Monday, October 15, 2018

In Season: Check Out Chicories!

In the most recent Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, market manager Ginger Rapport shared a comprehensive compendium of one of my favorite winter salad greens—though some tend to the reddish end of the spectrum. Their slightly bitter edge can be mitigated by soaking the chopped leaves in cold water for a couple of hours ahead of time, a trick I learned from Nostrana's Cathy Whims. Scroll down for a fantastic and slightly sweet dressing to serve on a salad of these lovelies.

Chicories are closely related to lettuces, but are heartier and have a bitter edge. They are cool weather crops that come into season in late fall and some are starting to appear in our grower’s stalls. They include Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole and radicchio.

Belgian endive.

Belgian Endive is grown indoors, in the dark, to maintain the extremely pale yellow, almost white, tightly packed head of leaves. Red Belgian Endive is technically a small, forced radicchio. They can be used interchangeably with traditional Belgian Endive.

Curly Endive (a.k.a. Frisée) has tightly closed, frizzy heads most commonly used in salads but it is also tasty when quickly sautéed with a bit of vinegar, such as sherry vinegar or balsamic.


Escarole is crunchy, green and bitter. It stands up to bold dressings in salads but is also good grilled or broiled for a powerful accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats, and is fabulous creamed or in soups.

Radicchio, possibly the most well-known chicory, grows in small heads that are brilliant magenta. It is often used in salads but also shines when cooked a bit. It pairs particularly well with assertive ingredients such as olives, blue cheese, apples, figs and walnuts.

Speckled Radicchio is a cross between radicchio and escarole. It has a mild flavor with delicate leaves that can be used in salads but is sturdy enough to stand up to a little cooking.

Arch Cape chicory from Ayers Creek Farm.

Treviso Radicchio is similar in flavor to regular radicchio but is a little sweeter and grows in longer, looser-leafed heads. One unusual type, developed from an Italian variety and available locally in early March, is the Arch Cape chicory developed by Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. Use treviso leaves in salads. Whole heads can be quartered and lightly grilled, or even stuffed and sautéed.

Fig Balsamic Salad Dressing

1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/3 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped shallots
6 small brown turkey figs
4 tsp. honey, or to taste
1/8-1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until emulsified.

Top photo of chicories from Flying Coyote Farm at the Hollywood Farmers Market. List of chicories was distilled and edited from The Spruce Eats.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Taste of Europe with Dr. Lorenzo Terzi

Get a taste of food policy as well as Oregon and European food and wine next Thursday, October 18, when I moderate a panel discussion featuring Dr. Lorenzo Terzi, European Union Minister Counselor for Health and Food Safety; along with Alexis Taylor, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture; Katy Millard, owner and chef of Coquine and a 2018 James Beard Award finalist; and Oren Kariri, Food Safety Manager of New Seasons Market. Scroll to the bottom of the post for details!

Trade in food, plants and seeds has been going on since humans appeared on the scene, when potatoes and corn made their way from the Americas over to Europe, and the Spice Route, also known as the Silk Road, spread food and other goods along thousands of miles of terrain between Asia and Europe.

Dr. Lorenzo Terzi.

Now things are a little more complicated, with strict regulations governing imports and exports between trading partners, and with standards on both sides of the Atlantic affecting what's on our plates today and how our global health might be affected tomorrow. One of the people who gets to worry about those regulations is Dr. Lorenzo Terzi (pron. TEHRT-see), a minister for health and food safety with the European Union (EU).

He's coming to Portland to help raise awareness about the European Union's standards for health and safety, touted to be, along with those of the U.S., among the highest standards in the world. The EU Delegation decided to come to Oregon because of its standing as an important trading partner in agricultural products, or what Terzi calls "agri-food."

In fact, it's the second trip for Terzi to Oregon in the last month, the first being an audit of U.S. standards and controls for plants and seeds intended for export to the EU to avoid the spread of pathogens. On this trip, in addition to the tasting and panel discussion, he'll be visiting a mint farm and a hazelnut orchard, both export crops for the state.

With school children (and the school's goat) in Austin, TX.

His current position involved moving to Washington, D.C., a little over a year ago and working on the complexities of negotiations of trade agreements and regulations as they intersect with animal health, public health and food safety, animal welfare, and plant health. It also involves the difficult task of maneuvering around what he terms "red lines," or, as he describes it, "where it is objectively difficult to make progress or almost impossible." Those involve issues like hormones in meat or the use of certain chemicals in slaughterhouses, or the ability for the EU to export pasteurized dairy products like yogurt to the U.S.

Since coming to the United States, Terzi has noticed a definite shift toward products that are sold as sustainable, grass-fed, pasture-raised or non-GMO, though he said there is almost no visibility of those products in Europe. As for organic products, the U.S. and EU have been able to work out equivalent labeling and, he said, "wide areas [of grocery stores] are dedicated to these products both here and in the EU."

Terzi said that his passion for his work springs from his upbringing in a family of farmers in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy near Bologna. He still owns a small farm in the area and tries to make it back at least twice a year where, as he says, he has to fight with the weeds that seem determined to take it over. Should he win that battle, he said, he'd like to cultivate his current interest in the medicinal plants of the Mediterranean bush, and maybe some olive trees to support the olive production of his province.

"Farmers are farmers, both in the US and the EU," Terzi said. "They have hard work and to me they are heroes."

The free Taste of Europe in Portland event is on Thursday, Oct. 18, 6-9 p.m., at the U of O White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch St. Register for tickets here.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Warm-Up for Fall: Pot Roast Bourguignon

One neighbor remarked while passing by that the ash trees surrounding our house were "over-achievers" since their golden leaves are the first to fall in our neighborhood. Which means we're finished with the raking and piling when the leaves are still relatively dry and easy to gather up rather than sodden and heavy later on.

Before roasting…

Raking even our relatively small corner lot is still a lot of hard work, especially if your normal workout involves lifting a coffee cup to your lips or casually strolling around the neighborhood with your dogs. The heavenly pot roast recipe below is super simple and can be assembled and put in the oven to braise for a few hours while you're outside doing yardwork. Plus it provides an excuse to schedule breaks every hour or so to check and make sure the liquid hasn't all cooked away (add water if it seems low).

…and after. Mmmmmm!

The smell when you come in the house for those "breaks" will give you motivation to get the outside work done quicker, too, the better to come inside and enjoy a cocktail while you make a salad and boil some potatoes to serve alongside. And sitting down to a hearty and flavor-filled dinner that basically cooks itself? I can't think of a better reward for all that hard work!

Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less than stellar texture.

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 3-5 lb. chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
2 ribs celery, chopped in 1/4" slices
4 carrots, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 quart (32 oz.) roasted tomatoes
3-4 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered and it starts to brown. Add onions and garlic and sauté 2-3 min., then add carrots and celery and sauté 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté till soft. Stir in tomatoes and herbs, then add wine. Sprinkle roast generously with salt and pepper add to pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and place pot in oven, baking for 2 hrs. Remove meat from pot and slice in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, covering with sauce and vegetables. Cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Umami Bomb from…Tomato Skins?

I'm admitting up front that I am borrowing this from the estimable Ms. Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have, who mentioned this unique idea recently. Intrigued, and still in the middle of processing, oh, about 100 pounds of tomatoes, I was swimming in tomato skins that I had plucked out of the sheet pans of roasted tomatoes that were flying out of my oven.

Dried tomato skins.

Instead of tossing them into the compost, I spread them out in a thin layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan and put them in the oven, which I'd preheated to 150°. It took a few hours, but eventually there was a whiff of roasty tomato smell coming from the oven. Checking them, they were very slightly moist but with that leathery texture of good dried peppers. So after letting them cool, I threw some in the spice grinder, and in a few seconds they were reduced to a fine, flakey consistency, with that gorgeous red color intact.

As a layer in rolled pork loin.

So far I've sprinkled them in scrambled eggs, scattered them on top of macaroni and cheese, and layered them in a pork loin roast with rosemary, fennel pollen and salt, all to delicious effect. Their roasted tomato essence carries through when they soften, and adds a layer of umami that you might get from, say, roasted peppers. I can see using them in hummus or a sour cream dip, in sauces and as a sprightly addition to some of my favorite deviled eggs.

Thanks, Katherine, for the suggestion!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pasture Network Grows with New Online Guide

When I'm at the grocery store or the farmers' market, I'm inundated with so many labels and certifications it makes my head swim. From "non-GMO" to "organic" to "pasture-raised" to "natural," I feel like I have to be a legal expert to suss out which ones are questionable—sometimes even fake—and which ones I can trust.

How do you know what you're buying?

And I hate to say it, but even at the farmers' markets you have to be careful of claims by farms that their products are "all-natural" or "no-spray" or even "local." In one case, Willamette Valley Cheese, which in previous years had won top honors from the American Cheese Society, had its dairy, Volbeda Farms, shut down by the state Department of Agriculture for more than 200 violations since 2007. Since it stopped using milk from its own cows, it is instead buying milk from a regional cooperative, Darigold, while claiming on its website that it is buying from a "local dairy." And showing pictures of cows on grassy pastures belies that fact that much of Darigold's milk is sourced from large factory farm dairies.

But help is here for people like me wanting to buy my meat, dairy and eggs from local farmers who raise their livestock outdoors, on pasture in a humane and ecologically sustainable manner. The  Oregon Pasture Network Product Guide is a free statewide online guide for buying products from more than 60 Oregon farmers who are committed to agricultural practices that put a high value on family farms, animal welfare, public health, the planet and our local rural economies.

Cattle raised on pasture.

Organized by Friends of Family Farmers, the Oregon Pasture Network (OPN) requires producers to sign a Pasture Network Pledge, as well as go through an application process that includes a farm visit. Farmers who sign the pledge agree to operate "on a scale that is appropriate to our land and to use practices that allow our animals to live a high-quality life on pasture [and] make operational decisions intended to foster the long-term viability of the land, air, and water of our local community."

Farmers at a Potluck and Pasture Walk.

Once a farm is accepted into the network—a no-fee process at this point—farmers are listed in the product guide with an accompanying farm profile, as well as being given access to classes that provide expert assistance to improve their pasture-based systems and deepen their understanding of the art and science of responsible grazing. The OPN also provides a producer listserv where farmers can share tips and information, and the network launched a Potluck and Pasture Walk series this past summer, scheduled around Oregon so producers can share stories of what it's like to raise animals on pasture in their particular part of the state.

And if you want to know more about local producers and where your food comes from, Friends of Family Farmers is sponsoring a series of free informational evenings called InFARMation that will take a deep dive into the benefits of responsible grazing and pasture-raised poultry (including eggs), meat and dairy. Each evening will feature tastings and a panel discussion, as well as beer provided by Lagunitas Brewing, which sponsors the meeting place and donates all sales of beer to Friends of Family Farmers. Dates and topics are:
  • Pasture-Raised Poultry and Eggs featuring farmers Geoff Scott and John Mathia of Marion Acres Farm; Piper Davis, co-owner, and Laura Ohm, product director of Grand Central Bakery; Justin Ashby is meat monger for Flying Fish Company and owner of Tidal Boar Foods.Aug. 25, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.
  • Pasture-Raised Pork, Oct. 9, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.
  • Pasture-Raised Dairy, Nov. 13, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Court Orders Feds to Take Over Lost Valley Farm, Appoint Trustee

“[Owner Greg] Te Velde is unwilling, or unable, to comply with his duties as a fiduciary,” wrote Judge Fredrick Clement of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of California in his decision to allow a federal takeover of Lost Valley Farm in Boardman, Oregon.

“Since filing (bankruptcy), [te Velde] has continued his long-standing habits of methamphetamine usage and gambling," Judge Clement continued. "Drug usage has occurred once or twice per week, and he has gambled estate monies of $2,000 to $7,000 monthly. Te Velde borrowed $205,000 without court authorization, and in a one-month period took personal draws of $28,000 more than authorized.”

With that damning decision by Clement, te Velde failed in his efforts to maintain control of Lost Valley Farm in Boardman as well as the two mega-dairies he owns in California. Clement then ordered the appointment of a trustee to manage the three factory farm dairies.

According to an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal, "it's uncertain whether replacing te Velde with a trustee will hasten or slow environmental improvements at the dairy" since "creditors have said they are reluctant to approve any spending on environmental compliance until a consultant completes a report outlining the cost of all needed improvements."

Until that report is done, and even in its current questionable state, the dairy will continue to operate, selling the milk from its approximately 7,000 cows under the contract it has with the Tillamook Creamery Association's processing plant in Boardman. That is despite Tillamook's claims in bankruptcy hearings in June that the milk from Lost Valley violated the company's testing standards for safe levels of bacteria on at least 60 occasions.

"The Lost Valley mega-dairy has been a disaster from the beginning, and hopefully this decision will lead to it finally being closed down," said Friends of Family Farmers Policy Director Ivan Maluski in the Salem paper's article. "The Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture could have prevented this fiasco and should have denied this operation a permit at the outset. This situation makes it clear that Oregon needs stronger laws to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future."

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Read my series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, plus massive groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and the farm's creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Season: Late Summer and Fall Bounty

As Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is fond of pointing out, we here in the Northwest live in a maritime climate, on the same latitude as Italy's Piedmont and, interestingly, Hokkaido, the northernmost of the islands that comprise Japan. Which means, fellow travelers, that we have a relatively mild climate moderated by its proximity to the ocean, with a fairly long growing season that can extend well into the fall.

So here we find ourselves, on the cusp between late summer and autumn with the harvest still pouring in from local fields, and I thought it was a good time to chat with Josh Alsberg about what we can expect to find at farmers' markets (as well as at local greengrocers like his own Rubinette Produce).

His summary? "Apples, pears, squash, roots and greens. 'K, bye!"

Price and canadice grapes.

Pushed for just a teensy bit more detail, he added that local table grapes are just coming into full bloom and should be available for the next three or four weeks. One of his favorite farms for grapes, aside from Ayers Creek Farm, is Farmers Table Grapes, owned by Bill and Karen Farmer in Rickreall. Certified organic, they grow more than 30 varieties of grapes like Interlaken and Eisenstadt.

As for apples, he suggests getting them at farmers' markets, since most apples found in supermarkets come from large corporate farms. Whether at the market or the store, he said the best way to know if you'll like a variety is to ask for a taste. His mantra? "You have to be brave enough to ask questions," whether for a sample or to learn more about a farm's practices. Fresh local apples—as opposed to storage apples, which tend to be "older and more tired"—should be available until the end of November.

Forell pears.

Alsberg noted that pears are also going to be available in abundance, at least through the end of October. He said the early pears like Bartlett, Starkrimson and Cascade tend to have a slightly more astringent quality, and that as we move into October dessert pears—think Comice, Bosc and Taylor's Gold—will start appearing along with Seckel and Forell pears.

Local plums and pluots, which hang to ripeness on the trees and tend to have a more nuanced flavor than those imported from outside the Northwest, will be available through September. He said that melons are on the way out, so enjoy them now because they'll disappear from the scene.

There's still time to make corn salsa!

Sadly, I am obligated to report that the supply of local tomatoes is also waning rapidly (personally, I'm eating as many tomato sandwiches as I can) and the window for corn and eggplant is closing quickly. Peppers will be strong through early October, and a few farmers' markets are featuring fresh-roasted peppers for sale.

The good news is that local potatoes, onions and winter squash are beginning to appear. Some sage advice Alsberg shared is to pace yourself when it comes to winter squash. "You don't want to burn out before the good stuff gets to you," he said, and suggested referring to the Winter Squash Cooking Chart that lays out the four categories of winter squash—Simple, Saucy, Sweet and Salad—and easy recipes to take advantage of each variety's unique flavor profile.

Fresh shell beans are a fleeting pleasure.

Asked what excites him about this time of year, he mentioned different onion varieties that are being grown by area farmers. "It's more than just red and yellow," he said, and suggested trying Tropea, a sweet red onion often labeled "Torpedo," along with cipollini, shallots and elephant garlic.

Greens are still available in abundance but Alsberg said that we're moving away from leaf lettuce and into the hardier varieties like kale, chard, radicchio and other chicories, as well as frisée, all of which he says are best in late September when cooler temperatures cause the plants to put out more sugars to protect them from frost. Green beans are also going strong, and we should be looking for shell beans and brussels sprouts in October and November. Roots like beets, turnips and rutabagas will come on in October, too, so check out some recipes for roots and belly-warming soups to whet your appetite.

A quick note that Rubinette will be holding it's annual Apple Tasting on Oct. 20 that will feature at least a dozen heirloom and hard-to-find varieties like the Oregon-bred Rubinette—not surprisingly Alberg's favorite—Crimson Crisp, Ashmead's Kernel, Pippin and more for sampling as well as for sale.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dropping Knowledge Word by Word

Revelations often come from unexpected places, and this week's CSA newsletter from Gathering Together Farm struck me with the idea that the food I put on my table has much deeper benefits than just a meal for my family—it's also nourished the minds and hearts of the farmers and crew members who grew and harvested it.

"Whenever I sit down to write this newsletter, the conversations that took place while we harvested your produce starts flitting through my mind. More than any one particular conversation, I wanted to draw attention to the amazing language immersion experience that one has on our harvest crew. While we’re sharing immense amounts of knowledge about how to harvest vegetables properly, in doing so we are also exchanging immense amounts of language in order to get the job done.

"Our 2018 harvest crew is an incredibly diverse bunch of folks, all of whom speak different combinations of languages. There are those who speak Spanish and English to varying degrees, those who speak either Spanish or English, and then there are Spanish speakers who speak indigenous languages, including Mixteco from Mexico, and Mam and Kanjobal, both Mayan languages from Guatemala. Some people have been farming their whole lives, some for the past decade, and others are experiencing farm life for the first time.

"At the beginning of the season, it felt like the language barrier hindered efficiency, but the barrier has since been broken. Over this season, everyone has learned so much English and Spanish, and a few select language buffs have even taken to learning the differences and similarities between the indigenous languages. For me, I have honed my Spanish abilities to a whole new level that is simply not possible in a classroom. But what’s more important than the words we’ve learned has been the relationships that we’ve built with each other as we laughed and grumbled our way through communication breakdowns and successes, just as any good learning process should be.

"As you eat your way through your box this week, remember the diversity of words that passed through the air as we harvested, the words that made possible the logistics of assuring quality control and efficiency as we moved from field to field, the words that maybe didn’t make sense the first time and had to be laughed off and said again before they got the message across. As we have spent our days working our bodies in the fields, our minds have been far from dormant. It’s been one stimulating season of knowledge exchange, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

"Best, Laura Bennett"

Read more about Gathering Together Farm and owner John Eveland.

Top photo by Gathering Together Farm.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Braise is Back: Beer-Braised Poblano Pork

Now, I'm not one to trumpet the end of summer and the beginning of that four-letter word beginning with "f" (and ending with "double toothpicks" for those of you old enough to remember that old saw). But I do appreciate the moderating temperatures during the day and the rapid cooling at night, making pulling up the covers a welcome necessity.

Yes, I'm a native Oregonian. Is it that obvious?

A drizzle of cilantro chimichurri? Sure!

While there's still plenty of grilling weather in the forecast, with salmon and albacore running strong, and tomatoes, peppers and a bounty of other delicious things coming in from local farms (whew!), it's also possible to turn on the stove without the fear of making your home feel like you're living in some hot, humid East Coast city. (No wonder those politicians in DC are so grumpy all the time, huh?)

The other day I'd picked up a pork shoulder at the store, pondering what to do with it when I got home—Chili? Posole? Pulled pork?—and then, while rummaging in the vegetable bin, found several large poblano peppers that had jumped into my farmers' market basket the weekend before. Excellent!

A little chopping, a little sautéing, a can of Hopworks pils from the fridge, and in under half an hour I had a pot of pork bubbling away on the stove. Then two hours later we were sitting down for what I have to say was a spectacular dinner. By the way, the chimichurri came about when during the aforementioned rummaging I ran across a bunch of cilantro that was soon to expire, so whizzed that up in the processor with some lime and garlic and, voilà, instant zhoosh!

Beer-Braised Poblano Pork

4 lbs. pork shoulder, cut in 1” pieces
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, in 1/2” dice
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 large poblano peppers, seeded and chopped in 1” pieces
2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
12 oz. light beer (a Northwest pilsner works nicely)
2 c. chicken stock
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt plus more to taste

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté until translucent, then add garlic and peppers and sauté until tender. Add pork, beer, stock oregano, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. When pork is tender (almost falling apart), taste for salt and serve in bowls with rice or grain and a drizzle of chimichurri (recipe below).

* * *

Cilantro Chimichurri

2 c. cilantro
1/3 c. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. lime juice
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Summer Book Report, Part II: Two in the Far North

Memoir. History. Love story. Ecological screed. A meditation on our place in nature. Astute political analysis. Even some murder and mayhem (of the natural world sort).

I've never read anything quite like Margaret Murie's Two in the Far North, which is, at its core, a memoir of her life growing up in pre-statehood Alaska, meeting her husband, Olaus, a wildlife biologist, and spending much of their lives together studying and working to preserve Alaska's wild places. It was a lifetime of effort and advocacy that eventually led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) in 1960.

With one of her beloved sled dogs.

We meet Murie when she is just nine years old, at the point when she and her mother traveled from Seattle to meet her father, an assistant U.S. attorney for what was then called the Territory of Alaska. In the early 1900s, that meant a several-day journey via steamship from Seattle to Skagway, in Alaska's southeast panhandle, then another several days to travel by train to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon. The next leg took the pair up the Yukon River to Dawson where they were met by Murie's father, and then traveling together up the Tanana River to Fairbanks on a river steamer.

The first woman to graduate from Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

"In 1911 the river steamer was queen. There was a great fleet then, nearly all with feminine names, churning and chuffing their stern wheels up the rivers and sliding briskly down them. When the great two-stacker Mississippi-style steamer came in to any dock, she came like a confident southern beauty making a graceful curtsy at a ball. [These steamers] lived their lives between St. Michael at the mouth of the river and Dawson, sixteen hundred miles upstream." Arriving in Fairbanks, the family moved into the one vacant house which Murie describes as "way out on the edge of town," with only four rooms, a handpump in the kitchen and a woodstove that heated the house.

Murie's early life is described from her vivid memories growing up in the far north, cooking on that woodstove, walking to school even in fifty-below-zero weather and exploring the world of the gold rush town where "there were no others nearer than eight days by horse sleigh or ten days by river steamer."

Dressed for the trail.

Going off to college—in Portland, to Reed College, no less—at the age of fifteen, she traveled by dogsled accompanied only by a driver and his dogs for nine days, traversing frozen rivers and mountains and staying in rough-and-tumble roadhouses along the way. From this point on, Murie quotes extensively from her astonishingly descriptive diaries about meeting her husband and spending their honeymoon on a research expedition above the Arctic Circle, studying its flora and fauna with the idea that documenting this unexplored region could help to preserve it for future generations.

The camp on Lake Lobo on the Sheenjek River above the Arctic Circle.

This love of the wilderness, her enchantment with the natural world and the difficult, funny and moving experiences they had together that bring the times and places to life, putting flesh on the characters they meet along the way, some in the most unexpected circumstances. Murie is a storyteller of great warmth and humanity, and I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Read Part One of my summer book report, "Henry David Thoreau: A Life."

Photos from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska's Digital Archives.

Cast Iron Cooking: Tomato Cornbread

Reading recipes has always inspired me, and even those I'm annoyed by can contain the seeds of a good dish. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares one of those that he used despite quibbles with its moniker.

Tomato Cornbread

A recipe in the Washington Post inspired me, but the name, "Savory Tomato Cornbread Cobbler," is both too long and misleading. "Savory" is just superfluous food porn, and cobbler, while not really precisely defined, really requires the batter portion on top. It's not exactly a pie, but nether is the tamale version. Whatever you call it, it tastes good.

Put a nine-inch or so cast iron skillet (or similar baking dish) in a 350° oven. Cut three or four tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, add a bit of chopped garlic or shallot, some chopped herbs (basil, mint and parsley for me; if you don't have any growing in your yard, just use basil), a splash of one of the the Katz vinegars and the same for oil. I used about 2-3 cups of this tomato mix.

The cornbread is a simple hot water version made with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter or lard. The real star is the cornmeal: I used Ayers Creek Amish Butter, but the purple Peace, No War would also work (I've got both in stock). Mix a cup of cornmeal with a teaspoon of sea salt and 2 tsp. of baking powder. Add a cup of boiling water and one of extra virgin olive oil, mix well. It'll be a little oily, but that's okay.

Pull the hot skillet from the oven, pour in the cornmeal batter, and spread out into a smooth layer. Spoon the tomato mix on top, distributing evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, and let cool. I like it best at room temperature.

Check out more of Jim Dixon's recipes on Good Stuff NW!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Nice to Be Noticed

Going to take a moment to do a little humble-bragging on a couple of sweet notices I ran across for Good Stuff NW recently. The inimitable Lola Milholland of Umi Organic, whose ramen is a product I'm happy to have on regular rotation in my fridge, noticed my recipe for Kimchi Noodle Salad using her noodles—along with local producers Jorinji Miso and Choi's Kimchi—and has featured it on her recipe page on the Umi website. Thanks, Lola!

And I was looking up some information on the Milwaukie Café, which I raved about awhile ago, and realized they'd included a link to my post about my visit there, Hidden Gem: Milwaukie Café and Bottle Shop. Thanks, guys!

If you see mentions and links to Good Stuff NW out there on the interwebs, drop me a line and let me know. Love it that folks are finding it…well…good stuff!

Photo by Shawn Linehan for Umi Organic.

Farm Bulletin: From Tewksbury to Gaston

Why buy mustard at the store when you can easily make your own, especially if it's as ridiculously flavorful as the seeds grown by contributor Anthony Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm?

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"He a good wit? Hang him, baboon. His wit's as thick as Tewksbury mustard."
Falstaff in Henry IV, Part II.

* * *

Since the Middle Ages, the most esteemed source of mustard was Tewksbury. Located in western England at the confluence of the Avon and Severn Rivers, with soils and a mild, maritime-influenced climate similar to ours. In his great book on salads, Acetaria (1699), Evelyn commends Tewksbury mustard as essential for competent dressing of salad greens. Today, most mustard is grown in in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, even those marketed as Dijon on the label. Dijon refers imprecisely to a Frenchy sort of method of preparation rather than the origin of the mustard seed itself; seeds from Canada also wind up in the distinctive yellow squeeze bottles for adorning the ball park hot dog.

Ripening siliques of mustard. You can see where the other parts of the flower were attached at its base, the seed cavity just above that, and then the dark pollen tube extending up to the desiccated stigma. A wonderful, bristly package that perhaps only a botanist could appreciate?

The fruit of the mustard is a sort of pod called a silique. Unlike the pea and bean pod, the silique has an inner membrane called the replum. You may be familiar with the ornamental Lunaria or Honesty, where the replum looks like a silvery moon and shows up in dried flower arrangements. In the wild versions of the family, the silique explodes upon ripening, scattering the seeds into the fur or feathers of a passing creature. The small seeds of the western bittercress can be unpleasant when they fly into the eyes while you are working in the field. The explosive trait has been bred out of the domesticated members of the Brassicaceae. All this is worth noting because silique and replum are handy scrabble words. 

Mustard in flower. There are four sepals and four petals arranged in the form of a cross, so members of the family are sometimes called Crucifers, bearer of a cross, redolent with religious imagery. But Brassicaceae, derived from Pliny’s name for the cabbages, is now the accepted name of the family. Upon fertilization, the sepals, petals and stamens drop away, leaving the ovary which will develop into the silique.

Does it matter a whit that the mustard seed is grown at the headwaters of the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers, or for that matter at the confluence of the Avon and Severn? In Gaston and Tewksbury, the crop is sown in the late autumn and grows slowly through the winter, flowering in February and March, then maturing leisurely before the summer's heat. This growth cycle is very different from Alberta and Saskatchewan where the crop is sown in the spring and matures rapidly through the heat of the summer. You all can be the judge as to whether that substantial difference in growing conditions is reflected in the seeds’ culinary quality.  

Mustard drying in the field prior to harvest.

Simply grinding dry mustard seeds yields a very hot and harsh condiment. One afternoon, two Bavarian mustard makers from a convent were interviewed on the radio about their process. The sisters explained that after soaking the mustard seeds, they added a special mix of herbs and spices, refusing to divulge any further information that would compromise the secrets of their preparation. From our perspective as biologists, the proverbial cat was out of the bag. As with beans and grains, the process of soaking the seeds triggers the enzymatic breakdown of the stored starch components in the seed to simple sugars, yielding a sweeter preparation and softening its harsh character. Who cares about the secret herbs and spices; mustard is a noble spice without assistance, thank you.

Our preferred method of preparation is to rinse and then soak the seed in water for a few hours. We keep the seed moist for a day or so to start the germination process. We then place the seeds in a hot mix of rice wine vinegar, salt and a small dab of honey, and refrigerate when cool. Prepared in this manner, the seeds are good in salads, and added to various cooked dishes such as soups or stews at the last minute. You will notice that as the seeds soak, a thick mucilage develops on the outside of the seed, hence Falstaff's quip. This mucilage is an emulsifier, used for suspending oil in vinegar or water. We use the seeds as is, even on wieners.

After soaking the seeds, it is also possible to wet mill the mustard into a paste with some vinegar and salt, if that be your desire. Regardless, always reach for Authentic Gaston Mustard Seed for complete satisfaction.

Authentic Gaston Mustard Seed Condiment

Drain the water from the soaked mustard seeds and place in a small non-reactive bowl. In a small saucepan, heat enough rice vinegar to cover the seeds. A dab is about perfect for the honey, and big pinch for the salt. All a matter of to taste. Precision is not necessary.

Close-up photos of mustard by Anthony Boutard.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Summer Book Report, Part I: Thoreau (and Alaska)

No, in case, after reading this post's title, you're thinking, "Whaaaaat?"…Henry David never went to Alaska. (Just wanted to clear that up before we went any further. See end of this post for details.)

In fact, Thoreau rarely left the region surrounding Concord, Massachusetts—a few trips to Maine, New Jersey and Connecticut notwithstanding—preferring to make an intimate connection with the flora and fauna of his New England home. Despite that, in Henry David Thoreau, A Life, author Laura Dassow Walls places him squarely in the middle of the great debates and characters of his time, flying in the face of my impression of him as a hermitic recluse living in a hut by a pond.

Henry David Thoreau in 1856, age 39.

Thoreau was just shy of his 28th birthday when he moved from his family's home in town and into the simple cabin he built on Walden Pond, the subject of his most popular book. A little more than two years later, he returned to his family's home and lived there for much of the rest of his life. Thoreau earned his primary living as a surveyor, but pursued his writing, speaking tours and correspondence with the likes of poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, a lifelong friend; the poet Walt Whitman; abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Margaret Fuller, a journalist and women's rights activist; and the well-known naturalist Louis Agassiz, with whom he had several very public disagreements.

Title page of Walden, drawing by his sister Sophia.

Despite recurring bouts of chronic tuberculosis which he'd contracted as a young man, he traveled widely throughout New England, lecturing on a range of topics, from Trancendentalism to the abolition of slavery—he raised money and defended the campaign of John Brown, even issuing a fiery defense after Harper's Ferry—and, of course, the need to conserve the nation's natural areas for future generations.

Immensely engaging and well-written, this biography is going on my own list of books I've loved. Walls quotes extensively from Thoreau's writing and personal journals but, rather than being pedantic, it drew me into his inner life and thoughts, breathing life into a colorful, fascinating man I only thought I knew.

The second book is one that has been on my favorites list since the first time I read it years ago, and is one I've given as a gift many times. Here's my review of Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Urban Foraging: Figs from a Neighbor

The combination of dogs and a walkable neighborhood gives me the perfect excuse to go on reconnaissance missions around my neighborhood, looking—some might call it snooping—on parking strips and in front yards for fruit trees. Having older dogs that, like toddlers, are more interested in process than destination, I've taken the opportunity to note the plum, Italian prune, fig, pear, apple, cherry and persimmon trees on our various routes.

Some are gnarly old things that predate the bungalows built in the 1920s, the only surviving remnants of the orchards and farms that used to dot the countryside between the small towns like Sellwood, Albina, Multnomah, Kenton, Lents and St. Johns that were eventually annexed by Portland. Others were planted as street trees in the intervening years, though I wonder if the hapless homeowner who planted the giant walnut tree in his front yard thought about the terminal velocity of ripe walnuts when they drop 60 feet onto his car (or his head).

In any case, just around the corner from us is a fig tree that was planted around seven or eight years ago that the homeowners had tried to espalier along a short retaining wall. The scent of the leaves was intoxicating on warm summer nights, but it never bore fruit until the house sold and the new owners neglected to trim it back. The next year there were big, dark brown figs dangling from its branches and I began stalking the house, hoping to strike up a friendly, if self-serving, conversation with the new owners.

A couple of months ago I finally—aha!—caught the guy raking in his yard and casually asked if perchance they ever used the figs or would…ahem…mind sharing some of them. He scowled and indicated his girlfriend had tried making jam the previous year but ended up throwing most of it out, and he'd be happy if someone picked them so they wouldn't litter his sidewalk.

Score one for persistence!

So last week, shopping bag in hand, I walked over and plucked three or so pounds. They were delicious for eating out of hand, and I made the rest into a stellar jam using a recipe from Martha Rose Shulman as a guide, though I doubled her recipe and used a bit less sugar than she called for.

Fig Jam
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman

2 1/2 lbs. ripe figs, roughly chopped
4 1/2 c. sugar
5 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained
4 tsp. balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl, toss together chopped figs and half the sugar. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Transfer figs and sugar to a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When mixture comes to a boil, scrape back into bowl and cover with plastic. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

Scrape fig mixture back into the saucepan. Place a small plate in the freezer to use for checking the thickness of the jam as it cooks. Bring the fruit back to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the mixture comes to a boil, stir in the remaining sugar, the lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar. Boil, stirring, until mixture is thick but not too concentrated, 10 to 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that accumulates. I also skimmed off some of the seeds that cluster at the surface, though it's not necessary to skim off all of them.

To test for doneness, remove the plate from the freezer and place a spoonful of the jam on it. Wait about 20 seconds and tilt the plate. The jam should only run slightly, and fairly slowly. Boil a little longer if it seems too runny, but take care not to cook it until too thick. It needs to be spreadable.

Transfer the jam to clean jars, wipe the rims and place canning lids on top. Place canning bands over the lids but don't tighten bands more than finger tight. Allow to cool, tighten the bands, then refrigerate or freeze.

Check out the fascinating history of the Italian prune trees found around the city and get a recipe for a Prune (or Plum) Tart!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Two Thousand Five Hundred Posts? Really?


A little more than a dozen years ago this blog began, and 2,500 posts seems like a good time to pause for a moment and reflect on that significant milestone. I had not a clue at the time I wrote my first post what Good Stuff NW would become, or how many passionate people I would meet, people who would let me tell their stories and show me what a truly vibrant, equitable and accessible food system could look like, as well as how we could achieve it by working toward that goal together.

I'd like to thank the many contributors and guest essayists, particularly Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who've added their voices to this effort, and helped to expand it beyond my "I'm just one person" scope. And a big shout-out to the sponsors who have seen fit to contribute their support in so many ways to making Good Stuff NW the success it is.

Lastly, thanks to all of you readers for your support. Your feedback and participation has made this journey so very worthwhile.

Going forward, look for more reporting from the fields, profiles of farmers and producers, recipes for delicious food to serve those you love and, always, in-depth posts on food policy and politics you can act on. As Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer always says in closing, "Courage!"

Corn Salad: Distillation of Late Summer

It was going to be a perfect summer evening, I just knew it. There was an invitation from friends for a dinner on their patio, along with a demonstration after the meal of their newly installed gas fire pit. Grilled pork loin with a guajillo chile sauce was the focus, and when I asked what we could contribute, our host requested a vegetable side dish.

Sweet corn has been on my mind lately, and I pondered the possibilities. A corn pudding, perhaps? But a quinoa salad was already on the menu, so no. But a corn salad? Now there was something to chew on. Recently my brother had a made a salad to go with a grilled paella—albacore, raw corn sliced fresh off the cob and lettuce dressed with light vinaigrette—that had entranced me. And so many of the Mexican dishes that caught my eye while browsing my collection of Diana Kennedy's cookbooks had combinations of right-from-the-field vegetables caught at their peak of ripeness.

So I hit the market and bought whatever seemed to be almost jumping off the tables and into my basket, begging me to bring them home. Again, a simple spritz of lime juice, a splash of olive oil and a showering of salt was all they needed to shine, plus a super-simple avocado crema to serve alongside adding a certain sumptuousness, and my vegetable side was good to go.

Despite a last-minute (but welcome) rain shower just before we arrived, the evening was perfection. And the fire pit? Worked like a charm as we sipped our dessert wine and watched Jupiter transit the twilight sky over the Coast Range.

Corn Salad with Avocado Crema

For the corn salad:
1 15-1/2 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 ears corn, kernels sliced fresh off the cob
1/2 red onion, halved lengthwise and slivered crosswise
1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced, or two small Persian cucumbers, chopped
1 large ripe tomato, chopped (about 2 c.)
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste

For the avocado crema:
1 c. milk
1 clove garlic
2 avocados
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 c. sour cream
Salt to taste

In a large mixing bowl combine the black beans, corn kernels, onion, cucumber and tomato. Pour in the lime juice and olive oil and stir gently to mix.

In the bowl of a food processor pour in the milk and add the garlic, avocados and lime juice. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary to incorporate all the ingredients. Add sour cream and pulse until just mixed, then add salt to taste.

The crema makes almost four cups, which is more than enough to serve a small amount alongside the salad, but it is also spectacular as a dip for chips or in tacos or burritos. It'll keep for at least a week stored in the fridge, so don't be afraid to make the whole batch. (It can also be halved if you don't want to make the whole amount.)