Sunday, August 18, 2019

A New Farmers' Market Builds a Community Around Local Food


The Portland metro area has a wealth of farmers' markets stretching from suburban communities like Beaverton and Hillsboro to Gresham and Oregon City, with dozens scattered throughout the city itself. On almost every day of the week during harvest season there's a farmers' market brimming with local produce, meat, cheese and products made from the bounty of Oregon's fields, streams and oceans. Almost a dozen operate year-round, made possible by our mild maritime climate and farmers willing to adapt crops to cooler growing conditions, as well as educate shoppers about how to incorporate winter produce into their diets.

But not every neighborhood has equal access to these markets, which are generally located in the more central areas of the cities. So what do you do when you think your neighborhood would benefit from more access to fresh, local food but the nearest farmers' market is miles away?

Peak harvest season: a good time to debut a market.

In the case of the area near Rocky Butte—an extinct cinder cone near Northeast Broadway and 82nd Avenue, part of the Madison South, Roseway and Sumner neighborhoods—a group of neighbors started by surveying their community to gauge whether they would support a farmers market. When the survey came back with an overwhelmingly positive response, the group then spent two years working on strategy development and planning, which also involved finding a location and sponsors.

Goal: a diverse community of vendors.

Discussions held with Portland market veterans and others who had been in the trenches for decades largely discouraged organizers, saying that the city was oversaturated with farmers' markets. Not to be put off, the new market's organizers argued that while there may be a saturation of markets in closer-in neighborhoods, communities in farther-flung areas were hungry for their own market that they could walk or bike to.

Organizers formed a steering committee, then implemented an innovative strategy to launch the Rocky Butte Farmers Market with two pop-up events at the height of the summer harvest in 2019. At the first, held in mid-July at the Dharma Rain Zen Center, it was an open question as to how many people, if any, would show up.

Organizer Hillary Barbour.

"Our opener blew our expectations completely out of the water," according to Hillary Barbour, one of the organizers and a resident of the neighborhood, as well as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Burgerville. "We had no idea if we would get 50 [shoppers], or 500. And we ended up with darn near close to 1,000." The relatively small number of vendors sold out of seasonal produce, pasture-raised chickens and farm fresh eggs.

Exit surveys from that first pop-up showed a strong demand for more seasonal produce and prepared food options. In response, the market team added almost double the number vendors to the second pop-up, scheduled for August 3. It included several farmer vendors who are part of  the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s Headwaters Farming Incubator program, as well as Mudbone Grown’s Pathways to Farming Incubator program. Student participants of Mad Roots, a youth-led sustainable agriculture program at nearby Madison High School, offered produce from the program's gardens. Vendors also came from many of the diverse populations in the neighborhood, including Latino, African-American, Vietnamese and Queer-owned businesses, among others.

MadRoots students from Madison High School.

"For many vendors these pop ups were their first farmers market experience," said Barbour. "We have long sensed that a new and emerging market in our neighborhoods—Madison South, Roseway, and Sumner—could be an important opportunity for new and beginning farmers who have neither the experience or scale to enter a more mature metro area farmers market. These two pop-ups appear to be confirming our theory."

Volunteers counted attendance at the second pop-up at more than 800 shoppers. These volunteers were key to both events, doing everything from distributing flyers to posting on social media to helping with set up, directing traffic at the event site, staffing and break down. Several came from the neighborhood branch of OnPoint credit union, which also supplied a $500 grant to cover some start-up costs. More support came from other nearby markets.

A place start for smaller-volume producers.

"I cannot say enough good things about the support we've received from other neighborhood markets [and] market managers," Barbour emphasized. "Especially Cully, which loaned us tables, chairs and canopies for both pop ups. Also the managers from the Hollywood and Montavilla markets were tremendously helpful and generous with their knowledge and experience. It's never felt competitive or discouraging" unlike, she added, the reaction from some of the larger markets in the area.

With the success of the pop-up events, organizers are committed to a series of regularly scheduled markets in the 2020 season. Fundraising is underway through a combination of grant requests, local business support, and a GoFundMe campaign, with one of the goals being to hire a part-time market manager for next season.

Visibility for local business owners.

Another challenge facing organizers is finding a new site for the market, since the Dharma center is not able to host the market in 2020. But that challenge brings opportunity, according to Barbour.

"One thing to keep in mind about [the neighborhood] that's interesting is that the entire look and feel of Northeast 82nd between Siskiyou and I-84 is changing over the next three years," she said, citing a major upgrade scheduled for Glenhaven Park as well as the rebuilding of Madison High School. "The entire composition of our area is changing as more first-time homebuyers move in and houses turn over. I've lived in Roseway since 2004 and I feel like this year represents the second major wave of turnover I've seen."

Which means that a new farmers' market can be ground zero for this emerging area, a place to gather and build the community they want, based around supporting a vibrant local food system.

Most photos courtesy Rocky Butte Farmers Market.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Salad Smackdown: Nectarine and Cherry Salad


Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.

What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or smooth skin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.

To peel or not to peel?

Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.

If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:

With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.

Roasted nectarines, anyone?

Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)

Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.

Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts

1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced
1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.

Click here to get more fabulous peach (or nectarine) recipes for desserts, jams, salads and even cocktails! The Beaverton Farmers Market is an advertiser and supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Fermentation Fascination: Rave-worthy Quick Refrigerator Pickles


I'm not a woo-woo sort of person. Pragmatism runs deep in my veins, but recently it's been feeling like the universe is pointing me in the direction of fermentation. Not in a Portlandia "I can pickle that" way, though the show definitely picked up on a trend here with almost every chef in town featuring her own house-made pickles on every plate.

Great-grandma's recipe.

Granted, for several years I've been saying "This is the year I'm going to learn to make pickles!"—or kimchi or sauerkraut or whatever. And the year comes and goes without much progress being made, though I've participated in a few pickling sessions with friends. One of those sessions involved making pickled onions with my neighbors Bill and Jen, who have a huge garden on their city lot and preserve a great deal of what they grow every year.

When I dropped by their place to pick up some cucumbers the other day, Jen brought out one of two thick, three-ring binders full of favorite family recipes that her grandmother had carefully typed out—color me envious! It included one from her great-grandmother for fresh cucumber pickles that are ready in 24 hours. Need I mention that anything quick and easy has my name written all over it?

Rinse those cukes!

And indeed, when I got home, I sliced up those cucumbers, salted them down per great-grandma's instructions, made the brine, and a couple of hours later had two quart jars of pickles sitting in the fridge. I admit I sampled them before the 24 hours had gone by and they were delightful. So good, in fact, that they ended up coming with us that very evening as part of an antipasto platter we were taking to celebrate our friends' new home.

As for future fermentation festivities? Turns out the universe wasn't done with me just yet. Dave gave me a copy of Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation as an anniversary present, so expect to read about those adventures in future installments!

Great-Grandma's Fresh Cucumber Pickles

5-6 cucumbers, about 8" long
1 medium onion
3-4 Tbsp. salt
2 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Optional: mustard seeds, peppercorns, fresh dill, dried chiles, whole garlic cloves

Slice cucumbers into 1/8" coins. Slice onion into quarters lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices crosswise. Combine in large bowl. Add salt and mix. Place in refrigerator for 90 minutes.

While cucumber mixture is soaking, in a medium-sized pan heat vinegar and water to a bare simmer. Add sugar. Stir until it dissolves, then add any desired spices (mustard seeds, pappercorns, dried chiles and garlic cloves). Allow to cool slightly.

When cucumbers are ready, rinse in several changes of running water, draining thoroughly between rinses. (Great-grandma says to rinse until they no longer taste of salt, but mine never did get to that stage.) Drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers and onions into quart jars, layering them with spices from the brine and the fresh dill. Pour brine over packed cucumbers, using a chopstick inserted down the side to press out air bubbles as much as possible. Cover with lid and put in refrigerator. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours. Makes approximately 2 quarts.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Equipment and Martin Update


As important as a reliable employee, equipment a farmer can depend on is a critical component of any farm, from working the soil to planting to growing to harvesting. New equipment is often prohibitively expensive, so farmers patch and nurse and replace parts on older machines until they simply give out. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm offers several examples, and welcomes a new arrival.

All machinery is serviced and checked over the month before our summer harvest starts. That helps but doesn’t completely avert troublesome moments.

Early in July, we went to use the van for a quick run the hardware store; it wouldn’t shift out of first gear. Turns out mice had chewed the transmission harness and fried its brain. Brought to mind Malvina Reynolds’ “The Little Mouse.”  Fortunately, it wasn’t on a delivery run and full of berries. We had it towed to N. Columbia for a new brain and it is back home. A couple of delivery runs in a rental made us appreciate the simple, open structure of the original Sprinter vans. We have modified ours so we can comfortably load it with up to 200 flats.

The Gator in action.

Light ground transportation is essential for an efficient farm operation. We have two old John Deere Gators. Each has seen two decades and several thousands of hours of service. We have two small ATVs of the same age. They have been reliable but we decided we needed a back-up utility vehicle after an ATV clutch failed. The van problem also spooked us.

We wanted to avoid another internal combustion engine to feed and service. Last year, Polaris introduced an electric version of its Ranger (top photo). After a couple of weeks of using it, we are very happy. Polaris mostly makes aggressive, noisy recreational off-road vehicles with sinister feline or heavy bull lines designed to show dominion over nature. It was a surprise to stumble upon this silent, gentle and rather comely bit of iron and plastic from the company. It will be staff’s primary transportation after Carol's ATV returns. We are ready to convert to electric ATVs when they are available.

Colorful burros for holding berry flats.

On a simpler equipment level, staff use “burros” to hold and move the berry flats as they fill them. Made by us of lightweight cedar and thin plywood about 15 years ago, they were due for rehabilitation and modification. The burros were getting rickety and had been repaired at various times. The trays were a bit too big so berries would fall between the walls of the tray and the flat, staining the flat. We might say, who cares? Well, staff did and mentioned it, so the observation was heeded. The plywood had started to disintegrate so it was time to address the problems.

We reduced the dimensions of the tray and used lightweight but rigid plastic “twin-wall” for its bottom. The structure is pulled together with threaded rods to support the tray. As a final gesture, we painted the various parts and assembled ten different and cheerful burros, each with its own markings. No two are alike.

A young martin with immature plumage.

The handle of the burro makes an attractive perch for birds, so we tip them on their side in the field so they stay clean.

Finally, the purple martins successfully raised their brood of six. We are in the processing of adding 16 gourd-style nesting boxes specifically designed for the birds. The young that emerged this year will be of breeding age in 2021. As they are a gregarious species, other mature birds are expected to join our breeding pair next year.

Photos of Polaris ATV, burros and purple martin by Anthony Boutard.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Marination Nation: Feta For The Win


I needed an easy appetizer to take to the annual gathering of "lady food writers" the other night—spectacularly talented writers, cookbook authors and cooks all—and was not feeling inspired. That is, until I saw that one of my favorite cheesemakers, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, had posted on social media that they would have fresh feta at their farmers' market booths over the weekend.

Simply chop and stir…

As luck would have it, one of those farmers' markets happened to be in our neighborhood, and I knew this crowd would be the perfect audience for Fraga's stellar cheese. So I got myself dressed and out of the house Saturday morning, shimmied over to the market, bought a jar of snow-white feta cubes swirling in whey brine, and rewarded myself for the effort with a breakfast bowl of Umi Organic noodles. (I think I deserved it, don't you?)

…marinate and serve!

The day of the gathering I simply drained the whey, reserving the brine for later use, and transferred the cubes of cheese to a bowl where I added chopped herbs from the garden, olive oil, chile flakes and garlic. I left it on the counter for a couple of hours, swished it around a few times, placed it on a platter lined with grape leaves foraged from my neighbor's vines, added triangles of pita, and took it to the party. Raves ensued.

I can't wait to crumble more of this amazing feta into a shrimp salad this summer, or tuck it into a hamburger patty for stuffed cheeseburgers. Yes, it's that good!

Feta Marinated with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon

1/2 lb. brick feta cheese
Olive oil
Fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon)
Zest of half lemon
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red chile flakes

Cut feta into 1/2" cubes. Place in medium-sized mixing bowl along with herbs, zest, garlic and chile flakes. Add enough oil to barely cover and mix gently. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with pita wedges.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Camp Stories: Must-Have Camping Gear and Best Hacks


Getting ready to go camping means making lists. Lots of them. Gear, cooking utensils, food, first aid supplies, dog food and, at least for us, cocktail fixings.

Paella over the fire, anyone?

As I've mentioned before in this series, we're what is known as "car campers" so we eschew freeze-dried packets for fresh ingredients that'll be prepped and cooked at the campsite, whether over the fire or on our trusty Coleman campstove. So paring down to the lightest, most essential gear isn't always the point, especially now that Dave has become a devotée of all things cast iron.

Need a side table? Improvise!

Recently it occurred to me that it might be valuable to share our decades-in-development list of staples for those of you just beginning your camping journey, or if you've reached that point when you're ready to trade in your backpacking tents and sleeping pads for a double bed-sized blowup mattress. (Welcome to the club!) The suggestions below are, of course, in addition to tents, sleeping bags, camp chairs, stove, headlamps, etc., etc. And I'd love it if you'd add your own must-have camping necessities in the comments below.

Gear

Camp table, lidded storage bins: An indispensible part of our kitchen gear is a simple folding table where we can get our supplies off the ground and easily accessible without squatting while you're rummaging to find which bin the silverware is in. Lidded bins are also easily stackable, water and critter-proof and the lids make handy cutting boards and serving trays.

High Sierra (cup) martini.

Waterproof tablecloth: I still have my parents' green vinyl camp tablecloth that has covered every campsite picnic table during decades of family outings. (There's even a minor slash from when I was in high school and sliced vegetables without a cutting board. Sorry, Mom.) It cleans easily, and makes those sometimes funky campsite picnic tables more presentable.

Sierra cup: This old-school backpacking cup (above left) was purchased on one of our very first camping trips and is now a requisite piece of gear. Handy for drinking, dipping water out of hot pots, and even as a spare cocktail glass, it hangs at the ready over the back of our decades-old campstove.

No steaks in the firepit, thanks!

Folding campfire grill: It may look flimsy, but this over-the-campfire grill can be used over the fire, or can fold flat to use for cooking over the sometimes gross firepit grates. It also helps position items over the fire with more finesse, can stop hot dogs from falling through the widely spaced camp grates, or when you need to extend grill space (e.g. for steaks and corn for 10…we've done it!).

Cast iron frying pan: A well-seasoned frying pan is a thing of beauty, and Dave keeps ours in prime condition. Goes from campstove to fire easily.

Cast iron griddle: Again, seasoning is the key (top photo). Great for batches of fried eggs, hash browns, pancakes, etc.

The best pot for baking in the wild.

Cast iron Dutch oven: Large and heavy, but if you love to bake out in the woods, it's indispensible. (Mostly for advanced users or inveterate bakers.) Also great for heating up dinners for a crowd over the fire.

Hatchet: Because camping requires fires. (Duh.)

Long-handled metal spatula and tongs: You're probably going to be cooking over the fire (steaks!), so these are a necessity.

Leather fireplace gloves: Handling hot pans, placing logs on the fire. Thank me later.

Cocktail bag: Once again, a brilliant idea from our friend Keith, the MacGyver of the campsite. He stocks an open-topped canvas gear bag with fifths of booze, using smaller lidded bottles for vermouth, etc., with tiny dropper bottles for bitters and other flavoring agents. Utensils and other accoutrements go in the outside pockets.

A variation on the propane camp lantern.

Three-candle lantern: Keith has become inordinately fond of this three-candle lantern over the Coleman propane-powered version, though I think Dave might argue over that choice.

Hacks

Zip line: Keeping dogs contained within a campsite is tough, but Keith turned us on to an easy zip line made from a rope strung between two trees with small carabiners clipped onto it and that you can then clip to the loops of the dog's leash. Can also double as a clothesline, as long as you don't have a super active dog.

Three Corgis, one zip line might be pushing it.

Hot water dispenser: Made from a 2.5-gallon water container with a spigot, this was a brilliant hack Dave came up with last year and has made washing dishes and hands a dream. You'll need to empty the container first, which usually happens the first day in our case, what with filling pots for hot water, cooking and drinking. The ones we get are made of lighter plastic (like the stuff used for milk jugs), so it's easy to slice around the front three sides near the top, leaving the back attached as a hinge. Put it on the table with the spigot over a dishpan on the bench, pour in some hot (but not boiling!) water and, voilà, hot running water!

Dish scrubber: Cooking over fire often causes food to stick stubbornly to pans, and in the absence of a scrubber pad, Keith uses a short piece of thin, flat wood with the end squared off to scrape off any burned-on gunk. Brillz.

Click to read more Camp Stories, including recommended campgrounds, sites and easy recipes that'll please everyone.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bumbles in My Back Yard!



Earlier this summer I was having a bit of a crisis. You see, for the last couple of summers we've had a very active bumblebee nest in our back yard. It's hidden behind a bed of hostas and a bleeding heart growing around the foundation of our garage, the entrance hidden under a scattering of oak leaves (see above).

Orange sacs on the bumblebee's back legs hold the pollen it has collected.

I was alerted to its presence when I was innocently watering the garden and suddenly heard a vibrant buzzing coming from a corner of the garden bed. Several fairly large bumblebees were circling around the area, looking for the intruder—me—who had apparently come a little too close to the nest.

Now, some people might freak out at the thought of a bees' nest in their back yard and call an exterminator. But knowing as I did that, in general, bumblebees are peaceful insects and will only sting when they feel cornered or when their hive is disturbed, I simply stepped back several feet and waited for them to realize I wasn't a threat. It also gave me a chance to see where they were returning to.

Of course my first act was not to look up the Wikipedia article on bumblebees. It was to call our long-suffering neighbor, who works for the Xerces Society and who puts up with my endless bee questions, along with the occasional accusation along the lines of "one of your friends just stung me!" He informed me that congratulations were in order because there was indeed a bumblebee nest under our garage and they seemed perfectly happy.

I felt like a new parent.

Busy as a bee collecting more pollen.

Which is why, when earlier this summer I observed no activity from the nest and very few bumblebees on the flowering shrubs and bushes on the block, I got a little panicky. When I consulted my neighbor (like I said, he puts up with a lot), he said it was possible that they had abandoned the nest, but with the unusually cool spring and early summer, they might just be late in appearing.

So I waited. And waited.

It was just about exactly when our neighbors' prodigious stand of lavender bushes burst into bloom that, joy of joys, I saw the bumbles return, buzzing happily from wand to wand, taking their gathered treasure back to the nest behind the garage. I was ecstatic. And yes, I texted our neighbor with the good news.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Summer Discoveries: Cicely Straws, New Greens and…Fries with Eyes?


Though I love to travel to faraway locations as much as anyone, I don't have to go far from home to make some (potentially life-changing) discoveries. We're only a little over a month into the summer—in the Pacific Northwest the good weather can extend well into September or October—and it's been a banner season so far for eye-opening experiences.

Along with making my own infused vinegar and oil from the spiky pink pompoms in my chive patch, I've had three other new-to-me revelations.

At the Hoodland Farmers Market.

While I was planning a week-long sojourn in a cabin on Mt. Hood, I heard that the Hoodland Farmers Market in Welches had launched its first season and would be open during our stay. Being the farmers' market obsessive that I am, it was immediately put on our schedule. The day after we arrived, I had picked up a few greens to tide us over for the week when a small pile of green stick-like bundles caught my eye.

A hand-lettered sign said "Sweet Cicely Straws 10¢," so I asked the tall bearded fellow standing behind the table what they were like. He said they had a mild, slightly sweet flavor and that they'd be good with light sodas, but when he mentioned he preferred them with gin and tonics, I was sold. A little research revealed that cicely is related to anise, fennel and caraway—it's sometimes used to flavor akvavit—and that the leaves, seeds and roots are all edible.

In the interest of science, on our return to the cabin we immediately tested them with gin and tonics, served al fresco by the river, and while the flavor was subtle, indeed, they were a perfect (and perfectly local), functional garnish.

* * *


Confession time: My name is Kathleen and I have a greens problem.

There. I said it. I can't pass by a pile of leafy vegetation at a market without stopping and admiring the fluorescent light green, dark green or medium green hue, caressing a leaf to find out whether it's thick and substantial or soft and ephemeral. I imagine what it would be like to cook with (or not), whether to steam, chop, chiffonade or leave it whole, what preparation would bring out its best flavor.

Like I said, a problem.

So, of course, when Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce mentioned in passing that he'd just received some sweet potato greens from Groundwork Organics north of Eugene, it was all I could do not to grab him by the lapels—Josh with lapels is an odd image, but an apt metaphor for my mania—and insist he give me some right away.

But I held myself in check, picked up a bunch (well, two) and brought them home. Fairly substantial, the deep forest green leaves seemed like they would hold up to a quick stir-fry, so I threw them into a hot pan already heaped with sautéed spring onions and green garlic, spritzed them with tiny bit of chive vinegar and served them alongside rotisserie chicken.

So, you might ask, am I going to try to free myself of this greens obsession? Um…no…not anytime soon, as a matter of fact.

* * *


It started with a dinner on the garden-like patio at Burrasca with owners Elizabeth Petrosian and Chef Paolo Calamai. Elizabeth had posted photos of their Tuscan artichoke dishes made with organic purple Italian artichokes, grown by Tom and Patreece DeNoble of DeNoble Farms, which included a salad of raw shaved baby artichokes, tiny and tender fried baby artichokes and a creamy, delicate artichoke sformato.

Over the fire.

Another dish on the menu was frittura con gli occhi, amusingly translated as "fries with eyes," which was, to me, an irresistible must-have, not only because of the name but it also being fresh West Coast anchovies simply breaded and fried whole. (Yes, whole, as in heads on.) Tiny, crispy and tasting of the sea, I was entranced.

Tiny, tender and delicious.

So it was fortuitous when, the very next day, I stopped by Flying Fish, Lyf Gildersleeve's outpost for sustainably sourced fish, and what should be in the fresh case but some of those very same fresh anchovies. I bought a pound and brought them home, breading half of them in a flour, salt, pepper and pimenton mixture and the other half in a panko, salt and pepper mix.

Frying them in olive oil on a cast iron skillet on the grill, the flour breading coated them more completely and gave the little fish some extra crunch, while the panko was a bit scanty and not as crispy. But oh so fun and so delicious! (Plus I got to say frittura con gli occhi several times that evening.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mid-Summer Book Report: Child Brides, French Dirt, Norma Paulus


All it took to breeze through three-and-a-half books was a week spent in a rustic cabin on Mt. Hood accompanied by a spate of cooler-than-normal weather that "forced" me to spend more time indoors than out. Yes, we got out for hikes, but then retreated to the comfort of books and coffee and lapdogs.

The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada's Polygamous Mormon Sect, by Daphne Bramham, is an exposé of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), "one of the largest of the fundamentalist Mormon denominations and one of the largest organizations in the United States whose members practice polygamy" (Wikipedia). Bramham, an award-winning journalist and author (as well as a personal friend), has been doggedly reporting on this cult for the Vancouver Sun for the last 15 years.

Starting with a history of the sect when it broke away from the mainline Mormon church (the Latter-Day Saints or LDS) when the LDS banned "plural marriage" in 1904, Bramham traces the evolution of the FLDS—with settlements in Utah, Arizona, British Columbia, Colorado, Texas and South Dakota, all governed by a self-proclaimed "Prophet"—to the 2007 trial and conviction of one of those prophets, Warren Jeffs, for being an accomplice to the rape of an underaged girl.

At the time of the book's publication in 2008, Bramham wrote:
"Prophet Warren Jeffs controls every aspect of the lives of more than eight thousand people, from where they live to whom and when they marry. Jeffs has banned school, church, movies and television. He has outlawed the colour red and even forbidden his followers to use the word "fun." Along with his trusted councillors, Jeffs has arranged and forced hundreds of marriages, some involving girls as young as fourteeen and men as old as or older than their fathers and grandfathers. Many of the brides have been transported across state borders as well as international borders with Canada and Mexico."
A page-turner, it chronicles the dangerously wacky, power-hungry men who turn a so-called religion to their own ends, damaging the lives of gullible men, women and children in the process. Bramham doesn't spare criticism of government officials of both countries for taking an infuriatingly hands-off approach to the commonly acknowledged abuses happening right under their noses. It's a gripping story, well-told and thoroughly documented. Highly recommended.

* * *

For something completely different, French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, by Richard Goodman, begins with the author recalling how, as a 20-something aspiring writer, he was presented with the following classified ad by his Dutch girlfriend: "SOUTHERN FRANCE: Stone house in Village near Nimes/Avignon/Uzes. 4 BR, 2 baths, fireplace, books, desk, bikes. Perfect for writing, painting, exploring and experiencing la France profonde. $450 mo. plus utilities." With the adventurous spirit of youth, they rent the house for a year and move to a small village where Goodman is moved to start a garden on a small patch of ground loaned by a villager.

Far from the cutesy tales told of the quaint inhabitants of small villages in France or Italy—Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes being perhaps the best-known practitioners of the genre—this is the story of a young man falling in love with a garden and learning about himself in the process. Charming and well-told, it even received the unsolicited imprimatur of none other than M.F.K. Fisher herself:
"I possess a deep prejudice against anything written by Anglo-Saxons about their lives in or near French villages, especially in Provence. I really cannot stand the lip-licking enjoyment of local peasantry by these visitors from America and England. So, Richard, I thank you for breaking the spell. I like very much what you wrote. It did not sound supercilious at all. All my best always, M.F.K. Fisher"
I couldn't agree more.

* * *

The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story by Norma Paulus with Gail Wells and Pat McCord Amacher, startled me on many levels. As a native Oregonian who lived through the years covered by this biography and knew many of the names and issues described in it, I was fascinated to learn of the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing involved in some of the biggest headlines—think the bottle bill, saving Oregon's beaches for public access, the Land Conservation and Development Commission, which baked land use planning into our way of life—as well as more personal insights into pioneering Oregon luminaries like Tom McCall, L.B. Day, Betty Roberts and Gretchen Kafoury.

The book recounts that Paulus, a representative of a more moderate Republican party than we know today, and many in her party were pro-environment, advocated for women's rights—Oregon ratified the Equal Rights Amendment not once, but twice—and helped give Oregon its (now sadly diminished) reputation as a bastion of progressive government.

As the first woman elected to statewide office, as Secretary of State in 1976, Paulus was a practical yet visionary leader in her public career, though her dream to become Oregon's first woman governor was dashed in a bitter (if close) loss to Neil Goldschmidt in 1986; Barbara Roberts was to earn that distinction in 1991.

A chronicle of Oregon politics during a critical time in our history as well as the remarkable personal story of a woman's growth from humble beginnings to acclaim on a national stage, this is good read for longtime and newer Oregonians alike.

* * *

In case you're counting, the other (half) book, which I'd started before we arrived at the cabin and finished soon after, was the excellent Raw Material: Working Wool in the West by Stephany Wilkes, reviewed here.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Remembering Martie


More than a place to buy local products and meet your farmer, a farmers' market is a place where longterm friendships can grow. In this remembrance, contributor Anthony Boutard recalls Ayers Creek Farm's longtime customer Martie Sucec, she of the blackberry slump and a dedicated fan of the farm's berries.

We decided to become vendors at the newly formed Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, debuting on Bastille Day 2002. Our first market e-mail was sent to our friend Martie Sucec. Martie loved Boysenberries above all other fruit, and we were advising her that we would have a flat set aside that weekend. We kept her updated week-to-week, and soon her friends and other customers asked to be included.

Martie Sucec.

A lay editor at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Public Health Research, Martie had a deep appreciation for language, a loathing of jargon, and a kind manner. Any author worth their salt would work hard for her approval. When asked how he started Coming into the Country, John McPhee quipped he started with “Dear Mom,” whiting out that salutation when he was done. The market essays often started with “Dear Martie” in mind.

When Chester season started that year, Martie came back the next week with a slump and a couple dozen copies of the recipe which she had gleaned from an old edition of Gourmet (recipe below). Martie ritualized the gesture and for fourteen years we would return home with a slump made the first Chesters of the season. Vendors who counted knew her by name.

Carol first encountered Martie 25 years ago—meet is too feeble a word to describe such an event—and came home describing the neighborhood chair of the Multnomah Village Neighborhood Association as an amazing person. Later, I had my own encounter and shared Carol’s sentiment. At one point, I told Martie that she reminded me of General Anna, a central character in Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War, a book I had purchased at a school book fair and read as a 5th grader. A couple of days later, having read the book, Martie chuckled about how much she enjoyed Anna, a principled and determined resolver of conflict.

Purple martins at Ayers Creek.

Martie died in April. That same week a purple martin arrived at the farm, checking out one of the bird boxes used by kestrels, starlings and flickers. A week later, he returned accompanied by his mate and, if I am interpreting their behavior correctly, they are busy feeding chicks. Those handsome, gregarious birds will be associated with memories of Martie, our handsome, gregarious friend.

Martins have a quality described as site fidelity, with the birds returning to the nesting site year-after-year. The martins, and Marties fondness for Boysenberries, slumps, grey shallots and Sibley squash will keep her in our mind all year.

Here is a brief tribute to her from her neighborhood.

Blackberry Slump

4 c. fresh blackberries (2-3 pints)
2 tsp. lemon juice (add some zest, if you like more lemony flavor)
3/4 c. sugar, depending on the sweetness of berries, or to taste
1 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk (whole, 2%, hemp or soy) room temperature
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put berries in an ungreased 5 to 6-cup casserole, gratin dish, deep dish or ceramic pie plate and sprinkle evenly with about 1/2 cup of the sugar. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar into a medium bowl. Add milk and melted butter and whisk until smooth, then pour over berries (don’t worry if berries are not completely covered). Bake slump in middle of oven until top is golden, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Photos of purple martins by Anthony Boutard.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Summer Essentials: Berries Call for Shortcakes!


It's high season in Oregon for berries, folks, and while I don't have an argument with pies, crisps or cobblers—drop one off any time, really!—in my family's opinion there's no higher or better use for fresh berries than finishing a summer's feast with fresh berry shortcakes.

Simple, lightly sweet shortcakes.

The buttery, lightly sweet shortcakes, which can also do double duty as breakfast scones, come together quickly in a food processor. Shower them with a scattering of lightly sugared berries and a plop of whipped cream (or ice cream, depending on your druthers) to make these ephemeral seasonal delights shine.

Berry season calls for shortcakes.

Whether you've got raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, tayberries, strawberries, boysenberries, blueberries or—I know I'm forgetting some—a mixture of two or more, save a couple of pints out of your next flat of berries to make this startlingly simple and stunningly delicious classic.

Berry Shortcake

For the shortcakes:
2 1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. whole milk

For the berries:
2 pints berries
1/4 c. sugar (adjust according to sweetness of berries)
Whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat oven to 425°.

Put flour, balking powder, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse four or five times to combine. Add butter or margarine and pulse several times until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, add milk in a stream. Keep processor running until the dough comes together in a soft mass.

Remove dough from processor, place on floured surface and form into a soft ball shape. Divide dough ball in half and gently pat out each half with your hands into six-inch disks (they will be about 1/2"-5/8" thick). With a butcher knife, slice each disk into six triangle-shaped wedges. On a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, place wedges slightly apart for crispier sides, touching for soft sides. I usually separate them by 1/8" and they puff up into wedges that break apart easily. Bake about 12 minutes or until tops are medium brown. Remove to racks to cool.

While the shortcakes are baking, put the berries into a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Using a spatula, gently fold the sugar into the berries. Allow to macerate for at least an hour (you can also place berries in the refrigerator until assembling). Using one wedge per serving, slice wedges in half lengthwise and place on individual serving plates or bowls. Scatter berries over the top and drizzle with juice that collects in the bottom of bowl. Top with whipped cream or ice cream as desired.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Early Season Update


I've seen folks posting pictures on their social media feeds of some early season grains and produce from Ayers Creek Farm, so I was glad when the following update from contributor Anthony Boutard arrived in my in-box.

Around this time of year I receive inquiries regarding the upcoming season. Might as well get a jump on the questions. Here is how things look in the field.

After dealing with last year’s disastrous brand name starting mix, chronicled earlier, this year we purchased our potting mix from OBC Northwest. OBC, once the Oregon Bag Company, morphed into supplying greenhouse supplies when cleaning and reusing bags became a historical artifact. No lofty claims advanced by creative artwork on the package (below left). It is a simple and generic organic mix in a plain white tote which we supplement on our own by adding some bonemeal, kelp, humic acid and supplemental wetting agent.

A tote of organic potting mix from OBC Northwest.

The wetting agent allowed in organic farming is derived from yucca and is a very important component of the mix. In soilless potting mixes, the yucca extract promotes the even wetting of the peat and compost. At transplanting, it keeps the area around the roots moist so they will grow easily into the surrounding native soil. As the yucca extract is an organic compound, it is perishable, breaking down over time, rendering the mix stale after a few months. At that point it is nearly impossible to resaturate the soilless mix properly. The water just passes through as in a sieve, though it is not obvious that the mix has not absorbed adequate water. Refreshing the wetting agent is an insurance policy. The other problem with last year's mix was low-grade compost. The company was obviously cutting corners to meet demand.  

The peppers and tomatoes are now in the field and look great. The first run of direct sown crops—the corns, beans and chickpeas—are in the ground as well. The rain has come at the right times. Mustard, durum and soft red wheat are sown in November, and are also in fine shape. Sometimes a planting season will, by chance, progress smoothly, much in the same way as a Saturday delivery run when we happen to be in the van for every aria in the Met’s broadcast of La Boheme. Some years, on the other hand, are a challenge, a delivery with no relief from unsatisfying driving music.

Chester blackberries.

The pollination of the perennial fruits occurs April through June. For the small fruits, the crop looks excellent. Prompting us to buy another freezer to increase production of Loganberry and Boysenberry preserves. Plums and apples have a good set. The cherries were in bloom during several frosty nights and the crop is sparse, noncommercial. The Chester blackberry bloom is beginning, the hives were placed last week, and this run of dry, warm weather is helpful.

In early May, we were inspected for compliance with the rules of the National Organic Program (NOP). This is our 20th year as certified organic growers. The first four years preceded the NOP, and compliance was measured against the standards laid out by the International Federation of Organic Movements (IFOAM). Every few years, the certifying agency decides they need to bust you for something. Predictable and infuriating, but nothing personal.

Marionberries.

This year, our certifier decided that we needed to have an Organic Handler Plan in addition to the Organic Crop Plan. Never mind that every crop we sell is grown by us, and every detail required in the handling plan is already covered in the crop plan, making the handler plan a pointless redundancy. As an aside, it is very hard to be a commercial farmer who does not handle the crops they grow. For 19 years this was deemed sensible by a succession of reviewers and inspectors, but now it is obvious to a new inspector that has never seen seen our farm that we might be perpetuating an epic fraud.

With a well-articulated snarl, the handler plan was submitted. Apparently, a big potential for fraud was averted as a result. Now we have to put a sticker in the bags denoting the lot number. Simply adding “Lot number 2018” will placate the bean counters. Without a handler plan, this fraud preventing measure would have gone uncorrected. Navigating life, it is best not to get hung up on these arbitrary indignities.

We will be scheduling some open days again this year, coinciding with the early cane berry ripening, the first week for the Chesters, early September for the Astianas and grapes, an early October date, culminating with days before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In between, Josh Alsberg at Rubinette Produce (2340 NE Sandy) maintains a good selection of our goods—fresh and dry. Jim Dixon at Real Good Food also carries some odds and ends in his new store on NE Couch at 10th.