Saturday, October 22, 2005

Local Challenge Challenge
Various Un-Reported Farmer's Markets

It’s what, one, two, three, four, five markets I missed blogging? I shopped at Oak Park pretty much weekly. I have allso visited Green City, Daley Plaza, Wicker Park, and 311 S. Wacker. Want to read no more: Loved 'em all.

More? I think last time we talked there was still a peach or two to buy. Incredibly, through all these markets, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers stayed. It seemed like there were as many eggplants today at Nicholls’s as there was six weeks ago, even if most of today’s were gray-white to match the cloud cover. Yet also, in a mimic of turning leaves, Nicholls’s sold tiny eggplants the hue of a good fall drive. Several weeks ago you would not have seen the wild mushrooms including elephant ear sized hen of the woods and expensive chanterelles as you would have today in Oak Park. Just because I have not been faithfully reporting does not mean I have not been shopping.

Shopping like a fool. As I noted when I tossed my hat into the Eat Local Challenge, eating local in the summer is pretty effortless. I said come back in a few months and see how things stand. And it is still rather effortless. For long periods I could rely on a very full market. I purchased varieties of plums, summer ending with the concentrated flavor of the Stanley plum, liquid prunes. Grapes and apples and raspberries, broccoli purple or green or white which we call cauliflower (almost) and all sizes and shapes of squashes have been here forever it seems and I filled up each week. On the other hand, most of the pear varieties made the briefest of appearances and I regret not buying more. Paying attention to the market (even if not putting it to bit and byte), I noticed how short the pear season was. Not as short as the Black Walnut. One week, my favorite fruit vendor, Hardin Farms, had quarts of these for $3. I jumped at it, as much for the uniqueness as its nuttiness. Good thing because these hard to crackers never appeared again.* I have been buying a lot.

Because soon it will not be so effortless to eat local. The challenge will challenge. We are gonna try our hardest to stay local all the way to the opening of the 2006 Farmer’s Market. I am sure I have admitted my exceptions, bananas and citrus fruits. Of course, I only mean fruit and vegetables. Price wise, we cannot afford to commit too fully to local meat and fish; while, other local stuff like Wilmot grains are just too esoteric to matter. On the other hand, we pretty much stick with local dairy products. This is the true local challenge, local off-season. Eating local when the Oak Park Farmer's Market tucks in for the year.

Accepting the challenge takes work. And a fair amount of freezer space. And learning. We are learning the hard way how to keep local. We are lucky we are not Little Home on the Prairie. Whatever mistakes and such we make, we will hardly starve come January. Our biggest mistake was not really thinking about the big picture until about September. It dawned on us, after recollecting once again on the especially delicious apricots this year that we should have dried some. Drying was well within our knowledgebase. As canning is not. Next year I am gonna try to convince Cathy2 from LTHForum to hold some canning classes. Until then, the Condiment Queen and I are still afraid we will kill the family if we can. The thing is though, for the first few months of the market we neither dried or canned or froze, the idiot’s method of preserving. None of those cherries we enjoyed, the ten versions of strawberries at the market, the limited offering of blackberries, the sugar-snaps and shell peas, the edamame, we just plain did not think to save any of those. We started in earnest in September.

We realized in time to pack away a bit of blueberries, plums and peaches. Mostly, we have been packing away grapes (the frozen grapes go about 1:1 between eating now and saving), raspberries, bell peppers and green beans. We have made a ton of tomato sauce and oven dried other tomatoes. We still have a gross or so of tomatoes to process. We have one more week of market to buy, and we will stock up on all of the above plus apples—the folks at Hardin say some of the kinds of apples will stay fine in the fridge for several months. I am not worried about stocking up on everything.

As I reported before, Farmer Vicki will offer a CSA all the way through December. I expect to get plenty of greens, potatoes, cabbage and onions and more, her stand, Genesis Growers has been quite full even now, each week from the CSA. Green City Market will also be in function for the rest of the year. It’s a pain to shop in the lion house, but once or twice I am sure I will make it. I am going into unchartered territory. I think the challenge has barely begun. See what I have to say in a few months.

See ya next week at the market. It’s the last one in Oak Park.

*When we bought the black walnuts, they warned us they would break a nut cracker. And how. The thing is, not only does it take several wakes of a hammer to crack these nuts, it takes some strong work to get the nuts out of the shells. I know this is gross, but they remind me of my daughter’s Cesarean birth, the nut is like the baby held tightly in place. It is worth the work. Unlike any other nut. I would say they taste almost like grapes, with a winey, musty flavor as well as being much sweeter than you expect nuts. I am glad I was there the week the nuts were (don’t insert any jokes…)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not Like Chicago
Tallahassee, Florida

Yea, Tallahasse aint like Chicago, but specifically, when I finished up the bit of business I had in Tallahase yesterday, I said to one of the people I was with, well, the standard Chowhound question: "got any good suggestions for dinner?" We went thru the usual process of trying to match needs and wants. They asked me, what was I looking for, and I said "not like Chicago."

I had already had lunch not like Chicago. Sonny's is a franchised BBQ chain, but it arose in Florida, so I felt reasonably authentic stopping there. More important, Sonny's symbolizes the difference between Q down there and up here. You just cannot seem to combine a place that smells real with a restaurant that is real up here--and real I mean with menus, tables, pop in glasses, etc. Yea, Sonny's is a bit cute the way most Southern BBQ restaurants these days are cute, but like I say, they are actually smoking stuff.

Smoking stuff well? As a tourist, I had to sample, and forsake the lunch specials for a Pig 3 Way special with pulled pork, sliced pork, and spareribs. Of these, only Sonny's original, the sliced pork, truly stood out. The pulled pork was mushy and watery (is mushy by its nature, watery?); the ribs had a nice hickory flavor but were way to mono-dimensional in flavor. The slice pork was exactly what you cannot get around here, meaty, porky, moist, with real flavor that did not hide when your squeezed some sauce over it. In the pantheon of great BBQ, you will not find Shorty's, but for a boychick in town, it was not like Chicago in the best of ways.

And I wanted more. The original dinner suggestion was Bonefish Grill. I am sure that was the safe, we do not wanna scare the boychick suggestion. I feigned interest. I was thinking these are just not foodies, and no form of pressing would get me anywhere. I figgered I'd thank them for the Bonefish Grill, pretend like that was a good choice and just skedadle. I have other sources you know...Luickily for me, they read through the falsity in my, "mm Bonefish Grill, sounds fine..." The said, what about Seineyard, in Woodville? I was not convinced 'til they said, "at Bonefish you get real plates, Seineyard gives you paper plates."

Well what kinda guy like us does not race out with a hook like that? Yet, I never did eat at Seineyard (and it turns out it probably would have been a good meal.) I rode past Seineyard a bit too early for dinner. I decided to drive around and find a hotel for the night nearby (which turned out to be useless both because there are no hotels in Woodville and I ended up flying back last night). A bit past Seineyard I passed Register's Country BBQ. This was in some ways, less a Not Chicago BBQ place, as our classic local Q places are shacks without tables, etc. Still, no one in Chicago is cooking their BBQ outdoors.

I had a bit of conversation with the folks at Register. They told me that Florida did not allow true pits anymore, that you had to have some kinda walls around the smoker. So, his barrall smoker was in a porch surrounded by a four foot fence. Fans blew the smoke AWAY from the store, which I guess is a sign of confidence. He let me try a bit of rib tip while he fixed up my chopped pork sammy. What a rib tip, crusty, fully of flavor, yet not the least bit greasy. The sandwich was marred by the fact that he nuked it. He regaled me with a lot of local lore. It only takes about 5 miles south to not only be Not Chicago, but Not Tallahasse either. Not too far from Woodville is a civil war battle site, where I was told the Rebs whipped the Yanks, one of the few victories for that side in that part of the world. In honor of this event, the locals do a re-enactment every year. They like the winning part. I hope this gives you a sense of his sentiments, sentiments discussed in other BBQ threads. Of course, of course, of course, go for the food.

Pretty much filled up on Q, I continued to explore. I did not realize until my discussion, how close Tallahassee is to the water. I decided to visit the coast (so to speak), which is quite bayou like. I wandered the town of St. Marks Florida where boats outnumber cars and where there are quite a few seafood markets. I asked around and was told to go to Nicholl's. The menu at Nicholls looked good, but it was early and I was stuffed. But by then, I was also on a 7 PM flight back to Chicago, and I knew I had to eat soon. Early dinner for me.

Fried shrimps, fried mullet, hush puppies, cheese grits, I was blissfully not in Chicago. I'm not much of a mullet expert. Mine last night was a fishy-fish, almost like mackeral. It grew on me as I ate it. The shrimps, well, shrimps just do not taste like that around here, so fresh. Best of all to me, the carb guy, however, was the sweet hushpuppies.

I do not have the addresses for any of the places but they are all along Woodville Highway (Florida 363) heading South from Tallahasse, first Seineyard, then Register (both on the West side of the road) and finally Nicholl's when you get near the end of the road.