Lettuce give thanks

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Back here in my village kitchen, we’re enjoying the season and I’m setting a goal of cooking/eating locally at least several meals a week. (Remind me to write a post sometime about how people in Chicago don’t cook.) That means that we’ll be eating mostly what comes from local venues-within a hundred miles, give or take- and doesn’t have to be trucked, shipped or flown from far away places to our local supermarket. Although there’s been a lot of discussion about food miles and fuel consumed moving our groceries from field to store, it’s become pretty clear that here, in North America, a typical food item moves, on average, 1500 miles before it comes home to roost at your house. To put it another way, it takes about 87 calories worth of fuel to move 1 calorie of food in this country.

I’m not willing to give up things like extra virgin olive oil from Italy and nice Willamette Valley Pinot wines (and I fear the best we can do on coffee and tea is fair trade) but we can do our part and this time of year it’s pretty easy. The farm market in the parking lot of Lincoln Park High School is a quick hop across Oz Park and these past Saturdays there are so many choices Rich has to restrain me.

Most of the farmers at our market drive over from Michigan (tastes like home!) and most grow varieties that are much more flavorful than anything you can get at the store. Food that is trucked long distances to supermarkets comes from seeds produced by agri businesses like Monsanto who produce over 93% of farm seed and control farm legislation about seed storage and use. It has been genetically modified (GM) to do two things and two things only: stay firm and tough under shipping conditions and withstand the herbicide, Roundup. Say! Guess who makes Roundup? Monsanto would be right. Producing indestructible vegetables comes at an extraordinary high cost on many fronts but for purposes of this post, suffice it to say that flavor is the most obvious. Produce grown with a focus on flavor and texture has a short shelf life: it needs to be picked, sold and consumed (or put in the root cellar) usually within the week, so you’re much more likely to find it at your local farm market rather than the store.

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Heirloom tomatoes are still available but slowing down; these lovely little beauties are perfect for salads with a lush juicy texture and slightly acid flavor. I eat them standing over the sink, tomato in one hand, salt shaker in the other and seeds running down my chin. The little cippolini onions are almost the same size and sweet, sweet, sweet: a plate of thinly sliced tomatoes and cippolinis with Iowa Maytag blue cheese (yes, more than a hundred miles), some Michigan dried cherries and a little basalmic vinegar is my idea of the perfect lunch.

Root crops are starting to flood the market and since potatoes compete with tomatoes as my favorite food, I’m delighted that a couple of the farmers bring in as many as 9 varieties of Heirloom potatoes. (In Peru, with potatoes as a staple, Andean farmers used to grow almost 4000 different potato varieties; now that the focus has shifted to export they are down to just a couple dozen strains and the plight of the small farmer is worse there than here. The same is true in this country where we primarily grow Idaho bakers and a tough version of Redskins although consumer demand has brought Yukon Golds to the market and Whole Foods is offering locally grown fingerlings, seasonally. Here’s a crazy statistic: We export 1.1 million tons of potatoes and we import 1.4 million tons of potatoes each year in the United States. That means it’s not about the food at all; it’s about the import-export business, which starts with FUEL.)

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I love the different colors, shapes and most of all, subtle differences in flavors in this assortment of farm market potatoes. Last night, we had local farm chicken on the grill and I made french fries to go with- aren’t they pretty? They were that good, too.

Those fat leeks will do double duty this week. Tomorrow or Tuesday I’ll show you how my family likes their leeks and you can store the idea away for Thanksgiving if you want; it’s the perfect compliment to squash and sweet or mashed potatoes. Later in the week we’ll have potato leek soup, salad, a loaf of artisan bread and apple crisp.

A delicious but deady way to serve these tart, crisp apples? (This is bad, so brace yourselves.) Peel, core and slice them 1/3 inch. Make this batter:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1 egg

Drench the apple slices in the batter and fry them fast in very hot oil. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream. Basically, what we are making here, are apple stuffed doughnuts. I can’t have any of these until I start serious exercise again in a week.

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Finally, sing the praises of simple lettuce, which comes back around for a revisit in the cool days of autumn. I’m not such a big fan of cooked vegetables, so it’s always a blessing when this leafy green makes its appearance early each Spring and I’m equally thankful for the last gasp of locally grown each year. This lettuce bears little resemblance to what you buy in the store throughout the winter (where empty head lettuce is still the American staple). Even store leaf lettuce compared to this is like, oh, wax paper to tissue paper. I always take the time to thoroughly wash, spin and store lettuce in a veggie bag as soon as I get back from the market because otherwise it ends up blackened and soupy in the bottom drawer lettuce cemetery. Once I clean it, it’s easy enough to pull out as much as I need for a salad: this dollar head will make two really nice salads for the two of us. Whenever I clean lettuce, I still miss Millie, the guinea pig because she always enjoyed the stumps.

Anyway, enough about food here. You have probably been smart enough to think through your eating habits as they pertain to the greater good anyway (I know Kimberly did; she took part in the Eat Local Food Challenge during September). If you want to read a bit more about eating locally, Slow Food and Slow Food USA are great informative sites. If everyone makes even small modifications we’ll all be healthier, live longer and, I swear, enjoy our food more. Have a lovely day- and enjoy a “local” Sunday dinner with your family!

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20 responses to “Lettuce give thanks

  1. What a delicious post, vicki. The veggies looks so yummy. We planted a fall garden and have been picking baby lettuce and spinach for salad every night this past week. I like the challenge of eating locally produced food. We are trying to grow enough of our own vegetables to freeze and store to get us through winter and spring. I think the the thing about mass produced food, aside from the loss in flavor, is the reduction in nutritional value. Vegetables ain’t what they used to be.

  2. From house buying in NC to vegetables–a much cheaper option.

  3. Diid you read Barbara Kingsolver’s book that she wrote on this subject? I didn’t either, but there was an article about her and eating locally in Good Housekeeping a few months ago. She and her family have moved to Virginia somewhere in the mountains. They and their neighbors experienced this. They planned a meal together where they cooked only locally produced foods.

    I do like the concept. Maybe we could eat shrimp everyday.

  4. We’ve been doing at least one local food meal a week all summer. In addition to a wonderful farmer’s market, we also have a vegetarian restaurant which takes all of their veggies, at least in season, from a 500 acre organic farm the owners also run. And they have a green grocery in back of the restaurant. Eggs, cheese, milk and cream, veggies, meat — it’s all available from sources less than 50 miles from our house. And fish too. Would that we could afford to buy al of our food from local producers.

    Last night we had chile made with local chicken thighs, chorizo made at the co-op, heirloom tomatoes, locally grown herbs. Even the salt was from Maine. And delicious!

    Apple crisp is on our menu for dessert tonight.

    Next year, we plan to get a freezer and buy meat from local farmers to see if we can increase the amount of local food we consume.

  5. Mmmmm, those french fries were inspirational! YUM! I need to start hitting our local farmer’s market. Lazy, lazy, lazy!

  6. This was a great post! I just linked to it from a post on my blog, Nurturing Nature (http://nurture-nature.blogspot.com/). I love the idea of eating locally, and your photos were great!

  7. I agree in principle, but that might mean eating nothing but potatoes and turnips for several months of the year. I like root vegetables, but I’m not sure I want to live on them exclusively.

  8. Edgar Cayce said back in the 30’s that we should all eat foods that are grown in the vicinity in which we live; that they are better for us and have the same spiritual vibration as we do. I thought of that today when I pulled an orange out of the refrigerator and noticed that the sticker said it came from So. Africa.

    I love eating local foods; they taste so much fresher and better than stuff we have shipped in, plus as you say, it saves fuel. What’s not to like??!!

  9. I love Michigan apples. Honeycrisps are my favorite at the moment. My spirits seem to peek at apple harvest time.

    Hea, I want to let you know that you apparently misunderstood about Charlie Baxter. He is very much alive. The other two Arborites are dead. I just mentioned Baxter because his movie came out this past week.

    Just didn’t want you disseminating any rumors.

  10. Sit up straight and eat your local vegetables!

    We pick our own garden lettuces and squash and belong to a nearby CSA and our old Mercedes Benzes run on french fry oil. Are you trying to get blood from a turnip?!

    Maybe you should switch to a GREEN football team!!

    xoxo

    P. S. Bruce took me to see OUTSOURCED at the cinema last night. Seattle, Bollywood, and the Kama Sutra in one indie flick!

  11. I really enjoyed your post today. I’m always more focused on food and cooking during down time on the weekends. I agree completely about eatting locally or as close as possible.

    I have, for many years now, bought food using that idea as a guide. Even seafood and beef. On the Gulf coast here the seafood is easy enough. And now the beef is too, thanks to people like former baseball great Nolan Ryan’s angus beef venture right outside our city and it antibotic free. I found an organic farmer woman for beef in the San Antonio area. I at least try to find Texas products in all categories. Sometimes just staying in my own state is the best I can do.

    And, people eat out in this city more than anywhere else, according to an annual restaurant survey. It’s so wierd. I remember realizing I was one of the few remaining women who actually cooked dinner for my family every day while my son was in elementary school. And shocked at the number of moms who declared they didn’t cook at all.

    Farmers Markets are thrilling, aren’t they? And I fully intend to make your decandant apple recipe. Looks fab.

  12. Notice how Bonnie worked the Kama Sutra into her comment. She is incorrigible as well as insufferable.

  13. Great idea. Maybe not as much fun in December for you, n’cest pas?
    Unless you’re down here then of course.

  14. This all looks so fabulously delicious. I was all ready to jump in and beg you to start writing that stuff about how most people in Chicago don’t cook because most people in Hudson don’t… no wait. That’s not right. That’s just me. HAHAHA! And as I got going on what you had written I could tell it would be a really negative post. 🙂 And I probably wouldn’t like it very much. *sigh* Not filled with wonderful things extolling the virtues of the healthy diets to be found eating out and delivered to the doors of Chicagoans everywhere!

    I jest. Of course.

    If I visit, you could cook for me. I’d happily eat all of those lovely market vegetables. They look divine.

  15. How peachy keen of you! Some very good recipes here which of course I have to try.

  16. A little bird told me it was your birthday~! Have a truly happy one.

  17. Much of what I buy is local but of live in the middle of an agricultural area.

    I still think that the produce we grew when I was a girl in upstate NY was better than California’s. Something about the short growing season.

  18. Its your birthday today? Mine is tomorrow.

    In my old farm market stand days, you would have been the customer of my dreams. Enthusiatic and creative with a sensitive palette. Yea!

    Those darkest red sweet potatoes are my favorites but this year here was terrible for drought and they are so little and stringy – not much between the peels. I am still getting cherry tomatoes and hot peppers (always the last to die) and a last stand okra picking. Its time here to till it all in and plant the green cover for winter.

  19. happy birthday?

    when the doorbell rings look through the peephole first in case it’s the monsanto thought police checking up on you.

    I feel kind of sick, I need a single venti vanilla latte iv.

  20. Lettuce update our blogs.

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