Friday, February 24, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Genetically Engineered Crops; Farm-to-School Funding


Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing you with contact information to voice your opinion on those issues. Thanks to Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers for help on details of the pending legislation. The sponsors of legislation are listed on the information pages of the bills (links above), and links are provided for their offices. You can find your own legislators here if you want to contact them about these or other issues.

We're one month into the six month-long 2017 session of the Oregon Legislature. Today is the deadline for drafts of proposed legislation to be completed, then legislators will have until Tuesday to take them to the House and Senate desks for introduction. The bills of particular concern to Oregon farmers and consumers are outlined below.

Genetically engineered sugar beet.

Additionally, I will be moderating a panel on these issues and others at the Friends of Family Farmers InFarmation gathering on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 pm at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison. Make plans to attend and get more information on these bills and other issues, as well as ask any questions you may have.

Allowing local communities to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination from genetically engineered (GE) seed or products (HB 2469). This bill will allow counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. On Feb. 8 a press conference was held in the State Capitol in Salem laying out the case for these two bills and the history behind it (video here; press conference starts at 11:35 mark). Sponsors are currently working to secure committee hearings on this bill.

Strengthening the ability of farmers to hold patent-holders of GE crops financially accountable when unwanted presence of their products is found on farmers’ land (HB 2739). This bill clarifies that the responsibility of contamination of a farmer's crops by another farmer's GE crops lies with the patent-holder, allowing the court to award prevailing plaintiff costs, attorney fees and triple the economic damages. In many cases in the past, the farmer who is the victim of contamination has not only lost his crops, but has been successfully sued by the patent-holder for "stealing" the GE crops. In addition, in some cases organic farmers have lost their organic certification due to this kind of contamination by GE crops, essentially putting them out of business. Oregon farmers deserve to have legal recourse in the event of this kind of contamination.

Portland's Sabin School Garden Program.

Ensuring continued funding for Oregon's Farm-to-School program (HB 2038). This bill appropriates funds to the Department of Education for grant programs allowing school districts to purchase Oregon food products and to pay for costs related to food-based, agriculture-based and garden-based educational activities. Currently, Governor Kate Brown’s proposed two-year budget contains no funding for Farm-to-School. In 2015, the Legislature provided over $5 million in funding for a farm-to-school program. However, this funding expires in July 2017, and because Oregon is facing a severe budget shortfall of roughly $1.8 billion, top Legislative budget writers earlier this year proposed significant cuts to the program.

See the first post in this series for other bills affecting farmers and consumers in Oregon this session. For more information, read the entire series here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chicken Tikka Masala Fills Your Senses


If I knew a good love song about dairy products, I'd be putting a link to it here. If you read my last post about our discovery of a line of organic, lactose-free dairy products, you'll know what I'm talking about.

It's been years since I've been able to contemplate making recipes that contain any fresh dairy products like butter, yogurt, sour cream, cream or any cheese younger than about six months. Looking through cookbooks or recipe sites, I automatically screened out anything that had any significant amount of those ingredients. Sure, I'd been able to substitute margarine for butter in a few, and tried tofu sour cream and cream cheese on occasion, but…sorry to say this…they were pale imitations when the real deal was called for.

Roasting spices for garam masala.

The cuisine of India is generally fine for the lactose intolerant, since vegetable oil is often called for (or can be substituted for ghee) in many instances. But the creamy, lovely curried yogurt sauces have been off limits. Until now.

As mentioned previously, Green Valley Organics makes lactose-free sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese and butter, and they're widely available here in Portland. So to celebrate this life-changing—or at least dinner-changing—occurrence, I decided to do a trial run of a tikka masala, which uses copious amounts of ghee and yogurt as the body of a curry sauce that blankets the chicken, lamb or whatever meat you choose in a lusciously rich coating.

Lovely aroma, fabulous flavor.

I was intrigued by the description I ran across in a recipe for a Punjabi-style tikka masala by Samin Nosrat on the New York Times cooking site, but decided to substitute fresh chicken thighs for the cooked turkey called for. (I also made homemade garam masala—easy and so much more flavorful than store-bought—using a recipe by Craig Claiborne.)

Long story short, with a few tweaks and adjustments to the recipe, sighs and moans were heard emanating from the diners gathered around the table, for the return of these much-missed gifts from our bovine friends as much as the incredible aroma and flavor of the dish itself.

Chicken Tikka Masala

For the garam masala:
9 green cardamom pods

1" length of stick cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. whole cloves

1⁄2 tsp. black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. cumin seeds

1 Tbsp. coriander seeds

For the marinade:
2 tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. paprika
4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press or pounded in a mortar and pestle
1 c. whole-milk yogurt
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on is fine, too)

For the masala:
4 Tbsp. ghee, butter or neutral- tasting oil
1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
6 cardamom pods, crushed, with seeds reserved and husks disposed of
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. paprika
1⁄2-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. garam masala
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press or pounded in a mortar and pestle
2 serrano peppers, finely minced
1 qt. roasted tomatoes or a 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
12 oz. sour cream
1/2 c. whole-milk yogurt
3⁄4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati or jasmine rice, for serving

Break open cardamom pods and reserve the small seeds, discarding the outer shells. Roughly crush the cinnamon stick into small pieces in a mortar and pestle. Combine all the spices in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook spices briefly until they emit a roasty aroma, but be careful and don't allow them to smoke. Empty into small spice mill or small coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in airtight container.

Make the marinade: In a medium bowl, stir together garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, kosher salt, garlic, ginger and yogurt. Fold in the chicken thighs. Cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight.

Make the masala: On the stove top, heat a Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons ghee, butter or neutral oil, then add onion, cardamom, bay leaf, paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are brown and tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting temperature as needed so the onions don’t burn.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add 1 tablespoon ghee, butter or neutral oil. When it sizzles, add ginger, garlic and serrano peppers, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the spiced onions, then add tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir sour cream, yogurt and chopped cilantro into the mixture in the pot. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

In the meantime, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, turn on oven broiler, and arrange an oven rack about 6 inches from broiling unit. Lay the marinated chicken thighs on the parchment in a single layer. (Stir any remaining marinade into the sauce.) Broil thighs until they begin to blacken in spots, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the browned thighs to the masala sauce, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt as needed. To serve, garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve hot, with steamed basmati rice.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lactose Freedom!


It was a sad day more than a decade ago that my husband discovered he was lactose intolerant. For years he'd had bouts of gastrointestinal issues, and finally narrowed it down to those times when he'd consumed dairy products. As I wrote at the time:

"It was a very bad day. One of those days that forever changes you. A day that delineates a definite 'Before' and 'After.' The life-altering occurrence? My husband found out he was lactose intolerant. And, no, not just the 'take a Lactaid pill and have some cheesecake anyway' kind of lactose intolerant, but the kind where it's inadvisable to partake of butter, fresh cheeses or any product containing milk without risking...ahem...shall we say 'explosive repercussions.'"

Not being inclined to use someone else's intestinal tract as a personal science project, I decided to eschew dairy in family meals and focus on those that could be made with oil or margarine instead. Fortunately many of the world's most delicious cuisines are not heavily dairy-based, including most Asian cultures and those of Italy, Spain and other countries of the Mediterranean.

I was able to cheat at times, since he seemed to tolerate well-aged cheeses, anything that had more than six months or so of aging. So extra-sharp cheddar and the then newly available lactose-free milk products went into making a pretty decent version of macaroni and cheese.

We dreamed of the day when more lactose-free products would start appearing on store shelves. A part of that desperate wish was granted when lactose-free whole milk, rather than just two percent, became available, expanding our culinary universe a smidge. But butter and cream were still beyond our reach.

Then, miracle of miracles, my sister-in-law announced that she had found lactose-free butter at the store and, even better, it was certified organic. Dave immediately went out and bought a half-pound chunk, planning to slather a few pats on his morning toast—and declaring it an official (and delicious) great leap forward. He even started dreaming of making buttery, flaky, lighter-than-air croissants.

Come to find out that the same company, Green Valley Organics in California's Sonoma County, also makes cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt and kefir. And that meant I could once again make long-missed desserts like—Be still my heart!—cheesecake and indulge in dishes like Indian tikka masala. Even better, it turns out Green Valley products are available in stores around town and, while definitely more expensive than other organic products, are well worth the price for those special dishes that are so much better with (real, organic) dairy.

(PS: We're still waiting for the heavy cream.)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Future of Our Food: Supporting Family Farmers in Oregon


This series interviews farmers, food activists, politicians and policy wonks to try to get a handle on the seismic shift in our local food landscape due to the change of administrations in Washington.

Ivan Maluski owns and operates Shimanek Bridge Farm with his wife, Kendra Kimbirauskas, in rural Linn County where his focus is on producing high quality pasture while rotationally grazing pigs, poultry, goats and cattle. With nearly twenty years of experience working on natural resource policy issues at the state and federal levels, he has served as the Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) since 2012. He works to accomplish FoFF's legislative and policy priorities at the State Capitol in Salem, representing small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers. He can often be found testifying at the Oregon Board of Agriculture, the Legislature and in other venues. He also makes a terrific cheese from the milk from his herd of LaMancha goats.

What are the critical issues affecting agriculture and our food system a) here in the Northwest and b) in the country as a whole?

In the Northwest, one of the most critical issues facing our food system is rapidly rising farmland prices that is making access to land for beginning farmers increasingly difficult. The average age of Oregon farmers is now at 60 years old and a significant portion of Oregon's farmland base is likely to change hands in the next decade or two. Increasingly, Oregon farmland is being bought by out-of-state real estate investment firms and larger agricultural production firms, which is driving prices beyond the reach of family-scale and newer farmers. This trend could lead to vastly less family ownership of farmland in Oregon in the future, fewer smaller and mid-sized independent farms, and less resiliency in local and regional food production systems.

In the country as a whole, rising market consolidation and corporate mergers are a major threat to family farm ownership and consumer choice, as our food system increasingly falls into the hands of a smaller number of large corporations. A generation ago, America's food and farm economy was dominated by family-scale operations. Now, just handful of companies control most meat production and a major share of dairy production in the U.S. The world's largest seed and input companies also in the process of merging, which reduces marketplace competition, which will likely raise prices for farmers while reducing options for seeds and other inputs. This will ultimately translate into higher prices for consumers as well.

Putting on your best prognosticating hat, what are the issues you think are going to be at the top of the list of the new administration, and how do you think they will address them?

I think the new administration is going to be heavily focused on repealing regulations that they view as obstacles to large, industrial agricultural firms doing business how they see fit. To the extent EPA rules, for example, currently work to keep manure from large factory farms, or fertilizer runoff, out of waterways, these rules will be under attack by the Trump administration and the current leadership in Congress. Expect both administrative and Congressional action to repeal as many regulations as possible over the next two years, with the primary beneficiary in agriculture being bigger operations with the most significant pollution issues. I think we can also expect that, despite historical bipartisan support for the Farm Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill debate will likely be colored by efforts by the Trump administration to slash spending. If they are successful, I would expect there to be cuts to important farm conservation programs, organic research, local food system programs, programs aimed at helping beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and the nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) that make up a big part of the Farm Bill.

What do we as citizens need to be paying attention to? What are the best sources for information on the issues?

Pay attention to how the Trump administration deals with pending mergers between companies like Monsanto and Bayer, and Syngenta and Chem China. Before being inaugurated, Trump met with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer at Trump tower and seemed to endorse the merger, which would have devastating impacts on many American farmers. Additionally, the Trump administration has put on hold long-overdue Farmer Fair Practices rules to level the playing field for family-scale livestock producers and increase transparency in the marketplace to address unfair practices that large meatpacking companies sometimes engage in to control prices. The fate of large agribusiness mergers and the Farmer Fair Practices rules will be an early, major test of the Trump administration on whether they will stand with family farmers, or large agribusiness companies when those interests diverge. While some of the most prominent groups in the agribusiness sector support mega-mergers and oppose the Farmer Fair Practices rules, groups that support independent and sustainable producers are also speaking up. Sign up for alerts and newsletters from groups like the National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to stay on top of national policy.

In your opinion, what’s the most effective action citizens can take in the short term? In the long term?

In the short term, concerned citizens may need to look at getting more involved at the local and state level to advance good food and farm policies. For at least the next two years, the federal government has been taken over by corporate ag interests that will likely take policy backwards. This must be opposed, but it is also an opportunity for state and local governments to enact or strengthen policies that promote local and regional food systems and sustainable agriculture. State and local governments will need to lead the way if the federal government is going backward.

What organizations most need our support?

Friends of Family Farmers and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Read more in the Future of Our Food series.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Got Parmesan Rinds? Make Broth!


Recently I was reading through some old articles and came upon a mention of making a broth from old Parmesan rinds and thought, "Yeah, right." I'd heard of dropping the rinds into tomato sauces and cheese-friendly soups to add a little oomph of umami, but broth? Really?

Then I remembered my "aha!" moment about making corn stock from leftover cobs, and my slap-upside-the-head realization about broth made from crab shells. I knew I had a nice little zip-lock bag of old rinds I'd been storing in the freezer because I felt guilty about throwing them out. So why not give it a try?

And, as you might expect from the enthusiastic title of this post, I'm now a convert and will henceforth be hoarding Parm rinds, maybe even going so far as to sneak them into my pockets when we go to as-yet-uncoverted friends' homes for dinner.

So how easy is it? Seriously, if you can boil water you can make this broth. All it takes is a cup of rinds and eight cups of water, brought to a boil and then simmered for an hour or so. It's insanely good as a base for risotto (see recipe below), but I've also used it combined with chicken broth for minestrone soup, and I can't wait to try it in a creamy tomato soup or my next pot of beans. And it keeps virtually forever in the freezer, though I can't imagine it'll linger there very long.

Like all converts to a cause, I've become pretty fanatical—you won't be finding any unsimmered corn cobs, crab shells or, now, unused Parmesan rinds around here!

Parmesan Broth Risotto with Peas and Preserved Lemons

For the broth:
1 c. Parmesan rinds
8 c. water

For the risotto:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped finely
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
1 c. dry white wine
4 c. Parmesan broth
1/2-1 c. peas
1/4 c. preserved lemon, chopped fine
1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving at the table

Put cheese rinds and water in a medium-sized pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for one to two hours. Measure 4 cups of broth for use in risotto. The remainder will keep for a week or so in the fridge or it will keep for at least six months in the freezer.

Melt the butter and oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the rice. Sauté for two minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add wine and stir until it's absorbed, then start adding the broth a ladle-full at a time, stirring frequently. When most of broth is absorbed, add more broth. When you've used about half the broth, add the peas and then continue adding broth and stirring frequently until the rice is al dente but not crunchy. Add preserved lemon and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan and stir to combine. Serve with extra Parmesan for sprinkling at the table.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Travels With Chili: Day Trippin' to Cannon Beach


It happens a lot when I'm driving, as well as on those rare occasions when I'm on an airplane. I'll be puttering along on the freeway and ahead of me there's an exit sign that says "Ocean Beaches" or a sign pointing to "Seattle next exit," and I'll think, why not? Or maybe we're sitting on an airplane and the flight attendant announces the landing time for our destination and then says, "For those passengers continuing on to Paris…"

Well, lately—okay, honestly, since the election and the resulting chaos on the national scene—I've been alternating between covering my eyes to avoid seeing pictures of you-know-who and getting sucked into watching Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live.

So lately the pull to take that exit off the freeway has been almost irresistible. Fortunately for me, a friend had a birthday coming up and, instead of trying to buy a gift—which is always fraught with uncertainty for me—I thought, hey, I'll bet she needs a jaunt out of town as much as I do!

My favorite hands-down jaunt destination is the beach, just a 90-minute drive from PDX, and whether it's Astoria's historic, working port appeal or the taffy-and-Haystack Rock lure of Cannon Beach, there's really no wrong direction. Both drives are scenic, with a choice of forested vistas or a meander along the Columbia River, and easy driving, especially on a weekday.

And, of course, Kitty and Walker had to come along, especially since my friend was the lifelong caretaker of the departed ür-Corgi, Tai, who got us started on this big-dog-with-short-legs journey in the first place. Plus Corgis seem to be drawn to the waves like…well…like seagulls to the beach, so it was a win-win-win all the way around. Even though we got started a bit late, at 11 or so in the morning, we made it to Cannon Beach by 1 and were walking on the beach moments later.

I tend to avoid the section of beach near the touristy downtown and opt instead for pulling into the tiny city park just before hitting the main drag. It's separated from the Haystack Rock area by a creek, which tends to discourage the tourists from crossing it and makes for a nice quiet walk up to the bluff on the north end of town.

We were, of course, starving by the time we made it back to the car an hour later, so we zipped into town and nabbed a comfy booth at Bill's Tavern & Brewhouse where I had a lovely pint of their IPA to go with my spinach salad while my friend gobbled down their chopped salad. Despite the dire weather prediction, it was still astonishly gorgeous out, so we drove down to the south end of town and went for another stroll on the beach before heading back home.

With tired puppies, clearer heads and the memory of a perfect few hours on the beach to hold onto, it was just what all of us needed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Future of Our Food: Building Infrastructure for a Regional Food System


This series interviews farmers, food activists, politicians and policy wonks to try to get a handle on the seismic shift in our local food landscape due to the change of administrations in Washington.

As Vice President of Food & Farms at Ecotrust, Amanda Oborne leads a team seeking to revolutionize and regionalize our food system. By harnessing the purchasing power of schools and institutions, empowering local farmers and ranchers, and developing infrastructure to connect the two, Ecotrust is helping build a resilient regional food economy that nourishes communities and renews the resources on which we depend. Recently named one of the "Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company magazine, Amanda has a master’s degree from Northwestern University, and spent 15 years in private enterprise before joining Ecotrust in 2010. She has recently been featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fast Company and Civil Eats, and appeared at the Food Tank 2016 National Summit and the New York Times Live: Future of Food.

What are the critical issues affecting agriculture and our food system a) here in the Northwest and b) in the country as a whole?

Our biggest challenges are shared—our health, economy, environment and culture are intertwined with our food and how we produce and disseminate it. I believe the system we rely on for our food is fundamentally flawed. Our biology makes us highly susceptible to food that is bad for us, and our "always-on" culture keeps us running and distracted—all of which makes it extremely profitable, given the economic structure in which we operate, for corporations to exploit those realities for significant profit but to the collective detriment of our health and humanity.

It is inhumane, in my mind, to propagate a food system that solves for financial profit over human health and wellbeing. People from all walks of life—farmers and ranchers in rural communities, school children, hospital patients, service industry and agricultural workers, people disadvantaged by institutional racism, people living in poverty and even privileged city dwellers like you and me, suffer to varying degrees from a food system that prioritizes profit and efficiency over nutrition, access and resource stewardship.

If we are to have any hope of addressing these core issues, we are going to have to come together. That means not dividing ourselves into factions dedicated to certain types of production (organic vs. GMO vs. no-till vs. pastured, etc.), but collaborating to support restorative agriculture of all kinds, values-based supply chains and regional markets.

Putting on your best prognosticating hat, what are the issues you think are going to be at the top of the list of the new administration, and how do you think it will address them?

This administration appears to be focused on profit-maximization and deregulation, but seems unaware of how its policies, particularly on immigration and trade, would affect agribusiness. In addition to deleting all references to animal welfare from the White House website, the president has signaled a preference for commodity agriculture over "backyard tomato farming,"  which is how he seems to be characterizing non-commodity production and regional supply chains. The reality is, however, that many types of differentiated production have been shown to yield a higher profit per acre, and consumer demand for food free of antibiotics, pesticides, animal cruelty, added sugar and other unnecessary additives is not going away.

What’s more, a growing number of consumers want their food system to reflect their values, including livable wages and fair treatment for both farm workers and service industry employees, equitable access to nutrient-dense food and higher standards for animal welfare. Eaters are going to have to find their voices and speak up. The good news is that because food is so connected to other issues—climate change, children’s health and ability to learn in school, immigration, equity, aging, and many others—speaking up for food has a ripple effect on many other important issues.

What do we as citizens need to be paying attention to? What are the best sources for information on the issues?

If you care about any of these challenges, you would do well to read Civil Eats regularly. The foremost repository of news, thought, analysis and solutions being piloted in regions across the country, Civil Eats carries the pulse of food and restorative agriculture and is completely accessible to eaters of all stripes.

For those actively working or volunteering in food system reform, I can also recommend the Food & Environment Reporting Network and its partner publication, Ag Insider, along with Mother Jones; the weekly newsletter of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Food Tank; and Food Tech Connect.

In your opinion, what’s the most effective action citizens can take in the short term? In the long term?

Show up for local, practical, immediate causes. For example, the Oregon Legislature is considering eliminating funding for farm to school in this legislative session. This would be an incredible blow to Oregon children, farmers and processors all in one hit. Research conducted by Ecotrust has shown, without question, that every dollar spent by schools on local food creates an additional dollar of economic activity in our home economy, and creates jobs as well. Parents and supporters can stay tuned to the Facebook pages of Ecotrust and Upstream Public Health for regular updates and calls to action.

What organizations most need our support?

Becoming a monthly Ecotrust giver puts any eater squarely in the fight for an equitable, restorative, prosperous and delicious food system, and the gifts are used locally for the benefit of Oregon farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, as well as children and families facing system disadvantages in food access. Yes, of course I’m biased, but I can certainly vouch for the work!

Read more in The Future of Our Food series.

Top photo by Chloe Aftel.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Wartime Kitchen & Garden: A Parable for Our Time?



The other night a friend of ours mentioned a show he'd watched online called Wartime Kitchen and Garden. This series, created by the BBC and aired in 1993, attempted to recreate the era just before and during World War II when England, virtually surrounded by German U-boats, was unable to import any food and had to quickly recreate a local food system to feed its people.

Harry Dodson, gardener.

Edicts were issued by the government that any arable land, including its vast public gardens, had to be converted so that at least 75 percent of it was dedicated to food production.

"How sad it was to have to throw away perfectly good plants, plants which had been tended for years," said Harry Dodson, head gardener at Chilton Lodge, who narrates many of the garden segments. "To see them thrown away on the fire heap or the compost heap, it was a period of great sadness."

Ruth Mott, cook.

Fortunately the real privations of wartime, like bombings and shortages, held off for several months and allowed people to start producing food prior to shortages and rationing became a reality. In addition to food production, the series outlined the steps that home cooks took to make the most of what little was available in shops during the war years, as well as the creative ways they conserved energy and fuel.

I'd highly recommend watching a few episodes for their entertainment value and historical detail, but also keep in mind that this is very applicable to our lives now as we try to create (or revive) a local food system.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Farm Bulletin: Particular About Preserves


The first time I tasted the preserves from Ayers Creek Farm, it was their black cap jam, and I was bowled over by the intensity of the fruit that burst from it. Subsequent jars of plum, blackberry, raspberry and quince jelly each carried the same concentrated flavor intrinsic to its particular fruit, and I've found very few other preserves that can match it. Here contributor Anthony Boutard reveals the secret to their preserve-making prowess, and why other brands may never measure up.

Our preserves are made from the farm's fruit only. If the fruit is shy in the field, it is shy in the kettle and then in the jar, but we hope never shy on toast. The fruit is predominantly the first run from the field, the very best for processing because it has high acidity, along with high aromatic and pectin content. Lots of character and an outgoing disposition. Acidity, not sweetness, defines a fruit. Paradoxically, on most berry farms this highest quality fruit is left to over-ripen or rot because there is not enough to justify mustering a crew to harvest it, let alone the time and fuel needed to deliver such a small quantity. The economics of berry production are tight. Fortunately, we are diverse enough that staff can harvest for a hour or so in the cool of the day, and then set up irrigation and perform other essential tasks. And we only have to deliver the fruit to one of our freezers.

Because of the fruit's quality, we achieve a good set without adding commercial pectin. We freeze the berries whole in the harvest crates without crushing them. This preserves the aromatics and avoids any enzymatic degradation while the fruit is freezing. For the plum preserves, staff harvests a blend of firm, acidic fruit and riper, more aromatic fruit. The mix lends more character to those preserves.

Most are processed using 750 grams of sugar per kilogram of fruit, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The currants and jostaberry are prepared using 950 grams of sugar per kilogram of fruit. All are cooked in two gallon lots using a set of four small steam kettles. We use sensitive digital thermometers to track the temperature of the fruit. We generally shoot for 220-221°. However, each of the 15 fruits cooks differently, and they vary from year to year. This year, the purple raspberry set at 216°, the lowest we have ever seen in our fruit. Still scratching our heads over that. The behavior in the pot indicated a set had been achieved, but the reading on the thermometers didn't match, so we decided with our eyes rather than the instrument. An overcooked preserve is a terrible disappointment. As a general matter, we err on the side of a runnier set rather than risk a gummy texture and dull flavor.

When finished, we have concentrated about a half pound of fruit in each 10-ounce jar. When we started making preserves, we found there were all of these baffling rules of identity defining jams, conserves, jellies, sauces, spreads and preserves. We artfully dodge the identity question by avoiding any description on the label. All we do is name the fruit and ingredients.

Our ability to make preserves of this quality rests on a very special relationship we have developed with the owners of Sweet Creek Foods, Paul and Judy Fuller. Since 2005, we have produced more than 35,000 jars of preserves at their factory in Elmira, about 35 miles west of Eugene. They are set up to process large quantities of fruit in several 200 gallon kettles, thousands of jars a day. The physics of cooking in large kettles require the addition of commercial pectin, something we have avoided because those pectins bind with the fruit's acids and dull the flavor. We pay extra to use the little kettles that otherwise are reserved for testing purposes, and eke out about 1,000 jars each day. As Paul notes, he could do that in an hour if we weren't so damned picky. We sweeten the deal by bringing down a huge pot of soup for Paul, Judy and their staff.  

The difference in price between the different types is not an indicator of quality differences. The difference reflects extra labor costs and shrinkage associated with deseeding, and removing the stems from the currants. In the case of damsons, it's the labor associated with pitting such a small plum. Jellies are their own challenge because the juice and pectins must be extracted by slowly stewing the fruit, and then drawing off and decanting the clear liquid. They are our art project, the test of our mettle as preservers with their fragile, jewel-like essence. With jellies, there is no gracious exit from a mistake.

We don't have a favorite preserve as such; they all find their way onto our table. However, the one that is the true measure of our efforts is the red raspberry. Commercially prepared raspberry preserves, jams, conserves, spreads, however they are identified, are found in every grocery store in the land, and many of us had parents or grandparents who put up some raspberry jam. If we felt our red raspberry tasted the same as Smuckers or some tonier brand, we wouldn't devote the time and effort. On the other hand, we are not foolish enough to compete with memories and are very happy if the quality simply reminds you of the raspberry jam you enjoyed at your parents' or grandparents' table.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Party Favor: Green Olive Tapenade


I love dinner parties. Not fancy-schmancy, dress-up affairs where people make polite small-talk over hors d'oeuvres, then sit down at a table groaning with myriad special-purpose forks and spoons. (Can you tell I've been watching too many British life-in-the-manor shows?) I prefer small gatherings where the question isn't "what should I wear" so much as "what can I bring."

It's probably because I grew up with parents who had friends over for dinner frequently, where the laughter and conversation filled the house as full plates were decimated and bottles of wine were emptied.

Potluck dinners provide great opportunities to get new recipes, since people tend to bring favorite bites they only make for special occasions—my brother's deviled eggs with pancetta leaps to mind—or when they want to try out a new recipe, a practice a surprised guest once scolded me for but I still do on a regular basis. After all, what better time to try a labor or ingredient-intensive dish? Pour enough wine and your guests will forgive (or forget) any minor disasters!

One such recent gathering featured an intriguing appetizer that I first took to be guacamole because of its brilliant green color, but on taking a bite I was startled to find it crunchy and sparked with lemon and garlic. But what was it?

I immediately turned to Michael Schoenholtz, a terrific photographer and the one who brought the fascinating tidbit, and asked what this deliciousness was. Turns out that he had been working on the recipe ever since he'd had it at a restaurant, tweaking and fiddling to recreate the experience he remembered (an exercise in patience that I seldom can manage). Based on the intensely bright green Castelvetrano olives which I've been flirting with for years—I love them plain, marinated in orange zest or chopped in a salad—and which are a ubiquitous presence in grocery store olive bars, it adds Meyer lemon juice (be still my heart), garlic, almonds and mustard seeds to achieve that intoxicating flavor.

Better yet? It can be made in a food processor in minutes. Now I'm toying with the idea of mixing the ingredients into pasta or serving it with fish or on crostini, so you may be seeing a similar combination again. So try it, and feel free to take it to your next potluck!

Castelvetrano Olive Tapenade
From Michael Schoenholtz

40 pitted Castelventrano olives
1/3 c. blanched, unsalted almonds (slivers fine)
1/3 c. fresh fennel, roughly chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2-1 c. Italian parsley, roughly chopped
3 oz. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients except olive oil and salt in food processor. With processor running, drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture is a coarse blend. (You don’t want a smooth purée, so don't dawdle.) Empty processor into medium-sized mixing bowl and stir in salt to taste.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Bills Address New Farmers; CAFO Air Pollution; GMO Contamination


Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing you with contact information to voice your opinion on those issues. Thanks to Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers for help on details of the pending legislation.

The upcoming session of the Oregon legislature—scheduled to convene on February first—is going to be a tough one for the State of Oregon, which is facing a $1.7 billion (yes, with a "b") funding shortfall. That means that programs benefitting small farmers, like those supporting beginning farmers and for farmers transitioning to organic, as well as for Farm-to-School funding, are going to be David in a battle with big Goliaths like transportation, natural resources, education…you name it.

Here are three bills that I'll be keeping an eye on in the next few weeks and months, and I'll keep you posted on any new issues that arise.

New farmers gather to share information.

Tax credit for renting farmland to beginning farmers for a term of three years (HB 2085). This bill creates a beginning farmer tax credit to encourage landowners to rent land to beginning farmers, with higher rates given for organic practices. Despite growing demand for locally grown food, Oregon is in the midst of land crisis. The state lost nearly 25% of its beginning farmers (those in business fewer than 10 years) between 2007 and 2012, according to the USDA. The average age of farmers in Oregon is now 60 years old, and fast-rising farmland prices are raising serious question about who will grow our food in the future. HB 2085 is intended to help beginning farmers gain access to land, and builds on Oregon's Aggie Bonds program, which helps lower interest rates on loans to beginning farmers. If passed, the tax credit will apply to tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

Oregon CAFOs produce air pollutant like ammonia and nitrogen.

Regulation of air contaminant emissions from dairy confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) (SB  197). This bill would require new rules be established to regulate air contaminant emissions from large dairy operations by 2019. In 2007, Oregon exempted large-scale livestock operations from air-quality oversight, and though a 2008 state task force recommended an air quality oversight program for large dairies, the state's Departement of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is not monitoring air quality impacts from large CAFOs and feedlots. Elevated concentrations of ammonia from mega-dairies like the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms (photo, above right) have been linked to acid deposits in the Columbia River Gorge, and nitrogen compounds are contributing to elevated levels of ozone in the vicinity of these operations. A recent proposal for a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy called Lost Valley Ranch near the Columbia River has prompted renewed interest from legislators in creating an air contaminant emissions program as outlined in SB 197.

Contamination from GE crops threaten Oregon's small farmers.

Allowing local governments to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination from genetically engineered seed or products (HB 2469). This bill will allow counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. Up to that point, Oregon county governments had the highest degree of local discretionary authority of any state in the nation, according to the Oregon Secretary of State as quoted in an article at the time. HB 2469 would allow counties to once again regulate or ban GE crops to protect farmers growing traditional crops, and it would leave in place an existing ban on GE crops that passed in Jackson County on May 20, 2014. It would also allow a GE crop ban that passed in Josephine County in May, 2014, but which has been blocked in the courts, to finally go into effect.

The sponsors of legislation are listed on the information pages of the bills (links above), and links are provided for their offices. You can find your own legislators here if you want to contact them about these or other issues.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Meyer Lemon Relish Makes Cauliflower Sing


I adore Meyer lemons and try to use them as much as possible when they're in season. This year I made preserved lemons, the better to enjoy them long after they've disappeared from store shelves. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food chops them into a relish that he can serve with grilled fish or mix with any number of blanched vegetables and salad greens. Thanks, Jim! 

It wasn't that long ago (okay, maybe it was 20 years) that the only way to get a Meyer lemon was knowing someone in California with a tree in their backyard. The citrus, thought to be a cross of lemon and tangerine, actually arrived from Asia in the early 1900s. Less acidic and puckery than the common Lisbon and Eureka lemons, Meyers also have thin, aromatic skins and a lovely fragrance.

Cauliflower with Meyer Lemon Relish

This relish, a twist on the traditional Italian herb sauce called gremolata, comes from an Alice Waters recipe for slow-roasted salmon in the 1999 Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook. It's good with fish and almost everything else.

Drop a whole head of cauliflower into a pot of salted boiling water; pull it out after 3 minutes and let cool. Make the relish by cutting a Meyer lemon into quarters lenghtwise, slicing the central white core from each quarter and removing the seeds. Then chop the lemon finely.

Combine the chopped lemon with a finely chopped shallot, a quarter cup or so of chopped flat-leaf parsley, about a tablespoon of chopped chives, a tablespoon of Katz sparkling wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Let this sit for a few minutes while you chop the cauliflower (use the core, too; just chop it into smaller pieces). Toss the cauliflower with the relish, add more salt and a little black pepper and drizzle with more olive oil. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It's Time for a Barn Dance



The video above is so full of joy that I just had to share. But what's not evident is the reason behind this chore dance by farmer Jay Lavery of The Permaculture Inn in Sharon Springs, New York:

"It's that time of the year for the Lets Move Challenge. Dancing is how I stay warm in the barn and I never know when I'm going to break out into a dance. But what most people don't know is that 15 years ago I had a traumatic back injury that caused me to have several back surgeries including a discectomy and a spinal fusion and neverending back pain. Dancing along with yoga and meditation are my only alternatives to pain medication. So I hope this can inspire anyone to move in spite of pain and I hope this puts a smile on your face for the New Year."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snowy Day Calls for a Hot Toddy


This morning I awoke to a world that looked a lot like a Japanese woodblock print. You know the ones, contoured drawings washed in delicate neutral tones with accents of blue or red, showing hillside villages covered in a blanket of white. People, if they're depicted at all, are tiny details in the larger landscape, usually bent over in the cold.

Hiroshige, Night Snow at Kambara, 1833

Having dogs, of course, I had to get them outside first thing, so I bundled up in my big coat and boots, stuffing as many extra layers underneath as I could. Being dogs, of course, they bounded out in just their fur coats and, being Corgis, they sank up to their necks in the 10 or 12 inches of fluffy snow that had fallen overnight.

A snow angel? Of course!

Fortunately we hadn't lost power like many other residents of the city, so we had coffee and hot chocolate and oatmeal to fortify us for the day. Pretty soon we'll curl up on the couch with the pups and watch a few episodes of "The Crown," a costume drama about the early days of Queen Elizabeth II that somehow matches perfectly with snowy days, with its muted colors and somber tone.

Mmmmm…hot toddy.

At some point we'll put on a kettle to make hot toddies, our new favorite winter's drink. This one, a simple concoction of hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey with warming spices, was one that our neighbors made for us one icy night a couple of weeks ago. It's become a go-to recipe, so easy that after making it once or twice it doesn't even require measuring. I'd like to think that those tiny figures in the snowy Japanese landscapes were heading home to something like this.

Ann and Chad's Hot Toddy

1 slice lemon, 1/8" thick
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
1 1/2 oz. whiskey (your choice)
2 oz. boiling water
1 tsp. honey

Place lemon in bottom of a mug or heat-resistant cup. With a muddler or the back of a spoon, crush the lemon gently to release its juices. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Food News: GMO Grass; MA Farmers' Success Story; 30 Years in Beervana


Lawn-care products giant Scotts has a problem with the runaway success of one of its products. In this case, the runaway is a type of grass that had been genetically modified to resist the weed-killer RoundUp, made by the agrichemical company Monsanto. As reported in an article by The Oregonian's Jeff Manning, it was planted in supposedly contained test plots around the country, but has jumped the fence, threatening to contaminate Oregon's billion-dollar-a-year grass seed industry.

The article quotes Don Herb, a Linn Country seed dealer, as saying it "would be a catastrophic event for Oregon's grass seed industry. We don't need Scotts or others to put our industry at risk."

Even more frightening, Manning reports that the grass has now crossed with wild grasses, passing along its modified genes for herbicide resistance.

And Scotts? The company was fined $500,000 in 2007 for allowing the grass to escape and was charged with eradicating the grass, a costly and painstaking process that Scotts said was largely complete. Then more of it was found in patches in Malheur County, and the company is saying the problem now falls back on state and county governments. That means you and me, my friends.

Regardless who ends up paying for it, the article quotes Herb as saying, "we need to get out in front of this. This is an invasive weed that, in my opinion, you can't control."

* * *


A USDA report, released in December, said that farmers in the US "sold $8.7 billion in edible food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, and local distributors." Not surprisingly, California is at the top of the list, outstripping the second listed state, Michigan, by a factor of six. And Oregon, with its much-touted local food scene, farmers' markets and bounteous supply of agricultural land and coastline? Not even in the top ten.

So how did a small state like Massachusetts, known more for its industrial base than for vast tracts of farmland, manage to come in eighth on that list of farm-to-consumer sales? It may have started 18 years ago when an organization called Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) launched one of the nation’s first buy-local education campaigns, according to an article reporting on the ranking. Then in 2013 the Massachusetts Food Policy Council launched a statewide planning process to address the opportunities and challenges of the state’s local food system, which completed and accepted the plan in December of 2015.

The article said that these organized, sustained efforts over the years, along with a Local Hero campaign profiling local farmers, nine "buy local" organizations—which let folks know what's in season, where to find it and how to use it—as well as the support of a strong farmers' market association and the state's Department of Agricultural Resources, have helped to make this tiny New England state, and its family farmers, a national success.

“The direct sales business model can help older farms diversify their sales and often enables a beginning farm to launch their business,” Philip Korman, CISA executive director, is quoted as saying. “Farmers are able to keep every penny of their sales when they sell direct through farmers markets, CSA farm shares and farm stands.”

So come on, Oregon, we can do better!

* * *


Portland beer writer Jeff Alworth, author of many books on beer as well as the longstanding Beervana blog—he started it in 2006, the same year I began writing Good Stuff NW—has written a personal, and quite charming, story of Thirty Years in Portland. He begins in 1986, when he arrived in the city, describing it as a "poor, rough town" with one of the highest murder rates in the country, a "racially divided town [where] a century of racist policies had concentrated black Portlanders into a section of the Northeast, a poor section neglected by the city."

Alworth also chronicles the rise of Portland's beer culture from its inception—where the founding brewer of BridgePort Brewing, Karl Ockert, was told by a banker, "Breweries don't open, they shut down."—to the transformation of an abandoned warehouse district into the heavily commercialized Pearl District.

Through it all, he is still clearly in love with his adopted home. And its beer scene.

"I would argue that beer is actually the ür-product of Portlandia, the first of the artisanal products that would come to define the city and its culture," he writes. "Craft beer is in this way a metaphor for Portland. It arose because the circumstances were ripe in the city at the time (which was not unique), but flourished because of the way Portland's culture prizes indie projects, local projects, and the opportunity to do things its own way."

Photo of the farmers' market from the Shrewsbury (MA) Farmers' Market.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Smothered Cabbage, Louisiana Style


Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is our local conduit for all things from New Orleans. With a kid (and now grandchildren) in the Big Easy, he's got an even better reason than food to spend lots of time there. As long as he keeps bringing back (and sharing) his recipes, I'm all for it!

There are lots of foods different cultures eat for good luck in the new year, including greens of some kind (some say it's because money is green). According to Gulf Coast chef John Folse, in Louisiana they'll be eating smothered cabbage on New Year's Day. But this old school recipe is so good you'll want to eat it all year.

Smothered Cabbage

Folse's recipe calls for andouille, the deeply smoked sausage of Cajun country, but it's hard to find the good stuff here in the northwest. You can order it from Jacob's or check with with the butcher shop at Laurelhurst Market [or Old Salt Marketplace], but you can smother cabbage with just bacon if you can't wait.

Start by cooking a quarter pound or so of chopped bacon in a little olive oil (if you've got andouille, cut it into bite-sized pieces and cook it with the bacon until brown). When it's browned, add a chopped onion, about half as much chopped celery, and a small green bell pepper, also chopped. While those are cooking, chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a tablespoon or so of fresh thyme; toss them in, along with salt, black pepper, and a half head of green cabbage cut into 2 inch pieces.

When the cabbage has wilted a little, add a quarter cup of water, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 25 minutes. As Folse notes in his recipe, it might seem overcooked, but that's they way they like in Louisiana. Everybody I've served this to feels the same way.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Quick Solution for a Hearty Breakfast: Oatmeal!


On frigid mornings like we've been having lately, the best thing I can think of—besides buckets of coffee, that is—is a warm, comforting breakfast. The problem is, most of the time those hearty breakfasts entail at least an hour of prep and cooking even if I've got the ingredients handy.

Then, the other morning, Dave said, "How about oatmeal for breakfast?"

What? Oatmeal? I haven't had oatmeal for at least a year…the last time I made it was when my 6-year-old nephew was here for a sleepover while his folks made a quick escape to Seattle. And I don't think Dave has ever made it in the (mumble mumble) years we've been together.

Fortunately I usually have rolled oats in the pantry left over from making granola, along with milk, currants and brown sugar, and ten minutes later we were tucking into warm, fragrant bowls of creamy cooked oats. And honestly, when you think about it, those instant packets of oatmeal? They take just as long if you consider boiling the water, mixing it and waiting at least a couple of minutes for the mass of processed oats to congeal. Plus the flavor doesn't even come close to cooking rolled or steel-cut oats from scratch.

So next time you're at the store, get some organic rolled oats from the bulk department. They'll come in handy for a warm, hearty breakfast (with maybe enough left over for a batch of oatmeal cookies).

Oatmeal for Two

2 c. water
1 c. rolled oats
Pinch salt

In a small to medium-sized saucepan, combine water, oats and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, and in 3 to 5 minutes you'll have oatmeal. Serve with milk and brown sugar or syrup, and feel free to add butter, chopped fruit or other condiments as desired.

Want to make more, or even cook up enough for a few breakfasts? Keep the ratio of water to oats at 2 to 1 and you're good to go.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Farm Bulletin: The Ecological Mosaic that is Ayers Creek Farm


It is appropriate that the first post of this new year is a short essay by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, taken from the 2017 farm calendar. His Farm Bulletins, about the intricacies of a farmer's dance with nature, have been an integral part of Good Stuff NW since 2007. I am gratified that he allows me to continue to share them with you.

Ayers Creek Farm has nearly 80 acres of ground suited to the production of crops. The remaining 64 acres include a 40-acre open wetland, 20 acres of oak savannah and some swales of green ash and hawthorn. A little over half the farm is a managed landscape, a little under is largely unmanaged. It is hard to imagine the farm without its two hemispheres. For us, a highly productive square of farmland would be a dull place indeed without the messy exuberance of the wild areas bleeding into our efforts at an organized ecology. Even on the managed parts of the farm, we seek to keep a light footprint on the landscape.

January

In both natural and managed ecosystems, dead plant material is the substrate of life. It can be seen as a stock market where the ecosystem stores and exchanges capital built up through the summer. The crop residue is still a productive part of life, but in a different way. During the winter months, these old cornstalks protect the soil from the driving rains, and as their roots decay, the resulting passages ease the path of the water in the soil. As the plants decay further, they contribute to humus in the soil, which provides nutrient and water storage. At first glance, it may seem messy, or even a sign of laziness, but as you observe it functioning there is actually great beauty, vitality and order in the tangled mass of death.

Photos by Anthony Boutard.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Meyer Lemon Season? Make Preserved Lemons!


There's something about the color yellow tinged with a hint of orange that I find intoxicating. It's that golden-hour hue that comes just before sunset as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, slanting at just the right angle—some sources say between four and five degrees—to brush everything it touches with a yellow-orange glow. If you've seen the work of Van Gogh, you've certainly seen it. Or the movie Days of Heaven, which was shot by the legendary cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler during the hours just after dawn and before sunset, suffusing the film with a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere.

Meyer lemons, a hybrid of lemons and tangerines, are the fruit of the golden hour, carrying a warmer hue and a milder flavor than regular lemons. When they're in season—hint: now—I can't get enough of them. So this year I decided that I was going to stretch out the pleasure of these golden jewels by preserving them in salt and lemon juice, perhaps one of the simplest methods ever devised and one that is virtually impossible to get wrong.

And the possibilities for them is endless. I've written about using them in risotto, lemoncello, a crab risotto (again, make this now), a cocktail, pasta, a salad…the list goes on and on. So run, don't walk, to your favorite produce department, get some of these gorgeous orbs and start squeezing them…need I say…now.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

12-14 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt
Wide-mouth quart jar with screw-on lid (either a metal ring and lid or a plastic lid)

Lightly rinse the lemons to remove any surface dust or dirt and dry them with a towel. Cover the bottom of the jar with a 1/8" layer of salt. Take six of the lemons and slice them vertically in quarters to within 1/2" of the base. Holding one upright in your palm over a small bowl, fill it with salt and place it in the jar. Do the same with the other five lemons and pack them tightly into the jar. Use more lemons if required to fill the jar within 3/4" of the top (you can slice the lemons into quarters to fit in the nooks and crannies). Pour the salt from the bowl into the jar. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons to fill the jar within 1/2" of the top (you can also use regular lemons if you need to). Screw on the lid and place in the refrigerator. Every day or so, shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice, and after three or four weeks you're good to go.

This recipe will work with regular lemons as well. You can also add herbs like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Christmas Story in Fourteen Pounds


I knew we were in trouble when I mentioned to Ben Meyer that we were planning to smoke a bone-in ham leg for Christmas dinner in a week's time. The owner of Old Salt Marketplace got a concerned look on his face and said, "So how long have you had it brining?"

"Um…you mean I should have taken it out of the freezer already?" I responded.

The meat injector. Scary, huh?

He went on to say—to his great credit there was no eye-rolling, at least that I noticed—that in order to have it ready by Christmas we would need to inject it with brine. There was no way that the brine for a ham that large, about 14 pounds or so, would have time to penetrate all the way through the meat. (I found out later that it can take as long as a month for that to happen. Heh.)


A classic on all fronts.

Fortunately he happened to have a spare injector that he could loan us, and brought out a tool that looked as if it was used in medieval dentistry or some other torture. The main chamber is pumped full of brine, then the needle—in this case, one with holes on the sides instead of the end—is inserted perpendicular to the bone, spraying the brine into the meat. For the brine itself, he suggested using Paul Bertolli's recipe from Cooking By Hand, a groundbreaking collection of recipes for making everything from bread to charcuterie.

Brining the ham.

I came home and ran to take the ham out of the freezer, leaving it on the counter to thaw. Two days later Dave made the brine, a beautiful and fragrant blend of vegetables, herbs, salts and water, and injected it every inch-and-a-half or so all the way around the leg. Then into the fridge it went, submerged in the brine to soak for six days.

Going in the smoker.

Dave pulled it out on Sunday morning, noting the hammy, dark pink tinge the meat had taken on from the curing process. He rinsed off the ham, then started the smoker with charcoal briquets, as well as soaking chunks of apple wood to add their unique notes to the smoked meat. He'd read various accounts of how long it might take to smoke a leg of pork that large, which ranged from six to 12 hours to reach his target of 140 degrees. He planned to keep his smoker in the 200 to 250-degree range, hoping for an overall time of eight hours.

When the smoker was ready, he put on what we hoped was going to be a perfect ham. After diligently tending the fire, six hours and two or three beers later it reached the desired temperature. Since the ham needed to rest anyway, we just wrapped it in foil, planning to serving it at room temperature. But first, of course, a few samples were sliced off to make sure it was company-worthy.

Six hours later…

I have to mention here that, lest you think that this project was a no-muss, no-fuss affair that we just dashed off casually, the night before I'd laid awake worrying about how salty the ham might be, running through the coulda-woulda-shoulda factors of whether we should have soaked it in water the night before to desalinate the ham and what to do if we had 14 pounds of puckeringly salty meat to somehow find a use for. And what would we be having for Christmas dinner? The Chinese restaurant scene from the movie A Christmas Story briefly flashed through my mind.

Fortunately I didn't turn over and shake Dave awake to relate my awful fears, I just turned over and forced myself to go back to sleep, probably one of the reasons we've managed to stay married for this long.

Oh, and those first slices? Heavenly, probably some of the best ham I've had in my entire life. Which was confirmed by our happy guests, who demolished a good third of the monster along with the creamy scalloped potatoes infused with bacon, caramelized onions and mushrooms, as well as the roasted vegetables and the apple pie for dessert.

A Christmas story with a happy ending? I'd say so. And the epilogue is that, after dinner, Dave was already saying he wanted to do it again. Soon.

Christmas Ham

Brine and preparation of leg from Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli, republished with his permission.

For the brine:
3 gallons water
454 grams salt
300 grams sugar
10 grams allspice berries
20 grams black peppercorns
5 grams whole cloves
10 grams whole juniper berries
2 onions (1 lb.), sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
Small bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Small bunch of fresh thyme
8 bay leaves
57 grams Instacure No. 1 [pink curing salt]

For the ham:
1 fresh leg of pork, 13-15 lbs. (can also be thawed from a frozen leg)

To prepare the brine solution, put the water in a large pot. Add the salt and sugar. Crack the whole spices coarsely in a mortar and add them to the brine along with the sliced vegetables and herbs. Warm the brine to 160° (F) to release the spice and vegetable aromas and to dissolve the salt and sugar. Chill the brine to 34°, stir in the curing salt, and dissolve it thoroughly.

While the brine cooks, prepare the pork leg. Cut away the tailbone [if it hasn't been removed already] and trim away any skin, fat and glands that may remain on the flank side. Remove any excess fat around the skinless area of the aitch-bone.

Place the ham inside a deep pan with the shank end facing you. First, inject brine directly through the base three or four times, adjusting the position of the needle so that the entire shank section receives the brine. Next, turn the leg aitch-bone up so that the shank end is facing away from you. Beginning at one edge, plunge the needle deep into the heavy muscle of the lower leg, directing the needle toward the bone. Continue injecting brine at 1 1/2-inch intervals across the leg. You will notice the various muscles of the leg swelling as  you pump the brine [some will leak out, which is fine]. Once you have reached the edge of the leg, return to the starting point and make a second row of injections 1 1/2 inches behind the first. Continue altering the angle of the needle around the bone until you have injected the entire leg. In all it should take 15 to 16 injections.

Place the leg into a bucket—we used a 12-quart Cambro container that fits in our fridge—and pour in the brine until the leg is submerged. Place the lid on the container and refrigerate for at least six days. After six days, remove the ham from the brine and rinse off. Discard the remaining brine.

Prepare the fire in the smoker, adding whatever well-soaked wood chunks you prefer. Put the ham in the smoker and maintain the internal temperature of the smoker between 200 and 250 degrees, adding more briquets as needed. When the internal temperature of the ham reaches 140°, remove from the smoker and rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.