Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guest Essay: Tidepool

The ocean exerts a strong pull on me, calling me with memories of waves lashing the shore or whispering over the rocks along its edge. My friend, writer, author and forager Hank Shaw, recently wrote a meditation about his own relationship with the abundance of life along its edges.

For as long as I have been me, I have collected the detritus of the sea.

Shells of tiny whelks and oyster drills. The calcified husks of sand dollars or sea urchins. Jingle shells. Sea glass, each with an unknowable story of how it entered the ocean to be tossed about, burnished and softened over time. Mostly white, green or brown, a fleck of cobalt sea glass I found on a beach on Block Island decades ago remains one of my prized possessions, for reasons my conscious mind cannot fathom.

But these were merely what I put into my pockets. The real draw of the place where ocean meets land is its living edge: the tidepool.

Sometimes it is merely a depression in the beach that became a shallow lake. A lake teeming with sand fleas, minnows of indeterminate species, seaweeds and the always entertaining hermit crab. In New England and along the North Pacific, sand gives way to stone. Boulders and crags litter the littoral landscape like forgotten dice tossed there by unseen giants.

These stones trap pools of water, and by so doing serve as bulwarks for an array of wonder.

Seaweeds of endless variety. Crustaceans ranging from barely visible to alarmingly large. Lots of fish, some tempting. I once found a rubberlips perch big enough to eat, if only I could have caught him. Snails — turbans in the West, winkles in the East — dot every hard surface; to me they’re like money scattered on pavement. Mussels jostle for position on the ocean faces of the boulders, grudgingly making way for the bizarre (and delicious) gooseneck barnacles, which remind me of the 1950s saddle shoes my mom once had in her closet.

I move through this kaleidoscope as I always have: As a child.

Some of my earliest memories are of tidepools. The boom and hiss of waves large enough to kill. The minerality of the air, a saline bite that mingled briny life and the reeking, iodine rot of decaying kelp or crabs. Or, once, a large hunk of whale.

An inexorable descent into a coating sandiness that I knew even as a child would take all day — or a proper, indoor shower — to fully remedy. The step-sink-slip, the tightening calves and exfoliating rasp of the sand that are the price, and the gift, of walking long distances on a beach. And there is always that clammy chill hovering over the pools, even in high summer.

The game is always different in the pools, but there is always action.

Read the rest of this marvelous essay.

Photos at left and right by Hank Shaw.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Farm Store Day and Renaming Frikeh

It was a big step for Ayers Creek Farm to leave the farmers' market to focus on its restaurant clients, but, not wanting to have their loyal customers doing without pantry staples, they decided to hold occasional farm days featuring the crops coming in from the fields. One of those much-clamored-for staples is the farm's frikeh, a green wheat that is harvested and "parched," a process that burns the outer husk of the grain and lends a smoky undertone when it is cooked. As contributor Anthony Boutard explains, this year frikeh has been rechristened as parched green wheat.

We will have an open farm day this Sunday, the 31st of July, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. (The subsequent farm day will be scheduled in a couple of weeks.) These open days are crop-driven and will occur from time to time into October.

We will have Chesters and Triple Crown blackberries by pre-order only. We will need all berry orders by noon on Friday (7/29). We will be packing them into half-flats (6 pints) at $20 each. When ordering please indicate the number of half flats so as to avoid confusion.

No, it won't be just berries. We will also harvest fenugreek, purslane and amaranth. Likely some green gage plums. In the pantry category, we will have Wapato favas, dry beans (Dutch Bullet, Black Turtle, Black Basque), genuine Gaston mustard, parched green wheat neé frikeh, cornmeal, popcorn and preserves.

* * *

Parched Green Wheat neé Frikeh

Last autumn, we were approached by a staff member working with an aid organization located in Lebanon. They were helping a group of freekeh producers and wanted to subvert the increasing supply of "fake" freekeh. We had seen problem as well. Manufacturers crush regular wheat, sometimes dying it green, and sell it as the food known as freekeh. Often it has a nasty, stuffy odor. Interestingly, around the same time the agency approached us, I had a chef describe to me some some beautiful bright green freekeh they had purchased. They were surprised it was so much greener than ours and said it must be the effect of "terroir." A bottle of green dye, more likely.

Parching the wheat.

The recent research into freekeh's the health benefits has generated increased interest in the food, and an industry dedicated to avoiding the true work and craft of producing it. The agency wanted us to participate in the creation of an international definition of freekeh. The United States hosts the Codex Committee on Cereals, Pulses and Legumes. The definition would be published in the international food code, Codex Alimentarius.

We wrote the letter quoted below, which outlined our history with the food, and a proposal. Interestingly, as we though about the name of the food, we decided to drop the Arabic transliteration we had been using, and just describe the food in plain English: parched green wheat. That is what it is. Anthony has not received a reply to the letter, a pity because all of us would have enjoyed the visit, we are sure.

Threshing the parched grain.

"I am finally finishing up the late autumn farming tasks, including planting wheat for next year's production of frikeh. I decided to hold off answering your inquiry because I want to detail a plan that might help bring attention to your efforts.

"As the post that led you to Ayers Creek explained, we have been producing high quality frikeh since 2003, and have sold tons of the parched grain just within the small metropolitan area of Portland, Oregon. I will add that frikeh production is a small part of a larger enterprise that produces hull-less barley, milling corn, chickpeas, dry beans, soy and favas, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. We sell to restaurants within the city and a few further afield. Interestingly, none of our customers are traditional Middle Eastern restaurants, and most of the people who buy it were introduced to frikeh by us. Most have subsequently tried "Brand X" frikeh purchased in the stores, hoping to fill in the months when we run out, and found it inedible. The restaurants simply drop frikeh from their menus when our supply is gone. Our frikeh does have its own character shaped by us and our staff, and the people who buy from us. One of the advantages of knowing our customers by name.

Buttermilk, purslane and frikeh soup.

"The restaurants that buy our frikeh point to the breadth of its potential market. For example, we have a Japanese restaurant, Chef Naoko, that uses frikeh in its bento box salads. The restaurant provides bento boxes for the business-class lunch service on Delta's flights between Portland and Tokyo. Higgin's Restaurant is our first and biggest frikeh user, and it is hews to a northern French menu. Two classic Italian restaurants, Nostrana and Ava Gene's, serve frikeh-based dishes during the summer months. At Nostrana, frikeh is served as a pilaf and also in a very refreshing buttermilk and purslane soup. The fact that frikeh can draw these restaurants out of their standard ingredient list speaks to its appeal. It fits into any number of cuisines.

"At the market, we have several customers who enjoy frikeh with yogurt for breakfast. Our friend Linda Colwell serves it in a salad of home-canned Oregon albacore. Carol and I make a lamb tartar with frikeh. The lamb is coarsely ground, mixed with the frikeh in equal parts and seasoned with mint, lemon, olive oil, shallots and parsley. Inspired by raw lamb in kibbeh, though it is very different in texture.

Frikeh and albacore salad.

"With this experience in mind, I invite a group of the Lebanese frikeh makers you work with to visit us in Oregon. Portland is a market well-primed by us for appreciating quality frikeh, and it would give them an opportunity to meet a new group of customers that see beyond its genesis as a Middle Eastern ingredient. The chefs would have a good time. Provvista Foods has long tried to carry our frikeh, an overture we politely decline because we prefer to sell directly to our restaurant accounts. I have seen information on your freekeh and the grain looks good, though the pitch that frikeh is cheaper than quinoa detracts from the message. It sounds unnecessarily defensive, especially as frikeh is a delicious food on its own accord. Sounds like  a pitch for generic versus branded medicine rather than food—it is just as much a superfood, but cheaper. A week with fresh voices who love the ingredient would improve the message.

I am sure we could get a good write-up describing frikeh makers a world apart meeting each other, likely with good national coverage. We have a strong National Public Radio affiliate (Oregon Public Broadcasting) here that might see it as an interesting story with nice blend of local and international flavor. Our friend, Deborah Madison, is a longtime devotee of frikeh and may have some insights into how we could make the meeting an entertaining and compelling story. Locally, Linda Colwell, mentioned earlier, is the farm's Melete, Muse of Occasion, and could help us put together a good visit. Most recently, we hosted 70 attendees of 'Organicology' and about 80 legume researchers from around the world from the Bean Improvement Cooperative.

Frikeh tabbouli (recipe here).

The visit could include a stop in the San Francisco area. Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo has a great deal of experience working with farmers from Mexico who supply him some of the beans and corn his store carries. He may have some excellent ideas about marketing frikeh in the United States. Both Ranch Gordo and Ayers Creek have done a good job of making some pretty humdrum staples like corn, barley and beans interesting. Over many years, we have sold frikeh to Boulette's Larder in San Francisco, and perhaps the delegation could try their culinary treatment of frikeh.

Although I have no general qualms about amending various codices to include a definition of frikeh, I do know that people buy on the positive. Having a government agency define an ingredient will not improve sales or expand interest in the grain. Both Ranch Gordo and Ayers Creek produce and sell premium beans and grains successfully in a market where there is a flood of cheaper alternatives by focusing on quality and character. At Ayers Creek, we also shy away from all health claims. I think the overused jargon surrounding health benefit claims for all sorts of commodities creates a white noise of claims that detracts from the pitch. When people return to buy more frikeh, they describe that special smoky, sensuous and grassy quality in the grain and how they served it, not some tenuous health benefit that has given them a bit more skip in their step.

Anyway, we are extending this offer, and would love to host a group of fellow frikeh/freekeh makers. If, over time, you want to amend the FGIS Codex to include a definition of frikeh/freekeh, I would be happy to write a collegial letter in support, but I am not interested in taking the lead on such an effort. Even a flood of really awful fakes would not have any effect on our sales. Indeed, the more awful, the better, because they simply amplify the quality people have come to expect from our frikeh."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Peach Season? Make Salad!

A simple salad made from the freshest summer ingredients is always a good idea on toasty summer days when you want something cool and refreshing but don't want to cook. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food goes classic-with-a-twist in this panzanella featuring fresh peaches.

Peach Panzanella

I came home from the weekend farmers' market with more peaches than I could eat, thanks to my friend Trevor from Baird Family Orchards. I'll be making some desserts soon, but first a savory twist using peaches instead of tomatoes in the classic Tuscan bread salad called panzanella. Like tomatoes, peaches are both sweet and acidic, and they can often be used where you might find tomatoes.

The thrifty Italians don't let anything edible go to waste, and panzanella was traditionally made with hard, stale bread soaked in water to soften, then squeezed to a soft pulp. I prefer to use fresh or slightly stale bread that's grilled or toasted, then cut into small cubes. It'll eventually soften as it absorbs the liquids in the salad.

You'll need roughly one peach for each slice of bread, maybe 4 of each for a salad to feed four to six people. But first thinly slice a red onion and soak it in a couple of tablespoons of Katz red wine vinegar [regular red wine vinegar works, too]. Cut the bread in to half-inch cubes, the peaches into bite-sized pieces. Tear or slice a good handful of basil leaves into thin strips. Combine everything in a large bowl, add a generous amount (maybe four tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil, a light pinch of salt (unlike Tuscan bread, ours will add some salt, so taste before adding) and some freshly ground black pepper. Mangia.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Blackberry Eating

A neighbor up the street is a poet, so naturally you'd expect him to have a poetry box on a post outside his home. And he does. I noticed the other day that he'd posted a new poem in the box, and it's perfect for the season.

Blackberry Eating
By Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Crop-Up" Dinners: Farm to Table Dinners for $20!

A seven-course, farm-to-table dinner for $20? I know, I couldn't believe it, either. Especially having recently attended, courtesy of very generous friends, a similar dinner costing more than ten times that amount. Which, while outrageous for most of us, isn't considered out of the ball park for one of these affairs.

Since my curiosity had been piqued, I had to call and ask Jason Ball, Research Chef at the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University (OSU)—which is coordinating the series sponsored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and OSU—what the deal was and how it could possibly be so cheap. He said the idea was to have a series of pop-up dinners across the state that showcased Oregon's specialty crops and the small entrepreneurs who use specialty crops in their products.

That led to writing a grant proposal to the US Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for a two-year dinner series designed to increase awareness of Oregon's fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. And that's where that low, low price comes in: the cost of each event is subsidized by that grant, making the events accessible to more people who might otherwise not be able to afford a couple of hundred bucks per ticket to get to know their farmers.

A bonus is that each dinner will not only feature a chef-prepared, several-course dinner—there's a cash bar for local beer and wine—but the event also includes a farmers' market-style "showcase" reception where ticket-holders can buy some of the crops that will be appearing on the menu. And on top of that, each attendee will be provided with five coupons for $1 off the price of purchases at the event's farmers' market.

Is this sounding like the event of the summer? It sure is to me! So as not to keep you in suspense, here's a list of the events with a link to get tickets. Have fun!

Aurora Crop-Up Dinner, Sat., July 21, 5:30 pm
Chefs: Ryan & Crystal Abitz, Urban Gourmet
Farms: Big B Farms, Oregon Dulse, HBF International (formerly Hurst's Berry Farm).
Entrepenuers: Froozer, Gelato Maestro
No-host Beer: Oregon City Brewing
No-host Wine: St. Josef’s Winery
Music: James Clem

Astoria Crop-Up Dinner, Thurs., Aug. 4, 5:30 pm
OSU Seafood Lab, 2001 Marine Dr., Astoria

Hermiston Crop-Up Dinner, Thurs., Aug. 18, 5:30 pm
Hermiston Agricultural Research Station, 2121 S 1st St., Hermiston

Medford Crop-Up Dinner, Tues., Sept. 13, 5:30 pm
Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Rd., Central Point

Information is available on the Aurora dinner, with more details to come on subsequent events. You can also sign up for notifications when next year's series is scheduled.

Photos courtesy the Food Innovation Center.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The "L" Word: Leftover Salmon Makes a Salad

Salmon season is in high gear with wild Chinook and Sockeye salmon and their cousin, the Steelhead (really a large trout), running in the Columbia River. Out in the ocean there are Pacific Ocean King and Ivory King, both Chinook salmon, being troll-caught off our coast, with Kenai Red—a Sockeye that is new to me—and Coho being hauled onto the doughty fleet of boats in Alaska's Pacific waters. (I know this because Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Company shared the salmon update in his latest newsletter.)

Kenai Red salmon.

The other evening Dave had smoked a luscious fillet of Kenai Red that I'd been given as a sample from the Kenai Red Fish Company, which offers a subscription—instead of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) it's called a CSF (Community Supported Fishery)—for a season's share of the salmon caught in the Cook Inlet near Homer, Alaska.

There were a couple of cups of the fillet left over from dinner, so I put it away thinking I might throw it into a chowder or use it for a batch of salmon cakes in the coming week. Then, when my brother asked us over for dinner a couple of nights later I queried him about what we could contribute. He said, "How about an appetizer?"


The ingredients, pre-tossing.

That's when I remembered the salmon I'd stowed in the fridge, and after rummaging in the vegetable bin I came up with half a fennel bulb, some green onions and two local yellow plums. Maybe a fresh, crunchy salad to put on crackers or crostini would fit the bill.

Salmon Salad

2-3 c. leftover salmon, flaked
1/2 med. bulb fennel, sliced thinly
1 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped
2 med. plums, halved and sliced thinly
1-2 Tbsp. capers
2 green onions, sliced thinly
3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon, added to taste
Salt, to taste

Put salmon, fennel, fennel fronds, plums, capers, green onions and pine nuts in large mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the ingredients and add half of lemon juice. Toss gently to combine but don't break up the salmon too much. Adjust lemon juice and add salt to taste.

This would be a great lunch salad or light entrée served on a bed of fresh-from-the-garden (or farmers' market) lettuce. It would also be terrific combined with pasta or a cooked grain like farro, barley or parched green wheat (frikeh).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Oregon Dairy Farmer Tells Why He Went Organic

This is the story of Jon Bansen, a dairy farmer in Monmouth, Oregon, who grew up on the land his family had farmed for generations. In this short film by documentary filmmakers Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy of Cooking Up a Story, Bansen explains why he decided to transition from conventional agriculture, with what he calls its "lotions and potions," to farming and raising his dairy cows using organic methods.

He explains that, ironically, it's the way his grandfather farmed before the industry was taken over by big chemical companies. "That's the wonderful thing about organics," he says in the film. "It's about bringing biology back to our food instead of being about industry."

Watch part one of Bansen's story, "Organic Dairyman: A Family Tradition," and part three, "Birdhouses: Using Nature to Control a Farm Pest."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My First Pickle is an Onion

I cultivate friends with skills. Like Hank Shaw, master forager and inspiring hunter and cook, who showed me how to pluck wapato tubers from the marshy muck on a wetland's verge. Or Jack Czarnecki, mushroom guru extraordinaire, who revealed the mysteries of mycological activity occuring deep beneath the ground in Oregon's forests. Then there's Linda Colwell, who, among many other things, shared her passion for infused liqueurs made from seasonal berries and luscious syrups made from flowers. Not only do I learn new skills and work with (and enjoy) the freshest ingredients, I get to know fantastically smart and interesting people, a win-win-win!

Salted, rinsed onions.

One skill I've been jonesing to learn is pickling. (I know, right? It shocks me that I've never learned how.) No one in my family was into it when I was growing up, though I vaguely recall my mother tried pickling cucumbers a few times with apparently unsatisfactory results. So I was thrilled when my neighbor Bill, an amazing gardener and super nice guy, called and said that he and his equally cool wife, Jen, were going to make a batch of pickled onions from the Walla Walla sweet onions he'd harvested from his garden.

Onions going into jars.

Trying to walk, not run down to their house, I arrived with a jar of black currant jam in hand as payola to find that Jen had sliced the onions into half-inch rings and salted them down, then rinsed them thoroughly. They'd also made a brine of vinegar, sugar and some thyme leaves from their garden. While the onions were cooking in the brine, Jen pulled washed jars out of the dishwasher and put canning lids into a saucepan to simmer and sterilize.

Adding the brine.

Then it was just using tongs to pluck out the onions and fill the jars, pouring the still-hot brine over the onions and putting the lids on before they went into a hot water bath for ten minutes. Seriously, the whole process took a little over 90 minutes start to finish—along with the serious amount of time I spent wondering what in heck had prevented me from trying this simple process before. Thanks, guys!

Pickled Onions

For the brine:
3 1/2 c. white vinegar
2 c. sugar
1-2 tsp. thyme leaves plus sprigs for garnishing each jar

For the onions:
16 c. onions, sliced crosswise into 1/2" disks
4 Tbsp. pickling spice
10 1-cup canning jars and ten lids and rings

Wash ten one-cup jars in the dishwasher (or wash by hand in hot water). Allow to dry. Fill canner 2/3 full of water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover.

Place onions and pickling spice into large mixing bowl and combine. Set aside for 1 hour, occasionally mixing them with your hands and separating them into rings. Rinse thoroughly to wash off any remaining pickling spice and squeeze gently to remove as much moisture as possible. Set in colander to drain.

While the onions are draining, put the vinegar, sugar and thyme leaves into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained onions and when the brine returns to a boil, lower the heat slightly and cook the onions at a low boil for 10 minutes. While the onions are cooking, put the jars on a towel-lined tray. Put canning lids in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn off heat.

Using tongs, put onions in each jar to within 1/2" of the rim (you won't necessarily use all the jars). Pour hot brine over the onions in the jars to within 1/2" of the rim. Top with sprig of thyme, if desired. With a clean towel, wipe the rims dry and place the canning lids on top, then screw on the canning rings finger-tight. Using canning lifter, submerge jars in the canner and bring water to a boil. When water in the canner returns to a boil, cook for 10 minutes. Using lifter, remove jars from canner and set on a towel on the counter to cool. Listen for the lids to pop, signifying a complete seal. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for from several months or up to a year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Food News: Perdue Responds to Consumer Pressure

In what is being trumpeted in the press as a major step forward for chicken producers, Perdue Foods, which bought Washington-based Draper Valley Farms in 2011 and is the fourth-largest poultry producer in the nation, said that it will be taking steps to overhaul its animal welfare practices. A recent article in the New York Times said that the chickens at one contract farm that is instituting some of the changes "bask in sunlight" and "flap their wings and chase one another."

Chicken barn showing windows (at left end ).

In truth, though, it's far from the picture that most of us have of chickens foraging in grass and pecking at bugs. The chickens at these producers will still live in huge flocks of thousands of birds crammed into long, low barns and live on floors covered with litter that is a combination of their urine and feces, causing their skin and feet to blister and burn. The windows being installed in the barns (top photo) are small and high off the ground, and spaced perhaps thirty feet apart, not exactly allowing the birds to "bask" in the meager light they provide.

Perdue has also been taking steps to eliminate antibiotics from diets of the 676 million birds it produces, estimating "it has eliminated antibiotic use in two-thirds of the chickens it processes, up from 50% a year ago" and that "half of the company’s turkeys and about half the poultry it sells to restaurants are raised with no antibiotics," according to Perdue officals quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

What caused this sudden change of heart? "Consumers have voted," the Journal quotes Eric Christianson, head of marketing for Perdue, as saying. "We’re embracing it, because it’s what the consumer wants."

While it's a far cry from the measures that concerned consumers would like to see when it comes to the welfare of the animals that they'll be feeding their families—as well as issues like pollution from waste runoff, worker safety and wages, affects on neighbors, etc.—it does show that even large corporations respond when pressure from consumers is put on their bottom lines.

Photos from the New York Times.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Not Dead Yet (i.e. Berries, Farm Day & More)

This morning I was thrilled to check my e-mail and find a message from Anthony Boutard with news  of the latest goings-on at Ayers Creek Farm. As mentioned below, pencil in July 30-31 on your calendar and make plans to head out to the farm to purchase the goods direct from the farmers themselves.

Yesterday our local funeral home offered us, for "Absolutely Free!," a copy of their Final Wishes Organizer®. There was also an offer of a prepaid funeral plan, though, for our tastes, R.I.P. stands for Rot In Place, or just leave us out for the vultures, bot flies and carrion beetles. A return to nature. But it got us to thinking that we have been so wrapped up in the business of farming, we had failed to provide any updates.

Linda Colwell's Amish Butter cornmeal crostata with Imperial Epineuse plums.

Some of you may have observed that New Seasons has been carrying our 3.14 cherries and Imperial Epineuse prunes for the last two weeks, and yesterday the stores put out the first of our Chester blackberries. All bear our black and yellow label. The first harvest is always a mite short, but Tuesday and Wednesday the next lot of berries will arrive in those stores. With two new stores, it will be a challenge to meet their needs. At the end of next week, Food Front and Rubinette may be ordering berries from us as well. As the season progresses, the other fruit that we offered at the farmers' market will be available to these stores. (If you want a flat of the early berries, talk to the produce staff of the store.)

Chesters on the canes.

We are always amused by the abject distain Chesters receive in the press. For example, in 2007 the New York Times described them as "mediocre." A couple of years ago, the state's incredible shrinking tabloid of record, otherwise known as The Oregonian, described them as in "the marionberry family, chesters come with small seeds and a bitter taste." Last week, their Food Day article extolling the season's berries completely ignored the Chester, which we guess must be judged as progress. No big deal, weather permitting, we expect to sell between 60,000 and 80,000 hallocks generously filled with Chesters over the next five weeks without the help of the Oregon's tabloid press. Still, it leaves us scratching our heads. For some crazy reason, in 2001 this berry, so reviled in the press, earned "Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award" by the American Society for Horticultural Science; maybe because it really is so delicious. That's our theory backed by some empirical evidence.

Parched green wheat (i.e. the grain formerly known as frikeh).

We are planning to resume our open farm days the last weekend of July [tentatively 7/30-31], as soon as we wrap up the many loose ends dangling about the place. We need to finish threshing out the favas and barley, and get the chicories planted. We are finishing up the cleaning of the parched green wheat as well. As soon as we have the details nailed down, we will send another update. We know there is some impatience out there, but if we get everything done well here, there will be an abundance available for everyone once we are ready to resume the farm days.

We don't have any social media presence, at least that we know of, nor even a website, but a search for the #ayerscreekfarm hashtag at Instagram offers visual proof that we have been busy in the past two months. And having an Italian-German colleague, Myrtha Zierock, our Resident Fellow, has left us well fed and happy as well.

Photo of plum crostata by Linda Colwell.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Italian Herb Risotto: Making the Most of Summer's Best

I first saw this spectacular dish among the drool-worthy photos on the Instagram feed of Portland's Florentine outpost, Burrasca, and was intrigued with its verdant green color and creamy texture. You see, we eat a lot of risotto around here, since it's easy to adapt to whatever you have in your pantry or vegetable bin, it's quick—around twenty minutes cooking time—and, in summer, doesn't heat up the kitchen. Summer is also when fresh herbs are plentiful in gardens and at farmers' markets.

Plus, if you make it in the summer and get too warm standing in front of the stove, you are allowed a glass (or more, depending on how quickly you drain it) of a chilled white or rosé.

For this particular recipe, I had a fair amount left of the arugula and parsley I'd bought at the farmers' market over the weekend, as well as chives and tarragon from the garden, but you can use any greens that come to hand, like spinach, chard, sorrel, kale, chervil, dill, basil or the like. Eminently flexible, you can design your own flavor profile—I'd only caution you to not overload the mixture with stronger-tasting herbs, but let them weave in and out of the milder ones.

Risotto Alle Erbe/Italian Herb Risotto

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
Half of a medium yellow onion, chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 c. arborio or other short-grained rice
1 c. white or rosé wine
5 c. chicken stock
3 c. mixed green herbs (I used arugula, parsley and chives), chopped fine
2 Tbsp. tarragon, chopped fine
1 1/2 c. parmesan or romano, grated fine

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat in large saucepan until it shimmers, then add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté briefly, then add rice and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Add wine and stir until it is absorbed into the rice, then begin adding stock a ladle-full at a time, stirring frequently, allowing the stock to be absorbed before adding more. When about half the stock has been used, add the finely chopped herbs and stir them in until they wilt slightly, then continue adding the stock until the rice is slightly chewy and the risotto has a creamy texture. Add 1/2 c. parmesan and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Check out these terrific risotto recipes and expand your risotto horizons!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Local Co-op Adds Online Ordering, Home Delivery

Ordering your groceries online is nothing new in Portland. Larger supermarkets like New Seasons, Costco and Whole Foods have offered it, along with home delivery, for awhile, and even newcomer Green Zebra has added the service for the neighborhoods it serves. Last fall Fred Meyer added online ordering for groceries, but customers must order the day before and pick up at the store.

The reason these big boys are jumping on the online bandwagon is simple—they've found that people don't want to take the time or trouble to drive to the store, find a parking space and then wander the aisles checking items off their grocery lists, not to mention fighting traffic and wrestling with bored kids. Then there's the ease of knowing exactly what the store carries, rather than getting there and finding they're out of pomegranate juice or that they've discontinued your favorite brand of mayonnaise.

That's why just this month Food Front Cooperative Grocery became the first co-op in the area to offer both online ordering and home delivery to its owner/members and the public through the Instacart system. According to Marketing Director Brie Hilliard, the decision to go forward with an online system was made two years ago but was put on the backburner until the co-op had the systems in place to launch it successfully.

The timing for adding the service is fortuitous, since this year New Seasons opened its new Slabtown store just a few blocks from the co-op's original location on Northwest Thurman. So now, in addition to serving customers near the Thurman location and its second store in Hillsdale, Hilliard said that with the exception of a few zip codes, the co-op is able to fill orders in most of Portland's close-in neighborhoods in one to two hours.

Though you don't have to belong to the co-op to use the service, General Manager Eamon Molloy (at left in top photo) said the goal was to expose a broader spectrum of people to the high quality of the products that the co-op offers and, as a result, hopefully gain new owner/members. Not only do owner/members get discount pricing, but with the addition of online ordering and home delivery, it no longer matters if people live near the store as long as they're within the delivery areas.

A key reason that the co-op decided to go with Instacart's service is that it's easy to sign up for the service from Food Front's website, and Instacart has a trained "picker" in every store to fill orders and hand them off to drivers, though Hilliard stressed that the store is trying to use its own staff to fill as many orders as possible.

While Food Front may be the first co-op in the area to add online ordering and delivery, Jenna Chen, Marketing and Design Manager at People's Food Co-op in Southeast Portland, said that its board is considering adding the service "because [our] competitors are doing it."

"People don't go out and shop anymore," she said of the trend to buy groceries online, even among the supposedly non-traditional audience attracted to co-ops. The holdup with adding the service at People's, according to Chen, is that the point-of-sale (POS) system would have to be completely changed in order to work with the service providers' systems, an expensive and complicated undertaking.

As for Food Front, in the first two weeks, without any big announcement or press releases, orders were coming in from as far away as Sellwood and St. Johns, a promising start. "We're really excited to offer this service," said Molloy.

Apparently the co-op's member/owners—along with non-members—are, too. One happy customer summed it up this way when she placed her order: "This is a gift to my daughter. Thank you for making it possible for a mother living in Germany to send a hug."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Blackcurrants For "Cassis de Gaston"

Blackcurrant season jumps out at me when I least expect it. This year it was mid-June when I asked Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston to reserve a flat of their amazing organic blackcurrants for me. A couple of years ago I wanted to make some black currant liqueur, hoping it might turn out half as seductive as that made by their farm chef and my friend, Linda Colwell, who had served me some of the luscious liquid she had infused using those selfsame currants.

Chopping the currants.

It being the first time I'd experimented with the stuff, I infused two pints of crushed currants into a bottle of vodka, let it sit in our basement for a month, filtered out the solids, then added sugar to taste. After a few more months (I really forget how many) of hanging out in our basement, I tasted it and, as my husband would say, holy cow-ledo! Smooth, port-like, the color of dark red velvet and tasting deeply of currants, this was nothing like the bottles of commercial Creme de Cassis I'd bought from the store.

Infusing vodka with currants.

I got the call from Gaston that they were picking their blackcurrants this week, so if you want to make some liqueur this summer you need to head to your farmers' market or a produce purveyor that carries local produce. If liqueur isn't your jam you can make preserves, but you'll need to move quickly since this fleeting summer fruit is not going to wait.

Blackcurrant Liqueur, or "Cassis de Gaston"

As mentioned above, the first year I bought two pints of currants and infused one bottle of vodka with them. This year I'm using eight pints and infusing three liters of vodka, equal to four single bottles. In a month I'll let you know how it turns out!

2 pints blackcurrants
1 750-ml bottle vodka (I use Monopolowa)
Sugar to taste

Clean currants and pull off any large stems. Working in batches, place the currants in a food processor and pulse five or six times until they are chopped but not puréed. Put the chopped currants into a clean glass container and add the vodka, stirring to combine. Cover and put in a cool, dark place (I put it in the basement) for one month.

After a month, filter the mixture through a sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible, then dispose of the solids in your compost. A general rule of thumb is to add sugar in an amount that is 20% of the weight (not the volume) of the liquid, but you can adjust to your taste. Put it back in the (washed) glass container for a few additional months to allow the flavors to combine and the vodka to mellow. Taste occasionally until it suits you.

This is wonderful by itself as an after-dinner drink or when drizzled on ice cream. It can also be combined with a dry white wine (2 Tbsp. of cassis to 6 oz. of chilled white wine) to make the drink called Kir, or use the same proportions to make a Kir Royale, substituting champagne for the white wine.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Papa's Favorite Cocktail, the Daiquiri

I've always thought of daiquiris as being big, slushy tropical drinks laced with coconut, pineapple and lots of rum, more often than not served with that prerequisite decoration for tropical cocktails, a tiny paper umbrella. Which may be a misperception, at least according to my 1981 reprint of the original 1946 Trader Vics Book of Food & Drink.

Constantino at La Florida (Hemingway is on his right).

Various sources, including Trader Vic's book, lay its origin to Cuba. Not unusually in the history of cocktails, credit for creating the drink itself seems to be clouded. Wikipedia claims its inventor was "an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox, who was in Cuba at the time of the Spanish-American War" and that it was introduced to clubs in New York City by "William A. Chanler, a U.S. congressman who purchased the Santiago iron mines in 1902."

From Who’s Who Havana Cuba magazine, July 14, 1938.

Trader Vic's sidesteps the issue of the daiquiri's creator, but refers to "Constantino of La Florida Bar in Havana [having] perfected this one and it is to his credit that this one rum cocktail competes in popularity with the old stand-bys such as Martinis, Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds." The book goes on to give four of Constantino's variations on the daiquiri, numbered 1 through 4 in turn, numbers three and four of which have instructions to "serve frappé." Though there's no mention which one Hemingway preferred, it was his favorite cocktail and legend has it that on occasion he downed a dozen in a sitting.

It then gives a recipe for the Trader Vic's daiquiri, which bears the special insignia of a tiny palm tree with a T on one side of the trunk and a V on the other. The front of the book quaintly states that "recipes so marked are original and may not be reprinted without permission from the author." So, much as I would love to share it, I won't.

Luckily for all of us, though, like Constantino, my husband Dave has created his own version of the daiquiri. A classic three-ingredients cocktail, it substitutes dark rum—we prefer Mount Gay over Bacardi or Myers's—for the usual light rum and uses demerara sugar for the simple syrup rather than cane sugar. Shake one up and see if you don't agree with Papa that it makes other people much more interesting.

Good Stuff NW House Daiquiri

2 oz. dark rum
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 oz. simple syrup (stir equal amounts demerara sugar and cold water until dissolved)

Shake with ice; strain into cocktail glass or coupe.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Travels with Chili: Mountains of Fun, Part One

When I heard about a conference in Eastern Oregon that was going to be discussing the food system—meaning how people get food to put on their tables—in that rural region of the state, I knew I had to go. You see, I've been wanting to get up to speed on the issues faced by people living in our farther-flung communities, so different from the you-want-it-you-got-it life many of us live in Portland with Whole Foods, New Seasons and even Fred Meyer stores within a few minutes of our homes. (Read my report here.)

The one-day conference was in La Grande, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland, and I decided to take a couple of days to explore the area and talk with a few producers if I could. When I contacted the visitors' association about who I should talk to, they generously offered to host a portion of my lodging for the trip but let me pick the places—perfect since I'm not a big chain hotel type traveler.

On Chappy at my grandfather's ranch.

Now, you have to remember that Eastern Oregon, particularly the triangle defined by La Grande, Baker and Enterprise with their beautiful valleys, gorgeous mountains and miles of grain fields and grazing cattle, are an intimate part of my history. My mother's family had a cattle ranch in North Powder, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, where we would spend vacations. As a young "horse crazy" girl, I would ride with my grandfather to the ranch in the mornings in the hope of getting in a ride on the quarter horses they used for working cattle. My aunt taught swimming at Radium Hot Springs (sadly now closed), one of the many geothermally heated pools in the area, and another aunt had a rustic log cabin at one of the smaller lakes in the Anthony Lakes system, with a huge woodburning cookstove that looked more like a 30s-era American car with its chrome curliques blackened with smoke and age.

Yes, I do go back a ways in this country.

Ordnance Brewing in Boardman.

So we hopped in Chili, our faithful Mini Clubman, and headed down the highway. Once you're through the Gorge, always a stunning drive, and past The Dalles, there's never been much reason to stop—other than for gas or to use the rest stops—on the straight shot of I-84 to Pendleton. But I'd heard of a new brewery that had opened in Boardman with the amusing-yet-slightly-horrifying name of Ordnance Brewing, being as it sits on the western edge of the equally adorably named Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot, the spot the government stored the nerve agents and other fun weapons they had prepared for WWII. You can still see the hummocks of the storage bunkers dotting the tumbleweed-strewn landscape between the freeway and the Columbia River.

A stop at The Prodigal Son Brewery in Pendleton.

Anyway, back to the brewery: we stopped on the way east but arrived slightly before it opened and so decided to hit it on the way back, taking our hunger and thirst a few more miles to Pendleton and The Prodigal Son Brewery. I'd written about it on a previous trip, and we again found it to be an easy stop to make, with the same great beer and hearty food, as good or better than that served at most pubs in Portland. Refueled, we were ready for the climb up Cabbage Hill's 6% grade and into the Blue Mountains, which would then take us down into the Grande Ronde Valley a little over an hour away.

The Historic Union Hotel.

The freeway over the mountains follows a series of streams, tributaries of the Grande Ronde River that will eventually flow into the Snake River, itself a tributary of the Columbia. We were headed to the tiny town of Union for the night, ten miles outside of La Grande. I'd booked a room at the 1920s-era Historic Union Hotel, refurbished in a comfortably charming, unfussy style by owners Charlie Morden and Ruth Rush.

Charming touches in each room.

Charlie, a keen collector of antique cars, has a classic Rolls Royce parked out front and is the hotel restaurant's chef. Ruth, who greets guests and sees to the gardens and upkeep of the building, showed us to the Davis Brothers' Room, one of the hotel's 15 themed rooms. It's a tribute to Union-area ranchers Pete and R.B. Davis, who lived in the hotel for many years. An interesting historical note: a stipulation of the brothers' inheritance from their family was that they would lose the entire fortune if either one ever married; they remained bachelors the rest of their lives.

Hot Lake Springs near Union.

Another option for lodging is Hot Lake Springs, once a derelict turn-of-the-century health spa near Union that was purchased in 2003 by Joseph-area bronze sculptor David Manuel and his family. Seven years and $10 million in upgrades later, it reopened as a bed-and-breakfast inn featuring massage and mineral springs spa packages, and has many of Manuel's sculptures dotting the grounds.

This area's hotbed of hot springs also includes the municipal pool at nearby Cove, a tiny town nestled against the hills ringing the valley. The pool is located directly over a natural hot spring, and is constantly refreshed by the flow of mineral water at a rate of 110 gallons per minute, keeping the pool at a constant and comfortable 86 degrees. Kids particularly love it because the bottom of the deep end of the pool is made up of the rocks lining the spring, fun for diving.

There's a nearby golf course, a wilderness excursion train and a tram at Wallowa Lake, but what draws folks to this valley—some fall in love with it and move permanently—is the plethora of year-round outdoor activities like hiking, camping, skiing and biking in the Wallowa Mountains, Hells Canyon and Anthony Lakes areas. Check back for more installments in this series, coming soon!

Read about my camping trip to the Imnaha River near Joseph, Oregon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In Season: Hear That Rumble? It's Summer Coming!

It's mid-June and already heads are spinning among farmers, produce buyers and customers. Last year's spring temperatures brought crops to market a couple of weeks early, but with this year's temperatures in May and June at times topping 90 degrees, we're seeing some fruits and vegetables ripening as much as a month (or more) earlier than usual. So buckle up your seat belts, folks, because according to local produce maven Josh Alsberg at Rubinette Produce it's going to be a crazy roller coaster ride of deliciousness this summer.

With hyper-local Hood strawberries done, you'll still see everbearing Seascapes and Albions trickling in through the rest of the summer. This week Josh has witnessed farm trucks loaded with cane berries like raspberries and blackberries—mostly Obsidian and Silvan varieties—rolling in, and the farmers are telling him that marionberries and boysenberries will be arriving in about two weeks. Fans of Ayers Creek Farm's legendary Chester blackberries are going to be in for a bit of thumb-twiddling and knee-jiggling, though, since Anthony and Carol Boutard don't see that harvest starting until mid-July.

Blueberries are in plentiful supply, so look for them to be available for at least the next month. And you may be seeing peaches and nectarines in stores now, but Josh warns that these first ones are not the most flavorful—he recommends waiting a couple of weeks for the best varieties for your pies and preserves. It'll be worth it! And due to the vagaries of weather and the whims of the gods, there's apparently a smaller-than-usual harvest of apricots this year, but they will be available for the next several weeks.

Believe it or not, the magicians at Philomath's Gathering Together Farm are bringing a few varieties of cherry tomatoes to market, along with their early Siletz tomatoes. Heirlooms and beefsteak tomatoes will start popping up this weekend and arrive in earnest by the end of the month. (It's a good thing this whole "climate change" thing is a hoax or I'd be tempted to start some serious hand-wringing about now. [Hashtag: just joking])

Other items Josh advises keeping an eye out for: slicing and Asian cucumbers are in now and by next week you'll start to see other varietals, as well as pickling cukes, which should be around for awhile. There'll be oodles of those gorgeously alive lettuce heads as long as the heat doesn't kill them, and—hold onto your hats—early corn should appear within 10 to 14 days.

Look foward to local table grapes, figs and melons around the middle of July, with the first new crop of apples, like Gravensteins, available at the end of July. But, as Josh made sure to reiterate, all of this is speculative: "Only Ma Nature knows the real harvest schedule."