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Friday, November 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 29.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Area carrot eaten by area man!
Earlier this month while at a family reunion in Green Bay, I got into a stimulating discussion about contemporary food matters. (Yes, believe it or not, Brett the Jet wasn't the sole topic of conversation in Packerland this summer.) A young relative was knocking the popularity of sustainable foods with comments like, "You know the word 'organic' starts with the same letter as 'overpriced'" and "Buying local foods is a double standard. Do you buy clothes from local sources?" And the corker: "Eating local is just a fad."
Something fishy - Smoked Trout Hash recipe
Wisconsin's fish fry and fish boil have gained widespread recognition as regional specialties, but there are other, more unusual fish foodways that remain known largely to very local populations. Whitefish livers, which may seem an unlikely delicacy to many people, are greatly enjoyed by families who live near lakes Superior and Michigan, where the big, thick-fleshed fish thrive.
Strawberry (or Blueberry) Cheesecake Shake recipe
Novelist Wally Lamb once wrote: "Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love." Give some, too. Making milkshakes - or love - is a pleasurable endeavor with deliciously sweet results. And what a treat for a languid summer day.
Winter delights: New products at the farmers' market
I was getting a haircut recently when I overheard a woman in the next chair talking about the farmers' market -- the indoor one held on Saturdays downtown at the Madison Senior Center. "I've never been there," she said. "I doubt there's much to buy -- maybe some meat, but that's about all." Poor woman, I probably startled her as I about leaped out of my salon cape to correct that misconception.
Future fruit
I'm an urban forager, one of those loons who dig up dandelion greens in May and in October scrutinize parks for shaggy-bark trees in hopes of finding hickory nuts. In recent weeks, if you came across a riderless brown Schwinn lying near the Capitol City bike trail, with leaves rustling close by, that was me hidden in the foliage, plucking mulberries.
The Smithsonian's 'Key Ingredients' exhibit comes to Wisconsin
The Smithsonian Institute has arrived in Wisconsin -- in the form of a traveling exhibit called "Key Ingredients: America by Food." Curated by American foodways expert Charles Camp, the exhibit examines the nation's culinary traditions and what they tell us about ourselves and our nation.
Cover to cover to cover: A guide to event-hopping at the jam-packed 2011 Wisconsin Book Festival
Previewing this year's Wisconsin Book Festival schedule makes me think of that legendary interview advice. When asked to describe your biggest weakness, tell them it's probably your need to do everything right. By which I mean that the amazing depth and breadth of this year's festival (Oct. 19-23) is undeniably its greatest strength -- a person of broad interests should be delighted.
The drying game
With the return of the Dane County Farmers' Market to the Capitol Square next Saturday, April 21, and outdoor markets up and running soon all over town, it's time to work on The List. You know: Gather canvas bags: check. Stockpile one dollar bills: check. Oil wheels of fold-up shopping cart: check. Ready garden plots for bedding plants: check. I added a new task to the line-up this year: Haul food dehydrator from basement to back porch.
Hot stuff
Ah, spring foods. The delicate greens, the sweet pea shoots, the slender grace of asparagus...the sinus blast of horseradish root.
Smashing pumpkins - Spinach Pumpkin Lasagna recipe
I get a kick out of newspaper photos of contest-winning pumpkins. Selected for their weight, the squash are typically the size and shape of stuffed furniture. They're fun to look at, but you wouldn't want to have to cut one up in your kitchen. Porch displays of giant jack-o'-lanterns are a hoot, too, but I line my own steps with pie pumpkins, the little, darker ones that are bred for their taste, not girth. That way, after Halloween is over, I can make pumpkin puree.
Celebrate the season with tamales - Tamales de Pollo recipe
Wisconsin's culinary diversity is never more apparent than during the holidays, when families enjoy the foods of their ethnic past. Yet heritage recipes can be elaborate affairs; they're brought out only for special occasions in part because they're painstaking to prepare.
Breakfast and beyond
The first two Dane County Farmers' Market breakfasts of the year confirmed that the weekly event is meeting its objectives. Among the goals set five years ago, when the Taste of the Market meals began, were to showcase a range of local crops, farmers, and cooks (check); create a community-wide social gathering around good food (check); and teach shoppers how to utilize the bounty (check).
Making the grade
Grade A is better than Grade B, right? When it comes to maple syrup, not necessarily. That's because grading for maple syrup is based on color, not flavor or quality.
Leah Caplan's Wheat Berries & Black Beans recipe
One culinary upside to the economic downturn is the increased interest in grains. From amaranth to wild rice, they've always been an inexpensive way to eat healthy and hearty. Right now, when both money worries and winter feel particularly merciless, eating more grains can help keep you solvent and well fed.
Locavore Blue Cheese Pasta Toss recipe
It's scramble time for locavores. We're in the between-season -- the stretch that runs roughly from spring break to final exams, when winter is technically over but fresh, local produce is but a twinkle in Mother Nature's eye. We need "pantry pastas" -- noodle dishes that utilize bottled, canned, dried or frozen foods.
Summer stew recipes
It's a culinary given that crops that ripen at the same time in the field inherently go together in the kitchen. Cooks pair certain ones like peas and lettuce in spring, or leeks and potatoes in fall, to produce classic seasonal dishes. During the superabundance of July and August the combos can get more creative and complex -- we plate up a mosaic of grilled summer vegetables, for instance, or compose a multi-layered salad.
Madison farmers' markets offer prepared food made with local ingredients
Life got a little easier for locavores this year, what with the growing selection of prepared foods available at area farmers' markets. Products like jarred pesto and salsa have long been a boon to busy "buy local" cooks, but this season there's a new twist: a growing number of ready-to-heat-or-eat frozen and fresh foods, made with regional ingredients.
Inspiration from indoors
I can't stop making soup. Ever since the gods dumped 14 inches on us in early December, I've been averaging two or three pots a week. The routine starts on Saturdays at the Winter Farmers' Market downtown, where in quick order two canvas bags fill up with locally grown soup fixings. At home there are numerous half-hour occasions to chop-and-let-simmer: after the Sunday crossword puzzle; whenever I'm avoiding work; when the first plane flying overhead jolts me awake at 5:45 a.m.; anytime instead of Facebook.
How do you solve a problem like an eggplant? (recipe)
The topic of eggplant came up in a recent exchange I had with a colleague. "Of all the things I buy at the farmers' market, eggplant is the item that is most likely to go bad in the fridge," she said. "I never really know what to do with it." The inventory of familiar eggplant preparations is indeed a short list; think eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille and baba ganoush, and you're pretty much there.
Chicken booyah makes a hearty up-north meal (recipe)
The term "booyah!" has grown popular as an expression of satisfaction or praise, but where I grew up, booyah is a chicken-and-multi-vegetable soup cooked outdoors in oversized kettles. To locals of Brown, Kewaunee and southern Door counties, "a booyah" is also an event -- a church picnic, family reunion or any special occasion where the community gathers to savor its one-pot-feeds-all connection.
New items from the winter Dane County Farmers' Market
What's new at the Dane County Winter Farmers' Market? Plenty of good stuff to eat. Among the recently introduced products at the Madison Senior Center on Saturday mornings are the following:
Andean edibles
Pisco sours, anticuchos con salsa criolla, ceviche de pescado, yuca frita. These don't sound like local specialties...unless you're in Peru, which is where Madison author Joan Peterson traveled to research her eighth guide for on-the-road food lovers.
Growing momentum
The event was the first of its kind in Wisconsin, a statewide gathering focused on building the demand for locally produced food.
Down on the farm
As part of her vacation in Italy last November, a friend of mine spent several days harvesting and pressing olives on a farm. She then had some of the fruits of her labor shipped home, where she shared cases of grassy, extra-virgin olive oil with me and others - making us the beneficiaries of a booming trend called agritourism.
Summertime is pie time
Next week I'll be doing two of my favorite things: serving pie and eating pie. Door County cherry pie, lemon blueberry tart, spinach Gruyère quiche, Moroccan chicken phyllo pie -- these are a few of the sweet and savory choices I and other volunteers will plate up at this year's Pie Palooza, a benefit brunch scheduled for Sunday, July 15.
Save the summer - Corn essence soup with crisped shallots recipe
August is a perfect month to read Barbara Kingsolver's smart, substantive Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the new book about the year her family spent eating from local sources. It's fitting not just because area market stands bulge with summer fare, but because now's our chance to sock some of it away for what Kingsolver calls the "season to come through."
Kale crisps are leaner, greener and utterly delicious - Kale crisps recipe

At first glance, kale doesn't have much going for it. It's a headless brassica, one in a group known as Old World cabbages that medieval serfs cooked to a mush and downed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mature kale has tough, gray-green leaves and, if you're not careful, it can gain King Kong-like girth and terrorize your garden. Northern Europeans go for it in a big way, but seven out of ten Americans surveyed would rather eat live flies than kale.

Read it and eat
When I was a kid we never put up the holiday tree until Dec. 24. No doubt that seems absurdly late to people who string their porches with Christmas lights at the same time they're removing the Halloween ones. But I bet even those eager beavers have a few last-minute gifts to scramble for. Food books to the rescue. I can recommend the following, all published in 2008.
Freewheelin' fresh dillin'
Dill, like life, comes in stages. First are the delicate fronds, to be chopped and used fresh. The tiny leaves can also be dried, to spike the likes of sauces and eggs dishes. Next there are flower heads to pickle cucumbers, and finally the seeds, for breads, soups and more kinds of pickles.
Taking it low and slow
Sharing corny jokes is one way Wisconsinites deal with glacial blasts and interminable indoor living. Another is cooking, especially if it's something meaty, slow-simmered and served with mashed potatoes.
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