Thursday, October 20, 2016

Watch Oregon's Food System Changing!

A wonderful video on the Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase event that I posted about earlier. And if you look closely at the ballroom scene at about 15 seconds in, you'll see Anthony Boutard in his fez presiding over the Ayers Creek Farm table on the far end of the room.

Brava, Lane Selman, for putting together this important gathering!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Want to Reverse Climate Change? Have a Beer!

This blog post was developed in collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery, a supporter of Good Stuff NW, though the words are all my own.

Oddly enough, it all started a year-and-a-half ago when Christian Ettinger, owner of Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, thought he was being pranked. He was at the grocery store with his family when his phone rang. Stopping mid-aisle to answer it, the voice on the other end said he was calling from Patagonia Provisions and that the company would like to discuss making a beer with Hopworks.

"It was a surreal moment because it was hard to believe that a company that I look up to as a business owner had just dialed my number and asked to make a beer with us," Ettinger recalled. "That week we met up and our team learned about Kernza for the first time."


Patagonia Provisions had singled out Hopworks not just because both companies are B Corps, companies certified to have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, but both have a mission of sourcing organic and sustainable ingredients as much as possible.

Patagonia Provisions itself is dedicated to supporting a farming method known as "organic regenerative agriculture"—one that restores soil biodiversity, sequesters carbon and grows crops efficiently without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Better yet, this method keeps harmful effluents out of the environment, improving the health of surrounding communities and the people in it. Call it organic farming with benefits.

Kernza has an impressive root system.

Kernza wheat fits into this picture because, as a perennial crop, it doesn't have to be replanted every year like other types of wheat. That means it allows long-term storage of carbon dioxide in the soil (called carbon sequestration), rather than releasing it into the air when the soil is plowed each year. Because Kernza lives on from harvest to harvest, its roots can grow to 10 feet in length and are so efficient that the plant needs much less water that other strains of wheat. These long roots also help to reduce erosion by stabilizing the soil, and the plant itself absorbs more atmospheric carbon than annual grains and thrives without the use of pesticides.

Originally a Eurasian forage grass called intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), a grass species related to wheat, it was selected by researchers at the Rodale Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a promising perennial grain candidate. In 2003, The Land Institute, which works to develop staple foods without compromising cultural and ecological systems, took the grain into its traditional breeding program—think Mendel's peas rather than genetic engineering—and began selecting for traits like yield, disease resistance and seed size.

Hopworks production manager Justin Miller.

Calling it Kernza, which was registered as a trademark to protect the name from being applied to other strains, the institute then began talking with its partners about commercial uses for the grain. Patagonia Provisions stepped up and, with the idea of making a beer from the grain, brought in Ettinger and his team from Hopworks to start formulating a beer.

"It was very exciting for us," Justin Miller, Hopworks production manager, said of the opportunity to be the first to work with the organic, sustainable grain. "It very much fits into what we do here at Hopworks."

Indeed, Hopworks is the first commercial brewer to make a beer using Kernza as an ingredient. Miller said it took eight test barrels—at 31 gallons to the barrel, that's more than 240 gallons of tests—and much, much tasting to finally come up with a beer that the teams at both Hopworks and Patagonia Provisions were happy with. Hopworks even went so far as to put a test batch on draft at its Portland pubs, so if you had a pint of Prohibition Double Secret Ale, you got an early taste of it.

The final product.

The final product, dubbed Long Root Ale, contains 15 percent Kernza along with organic two-row barley, organic yeast and a blend of organic Chinook, Mosaic and Crystal hops. The flavor is that of a classic Northwest-style pale ale, a bit peppery with a balanced, clean finish and a sessionable 5.5 percent alcohol-by-volume.

It's being rolled out at most Whole Foods markets up and down the West Coast, and while Hopworks is the first to use Kernza to make beer, Ettinger is convinced the grain has a promising future in the industry.

"Kernza is really paving the way for future discussions about other commodity grains that we use to brew," he said. "As organic brewers we are really excited about the ‘grain to glass’ model, and Long Root Ale is just that."

Top photo by Chad Brigman. Photo of Kernza roots by Jim Richardson.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Hunker Down Eating"

Whether yesterday's windstorm was a blowout or a blowhard (see photo of the toppled tree in Northeast Portland, below), it's just a harbinger of winter weather to come. This recipe from contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is perfect for cold weather when hardy winter greens like kale and collards are at their best. After the first frost, these plants put out sugars which act as antifreeze and make them sweet and tender when cooked!

During wet and wild weather I want to eat hot, comforting bowls of beans and greens.

Tree toppled in windstorm in Northeast Portland.

If you cook beans a couple of times each week like I do, you'll always have some on hand ready to heat up. Here's how I make the greens.

Basic Braised Greens

I think cavolo nero (aka Tuscan kale) and collard greens taste better than curly kale. My basic approach is to braise them with onion, olive oil, salt and water. The secret ingredient is time; these sturdy greens are best if cooked for at least 45 minutes. More tender greens (chard, spinach, beet, etc) cook more quickly, so they usually just get a quick sauté.

Chop an onion and start cooking it in enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan (anything with a lid will be fine). While the onion cooks, chiffonade a bunch of greens: Roll several leaves at a time into a tight bundle and cut into quarter-inch slices. Or stack several flat and slice them. I like to cut these ribbons into pieces about 2 inches long for easier eating. It isn’t necessary to cut out the central stalk; you’re going to cook it tender.

Add the greens to the onion along with some salt and at least a cup of water; use more water if you want more pot likker. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook. Check after 20 minutes and add water if needed to keep the bottom of the pot covered (I’ve burned greens more than once; if they're not completely black just say they’re “caramelized"). Let them simmer for at least 45 minutes; longer is okay (but check for water). Drizzle with a bit of fresh extra virgin at the table.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Autumn Field Choreography

Lest anyone thinks that the end of harvest season and the onset of winter leaves a farmer with time for bucolic meditations on the year's passing, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is here to set you straight about his own dance with Mother Nature.

Early on we had a tenant farmer with a split operation, some organic and a lot conventional. In conversation, he told us that he had to sit down with his father and figure out how they managed to grow winter dry land crops before the availability of the herbicides and synthesized fertilizers that are prohibited in organic production. His father told him it required careful timing, the land was fertilized and cultivated in late summer. The farmer then waited until the first of the autumn storms. It would dampen the ground and the unwanted winter annuals would sprout after a couple of weeks. A quick cultivation would kill the unwanted seedlings and then the cash crop seed is planted, usually in the latter half of October. If all goes well, the crop is remarkably clean because the freshly seeded crop grabs the space quickly.

There is nothing about that farmer's operation we would consider emulating and we extracted ourselves from the arrangement because his methods were hard on our land. Nonetheless, his father's advice made sense and we have followed it, mostly successfully, for 16 years. Of course, it requires weather conducive to the effort, and that isn't guaranteed. We cultivated and fertilized the ground in late September. For the last two weeks, we have been watching the weather forecasts with bated breath. Last week, the window seem to appear with the dry weather forecast for Saturday through Tuesday, and we knocked down the sprouting seed Saturday. Unexpectedly, it shut tight with the rain on Sunday, leading to a day of muttering and gritting of teeth. Fortunately, by Tuesday, the ground was dry enough to plant the red wheat, durum, barley and mustard. It was a long day, but looking at the forecast for the rest of the month, we were lucky to have been prepared to grab the moment. Now we will fret until we see the fields turn green as the crops sprout, but not too green indicating the Lazarus-like return of unwanted growth. Farmer thy name is worry.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scrambled Eggs, Meet Chilaquiles

When it comes to eggs, scrambling has been my technique of choice since I was a kid. On Saturday mornings my two brothers and I would watch cartoons as our parents slept upstairs, laying on the floor with our noses practically touching the screen in a position my mother said "will ruin your eyes." At a certain point we'd break for breakfast, my brothers hauling out plastic bowls, milk and boxes of cereals with names like Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes and Sugar Crisp.

I don't know what was wrong with me, but I wasn't enamored with the cereals I considered "too sweet," preferring instead those with less (but by no means without) sugar like Wheaties and Grape Nuts. I even had a flirtation with various shredded wheat varieties, but that soured when it became too much like eating a bowl of twigs.

My mother's cast iron skillet.

At some point in elementary school I was old enough to be allowed to use our electric stove without supervision, and I started making scrambled eggs in my mother's small, well-seasoned 8" cast iron skillet which sits in my kitchen to this day. It took practice, but I learned to manage the heat and not burn the butter and to crack the eggs without getting bits of shell in the mix—biting down on a shell in a creamy mound of scrambled eggs still sets my teeth on edge—as well as figuring out how much to stir them to give them that not-too-curdy, not-too-dry creaminess.

I continue to make them to this day, though I've varied the original butter-egg-milk-salt mixture of my childhood to a butter-egg-salt-sprinkling of cheddar combination that suits my current tastes. Dave has mastered the omelette after watching Julia Child's technique on our collection of French Chef DVDs, and I've grown fascinated with one Mexican version, chilaquiles (pron. chee-lah-KEY-lays) that includes chopped tortillas, tomatoes and onions.

Beautiful tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal.

Sainted researcher and chronicler of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, has a superb version of chilaquiles in her The Tortilla Book that we like to make with corn tortillas; flour tortillas make them too doughy. And, fortunately, the best tortillas I've had lately, from Portland-based Three Sisters Nixtamal, are now available in local stores.

Made with organic corn, the dried kernels are combined with lime and water in a process called "nixtamalization" that causes the kernels to swell and enriches the nutrients in the corn. The kernels are then washed, drained, ground and combined with water and salt to make masa dough, which is then pressed into tortillas. I can't recommend them highly enough, and they add a deep, authentic flavor to the chilaquiles.

For a devoted scrambled egg fan like me, these not only make a stunning addition to the weekend breakfast repertoire, but would even make a great dinner paired with simmered black beans and a green salad.

Mexican Scrambled Eggs with Totopos
Adapted from The Tortilla Book by Diana Kennedy

Peanut or safflower oil
6 tortillas, each cut into six wedges
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 large tomato, chopped into dice
4-6 chiles serranos, seeded and minced (we use 2 chiles, or one large ancho chile)
6 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

In a frying pan over medium-high heat, pour in the oil to depth of 1/4" and heat until it shimmers. Add half the tortilla pieces and fry until they are hard but not browned. Drain on a paper towel and fry the remaining tortilla pieces. Keep warm in a low oven while preparing the other ingredients.

Drain the tortilla frying oil from the skillet and add 3 Tbsp. fresh oil. Heat oil over medium-high flame until it shimmers, then add onion, tomato and chiles. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs, salt and tortilla pieces to the skillet and cook, stirring gently, until the eggs are set but not too dry. Adjust salt to taste and serve.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Culinary Breeding Network Adds Flavor Back In Food

When a farmer is growing a vegetable for market in our current food system, the issues that are first on the agenda are characteristics like yield, ripening time and how long it'll survive being shipped hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the farm. Not to mention being handled several times between the field, the distributer's warehouse and its eventual destination, which can turn a gorgeous box of bell peppers into a broken, mushy mess.

Lane Selman.

And what about flavor? For a long time now, that particular aspect has slipped to the bottom—if not completely off—of the list. That's why your grandparents might pick up a red bell pepper at the store and say something like, "I used to pick these from my parents' garden and eat them whole. Wouldn't do that now—peppers these days don't taste anything like they used to."

And they'd be right.

But you can tell your grandparents there's hope for the bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and even lettuce greens the store. That's because of an Oregon State University (OSU) agricultural researcher named Lane Selman. A petite but mighty dynamo, Selman realized that there was a huge gap between what traditional plant breeders and farmers saw as successful crops—mainly disease resistance, yield and performance in the field—and what institutional buyers, cooks and chefs were looking for, which was flavor and texture.

Cucumber varieties.

Selman decided that the way to bring flavor back into the conversation was to bring all of these people together, so that seed and plant breeders could talk to farmers, chefs and cooks and figure out how to breed crops that would perform well for everyone. She formed the Culinary Breeding Network and began taking chefs into the field to taste vegetables and learn about how seed and plant breeders select for different traits. Plant researchers at universities who were developing new varieties of vegetables got involved, as well, along with organic farmers looking for new varieties to offer their customers.

Andrew Still of Adaptive Seeds talks flavor.

Out of those conversations was born the Culinary Breeding Network's Variety Showcase, where plant breeders, seed growers, fresh market farmers, chefs, produce buyers and food journalists came together to taste existing, unreleased and new vegetable varieties and breeding lines focused on superior culinary quality. Now in its third year, the most recent showcase attracted more than 300 people who gathered to taste and rate tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, herbs, beets, dried beans, corn and grains like quinoa, barley and sorghum.

A jaunty Anthony Boutard with his fava bean stew.

So you could find Philomath seed breeder and national treasure for his work with organic seed, Frank Morton (whose Outredgeous lettuce was chosen to be the first plant grown on the international space station), chatting about peppers with OSU's Jim Myers, whose tomatoes were drawing a crowd with a salad of tomato juice-soaked red bulgur wheat prepared by Ned Ludd chef Jason French. Across the room was a jaunty-looking Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm sported a matching fez-and-cravat ensemble while dishing out ladles of his fava bean stew along with chef Sam Smith of Tusk's fava bean hummus.

The network's mission is now supported by the Oregon State University Department of Horticulture, the Organic Seed Alliance, and Seed Matters—an effort by the Clif Bar Family Foundation to improve the viability and availability of organic seed—as well as the University of Wisconsin, Cornell University and the OSU Small Farms Program, all groups that see the Culinary Breeding Network as part of a next step in developing a sustainable food system.

And, hopefully, it'll lead to the day you bring home a big red bell pepper that your grandparents will say tastes just like the ones they used to pick in their gardens.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Souring the Grain…The Borş Identity

I can always tell from the twinkle in contributor Anthony Boutard's eyes (not to mention his prose) that he is on the verge of springing something surprising on his audience. In the case of his latest project, outlined below, he practically had laser beams shooting out of those baby blues.

Several years ago Chef Naoko Tamura handed us a jar with soured (fermented) rice. As she described it, just some rice grains, salt and water. The milky liquid had a soft and appealing acidity, not sharp as in vinegar or lemon, and retaining the essence of the grain. The flavor lingered and a nascent project lodged in an overloaded "to do" synapse.

Around the same time, our research for Beautiful Corn led us to Romania where corn worked its way into the national diet and was a very important export crop. The Romanian Cook Book by Anisoara Stan (Castle 1951) devoted a chapter to mămăligă dishes—what we call polenta/grits/mush. Going back a couple of millennia, mămăligă was a porridge of millet, but corn edged the smaller grain aside in the late 19th century.

Left to right: soft red wheat (after 24 hrs.); Peace, No War corn (24 hrs.); Migration Barley (0 hrs.).

Another chapter covered the region's acidic soup, the ciorbă. Traditionally the liquid base for the soup is from soured barley or wheat bran, called borş, though over time lemon, pickle and sauerkraut juice provided a substitute for the soured grain base. Stan lamented that the younger generation was not willing to devote the time necessary for traditional foods, a familiar refrain in most cultures. (Today, the companies Maggi and Vladi offer processed versions of borş in Romanian supermarkets.) A bigger factor was probably the loss of small mills as that nation focused on corn for an export crop, as a result freshly milled small grains and their bran became hard to find. A similar loss of small mills happened here in the United States around the same time. Another "to do" synapse occupied.

Soups made from soured grains are a tradition in other parts of Eastern Europe. In Poland, white borscht is made from soured rye or wheat flour. There are also regional soups prepared from soured cornmeal and oatmeal. However, every time our interest in soured grains was piqued, it quickly abated when we saw the recipes; they were more potion than proportion, more magic than method. The recipes lacked the utter simplicity of Naoko's soured rice and, as we contemplated the various ingredients, great potential for funk or discordant flavors. We weren't ready for the ordeal of failed fermentation, the awkward moment of wondering if it really should taste and smell that way.

Fermentation complete and mixture strained.

Last autumn, we started milling barley. With a supply of fresh, top quality bran in the milling room the raw ingredient was at hand, but we still had to work out a reasonable fermentation protocol. In August, our farm fellow, Myrtha Zierock, left a jar of fresh bran on the kitchen counter leftover from preparing her farewell pflaumenkuchen. We were pickling some cucumbers that day and Naoko's simple preparation slipped out of the synapse's embrace. Hmmm. Why not put the bran in the extra pickling brine, leave it on the counter and see what happens? Into the jar it went.

After a couple days the liquid developed a pleasant aroma, and about five days later it started its lava lamp stage—hypnotic bouts of belching. The next day, we strained off the milky liquid. The pH hovered around four, essentially the same as pickle or sauerkraut juice, but it had that soft acidity and grain flavor we remembered from Naoko's soured rice. Despite its acidity, we could drink it from a glass without a shudder. Alas, Myrtha was working her final night at Lovely's 50/50 so she never tasted the borş she initiated.

After refrigeration, the fines drop to the bottom of the jar.

Soured grain recipes specify either bran or flour for the fermentation. We have decided to use coarsely ground, unsifted grain containing bran, middlings and flour. This coarse grind offers up a bit more body to the ferment. The fermented liquid is very cloudy but becomes clear overnight as the fines settle. This provides a choice of styles, clear or milky.

We have since made several batches to be sure we have the proportions and fermentation times right. Our goal is to make it as easy as growing a jar of Sea Monkeys—pour package in jar, add water, mix by shaking not stirring, and wait for life to manifest itself. We have settled on a proportion of 28 grams of salt to 200 grams of coarsely ground grain. The dry ingredients go into a two-quart mason jar, and the jar is filled to the top with very warm water. Put on a lid, shake well and then loosen the lid a bit so the jar won't explode. Leave on the kitchen counter for four to five days. We screw the lid tight again and shake the jar two or three times a day, remembering to loosen it after shaking. The liquid is strained into a clean jar and refrigerated. The yield is roughly 1.5 liters of borş.

The fermented liquid is a sophisticated and nourishing base for soups that adds a body to the dish much in the same manner as a meat-based stock. The traditional ciorbă contains meatballs, meat or fish, but mostly as an accent or flavoring in a combination heavy with vegetables such as knob celery, potatoes and fennel, as well as herbs such as lovage. For vegetarians, soured grains open up a whole new source and diversity of stocks as yet unexplored in the United States. They are cheaper to produce than classic vegetable stocks and more nourishing. Just seven ounces of grain yields one and a half quarts of flavorful stock. Simple in flavor and production, no toiling over the stove, no wondering if the vegetables have been over-cooked. They provide the acidity to offset the sweetness of root vegetables and showcase the subtle flavors of fungi. Soured grains also meet the needs of raw food devotees.  

Oh yes, Myrtha, we did brine the Peace, No War cornmeal you left in the refrigerator as well. It started out a dark purple and, as the broth acidified, it turned a bright fuchsia pink. The anthocyanin in corn is a pH indicator. Talk about a stylish borş.

Anyway, we hope we have made this as easy as growing Sea Monkeys and maybe some of you are willing to leap into the wonderful living world of soured grains.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Preserving Summer: Tomato Overload

I've reached total tomato overload.

It happens every year: I get to the point where I can't look at one more tomato without cringing. Though I have to admit it's usually after processing well over a hundred pounds of them, packing them away in my freezer in quart ziplock bags.

When tomato season first begins, I'm driven by the knowledge that sometime around March of next year, after profligate use of them in the soups, braises, risottos and pasta dishes that fuel my family during the winter months, I'll realize that…oh no!…there are just a few precious packages left. So I start laying out my battle plan, determined that this year, by gum, I'll have enough to last us until next tomato season starts up again.

Last year Dave and I basically picked and brought home 140 pounds of Astiana tomatoes from Ayers Creek Farm, not realizing that meant that they'd all need to be processed within a few days. Which led to five days of full-time, head-down tomato roasting, with the oven blasting in the kitchen and the grill blazing away on the patio. The good part is that we got it done in one fell swoop—I can't even write that without hearing my father saying "one swell foop"—the downside being that there was a major case of burnout for days afterward.

I've heard a similar story from other ants living the real-life version of this ant-and-grasshopper fable. One woman told me that she went cucumber crazy one year in her garden, and when she came to she found herself sitting on top of 140 jars of pickles. Or the guy who asked a few too many of his friends to send over any extra fruit they had. By the time he dug his way out of that one, he had made enough jam to last several lifetimes.

This year I took a more moderate path, bringing home a couple of 20-pound lugs of tomatoes at a time, which required a few hours to process, after which I'd squirrel away those precious bags, each time estimating how many more it would take to feel satisfied we'd somehow make it through the winter. Well, my friends, I'm here to tell you that I finally chopped, roasted and bagged my last quart of tomatoes, tossing it (carefully) onto the pile with 39 of its brethren.

I'm feeling pretty rich right now, and ready for the tomatoey free-for-all to come. Just as long as I don't have to (shudder) face processing any more. I'll keep you posted on how long they last (and what I make with them).

Check out my technique for roasting tomatoes!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Farm Bulletin: The Glory of Seeded Grapes

It could be said that contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is somewhat of an outlier. He has championed the causes of flint corn and parched green wheat, choosing to grow the ungainly (but delicious) Sibley squash over butternut. Seeded grapes are also on this list, deserving of a cri de coeur.

As we have noted previously, the fruits developed at the New York Experiment Station in Geneva were named after hamlets and county seats in the state. The towns of Canadice, Interlaken, Steuben and Sheridan lend their names to the grapes we sell. This week, we arrive downstate at the big one, the New York Muscat, and like the burg it is named after it is big in the mouth with an outsized character. A hybrid, a melting pot of the best of American grape character with the exotic qualities of the Black Hamburg Muscat. There is a bit of seediness at its center, but that is the essence of its urbane nature, not a blemish. Just as Times Square must be appreciated as part and parcel of the city's complex character, not a blemish.

New York muscat.

We fully understand that some people are truly unable to chew the seeds because of dental work or diverticulitis. But for others, we urge you to approach the seeded grapes fearlessly. The maturation of the seed in a grape triggers biochemical changes in the fruit that are reflected in its flavor and aroma. The seedless grapes we sell are delicious and we enjoy them, but they suffer from a Peter Pan complex in that they are forever lost in childhood, unable to develop their mature character and flavor. To shun grapes because they have seeds is to shut out a whole range flavors that grapes develop. The complex black muscat flavors in the New York Muscat or the delicate rosewater notes in the Swenson White can never develop in a seedless grape.

Price grapes.

The seeds themselves have a wonderful spicy flavor when chewed, a fine counterpoint to the sweet flesh of the fruit. It is also a powerful little nutritional package which has the everything needed to generate a whole new grape vine; ponder that before you spit out the tasty morsel as though it is trash. Sakes alive, people heap praise on the soapy quinoa seed, which only produces a weedy annual, but shrink from a spicy grape seed that will produce a perennial vine than can grow a century of more. Makes no sense at all when you actually think about it. The seeds of Price and New York Muscat are thin skinned, so it is easy to savor the full character of the grape. Someday, the maturation of Portland's palate will include the savory grape seed, appreciating the flavors and nutrition of whole grape as much as whole grains.

Oh, dream on, you naifs of Gaston. This defense of seeded grapes has long been pursued by idealistic grape growers to no avail. Then again, as a friend would remind us, hope springs eternal. That is why we still grow and harvest them where less resolute have torn out their vines in favor of the seedless grapes. We will be ready for the great grape seed awakening.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lamb Raised Right: Braised Lamb with Fava Beans

When I first started this writing gig I had no idea of the opportunities I'd get to meet amazing, caring, thoughtful people who've dedicated their lives to providing their families and communities with food that is, as Slow Food likes to put it, "good, clean and fair." In terms of meat animals like cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, it means that they've been raised humanely, on pasture, where they can live with other animals, feeling the soil under their feet and the sun on their backs. These farmers feed their animals none of the genetically modified corn and soy that most conventionally raised animals are raised on.

Really, it's exactly the picture of the farm that we all carry around with us from the stories read to us as children.

Les and her dogs at Jo-Le Farms.

Why am I so convinced that pasture-raised meat is better? Well, everyone's heard the phrase "you are what you eat" when it comes to junk food versus healthy foods. But I heard a phrase a few years ago that goes "you are what you eat eats," and it kind of blew my mind. In other words, if the animals we eat have a diet of the food that they are intended to consume—found in healthy pastures—rather than commodity grains laced with antibiotics and chemicals, then it follows that they'll be healthier animals and the meat and milk they provide will be healthier for us to eat.

Ben Meyer butchering lamb.

Not to mention that raising animals on pasture is better for the environment and actually sequesters carbon in the soil rather than contributing to climate change or groundwater pollution from waste products. (Read Nicolette Hahn Niman's Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production for more on the subject.)

And when it comes time to die, the larger animals are either killed in their pastures instantly with a swift shot behind the ear, or trucked a short distance to a humane processing facility where they aren't waiting in fear, listening to the panicked sounds of other animals.

It had been awhile since I'd bought a lamb (really a nearly-year-old sheep) because I hadn't found a farmer nearby who had pasture-raised sheep available. But when I visited my friends Kendra and Ivan at Shimanek Bridge Farm, who raise cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys on pasture, they introduced me to their neighbors, Les Carter and her husband Jon of Jo-Le Farms, who raise—get this—pastured sheep!

Meat from one lamb.

Les mentioned that they'd be slaughtering a few of their sheep in the near future, and I nearly jumped into her arms. She promised to call when it was time, and a couple of weeks later she contacted me to let me know when they'd be available. I then called my friend Ben Meyer of Old Salt Marketplace to see if he'd help me butcher it, a process I prefer because I get to decide whether I get chops versus racks and bone-in or boneless roasts.

Animals like goats and lambs are generally small enough to carry in the back of my Mini Clubman, Chili, so I pulled up in front of Ben's place and he graciously carried it inside for me. An hour or so later I walked out with a cooler-full of cut and wrapped chops, ribs, shanks and roasts, and I saved out a big bone-in shoulder roast for our first lamb dinner in some time.

Braised lamb with favas.

Braised lamb is the easily one of my favorite ways to cook and eat a lamb roast, though I've had several grilled boneless leg roasts that run a close second. Braising is also one of the easiest methods for cooking lamb, since all you have to do is add some vegetables and liquid to the lamb in a pot and cover it for two or three hours in the oven. The lamb slowly melts into fall-off-the-bone tender chunks, the liquid and meat juices meld into gravy and the vegetables and any herbs give it a marvelous depth. I added a pound of fava beans from Ayers Creek Farm, a cup or so of tomatoes I'd just roasted, and that night we sat down to our first lamb dinner in quite some time.

And now there are so many more lamby meals to look forward to this winter, thanks to the hard work of Les and Jon. I can't wait!

Braised Lamb with Fava Beans

1 lb. fava beans, soaked overnight
4-5 lb. bone-in lamb shoulder
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, quartered and cut crosswise in 1/2" pieces
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
3 large bay leaves
5 sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano
6 c. chicken or lamb stock
1 Tbsp. salt plus more to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it is tender. Add carrots and garlic and sauté until tender. Add lamb, bay leaves, herbs, salt, fava beans and stock. Cover and place in oven. Check every half hour or so to make sure there is still liquid; if it has all been absorbed, add water or stock. Braise for 2-3 hours until meat is ready to fall off the bone.

Remove meat, bay leaves and any stems from herb sprigs. Cut or pull the meat off the bones and chop into serving-sized pieces. Place in serving bowl and ladle beans, vegetables and gravy over it. Serve with hunks of artisan bread for sopping up the juices.

Check here for more recipes for lamb, then read farmer Les's recipes.

Dirty Hands Make Good Cooks

"I don't like salads," one young man announced at the beginning of class when he learned about the menu for lunch that day.

I'd signed up to take a class called "Kids Cooking at Side Yard Farm" with my nephew, a first-grader. I wanted to do something together that would be fun and interesting for both of us, and this class looked like just the ticket. Plus, though he's a good, if not adventurous, eater, I hoped that it might expand his culinary horizons a bit, too.

Talking, tasting, reacting—not always positively!

Joanna Sooper, an elementary school teacher and founder of Turnip the Heat Cooking School, said that helping kids discover new tastes and flavors and teaching them how to cook with fresh, healthy ingredients was an idea she'd been dreaming about for several years. During the fall and winter months  she offers classes for toddlers to teens at various locations around town, focusing on cooking delicious food from scratch with whole ingredients. But when the growing season rolls around she often partners with area urban farmers to offer classes on their farms, where kids can actually go out into the field and pick their ingredients themselves, then make a meal that they'll share together.

Making pesto.

This class was held at The Side Yard Farm, Stacey Givens's acre-sized plot in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland. Long rows of raised beds bursting with herbs, vegetables and fruit that Givens and her crew sell to local restaurants proved irresistible to the five kids who'd signed up for the class. As Sooper led them on a tour through the rows, she talked to them about the five tastes—salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami—and how each was represented in the plants growing on the farm. Then she had each child wander the rows and stand next to a plant they'd never seen before, helping them figure out what it was and what it might be used for.

Salad with flowers.

Then it was time to start harvesting ingredients for lunch, which was going to consist of a salad with a creamy fruit dressing, pesto for pasta and, for dessert, a peach hand pie. After discussing what might be good things to put in a salad, the kids were unleashed to gather ingredients and bring them back to the table under the outdoor arbor. With much tearing of leaves, chopping of vegetables—yes, there are knives that the kids are taught how to use safely—and assembling of the salad, Sooper then described the history and ingredients that make a pesto, and the kids were sent out to gather those among the beds, too.

Peach hand pies: hands-down favorite.

When the pesto was made, it was time to assemble the hand pies that would bake while the students were eating lunch, and there may have been some sampling of the peaches during the cutting and stirring to make the dough and filling. Sooper and her students then set the table—napkins folded, silverware in its proper positions—and sat down to lunch, talking about what they'd learned and discovered, what they liked and didn't.

The hand pies? Hands down the favorite among most. And the boy who hated salads? He said the salad they'd made together was the best he'd ever had and, yes, he'd definitely have it again.

At the time, my nephew, a rather quiet sort, said it was fun and he wouldn't be opposed to doing another class like it. But I heard from his parents that, in the next few days, he'd mentioned that there was such a thing as purple basil, and it tasted just like regular basil. Oh, and that you can make salad dressing from a squished peach and it was really good.

There are lots of cooking classes for kids being offered in town, so check the calendar on the left for dates and times.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Farm Bulletin: A Cur From The Pound

I have learned from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm that farming is much more than just planting seeds in the ground, harvesting the crops and selling the results in the market (read any of his Farm Bulletins collected here over the years). Here he discusses a crop that appeared accidentally but has become a staple of the farm.

Konrad Lorenz, the founder of ethology (the study of behavioral patterns), recommended bringing home a cur from the pound rather than seeking out a pedigreed dog. He noted that mixed breeds have more genetic rigor, and have more interesting characters, than so-called pure breeds. Several years ago, staff's tomatillos escaped their garden and wound up in our cornfields and pretty much everywhere else. Tomatillos are obligate out-crossers; they typically don't self-pollinate. Freed from genetic bondage, any well-defined varieties soon become a chaotic mix. Tomatillos never interested us until we tasted staff's sauces; they were simply more flavorful, with lots of character and a sweet touch.

Tomatillo flower.

Mirroring Lorenz's observation about dogs, Zenón and Abel noted that topsy-turvey genetics of the cornfield tomatillos made their sauces more flavorful than uniformly big green, unripe fruits found at the supermarket, which they treat with distain. As you look at the tomatillos we grow, it is not unlike looking at the mix of dogs in a pound. There are tiny fruit, big fruit, yellow fruit, green fruit, purple fruit, pale white fruit. Some fruit remain demurely enveloped in their husks, while the gibbous fruit have split their shirts open, some of the plants reach almost four feet high while others sprawl barely three inches above the soil. It is a feral mix, and we keep it that way with staff's help.

Desiccated tomatillo husk with seeds.

But flavor is more than simple diversity, they told us, the tomatillo must be harvested when it is ripe and sweet, not immature like a cucumber. The tomatillo must fall off the plant. The ripe fruits are stored on the kitchen counter within their dry husk and never, ever refrigerated. We use a mesh colander which allows for air movement around the fruits. Stored this way, ripe fruit lasts into March or longer. In early August, Zenón brought us a tomatillo harvested last September that had escaped his attention, and it was still good. We will add seeds from that fruit to next year's planting, another genetic bauble to consider and admire.

As we noted in describing our work with the Astiana tomato, every crop needs its own design brief, a list of specifications so the crop does what is desired and remains profitable to grow. For some crops we are veritable genetic martinets, making sure they remain on straight and narrow path with military precision. For dry beans and soy, as well as squash, seed pumpkins and popcorn, this sort of strict attention is essential, any lapse in discipline and we would be out of the business. On the tomatoes and flint corn, our brief is a bit more relaxed, tolerating or even selecting for a smattering more of diversity. We like to have orange ears in the corn because they are pretty and create no commercial liability. Likewise those peculiar horns and creases on the tomatoes are tolerated because they are funny and have no effect on flavor. Then there are the cornfield tomatillos and migration barley where a beautiful anarchy takes shape and we stand on the edges of the genetic scrum as referees. We are simply making sure no deleterious traits get out of hand and some of the best traits defining the population's character are not lost in the scrum, the drunken walk of evolution.

Travels with Chili: Mountains of Fun, Part 3

On a trip to Eastern Oregon for a food conference in May (read my report here), I decided to take a couple of days to explore this incredibly beautiful part of the state. You can read part one about the trip to La Grande and Union; part two traveled to Baker City and Halfway, where I uncovered murder and mayhem on a bison ranch. The portion below follows up with adventures in the Wallowas, with stops in Joseph, Enterprise and tiny Lostine.

It was tough to leave beautiful Halfway and the stories of bison rancher Dave Dur, but my husband Dave and I were due in Enterprise for our farm stay at Barking Mad Farm, where owners Emily and Rob Klavins had arranged a meet-and-greet with local food folk. The trip was going to take three hours if we took the standard route back to Baker City to catch I-84 to La Grande, basically making a long circle around the western side of the Wallowas.

Barking Mad Farm.

But we'd heard about a short cut through the mountains on a National Forest highway that would slash our travel time by a third. Trouble was, no one could tell us for sure if the road—which is closed in the winter due to snow—had been cleared of debris and fallen trees. We were pretty sure the snow was gone, but I wanted reassurance that it was passable all the way through to Joseph. The forest service office in Baker hadn't heard, so Dave Dur called his buddies at the Halfway ranger station, and, while they couldn't officially announce it was open, they assured him that it was clear to Imnaha, just a few miles from Joseph. (Read about a previous camping trip to the Imnaha.)

So we took off in Chili, crossing our fingers that its low clearance wouldn't be a problem, and found our way to NF 39, a winding—and paved—two-lane highway that snaked its way through the mountains. At times it followed beautiful creeks that cut their way between steep forested gorges, at others it climbed zigzagging switchbacks to dizzying alpine heights above the trees. Eventually it dropped down to the Imnaha River and into Joseph, where we decided that our daredevil exploits deserved to be celebrated with a pint of local brew.

Well-deserved beers at Embers Brewing.

Unfortunately when we got to Joseph we found that Mutiny Brewing, our favorite area brewpub—and at the time the only woman-owned brewery in the state (now there's Covalent Brewing in Portland, owned by Meagan Hatfield)—had closed. Luckily we discovered Embers Brew House just down the street featuring 17 beers on tap and settled at the bar for our celebratory pints.

We pulled up to Barking Mad Farm with a half hour to spare, which gave us time to unpack and chat with Emily and Rob and meet their cattle dog, Roo. Their comfortable craftsman farmhouse is situated just outside Enterprise on the rolling plain at the foot of the mountains, which affords a spectacular view of the range (top photo) and an occasional peek at the its highest point, snow-covered Sacagawea Peak. The lawn and garden are studded with Adirondack chairs, with additional seating on the expansive deck, but I was drawn to the double hammock slung to take advantage of the view.

Michael and Jody Berry of Dandelion Wines.

Our room on the second floor of the house, called the Treetops Suite, was a large, airy room with sliding doors opening onto a private deck looking out at the mountains. I was ready to settle in with a book, but people were starting to arrive for the meet-and-greet. Emily had laid out a generous spread of breads and cheeses, along with dips and wine, and introduced me to the crew, including my friend Lynne Curry, a local author, food activist and blogger. Lynne had given the keynote at the food systems conference I'd attended—which led us into a discussion of local farms, CSAs and issues of food access in rural communities. (See my report here.)

After that we adjourned to spend a little more time catching up with Lynne, and she suggested a new wine shop in Enterprise that was having a rosé tasting that evening. We walked into Dandelion Wines, owned by Michael and Jody Berry, and saw not the expected lineup of four or five wines, but a counterlength formation of more than a dozen rosés from all over the globe ranging from the palest of blushes to a bright lipstick red. The just-over-ten-feet-wide by a hundred-feet-long space was also packed with locals exchanging hugs and catching up on gossip while juggling wine glasses and plates of noshes from a sideboard of delicacies that would be impressive at any catered event in the big city.

"This is Eastern Oregon?" I found myself thinking. "My, how you've changed!"

Wallowa Lake Lodge.

The evening continued at Terminal Gravity Brewing's pub, where you'd swear you'd walked into that Boston bar called Cheers where everybody knew everybody's name and the beer and food flowed freely in a spirit of community and conviviality. After that, retiring to our quiet aerie at the farm, we fell asleep as fast as our heads hit the pillows.

The next morning the coffee was strong, the pastries piping hot from the oven and the eggs were fresh from Emily's chickens, their bright yolks making up for the lack of sun in the sky. We drove off in Chili right after that, knowing we wanted to make a couple of stops on the way back, first an obligatory pause to admire Wallowa Lake and its historic lodge.

Original log chair at Wallowa Lake Lodge.

The lake was originally home to the Wallowa tribe of the Nez Perce band before settlers arrived, and the lake and the area surrounded it were guaranteed to the tribe in the Treaty of 1855. It was, that is, until gold was discovered in the area, and the tribe was displaced and banished. The Wallowa Lake Lodge was built in 1925 and is a gem among small lodges that still retain their rustic roots. The lodge's 22 rooms sit above the main floor with its stone fireplace and wood panelled dining room, and historic photos document the building of the lodge and grounds. This is definitely a place we want to come back to.

Our second stop was in the tiny town of Lostine. I'd read in none other than the New York Times Sunday Magazine about a fellow named Tyler Hays, who'd recently opened a shop in SoHo called M. Crow and Company carrying "a marshmallow roasting stick made of oil-rubbed walnut, copper and leather ($60). A child’s leather tool belt with a toy hammer made of cherry and Osage wood ($250). A pickle jar handcrafted from local clay and glazed with wood-stove ashes ($260). A pot of hair product made with homemade beeswax and hand-expelled oils ($120)."

M. Crow in Lostine.

What does this have to do with Lostine? Well, it turns out that the tony New York store is Tyler's second. The first is in Lostine, just miles from his hometown of Joseph. According the store's website, Tyler's family "were among the first few dozen families to settle the valley in the late 1800's" and the store in Lostine was run by the Crow family for 107 years. In 2012 he purchased the store "to prevent its closure and the loss of an iconic memory of my childhood" and to provide an outlet for his fascination with making everything he needs.

Interior of M. Crow in Lostine.

Much more rustic than the photos of the ultra-spare, white-walled SoHo store, the original in Lostine still has the creaking floorboards and dusty, old-building smell that I remember vividly from my childhood when I'd explore abandoned buildings and old cabins. It's got some of those expensive over-$300 jackets and fancy cutting boards, but it also features house-brewed beer and local honey (more of Tyler's hobbies). The article in the Times said "he plans to build a workshop in Lostine that will take over much of M. Crow’s production while creating jobs for area residents," providing an economic boost to the communities around the store.

Tap list at Ordnance Brewing.

It certainly gave us something to talk about as we drove home, making our final stop in Boardman at Ordnance Brewing to check out just what was going on in the big metal storage building by the train tracks. (In the first installment of this series we'd arrived too early to sample its wares.) While it isn't a glossy brewery with repurposed timbers and copper-topped tables, they make an impressive array of 30 beers from the expected IPA to a fruit beer called Bloops to a sour beer, a CDA, a saison and a host (literally) of others, eleven of which were listed on the whiteboard graph tacked up behind the bar. It's easy to enjoy one or more sitting on folding chairs at the cable-spool tables.

Read the rest of the Mountains of Fun series: Part One about La Grande and Union and Part Two about Baker City and Halfway.

Top photo from Barking Mad Farm; photo of Dandelion Wines by Lynne Curry.