Thursday, December 08, 2016

Gleaning Cocktail Ingredients

Portland can be a funny place, and I'm not saying that with a "Keep Portland Weird" smirk. Stroll through any neighborhood in town from late summer to early fall and you'll see fallen prunes, plums and apples smearing sidewalks. This time of year persimmons glow like orange lanterns from trees planted decades ago.

Persimmons in vodka.

Some of those fruit trees were left when the east side of the river, much of it consisting of farms and orchard land, was developed for housing in the early part of the 1900s. Other fruit trees, like cherries, prunes, quince and plums, were planted as street trees back when families had large gardens and preserved the fruit and vegetables they grew to use in the lean days of winter.

With the emergence of large supermarkets that stock fresh greens and fruit year round—not to mention women needing to get full-time jobs to support their families—big gardens gave way to landscaping, and the pantries stocked with row upon row of fruit, vegetables, tomatoes and preserves were torn out. Sadly, this meant that the skills to do all that preserving were also lost in many families like mine, though they're now being rediscovered through books, classes and online videos.

Quince in vodka.

Another way of preserving fruit, aside from submerging it in sugar syrup and "putting up" jars in the pantry, was to make liqueurs and infusions. I've now done that with quince, green walnuts, black currants and persimmons, and it's always fun to pull out a few of these colorful containers to share with friends as an after-dinner digestif. They also make great gifts decanted into small bottles available in most kitchen supply stores.

But aside from sippers and hostess gifts, they're also great mixers in cocktails. The persimmon-infused vodka I made from foraged fruit last year pairs particularly well with brown liquors like bourbon and rye. This is a cocktail that Dave created the other night, and I hope that one winter's day you'll consider making your own infused liqueur when you see those glowing orange orbs dangling from a tree.

Good Fuyu #2

2 oz. rye
1 oz. persimmon-infused vodka
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill cocktail mixing glass half full of ice. Add ingredients and stir 30 seconds until well-chilled. Strain into cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with amarena cherry.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Great Gifting: Booking It for the Holidays

Several years ago, so long ago, in fact, that the internet was in its infancy—if the browser names Mosaic and Netscape Navigator ring any bells, you're in the right era—where carrying a powerful computer around in your hip pocket, one that could answer virtually any question within seconds, was a concept left to science fiction fantasists, and people at dinner parties had to scour actual books to settle arguments about the name of the guy who was in that movie or else argue for hours over the name of the dog that was sent into orbit by the Russians (Laika, for those who care).

A well-loved (and well-marked) book.

Our house was pretty handy for situations requiring reference material, so much so that one visitor dubbed it "the house of books" for the piles that were—and still are—a major part of our living room decor. So when the holidays roll around it's no surprise that books will fill many slots on our gift lists, both for receiving and giving. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite food-centric tomes ideal for the bookish on your list. And feel free to add your own pick by clicking on the comments link below!

Buck Buck Moose by Hank Shaw. The third book by this self-described "hunter, angler, gardener, cook"—who is a superb writer on those topics as well as a good friend of mine—is a thorough compendium of hunting, cooking and eating "antlered things." Perfect for hunters, it's also a thoughtful treatise on how these animals are deeply intertwined with our history as a species. Carnivorous cooks will appreciate it, too, since his meticulously tested recipes are great even if you can't easily obtain venison—simply substitute beef, lamb or pork.

Life Without a Recipe by Diana Abu Jaber. Memoirs are slippery beasts, the good ones treading the fine lines between tell-all and tight-lipped, between my-life-is-so-fabulous and Blanche Dubois, cringe-inducing drama. Abu Jaber, a professor of writing and literature who splits her time between Portland and Florida, writes with skill about growing up the daughter of an American mother, a Jordanian father and a powerhouse of a German grandmother. In this, her second, memoir, she continues the journey she began in The Language Of Baklava, weaving "a book of love, death and cake."

Better from Scratch and Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning. Prolific writer and author of cookbooks on subjects ranging from how to cook for a mixed-diet family to fixing easy weeknight vegetarian meals to one of the best farmers' market cookbooks around, these two slim volumes are packed with recipes so good they're already as well-thumbed as my grandmother's Joy of Cooking. Better from Scratch will stun you with how easy it is to make things you usually buy from the store—often for a premium price—like granola, beef jerky, graham crackers and kimchi. Ditto for Crackers and Dips, where you'll have fun, spend less and enjoy crunchy, sweet and savory treats made from whole grains, real butter, cheese, fresh spices and no preservatives.

Oysters and Crab by Cynthia Nims. Seattle writer and cookbook author Nims is passionate about the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, especially the creatures pulled from the depths of the waters off our own West Coast. In Oysters she describes in detail the biology of these amazing shellfish and how they help purify the waters they live in. She then moves on to suggest the best methods of buying, cooking (or not!) and eating them, with more than 30 recipes. Our West Coast Dungeness is the star of Crab, but she also covers its Atlantic and Gulf Coast cousins, delving into the history and importance of the commercial fishing industry, then quickly moving on to how to buy, clean and—with more than 50 recipes—how to cook these beauties.

My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham. This book by Portland beer writer Burningham has a long but delightful descriptor: "Adventures with hop farmers, craft brewers, chefs, beer sommeliers, and fanatical drinkers as a Beer Master in training." With wit (as well as Wit), it describes how this young writer and mom fell in love with beer to the point where she decided to become a Certified Ciccerone, going through the rigorous and arcane training and testing regimen to become a beer expert. (And you just thought knowing an IPA from a Porter made you that, right?) Full of character and plenty of characters, its a great book for the beer fanatic in your life.

Pure Beef by Lynne Curry. The current dietary advice, as Michael Pollan famously said, is to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But if we are going to eat protein, its important to eat animals raised humanely, with their feet on the earth and the sun on their backs. In other words, pasture-raised animals rather than those raised in crowded, confined conditions requiring daily doses of antibiotics to survive. To that end, I heartily recommend Joseph, Oregon, writer Lynne Curry's book on buying, cooking and eating grass-fed beef, an incredibly well-researched and thoroughly recipe-tested primer on how to get the most delicious results possible from these tasty beasts.

Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Dividing her time between a home on the coast of Maine and an olive farm in Tuscany, Jenkins shares her contagious passion for the flavors of the Mediterranean, a diet she is convinced is one of the most healthful and flavorful on the planet. I've tried several recipes from this book, and I can't argue with that premise.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. If you have a bread baker in your life, or someone who's interested in learning to make bread, I can't recommend this book highly enough. My husband worked for two years to make what he considered the perfect artisan loaf, and was frustrated with what he felt were mediocre results until friends got him this book. It was a game-changer, and it apparently has some pretty good recipes for other good things to eat, though those pages remain remarkably unthumbed around here.

James Beard: A Biography by Robert Clark. As a fifth-generation Oregonian, I thought I knew plenty about native son James Beard. That is, until I read this biography of this world-famous cook, eater and bon vivant. A truly fascinating character in his own right, it follows Beard's upbringing in Portland in the late 1800s, his escape from his controlling-yet-supportive mother to New York and Europe and his lifelong love affair with the flavors and ingredients of the Northwest. In addition, it follows the evolution of the American palate with discussions that add depth and nuance to Beard's at times tragic yet joyful journey.

Monday, November 28, 2016

One (Big) Squash + Two Pie Recipes = Yum!

It just so happened that Thanksgiving this year coincided with the cooking of a giant—I am not exaggerating, it was a more-than-twenty-pounder prior to slaughter—Musquée de Provence squash. Though I fully intended to bake it at some point, it provided a lovely front porch decoration during Halloween with its bronzed, almost metallic-looking sheen, dramatic striated ribs and sculptured stem.

I'm a huge fan of buying whole squash, whether Hubbard or Sibley or the Northwest's own Lower Salmon River variety. And size is no deterrent (see above). All I needed was a sharp chef's knife and a sturdy cutting board—remember, these monsters are hollow inside, so you can insert the knife at the stem, push it all the way through the bottom, then with steady pressure push the knife down. I generally slice them into halves to clean them, then section them for roasting. (In a 400-degree oven the slices soften like butter, usually within an hour.)

The unroasted flesh of Cucurbita moschata (the Latin name of this squash; also called "Potiron Bronze de Montlhery"…ooh la la!) is quite sweet, and it has a lighter texture than its cousins the acorn and butternut squashes, but with a more intense flavor than either of those, and a gorgeous, red-orange color. Roasted, it maintains its sweetness and its color, which works well with a lime-inflected soup and is perfectly suited for desserts like pie or cheesecake.

I used about a quarter of the roasted squash for a soup, then froze the rest in three zip-lock freezer bags, knowing I'd pull out two of them for pies at Thanksgiving. I'd cobbled together a recipe from researching squash pies in books and online, but found that most squash pie recipes call for puréed pumpkin or butternut. The Musquée's flesh is much more moist, so I knew I needed to cut back on any added liquid.

The second recipe I tried was from a friend who is a professional baker here in Portland, a squash pie that came from a French chef she'd worked with who hated American food. "Hilariously enough," she said, "it's a variation on the recipe from the Libby's can!"

The recipes were almost identical, with only a couple of minor variations, and for the Musquée squash I think the recipe below works well. I can't wait to try it on other kinds of squash—helloooo Lower Salmon River, I'm talkin' to you—and taste the differences between them. And I'm pretty darn sure my family won't mind me using them as testers in the process.

Squash (Pumpkin) Pie

For the crust:
1 unbaked pie crust in a 9" pie pan (recipe here)
Egg white

For the filling:
3 c. roasted Musquée de Provence squash
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. heavy cream or whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Purée squash in food processor until smooth. Pour into large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Brush the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of egg white (I use my hands for this so I can feel if there are dry spots.) Pour squash mixture into the crust. Bake 1 hour. Test for doneness by inserting a sharp knife. If it doesn't come out clean, reduce heat to 300° and continue baking until set.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Future of Our Food: New York Times Looks West

The New York Times panel described below was held on October 5, 2016, a month before the recent election, but brought out some key insights that I hope to explore in future posts in this series. Installments over the next few months will include interviews with farmers, food activists, plant breeders and policy wonks to try to get a handle on the seismic shift in our local food landscape due to the change of administrations in Washington.

The New York Times has been fascinated with Portland for years now, featuring it as a travel destination, for sure, but mostly focused on watching its food and restaurant scene evolve from a backwater of middle class meh to a powerhouse of groundbreaking local, seasonal, chef-driven cuisine. In its own transition from a national newspaper to a national media corporation, the Times has been expanding its New York-centric, issues-based series called Times Talks to a more national platform.

Recently it brought this form of live journalism to Portland, sending out Times national food correspondent Kim Severson to moderate a panel titled "The Future of Food in Portland.” The panel featured local food notables Piper Davis of Grand Central Bakery; Kanth Gopalpur of the Business Oregon Commission; chef Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s and Tusk; and Amanda Oborne, Vice President of Food and Farms at Ecotrust.

In an interview before the event I asked Severson why the Times chose to come to Portland.

"I’m just fascinated with where Portland is going to go now," she said. "Because [the city] got really cute and we all fell in love with it. Portland was like a really attractive 20-year-old college sophomore with a great life. But now what?"

Echoing that question after introducing her panelists, she opened the discussion asking if it wasn't time for Portland to mature a little bit.

"It all goes back to Colin the chicken," Piper Davis answered, referring to a much-joked-about sketch on the TV series "Portlandia" where two foodies pester their server with questions about their entrée. "Those of us who care where our food comes from can no longer ask that question." Instead, she said, the concern has shifted in her mind: Did this food leave the soil in better condition than it started?

"Major problems still need to be solved," she continued, saying that the national perception is that most of the work is done, when in reality people aren't talking about the gaps in the food system when it comes to the environment, sustainability and universal access to good food regardless of income or where a person lives.

Severson then turned to Josh McFadden and asked him about the city's "cheffy culture," asking how its Olympic-level chef game will affect Portland's producer-driven reputation.

Answering that he initially moved back to Portland from stints in San Francisco, Chicago and New York because of the people more than the food scene here, he said he found that "the product is as good or better than anyplace else," and that local farmers like Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm and John Eveland and Sally Brewer of Gathering Together Farm are producing innovative crops at the highest level.

Severson herself is no stranger to the Northwest, having lived in the region and worked for newspapers in Seattle, Anchorage and right here in Portland during a short stint at the Oregonian.

In our interview I asked what differentiates the Northwest and its food from that found in the rest of the country. She paused.

"There’s just something about the mix of the ruggedness of the place and the purity of the raw ingredients here," she said. "The most memorable things I’ve eaten come from the Northwest."

She added that when she was working in Alaska she got sick of salmon, referring to it as "the zucchini of Alaska." But having been away for decades now, and with wild-caught salmon a rare thing to find on the East Coast, she had an epiphany.

"Last night [at a Portland restaurant] I had a beautiful, perfectly seared piece of wild salmon," she said. "It was like heaven to me and, especially on the East Coast, the beauty of wild salmon—I know it sounds so cliché and terrible even as I’m saying it—but it’s spectacular."

Bottom line?

"I think your baseline of deliciousness is very high here," Severson said. "Your baseline, how good food that grows around here tastes, I think that’s exceptional. Exceptional."

In the South, where Severson is now based, she said, "There’s some really great produce, but it’s so crazy hot it’s tricky to grow stuff there. But there’s something very clean about it here that other places don’t have. There’s a freshness here that makes it super special to me."

Any Portland cook can tell you that freshness also has a lot to do with the proximity of local farms to the city's core, a point that was brought up by Grand Central's Piper Davis.

"No one talks about the urban growth boundary and food, but it's critically connected," Davis said of the line drawn around the city in 1980 as a land use planning boundary to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.

Amanda Oborne of Ecotrust, tasked with developing The Redd, an effort in inner Southeast Portland's former produce district designed to support local food enterprises, said that Portland is a city of innovators and, as with the urban growth boundary in the '80s, is still experimenting with ideas to provide services to make food more accessible and sustainable.

"The Redd is not about the food scene, it's about the food system," she said of what is envisioned as a working hub for the regional food system.

It's an idea that Severson echoed in our interview as a distinguishing characteristic of the city.

"The ability to make things happen in this city, foodwise, the potential [that] if you have an idea you can probably make it happen, is exciting," she said, attributing it to both the city's size and its culture.

"There’s not a lot of people who say no here," Severson mused. "It’s a function of size, of culture and people who are, like, 'Huh, you wanna like have a chicken-powered ancient grain mill and coffee shop? That could be cool.'"

One thing that surprised her, in a city so well known for its food culture, is that there is no food council here to direct, support and develop food policy for Portland, Multnomah County or the metro region. [The now-defunct Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council served as a citizen-based advisory board to the City of Portland and Multnomah County from 2002-2012 and was dissolved in 2012 due to "lacking relevancy."]

As to the future, Severson seemed of two minds about where the Northwest is headed. "You certainly saw Berkeley get very popular, [but] San Francisco and Northern California cuisine is very hidebound," she said of larger West Coast cities known for innovation in the past but hampered by stagnation and the cost of doing business there. "Maybe Portland can do it differently."

Read the first installment in this series: Post-Election Pondering.

Top photo from The New York Times: (l to r) Josh McFadden, Kanth Gopalpur, Kim Severson, Amanda Oborne, Piper Davis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stave Off Chilly Weather with Beef Stew

One of the original reasons for starting this blog was to save recipes I'd made (and liked) and to have an easy way to look them up. Well, after ten-plus years and nearly 450 recipes later, I've got quite the stash!

Still, sometimes I'll go to search for a particular favorite just to make sure I've got all the ingredients I need for dinner that night and…oops…I'll realize that I never posted it here. So then I go to my old recipe box (left) and hope against hope that at some point in the pre-digital past—you know, like when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people still argued over who was the guy in that movie—I had scribbled it on a 3" by 5" card and filed it under the correct category. Or if that doesn't reveal my prey, then it's searching online to find a recipe that'll approximate what I'm looking for, always a risky proposition.

Luckily, in the case of my favorite beef stew recipe, the card was in the box and was even filed under "Fish and Meats," just behind artichoke chicken casserole and in front of smoked salmon pasta. Originally a women's magazine recipe that my mother tore out of a Better Homes and Gardens circa 1976 (yes, that's noted on the file card, too), I'd copied it down in case I needed a big, meaty, company's-coming dish to haul out for a special occasion.

She'd made it many times for just such eventualities, whether a church supper or to impress a business associate that my father was bringing home, one of those hearty one-dish dinners that would always be a guaranteed rave-inducer. See why I wanted to find it? And now that it's here, I'm hoping you'll find it as satisfying and useful as my mother did, and I always do.

Mom's Beef Stew

4 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 1" pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 c. flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme or tarragon
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 c. carrots, sliced into rounds
2 1/2 c. dry red wine
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. each thyme and basil
3 medium potatoes, sliced into 3/4" or so cubes (other root vegetables work great, too)
Salt to taste

In paper bag or gallon zip-lock plastic bag, place flour, salt, pepper and teaspoon of herbs. Shake to combine.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. While oil heats, add beef cubes, eight or so at a time, to the flour mixture in the bag and shake to coat them. When the oil shimmers, add the coated beef cubes to the pot, adding more floured cubes and browning them. Make sure you don't crowd the beef, though, or you'll end up steaming them in juice rather than browning them. As they brown, remove them from the pot to a platter, and add more floured beef cubes to the pot.

When all the beef has been browned and has been removed to the platter, add the onions and garlic to the pot, scraping up the browned bits of flour from the bottom as the vegetables sauté. When they're tender, add the meat back to the pot along with the carrots, wine, bay leaves and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for one hour. At that point, if it seems too dry, add another half-cup or so of wine. Add cubed potatoes to the pot and continue simmering for an additional hour or more until the beef is completely tender.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Oregon's Czarnecki Family: Four Generations of Mushroom Hunters

"My best memories growing up were foraging with the whole family, making a day of it," says Chris. "For us it’s always been about more than just putting food on the table. It’s getting out in the woods, being with nature."

The video above and the story that accompanies it, by writer Kerry Newberry for Travel Oregon, celebrates one of my favorite Oregon families, the Czarneckis. Jack (left), the patriarch of the clan, introduced me to mushroom foraging years ago, and I still relish a call to head up to Mt. Hood or over to the coast range to spend the day with this tireless man who sprints up and down Oregon's steep, forested hillsides like a deer.

Read more about my foraging adventures with him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Future of Our Food: Post-Election Pondering

It seems like almost everyone, from pollsters to pundits to journalists to voters and non-voters alike, was taken by surprise by the results of this week's election. For myself, I'm still trying to get my brain to form synapses that connect a reality TV celebrity, accused sexual predator, racist and President-elect of the United States into a coherent whole. So far it eludes me.

How it's all going to shake out, well, that's the big question, isn't it?

Farmer supporting ban on GMO crops in Jackson Co.

Given that the Republican party habitually takes a hard right in the direction of industry, and with both houses of Congress and the White House in Republican hands, it stands to reason that a Trump administration will be pretty industry-heavy. Including in the food and agriculture sectors, where, according to an article in the magazine Modern Farmer, his list of 65 agriculture advisors is "a who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates, including senators, governors, state ag commissioners and agribusiness executives," going on to point out that "it’s safe to say that the Trump ag team supports feedlots over farmers' markets."

Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).

So I've decided to put together my own list of "advisors" and ask them what we can expect going forward under this new administration and what, if anything, we need to be doing about it. What are the major issues? Who should we be paying attention to? What questions should we be asking?

The series will be called, as it is above, The Future of Our Food, and it'll start with a report on a recent New York Times LookWest panel I attended before the election titled, coincidentally, "The Future of Food in Portland" moderated by New York Times staff food writer Kim Severson. Other installments over the next few months will include interviews with farmers, food activists, plant breeders and policy wonks to try to get a handle on this seismic shift in our food landscape.

Read the second installment in this series: New York Times Looks West.

Monday, November 07, 2016

A Pot of Soup Will Carry Us Through

I don't know about you, but when I get stressed I crave comfort. And believe me, this election has me more than a little freaked out. Without getting all screamy about the politics of the race or the possibility that we could have a madman in the White House with the nuclear codes…um…uh…okay, stay on track…I'm planning on being glued to the coverage on election night with a big pot of soup on the stove and lots of Dave's awesome homemade sourdough on hand for sopping.

A musquée de Provence squash is made for soup.

Hey, it beats curling up in a ball in bed with the covers over my head and pretending it's all been a bad dream, right?

Truthfully, I'm looking forward to shouting and screaming and jumping up and down when the country votes to elect our first woman president. But since we still need to eat, here's a recipe for a curried squash soup that will calm and comfort, especially if you have a big loaf of artisan bread standing by for some sopping.

Election Night Curried Squash Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp.-1 Tbsp. harissa, depending on your heat tolerance, or 1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 13 1/2 oz. can coconut milk
2-4 c. water or chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of the two)
4 c. roasted squash, cut in 1" cubes
1 kaffir lime leaf (optional)
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime

In a large soup pot, heat oil until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add curry powder and sauté for 1 minute. Add harissa, coconut milk, water and/or stock, squash, lime leaf, lime zest and juice. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lime leaf and discard. Purée with immersion blender until smooth. (This can also be done in batches in a blender or food processor, but cool it slightly first or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Farm Bulletin: The Ave Bruma Project

As a casual consumer, I go to the farmers' market or the store with my grocery list in hand, picking out the most appealing representatives to take home for my table. It doesn't occur to me that the fruits, vegetables and grains I'm packing in my basket were painstakingly developed over years, even decades, of careful breeding and maintenance. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is in the midst of such an endeavor with a variety of winter melon and, thirteen years after first planting them and three years after reviving his efforts, is just beginning to get results he's happy with.

In 2003 we planted some storage melons, variously referred to as winter, Christmas or Valencia melons. They have a hard, dark green, corrugated rind with yellow-green to pink flesh. They are true melons and not related to the Asian wax gourd, confusingly called a winter melon as well. This sort of melon is grown in Spain where they have long been an export crop, and southern Italy where they are stored hanging under the eaves. Last February, Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50 sent us a photo of these melons stylishly hanging under the eaves of a fruit stall in Naples.

Winter melon display in Naples.

It is an old and patient style of melon that has been nudged aside for no good reason. They made an early appearance in America; President Thomas Jefferson grew them in his garden. As Fearing Burr noted in The Field and Garden Vegetables of America (1865), the Green Valencia melon is "…upon the whole, if fully ripened, a more desirable melon than many summer varieties." We concur, and more welcome given the season. The flavor of the melon improves in storage just like the best of the winter squash. Akin to winter squash, think of melons as living tropical plants and refrigeration as the fastest way to kill them. Storage at room temperature with good air circulation is perfect.

We sold winter melons at the Thanksgiving market that year. At the time field area and storage space on the farm were severely constrained as we were increasing our plantings of corn and beans, so the next year we dropped them from our crop list as an unnecessary distraction. Years later, people were still asking after those melons, leaving them lingering on the maybe-to-do-sometime list.

The new harvest shed gave us the storage space needed and we decided to try the melons again in 2013. As we looked at the maturing melons and later as we tasted them, it was clear that over the decade the seed quality had dropped precipitously. There were many smooth or light green off types, a large number of fruits split in the field, the flavor and texture was all over the map, some verging towards a mediocre cucumber in flavor or grainy in texture, and most of the fruits rotted before Thanksgiving. Basically a stinking disaster, which is what happens when seed companies forget the crop is a living organism that needs care and maintenance of its traits; just because a fruit makes seeds does not mean they are worth planting. Fortunately a handful of fruits were as we remembered so happily.

The approved melon seeds.

Using seeds from those fruits, we planted the melons again in 2014 and resolved to fix the problems. Our design brief for the project was simple. We wanted dense, mostly round and very dark green fruits with a hard wrinkled skin. The fruits should store in good condition for at least three months, ideally beyond the Winter Solstice, our brumal target, and have substantial flavor. That autumn, Sam Smith and the staff of Ava Gene's visited the farm and they tasted a sample of a really good specimen. Sam wanted the melon in the restaurant and made inquiries with impressive persistence. Thinking about it, we decided that sitting down and sampling 70 or so melons that didn't rot and then composting the remains seemed a bit of a tall task and a waste to boot. As the solstice approached and the first part of the rigorous selection protocol was finished, I emailed Sam:

"Here is my proposition. I will deliver all of the melons I have to you gratis. I would like you and your staff to separate out the seed of the melons you would want to buy next year, each fruit's seed in a separate bag. I am focusing on flavor and texture, and they don't all have to be the same, just really good. All you have to do is rinse the seeds, pat dry and put in the refrigerator; Carol and I will finish the drying here. Some of the melons may be fine, but not great enough to want to buy next year, and those seeds can be tossed. Use the flesh for a melon granita or cocktail, but leave nothing for posterity. This would be a great help and add to the story of what we end up with. If you are interested, I will drop them off next week."

Sam and his staff embraced the idea of this partnership. After Christmas, we collected the seed they selected, along with tasting notes. Just six melons, less than 10% of those we delivered, met the threshold in terms of flavor. Three more lots were from the fruits we set aside for our own consumption, so we had seed from nine fruits in all after starting with 150.

The children's melon.

In the spring of 2015, we started melons using an equal number of seeds from each fruit, assuring the population in the field included progeny from all of the selected fruits, no morsel of deliciousness overlooked or underrepresented. There was a dramatic improvement in storage life, but still a bit too much noise in the flavor profile. We reprised the Ava Gene's grand giveaway last winter, with 22 fruits deemed good, and six noted as exceptional. On a snowy January 4th with two grandchildren underfoot because of a cancelled flight, we opened one of the last fruits as a diversionary treat and it was still perfect. It went into the grex as the "children's melon." This year, Sam, now at Tusk, will have to buy his melons. However, we are very grateful for the assistance the staff at Ava Gene's provided.

As we noted, seed producers need to select for good traits, and against undesirable mutations or reversions to the wild type. For example, wild members of the family split open at maturity to shed their seeds, and their flesh is fibrous, bitter and often toxic. Like other cultivated plants, the melon is selected from plants where these traits are unexpressed, but they remain in the genome. We call our breeding efforts "projects" to remind us that the work is ongoing, and roguing out poor quality fruits is essential to the seed production endeavor.

As you taste the fruits bear in mind this is a work in progress. It will probably take another four years before we have all the traits close to where we want them. We could wait until we are certain of perfection, however we need to generate some cash flow in order to justify continuing the effort. If you buy a less than sublime fruit, we hope you will think of it as help in funding a worthy project. Oh yes, the project's name Ave Bruma is Latin for "behold the winter solstice," the brumal target we set.

Photo of winter melons in Naples by Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty Fifty. Other photos by Anthony Boutard.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Grate Your Winter Squash!

Being a winter squash fan myself, I can't get enough of these thick-skinned beauties when they begin appearing in the farmers' markets. The ubiquitous Hubbard and acorn squashes are okay, I guess, but I like to wait for the giant Sibley to turn from blue to peach as it cures, or admire the sculptural bronze beauty of a Musquée de Provence. Even a warty Marina di Chioggia, with its bumpy blue-green skin, makes a stunning centerpiece until its time to serve it. This week Jim Dixon of Real Good Food gives some suggestions for doing just that.

Grating winter squash is such a good way to take advantage of the abundance of squashes available in stores and at the farmers' markets right now. While smaller, thin-skinned squash like Delicatas can be cleaned, sliced and cooked without peeling, the bigger, pumpkin-y squashes require a bit more processing. These Cucurbita maxima (usually, but not always, the big ones; Delicatas and similar are C. pepo) need to be split with a big knife, cleaned of the seeds (save for roasting) and cut into manageable pieces. Even a smallish, three-to-four-pound squash gives you enough for a couple of meals.

So after you roast a few slices and make something like winter squash caponata, you'll probably have raw squash left over. Time to grate. While you can use a box grater, a food processor works much better. Besides being fast, the grating disk gives nice, uniform shreds. Try cooking a handful in hot olive oil until they get a little brown and eating with just good salt. I use it raw to make a celery root and squash remoulade; mixed with potatoes (or by itself), grated winter squash makes a great latke. And there's always fritters. You can freeze the grated raw squash, too.

Winter Squash and Cabbage with Walnuts

I've made this using cubes of winter squash (cut about 1/2 inch, cook in oil until brown and slightly tender), but I like it better like this. To get started toast a handful of walnuts, chop coarsely, and set aside.

Cook a couple of cups of grated winter squash and a good pinch of salt in fairly hot olive oil until it starts to brown. Add a sliced red onion and a couple cloves of chopped garlic, cook until it softens, then add about a quarter head of chopped green cabbage. Sage and squash are a classic combination, so add 6-8 fresh sage leaves that you've chopped. When the vegetables are tender, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a tablespoon or two of Katz Trio red wine vinegar, the walnuts, and about 3 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Grind some black pepper over it, too.

You can eat this as a vegetable side or toss it with some shaped pasta.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wild Chanterelles Mean Great Meals This Winter

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I follow a few foragers on social media, people like Hank Shaw, Langdon Cook and Monica Wilde. I also have friends who forage professionally, like Jack Czarnecki and his sons Chris and Stefan, of the mushroom-centric Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon. Then there are the myriad chefs, cooks and other folks I know who pull on their wellies and get out in inclement weather to hunt—not pick—our wild edibles.

So when I start seeing photos of wild-foraged chanterelles circulating around the ether, it gets my heart pining to head out into the woods myself with a basket and high hopes. I actually did get to do some foraging this last weekend at Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria on the Oregon coast, but it's more well known for its porcini mushrooms, or boletus edulis, than chanterelles, due to the mix of trees planted on its former sand dunes.

Not that I was complaining about the three pounds of boletes we found there, not at all. (I wouldn't want to tick off the mushroom gods, after all.)

Luckily for Portland folk there are plenty of wild chanterelles available at local farmers' markets and stores—some even have special sale prices—so I've been able to stock up on those chanterelles in case I don't get out in the forest soon enough to catch them at their peak. An hour of roasting in the oven at 400°, draining off the juices a couple of times for the deliriously delicious mushroom stock that'll get used in risottos and chowders, and then popping the roasted mushrooms into zip-lock freezer bags. Then I'll have plenty of braises, soups and other delights to look forward to this winter.

So far we've had chanterelle quesadillas (thanks Kim Severson), a stunning mushroom chowder and last night a coq au vin with roasted yams that blew away any other chicken dish we've had lately. Fast, dead simple and so delicious, it was lucky that there were any leftovers for Dave to take to work for lunch today. Seriously, this is a company-worthy dinner, and would be more than adequate using regular mushrooms. But to send your guests into the stratosphere, invest in a pound of the wild things. You won't regret it.

Coq au Vin with Chanterelles and Roasted Garnet Yams

For the chicken:
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (approx. 10)
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. chanterelles or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or 1 cup pre-roasted mushrooms
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 c. dry white wine
Salt to taste

For the yams:
4 medium-sized garnet yams

Preheat oven to 375°. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Cut yams in quarters. When water boils put yams in boiling water, let it return to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to baking sheet, skin side down. Place in oven and roast for approx. 45 min. or until tender. Turn off oven until chicken is done and serve alongside.

While yams are baking, place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. Heat until oil shimmers, then brown the thighs on both sides in batches, removing to a plate as they're browned. When thighs are browned, add onions to the fat in the pan and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and chanterelles and sauté until tender. Add herbs and stir in, then pour in wine. Put chicken thighs into the pan with the vegetables and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Watch Oregon's Food System Changing!

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Want to Reverse Climate Change? Have a Beer!

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

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

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


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

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

Kernza has an impressive root system.

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

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

Hopworks production manager Justin Miller.

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

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

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

The final product.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Hunker Down Eating"

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

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

Tree toppled in windstorm in Northeast Portland.

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

Basic Braised Greens

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

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

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

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Autumn Field Choreography

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scrambled Eggs, Meet Chilaquiles

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

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

My mother's cast iron skillet.

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

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

Beautiful tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Culinary Breeding Network Adds Flavor Back In Food

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

Lane Selman.

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

And they'd be right.

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

Cucumber varieties.

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

Andrew Still of Adaptive Seeds talks flavor.

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

A jaunty Anthony Boutard with his fava bean stew.

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

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

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