Sunday, July 26, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Acknowledging the Importance of Markets


Farmers' markets are a vital part of the life of the city, supporting a lively agricultural zone near the urban area, providing farmers with income from sales of crops and giving citizens access to fresh, locally grown and made products. Markets also bring money into the local economy and draw tourists to the area. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm thinks it's time for Portland to do some supporting of the farmers' markets that do so much for their communities.

"As I sit here and watch the rain stream down the windows I feel that it's good to remind you that although the weather outside is frightful, the Canandaigua farmers' market pavillion will be so delightful. We'll be there today and hope to see you there as well. We'll have the first of our new potatoes, fresh garlic, fresh grape juice, beautiful basil for pesto and a few other bits and bobs."

Thus began last week's market letter from Italy Hill Farm. With her impish goad, Caroline was reminding her parents that they would be stuck out on the hot pavement as the mercury topped 100°. With a chuckle, Sweetness was expecting the indignant call from her father.

Canandaigua is small town with a population of 10,500 in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It is a conservative and frugal town, with no swagger about its being a "food town," yet the town leadership saw fit to build a comfortable and secure place (photo above) to buy local food directly from farmers such as our daughter. All across the country, small and large communities have built similar structures to anchor local foods at their heart. Oddly enough, Portland stands out as a city that has failed to provide this level of permanence to its farmers' markets. Sometimes being simply weird for its own sake is not good enough.

A couple of days before the Italy Hill letter arrived, OPB's "Think Out Loud" presented a program on the updates to Portland's Comprehensive Plan. Under Oregon's Land Use Laws, every city and county in the state has adopted a Comprehensive Plan. Under Washington County's plan, we at Ayers Creek Farm are zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU-80), meaning our land is preserved for farm use and other uses are either forbidden or highly regulated. On our farm, we are faithfully implementing the state's agricultural policy by providing a range fresh food for its citizens.

All jurisdictions must review and update their plans from time to time, a process called Periodic Review. Portland is currently in periodic review. Listening to the show piqued our curiosity about Portland's plan and we looked for the language that deals directly with farmers' markets. As farmers, we regard the city as an important market and wanted to see how the city links our food production with its residents' quality of life. From the "Economic Development" section, here it is:

  • Policy 6.69 Temporary and informal markets and structures. Acknowledge and support the role that temporary markets (farmers markets, craft markets, flea markets, etc.) and other temporary or mobile vending structures play in enabling startup business activity. Also acknowledge that temporary uses may ultimately be replaced by more permanent development and uses.

Under this policy, farmers' markets currently operating in the city are lumped in with flea markets and crafts markets as well as the all encompassing "etc." as okay for now but certainly not worth keeping if it means impeding the march of progress. From our perspective, having been Portland residents and now farmers who bring food to the city, farmers' markets should be considered as vital contributors to its livability, not temporary place holders for future apartment buildings and other permanent development. The policy also assumes that farmers' market vendors are startups, inexperienced in business, while nothing could be further from the truth. Most vendors are highly accomplished farmers who chose to go to the markets to broaden their crop choices and customer base. It is a business choice, not a vocational education opportunity, though we have learned a great deal from our customers.

That was pretty awful, but there is more. Under the "Healthy Food" section this fine aspiration is voiced:

"Access to healthy food is important for many reasons. A nourishing diet is critical to maintaining good health and avoiding chronic disease later in life. This leads to better long-term public health outcomes and lower healthcare costs. Food behaviors are shaped at an early age; children who are exposed to healthy foods are more likely to develop healthful food behaviors than those who are not.

"In spite of these benefits, many Portlanders do not have good access to healthy food. These policies promote a range of approaches for improving access to healthy food through buying and growing. The policies help meet the Portland Plan goal for 90 percent of Portlanders to live within a half-mile of a store or market that sells healthy food."

Oh good, maybe Portland has praise for local farmers who bring such fresh and healthy food to its center. No such luck. The policies under this section are:

  • Policy 4.79 Grocery stores in centers. Facilitate the retention and development of grocery stores and neighborhood-based markets offering fresh produce in centers.
  • Policy 4.80 Neighborhood food access. Encourage small, neighborhood-based retail food opportunities, such as corner markets, food co-ops, food buying clubs and community-supported agriculture pickup/drop off sites, to fill in service gaps in food access across the city.
  • Policy 4.81 Growing food. Increase opportunities to grow food for personal consumption, donation, sales, and educational purposes.
  • Policy 4.82 Access to community gardens. Ensure that community gardens are allowed in areas close to or accessible via transit to people living in areas zoned for mixed use or multi-dwelling development, where residents have few opportunities to grow food in yards.

Nowhere in this jumble are farmers' markets mentioned as a source of healthy food, nary a word, let alone a policy nod worthy of a number. So in the economic development section, farmers' markets are a temporary and amateurish activity that will yield to permanent development, and they are not even considered a source of healthy food or "healthful food behaviors."

Policies are just words you are thinking, it is what happens on the ground that counts. A few months ago a fellow farmer stopped by to pick up some sweet potato starts. We started chatting about the changes in our farm operations. He had reason to go to the South Waterfront area and he was astounded by the fact that the city managed to approve a modern food desert. Yes, we agreed, but not just any food desert, it is the Qatar or Doha of food deserts.

Maybe that will change, but without policies that firmly anchor local food choices in Portland's neighborhoods, a key ingredient in its livability may slip away. The farmers' markets in Portland are fragile and unprotected, impermanent uses. Over the last two decades, the city has devoted significant money and a lot land to promoting the use of bicycles in response to the strong advocacy from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. People who want to have in-town access to food grown in the Willamette and Tualatin valleys need to show the same sophistication or, slowly, as the city increases its density, farmers' markets will fade away. That is the clear direction of the current policy. Periodic Review is the time for you all to weigh in and tell the city how it should look in the future.

Across the country, communities are strengthening their ties to local food with permanent markets that provide comfort and safety for both vendors and customers. Yet not single example exists in Portland, a city that could easily support a neighborhood network of permanent, improved farmers' markets. But it needs to change its policies.

If it can happen in Canandaigua…

Photo at top from Canadaigua Farmers Market on Facebook.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

How Panzanella Solved My Bread Problem


I have a bread problem. Not that many people would feel much sympathy for my situation. You see, my husband has become a bread maven. He might even be tiptoeing along the edge of evangelism, such is his passion for his newfound calling. At least twice people have shown up at our doorstep to be shown "the way"—actually Chad Robertson of Tartine Bread's way—of producing perfect artisan loaves in a home oven.

How could this be a problem?

Now, in his defense, I have to say I've been encouraging this discipleship every step of the way. The guy has a definite touch with flour, water and salt, and when you throw in a natural tendency toward tinkering plus a creative bent, that's pretty much the definition of a baker. So every two weeks for quite awhile now he's been making six loaves of sourdough, interrupted only by a trip out of town or summer temperatures soaring into the 90s.

Our five-year-old nephew spent the night last week, and his first question before being taken to daycare the next morning was, "Does Uncle Dave have any bread I can take with me?" He was comforted only by the promise that yes, indeed, Uncle Dave would bake bread for him in a couple of days. Oh, the obligations!

A perfect (and delicious) solution.

So the problem comes when one of those loaves is brought to the bread board. Being artisan-style loaves, when sliced there's always the rounded bit at the end that ends up, if it's not eaten immediately, sitting on the board and getting stale. Big deal, you say. But multiply that over dozens and dozens of loaves and you've got quite a pile of bits.

I've been chopping them up into cubes, drying them completely and then freezing them in bags, but I just don't make that many croutons for salads. And I utterly refuse to toss them out—there's nothing worse than wasted bread karma, believe me.

Then the other day, needing to make a salad for dinner and having some ripe, heirloom tomatoes on hand, I hit on the perfect solution: panzanella! I don't think of it often, since it needs tomatoes that only come at this time of year, perfectly ripe, not-too-hard, not-too-soft and terrifically flavorful. And I wasn't sure the rock-hard cubes would absorb enough of the juices to soften up to just the right consistency.

But I threw it together anyway, chopping up a little cucumber and some basil from my neighbor who couldn't use all that was in her CSA share. And you know, those dried crusty bread ends turned into luscious tomato juice bombs and solved my bread problem, at least for the duration of tomato season. What could I say but hallelujah!

Panzanella, Italian-Style Tomato-Bread Salad

For the dressing:
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2/3 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or minced fine
1 tsp. salt

For the salad:
4 c. bread, 2 or 3 days old, cut into 1/2” cubes
4-6 c. tomatoes, chopped in 1/2” cubes
1/2 c. basil, sliced into chiffonade
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into 1/4” cubes
1/2 c. kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
Salt to taste

In medium mixing bowl whisk dressing ingredients together. Set aside.

Put salad ingredients in a large salad bowl. Pour dressing over the top and combine thoroughly. Allow to stand 20-30 minutes before serving (an hour if the bread is very dry), mixing occasionally to distribute the juices.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: Wins, Losses and Draws


Key pieces of legislation that would have affected the food we put in our shopping baskets and serve to our families were in play in the session of the state legislature that just concluded. Up for debate were issues on genetically engineered (GE) crops, antibiotics in animal feed, urban agriculture and a loan program to help beginning farmers, among many others.

Unprecedented efforts by concerned citizens—including readers of Good Stuff NW—and small farm organizations helped to offset some of the lobbying and money thrown around by out-of-state agribusiness interests, resulting in big wins for family farmers and consumers, but there were also some disappointing losses. Here's the wrap-up.

Wins

Loans for beginning farmers (aka Aggie Bonds): With the average age of an Oregon farmer nearing 60, HB 3239 will make a big difference in bringing younger farmers online quickly. It expands the types of loans issued by NW Farm Credit Services, as well as seller-financed loans. Through HB 5005, the Legislature authorized up to $10 million in state bonding authority to support dozens of lower-interest rate beginning farmer loans over the next two years.

Agritourism: The ability of Oregon farmers to educate more people about farming and farm practices and earn income from those visits without fearing liability claims was given a big boost by SB 341. As long as risks are clearly posted, it provides protection for farms engaged in agritourism including U-pick, corn-mazes, hay rides, farm stays and more.

Farm-to-school programs: Oregon's children will be eating healthier meals at school thanks to HB 2721*. Funding for the popular program will increase from $1.2 million to $4.5 million over the next two years and was expanded to cover school meal programs statewide.

OSU Extension: This critical agricultural service will get $14 million in new funding with HB 5024, reversing a decade of staff and budget cuts. It allows the University to hire new positions to support farmers statewide, including beginning farmer support, pollinator health, sustainable grazing management, fermentation sciences and more.

Losses

Genetically engineered (GE) crops: Significant legislation to give the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) the authority to keep genetically engineered crops away from non-genetically engineered crops was dropped after Gov. Kitzhaber, who had favored this effort, resigned, and when out-of-state industrial interests worked to quash efforts to revive it.

Farm antibiotics reform: A major battle was waged over SB 920, which would have limited the use of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those used on humans—on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. An outpouring of support from consumers (and readers of Good Stuff NW), as well as support by the medical community and many of the Oregon's livestock producers was strongly opposed by the state’s biggest corporate factory farms and out-of-state agricultural pharmaceutical companies.

Draws

Urban agriculture: While this bill didn’t pass, there was a strong show of support in the legislature for HB 2723, which would have encouraged the establishment of urban agriculture incentive zones, where lower property tax rates could be offered for small-scale urban farms. This suggests future legislation may be in the mix.

Regulation of canola: Canola is a major concern for the specialty seed industry, organic producers and fresh market vegetable growers due to issues of crop contamination. HB 3382 is a setback to those concerns because it allows 500 acres of canola to be grown per year between 2016 and 2019, a period previously subject to a "no-canola" moratorium. However, the bill also requires more comprehensive research on the harmful impacts of canola and for the ODA to present recommendations on rules needed to protect the specialty seed industry from canola in the future.

* * *

Read the rest of the posts in the Your Food, Your Legislature series.

Thanks to Ivan Maluski and Friends of Family Farmers for help with understanding and reporting on these important issues. I couldn't have waded through the reams of legislative data without their input.

* In the closing hours of the session, HB 2721 was folded into appropriation measures SB 5507 and 5501.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kotori: Gabe Rosen's Un-Restaurant


What's the bare minimum you can have and still call it a restaurant?

That's the question that tickled Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz, owners of two of Portland's best Japanese restaurants, Biwa and Noraneko Ramen. Food carts were, well, so been-there, done-that, and didn't have the extreme minimalism that the couple had in mind. So they patterned their newest venture, Kotori, which means "little chicken" in Japanese, after the ubiquitous sidewalk eateries they'd seen while traveling in Japan.

Simplicity itself.

Sporting little more than a yakitori grill, a prep table and a few coolers, the open air restaurant has no walls—even food carts sport those—and a tachinomi, or stand-up bar, that Kina and friends fashioned from two metal U-beams left from a business sign on the property. A few sticks of bamboo form a see-through "roof" from which a few solar-powered paper lanterns hang, with a couple of four-by-six beams making the counter, and that's it.

Poof! Instant restaurant. Of course, it doesn't end there.

Chef Carl Kraus working the grill.

Rosen, being the purist he is, doesn't just use Kingsford briquets to keep the flames fanned on the yakitori grill. Be prepared to be impressed by the authentic binchotan, white oak charcoal sticks that burn incredibly hot for a prolonged period, giving the little skewers of meat and vegetables cooked over it a light, smoky sear. And any fanning that's needed comes from a gen-u-ine Japanese fan fluttered by the chef himself.

Rosen's sourcing his meat and produce from sustainable producers like Rainshadow OrganicsTails and Trotters and BN Ranch, Bill Niman's model ranch that is setting a new standard in multi-species, grass-fed meat production. It's a way of trying out new suppliers on a relatively small scale, relationships that could blossom into larger commitments.

Tsukune, ground chicken skewer.

The two-person operation (minimalist, remember?) is headed up by Chef Carl Kraus—he's the guy expertly turning those skewers on the grill—and a server, who circulates around the tiny graveled spot taking orders and delivering the goods. Hours are minimal, as well, just open Thursday through Sunday from 4 pm until sunset.

Shisito peppers, shiitake mushrooms.

I sampled a selection of grilled meats and vegetables, from the tsukune, ground chicken seasoned and pressed around a skewer, to the pork belly (bara) and thin-sliced Korean short ribs, plus the shisito peppers, shiitake mushrooms and garlic cloves roasted over the grill in their papery covers, all incredibly reasonably priced and eminently worth ordering.

Meeting up for a cold Asahi and a few skewers with a friend? That's a stop well worth making.

Details: Kotori, under the trees at SE 9th and Pine. 503-239-8830.

Farm Bulletin: Trust Is the Glue


“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships,” Stephen R. Covey wrote. True in business, it's also true in life. This week, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm elucidates the importance of longterm, stable relationships between the farmer and his local grocers.

We will return to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market with a full cargo of Chesters, along with Triple crowns. If you all run out of fruit midweek, Food Front and most New Seasons stores carry our berries. We harvest about 900 full 12-pint flats of berries a week during the peak of our blackberry season. Of those we sell only 100 at market, the balance finds it way to these grocery stores. We have a very good relationship with the buyers, Josh Alsberg at Food Front and Jeff Fairchild at New Seasons, and their staff. It meant a lot to us that both Josh and Jeff took the time attend our Ramble last year.

Food Front Cooperative Grocery.

About ten years ago, a national chain opened a store in Portland and contacted us about supplying berries. They bought a lot and were happy with our quality. The problem is that they rotated staff all over the country, making it impossible to establish a longterm working relationship with a produce manager. When each new harvest started, we found ourselves at the courtship stage again. The new person was from Palo Alto, Austin or Miami and knew nothing about the local produce. It didn't seem to matter that the chain sent a fancy photographer from Los Angeles to photograph us. For all we know, the fancy photographer photo still hangs in the store. The final straw was when they went extremely bureaucratic with respect to ordering and receiving. A very officious letter with lots of attachments explained all of the ways they didn't have to pay us if we strayed from the rules. Threatening farmers with nonpayment puts a deep and irreversible crimp in the relationship.

New Seasons Market.

The pleasure of working with Josh and Jeff is that we have known their staff for years. And when New Seasons opens a new store, it is always a seasoned staff member who takes the lead. We are not actually dealing with a new store, just a familiar face in a new setting. We know staff by name and it is always one of us who makes the delivery. This detailed approach means the store can eliminate wasted berries. If they feel they are a bit long on berries, they can email or call us and we adjust the orders. A fair measure of our time is spent convincing stores that running out of Chesters is okay.

This week we will have lots of berries, some purslane and amaranth, frikeh, herbs, shallots and garlics. We will leave the preserves at the farm in order to fit all the berries in the van. If you want to make your own preserves, this early season fruit is the best choice. All of our preserves are made from the first harvest, which means we never need to add pectin. There is enough in the fruit to get a good set. Adding pectin diminishes the flavor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Inspiration Strikes From Afar, Baba Ghanoush Results


Someone once asked a lunch table of techies what they thought the internet, then in its infancy—think dial-up connections, tel-net, CU-SeeMe, listserv mailing lists—would become, and everyone present started talking about commerce and capitalism and corporations.

When it was my turn (I was a guest and just there for the food; dim sum, as I recall), I said that, for me, it wasn't the commercial possibilities that intrigued me, but the interpersonal potential that seemed revolutionary. That is, the ability it gave people on opposite sides of the world to connect over issues of common interest and to share information quickly and easily.

That luncheon conversation came rushing back when my friend John, who works for Marqués de Valdueza olive oil with his lovely wife Ana, was inspired by my neighbor Jim Dixon's post on Good Stuff NW about grilling eggplant. He e-mailed from his home in Madrid, "I tweaked your aubergine salad recipe and made baba ghanoush Marqués de Valdueza! I'll serve it tonight with pita and a dust of Pimentón de la Vera. Thank you very much for the inspiration, it turned out delicious!"

See what I mean about that internet thing? Whether it's bonding over food or politics or other concerns of our daily lives, there's always someone out there willing to engage. Gotta love that.

Baba Ghanoush Marqués de Valdueza

Roast one eggplant over a grill, turning a quarter turn every 15 minutes, for a total of 1 hour. Spoon out the roasted eggplant into a blender. Add one small sweet onion, two small very ripe tomatoes, half a salad cucumber (thin skin), fresh parsley, fleur de sel (to taste), a couple of tablespoons of Merula extra virgin olive oil* and a splash of Marqués de Valdueza red wine vinegar*. Blend it all, leaving small chunks for texture. Serve dusted with Gualtaminos picante Pimentón de la Vera*, crackers and pita bread. And a spoon to not leave any behind!

* Regular good quality extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) can be substituted.

A Delicious Day is More Than Food


What makes a day delicious?

It goes way beyond serving food that merely tastes good, and it has nothing to do with whether each leaf has been tweezed into place.

My friend Kathryn went to visit her mother in Lexington, Kentucky, not far from where her grandmother—known as Granny and about whom family legends are spun—and her people came from, about an hour southeast of the city on Spencer's Mountain. It was a place where, no matter what your family's circumstances were, there was always music being played and biscuits made with White Lily flour coming out of the oven.

Kathryn's mother (l) and grandmother.

Granny knew who made the best liquor on the mountain, and what proper series of words must be spoken to get it, how to play a mean guitar and handle a gun, and how to warn off hussies who might be making a play for her man with a simple, "I wouldn't do that." Her passing a few years ago left a big hole in the heart of the mountain.

Whenever she visits, Kathryn accompanies her mother on the rounds of her beloved thrift stores, always working in a stop to pick up a ham to bring back to Portland. This time it was a Burgers' Smokehouse Brown Sugar Cured Country Ham that caught her eye, an 18-pound beauty in the case at Critchfield Meats in Lexington.

Biscuits ready for the oven.

Yes, I said 18 pounds, loaded in a purchased-for-the-occasion thrift store suitcase along with several pounds of White Lily flour, Weisenberger's grits and cornmeal mix to get her family through till the next visit.

On arrival, the cloth-bound, 100% TSA-approved ham was ceremoniously hung in a closet in the basement to await its date with a liter of Coca-Cola and a house full of guests. On Wednesday the "Ham Baby," as it was be-monikered, was removed from the closet and its cloth suit and set in a pot of water to soak out some of the copious amounts of salt used by Burgers to cure its hams.

The Ham Baby and proud parents.

For three days the baby bathed, the water changed daily by its dutiful attendants, and on the third day it was removed from the briny water and submerged in the fateful liter of Coke and more water, to simmer until its internal temperature reached 155 degrees. Removed to Kathryn's butcher block table, the ham was then deboned by her husband Jeff and tightly wrapped in plastic wrap so it would cool completely in one piece, the easier to slice it just before their guests arrived.

Friends were gathered the next day with beautiful flowers, jams and fresh butter on the table to celebrate summer and each other and the holy ham, which had been sliced wafer-thin to be served with baskets of those cloud-like White Lily biscuits.

And here's what made it a delicious day: the laughter and stories, the appreciation for the food and the strong women of Kathryn's family whose traditions had made it all possible.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Tito, We're Not in Oregon Anymore


It's been a mighty weird year weatherwise, and no one sees that more than the farmer who grows our food. So I've been waiting with bated breath to hear from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm about just what a long, strange summer it's been.

Tito, I don't think we are in Oregon anymore. From a meteorological perspective, Gaston has fallen squarely into Kansas, it seems. A bit disorienting for the farmer and the cur.

Chester blackberries.

Hot and humid, it is ideal corn, bean and small grain weather. The corn was nearly shoulder high and tasseling by the 4th, the beans are topping their poles and the barley is already harvested nearly a month before the Lammas. We even have a beautiful crop of soy growing, and the All Crop is ready to thresh the chickpeas in early August.

Parching the frikeh.

Alas, the flat plains of country's middle, its Corn Belt, are not known for their cherries and berries. The cherry crop was a complete bust, the plums will be on the shy side and we are already into Chester season. This more than two weeks earlier than normal, hardly an auspicious sign. But the expected cooling this week should help.

Hewing to the more hopeful side of the Kansas reference, the tomatoes are growing apace, along with the melons and squash. Grapes look promising as well, and we should have crab apple jelly this autumn.

And no twisters yet.

Summertime and the money is fleeing, 
the beans are climbing and the corn is high, 
your soils are fertilized and the crops good looking, 
so hush patient farmer it will be okay.

One of these mornings, you are going to rise for market,
And your cash box will fill with coin, everyone will be happy,
But until that morning, there's so much to do,
As you are working your fields.

Read more about how Anthony produces his frikeh.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Camp Stories: Camp Creek on Mt. Hood


Despite the fact that we'd heard nary a pop, whistle or boom in the days leading up to the Fourth of July this year—a friend admitted fantasizing that maybe, just maybe, the citizens of our fair city had finally awakened to the ridiculousness of turning their neighborhoods into reenactments of war movies—we were still bound and determined to head into the woods in case my friend's fantasy of a saner Fourth might not be forthcoming.

Assessing the campsite.

Most of the campgrounds that take reservations had been snatched up months before, and our traditional campground, Paradise Creek on the flanks of Mt. Adams, no longer allowed advance reservations on its preferred creekside sites. Plus we were hoping to stay a little closer to home this year, the better to avoid taking the dogs on a multi-hour trip in a hot car.

Morning wake-up.

We'd heard that the small Green Canyon campground on Mt. Hood, off a forest road outside of Rhododendron, might be worth scoping out, since all 15 sites are available on a first come, first serve basis. But Dave wanted to check out Camp Creek, too, since it was close to a cabin (Showers! Toilets!) that friends were staying at for the weekend. I was less than excited about its location, just off the very busy Mt. Hood Highway between Rhododendron and Government Camp. I could imagine the roar of 18-wheelers and the shrieking of air brakes casting a pall over our woodsy weekend.

Looking up.

But pulling off the highway we found ourselves immersed in the buffering company of tall old-growth Douglas firs and the babbling of Camp Creek itself, which provided a comforting screen of white noise that covered any disturbing rumbling that might leak through. We scooted into the last available non-reservable site on the far end of the camp loop, and Dave used his "Old Man pass"—a Senior Pass to National Parks and recreation areas—to get half off the nightly rate. Deal!

Cocktail hour.

After pumping up the air mattress and setting up the camp kitchen, it was time for cocktails by the fire followed by a walk down to the creek before dinner. I'd heard that the flow of the nearby Zigzag River was much reduced by the lack of snow over the winter, not to mention the dry spring weather, so I was a little surprised to find Camp Creek noisily pouring down from wherever its source was. Fallen trees created dams and waist-high holes, though wading up to our ankles was about as far as we and the dogs got in the icy creek.

Steaks on the fire.

A quiet night's sleep, coffee and breakfast next to the fire, and we were off to explore the Still Creek Trail, a fairly easy one-and-a-half-mile forested hike that starts with a walk over a beautiful wooden bridge at one end of the campground. With a couple of slight elevation gains as it climbs a hill, if you're there at the right time you might see salmonberries, occasional red huckleberries and little chipmunks skittering across your path.

Another hike is along the Pioneer Bridle Trail, a major mountain bike trail that parallels Hwy. 26 and which you can access at the entrance to the campground. Another option is taking the Still Creek Trail from the campground, turning left at the first roadway, then left again onto the Bridle Trail to go back to the campground. Of course you could decide to trek down the Bridle Trail to Tollgate Campground (a couple of miles one way) or a much more challenging hike as far as Government Camp, about seven miles on a rougher trail with a considerable elevation gain.

Strenuous activities aside, it's also completely pleasant to sit and read a book or nap at your campsite or by the stream. Your choice!

Find great suggestions for area campgrounds and camp cooking in the Camp Stories series.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Eggplant: When Burning Your Food is Good


I prefer to call it aubergine, the lilting name that the French use for this member of the nightshade family, but say that to an employee at Whole Foods and you'll have a choice of the only-reserved-for-certain-customers official eye roll or the more traditional shoulder shrug. Botanically classified as a berry, it's a summer favorite of contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, who believes everything tastes better cooked on his grill.

Burned Eggplant Salad

I'm cooking outside as much as possible during this hot weather, and I try to make sure I have an eggplant on hand when I light the grill. While you can roast eggplant in the oven, you don't get the smoky flavor you get when you burn them over fire. And I rarely build a fire just for burning eggplant; I'm usually cooking something else but want to take advantage of the hot coals.

The technique is simple. Put the whole eggplant over the fire, turn it over periodically and cook it until the skin is charred all over and the eggplant has collapsed. The time will vary depending on the heat of your fire, but it's difficult to overcook (unless you literally burn it up). I've left eggplant on the grill overnight to cook slowly over the dying embers.

When the eggplant is ready, let it cool enough to handle, then cut it lengthwise and remove the skin. Sometimes it just peels off, but you may need to use a spoon or knife to separate the skin from the cooked interior.The cooked eggplant makes great baba ghanoush, but I like to make a modified version of the eggplant salad found throughout the middle east.

Chop the cooked eggplant coarsely, then combine it with chopped tomato, onion (sweet onion if you can find one), cucumber (thin-skinned cukes are best), mint, parsley, red wine vinegar (or lemon juice) and plenty of extra virgin olive oil.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nocino: Italian Green Walnut Liqueur


One year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. That's how long it takes till you know if you've succeeded or failed miserably. If you've created something worth doing again or if maybe it needs a little tweaking next time.

Too strong? Too sweet? Too bitter? Still takes about a year to really know.

Longer than a pregnancy, with no ultrasounds, blood tests or even a heartbeat to listen to. Sure you can taste it as you go along, which can give you a vague idea of its eventual character, but really, as with that pregnancy, you'll just have to wait and see how it turns out. In this case, if the combination of raw green walnuts, grain alcohol and simple syrup makes itself into something worth pouring for friends after a long, happy dinner.

My first batch, made last year from walnuts donated from the prodigious production of my neighbor Jim Dixon's tree, got off to a promising start on our back patio, over a period of several months turning from bright green to yellow to the color of your car's oil when it needs changing. Once the solids have been strained off and the simple syrup is added, it's like tasting a soup before the ingredients have had a chance to cook together. Each ingredient was distinct and identifiable: lots of astringent alcohol, the vegetal taste of the walnuts, then the sweetness of the sugar.

After a year, though, the flavors began to blend into a cohesive profile. At this point, last year's batch has subtle notes of chocolate and coffee, as well as vanilla and a hint of citrus. I know Jim has nocinos dating back several years, each remarkably unique and getting more complex as the years go by.

This year I got more green walnuts from Jim, adding in some I picked—with permission—from another neighbor's tree, then threw in a few leaves per Mr. Dixon's method (below). Back out onto the patio they went to sit through the summer and fall until November when I'll decant them, add the sugar and wait to find out what kind of character I'll meet next year.

Jim Dixon's Nocino

1 gallon-size glass jar*
30-40 green walnuts
1 gallon ‎180 proof grain alcohol, known as Everclear (in Oregon you can also get a brand called Clear Spring at select OLCC stores)
Walnut leaves, optional
Simple syrup (3 parts sugar to 4 parts water mixture)

Halve walnuts and fill jar, adding a few leaves at the end if desired. Fill jar with alcohol and secure lid. Place outdoors. Within a few days it will look like used motor oil. Wait at least two months—I tend to wait four to six months—then strain out nuts and leaves. Next, Jim says, "I'd recommend diluting the walnut-flavored alcohol with an equal amount of syrup, which gives you 90 proof nocino, then trying it to see if you like it 'hot.' If not, you can add more plain water and/or syrup to dilute it down. Around 80 proof (40% alcohol) is what I like, which is 2 parts alcohol to 3 parts syrup/water." Great as is as a digestif or over ice cream for dessert.

* I double this recipe, resulting in a little less than two gallons of finished liqueur.

Read my post on picking walnuts with Jim and Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana, titled "Yes to Nocino!", and the story of my first attempt last year, "Waiting's the Hard Part."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Garden 2015: Things Are Bustin' Out All Over!


Was it just 10 days ago that I posted a photo of my baby greens? Yikes!

With the unseasonably sunny and warm-to-hot temperatures, the garden has been going gangbusters. I've made two dinner salads with just the thinnings from the lettuces, the carrots are looking like they'll be ready in a couple of weeks (my 5-year-old nephew will be thrilled) and the tomatoes are growing like, well, like the weeds that also seem to thrive in these temperatures.

I'm not optimistic that the remaining greens will survive the predicted steady onslaught of temps in the mid-90s that are coming for the next couple of weeks, but I'll try to preempt bolting by picking as much as I can. In the meantime, happy summer!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Garden Tours: A Perfect Excuse to Snoop!


I admit it. I'm a nosey parker at heart. There's nothing better I like than having a chance to get on the other side of the fences that keep me from seeing people's back yards and gardens. The best way to do that and not get arrested for trespassing is to go on a garden tour, and prime time for doing that in the Northwest is right now.

These events are supposed to be in the service of gathering ideas for one's own meager plot, but really a part of the thrill for me is having the chance to stroll through what only friends and family normally get to see.

Snoopy, as my father would have said, is my middle name.

The gardeners themselves are often in attendance at these tours, so you might get a chance to chat with them if you so choose. As an example, one garden owner last weekend admitted to planting bamboo in a corner of his garden as a screen between him and a neighbor he's had issues with, knowing that the plant might just send runners under the fence, a little-known-but-used-more-often-than-you-might-think technique I like to call "Passive-Aggressive Gardening."

One of the best ways to take advantage of these tours is to join the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, which, for only $35 per year, offers its members self-guided tours of a rich and diverse array of gardens from April through October. Stretching from the coast to Bend and from the south Willamette Valley all the way north to Seattle, the featured gardens can be everything from a shade garden on a city lot in Portland, to a more rural but still gorgeous flower, fruit and vegetable extravaganza on 2 acres, to a historic garden designed by a major landscape architect. The society also offers workshops, lectures, programs, discounts at local nurseries and reduced prices on garden books.

Several neighborhoods offer garden tours, including Sellwood and Foster-Powell, and there's even a bike tour of community gardens in Northeast Portland. A national organization, the Garden Conservancy, offers tours in the region, and searching for "Portland Garden Tours" yielded several resources. So get out there and rubberneck to your heart's content!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: Hanging in the Balance


The Golden Boy atop the Capitol dome in Salem is feeling the heat building up under his feet. With only a couple of weeks left in the 2015 Oregon legislative session, the action is getting intense, with last-minute lobbying and buttonholing the order of the day. Several bills that will affect the food you put on your tables need action, so take a look at the short list below and let your legislators know what you think about these issues.

The numbered title of each bill (in bold) is linked to an overview on the state website.

The Battles We've Won

House Bill (HB) 3239: "Aggie bonds," legislation that will expand loans to beginning farmers, was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown in late May. Look for it to spur new farmers to enter the market. With the average age of an Oregon farmer at nearly 60 years old, this is a very welcome, and much needed, development.

Senate Bill (SB) 341: This bill protects agritourism providers, such as farmers who have farm stay programs, host farm tours (left) or have on-farm stores, from legal liability when they invite members of the public onto their property. It passed the House last week and will be signed into law any day.

SB 320: When a bill has 27 sponsors out of 30 members, you know it has a good chance of passing. This bill, allowing home cooks to produce limited amounts of baked goods and confectionary items for sale to the public without being regulated by State Department of Agriculture (ODA), was signed into law by the governor in mid-June.

These Bills Still Need Your Help

SB 920: This bill to limit the use of human antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals—a practice that factory farms (right) use to promote faster growth and keep animals alive in unsanitary, stressful and crowded conditions—is stuck in the Senate Rules Committee. This is a critical issue for public health, since abuse of these drugs by the livestock industry has created antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases that no longer respond to treatment with most antibiotics (see my post The Personal Gets Political). Click here to send an e-mail to your legislator.

HB 3554: This bill would help protect farmers whose crops are at risk of contamination from genetically modified (GM or GMO) crops by allowing the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to establish "control areas" to prevent cross-pollination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. This bill is currently stuck in the House Rules Committee because of lobbying by large out-of-state corporations and needs your support to make it into law before time runs out. Let your legislator know the integrity of our food system is important to you by clicking here.

HB 2723: Would provide a tax incentive for property owners to allow small scale urban agriculture for a period of five years on unused plots of land. It got a cool reception in the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee last week and may die if it isn't voted on soon. Let your legislators know that you think this incentive is a good way to incorporate more small-scale agriculture into our food system.

Read the other posts in this series, Opening SalvosThe Good, The Bad and The UglyThe Personal Gets Political and The Fight Takes Shape.

Thanks to Ivan Maluski at Friends of Family Farmers for his help with the information on these bills.

Pets and the Fourth of July


Our solution to the July Fourth maelstrom that turns our neighborhood into a set for a war movie has been to go camping in an area that doesn't allow fireworks. If that's not an option for you, my friend Christine Mallar, who co-owns Green Dog Pet Supply with her husband, Mike, just sent out a few suggestions for pet owners on how to help your pets through the fireworks season. Read her full post here.

Just a reminder: now's the time to start thinking about how you'll manage the fireworks. Here are a few tips and products that might help:
  • If you have a new dog, please don't take them with you to a fireworks display. The crowds and the very big noise and smells of the explosives can be very overwhelming to a dog, and could create a fear of fireworks where they might not have had one before.
  • As people generally start setting off a few fireworks in the days leading up to July 4th, you can use these intermittent pops and bangs as opportunities. Keep some high value treats nearby and when you hear a pop, act like that's a really great opportunity for your dog for fun and treats! If nothing else, at least don't act like you're worried that they'll be frightened by the noises, or they might pick up on that and think they should be frightened, too. It's best to either ignore the noise or act like you think it's fun and treat-worthy.
  • Thundershirts can be a very useful tool. These snug wraps can really help to calm and reassure dogs in stressful situations. It's a good idea to pick one up early and put it on at times when nothing bad is happening, so they don't learn to think something scary is about to start. (Dogs are pretty good at noticing patterns.) These don't work for every dog, but they can be amazingly helpful for some dogs. There are also a variety of calming treats that can be very helpful. Note: do not use Acepromazine on July 4th as it can increase noise sensitivity.
  • On July 4th day, make sure to get all of your pets lots of exercise. Getting them tired will help them not to be so amped up over noises. Burn off that nervous energy! Keep them inside when there are fireworks going off—don't leave them outside, since they can panic and run off or be injured by people playing with fireworks. Offer dogs something new and exciting to chew on that night, since chewing often helps dogs deal with stress. Turning on some white noise or music, or even the clothes dryer or a noisy dishwasher can be helpful to drown out the fireworks noise.
  • Are your ID tags current? Make sure that every pet, perhaps even your indoor cats, are wearing their tags. Fearful animals can often bolt for the door, and many pets are lost every year. There's still plenty of time to order a fresh ID tag.
Here's hoping everyone in your family has a safe and calm holiday.