Monday, February 13, 2012

some {real} winter food

February in the Windy City is what I would consider the dead of winter (this is a phrase, right?  meaning 'right in the middle'??).  We've long since passed the days of late autumn, the Christmas tree hit the curb more than a month ago, and yet it will still be months before we can put any seeds in the ground outside {Indoor planning and planting is coming soon though!!!!}. 

Last summer I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which served as a wonderful education in eating locally and why it matters.  So, we decided to do our best to eat locally.  We decided this in the middle of the summer ... the middle of the winter is a bit of a different story.  Kingsolver's book is the story of her family eating locally for an entire year and includes much research into the national/global food market.  She, however, 1) lived on a small homestead with massive gardens, chickens, and turkeys, 2) was located in slightly more temperate Virginia, 3) already knew how to 'put up' food in jars, root cellars, and freezers.

None of these things are true of me.  I now know how to can, but I learned that at the very end of the growing season.  We have a pantry which goes far for keeping storage foods, but it's no cellar, and (almost) all of our food we had to buy, which is much more expensive than growing it yourself.  All of this to say, we are not surviving the winter the way that she did ... so what do we do?

(Acorn squash baked with butter and maple syrup, barley, sauteed apples with red onion, broccoli)

We do our very best to eat storage crops and we expand our ideal of 'local' to include the entire USA.  Yep, not really local.  Still, our reasoning is this: Produce from Mexico could be traveling about the same distance as produce from California except that we have no idea where in Mexico it was grown and so if it's coming from far south in Mexico, it's coming a much further distance.  Since we don't know, we pass.  Anything from south of Mexico is out because that's a really long plane ride and we prefer to eat food that doesn't fly (we try to include fish in this too and eat only Great Lakes fish or frozen fish).
Part two of our reasoning: storage crops (like apples, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) also don't need to be brought to the store quickly and can be harvested in season and trucked to consumers throughout the off season {I'm sure it doesn't always work this way, but it can work this way}.  Part three: we also buy frozen fruits because they've been frozen when they were in season and we buy cold weather/greenhouse crops like chard and kale.  These could possibly be grown in Illinois at least for much of the cold season, but we currently buy them from California.  This is an area we're continuing to work on as we could make more of an effort to go to the winter farmers markets around the city and buy truly local, seasonal produce even in the winter. 

(Delicious snack of sauteed apples and yogurt with honey)

The other part of winter eating involves working more dried goods into meals - beans, grains, baked goods and then supplementing with items like eggs.  This also includes canned goods.  Ideally, we'd be eating our own canned produce but that's not a reality for us this winter, so we settle for high-quality canned items from the store.  Again, this may be the kind of thing we could get from the farmers market but we haven't been yet.

 (Breakfast spread of eggs with WI cheese, steel-cut oats with frozen blueberries, grapefruit and coffee)

Finally, we also buy US grown citrus.  Citrus fruits aren't native to Illinois and they are in season in Florida and California during our winter, so we make that our main source of fresh fruit.  Our system for eating/buying food is far from perfect and it's a continual process.  We continue to try to be mindful of our choices and the effect they have on ourselves and our world.  Compromises are part of living in a less-then-ideal system, but they are at least choices that we make on purpose.

What foods are getting you through the winter?  Any good recipes?  Any more ideas for eating locally when the ground is frozen?


  1. We have been loving kale at our place this winter. I tear it up, toss it with olive oil, vinegar and salt, and let it dry out into chips. We eat them like popcorn, and it's a good way for us to eat something green that isn't completely out of season.

  2. (by "let dry out," I mean "put in the oven between 400 and 450 degrees for ten or fifteen minutes.")