Friday, October 31, 2014

Farm Fresh Veggies All Winter…Who Knew?

maritime climate: Climate typical of the west coasts at the middle latitudes of most continents, generally featuring warm (but not hot) summers and cool (but not cold) winters, with a relatively narrow annual temperature range. It typically lacks a dry season, as precipitation is more evenly dispersed throughout the year.*

For growing vegetables year-round, you can't really beat the Northwest's relatively mild temperature range. Sure, we could have the warmer and drier climate of California's productive Central Valley, but then, really, would you want to live there rather than here? I thought not!

Celery root, aka celeriac.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is where to get the freshest, best produce all winter long and, to add the icing on the proverbial cake, at the same time support local family farmers. I'm talking about our winter farmers' markets (see list, below) and a good number of terrific winter CSAs.

Musquée de Provence squash.

Yes, I said "winter CSAs," a relatively recent phenomenon that has become an important source of year-round revenue for farmers and employment for their staffs, as well as a delicious opportunity for those of us who enjoy cooking the best the season has to offer.

A good list of local CSAs is available at the Portland Area CSA Coalition (call to inquire if subscriptions are available). For those of you who may feel inadequate when faced with squash, kohlrabi or celeriac, the winter CSAs from 47th Avenue Farm, Sauvie Island Organics and Minto Island Growers feature the added benefit of a free subscription to Katherine Deumling's Seasonal Recipe Collection.

Portland Metro Winter Farmers' Markets
* From Wikipedia

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oregon's GMO Labeling Battle: One Week to Go

First of all: please vote.

Second? Vote, dammit!

Okay, now that we have that out of the way: My family voted last week, as we usually do, sitting around the dining room table after dinner with the voter's pamphlet and our ballots, pointing at the ridiculous pictures ("Look, a pirate's running for Representative. Awesome!"), decoding the screamy endorsements then dropping our ballots off at the local public library. So now I'm going to jump into the fray and tell you why I voted for Measure 92 to require labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients.

Luckily we only watch television shows online, so aren't subjected to the overwhelming barrage of ads talking about how the earth is going to spin backwards on its axis and life as we know it will end if the measure does or does not pass. (Though the barrage of ads for pharmaceuticals, cars and cleaning products have nearly the same deadening effect.) And since I'm not going to out my family members here, I'll just talk about my own reasons.

My first reason is, of course, a selfish one. I want to know what goes into the food I buy and feed my own family. For me, labeling will help me make decisions about which products I want to buy and which I'd rather not purchase. Labels like "certified organic" and certification from the Non-GMO Project help me to know what I'm thinking about buying, but getting those certifications is voluntary and costs a lot of money. Companies that don't want to disclose that information simply don't have to, hiding behind other labels like "natural" or "sustainable."

Now, my own feelings about what I feed my family shouldn't be the standard for the rest of the world (though everyone would be so much better off if they'd just listen to me), but, as is pointed out in a Washington Post article titled "The GMO Debate: 5 Things to Stop Arguing About," there's my concern that the use of genetically modified crops in agriculture has caused an increase of tsunami-like proportions in the use of pesticides, and that "we need to start building more transparency into our agricultural system so consumers can vote with their wallets for the kind of system they want to see." Amen.

Further, an article by Tom Philpott in Mother Jones magazine said that in a just-released paper published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Sciences Europe, by Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, "GMO technology 'drove up herbicide use by 527 million pounds, or about 11 percent, between 1996 (when [Monsanto’s] Roundup Ready crops first hit farm fields) and 2011.'" The article continues: “But then weeds started to develop resistance to Roundup, pushing farmers to apply higher per-acre rates. In 2002, farmers using Roundup Ready soybeans jacked up their Roundup application rates by 21 percent, triggering a 19 million pound overall increase in Roundup use."

And “by 2011, farms using Roundup Ready seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops," Benbrook is quoted as saying. By that time, "'in all three crops [corn, soy, and cotton], resistant weeds had fully kicked in,' Benbrook said, and farmers were responding both by ramping up use of Roundup and resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D."

All those pesticides don't just disappear in a puff of non-toxic smoke. They're seeping into the soil and the groundwater, washing into our rivers and streams, being blown by the wind and carried by birds, insects and passing traffic and ending up in the oceans. Not to mention that genetically modified crops can cross-pollinate with organic crops of the same species, potentially costing organic farmers their certification, as well as a loss of income from that contaminated crop.

If I can help to stem this tide of pesticides and other damages by filling my grocery bag with products that don't contain genetically modified organisms, then I'd like to do that. But first those products would have to be labeled, wouldn't they?

More reading:

"More Money, Fewer Facts: Final Week of Oregon's GMO Labeling Race" by Hannah Wallace truth-checks some claims being bandied about in commercials and materials.

Top photo from Oregon Right to Know.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gathering Together Farm: Growing for 27 Years

"I still go to the markets because I love talking to people about food."
- John Eveland, Gathering Together Farm

On a quiet stretch of the Marys River just outside Corvallis in the tiny town of Philomath, John Eveland (top photo) and his wife, Sally Brewer, are running a certified organic farm on a combination of rented parcels and land that's been bought from neighbors over the past 27 years. John estimates that in 2014, total sales at their Gathering Together Farm will top two million dollars between 12 farmers' markets—three in Corvallis, six in Portland, the Beaverton Farmers Market and two at the coast—a year-round CSA, wholesale customers, restaurant customers and the farmstand and restaurant on the property.

John checking a hoophouse.

John and Sally don't get to keep all that money, of course, since, aside from hard costs, at the peak of harvest season John signs 128 full and part-time paychecks every month and even in the slower winter months he employs a crew of 40. The farm has two managers, Rodrigo Garcia and Joelene Jebbia; a chef, J.C. Mersmann, who runs the farm restaurant and catering arm; as well as an HR department.

All this started on just two acres of land in 1984. It wasn't meant to be more than that, originally, just enough to supply the vegetarian restaurant, Nearly Normal's, that John, his first wife and three friends started in Corvallis in 1980. Dissatisfied with the quality of vegetables they could get from distributors, a group of them decided to try to become farmers and grow their own. The other partners found it a bit more of a commitment than they anticipated and dropped out, leaving John and his first wife (and eventually him and Sally), to manage the new farm on their own.

Year-round markets were a game-changer.

John said that, unlike today when we have a rainbow of heirloom vegetables to choose from, back in those early days carrots came in one color, orange, and tomatoes were big red slicers, mostly beefsteaks. From the beginning the farm used hoop houses, a series of plastic-covered hoops set over rows of crops, to extend their growing season, but things would pretty much shut down in November until planting season began again in January.

"The game has changed with winter markets," he said, and more varieties of cold-tolerant crops that do well in the maritime Northwest made it possible to keep plants in the ground through the winter. But what really pushed Gathering Together Farm into its current year-round status was that his crew needed full time employment to stay in the area, so the farm now grows leeks ("They're bullet-proof," Eveland said.), turnips, rutabagas,  parsnips, kale and a popular winter salad mix, with more added every year.

The covered patio at the restaurant at the farmstand.

Plus, he said, "People are a lot more sophisticated in terms of their taste and what they're looking for." Unlike the old days where shoppers would turn up their noses at root vegetables or anything that wasn't a standard shape, he said they're now willing to try new things and buy non-uniform vegetables. And for those crops that might have blemishes but are otherwise perfectly good to eat, the farm has developed what are called "value-added" products like salsas, jams, pickles and sauces.

Delicatas are perfect for soup (recipe below).

Now pushing 66 years old, Eveland laughed and said he plans to be out in the field until he drops. Turning momentarily serious, he said that it's been critical to develop a staffing structure that provides a pool of expertise and knowledge to keep the farm humming along, especially since he considers himself "a creator, not a maintainer."

Reflecting on nearly three decades of farming, Eveland said it's certainly a much bigger, more complex farm than he would have ever dreamed of back in those early days.

"We're proud of what we've created in the community and the reputation we've earned," he said. "I just hope we've created something solid that makes the world a better place in some small way."

Ricky’s Delectable Delicata Soup
Adapted from Gathering Together Farm

The farm’s CSA coordinator, Hannah, says this is her favorite soup. It comes from Ricky, one of the cooks in the farm’s restaurant.

2 medium onions, julienned
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 leeks, whites only, chopped
8 oz. roasted red peppers
3 small delicata squash or 2 large ones (the flesh should equal 4 cups)
1 qt. vegetable stock (chicken stock works well, too)
1/2 c. cream
Pinch of cayenne
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.

Halve squashes and scoop out seeds. Roast in oven until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 min. Cool and scoop out flesh to make 4 cups. Purée in blender or food processor.

Over medium heat, sauté onions, garlic and leeks until they are softened and glassy.

Add roasted peppers, delicata purée and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add cream, cayenne, lemon juice and salt to taste. Stir well to combine.

Purée the soup in a blender in batches or use an immersion blender. You can also serve it without blending; the finely sliced onions and slivers of pepper make it quite a pretty soup as is.

Note: You can also speed up the process by peeling the delicatas with a vegetable peeler, halving them, scooping out the seeds and chopping them into 1" cubes. Add cubed squash when you add the stock, increase the cooking time to 30 minutes, then purée. This also works with other types of cucurbitaceae like butternut, acorn, etc.

This article was developed in collaboration with the Beaverton Farmers Market, a sponsor of this blog. Top photo of John Eveland by Jake Stangel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

At Ecliptic Brewing, It's Tough To Not Get Starstruck

It's not hard, looking at brewer John Harris, to imagine him as a 10-year-old, laying on his back in the grass gazing up at the stars shimmering in the blackness of the night sky. It's not just his boyish looks that make this leap so easy, especially when he starts explaining each of his beers is named after a different star, moon or astronomical phenomenon. Or that the looping design of the lighting system above the dining room reflects the path of the sun as observed from the dining room, a figure eight shape known as an analemma. Of course, he had to give his brewery an appropriately spacey name, too, and chose Ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere.


Mussels steamed in Spica Hefepils.

But in the two years he spent looking for a building after quitting the job he'd held for 20 years as Brewmaster at Full Sail Brewing, he also knew he wanted more than just a typical brewpub to serve his—and this is no exaggeration, since we're talking about the guy who created such iconic Oregon craft beers as Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, Obsidian Stout and Jubelale—exceptional lineup of beers. Not for him the usual pub menu consisting of half-hearted hummus plates, hamburgers or pizza. He went looking for a chef who could create a menu that would measure up to the exceptional quality of the beer he was making, who would be as committed to the quality of the ingredients in the food as Harris himself was to the ingredients going into his beer.

Confit drumsticks. In a pub. Yowza.

It's interesting, to say the least, especially in food-crazed Portland, that the idea of a chef in a brewpub is practically unheard of. I'm sure Harris ran into his fair share of rolling eyes and shaking heads when he said that was what he wanted to do, but from my visits to the pub since it opened and from a media event to unveil the new fall menu, he's found a complementary vision in the food that Executive Chef Michael Molitor (on the right, top photo) is cranking out of the kitchen. The menu is set to rotate every six weeks on—get this—"the Old World calendar" dates for Samhain, Winter Solstice, Bridgid, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas and the Autumnal Equinox. (It's so nerdy, I love it.)

Pan-roasted chicken with red pepper vinaigrette.

While not hoity-toity in execution—this is food meant to go with Harris's hearty Northwest microbrews, after all—it is exceptional in that it's far more than breaded, fried and (heavily) salted pub grub. Take, for instance, the appetizers presented at the tasting mentioned above. Yes, they do have fries, but these are thin, crispy and served hot with aioli. The mussels are steamed in roasted tomatoes and Spica Hefepils, then topped with shaved bonito. There's a choice of a Caesar-esque romaine and treviso salad overlaid with a slice of pecorino or an endive, asian pear and Camembert salad with a maple-mustard vinaigrette. Instead of the ubiquitous wings or fish and chips, you can have light and heavendly salt cod fritters or a plate of confit drumsticks with sweet chili sauce. Pinch me!

A couple of mains worth mentioning are a succulent pan-roasted chicken with a corn and zucchini salsa with cotija cheese and a red pepper vinaigrette, or a red wine-braised brisket on housemade Savoy cabbage kraut scattered with house-pickled rutabaga (not yet listed on the website menu). Talk about setting the bar; I was knocked out. I hope you will be, too!

Details: Ecliptic Brewing, 825 N Cook St. 503-265-8002.

This Cute Dude Says Happy Halloween!

Couldn't resist the sweet smile and the twinkly eyes on this fellow as I passed by on my morning walk. Perhaps a rock-dwelling cousin of Oscar the Grouch?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kitchen Scale: Useful After All!

It was one of those moments when, upon opening your birthday/holiday/housewarming gift, you smile through gritted teeth and murmur, "Gosh, thanks. A kitchen scale. Nice."

Bread? Oh, yeah.

I have to admit that it sat for a couple of years on a shelf in the pantry just above the pasta machine and below the (more frequently used) tart pan. That all changed when Dave started baking bread. He'd read that it was important to weigh ingredients rather than depending on good old measuring cups, where a cup of flour can vary as much as an ounce depending on how densely it's packed. (Read King Arthur Flour's description of the importance of weighing.)

Rhubarb syrup for soda, too.

Now even I have become a fan, pulling it out for uses as varied as how much sugar to use for rhubarb syrup or the amount of simple syrup needed for homemade liqueur to following a recipe that calls for three ounces of chorizo. And when you're using a European recipe—in grams—it's invaluable. I can even use the "tare" function to zero out the weight of the pan. Makes me practically an expert. Woohoo!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Farm Bulletin: It's Time to Ramble!

Don't blame me if you miss your once-a-year chance to visit Anthony and Carol at Ayers Creek Farm, especially now that the weather wizards have looked into their murky cauldrons, pulled out a bat's wing and changed the forecast from rain to partly sunny. Still, I'd bring wellies to change into just in case. And feel free to bring your (well-behaved) kids…they'll love it!

The Ramble will take place on Sunday, Oct. 12th from 3:00 to 6:00, rain or shine. 

Showers are currently in the forecast [see above re: changed forecast - KB]. Bring a slicker and, as mud is a fact of life when it rains, a change of shoes or maybe some Wellies. We don't want muddy shoes in the harvest shed, please. It is a visit to a working farm, not an agritourism affair.

The harvest shed (before painting was completed).

There has been a merlin in residence, as well as a pod of meadowlarks, so binoculars may come in handy for the birders. Yellow jackets have been pretty tractable this year, but they are present and a bee sting kit is recommended if you are allergic.

There will be light fare provided by our own Linda Colwell, who has helped harvest so much of what you all enjoy at Hillsdale, and Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty Fifty. No need to RSVP. 

One young rambler.

Our street address is 15219 Spring Hill Road, Gaston, if you need to inform Siri. Otherwise, our directions have been working pretty well, and long before unflappable and inscrutable Siri was even a twinkle in Timothy Cook's eyes.

From Portland:

Take 26 West out of Portland toward Beaverton.  Exit onto 217 (69A) toward Beaverton/Tigard.  Follow 217 to the  second exit (Beaverton, Routes 8 and 10, exit 2A).   Take this exit and go straight across Route 8 to the second traffic light.  Turn right onto Route 10, which is also called the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

After crossing the railroad tracks, Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway turns into Farmington Road. After rambling on about 12 miles, Farmington Road T's onto 219.

Turn left onto 219, cross the bridge and take the first possible right turn, Bald Peak Road, in about 200 feet.

Bald Peak Road very soon splits into a “Y”. Bear to the right, staying on Bald Peak Road. You will follow Bald Peak for 3+ miles up a long hill. (Note: about half way up the hill, Laurel Road merges on the left, stay on Bald Peak Road by snaking to the right.)

The road peaks at the very top of the hill and curves sharply to the left, at the stop sign which doesn't make you stop, turn right onto Laurelwood Road, marked with a sign indicating "Scenic loop".

Go down this curvy road and through the hamlet of Laurelwood (about 3 miles) until the road T's onto Spring Hill Road. Turn left onto Spring Hill. In 1/2 mile, you will pass Gibson Road which comes in from the left. Turn right onto the next driveway. There are 2 mailboxes as we share this driveway with the Huserick Brothers nursery next-door. We have a sign.

[A quicker alternative, if less scenic, route for those coming from downtown or Northeast Portland: take Hwy. 26 west to the Glencoe Rd. exit (past Hillsboro). Take a left onto Glencoe Road, and in about a mile at the signal take a right onto NW Zion Church Road. It will turn into NW Cornelius-Schefflin Road. At the first roundabout, turn onto NW Verboort Road. At the second roundabout, turn onto NW Martin Road. It will end at Hwy. 47 (Nehalem Hwy.). Take a left into Forest Grove (mind the speed limit) and at the signal (at McMenamin's Grand Lodge) continue straight through onto Hwy. 47 to Gaston. Right after entering Gaston, take the first left onto SW Gaston Rd., then take a right at the stop sign onto SW Springhill Road. Follow a couple of curves and up and down a couple of slight hills till you pass Gibson Road which comes in from the left. Turn right onto the next driveway at the Ayers Creek Farm sign—there are two mailboxes as they share this driveway with the Huserick Brothers nursery next door.

If you're coming from Southeast, the best bet is to take Powell Blvd. across the Ross Island Bridge. Follow the signs to Hwy. 10, Barbur Blvd. Take Barbur to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. exit (still Hwy. 10) and follow it out through Beaverton. Cross the railroad tracks, then follow Anthony's directions for proceeding on Farmington Road. - KB]

From Salem and points further south:

From I-5 North, exit at Brooks (Exit 263), about 10 miles north of Salem.  The stop sign turn left on to Brooklake Road. Follow the Brooklake Road for about a mile and, at the 4-way stop after crossing the railroad tracks, turn right onto River Road.

A couple of miles past the Wheatland Ferry turnoff, you must turn left towards St. Paul, this is still River Road.  Stay on River Road all the way through St. Paul and then to Newburg.

River Road ends at 99W on the east side of Newburg.  Turn left onto 99W and staying in the right hand lane.  About a mile, you will see a sign for 240.  If you are in the right lane, you will have to exit onto 240.

Take Route 240 west out of Newberg.  Follow for approximately 5.5 miles.  Turn right on to Ribbon Ridge Road.  The sign points to Gaston. Follow the main, paved road as it swings to the left about a mile later, becoming North Valley Road.  The road will meander along the side of the valley for 5.7 miles and then comes to an intersection where the main road swings to a sharp left.  Go straight onto Spring Hill Road.  You will see our berry fields at the top of the rise.  Follow Spring Hill for approximately a mile and look for gravel driveway on the left.  This is our farm's driveway.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Oregon's "Real Food" Revolutionaries

When an editor asks if I'll write a story for his magazine and then says it can be on any topic I choose, well, that's an offer I can't refuse. Here's my story for this month's issue of Willamette Living titled "Oregon's 'Real Food' Revolutionaries (Just Don't Call Them Foodies)."

Rarely a week goes by when someone in the national media, whether it's the New York Times, CNN, even The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon, mentions the amazing food to be found in Portland, Oregon. Chefs, restaurants, doughnut shops, vegan delis, food carts, gluten-free bakeries and the growth of what's being called a "food culture" have found fertile soil in the Northwest corner of Oregon. Just a decade ago it would have been an oxymoron to put the words "Portland" and "food scene" in the same sentence. No longer.

Eamon Molloy (l), Hillsdale Farmers' Market manager.

But what's been missed by the national spotlight and gushing reviews is the true food revolution that's been building in the Northwest, one that will outlast the tourists and the hype. It's one waged by grassroots folks who would laugh at being called "foodies" but who are leading the way in changing the foundation of our local food system from one dependent on big box stores, national chains and agricultural conglomerates to one that is developing pathways for the small farmer and artisan producer to make a connection with the consumer, one that focuses on accessible, sustainable and affordable local food.

Read about five of these “real food” revolutionaries talking about why they do what they do and what they hope to accomplish.

Top photo: Kendra Kimbirauskas of Goat Mountain Pastured Meats in Scio.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Hummus Among Us

I totally agree with contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food: store-bought hummus is ridiculously expensive and producers don't always use the best ingredients, while making it at home is so easy, costs so little and is way more flavorful. This version adds roasted peppers to give it an extra flavor boost…try some sweet red peppers from the farmers' market like Jimmy Nardellos, Italian peppers or Cubanelles.

I used to sell garbanzos grown by Haricot Farms, the same folks who grow the rojo chiquito red beans. But they haven't been available for the past few years (I suspect they all go to the Truitt Bros. for canning). So when I learned that Koda Farms, producers of Kokuho Rose rice (Mark Bittman called it the "best rice grown in America."), also grows garbanzos, I ordered a bag. They're small, organically grown and delicious.

Hummus with Roasted Chiles

If you have a food processor, there's no reason to buy hummus at the store. It never has enough tahini, anyway, and it's almost always made with fake extra virgin olive oil (the blends of refined and virgin olive oils often labeled "extra virgin"). This version includes some roasted chiles, but you can leave them out for traditional hummus.

In your processor combine 2 cups of cooked garbanzos, 1/2 cup of roasted chiles (available now in varying levels of heat at the farmers market; substitute roasted red bell peppers [recipe] or roast your own chiles), 1/2 cup of tahini, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 coarsely chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and the juice of a lemon (or 2 tablespoons Katz Sparkling Wine vinegar). Process until smooth, adding a little of the garbanzo cooking water if you like a thinner spread. Drizzle with more extra virgin, dust with paprika (I like the smoky note from Spanish pimenton) and eat with bread or anything else that will scoop it up.

You can find Jim and the products he loves on most Mondays at his Real Good Food "warehouse," from 4-7 pm at Activspace, 833 SE Main St. #122. Look for the "olive oil" sign out front.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Seeds of an Idea: Chefs Working with Farmers

You remember Mendel's peas from your fourth-grade science class, don't you? Where this guy named Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian priest, grew peas in his abbey's garden and noticed how certain traits were dominant, meaning they could be passed on to future generations, helping to establish many of the rules of heredity.

Talkin' squash with Alex Stone of OSU.

Historically, farmers bred vegetables for themselves and their local communities, choosing seeds that would flourish in a particular climate or elevation and that their families and neighbors could enjoy. For the last several decades, the advent of large corporate agriculture, where crops are grown and shipped to markets far from where they are grown, has meant that new vegetables have been bred for traits like yield, storability, appearance and the ability to withstand the rigors of transport.

You want peppers? We got peppers!

Flavor, that most ephemeral of qualities, has fallen by the wayside in the industrial model, resulting in bland tomatoes, greens that taste like cardboard and fruit that has all the appeal of munching on a tennis ball. Lately though, the rise of farmers' markets and the beginnings of a return to sourcing foods locally has flavor rocketing back to the top of the list.

"Eeh…what's up, doc?"

World-famous chefs like Ferran Adrià are starting to work with farmers and seed breeders to bring back not just ancient varieties of wheat, but to develop new lines using traditional, non-biotech methods, like those used by Mendel. Here in Portland, that work is being forwarded by Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, a project of the Organic Seed Alliance and Oregon State University's Department of Horticulture.

Gorgeous indigo cherry tomatoes.

This past Monday, many of Oregon's top seed breeders, chefs and farmers gathered around tables overflowing with carrots, potatoes, peppers, cilantro, corn, beets, squash, onions and tomatoes to sample and rate new varieties. The chefs, like Greg Higgins of Higgins Restaurant and Bar, who had teamed with Good Stuff NW contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm to make a hominy soup with Amish Butter corn spoonbread, got to work with farmers growing new varieties of these crops, each choosing one to prepare for sampling.

The most valuable part of the evening, though, was the conversations that spontaneously erupted over the rows of raw and roasted beets, the bowls of neon-colored peppers and the waving stems of cilantro. You can look for the results of those conversations to appear on restaurant menus and market tables near you.

See the Flickr photos from the Variety Showcase. Top photo and photo of Alex Stone courtesy of the Culinary Breeding Network.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Inspection and Verification

The work that goes into a farm isn't just plowing, planting, watering and processing, especially for organic farms. Every year there are two certifications at Ayers Creek Farm, one by the government, required for them to use the term "certified organic" on their products, and the other by their customers, a voluntary requirement they've been glad to undergo every year since they began farming. This year's ramble is scheduled for Oct. 12.

On the 18th of April our organic certifier visited the Ayers Creek for our annual inspection. Arriving at 9:30, he inspected our farm and our records without pause, finishing his closing interview at 2:15. Even though we have been through the process 15 times since 1999, it remains an intense experience.

Linda Colwell at the farm's wood oven.

The application, submitted in March, articulated our organic farm management plan. After it was reviewed, an inspection was scheduled. The week before inspection, we make sure all of the records, seed packages, certifications and invoices are pulled together. All of the buildings, machines and fields must be open to inspection.

The inspection fee is paid on the clock, so we try to make it as efficient as possible. No chit chat or lost keys, and niceties kept to the barest minimum. It is a serious matter because a cavalier decision or mistaken use of a substance will mean loss of certification of the crop or even the land for three years. By the time 2:15 rolled around, we were hungry and tired with a sense of evisceration. To our daughter, who goes through the process at their Italy Hill Produce, we can say confidently that it never gets easier or smoother. (We never talked to you about Santa either, did we?)

Breads from the wood oven.

Passing the review, inspection and audit allows us to carry the term "certified organic" on our labels and signs. Our second very important review and inspection comes when you all visit the farm on the ramble. We take it as seriously, and fret over details the week before. We are cognizant of the fact that if you are not satisfied with the way we farm, we could lose you as a customer. However, this inspection is much more comfortable because we can digress from the topic at hand and digest Linda Colwell's excellent food.

This year's ramble will take place on the 12th of October, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. Bring friends and family, along with sturdy shoes and a bee sting kit if you are allergic. As a reminder, in our irrational New England Blue Law rectitude, we have kept the ramble strictly noncommercial. We won't be selling anything. Please don't try to lead us astray, just enjoy the stay.

Black and white photos by Anthony Boutard. Click on them to get enlarged versions—they're worth it!

Quick Hits: People's Pig

When we moved to Northeast Portland it wasn't unusual to have our sleep interrupted by the occasional spurt of gunfire. It wasn't coming from our street, but close enough, within a quarter mile or so, to keep me awake through the inevitable sirens that would follow. Mississippi, Williams and Alberta were streets best avoided after dusk, not just because they were lined with derelict buildings, but the nightlife they attracted back then was of a distinctly shadowy variety.

Fried chicken sandwich, mac salad.

That's all changed now, of course; our sleep is much more likely to be interrupted by a dog barking at the neighbor's cat or a passing squirrel. The derelict buildings have been repopulated with trendy shops and bars, or torn down altogether to make giant condo developments. Expensive city bikes have replaced the broken-down cars that used to cruise the avenues.

The Tropicana was one of the businesses left over from those early days, a neighborhood soul food restaurant and barbecue joint owned by 90-year-old Lula Parker that had survived from a time when the neighborhood was a bustling commercial center full of African American-owned businesses. Most were razed in the building of Memorial Coliseum in the late 1950s and the expansion of Emanuel Hospital in the early 1960s, a land grab which decimated the vibrant community and displaced residents. (See an excellent visual history of the neighborhood by Portland historian Thomas Robinson.)

Last year Ms. Parker decided to retire from the business she'd owned for more than 55 years. Which was fortunate for Cliff Allen, who'd been looking for a brick-and-mortar location for his People's Pig. They came to an agreement on the condition that he wouldn't change the interior. Not that he'd want to, mind you, since its simple counter and row of booths are wrapped around a behemoth brick smoker that Allen says can smoke 300 to 400 pounds of meat at a time.

Allen also isn't the type to need some fancy designers to zhoosh his vibe. Like the food he crafts, he likes to keep it simple: deeply smoked fried chicken, smoked pork shoulder and ribs served on parchment paper-lined trays, either piled high (the "plate" version) or almost contained in a hearty roll. Sides are also basic and equally crave-worthy, featuring macaroni salad, potato salad, beans and a slaw. Prices? Also reasonable. The sandwich, for eight bucks, comes with one side, the plate, ten bucks with two sides.

The fact that it's walking distance from our house? I'd say the neighborhood just took another major turn toward the positive.

Details: The People's Pig, 3217 N Williams Ave. 503-347-2357.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Panzanella Redux: A Million Options

In the time since my last post on the bread salad the Italians call "panzanella," I've made at least two different versions of the recipe. As long as the tomatoes are juicy—perfect for those overripe specimens you just couldn't fit on your tomato platter—and the olive oil is plentiful, you're in business.

The raw material.

The two versions? Well, considering I have access to a virtually endless supply of bread because of Dave's homemade sourdough habit, we've had bread salad as both a main dish and a side salad. The first version consisted of the basic recipe combined with about a tin's worth of leftover albacore that I'd had the foresight to bag and freeze. The second was based on a variation of my friend Michel's panzanella (above) that she whipped up for an evening of wine and snacks to celebrate her new job, which eschewed the basil and added capers and chopped castelvetrano olives.

Seriously, that's it. As long as the bread has soaked up enough of the tomato juice and dressing, which takes about an hour, it's ready to eat. Talk about fleeting pleasures of late summer…grab a loaf of your favorite bread and as many ripe tomatoes as you can and get to it!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Fall Has Fell

Early fall is a scramble for farmers, vineyards and winemakers, especially this year when the weather has been hot and dry for most of the summer with very few cool days to slow things down. Many crops that would normally be harvested in succession over weeks or months are ripening all at once, multiplying the workload and making the days long. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has even found a theme song appropriate to the situation in which he finds himself.

The hillside wineries were aglow Monday evening as we made our way back from Elmira. They were scrambling to bring in and de-stem their grapes. We were bitten by the frenzy as well. Our freezers were full with no room for the autumn fruits such as prune, damson and grape, so we had to shift some fruit to Sweet Creek's big freezer.

Damson plums.

Unsure as to how much rain we would see, we harvested a large amount Wednesday, and Thursday we were filling the freezers with plums and grapes. It took six of us about six hours to pit and de-stem the fruit. This year, the fruit is coming on very fast, and there is no room for a leisurely process. The Veepie grapes and damsons were at their very best and we are looking forward to tasting the preserves. We have only a few cases of preserves left, so it was good to fill the freezers for our kitchen time [at Sweet Creek] in late October.

Dutch bullet beans.

Likewise, with the dry beans, almost half have been harvested and cleaned. We will have Borlotti Gaston and Purgatorios at market this week, along with chickpeas. Next week, we will have zolfinos and Dutch bullets. Although they mature and dry in the field, we always leave them on screen for a few days until they click brightly when we run our fingers through the tray. At that point, we feel secure bagging them.

We will bring favas, popcorn, cornmeal, frikeh and hulless barley. We also have a luxuriant patch of dill, as well as tomatoes and tomatillos.

Pozegaca plums.

We are also picking prunes for the market, including Pozegaca which is a famous Balkan prune used for slatko and slivovitz. The flavor is sharp and clean. The last of the mirabelles are coming in as well. Edward Bunyard's description of Coe's Golden Drop in The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) is unmatched: "At its best, it is a dull yellow green with strong frecklings of crimson, and at its ripest it is drunk rather than eaten; the skin is rather tough but between this and the stone floats an ineffable nectar."  We will have just a few, another small bonus granted to us with an early harvest.

Coe's Golden Drop.

Friday we pulled the onions and they are curing in the sun for winter storage. Soon the corn will be dry as well.

The partnership of Jackie Cain and the late Roy Kral remains an inspiration to us. They approached their craft with confidence and creativity, and on their own terms. Their music was of a kind, built on character rather than formula. Cain died Monday [The New York Times obit.]. If you get a chance, take a moment reach out into a cloud and listen to her.  Maybe Sondheim's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues," summing up what one of us was suffering last week.

Plum/prune photos by Anthony Boutard.

Drink Your Beets With This Beet Margarita

The other evening a friend was having a couple of pals over for drinks and snacks to celebrate her fabulous new job. The plan was to have margaritas, but the weather forecast had turned from sun to clouds. Our e-mail exchange follows:

Friend: "Maybe we should do wine rather than drinks. Might be past margarita season."

Me: "What??? Past margarita season? Nevah!"

Friend: "OK. You convinced me. There’s a new bottle of tequila in the freezer…"

And with that, the clouds parted, the sun came out and our evening on her deck (with margaritas) was saved. Hallelujah.

I first had a beet margarita, oddly enough, at Dayna McErlean's Yakuza. Known for its Asian-influenced cuisine, it might seem counterintuitive to feature a traditional Mexican cocktail on the bar menu, but this beet-infused version paired quite well with its Asian flavors and ingredients. Yakuza serves it on the rocks; I prefer mine up in a martini glass. Whichever way you go, its spectacular deep ruby color will garner oohs and aahs, and the bright flavor will complement just about anything—and, for me, any kind of weather—you choose to serve it with.

Beet Margarita

For the infusion:
2 medium-sized red beets
1 bottle tequila*

For the margarita:
Kosher salt (optional)
2 oz. beet-infused tequila
1 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. triple sec or Cointreau
Lime slice or lime wedge for garnish

Peel and slice beets. The thinner the slices, the better the infusion. Put the beets in a large non-reactive bowl or glass container and pour tequila over them. Cover the container and refrigerate for about a week. 

If you choose to make a salt rim on the glasses, take a wedge of lime and slice it once crosswise through the flesh, stopping before piercing the peel. Put the cut wedge over the rim of the glass and run it around the edge. This gives the salt a wet surface to stick to. Pour a mound of salt onto a plate and, holding the glass at an angle, push the rim into the mound and twirl the glass to coat the rim.

Fill cocktail shaker half full of ice. Add tequila, lime juice, simple syrup and triple sec and shake well. Strain into chilled martini or, if serving on ice, a rocks glass. Float lime slice on top or squeeze a wedge and drop into the glass.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Salad Smackdown: Barley Is a Winner

I love a good grain salad, so when I heard Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm waxing poetic about the quality of their barley this year, I had to get some. Of course, I'd never cooked barley before, though I'd made a killer salad with his frikeh, but I decided what the heck, my family will pretty much eat anything with enough garlic and fresh vegetables in it. To up the ante a notch, we had old friends coming over for a grilled salmon dinner, and it seemed like a grain salad with some crunchy raw vegetables would be a good match.

I wasn't wrong.

Adding water to the soaked grains.

Between the terrific salmon, which Dave grilled to perfection, and the 2009 Seufert Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir my brother supplied to go with it, not to mention the near-perfect late Oregon summer evening and the table lit by candlelight, we all were swooning. The pop of the grain and its sweet, carrot-like flavor just made it all that much better. I don't think you could ask much more of a salad.

Barley salad

1 lb. hulless barley
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped fine
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 fennel bulb, chopped fine
1 c. corn kernels (or kernels sliced from 1 corn cob)
5 or 6 leaves kale, sliced into chiffonade
1/4 c. olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 tsp. salt, then more to taste

Put barley in large pot. Cover with cold water by 2” and soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the barley in a fine mesh sieve. Put in pot and cover with cold water by 1”. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25-40 min. until done to your liking. (I like it a bit al dente, so only cooked mine 25 min.) Add more water if it gets dry.

When done, drain barley and rinse in cold water. Put in large salad bowl. Add bell pepper, onion, fennel, corn and kale and mix to combine. Add olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Mix to combine. Cover and place in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 min. before serving. Prior to serving, taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Farm Bulletin: The Charms of Allis Chalmers

The right piece of farm equipment can make a huge difference in the workload on a farm. Modern farm equipment is expensive to buy and operate and is often too large to nimbly negotiate the tighter confines of small farms, whereas older equipment was designed for just that sort of use. Contibutor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm brings an old but still useful piece of small farm history back to life.

Michael Abelman and his son Aaron stopped by Ayers Creek for a few days in late July 2004 as part of his Fields of Plenty project. Rereading the profile a decade later, it is striking how much things have changed, though fundamentally we are the same farm. The profile celebrated the summer here, but we already had one winter market season under our belt. That spring we learned that the combination of spring break, Easter and Passover can kill a market. Lowest gross we have ever had; when vendors leave their cash box unattended there is not much to say for the day. Also learned that we should grow horseradish. Somehow, black radish does not have the same allure as a bitter herb for the seder, much as we tried to laud its many virtues. Our first planting of Roy's Calais flint corn was in the ground, and we were planning our orchard and vineyard.

Combining chickpeas.

After leaving Gaston, Michael visited Jennifer Greene's Windborne Farm in Scott Valley. There he fell in love with her old Allis Chalmers All Crop. It is a small combine pulled by a farm tractor. A combine gets its name because it combines the formerly separate tasks of cutting, threshing and winnowing seed crops, including legumes and grains.

Closeup harvesting chickpeas.

A couple months later he located a pair for sale in Canby, one apparently almost running and a decrepit example for parts. We went to see them with him, and it was clear the rose's bloom was withering as he paced around the two dusty, rusty hunks of machinery with their frayed belts, broken reel bats and rotting tires. We shared his reservations, even as he clung to the memory of Jennifer's machine and all it could do. The challenge of transporting the machines to Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island and repairing them dislodged the yearning.

The straw rack.

Apparently, the pathos of the bedraggled machines and their potential gnawed at us. Not sure what exactly happened to dislodge us from our rational frame of mind, but we purchased them. The machine is boxy with most of its drives on the outside. Like Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, it is meant to be repaired on the fly with materials at hand. Not sleek or elegant, just enough of it to carry out the task well. Perhaps the idea opening up the list of crops we grow had some influence.

Corroded cleaning shoe.

Other farmers with big machines speak admiringly of the All Crop, with its mixture of flexibility, simplicity and economy. Encouraging the endeavor, not emulating it, mind you. They take their old combines to the Banks demolition derby, not the shop. They are quite comfortable in their modern air-conditioned cabs with stereo and computer controls. In less than an hour, they can harvest more grain than the All Crop can in a day. However, their machines take a full day to clean between crops, and the All Crop is clean and greased in less than an hour.

Bullet holes a point of pride.

Drawn to the machine, we forgot the first rule of purchasing equipment: turn over the engine to make sure it is operable. Apparently, someone tried to start the engine by using a lot of starter fluid (ether) which cleaned all the oil off the cylinder walls and the engine corroded solid. Neither Marvel Mystery Oil nor grease pumped into the cylinder would dislodge the corroded pistons. Perhaps we would have purchased it anyway, but it threw a disappointing money wrench into the works. The All Crop took a backseat to other projects until our daughter married Jonathan Hunt. In March 2008, he visited and helped strip down the machine. Later he found us an old driveshaft to replace the engine.* Relentlessly, he peeled away the excuses for delaying and pushed us to get it running.

Newly balanced cylinder.

Restoring farm equipment as a show piece is very different from a functional restoration. We want the machine to operate for thousands of more hours reliably, so pulleys, shafts and bearings need cleaning and, if necessary, replacing. Rubber and wood parts likewise. Tom Yasnowski specializes in locating or replicating obsolete Allis Chalmers parts, supplying us with the belts and rubber parts that had disintegrated over the decades. The cylinder and concave chamber where the threshing of the seeds takes place needed a complete overhaul. Yasnowski supplied replacement rubber-faced bars for the cylinder and Dave Naumann at Ernst Irrigation in St. Paul helped us locate a shop where the cylinder was balanced. It spins at high speed and, balanced with modern equipment, it runs as smooth as silk. Being an old piece of machinery, we deemed it acceptable to keep the bullet holes that appear when machines are unattended for awhile in rural America.

Bagger's platform.

We replaced upwards of 100 corroded bolts holding together the 10-foot-long straw rack, and saturated the dry wood with linseed oil. The adjustable cleaning shoe is where the seed is separated from the chaff, the winnowing task. It had corroded in place making adjustments impossible, requiring several days of careful cleaning and lubrication, and a layer of linseed oil on the wooden parts.

Jon Hunt at work.

A couple of weeks ago, Jon took his place on the bagger's platform where the seeds drop into sacks. We put in a couple of hours figuring out the fine points of combining chickpeas. As we tried to communicate over the roar of the tractor, the rattling of grain conveying chains and the thrashing cylinder, I might have well have been communicating with a wookiee. It was great to see the patina of a working machine return, that fragrant, short-lived gloss from the resins of the plants. Some of you may have picked up on the fragrance in the barley, and it will be present in the chickpeas as well. There was Queen Ann's Lace growing in the field, giving the grain a hint of wild carrot aroma. Thanks, Jon.

* Anthony clarifies that "the machine was equipped with the optional engine or motor. Motor was seized so we replaced it with a drive shaft or PTO (power take off) shaft to run the machine off of the tractor's engine."

All photos by Anthony Boutard with the exception of the portrait at top.