A Chicago 100 mile Thanksgiving

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving dinner at Bobbi Marstellar and her husband Greg Lakota's house is elaborate, with not only the requisite turkey but multiple sides like butternut squash with blue cheese and a sweet potato souffle. This year they are expecting 20 people. The kicker? The meal is entirely local.

The couple is taking the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge—meaning the ingredients in each dish have come from within 100 miles of their home in Chicago's Old Irving Park. The Thanksgiving Challenge is a one day version of The 100 Mile Diet, a book that chronicles one Canadian couple's attempt to eat locally for an entire year.

Marstellar explains the idea occurred to them when they realized,  “We want more people to be conscious about the way they eat, yet we don’t have this conversation with our own family."

The challenge is to get their guests involved and excited about eating locally. Marstellar hopes to get her mother-in-law on board by providing the ingredients for some dishes beforehand and then cooking them together.This might be easier said than done. Her mother-in-law's signature broccoli and cheese souffle relies heavily on Velveeta and canned mushrooms.

Others are also contributing—someone is bringing wine from a local vineyard and another is bringing sliced apples grown in a nearby orchard. They have even made a map of where the food came from to really visualize the concept for younger guests.

Marstellar admits the challenge involves a lot more preparation and attention to detail, something she appreciates. She's also had to think about where to draw the line in terms of local ingredients. Take the stuffing for example—the recipe calls for bread, which in years past would be store bought. Marstellar is now baking the bread herself using locally-bought flour, although the yeast did come from a supermarket. Same thing with a flourless chocolate cake, the chocolate is local, but the cocoa isn't. Marstellar says the experience, “It’s making it all the more rewarding to take it to that level of detail.”

There have also been some trade offs. Locally sourced honey is replacing sugar in many dishes and the only local nuts she's found are sold in their shell.

Most surprisingly, in terms of price, things have seemed to even out. The actual turkey was more expensive, “there’s no way that the Amish farmer is going to be able to compete with Jewel or Dominick's." But the fact that everything has been made from scratch has allowed her to save in other areas. Prices on fruits and veggies from the farmer's market are comparable with the "organic" section of the supermarket.

If all goes well, they will complete the challenge—that is, if Marstellar's mother-in-law can forfeit the canned mushrooms required for a casserole in exchange for fresh ones. This is still up for debate.

Marstellar's goal, no matter how things turn out, is that her dinner will inspire even the smallest amount of change and that her guests might  "learn one thing that makes them feel differently about the food they put on their plate.”

What's on the menu:
Turkey with stuffing
Roasted Brussel sprouts
Sweet potato souffle
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Roasted butternut squash with blue cheese
Broccoli and cheese casserole
Cauliflower soup
Apple slices
Pumpkin pie
Cranberry walnut tart
Flourless chocolate cake

Where they got their ingredients:
Their usual happy turkey comes from over 100 miles away, so this year they used Miller Amish Country Poultry, which they found through the Lincoln Quality Meat MarketChicago Green City Market had the potatoes, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, eggs, broccoli, apples and pumpkins. Jake's Country Meats had the breakfast sausage for the stuffing. The cranberries came from DeGrandchamp Farms in South Haven, MI. Ted's Organic Grains had local flour. The herbs (rosemary, parsley, sage, and thyme) came from their garden. And they made the honey in their own backyard.
 

Read:
Marstellar's own account of her 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge here