sculpted ice hotel.

Now we are back home and sticking to our Rockford-area diet. Tonight we had seared pork chops (raised in Pecatonica at Open Range Products and processed in Seward at Eichman's), steamed broccoli (from the freezer, grown at Angelic Organics), and sauteed fingerling potatoes (Tomorrow's Harvest CSA) with crispy garlic (Stan Johnson at the Edgebrook Center Farmers' Market). We enjoyed it with a Wollersheim wine (Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin) and had fresh apples for dessert (Bushel and Peck's Local Market - apples grown at Gahl's Apple Orchard in South Beloit).

Earlier this week we had beef and bean stew with vegetables and fresh-baked bread for dinner (I added baby Brussels sprouts to the leftovers the next day), apple cider cinnamon bread for breakfast, and I made a couple of loaves of apple-cinnamon stuffed Challah for Neva to take to preschool and Kevin to take to work. As usual, we've been enjoying cheeses, milk, and yogurt from southern Wisconsin, eggs from Pine Row Farm in Roscoe and Angelic Organics in Caledonia, and other frozen and dried veggies from our own supplies.