Sunday, June 29, 2008

making local a habit

I must admit that I haven't been too good about eating local this month. Yes, I have a few things in my garden, some local meat in the freezer and the local milk and bread staples that I can get at the grocery store, but beyond that I've disappointed myself during our June Locavore challenge. I wondered what was different this summer than last, when I was eating local produce almost exclusively. What I realized was that my weekly routine has changed. Last summer I had Saturday mornings mostly free and I made it a habit to visit the Farmer's Market with my mug of coffee and cloth shopping bags. I usually went to Oconomowoc and found that I not only loved the food, but also the atmosphere and the people. I quickly established my favorite vendors and could anticipate what food would be on my Saturday AM shopping list. Since I rarely had more than an hour to fit this outing in, I typically went alone and relished my time to myself and didn't feel guilty doing so since I was gathering food for my family at the same time.

This summer our family has been busy with kids sports on Saturday mornings so the Farmer's Market simply hasn't happened much. I know that there are market's on other days (Dousman on Wed aft and Menomonee Falls on Sun), but I haven't yet built it into my routine so that I can count on it. Other things seem to come up and I find myself back at the Piggly Wiggly buying California food saying that next week will be different. Whether it is working out or farmer's market shopping, routine and convenience are half the battle.

Once I realized what was behind the change, I felt much better and headed to Dousman for some sugar snap peas, strawberries and bacon at their Wed market. This time I was with the kids and a friend which was a fun in a different way from my solo outings. I am hopeful that this is the start of a new habit (for this summer's schedule anyway) and will look forward the the local blueberries that I have heard can only be found at the Dousman market in the weeks to come!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Best Strawberries Ever!

"These are the best strawberries ever!" exclaimed my 4 year old with red juice running down her chin. We had just picked two buckets of organic strawberries from Shadow Lawn Farm south of Oconomowc. She was right, these strawberries really are amazing. Those bloated imports from California can't compare to the freshly picked variety. 

As I have tried to transition more and more to locally grown produce during the summer  months I have reflected on what we have lost in the span of two generations. During my grandparent's generation much of the food was locally produced, now you really can't find anything in a grocery store (except perhaps sweet corn in July) that is freshly picked. We live in an agricultural state yet we have become content to eat bland food imported from across the country and the world without complaint. I would imagine that there are many children now who don't even know what a real tomato tastes like. No wonder they won't eat their veggies. 

Until a few years ago I had never had fresh asparagus. No one in our family cared for the stuff, but when our neighbors gave us some, we tried it. It was so delicious and unlike any asparagus that we had had before that soon the kids were fighting over who could have the last stalk. This is how food is supposed to taste! As I have rediscovered the real taste of food, there are some fruits and veggies that I find not worth eating unless they are fresh-strawberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, and asparagus. I have decided that don't need to eat them all year round. Instead we look forward to their season and then eat them like crazy. Just about the time we can't eat another bite, they are out of season and the next delicious food is ready for harvest. 

To try some of these yummy strawberries yourself, you can pick your own or buy them by the quart at Shadow Lawn Farm at 826 N Griffth Rd, Oconomowoc. It is 2 miles south of I94 off Hwy 67. The rows are widely spaced so it is easy for kids to help pick. They also have goats and sheep and chickens so it is a fun outing all around. 

Anyone know of other self-pick options in the area?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Eating Local on Vacation

I haven't posted for a bit because I was on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado with my hubby. I was hoping to return with stories of my adventures in Colorado cuisine, but alas, most of what I have to report is a large consumption of locally brewed beer (Poudre Ale and Fat Tire).  I did purposely order pork on my way through Iowa, but after smelling the pig farms/factories, I regretted that decision. We do try to stop at ma and pa restaurants while on the road, which I know has more to do with supporting local economies than locally grown food but is more fun than skipping from one fast food chain to the next. Plus eating what the locals eat is part of experiencing an area in my opinion. A few finds that we did stumble across:

1. Kind Coffee each morning. Just down the street from Starbucks but featured organic, fair trade coffee in mugs or biodegradable corn cups. They also composted their grounds. 

2. We ate a romantic dinner on a private balcony at The View (ok, every place has a view in Estes Park). The menu did report that they use locally grown produce when available. Our veggies were yummy, but I am guessing we were there a bit before the peak of harvest season. We went there though to have some local trout and that was delicious. Next time we'll try our hand at fly fishing. 

3. Our first hotel had a rain barrel and the second was a registered as a "green hotel".  Not sure what that means beyond not washing the linens daily which is a start. 

4. Fat Tire beer is made by New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, CO.  Check out their website for cool stuff they are involved with like protecting salmon in local rivers, handcrafted wind turbines etc. Rumor has it that one of the owners has a brother who has a brewery in WI and that they have an agreement that no Fat Tire beer is sold here but that he makes the same beer under a different name. Anyone know what it is????

Any local eats on your June vacations?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Local Eggs

Meet "The Girls". This is Iris and Tulip, our backyard chickens. Eggs don't get any more local than when you walk out behind the garage for breakfast. Three years ago we decided to expand our garden to include eggs as well. The eggs are so beautiful (bright orange yolks that hold together) and so much more tasty, that I could never go back to the factory eggs. I have read lots of great factoids about health benefits of "free range" eggs as well. If I want Omega-3 eggs, I give them a scoop of flax seed or let them bug hunt a bit more.

Our girls spend much of their time in their coop and run, but when we can, we let them out so they can forage for bugs in our lawn and garden. They practically hyperventilate with excitement. Chickens make great pets that require no more care than a cat and are surprisingly entertaining with their own little personalities, and, of course, "pecking order". Their poop makes such a great additive to the compost pile that friends actually have a waiting list for taking the discards from the coop cleanout. The other day I actually saw chicken poop for sale at Stein Gardens.

If you are interested in backyard chickens, don't think you need to live on a farm. Many municipalities allow a small number of hens (although we did have to get a permit) and since they need such small space, they can be happy even in an urban setting. Roosters are usually not allowed for obvious reasons.

If you are interested in backyard chickens, there are lots of good websites and books. We found
the book "Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces" by Barbara Kilarski lots of fun (there was no turning back after I read this!). Also, the website is really helpful. Locally you can get feed and chicks at a variety of places. The Merton Feed Mill in downtown Merton and this is worth a trip just for the feeling like you are walking back in time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cheesehead pride

Our friend Jill doesn't like cheese, but we let her stay in Wisconsin anyway. I admit that I have not been a fan of milk ever since they served it to us warm and in a bag in Kindergarten. I had a friend in 6th grade that was allergic to ice cream (she would actually throw up). In this state of proud dairy lovers, these stories come as a shock to us. I heard that when margarine was first created it was illegal to sell it in Wisconsin (that may be rumor, you can fact-check it yourself).

To me, buying Wisconsin dairy products is a consumer decision that carries a lot of bang for the buck (yes, even when the organic milk is $6/gallon). Buying local milk supports the local economy, family farms, a rural landscape and reduces energy usage by less transportation. After all, do we really want to be second to California?

Milk and cheese are pretty easy as there are many options just at local grocery stores for conventional products. If you are looking for organic milk, it is Organic Valley and Wisconsin Organics (Horizon is from California). When I looked for locally made yogurt, it was harder to find a Wisconsin producer. I recently found a yummy local and organic yogurt produced south of Madison called Sugar River Dairy. I have found this locally at Hartland Market.

If you are interested in Wisconsin dairy artisans, check out this directory

Summer Must Reads

If you are interested in learning more about where your food comes from or eating more locally, there are two books that I know of that should be on your summer "must read" list.

The first is Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. She chronicals the journey of her family as they take a challenge to eat food that they produce themselves or purchase from farmers within 100 miles from their house. It is informative, and filled with lots of good stories as you'd expect from Kingsolver. Some of the recipes and tips are on her website and one of these days I am really hoping to try my hand at making cheese

The other is Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This books is also combination information and personal experience. The author dives into the origin of our food from the politics of corn to the hidden secrets of mass-produced organic food, to the question of whether or not to eat meat and finishes with foraging for mushrooms.

I'd love to see comments of any other suggestions of books that you've read on this month's food topic.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

reusable bags update

Just a quick FYI to let you all know that the Piggly Wiggly in Hartland is now selling reusable bags for 99c. I was there today and saw lots of folks using them. They look nice and are the kind with bottoms.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dandy Dandelions

The other night I fed dandelions to my family for dinner. I was starting to panic over the army of tall naked dandelion stalks marching across my property. I found myself avoiding inviting people over unless we had just mowed. I started thinking that maybe a little herbicide might be a good thing. I needed to regain control before these pests made me do something that I regretted.

So I went out and cut off their heads, deep fried them and ate them. The recipe came from the La Leche League cookbook, Whole Foods for the Whole World. You basically dip the flowers in a mixture of milk and egg, roll in flour with salt and pepper and deep fry. They were actually pretty good-tasted like any other deep fried veggie you might order at a bar with a cold beer. My daughter said they were good but had trouble getting over the fact that she was eating a dandelion. My son asked if I could send them as a school snack and ate them all up. My husband had seconds on the main dish. My youngest wanted to know if that counted as her vegetable.

I am not sure we'll be eating dandelions every day, but it did shake me out of my feelings of defeat and was a great way to launch the June "eating local" challenge. Now I am curious about what else my backyard has to offer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Farm Fresh Atlas

If you are ready to take the local challenge, you will want to get a copy of the Farm Fresh Atlas. This is a wonderful resource of farmer's markets, farms that sell direct, meat and poultry producers, orchards, community sponsored agriculture and other businesses that sell locally grown food. They are published by region so you want to get your hands on the Southeastern WI version. The 2008 edition is out at your local library, chamber of commerce, etc or you can go to

Monday, June 2, 2008

June Challenge - Eat Local

Last June a few friends of ours decided to challenge ourselves to eat local for one month. It was this challenge that eventually led to this blog and the idea that it is good... and fun... to challenge ourselves to do better each month and rethink how we do things. So here we are one year later and it is time to once again challenge ourselves to eat local. How will you challenge yourself?

  • Will you grow a backyard garden? (I have high hopes for my garden, pictured above)
  • Will you plan to visit a farmers market each Saturday?
  • Will you plan to make one completely local meal once a week?
  • Will you go all out and only eat food that has been grown in Wisconsin?
  • Will you decide to be inspired and read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver?
  • Or will you really go all out and be like this guy who is foraging for all his food in a forest for one year? Yeah, me neither.
Let us know in the comments section how you will be eating this month!