Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Is a CSA Right For You?

This year my family is considering subscribing to a share in a CSA, the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture, which means buying a share in a season's worth of produce from a farm. Though it can get a little confusing, especially here in the Portland area, where there are "CSAs" for everything from produce to meat to fish to cheese to olive oil.

The sheer number of CSAs available is daunting, from the traditional type where you pick up a box (your "share") from a designated drop-off spot, to delivered-to-your-door boxes to ones where you can designate exactly what produce you want. To help wade through the choices, I asked my friend Katherine Deumling of Cook with What You Have, who has worked with area farms on their CSA programs and developed an online Seasonal Recipe Collection for using seasonal produce, to help us out. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for information on the first-ever CSA Share Fair coming up on Mar. 21.)

Why join a CSA?

Joining a classic CSA gives you a window onto a farm and what it takes to grow the delicious variety of things that you'll receive in your share each week. The farmer chooses what's best that week and relieves you of most of your decision-making, though some CSAs give members a bit of choice. I actually love not having to make any decisions about what produce I'm getting because then I can concentrate on being creative with what I receive.

CSA farmers in our region tend to grow a staggering variety of produce and typify the saying, "What grows together, goes together!" Belonging to a CSA has expanded my repertoire and introduced me to vegetables I would unlikely have picked up at the farmers' market, though some people are not so keen on the "no-choice" bit. My online Seasonal Recipe Collection comes in handy, since the recipes are sorted by vegetable and there is a thorough introduction for each vegetable.

I also subscribe to a CSA because it helps me budget, and when you calculate out the cost of CSA by the week it is quite reasonable. I pay up front or in a few installments, and then supplement from the farmers' market or the store with fruits or occasional vegetables I'm not getting in my CSA—like asparagus, artichokes and a few other things that aren't typically found in a CSA. If I know I'll be getting my gorgeous box of produce each week, I won't be tempted to buy other things, to make the most what I've already paid for.

What are the different kinds of CSAs?

Some CSAs focus exclusively on produce, some also include fruit like blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, pears, quince and so forth. Some give you the option to add an extra Salad Share for those who love salad greens; others might give the option to add eggs, honey, flowers or meat. Some CSA farms work together with other area farms to offer such a wide array. And then there are exclusive meat and fish CSAs as well.

There are so many local farms offering CSAs. What should I consider before joining a CSA?

Generally, if you want super-delicious produce and can't always make it to a farmers' market, a CSA is for you. If you like to cook or want to cook more and are typically home most nights of the week, a CSA is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you travel a lot or are out a lot at night, you'll struggle to keep up with the produce.

Think about the size of your household and your family members' eating habits to decide if a CSA is a good idea or not—do you all like vegetables or are open to trying them? How much do you think you'll eat? You might start with a half share (most farms offer two different-size shares) and see how that works, setting yourself up for success rather than the guilt of wasting some. Also consider if the pick-up site is convenient (some CSAs deliver to your door as well). But make sure you think about the logistics of picking up your share—make a plan with a friend or neighbor, either to share the CSA or both do it so you can alternate doing the pick up. This is great community-building in and of itself, and you can also share ideas of what to do with less familiar produce.

Does a CSA subscription make sense for a single person?

It very much depends on the person—if you are a vegetable lover and like to cook and entertain, by all means. If I were single I would buy a CSA but I do cook and eat more vegetables than almost anyone I know! And again, consider a half-share or splitting it with a neighbor or friend.

I'm afraid I'd be paying for produce I can't use or my family won't eat, and I know nothing about rutabagas or kohlrabi. What should I do?

This is an important factor to consider carefully. As I noted earlier, I have vastly expanded my appreciation of certain vegetables (rutabagas being at the top of that list) by becoming a CSA member and I've enjoyed that. There are a handful good cooking techniques and methods—think grated vegetable pancakes, like latkes—that are a critical to successful CSA cooking. In fact I added a grated rutabaga to fried rice the other night and it was delicious! And if you occasionally share an extra kohlrabi with a neighbor (I have definitely done that, too) the benefits of the flavor, nutrition and connection to your place and those growing our food may well trump the "kohlrabi hardship"!

I don't drive. How would I pick up my share?

I pick up my share by bike and it works well. Most CSA shares will fit into two typical panniers. Some CSAs have pick-ups at companies or farmers' markets so you might inquire if your place of work is linked up with a CSA farm or ask them if they might consider it. Colombia Sportswear, Intel, various Providence sites, Good Samaritan Hospital, Ecotrust and probably many others have CSA drops.

If you want to find out more about local CSAs and get help finding the perfect CSA for your needs, the CSA Share Fair on March 21st is for you! Thirty local CSA farmers will be there and it features a farmer matchmaking service so you can find the right CSA for you. In addition there's a cookbook swap, chef demos and activities for kids, and it's all free from 10 am-2 pm at the Redd building, 831 SE Salmon St.

If you can't make it to the Share Fair, there's a listing of metro-area CSAs at the Portland Area CSA Coalition, and a listing of Northwest (and national) CSAs at Local Harvest.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Delicious Denizen of the Deep

The picture above arrived via text message from Kevin Gibson of Davenport.

"Local," was the caption, though the creature pictured looked anything but. Then: "Box or shame-faced crab, bycatch of Dungeness. 2000 feet down off the Oregon coast."

What the crabbers were doing catching crab at those depths I really don't know, but looking it up on Wikipedia I found this description: "The brown box crab, Lopholithodes foraminatus, is a king crab that lives from Kodiak Island, Alaska to San Diego, California at depths of 0–547 metres (0–1,795 ft). It reaches a carapace length of 150 millimetres (5.9 in.), and feeds on bivalves and detritus. It often lies buried in the sediment, and two foramens in the chelipeds allow water into the gill chamber for respiration."

Later that afternoon I was running errands in Kevin's neighborhood and stopped in. He brought out two of the six crabs that he hadn't yet steamed, and rather than the hoary monsters I'd imagined from the photo, there were two hand-sized little guys looking rather disoriented in the bright lights of the kitchen.

Kevin noted that when he cleaned the four that had already been cooked, they only yielded about a pound of meat combined. Unlike their larger cousins, the Dungeness, whose bodies contain a great deal of meat, the bodies of the box crabs had almost none, with most of the meat concentrated in the lower legs and claws. The texture reminded me of lobster in its moist chewiness and it had a sweet, salty tang. Kevin said the plan was to feature it in a salad that evening, served simply with a squeeze of grapefruit and a few slices of avocado.

I was just happy to meet this startling new neighbor, and hope that I can acquaint myself with more of his kind in the near future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Early Spring's Brilliant Flavors: Beet Risotto, Kale Raab

Spring has come early to the fields of the Willamette Valley, evidenced by the bins of sweet green things I saw while wandering the aisles of the farmers' market in Hillsdale last weekend. Sweet because as the nightly temperatures dip into the low 40s, the plants in the field produce sugars that act as antifreeze to protect them until temperatures warm during the day.

Love that color!

You'll taste it in the carrots—I'm only buying carrots with tops attached these days so I know they're fresh from the fields, not woody from storage—and the brassicas, especially the young flowering sprouts called raab, rabe, broccolini or rapini. It's prime time for beets, too, in all colors of the rainbow, with their firm stalks and healthy leaves that make a terrific sautéed side dish to whatever you're serving for dinner.

This beet risotto, with beets just tender from simmering with the rice and infusing it with their signature brilliant color, makes a standout main dish served with sautéed market greens of any persuasion (we like to sizzle some bacon to grease the pan), or as a gorgeous side with any grilled meat.

Beet Risotto

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio or carnaroli rice
3 med. red beets, chopped in 1/2" dice
5 c. stock, either vegetable or chicken
Salt to taste

Heat butter or margarine in large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. When it melts, add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir to heat, then add rice. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add beets and a ladle of stock. Stir until liquid is absorbed, then add another ladle of stock. Repeat, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking, until the rice is creamy but still has a slight crunch and the beets are tender, about 20 minutes or so. Add salt to your taste and serve with parmesan in a bowl for sprinkling.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Farm Bulletin: A Moment of Sagacity and Serenity

I love contributor Anthony Boutard's essays precisely because he never gets right to the point. Instead I'm taken on a journey on which I always learn something unexpected…in this case a little bit of Greek mythology.

If you have a pesky stepson roiling your domestic plans, send him off on a fatal errand. Such as it was with Theseus when his father was convinced to send him off to the fields of fennel where he was to kill the Cretan Bull.

Sonchus, or sow thistle.

On the way to Marathon, the youth stopped by the hut of a devotee of Hecate, the goddess of potions and herbs for sustenance. She simply fed him a big bowl of Sonchus, or sow thistle greens. On this fare alone, he captured the bull that Hercules had thoughtlessly left to terrorize the countryside, and led it back to Athens.

Subduing the massive bull required sagacity and serenity, not strength, and that is what the sow thistle provided. In kinder times before crates, it was fed to nursing sows to keep their milk flowing and disposition calm so they wouldn't roll over on the nursing piglets. Tomorrow, we will have a good quantity of this exceptional late winter pot herb, related to lettuce and chicory. It is time-consuming to harvest and clean, which is why few people gather it. We found a good patch in the Chesters that lent itself to the task, so if you all need a moment of sagacity and serenity, we have the green for you.

When the Hillsdale Farmers' Market bell rings at 10 am, we will have a robust selection of late winter greens. Sorrel, chervil, cress, horned mustard, rocket, rape, sow thistle, kale, chard, late Treviso type chicory and Catalogna chicory. The spring-like weather of the last two weeks have pushed their growth along nicely.

Detail of painting, top, by Charles-André Vanloo, called Carle Van Loo (France, 1705-1765). Photo of sow thistle by alvesgaspar.

A Stranger Named NXR Appears in Town

Happy days are here again, though they're not so much salad days as bread days. For those who've been in on the drama for the last few months and have been nodding sympathetically at our whining and moaning, we've finally got a new stove to replace our previous one!

First up, sautéing onions for chili!

For those who haven't been so privileged, the Jenn-Air range that was installed in our kitchen remodel back in 2006 was not pleased with Dave's foray into breadbaking. In the last several months, its digital control panel started shutting down, to the point where we were left with two preset oven temperatures—350° and 375°—which would only work if you stood there and reset them every three minutes. Not ideal.

Apparently a lot of newer ovens with digital panels don't like high temperatures, the one required for the kind of bread that Dave makes (500°) or the one that is preset on the oven's self-cleaning function. It's apparently common for these high temps to burn out the digital controls over time, so our choice was to replace the panel, long out of warranty, which would cost about $1,000, or replace the stove entirely.

Low simmer setting on all four burners…be still my heart!

One might ask, "Why would a manufacturer install a feature like self-cleaning and then say (as we heard from several dealers), that it shouldn't be used or, if it was, the life of the oven would be shortened, as would cooking at the high temperatures that are allowed on the oven controls?" Good question.

So we began the search for a non-digital, slide-in range that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg, since we need all our appendages for making enough money to pay the rent. On the advice of my friend Diane Morgan, we went to Eastbank Appliance and spoke with the very genial and informative Terry Hellman, who initally pointed us to an all-gas Electrolux range that had no digital controls, just an electric igniter for the burners and a fan for the oven, which would run us about $3,000, not including installation. Yes, we gulped, too.

Unfortunately—or, as it turned out, fortunately for us, Electrolux discontinued that model and Terry tracked down a different brand, the be-acronymed NXR, that would fit our requirements and, happy days, was on sale and would end up costing a little over half of the Electrolux. It was installed yesterday and, so far, looks like it will be ideal for just about everything we need. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Introducing the Bloody Monkey, a Winter Citrus Cocktail

A friend of ours is what I think of as a modern-day Renaissance man…an arts administrator in his day job, he's also an accomplished painter, an intrepid carpenter, a pie-baker of the highest order—his lemon meringue is to die for—and he can MacGyver almost anything using sticks, string and duct tape, not necessarily needing all three at the same time. He also shakes a mean cocktail, a common and oh-so-handy trait amongst the men of our crew.

Blood oranges.

His Manhattan and his Corpse Reviver (#2) know no equal. His Monkey Gland, a gin-based cocktail that features orange juice, grenadine and an anise-flavored spirit like absinthe or Pernod, is a masterpiece of subtle, bright, balanced flavors. On a recent foray to a store near his work, he ran into a sale on blood oranges and felt that they might bring a different dimension to his favorite cocktail.

We were lucky enough to be there when he was mixing up some samples, and the result was startling, like the original but more distinct, somewhat like a masterful copy of an original artwork that, in its execution, brings an added dimension to the subject.

Bloody Monkey

Makes one cocktail

1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. blood orange juice, strained of pulp
1 tsp. grenadine
1/2 tsp Pernod

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker. Add ice till shaker is 3/4 full. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with slice of blood orange.

Variation on a Classic: Short Ribs alla Vodka

Sometimes it's all about satisfying a craving. It could be a jones for a particular flavor: the deep spiciness of smoky chiles in a rojo sauce. Or the creamy, cheesy, oozy texture of mac and cheese or the aroma of a bolognese sauce simmering for hours on the stove. There are a few restaurant dishes that I get all dreamy about, too, like the beef tartare at Old Salt Marketplace, the Phnom Penh soup on Fridays at Ha & VL or Eric Joppie's pork chop with celeriac mash paired with whatever Randy has on cask at Bar Avignon.

Three Doors Down penne alla vodka.

One dish that knocked me off my feet the very first time I had it and still calls to me when I see it on their menu is the penne alla vodka at Hawthorne's Three Doors Down. Ignoring the fact that whenever I go there I also have to order their house Negroni, this pasta dish of penne smothered in a rich, creamy, tomatoey sauce with lovely, mild sausages that have simmered in that sauce for hours assuages a comfort craving like few others. The owners generously shared the recipe for that signature dish several years ago, and I've made it several times since.

Grass-fed beef short ribs from Old Salt.

Recently I had a couple of pounds of short ribs—my latest braised meat obsession—and wondered how they would work in place of the sausages.

In short? Like a dream. Simmering the meat in the sauce took a little longer, but once the ribs were fall-apart tender, all I had to do was remove the bones and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces before adding the cream to the sauce for the final simmer.

In this case, messing with a classic had a rewarding, and very duplicable, outcome.

Short Ribs alla Vodka

1 lb. penne
2-3 lbs. short ribs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 28-oz. cans Italian tomatoes
1 c. vodka
1 c. heavy cream or sour cream
1 1/2 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

Salt and pepper the short ribs on all sides. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the short ribs and sear. Remove the short ribs to a separate plate. Over medium-low heat, add the onion and red pepper flakes to the remaining oil in the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the meat. Sauté until onion is translucent. Return the short ribs to the pan and add the vodka and tomatoes with their liquid and bring to a simmer for two hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the short ribs from the sauce. Remove the bones and any big chunks of fat. Chop or shred the meat into bite-sized chunks. Add the meat back to the sauce. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer, continuing to cook for another 30 minutes.

During this last stage of simmering the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well and put the cooked pasta back into the pasta pot with the sauce and 2/3 cup of the parmesan. Combine, then put in serving bowl or serve in individual pasta bowls. Serve the remaining parmesan in a bowl at the table.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Livin' in the Blurbs: MyMusicRX, Lentil Underground, Farmer and Rancher Day

Ever been down and music lifted you up? Ever been feeling queasy and picked up an instrument, then forgot all about your discomfort? That's what MyMusicRx does for kids facing cancer and other serious illnesses. And this Valentine's Day you can help the Children's Cancer Association rock those kids' lives by—get this—taking your loved one(s) out for a little love-fest of your own. Eight of Portland's quintessential food establishments are donating a portion of the day's sales to MyMusicRx, so you can show your love by sharing it with some incredibly courageous kids.
  • All five Stumptown locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • All three Pine State Biscuit locations are participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • All three Salt & Straw locations are participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Three of Bunk Sandwiches’ sandwich shop locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Whiskey Soda Lounge is participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Both ¿Por Que No? locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales (capped at $1,000)
  • Floyd’s Coffee's SE Morrison location is participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Both Albina Press locations are participating, donating 5% of Valentine’s Day sales
* * *

Sometimes we Northwesterners think we've got a corner on cool when it comes to food. But forty years ago, corporate agribusiness launched a campaign to push small grain farmers to modernize or perish, or as Nixon Administration Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz put it, to "get big or get out." But twenty-seven-year-old David Oien decided to take a stand. When he dropped out of grad school to return to his family’s 280 acre farm, Oien became the first in his conservative Montana county to seed his fields with a radically different crop: organic lentils. Hear his story, and those of the farmers who joined him, as told by author Liz Carlisle in her new book, Lentil Underground, at a reading and booksigning at Powell's on March 9th.

Details: Liz Carlisle reading a booksigning of Lentil Underground. Monday, March 9, 7:30 pm; free. Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St. 503-228-4651.

* * *

Love shopping at one of the nearly 100 farmers' markets in Oregon? Want to help support the small family farms that are making our state one of the only places in the nation where land under cultivation is growing rather than shrinking, and the average age of farmers is going down rather than up? You've got a chance to show your support and impress legislators when Friends of Family Farmers hosts Farmer and Rancher Day at the State Capitol on March 30th. Featuring a pop-up farmers market inside the Capitol and educational workshops on the latest food and farming bills, you'll also get a chance to meet with legislators and attend a lunch-time rally on the Capitol steps. The event is free and transportation, as well as lunch and refreshments, will be provided if you RSVP online. Show your thanks to these folks who work so hard to grow the food you put on your table by attending this important rally.

Details: Farmer and Rancher Day at the State Capitol organized by Friends of Family Farmers. Mon., Mar. 30. Event location at the State Capitol Bldg., 900 Court St. NE, Salem. 503-581-7124.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Maialata: Building Community by Celebrating the Pig

A community coming together over the preparation of food is an ancient tradition, one that can connect us to our roots and to each other. The Oregon version of the Italian festival known as the Maialata, or slaughtering of the pigs, brought chefs, farmers and producers together in a day-long sharing of skills, stories and the bounty of the season. Here is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Willamette Living Magazine.

It came as a surprise when Cathy Whims, Portland chef, owner of two of the city’s most fabled Italian restaurants, Genoa (now closed) and Nostrana, and six-time finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award, admitted that early in her career it was the cuisine of France that captured her heart.

Demonstrating making pasta by hand.

“I think a lot of cooks early in their careers are really drawn to French cuisine because everybody tells you that it’s the height of gastronomic whatever,” she said. “Which is ironic because I was working at Genoa, which was supposed to be an Italian restaurant, though it had a lot of French influence.”

Eventually she bought the restaurant and became the de facto wine buyer, meeting Italian wine distributors who would invariably invite her to come stay at their wineries.

“And I was like, a place to stay in Italy, that sounds pretty good,” she said. “So at that point I really started traveling to Italy a lot.”

Butcher Rob Roy shows how to skin a pig's head.

It was then that she fell in love with the very simple, pared down treatment of ingredients that is the hallmark of traditional Italian cuisine. Attending classes taught by legendary Italian cookbook author and teacher Marcella Hazan, whom Whims considers one of her two mentors, along with author and teacher Madeleine Kamman, set her on the path she still finds intriguing today.

“The more I traveled, the more I realized that you could travel three kilometers and a dish that you thought you knew could be completely different,” she said. “It was an endless opportunity for learning and I was really attracted to that.”

Rolling out and shaping the pasta.

On one of those trips, to Le Vigne di Zamo winery in Friuli in the north of Italy, Whims heard about a traditional celebration called the Maialata (pron. my-uh-LAH-tuh). Held on the first new moon after the first full moon, usually in late January or February, and coinciding with the time when the pigs—“maiale” in Italian—are ready to be slaughtered, the community comes together for a day-long event to butchering the pigs and make sausages, salami and cure all the pork for the coming year. They then gather and have a feast, which usually lasts most of the the night, to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty that will carry them through the winter.

It was a celebration that she felt would fit perfectly with the emerging culture of food in the Northwest, but it took two years before the elements would fall into place to make it possible. Nostrana had been doing all its own butchery since its inception, but it wasn’t until she thought of Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate in Forest Grove that she had a partner to help realize her dream of bringing the Maialata to Oregon.

“He has such a beautiful, old world sensibility,” she said of Marchesi’s biodynamic approach to winemaking and food. “He makes his own cheeses, he makes his own salami. I told him about it and he got really excited and said we should do it at Montinore.”

Read the rest of the article.

Farm Bulletin: To Every Farm, a Muse

No visit to Ayers Creek Farm is complete without a demonstration of the culinary uses of the food that contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, grow on their 140-acre farm. To their credit, their decade-long Herculean effort has been rewarded with the appointment of their very own muse. 

Before the Olympian deities took over and bureaucratized the Office of Muses, there were just three muses residing on Mount Helicon: Aoide (expression), Mneme (memory) and Melete (occasion). Linda Colwell is our Melete. Whether it is a ramble or some other occasion, Linda steps in and everything flows smoothly.

Linda Colwell, Ayers Creek's Melete.

When Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network asked us on a hopeful afternoon in April if we could host a lunch and tour at Ayers Creek for the Organicology conference in early February, it seemed like an reasonable idea. With our lovely Melete watching over us, what could go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out, even in a week marked by torrents of rain, the sun shone and we all had a good time.

The gorgeous groaning board.

Working with Mark Doxtader and Jason Barwikowski of Tastebud, and Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50, Linda showcased the fruits, vegetables and grains of the farm. While we led a tour in the fields, Linda gave a talk about the various ingredients in the lunch. One participant confided to us that he loved Linda's talk so much that he was tempted to sit through it a second time. Here is the quartet's menu:
  • Amish Butter popcorn with Aci Sivri cayenne
  • Black Radish soup
  • Green Posole made with Amish Butter hominy, pumpkin seeds, and sorrel
  • Late treviso panzanella style salad with roasted Sibley squash and kakai seeds
  • Roy's Calais Flint polenta with braised Borlotti beans with leeks and chicory
  • Oven-roasted sweet potatoes
  • Focaccia with late summer dried green grapes
  • Sprouted barley toast with roasted winter squash drizzled with honey and Ayers Creek jam
  • Winter field greens as available: rocket, chervil, kale
  • Adzuki bean ice cream between Kakai pumpkin seed cookies
  • Chester blackberry ice cream between Amish Butter and Almond cookies
Salad of winter field greens.

The Tastebud oven has welcomed guests to the Ayers Creek since the first ramble. This Christmas, we received greetings from a former Hillsdale Farmers' Market regular, now residing in Portugal, recalling that day. Sami's teenage daughter was convinced rather reluctantly to fritter away a Sunday afternoon at that ramble. The walk went well for her but the high point of the day was walking into the shade of the oaks and seeing her favorite feature of the Hillsdale market, the Tastebud oven. It always heralds a good event when Mark's truck maneuvers into position.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Covalent Brewing: Woman Owned, Woman Brewed

Women and beer. It's a fraught subject even in the 21st Century, isn't it?

While most of the advertising for beer still features mostly young guys with a smattering of smashing-looking female model types (just so you'll know the guys are manly men), there's not a lot of acknowlegement of women—and I count myself among them—who really love beer.

That same absence of women is reflected in brewing. As Megan Flynn, editor of Beer West magazine (now closed) said in an article I wrote in 2011 on Oregon's women brewers, "I don’t think it’s that different from any other male-dominated industry," noting that the dearth of women in the field isn’t because women aren’t interested in beer or brewing.

"The at-work brewing scene, the guys are very used to being dudes," she said. "It’s heavy lifting, manual labor, moving hoses, lifting up kegs and listening to loud music." It can make it hard for women to feel welcome, even if there's not outright harassment.

Covalent Brewing's Meagan Hatfield.

Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society for women brewers and for 17 years the head brewer at Steelhead Brewing in Eugene, said it was evident to her early on that women could do the job by doing it smarter, not harder. Instead of trying to match the guys muscle-for-muscle, she said, she always asked "how can I do this so that I’m not going to get worn out" after a few years as she'd seen so many of her male colleagues do.

So far there's only one woman, Kari Gjerdingen of Mutiny Brewing in Joseph, Oregon, who has opened her own brewery. But we who live in the Willamette Valley may be about to get our own "woman-owned, woman-brewed" brewery in the person of Meagan Hatfield. A home-brewer for 13 years, a six-month stint at Wyeast Laboratories confirmed her decision to go into brewing as a profession. A degree in biology also helped.

"The science of brewing is so fascinating, " she said. "I'm kind of a nerd for that."

It's no wonder, then, that she's named her new venture Covalent Brewing after chemical bonds formed during the brewing process. Not that it's all science, mind you. Hatfield said that she's found that creating different flavor combinations is also exciting, and foresees a wide range of year-round standards on her list with a couple of rotating taps for experiments.

Lately she's been particularly taken with chile pepper infusions and is curious about incorporating other seasonal ingredients like squash in her brewing. Hatfield has been slowly collecting equipment and is looking for a building that would accomodate a small brewery and tasting room somewhere in Southeast Portland or possibly Milwaukie. Let's hope she finds one soon.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chuck Charlie: A Life-Changing Tuna Recipe

Sorry to re-use a headline—c'mon, it was from 2009—but in this case it applies in spades. This recipe for tuna, Oregon albacore, actually, is so good you may never buy the canned stuff again. And I hate to say it, but even the locally processed, line and pole-caught stuff in jars can't hold a candle to its silky moistness.

I'll admit that the beginnings of this one particular piece of fish weren't all that pretty. We always try to buy a whole albacore when it goes on sale at the beginning of the season, but at some point in the past I forgot to write the purchase date on the packages containing the loins. Apparently this particular loin had been buried in the freezer for a year-and-a-half or so, and by the time I pulled it out and thawed it, I saw the damage…freezer burn on most of the surfaces. Figuring I had nothing to lose at this point, I started shaving off the burned bits, thankfully revealing the lovely pink flesh below. Whew!

A whole loin is about two pounds of fish, so after cutting it in four chunks, I rolled it in some herbs, garlic and salt and put it in a dish on the counter to marinate for a couple of hours. Then all it took was transfering the pieces to a saucepan and pouring in a decent-but-inexpensive olive oil to cover.

The next part was critical, though…you want to heat the oil sloooooooooowly. Apparently if the oil is heated too quickly, the surface of the fish seizes and the flesh turns out dry and hard like you often find in canned tuna. But cooked properly, it's terrific on its own as a tapas-style appetizer, or it can be mixed with pasta and grains for a stunning main dish. You could also make it into what will be the most amazing tuna sandwich you've ever had. Use your imagination!

Albacore Tuna Confit

1 tuna loin, trimmed of blood line and skin
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed in a garlic press
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3-4 c. decent quality olive oil

Cut trimmed loin in four pieces. In a shallow pan, mix salt, chili flakes, thyme, garlic and lemon zest. Roll tuna pieces in the spice mixture, making sure to cover all surfaces (this doesn't have to be thick, it's just a rub). Place in dish on counter for at least a couple of hours or covered in the fridge if you're marinating it longer.

Place fish pieces in a saucepan and cover with oil. Put over very low heat and, using an instant-read thermometer, slowly raise the temperature to between 140-150°. Maintain temperature for three to ten minutes, or until the center of the thickest piece is almost cooked through. (You can use a fork or knife for this purpose.) Turn off heat and allow the oil to cool. Remove fish from oil. Strain remaining oil through a fine mesh sieve.

If you're not using all the fish right away, place it in a container that has a tight-fitting lid. Cover the fish with the strained oil and seal. It will keep in the fridge in its oil for a couple of weeks. Any remaining oil can be used for dressings or other purposes—it has a fantastic flavor!

For more information on Oregon albacore, read "Oregon Albacore A to Z."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Capturing the Sun

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm takes a moment to remind us that, if you stop to think about it, even in the cloudy grey Willamette Valley there's some sun to be had every day.

The ringing cowbell announcing the opening of the Hillsdale Farmers Market at 10 a.m. tomorrow also heralds another installment of last summer's sunshine carefully stored by nature in the first instance, and by us in the second.

Loganberries and raspberries harvested following the summer solstice still glow in the jars of preserves, and on your toast next week. Likewise the frikeh was harvested and roasted on the longest days. The currants and gages finalized their flavor in the midsummer sun, when people still take the season's heat for granted, waving it aside.

The corn, cayennes, squash, beans and pumpkin seeds entered their maturity as the yellow of school buses reminds us to linger a bit longer before the warmth is truly precious. When we bring in the fiori d'inverno, the flowers of winter, this week, the roots that create those beautiful chicories fattened up around the autumnal equinox. Likewise the sweet potatoes and spuds, and the leaves that form the onions. The quinces and grapes captured their summer moment a bit tardy, ripening in the last rays of sun after the equinox.

The diversity of organs that store the sun's energy is also striking. There are seeds, fruits, leaves and stems all in the mix, all accomplishing the same storage function. With time, they are continuing to mature and their flavors are changing. This week, we encourage you all to try a slice of the hard-skinned Sibley squash and the purple sweet potatoes, both of which reach their prime in terms of sweetness and flavor in late January. For those on quest for ever more anthocyanins in their diet, the purple sweet potatoes have intense concentrations of these desirable pigments.

Finally, a nod to that great perennial root, the horseradish, which accumulates several years of summer light before it is ready for harvest.

With that, we hope to see you all anon.

Miner's Lettuce in January?

I've been wandering around our Portland neighborhood with great regularity for years—I have dogs that love a good daily ramble, after all—monitoring the progress of the seasons. Which trees start blooming when, whether the daffodils are starting to show their green shoots under the dogwood tree, if the witch hazel at the bottom of the hill is scenting the air with its frilly blooms.

Witch hazel. In January.

And I gotta tell ya, this has been one crazy winter. It's barely past the middle of January and the ornamental plum down the street is throwing out its tiny pink blossoms, the camellias are busting out all over and I even spotted a few little claytonia perfoliata (top photo) popping up through the bark dust in a parking strip.

Climate change real? Yeah, I sorta think so.

If you can get your hands on some, the tender greens of miner's lettuce are terrific in a salad.

Black Radishes, Outrageous Salad!

Known to contain vitamin C, potassium, iron and magnesium as well as vitamins A, E and B, the black radish also possesses an ability to fight off infection and promote healthy digestive function. Dried and powdered, it's found in herbal supplements and is used in homeopathy to treat thyroid imbalances and improve liver function.

Not being a big one for stuffing myself with lots of supplements, preferring instead to fill my belly with delicious things in their more natural state, I was pleased to discover that the black radish lends a peppery bite to a root slaw. Having volunteered to bring a salad to a crab feed and inspired by the two black radish salads concocted by Linda Colwell at this year's Ayers Creek Farm Ramble, I hauled out our trusty mandoline and went to town.

I wasn't sure how many radish fiends were in the crowd and didn't want to overwhelm the crab with the sometimes strong heat and bitterness that some of these members of the brassica family carry. Following Linda's lead, I salted down the julienned radishes and let them stand for a couple of hours on the counter, which tames some of their harsher, peppery tendencies. A quick rinse to wash off the salt, draining them well and then drying them in an absorbent dish towel and they were ready for the salad bowl.

There were a couple of small globes of celery root (right) in the vegetable bin that hadn't gone into a root vegetable stew the week before, so while the radishes enjoyed their salty spa treatment I julienned those as well, figuring their mild celery flavor and crisp texture would add a nice touch to the finished salad.

Since for once I was running ahead of schedule, I made up a quick lemon vinaigrette and doused the rooty mixture, tossing it well and putting it in the fridge so that the flavors could mingle until we left for dinner. A couple of tosses in the interim and then a final toss before serving, and this simple salad was declared the belle of the ball.

Simple Black Radish Salad

4 large black radishes
2 small, peeled globes of celery root (or one large), optional
2/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. plus 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

Scrub radishes to rid them of any dirt or dust, but don't peel. Using a mandoline, julienne them into matchstick-sized pieces. Put the julienned radishes into a large bowl, add the 1/2 cup salt and stir to combine. Let sit on the counter for a couple of hours.

While waiting for radishes, make the dressing by whisking lemon juice, oregano and 1/8 tsp. salt into olive oil.* Set aside. When salted radishes are ready, rinse them well under running water, drain in a colander and dry them with an absorbent dish towel (I love flour sack dish towels for this purpose.) Add them back to the bowl, julienne the celery root (if using) and add them to the radishes. Pour the dressing over the top, stir to combine and put the salad into the refrigerator. Stir occasionally. Serve.

* You can also add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a crushed garlic clove to make a mustard vinaigrette.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ode to a Cabbage

I can't think of anyone I know who adores cabbage more than contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. Fresh, sautéed, braised, pickled, fermented or fried, you'll find it making an appearance on his table. Here he shares his favorite ways to prepare it. 

I love cabbage.

And I’m not talking about Savoy cabbage, the frilly version that’s been tarted up with a first name hinting of royalty. Or the other members of the Brassica oleracea family, including the various kales and collards, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, deliciously gorgeous as they are. Or the strangely compelling relatives from central Asia, original home of turnips, broccoli rabe, bok choy, tatsoi, and mizuna, all part of the Brassica rapa clan.

No, my heart belongs to the ordinary, everyday cabbage, its pale green leaves tightly bound into a waxy ball, the humble heads tucked coyly away in the corner of the produce section. It’s cheap, reliable, and flexible; who wouldn’t fall in love?

It doesn’t hurt that cabbage is good for me, lends itself to last-minute cooking, doesn’t cost much and grows, relatively speaking, in my own backyard.

Humankind’s relationship with Brassica started early. In his encyclopedic work Food: An Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World, Waverley Root relates one ancient Greek belief of its origins: Dionysus, the god of wine, caught Lycurgus, the Edonian king, pulling up grapevines. While awaiting punishment, the king wept, and from his tears sprang cabbages.

An alternate myth has Jupiter sweating as he tries to explain contradictory oracles, and the cabbages sprout from his perspiration.

Those ancient Greeks might’ve been on to something. But given my devotion it seems more likely that Eros, the god of love, was involved.

Wild cabbages, resembling kale more than my beloved green globes, grew along the Mediterranean coast, and according to Harold McGee, in his book On Food and Cooking, the “salty, sunny habitat accounts for the thick, succulent, waxy leaves” that make cabbages so hardy. Domesticated about 2,500 years ago, cabbage spread across Europe.

Because it tolerates cold weather, cabbage became an important staple farther north, and we typically associate it with the hearty cuisines of climes damp and gray.

But the Romans, like me, loved cabbage, and they’re probably responsible for the selective cultivation that resulted in so many disparate variations. By encouraging an existing tendency for the curling leaves to form more tightly packed bunches, those early Italian farmers created today’s well-known “heading cabbages.”

Our name for these derives from the colloquial French word for head, caboche. Vegetable lore tells us that the Italian Catherine de’ Medici brought cabbage to France when she married fellow 14-year-old Henri de Valois, the Duke of Orleans and, eventually, King Henry II. History is silent as to whether she called him mon petit chou, or “my little cabbage.” But the endearment reflects the continuing French love of cabbage, from the choucroute of Alsace to the thick stew called gabure in the south.

Early cabbage fanciers also associated it with good health. Egyptians ate it with vinegar to prevent hangovers, Greeks dribbled cabbage juice into sore eyes, and Romans packed aching muscles with cabbage poultices. Herbalists today recommend cabbage for its anti-inflammatory effects, telling breastfeeding mothers to tuck a few bruised leaves into their bras for relief. It’s got lots of vitamins A, B, C, and E, and a study at Georgetown University showed how phytochemicals in cabbage might reduce cancer risks.

However, those same phytochemicals provide the frequently noted boardinghouse smell of overcooked cabbage, something that bothers others much more than it bothers me. Maybe I’m blinded, in an olfactory sense, by love, suffering from a cabbage-passion-induced anosmia. Or perhaps my approach to cooking mon petit chou reduces the breakdown of glucosinolates, the sulfur-containing compounds released when cabbage is boiled too long.

More likely, it’s the variety of cabbage. Brussels sprouts contain more of the healthful and stinky compounds than any of the other Brassicas. Heading cabbages, with their residual sugars, offer a sweeter love.

Farmers here in the Pacific Northwest harvest cabbage from mid-July through the end of December. Properly stored, it keeps for up to six months, so it’s theoretically possible to eat local cabbage all year. Prices vary, with conventionally grown cabbage usually less than a dollar per pound, organic about half again as much. Just before Christmas I bought an enormous head at a farmers’ market for only two dollars.

So, how do I love cabbage? Let me count the ways.
  1. I love it cooked in a little olive oil with onion. There’s a head of cabbage in the refrigerator and onions in the pantry most of the time, so I make this almost every week. Cabbage loves pork, and I love them together. In my Cabbage with Bacon and Crème Fraiche, I start with a little diced bacon, then sauté the onions and cabbage in the smoky fat. A dollop of crème fraîche makes both of these simple dishes unctuous and rich.
  2. A bed of shredded cabbage roasted under a chicken steals my heart.
  3. I love how the cabbage I add to my feeling-a-cold-coming chicken soup gives it enough substance to fill me up.
  4. I’m crazy for coleslaw, the green salad I turn to when winter’s lettuce comes wilted from a long truck ride north and again when the hot summer sun makes my garden’s leaves bolt and turn bitter.
  5. Je t’aime, choucroute braisée à l’Alsacienne: Julia Child kindled new passion for sauerkraut by teaching me to simmer it slowly for hours in crisp white wine. And Marcella Hazan makes me cry, “cavolo sofegao, come sei bella,” with her Venetian-style smothered cabbage, another slow-cooked dish transformed with a splash of vinegar.  Here's my Braised Cabbage and Onion with Poached Egg.
  6. Te amo cocido, tambien. While these one-pot Spanish stews often call for whole chickens, pigs’ trotters, veal shanks and a garden’s worth of vegetables, I make a simple version with just garbanzos, potatoes and cabbage.
Cabbage love comes in many other forms, and though the steady routine of our long-term relationship provides familiar comfort, I don’t want it to get stale. So I keep searching for new outlets for my passion, different ways to express my feelings, unexplored culinary territory where I can say, again and again, I love cabbage.

Farm Bulletin: Taming Bitterness in Chicories

Leaf chicory, as well as the type known as radicchio, is a frilly beauty when found in a winter salad, though it can sometimes have a slightly bitter edge that some find too aggressive. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm explains where this flavor comes from, and how to sweeten its personality.

This is the season for chicories. At the moment they are the speckled Lusia types. We have had trouble with the quality of the seed, so there is a lot variation in the field, and we are only able to harvest about 10% of what we planted, which is way below the 90% harvested in the past. We are not happy with the state of seed, to put it mildly. In February, we will have longer meditation about the genetics of chicories, and what we are doing to address the problem.

Italian radicchio.

As with Bette Davis and the lyrics of Sondheim, the bitterness in chicories is always a matter of interpretation and taste; some revel in it, others recoil. Varieties and individual plants vary as well. The bitter compounds are in the white latex of the sap and are water soluble, so the problem is easily addressed. Tearing the leaves lengthwise and immediately soaking them in iced water draws out the latex and eliminates almost all of the bitterness. Soaking for 20 minutes or so is generally enough.

If you are planning to braise the chicories, quarter them lengthwise and immediately soak in ice water. As with latex paint, if the plant's latex starts to set up and dry, it is no longer water soluble, so having soaking water ready before you tear or cut the heads is important. The ice is critical to the process because the cold shrinks the vascular tissue, forcing the latex out of the leaf. Lukewarm or cool water is useless for the task, so don't skimp on the ice.

Radicchio salad.

For a salad, a lemon-based dressing adds a bit of sweetness. Cutting vinegar with a bit of orange juice also works. An anchovy fillet squeezed through a garlic press and mixed into the dressing is another fine addition. As a forage crop for livestock, chicories have higher protein content than even legumes such as alfalfa, as well as a hefty dose of minerals. As a result, in recent years seed companies have been offering a greater range of forage chicories, apparently with better seed quality than we see in the varieties grown for human consumption. Regardless, you can't go wrong eating these fine winter greens, right Elsie?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: Opening Salvos

This blog is about my ongoing journey to discover the connections between what's going on in the field and what I put on my table. It took me awhile to realize part of that road makes a detour through the halls of the Capitol building in Salem. In other words, the decisions that our elected officials make about agriculture in Oregon directly affect what I'm going to feed my family, whether I buy it at the farmers' market or the grocery store.

With the opening of the 2015 regular session of the state legislature, I thought it might be helpful to sit down with Ivan Maluski, the Director of Friends of Family Farmers, an organization working to promote and protect socially responsible agriculture in Oregon, and get the bullet points on what's he's paying attention to this session.

Senate Bill 207: Authorizes the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish control areas to allow for the regulation of genetically engineered crops to prevent conflicts with growers of non-GMO crops.

The ability of communities to make decisions about their local food systems as well as assuring farmers that the integrity of their crops is protected is at the center of this bill. The federal system for regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is an "outdated patchwork" according to Maluski, who said that protecting non-GMO crops is a hot topic nationally. He added that no other state has taken a leadership position on this issue, and doing so would put Oregon at the forefront of the debate.

The bill basically gives the ODA the authority to establish legally binding isolation distances between GMO and non-GMO crops, necessary because pollen and seed from GMO crops can potentially contaminate fields of non-GMO crops. It's clear that Oregon industries like organic farms, organic seed producers and conventional vegetable growers can be potentially devastated by contamination from GMO crops.

For instance, last November the Salem Statesman Journal reported that Monsanto Co. reached a $2.4 million settlement with Pacific Northwest wheat farmers who sued after unapproved genetically modified wheat was discovered growing in Eastern Oregon. According to the article, the discovery of the wheat had prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, a disastrous situation in any industry.

* * *

House Bill 2598: Prohibits the use of medically important antibiotics on healthy food-producing animals for non-therapeutic purposes such as growth promotion and disease prevention. Requires documentation of reporting of antibiotic use in large concentrated animal feeding operations in Oregon.

Simply put, this bill says that large factory farms will only be able to use antibiotics on sick animals. Currently, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) routinely use antibiotics on healthy animals to promote faster growth and for disease prevention (rather than treatment when an animal is actually sick). OSPIRG is currently taking the lead in this effort, positioning it as an important public health issue, since overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals—meat animals in particular—is causing existing antibiotics used to combat human illness to lose their effectiveness. A prominent example of this was the outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella traced to Foster Farms chicken that sickened hundreds across the country in 2014.

* * *

Senate Bill 204: Establishes a new Working Forests and Farms Advisory Program to provide low interest loans, loan guarantees and grants to help maintain or restore conservation benefits on working forests and farms.

In essence this bill would provide loans, loan guarantees and grants to keep existing farmland in production and encourage farmers to pass their land on to a new generation of farmers rather than convert farmland to non-farm uses. Considering the average age of a farmer in Oregon is 58, it's critical for the continuation of our local food supply to keep farmland in production and provide avenues for new farmers to get onto the land.

* * *

Other issues that may come up this session are:
  • Establishing pilot projects to give Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) recipients regular access and incentives to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Creating incentive areas and reducing roadblocks to the development of urban agriculture enterprise zones on underutilized city lots.
  • Promoting agritourism through liability protections for farmers who want to offer public access to their property.
  • Allowing farms to advertise raw milk sold on their farms. Currently farms are not even allowed to put that information on their websites.

Click here for more information on the bills that are coming up before the Legislature this session. Find your legislators and let them know what you think. And stay tuned for further updates as the 2015 session progresses!

Photos of Oregon Capitol building and CAFO from Wikipedia.