Thursday, December 31, 2009
While we were out, we had a chance to finally check out the Rural King Supply retail store in Columbus, Ind. It's a great place for farmers/farmgirls looking for, among many other things, canning supplies galore.
On our way back, we stopped to get some local wine and beer for the festivities tonight. We'll be making the popular poinsettia cocktail. And we immediately popped the cork out of a bottle of Sweet Marcella from Huber Winery.
I'm not usually a big fan of sweet wines. But this is very smooth and soothing. A first sniff reminds me of a glass of grape juice after a hard day of summertime play. The iFarmer said it reminded him of communion at Burnsville Christian Church.
Anyway, 4-H Champ and I are enjoying the concord grapes from Grandma's Vineyard on the Huber family property in Borden, Ind.
As a side note, the Huber Farm and Winery first made my radar when Joe Huber, who pioneered u-pick farming in the Midwest in 1967, died in 2008. The woman at Cork Liquors tells us that the food at the Huber Family Restaurant is excellent and worth the drive the Starlight.
Oh, and speaking of Burnsville, we're also enjoying a Aunt Katie's Dried Beef Ball, a recipe from the Burnsvill Christian Church cookbook circa 1988.
Tri-tip's on the grill and Tater Tot Delight just left the oven.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tonight, the iFarmer unwrapped a lovely bottle of Indiana Vodka, which I'm delighted to learn is the product of an artisan distiller looking to produce spirits in small batches, using "old world" techniques and copper pot stills crafted in Germany.
Artisan, you wonder. Artisan indeed. Heartland Distillers aims to slow down the spirits-making process and use high quality, locally-grown ingredients. From the distiller's website and blog posts, it's clear these folks have appreciation for America's long, proud farming tradition.
And here's a fun fact: Heartland Distillers is the first distillery founded in Indiana since Prohibition.
We're not in a good spot to peel back the wax seal and try this out. But we can't wait.
I'd love to see if we can tour the distillery in Indianapolis.
Oh and besides the vodka, Heartland Distillers has a line of Prohibition Gin and is working on developing a bourbon, so look out Kentucky.
Monday, December 28, 2009
It was my first time there, but it was exactly what I wanted and a reminder of why my family loved good Italian restaurants. There's always something on the menu to please even the most finicky kids and plenty of good choices for mom and dad.
And just in the nick of time, right before year's end, I had my best meal of 2009: Swordfish.
It by far is the best piece of fish I've ever had (except maybe the fresh salmon caught, smoked and served to us by a friend in Alaska). The hostess told us it's not on Francesca's menu often.
Anyway...since this clearly is one of the most memorable meals of my year, I decided to do a quick run through of other great food moments of 2009:
Butter & Sage Rubbed Turkey - I'm not much of a turkey fan, but even I was going back for seconds (and thirds) on Thanksgiving.
Organic Butter Burgers w/Caramelized Onions, Walnuts & Goat Cheese - This iFarmer creation is one we managed to repeat a couple times in '09 and will hopefully make a few menus in 2010.
Grilled Brie & Papaya/Orange/Habanero Jelly on Sourdough - These were the favorites from our Christmas Day Gourmet Grilled Cheese Fest. Definitely a flavor combo worth repeating.
Chocolate Guinness Cake - This capped our New Year's Day celebration, after a meal of finger-licking chipotle ribs.
Sauteed Beet Greens - These are now my absolute favorite veggie and a great way to use just about every part of the beet.
Pot Roast Nachos w/Aged White Cheddar and Cherry Salsa - We learned this year that many leftover meats can be chopped, scattered over tortilla chips, sprinkled with cheese, then baked until delicious. Still, none of our leftovers experimenting was as successful as this.
Celeriac Soup - From the ugliest root veggie came one of the tastiest soups I've made, at least that's what the iFarmer says. We'll try this again next CSA season.
Strawberries - I can honestly say that the best strawberries I've ever had come right from my family's farm. This year, the pickers couldn't keep up with the buyers.
I also can't let the year-in-food review go by without mentioning a new pizza favorite: Pepe's Pizza in New Haven, Conn. A trip for work took me there and I've been craving it ever since.
Would farmers ever skimp on CSA shares in order to have a good selection at farmers markets?
J. Noelle from 24 Boxes noted that she had an opportunity to compare CSAs side-by-side last year. She noticed some weeks her share boxes were "light" reportedly because of conditions on the farm. Yet, when she visited the Green City Market, she noticed that same farmer had an adequate spread of veggies for sale.
"It was a little confusing - you have enough veggies to sell at the market, but not enough to fulfill the boxes of your shareholders?"I'd have been confused too and probably peeved enough to bring it up with the farmer and possibly move on to another CSA the following season.
I spent part of last year's Midwest market season volunteering at the Oak Park Farmers Market. There were definitely farmers there who also sell CSA shares. Indeed, that's one of the reasons I'm considering a switch. The veggies at market from some of these other farms were beautiful...cleaner and often seemed fresher than the ones I had in my share box.
But now I wonder about what I was experiencing. Was I being shortchanged or is it a common practice for farmers to pick their best produce for sale at a public market?
That would make sense for marketing purposes. I was after all, getting what I paid for...a regular supply of organic farm-fresh veggies from a local farmer. Still, was I getting the best the farm had to offer that week?
I'm not sure I'd expect to get the best looking veggies. Getting less though would be unacceptable
But now I'm more interested in comparing CSAs and hearing about shareholder experiences.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
One of the things I plan not to procrastinate about this year is choosing a CSA.
I may go with King's Hill Farm again. We didn't have many complaints. But I've heard great things about a few others in the area.
Don't get me wrong. I would wholeheartedly recommend King's Hill Farm. The veggies were almost always fresh and fairly clean. And I enjoyed the regular newsletter with tips on preparation and, importantly, identifications of veggies. That proved key considering King's Hill Farm introduced me and my family to several unfamiliar varieties of squash, onions and greens.
I'm just curious about the others, especially Sandhill Organics and Angelic Organics.
Those were the main two I was considering...but while I was writing this, I learned another reason not to procrastinate. Sandhill has already sold out of shares for Spring 2010, according to Local Harvest.
So...I better get my act together and fast.
Any others I should consider that deliver or have easy Oak Park pick up?
Because we didn't get to The Farm until early evening on Christmas Day, we tried a less formal option for supper.
Instead of a Christmas goose or turkey, we opted for gourmet grilled cheese. I happened to have a variety of cheeses on hand -- thanks to December parties and gifts. So I pulled together some toppings and local breads, then tossed my electric skillet in with the Christmas gifts before loading up the van.
I'd have to say that the gourmet grilled cheese fest was more successful than I'd imagined.
Besides being low key, it was great fun experimenting with cheese and topping flavors.
Here were the clear favorites:
1. Brie & Papaya/Orange Habanero jelly toasted on Turano Italian bread.
2. Cabot's hot Habanero cheese & extra sharp white cheddar on Polish rye bread (no caraway, yay!)
3. The kids were pleased with Monterrey Jack on wheat.
4. Coming in fourth was a Mediterranean cheese paired with white cheddar on the Polish rye.
Next time we'll take a page from 4-H Champ's playbook and serve up the made-to-order grilled cheese in wax-paper lined baskets.
Anywho...that was just our small group.
The next day was all about feeding more than 30 family and friends who gathered at The Farm to catch up, target shoot and sing at church.
Sticking with my cheese theme, my main contribution besides a cheese platter was a simple, but delicious pimento & cheese a la Bon Appetit. [Oh, and more of that habanero jelly on top of cream cheese.]
It's always a treat to see my sisters and the family sing. Alto Farmgirl sang the responsive psalm at mass for Feast of the Holy Family and the a good chunk of the rest of the family, including Photo Farmgirl made up the entire choir. Playful Spirit Potter and her sister, with guitars in hand, were the music section.
We'd hoped to get some sledding and cross country skiing in, but the rain washed away all the snow.
I hope we'll make it down again when there's enough snow so the kids can help us set some new distance records into the corn field from the sled hill.
[Big mistake...didn't bring my camera this trip. The above photo is from nasunto's Flickr photostream.]
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Starting in March, the DOJ and USDA, will "hold a series of joint public workshops to explore competition issues affecting the agricultural sector in the 21st century and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in that industry," according to the DOJ's site.
The feds appear to be exploring a whole host of topics.
When the joint project was announced in August, the Assistant AG in charge of the DOJ's Antitrust Division posited the effort as a pretty big first.
She said, "For the first time ever, farmers, ranchers, consumers groups, agribusinesses and the federal government will openly discuss legal and economic issues associated with competition in the agriculture industry. This is an important step forward in determining the best course of action to address the unique competition issues in agriculture."
Sounds very exciting.
It's doubtful I'll get a chance to attend any of these in person (except maybe Madison in June). But I'm hoping there will be some farm bloggers in attendance...and hopefully the local media will show too.
Oh. And even though the workshops start in March, the window for filing public comments on the scheduled topics is closing. Comments must be sent here -- email@example.com -- by Dec. 31. More on submitting comments here.
Here's a rundown of the topics, workshop dates and locations:
March 12, 2009 - Ankeny, Iowa
Issues of Concern to Farmers
Introduction to the workshops series with a focus on the issues facing crop farmers. Discussion topics may include seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.
May 21, 2010 - Normal, Alabama
Discussion topics may include production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.
June 7, 2010 - Madison, Wisconsin
Discussion topics may include concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.
August 26, 2010 - Fort Collins, Colorado
This workshop will focus on beef, hog and other animal sectors. Topics may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.
December 8, 2010 - Washington, D.C.
This workshop will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
What I like about both restaurants is that Chef Rick Bayless is a devotee to serving up locally-produced food wherever possible.
The constant line at Xoco is a clue that I'm not the only fan. But those lines will get shorter if patrons don't believe the food is safe.
That said, I'm not too worried about news from the Chicago Tribune that inspectors confiscated a box of bacon that lacked a food inspection mark and headcheese that had Wisconsin mark, but not in Illinois as apparently required. I expect Bayless and Co. will be more careful going forward.
And he shouldn't be surprised about the inspection.
Indeed, if I was a food inspector, this graph in Sula's story probably would have caught my attention too:
"Because they sell meats that aren't prepared in a licensed commercial facility, Erik and Ehran are operating outside the law. But some laws, they fervently believe, were made to be broken. 'It's one of those things that's kind of overregulated,' says Erik. 'People have been canning and curing forever. It was invented to preserve food and keep things healthy.'
While I have some sympathies for these folks and am a big cheerleader for farmers and locally-produced food, the importance of a safe, regulated farm-to-table system can't be overstated.
Buying straight from a farmer, farm stand or joining private clubs to circumvent food safety regulations (raw milk comes to mind) are one thing. That's a personal choice and consumers assume some risk.
But I worry about unlicensed producers supplying restaurants. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
More on the Frontera/Xoco inspection here from Sula.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I wasn't sure I would have the energy to pull off the party at all. At one point, I seriously considered canceling.
Instead, I made backup plans to cook/make less and buy more easily served munchies. You know what? All turned out great.
I ended up enjoying the party more than any other we've hosted. And I credit our friends with making me feel better than I'd felt in nearly two-and-a-half weeks.
Just in the nick of time for the party, I regained some of my appetite. So I got to enjoy these party menu highlights:
Poinsettia cocktail. The iFarmer happened across this recipe when he was inadvertently cc'd on someone else's party planning e-mail. Lucky for us. The champagne, cranberry juice & orange liqeuer.
Hot buttered spiced cider (w/Calvados - apple brandy for the adults). I make this every year. But I used lemon peel this year after I learned a guest is allergic to oranges. I think I'll go lemon peel going forward. I also tried a half-and-half approach: half cider and half apple juice. That made the drink much more mild.
White chicken chili. This is one of my favorite recipes. I admit that I dug this out of the VFG recipe archives because I was looking for a hot soup, but didn't want anything with a tomato base (because all my table coverings were white).
Chipotle dip. This was a last-minute add. I picked up a packet from Chicago's Downtown Farmstand. I'm now a huge fan and am now looking forward to checking out other offerings from Frontier Soups, which packages the dip mix.
Meatballs. I wish this wasn't a crowd pleaser. But I've given up. There's absolutely nothing healthy about these. I use frozen meatballs and toss them in a crock pot with grape jelly and chili sauce. Sounds disgusting. But, um, it's quite delicious.
We had loads of other appetizers and treats. But those were the ones that seemed to get the most raves.
Our gift bags this year, like last, highlighted local business. This year's bags had a little kick, to help our guests spice up the holidays: Ferrara Pan candies from Forest Park and either a Spice House rub or a chocolate bar from Vosges Haut Chocolate.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Nor do I have all of my decorations up.
But I do have a partial menu plan and a partial theme. Our party is on Dec. 12, which happens to be the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
She's my absolute favorite patron saint. It could be my southwestern upbringing. Whatever the reason, I love the mother-and-child symbolism and the Mexican art depicting her.
In celebration of the holidays and the feast day, we'll have a Mexican food table.
And I'll have a prayer candle burning for the Virgin Mother.
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