It’s time again to wrap up some of the things I wrote about during 2011. Though I usually do it chronologically, this time around I have to start with the overwhelming reader response to my Oct. 6 column, “It’s alive!” I wrote about my 15-year-old sourdough starter having been inadvertently thrown away by a friend, then discovering that my son had a jar of it in the back of his Boston fridge that had been untouched for at least four years. It seemed almost miraculous that after such a long time it could be brought back to life. I offered readers jars of the revived starter, instructions and recipes as a thank offering. Dozens of people responded, and soon I was building up huge amounts of the starter to be picked up at my daughter Ashley’s omelet stand at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market and emailing recipes and instructions.
It was gratifying to realize how many folks were interested in acquiring the starter. And it was even more gratifying to receive emails from several of them telling me about their successful breadmaking experiences using my sourdough starter.
It wasn’t problem-free, however. Heavy rains drove my daughter to close early or forgo the market altogether a couple of times when the starter should have been available there. But the biggest snafu was when my laptop had a meltdown – literally. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, it dissolved into nothingness when I spilled a glass of milk on the keyboard. Fortunately, even though the computer was kaput, the information it contained was retrievable.
But I worried – and still worry – that I might somehow have missed responding to someone. So if there’s anyone to whom I didn’t reply – either with a question or to request some starter, please accept my apologies and try again.
My March 3 column, “Brooklyn fare,” concerned the grocery store and the restaurant connected to it that’s in the same building in Brooklyn, N.Y., where my daughter, her husband and son live. The restaurant, The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, had garnered two Michelin stars the previous fall – a first in Brooklyn. The newest Michelin guide, published in the fall of 2011, bumped CTaBF up to three stars, which it says is “The highest recognition in the culinary world.” Only 97 restaurants in the world currently have three stars. There are only seven in all of NYC, and only CTaBF in Brooklyn (which has no two-star establishments and only four one-star). I was able to score a reservation last February, and had an outstanding meal. But even though I’ll still exchange waves with the chef and his staff as I walk past the Chef’s Table picture windows on my way to the grocery store whenever I’m there, I doubt I’ll be making reservations again anytime soon: the price for the prix fixe dining experience has climbed into the stratosphere along with the additional stars. At $185 per person it’s almost double what I paid last winter.
I’m an unabashed proponent of local food systems and farmers markets and write about them frequently. Last spring I attended Illinois Senate hearings on what’s become known as the Cottage Food Bill. The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Quinn on Agriculture Day, Aug. 16, at the Illinois State Fair, is a big step in the continuing effort to support local food producers. It revises Illinois’ food safety laws by allowing homemade, non-potentially hazardous baked items, jams and jellies, fruit butters, dried herbs and dried tea blends to be sold at farmers markets as long as they are properly labeled as being homemade. “Cottage food operations” also must be registered, the person(s) preparing and selling the items must have a valid Illinois Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate, and the annual gross sales receipts cannot exceed $25,000. The bill went into effect on Jan. 1.
The “Fascinating anthropology of Midwestern food” (April 14) concerned the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (a Chicago-based organization that explores the foods and food customs of the Midwest) and the symposium it sponsored on Midwest food during the Great Depression. Various speakers presented a range of topics. Some were funny: what ISU college students ate – and cooked – during the Depression; and attempts to create spectacular dishes on a miniscule budget, such as a “crown roast” of frankfurters, filled with sauerkraut, a picture of which is on the GMFA website. Others were heart-rending – talks on how the Depression affected black communities, and how farm economies collapsed – or heart-warming, such as the establishment of community canning centers by the Ball Corporation. The last GMFA 2011 event was an exquisitely elaborate four-course high tea “with Bertha Palmer.”
“Feeding the famous” (June 2) was about my daughter Ashley’s job with a Chicago caterer; most of her assignments were being in charge of backstage meals at some of Chicago’s hottest performing spots for top celebrities. But Ashley’s goal was to eventually return to Springfield and open her own catering business. In June she was making omelets at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market, using the kitchen of a local restaurant to do her prep while searching for a permanent location to open a full-scale catering business. It must have been serendipity that she found what she’d been looking for – and more – in a building at the corner of 15th and Ash that’s owned by the Humphrey family, who I wrote about on July 7, “Inside Humphrey’s Market.” The building had previously housed a bakery and had a fully equipped kitchen. It also has a spacious dining room, an extra that Ashley hadn’t planned on. But she’s used it several times for private parties since moving into the space, and plans are afoot to offer Sunday brunches for the general public there in the near future.
“Nourishing the nation, one tray at a time” (Oct. 27) was about a Farm to School Summit that took place on Nov. 5, sponsored by the Springfield Area Local Food Task Force. The Farm to School movement is dedicated to increasing the amount of local foods in school lunches and breakfasts, as well as teaching schoolchildren about fresh foods and where food comes from. The summit was well attended by a mix of educators, school administrators, farmers, parents, and others. But although the event was a great success, it was clear to everyone that it was part of a process – a springboard to further action. There was also a surprise for me: Julia Govis, the state leader of Illinois’ Farm to School Network, told me that my article had be posted on the USDA’s website!
Having begun with a later-in-the-year column, I’ll end with one of my earliest. “Becoming Nana” (Jan. 13), about my grandson Robbie’s adoption and that my daughter was nursing him went “viral” on the Internet, showing up on adoption and breastfeeding websites, as well as getting passed from person to person. Robbie turned one on Thanksgiving Day. He started walking at 10 months, and is forming his first words. Robbie is the merriest soul I’ve ever known, even a bit of a flirt, with a twinkle in his eye; a constant delight.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.