Monday, May 18, 2015

Report Those Swarms!

Did you know that Portland has a bee swarm hotline? Neither did I!

Portland Urban Beekeepers is an organization that "provides community, advocacy and education for those interested in raising honey bees and supporting their presence in the environment." They've established a hotline for people who run across bee swarms to report its location and have experienced beekeepers come and collect it. The swarms are then donated to beekeepers who are looking to start or add to their existing hives.

If you want to report a swarm, the hotline number is 503-444-8446 or you can report it online (the online form is a national organization, so you can report a swarm anywhere). If you're interested in getting a swarm for your hive or learning how to collect them, sign up at the website. The beekeepers also have monthly meetings that are held the first Wednesday of the month from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Check their calendar for the next meeting date.

Rhubarb Crisp: A Blast from the Past

"Planning, preparing and serving meals is an art which develops through inspiration and thought. It may look difficult to the beginner, but like driving a car, swimming or anything we learn to do without thought or conscious effort, it is a skill which grows easier with the doing."

Perky, positive phrases like these, along with recipes for "Wheaties Ting-a-Lings," "Hollywood Dunk" and "Veal Supreme"—described as "popular at Sibley Tea House, near the home of an early Minnesota governor"—littered the pages of my mother's 1955 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book.

Meant to bolster the confidence of a new generation of middle-class housewives like my mother, saddled with preparing three meals a day for a growing family and a husband who spent his days at the office and came home expecting dinner on the table, Betty was always there with her reassuring, confident wisdom.

"Good eating brings happiness two ways. First, there is the joy and satisfaction of eating delicious, well-prepared food. Then there's the buoyant health, vitality and joy of living that comes from a wise choice of foods. Both are important to good nutrition."

Of course, we now know that Betty was an invention of one of the six milling companies that became General Mills in 1928, created for the purpose of responding to recipe requests from customers. The company decided that having a woman's name to sign the return letters would be more personal, and so combined the last name of a retired company executive with the first name "Betty," which they felt was "warm and friendly."

I'm not sure my mother bought the whole ad-speak tone of the cookbook, but both it and her mother's 1944 copy of The Joy of Cooking—which was written by an actual person, Irma Rombauer—were her kitchen workhorses.

One of my mother's favorite "Betty" recipes was for apple crisp, though rather than the granola-esque crumble topping, it had a crunchy sugar topping that contrasted so satisfyingly with the soft, warm fruit under it. I've used it for many different kinds of fruit, most recently for a wonderful rhubarb crisp that brought back vivid memories of my mother's kitchen.

Rhubarb Crisp

4 c. rhubarb, sliced into 1/2" chunks
2 Tbsp. sugar plus 1 c. for the topping
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. orange liqueur like triple sec, Harlequin or Grand Marnier
3/4 c. flour
1/3 c. frozen butter or margarine, in pieces

In medium mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, 2 Tbsp. sugar and liqueur. Set aside.

For topping, in bowl of food processor combine 1 c. sugar, flour and butter or margarine. Pulse until it is the texture of cornmeal.

Place rhubarb mixture in 9" by 12" baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with topping mixture from processor. Bake at 350° for 40-50 min. until fruit is bubbly and topping is slightly golden.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Calçots: Grilled Spanish Spring Onions

It all started with those little, bright green lantern-shaped peppers call pimientos de padron—more familiarly known simply as "padrons"—that only required a quick blistering in hot oil and shower of salt to melt my knees as soon as I popped one in my mouth. For awhile they were only available from Manuel Recio and Leslie Lukas-Recio's Viridian Farms stand at the Portland Farmers Market, but pretty soon they were being featured on the hottest chef's menus all over town.

A couple of years later I heard about another Spanish delicacy that had appeared on Viridian's roster, a giant spring onion called calçots (pron. cahl-SOH). In Spain they're harvested from November through April, and festivals known as calçotadas are held in towns all over the region.

Cooked on a hot grill until the outside layer is blackened but not charred and the inside is soft and creamy, the outside layer is peeled off and dunked in a tangy romesco-like sauce called salbitxada (sahl-beet-SHAH-dah). Then, holding the onion aloft by the greens, the trick is to lower the soft, saucy white part into your mouth and bite it off without having the sauce dribble all over your face. (This video explains it better than I ever could.)

With calçot season upon us—you can get them right now at Manuel and Leslie's new retail outlet, Conserva—we finally held our own mini-calçotada on the patio. Traditionally served with beer and a variety of grilled meats, for our home version of a calçotada Dave quickly grilled bone-in pork chops and I made an herbed rice pilaf with chopped tarragon, red-veined sorrel and parsley from the garden…though the drips on our shirts signaled that we may need some more practice on the eating portion of this spring festival.

Calçots with Salbitxada Sauce

For the salbitxada sauce:
4 Tbsp. blanched almonds
4 fresh bitxo peppers (or other mildly hot pepper)
8 cloves garlic
4 ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the grilled calçots:
2-3 bunches (20-30) Spanish calçots or very young spring onions with long greens (when the bulb is very small)

Heat oven to 350°. Place almonds in hot oven to toast for 5-7 minutes. Place in a food processor and coarsely grind. Roughly chop the tomatoes, removing the seeds. Coarsely chop the peppers, removing the seeds and membranes. Peel and chop the garlic. Mash ground almonds, peppers and garlic into a paste with a food processor. Add tomatoes, parsley and vinegar. Pulsing the food processor, drizzle in the olive oil until sauce becomes thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grilled “calcots” (spring onions) or any other grilled vegetable. During summer months, consider serving this fresh sauce with grilled steaks or chops.

To prepare the calçots, simple build a hot fire in a grill. On the grate over the coals, spread out the calçots with the white end facing the center of the grill and the greens extending over the outside edge of the grill (top photo). Grill, turning occasionally, so the outside is blackened but not charred and the whites feel tender when squeezed.

To serve, pull the calçots off the grill and peel off the outer skin with your fingers. Grasping the greens in your hand, dunk the white part in the salbitxada sauce, raise the onion aloft and lower the white into your mouth, biting it off at the top of the white portion. When the calçots are all gone, whomever has the least sauce (or, I suppose, the most) on their person is the winner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Fight Takes Shape

The following is an edited version of an original report that was published on the Friends of Family Farmers' Muckboots in the Capitol blog. The numbered title of each bill (in bold) is linked to an overview on the state website. It is critical that you let your legislators know what you think about the issues that concern you. Find links at the bottom of this post to do that.

In the Good Corner

House Bill (HB) 3239: Also known as the "Aggie Bonds" bill, this is legislation that would expand loans to beginning farmers. It passed 58-1 on the House floor in mid-April, passed the Senate Business committee and is on the Senate floor awaiting action. Update: This bill passed the Senate on May 13, 2015, on a bipartisan vote of 30-0.

Senate Bill (SB) 341: This bill would protect agritourism providers from legal liability when they invite members of the public onto their property for both commercial and non-commercial activities, but will also require clear warning signs and outline other basic safety steps agritourism providers must take. It passed the entire Senate in a resounding bipartisan 29-0 vote.

SB 920: This bills seeks to limit the use of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those used on humans—on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. (See my post, The Personal Gets Political.) It is now in the Senate Rules Committee, but is being strongly opposed by the state’s biggest corporate factory farms and out-of-state agricultural pharmaceutical companies. This is despite growing evidence of widespread problems and regulatory failures related to recurring outbreaks of antibiotic resistant disease as happened at Foster Farms, featured in an article by Lynne Terry titled A Game of Chicken: USDA Repeatedly Blinked When Facing Salmonella Outbreaks Involving Foster Farms.

HB 2723: This bill encourages the development of urban agriculture by giving tax incentives to property owners who allow small-scale urban agriculture on their property for five-year increments. It passed the full House on a 50-10 vote, and is now headed to the Senate where it will likely be amended to limit eligible farm size so that the new tax incentive primarily encourages smaller scale agricultural operations.

HB 2721: If passed into law, this bill would provide $5 million in funding for farm-to-school programs—a major increase from the $1.2 million currently—making funding available to every school district in Oregon to purchase local farm goods and locally processed foods for inclusion in school meal programs. It is currently awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 657: This bill would provide $16 million for OSU Extension and Ag Research Programs for small and beginning farmers support, pollinator health, food safety, water quality protection and help with research needs on crop rotation, reducing pesticide use, fermentation sciences and sustainable management techniques. It is currently awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 204: Originally a much broader bill to promote conservation activities on working farms and forests, it has been scaled back to create a task force to look at issues around working lands conservation and to establish a Clean Water Fund to support greater protection for riparian areas on farms, including through long-term easements. It is also in the Ways and Means Committee.

In the Bad Corner

HB 2674, HB 2675, SB 207: These bills, introduced by Gov. Kitzhaber, would have enacted some common-sense regulation to better protect Oregon’s vast non-genetically engineered agricultural industries from poorly regulated genetically engineered (GE) crops. They were essentially abandoned when Kitzhaber resigned, and there are currently no bills alive in Salem to strengthen state oversight over GE crops in Oregon.

HB 3382: Introduced on behalf of a handful of canola growers unhappy with a 2013 bill. Despite being only halfway through the bill's three-year research program and having no research results available, HB 3382 authorizes 500 acres of commercial canola production per year from 2016-2019. Worse, the bill says there will be no cap on canola acreage beginning in 2019 and contains no restrictions on genetically engineered canola, effectively putting the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed, fresh market vegetable and organic industries at great risk. (See my series on canola in the Willamette Valley.)

HB 2666: If passed, this legislation would place mining for aggregate (gravel) on farmland above agricultural uses on farmland, putting high value Oregon farmland at risk of being lost forever to mining activities. It is currently in the House Rules Committee and, because of idiosyncratic rules, is not subject to normal legislative deadlines, and may be the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiating and arm-twisting from mining interests.

It is critical that you speak up about the issues that concern you, so please consider contacting your legislators. Find your legislators and let them know what you think. And stay tuned for further updates as the 2015 session progresses!

Read the other posts in this series, Opening Salvos, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Personal Gets Political.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Makin' Bacon? Easy Peasy!

People who deny the facts of evolution completely puzzle me. Even putting aside the fossil record, DNA evidence and untold hours of programming on public television (Have you pledged yet?) do these people ever look around them? Stuff is changing all the time, for heaven's sake.

Cured and ready to smoke.

And I'm not even talking about the famous example of the beaks of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands, where "an immigrant first settled on one of the islands [and] it would undoubtedly be exposed to different conditions in the different islands (where) it would have to compete with a different set of organisms. ... Then, natural selection would probably favor different varieties in the different islands."

You don't have to look any further than this blog, which in geologic time has only existed for a millionth of a nanosecond, but it has evolved from a simple food blog with restaurant reviews, farmers’ market reports and recipes to a forum for discussion of issues about our food system, from the fields to our plates. And the recipes have changed, too, as I've learned more and tweaked them to fit the way we're eating now.

In the smoker.

Take Dave's bacon recipe. On the recommendation of a friend, I bought him Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, considered the primer for those interested in learning about cured meat. In the five years since he cured and smoked his first pork belly, he's adjusted it to his own tastes, to the point where we have a hard time stooping to store-bought because even the most highly-touted examples simply don't measure up.

So if you're at all interested, it's incredibly easy. The only special equipment required is curing salt, large zip-lock plastic bags, a charcoal grill or smoker and a thermometer, then a week for the curing. Seriously, that's it.


And, of course, Dave's notes, which are here in his own words:

"The bacon recipe is based on the Michael Ruhlman recipe, with a couple of changes. I use half as much kosher salt as the recipe calls for—a quarter cup makes it way too salty. I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt (I understand that Morton’s is a bit different). I use a little more garlic than called for—8 to 10 cloves, maybe. I don’t think I’ve ever made it with the optional thyme. I have made it with the optional juniper berries once or twice, but most of the time not. I usually make 12 or 13 pounds at a time, so I double the recipe as I’ve altered it. I usually have two pieces of belly, each rubbed and placed into the big plastic bags in the fridge on a Saturday or Sunday for smoking the next weekend. I turn them once a day. I put it in my Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, on the grates over a water pan, at a low temperature—I try to keep it about 200-225 degrees—over Kingsford with four or five chunks of soaked maple or cherry wood (not too much or the bacon’ll be too smoky and bitter). I smoke it until it’s about 145 degrees internally, usually about three or four hours."

As this changes—and evolves—I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Toast for Breakfast

I need something quick for breakfast. A chore is calling me away from my computer, out into the day, and it strikes me that I haven't had anything to eat. Never mind that I'm meeting a friend for lunch in a little over an hour.

Yogurt? Not in the mood. Had eggs yesterday, and they'd take too long. Out of granola (make a note to pick up supplies for the next batch).

Toast will do, since there's nearly always a loaf of Dave's sourdough sitting on the counter cut-side down, its flavor deepening and its crust thickening, requiring some work to slice but giving it a lovely crunch when toasted.

The toasting is tricky, too, since long slices from the center of the loaf need to be halved and stood upright to fit into our old toaster, but today's is just the right length to slip in whole. It requires two punches of the toaster's knob to get the right ratio of browning, since we've neglected to adjust the timer to our requirements, though a full two cycles starts to burn the edges so I have to remember to pop it up just before the second cycle is complete.

Like I said, tricky.

Get out a plate, pull the butter from the cupboard and a knife from the drawer, slather the warm slice with enough butter to cover it, trying to avoid the inevitable airholes that will drip butter on my keyboard, the counter, the dogs who are lying at my feet eagerly hoping for just such an event. Being out of Ayers Creek jam (another note to pick some up soon) I rummage for honey in the pantry and drizzle the amber liquid, then sit down with the last half mug of coffee from the pot.

Crunching ensues, and I even remember to save a couple of bits of crust for the dogs, still waiting hopefully below me.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Romanesco: Math in Your Mouth

The first time I saw a head of romanesco I was blown away. The shapes! The color! My discovery happened to coincide with my son's fascination with Benoit Mandelbrot and his work in fractal geometry, so of course I had to grab one to take home. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares a recipe for this fractal food that will impress your family with its flavor as well as its beauty.

The bright green, fractal cones of romanesco broccoli look like something from Dr. Suess, and I like to preserve the shapes when I serve this striking member of the cabbage family. It's often called a cauliflower, but the flavor is a bit more delicate, a bit less cabbage-y. There are big, purple-tinged heads at the farmers market right now, examples of overwintered vegetables that thrive here in the maritime northwest. Inspired by Sicilian cauliflower salad called rinforzata (literally reinforced, invoking the addition of pantry staples to make more of the humble Brassica), this version combines crunch, salt, sweet, and sour.

Insalata di Romanesco Broccoli con Noce

Drop the whole head of romanesco, including the stem and leaves, if any, into a pot of well-salted boiling water; pull it out after about 4 minutes, drain and cool. Use the tip of a small knife to cut of the Fibonacci-numbered florets. Set them aside while you chop the stem, core, and leaves (about two-thirds of head) into smallish, bite-sized pieces. Combine the romanesco with a bunch of other chopped ingredients (some of which can come from jars): roasted red pepper, oil-cured olives, artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, green onion (or green garlic). Add a nice handful of coarsely chopped walnuts (the noce) and about the same amount of golden raisins. A couple of tablespoons of salt-packed capers from Pantelliera (rinsed of salt) and a few good pinches of the same island's oregano go in and the bowl is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with red wine vinegar, then tossed. Good for a few days.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Warning: These Eggs Will Spoil You

There's a closely held secret that local food advocates aren't telling you, and I feel it's my bounden duty to bust that secret wide open.

It's something that most Oregonians sense in the spring, that yearning that comes when the first buds start popping out on the trees and the first baby greens begin appearing on farmers' tables at the markets. It's that tickle of excitement we feel when we think about the strawberries that will soon be debuting onstage, giving way to an avalanche of fruit and summer produce that make cooking and eating such a joy in the Northwest.

The secret, then?

It's that once you've tasted a Hood strawberry or a green spear of asparagus grown just miles away or an egg plucked from under a hen a few hours before, you can't ever be truly satisfied with anything else. It's both a blessing, in that you've had the pleasure of strawberry juice running down your chin while driving home from the market with a full flat—nobody will notice just one missing, will they?—and a curse, because all the other strawberries flashing their big ruby smiles at you in the supermarket aisle will be a disappointment when you bite into them and the insides are dry and white.

It's the same way I pine for the tangerine-colored yolks of pasture-raised chicken eggs from the farm when I'm standing in front of the brightly lit egg case at the store, knowing that when I crack the store-bought versions into the pan, they'll be pale and flaccid in comparison. It's why I'm overjoyed when a farmer friend's "girls" start laying their richly flavored, unctuous treasures again in the spring.

So be aware that when you bring home those prizes from the fields to your families, my friends, you might find yourself cursing when a less-than-local or not-so-seasonal version doesn't measure up. You might just get spoiled. I know I have been. (Darn it!)

And if you want to use those heavenly fresh eggs for deviling or in potato salad, but have despaired because they're nearly impossible to peel, read this post where I reveal my secret for easy-to-peel hard-boiled fresh eggs. Works like a dream!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Tickle Bees of Sabin Elementary School

What better way to celebrate insects on Earth Day than with a tale of the simple joy brought to people by bees? The following essay was written by Mace Vaughan, who co-directs the Xerces Society's Pollinator Conservation Program.

In the summer of 2009, my family and I moved into a house across from the Sabin Elementary School in northeast Portland, Oregon. Our daughter started kindergarten at the school that fall. Sporadically, as other school parents learned of my work in pollinator conservation, they would ask me if I’d ever seen the “tickle bees.” I would respond with a polite “no,” unsure what they meant. Still, as the question continued to come up through the December holidays and into the late, wet winter, my curiosity grew. Everyone seemed to know about the tickle bees.

And then St. Patrick’s Day arrived. The sun shone and it was warm for a March afternoon. I sat in our dining room, working from home and enjoying the sounds of kids playing in the schoolyard across the street from our house. Every so often I would sneak a peek across the street to see if our daughter was running around, and that was when I spotted a boy, all alone, kneeling on the ground as he tried to catch something. He grabbed and lunged, attempting to seize it from the air. In that moment, it all came clear to me.

I waited until the kids had cleared out of the field, closed my computer, and walked across the street. And there, to my amazement, were the tickle bees of Sabin Elementary. Not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of gentle, ground-nesting bees were emerging all across the two-acre field. I was standing in a giant aggregation of mining bees, which turned out to be at least two species of the genus Andrena—christened the “tickle bees” by the students of Sabin.

For the next two months I watched as more and more bees emerged from the ground. Scattered across baseball diamonds, the bare dirt under park benches, and all across the soccer pitch were mounds of soil the bees had excavated from underground. They seemed to deepen their tunnels mostly at night; walking across the grounds in the morning you would see freshly dug dirt hiding the holes underneath. By the afternoon, the dirt was pushed aside as the females emerged to fly to the flowering maple trees, dandelions, and cherry and plum trees around the neighborhood. On an especially warm day, you couldn’t run across the field without bumping into these amazing insects.

As someone who has worked hard to convince people worldwide that insects are not a bunch of biting, stinging, crop-killing animals, but rather the drivers of healthy ecosystems, I was touched by the reception these bees received. For the two months the bees were active, parents and students regularly approached me with questions. I helped dozens of people discover what, for them, was a whole new world of ephemeral bees, with their golden stores of food and developing brood buried below soccer and kickball games.

Tickle bees are not unusual or uncommon. Every spring we receive calls at the office starting in early March from people wondering about the bees that are showing up in their lawns, whether they are safe, or just wanting to know what they are. Across the rest of the country, as spring comes on after this harsh winter, look for holes in the ground and bees flying. If you want to find your own tickle bees, go out on a warm spring day and watch sunny, south-facing slopes around your neighborhood. You might find your own aggregation of mining bees.

As for Sabin, five years later the tickle bees are going strong. As kids get older, they may lose interest. But each spring, a new group of kindergartners gets to meet the tickle bees and share something unique that their older classmates have cherished for years.

Watch a video from KATU-TV of Mace talking about the tickle bees at Sabin School.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gardener's Notebook: What to Plant Now

The Beaverton Farmers Market, a longtime advertiser and supporter of good things in the Northwest, has built a selection of top-quality nursery stock from some of the best vendors in the area. That's because market manager Ginger Rapport is an ardent gardener herself, with a strong commitment to helping people get in touch with their food by growing it themselves. Here's her advice on what to plant now.

What do you think is the first “app” that a farmer puts on his smart phone?

If you said a weather app, you would be right! Chris Hertel of Sun Gold Farm says that he checks his weather app every day. If you are a gardener, he recommends that you do the same, especially this time of the year when high and low temperatures can be all over the place. This weekend’s warm weather will have most of us chomping at the bit to start planting our vegetable and herb gardens. Chris says that the most important plants to get in the ground right now are peas and brassicas—cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. They like the cool weather, as do lettuce, spinach, chard and other greens.

If you want to get a jump on summer, Sun Gold’s booth will have plenty of tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash starts on hand. These heat-loving plants may need a little bit of protection if the night time temperatures dip too low. This is where your weather app comes in handy! If it looks like we are going to get near freezing, Chris suggests that you protect your hot weather veggie starts with something as simple as a paper bag placed over them. Even a crude greenhouse made of sticks and plastic will work. Of course, you will want to uncover your plants during the day.

You can also start perennial herb gardens now. A perennial plant is one whose life cycle lasts for more than two years, so think of herbs like mint, chives, bay, oregano, sage and rosemary. This does not include basil or cilantro; hold off on those tender herbs until nighttime temperatures warm up.

And believe it or not, now is the time for planting strawberries! Hood Strawberries are a market favorite. They are a super sweet berry with the entire crop coming over a short period of time. Sun Gold will also have an everbearing variety called Tri-Star that will keep you in fruit for a longer period of time.

Lastly, it is not too late to plant blueberry bushes. Both Sun Gold Farm and Northern Pacific Farm will have a wide variety of blueberry bushes in their stalls this Saturday. Ask for advice on selecting the variety best suited for your tastes.

* * *

The Beaverton Farmers Market is kicking off their summer season a full week ahead of schedule, so make plans to get your summer going on May 2nd from 8 am to 1:30 pm.

If you happen to have a furry friend with you, the market offers Sit-n-Stay, a drop-in dogsitting service adjacent to the market run by Home Plate Youth Services. Open from 7:30 am until 2 pm, it'll cost just $5 for the first 30 minutes, then $2.50 for each additional 15 minutes after that. Additional donations to HomePlate's program serving young people with precarious housing are welcome.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fabulous Roast Chicken with Apologies to Sam Sifton

I don't know if this is true of other cooks, but I can't seem to follow a recipe to save my life. Even though I consider myself a recipe-dependent cook rather than one of those people who, like my friend Denise, freestyles her way through ingredients, following her intuition to come up with creative, fabulous meals.

This entire blog is a testament to my need for guidance, chock-full as it is of favorite recipes gleaned from family dinners and camping trips, or—ssssshhhh…don't tell!—stolen from friends. So the other day when I was browsing through the New York Times magazine and saw a gorgeous photo of a dish of roasted chicken legs, I had to stop and check out the recipe.

The article, by the Times' food editor, Sam Sifton, whose writing I find pretty irresistible, clever without being one of those "Look at me! Look at me! I can do a double flip!" food writers, was an interview with the designer Steven Stolman. He'd first had the dish, called Roasted Chicken Provençal, as a college student in New York.

Sifton wrote, "the chicken was seasoned with spices meant to evoke the flavors of southern France: rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, lavender, marjoram, chervil, sage. It all seemed exotic and wonderful to Stolman, a child of the Hartford suburbs and new to Manhattan. 'I thought it was the coolest thing,' [Stolman] said. The dish and the evening left an impression on him that has lasted for almost 40 years."

A couple of paragraphs later Sifton wrote, "it is still the coolest thing: chicken dusted in flour and roasted with shallots and lemons and vermouth under a shower of herbes de Provence until it has gone crisp above the fat and wine and lemon juice, and the shallots are melted and sweet."

It's a dead simple recipe, and with my crazy love of roasted chicken it seemed like a natural for a test run. And that's where I went ever-so-slightly off the rails. You see, I had almost everything the recipe called for…except shallots. Hm. While it sounds like they're pretty crucial to getting the dish just right, I've also cooked enough chicken to know that shallots aren't a make-or-break ingredient.

So I decided to throw in a few extra garlic cloves and call it good. Then I saw a half-full basket of cherry tomatoes left over from a vinaigrette I'd made a couple of days before sitting on the counter. Those'd be good, too, and still keep it in the Provençal theme. Pulling the chicken out of the fridge my eyes fell on a dozen or so leftover oil-cured olives. They're Mediterranean, too, right?

Except for those "tweaks," if you can call it that, I pretty much made the chicken as originally intended and it was indeed as wonderful as advertised. Like Stolman, I'll definitely make it again and probably serve it to company. Maybe I'll even follow the recipe.

Roasted Chicken Provençal (Kind Of)

4 chicken legs or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. herbes de Provence
1 lemon, quartered
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 dozen or so oil-cured olives, pitted and halved
1/3 c. dry vermouth

Preheat oven to 400. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow pan, and lightly dredge the chicken in it, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Swirl the oil in a 9” by 12” pyrex roasting dish, and place the floured chicken in it skin-side up. Season the chicken with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes and olives around the chicken, and then add the vermouth to the pan.

Put the pan in the oven, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, then baste it with the pan juices. Continue roasting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is very crisp and the meat cooked through.

Serve in the pan or on a warmed platter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Personal Gets Political

One of the scariest phrases I've ever heard, and one I've tried to avoid thinking about, is "antibiotic resistant bacteria." It means that a bacteria has developed a genetic mutation that makes it resistant to an antibacterial agent like antibiotics. There are now antibiotic resistant forms of Staphilococcus aureus (also known as MRSA), E. Coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, influenza and others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a report released in 2014 that "this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections—is now a major threat to public health."

Why am I bringing this up in a post about the 2015 session of the Oregon legislature?

It turns out that a dear friend of mine recently died because he contracted a drug-resistant form of E. Coli while being treated for cancer.

That's very sad, you might think, but, again, what does that have to do with the legislature?

It turns out that there's a bill in the state Senate, SB920, that seeks to limit the use of antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. If national statistics are any indication, 70 percent of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those that are used to treat diseases in people—are used in the livestock industry on perfectly healthy animals.

The practice of administering regular doses of antibiotics in animals' water and feed developed because it was widely believed that antibiotics promoted the growth of the animals and because most of the animals we consume for food, including chickens, pigs and cattle, are raised in confinement in crowded, unsanitary and stressful conditions.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) might give a better idea of how feeding antibiotics to healthy animals has brought about the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria:

According to an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal, opponents of this bill say that regulation should be left up to the federal government. Unfortunately, in addressing this issue in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration only asked the industry to voluntarily refrain from using medically important antibiotics as a growth promoter while allowing the industry complete freedom to use these same drugs to "prevent" disease. Meaning it could continue its practice of using these drugs in the same way and at the same rate as before.

How has that tactic worked? In an article in Mother Jones magazine, reporter Tom Philpott quoted FDA statistics indicating that between 2012 and 2013 the use of medically important drugs on these factory farms actually grew by 3 percent.

So if this issue concerns you as much as it does me, you need to contact your state senator immediately to voice your opinion. Here are points you can mention:
  • SB 920 requires that antibiotics used on livestock be used responsibly in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, allowing farmers, as well as veterinarians, to use antibiotics to treat illness and infections in sick animals. 
  • SB 920 prohibits giving farm animals low doses of antibiotics in feed and water for growth promotion and 'disease prevention' in perfectly healthy animals to mask unsanitary conditions in the facilities that animals are raised in.
  • The bill requires the largest federally regulated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Oregon to report annually on their use of antibiotics, which is key in tracking how much antibiotics these operations are using and whether their practices are contributing to the development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • New FDA rules and White House initiatives contain huge loopholes for factory farms to feed antibiotics to healthy animals under the guise of 'disease prevention.' SB 920 closes this loophole.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be spread to humans through handling the meat, through airborne dust from manure, and through manure from factory farms leaching into waterways.
Read the other posts in the series: Opening Salvos, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and The Fight Takes ShapeThanks to Friends of Family Farmers for the talking points mentioned above.

Top photo from

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Perfect Dressing for Your Early Spring Greens

I know it's unfashionable to use the adverb "literally." But I have been hungering for spring. Literally. I was seeing those first shoots of rapini in my dreams—literally—and imagining the whorls of fiddleheads, spears of asparagus and nettle leaves that were soon to make an appearance on my plate.

Violets…in January?

Spring was apparently as anxious as I was to make her debut on our Northwest stage, and I was shocked to discover, in mid-January, miner's lettuce popping out of the ground on parking strips and the scent of violets in the air. By mid-February all hell had broken loose and those earlier scofflaws were joined by rogue daffodils bobbing their yellow heads on sunny slopes and heady clouds of perfume from daphne and witch hazel drifting by on my walks through the neighborhood.

Can you blame my stomach for getting a little rumbly?

Daffodils in February…call 911!
It's a climate emergency!

So when just before Easter my friend Michel, source of much goodness on our table, mentioned that her new favorite brunch was poached eggs on kale dressed with a cherry tomato vinaigrette with Reggiano, I heard a little "ping" in my head. Not just about the poached eggs on kale, which sounded heavenly, but the cherry tomato vinaigrette that had somehow hit just the right note in my spring greens-obsessed brain.

With my nephew bringing his parents over for a brunch-and-Easter egg-fueled extravaganza, I thought Michel's creation might just make a delicious and colorful counterpoint to some bright green asparagus spears. Served alongside a garden-herb-and-cheese-stoked frittata, my craving was satisfied. For the moment.

Michel's Cherry Tomato and Sherry Vinaigrette

1-1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, chopped in 1/4" dice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Splash of sherry vinegar (adjust to taste)
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste

In a small mixing bowl combine ingredients and allow to macerate for an hour or so on the counter. Toss with your favorite sturdy greens like kale, asparagus, rapini, etc.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Great Man, and a Lifelong Friend, Has Passed

Episcopalians are party people. At least that's the impression I got growing up in Redmond, part of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, which takes up two-thirds of the eastern side of the state of Oregon.

That impression came from the frequent gatherings of their church friends that my parents convened at our home. Now I know that might conjure visions of polite ladies in white gloves sitting primly in straight-backed chairs sipping tea, but, let me tell you, these were anything but.

Rusty at our wedding reception.

Wine flowed, plates of food were passed, loud arguments (but not angry—it was the 60s, after all) erupted and much laughter was heard from my hiding spot at the bottom of the stairs, where I would crack the door, the better to eavesdrop on the adults' conversations. Always at the center was Rusty, known to the rest of the world as the Reverend (and eventually Bishop) Rustin R. Kimsey, and his wife, Gretchen.

St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Redmond was his first assignment, and though he would go on to pastor churches in Baker City and The Dalles, Rusty—not Father Kimsey, Rev. Kimsey or any other honorifics, just call him Rusty, if you don't mind—was always challenging his own and other's beliefs.

Rusty and Gretchen.

In a piece in the Bend Bulletin from January 7, 1967, titled "The Servant Church," the young rector asked, "What is the role or purpose of the Church in society?

"Jesus’ primary mission his life was to serve mankind….There are times when the Church neglects this basic calling to serve mankind. Too often Christianity becomes a comfortably institutional bureaucracy and neglects its service to others. Too often the Church becomes so mindful of the 'housekeeping' within that it forgets the deep needs of those outside its doors….It is most evident that the roads of peace and brotherhood must still be paved with compassion, understanding, justice and, most of all, love."

The chapel at Cove.

His questioning was reflected in his passion for the small Episcopal summer camp in Cove, in far Eastern Oregon, where the children of the diocese spent glorious days swimming in the local geothermal pool and going on trail rides in the hills. Amid the rolling green cattle pastures of that valley he invited some of the most controversial voices of the Episcopal church of the day to its sprawling lawn, including James Pike, Bishop of California, who in the early 1960s was a proponent of ordination of women, racial desegregation, and the acceptance of LGBT people within mainline churches, who narrowly avoided being branded a heretic. These family retreats also featured the theologian Bishop John Shelby Spong and anti-apartheid activist and eventual Nobel Prize-winner, and Rusty's close friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Years later Rusty would officiate at our wedding, unconcerned about the fact that we were, as the quaint turn of phrase at the time had it, "living in sin" or that we had, in another dated phrase, a "mixed marriage," i.e. Episcopalian/Catholic. And despite our mostly non-churchgoing ways, he was always there when we needed him, to baptise our son or to perform the funeral services when my parents died.

An influential figure nationally, willing to speak out on issues and question entrenched beliefs, he was also a great friend and mentor, always ready to gather you in his arms for a hug. He died in his home in The Dalles on the evening of April 10, 2015.

Top photo: Rusty (right, in shirtsleeves) leaning in to make a point with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Bishop John Chien of Taiwan in 1992. Episcopal News Service photo by Bob Stockfield.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Guest Essay: Seeing

We've all watched the videos of people walking and texting, the ones where the texter falls into a fountain or splats into some wet cement. I see it around me when neighbors walk by, absorbed in their phones when they're walking their dogs or, worse, strolling with their children, missing the opportunity for connection. My friend, journalist, hunter, forager and author Hank Shaw, recently published an essay on this phenomenon, and has given me permission to post an excerpt. I encourage you to click through to read the entire piece.

I went for a walk today, and found myself surrounded by zombies.

One of the places where I wander around to read nature’s news also happens to be a spot that on any given sunny weekend is choked with walkers, runners and bikers. On those rare weekends when I venture out into this, I feel oddly out of place, like those people who stand still in Times Square while being photographed in time lapse: a rock in a raging torrent of humanity.

This is not to say that I sit motionless on a bench like some octogenarian feeding pigeons. I actually do end up walking five miles or so on a given day, but it can often take me several hours because, well, to read the signs of the natural world you must slow yourself down. Slowing down: A concept so alien to most modern Americans that they view it as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, an overly regimented life is one empty of wonder. And wonder is no weakness.

I honestly have no real way of gauging the inner lives of those earnest exercisers around me, but their exterior isn’t pretty. At best their eyes appear vacant, their minds focused on whatever it is they are listening to on their headphones. At worst they look like the damned in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

As I walk through this bustle, noting the comings and goings of flowers and fruits and leaves, checking to see what schedule life seems to be taking this year, I am almost never noticed, even though I might be picking up pine nuts off the ground or collecting seeds or elderberries or mustard greens in full view of the good people of the path. I used to think everyone just thought I was a crazy homeless person and were consciously avoiding eye contact. That does still happen, but I’ve learned to recognize the difference between that and those who truly don’t register my existence.

This obliviousness fascinates me. Why, if you are so intent on whatever it is blaring itself into your skull, are you out in nature at all? Wouldn’t a treadmill suffice?

Of course it won’t. I was once a runner. A competitive one, even. So fast there was no possible way I could truly appreciate my surroundings. But I did, or at least I told myself I did. Nature exerts a sort of osmotic pressure on us all, seeping into those who lack nature within themselves even if ignored, much the way a salt brine works in meat. Even something as simple as sun on your head and a breeze in your face makes a world of difference.

Yet to me, a forager, they all still seem zombies. The difference is one of degree, I suppose, a sliding scale ending with the wild animals who live along this path. As intimate as I am with nature, my life does not depend on it the way a squirrel or goose or scrub jay’s does. For those of us who slow down and take the time to really look at their surroundings, we at least get to borrow that sight a wild thing possesses permanently — a sight the cyclist or runner can never attain (at least while they’re hurtling through nature rather than looking at it).

So what, exactly, did I see? (read the rest of the essay)

Photo of ithuriel's spear by Hank Shaw.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Livin' in the Blurbs: Farm Restaurant, Butchery Classes and Doing Good for Local Kids

That 100-mile diet that was all the rage a few years ago? So passé! At one farm in Oregon's mid-valley you can dine on food that comes from 100 feet away.

In 2003, farmers John Eveland and Sally Brewer of Gathering Together Farm opened what they thought was just going to be a farm stand selling their organically grown produce along with pastries, soups and salads. But demand was so great that they eventually opened for lunch, dinners and Saturday breakfast, hiring Chef J.C. Mersmann and bringing in locally grown meat and products from other neighbors.

They've just opened the restaurant for the spring season, with lunches Tuesday through Friday and dinners Thursday through Saturday. And keep your eyes peeled for their summer wine dinners, which are said to be some of the finest, not to mention freshest, dining available in the state.

Details: Restaurant at Gathering Together Farm. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11 am-2 pm; Dinner Thurs.-Sat., 5:30-9 pm; Breakfast Sat., 9 am-2 pm. 25159 Grange Hall Rd., Philomath. 541-929-4270.

* * *

There's no better way to understand more about the meat you eat than to take a butchery class, and we're lucky to have several places where you can learn how animals are raised, how to break down a whole carcass and then how to make use of every single part to feed your family. Listed below are three places that have regular butchery classes, teaching everything from how to fillet a fish, to breaking down a chicken or rabbit, to butchering a lamb, goat or pig. Check out their classes online, or take a gander at the calendar on the left. From personal experience, I guarantee it'll be an eye-opening and meaningful, not to mention delicious, way to get closer to your food source.
  • Old Salt Marketplace just released its spring and summer schedule of classes. 5027 NE 42nd Ave. 971-255-0167.
  • Portland Meat Collective has a full lineup of classes for all kinds of butchery. At Elder Hall, 3929 NE MLK Jr. Blvd. 503-347-5540.
  • Portland's Culinary Workshop features butchery classes with a turducken class at the holidays. 807 N Russell St. 503-512-0447.
* * *

Every parent knows how hard it is to keep teenagers interested and engaged during their high school years. It's even harder when kids come from challenging backgrounds. The Portland Kitchen is a free, comprehensive culinary program for urban kids from disadvantaged families, empowering them to graduate high school with job skills and improved eating habits. A friend of the program has pledged to match donations between now and May 15, dollar for dollar up to a total of $25,000, an amount critical for it to move into its third year of serving area youth. If you can, please consider helping them reach their goal.