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.
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.)
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:
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.
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!