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 (seversondells.com) 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!