Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Tickle Bees of Sabin Elementary School

What better way to celebrate insects on Earth Day than with a tale of the simple joy brought to people by bees? The following essay was written by Mace Vaughan, who co-directs the Xerces Society's Pollinator Conservation Program.

In the summer of 2009, my family and I moved into a house across from the Sabin Elementary School in northeast Portland, Oregon. Our daughter started kindergarten at the school that fall. Sporadically, as other school parents learned of my work in pollinator conservation, they would ask me if I’d ever seen the “tickle bees.” I would respond with a polite “no,” unsure what they meant. Still, as the question continued to come up through the December holidays and into the late, wet winter, my curiosity grew. Everyone seemed to know about the tickle bees.

And then St. Patrick’s Day arrived. The sun shone and it was warm for a March afternoon. I sat in our dining room, working from home and enjoying the sounds of kids playing in the schoolyard across the street from our house. Every so often I would sneak a peek across the street to see if our daughter was running around, and that was when I spotted a boy, all alone, kneeling on the ground as he tried to catch something. He grabbed and lunged, attempting to seize it from the air. In that moment, it all came clear to me.

I waited until the kids had cleared out of the field, closed my computer, and walked across the street. And there, to my amazement, were the tickle bees of Sabin Elementary. Not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of gentle, ground-nesting bees were emerging all across the two-acre field. I was standing in a giant aggregation of mining bees, which turned out to be at least two species of the genus Andrena—christened the “tickle bees” by the students of Sabin.

For the next two months I watched as more and more bees emerged from the ground. Scattered across baseball diamonds, the bare dirt under park benches, and all across the soccer pitch were mounds of soil the bees had excavated from underground. They seemed to deepen their tunnels mostly at night; walking across the grounds in the morning you would see freshly dug dirt hiding the holes underneath. By the afternoon, the dirt was pushed aside as the females emerged to fly to the flowering maple trees, dandelions, and cherry and plum trees around the neighborhood. On an especially warm day, you couldn’t run across the field without bumping into these amazing insects.

As someone who has worked hard to convince people worldwide that insects are not a bunch of biting, stinging, crop-killing animals, but rather the drivers of healthy ecosystems, I was touched by the reception these bees received. For the two months the bees were active, parents and students regularly approached me with questions. I helped dozens of people discover what, for them, was a whole new world of ephemeral bees, with their golden stores of food and developing brood buried below soccer and kickball games.

Tickle bees are not unusual or uncommon. Every spring we receive calls at the office starting in early March from people wondering about the bees that are showing up in their lawns, whether they are safe, or just wanting to know what they are. Across the rest of the country, as spring comes on after this harsh winter, look for holes in the ground and bees flying. If you want to find your own tickle bees, go out on a warm spring day and watch sunny, south-facing slopes around your neighborhood. You might find your own aggregation of mining bees.

As for Sabin, five years later the tickle bees are going strong. As kids get older, they may lose interest. But each spring, a new group of kindergartners gets to meet the tickle bees and share something unique that their older classmates have cherished for years.

Watch a video from KATU-TV of Mace talking about the tickle bees at Sabin School.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gardener's Notebook: What to Plant Now

The Beaverton Farmers Market, a longtime advertiser and supporter of good things in the Northwest, has built a selection of top-quality nursery stock from some of the best vendors in the area. That's because market manager Ginger Rapport is an ardent gardener herself, with a strong commitment to helping people get in touch with their food by growing it themselves. Here's her advice on what to plant now.

What do you think is the first “app” that a farmer puts on his smart phone?

If you said a weather app, you would be right! Chris Hertel of Sun Gold Farm says that he checks his weather app every day. If you are a gardener, he recommends that you do the same, especially this time of the year when high and low temperatures can be all over the place. This weekend’s warm weather will have most of us chomping at the bit to start planting our vegetable and herb gardens. Chris says that the most important plants to get in the ground right now are peas and brassicas—cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. They like the cool weather, as do lettuce, spinach, chard and other greens.

If you want to get a jump on summer, Sun Gold’s booth will have plenty of tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash starts on hand. These heat-loving plants may need a little bit of protection if the night time temperatures dip too low. This is where your weather app comes in handy! If it looks like we are going to get near freezing, Chris suggests that you protect your hot weather veggie starts with something as simple as a paper bag placed over them. Even a crude greenhouse made of sticks and plastic will work. Of course, you will want to uncover your plants during the day.

You can also start perennial herb gardens now. A perennial plant is one whose life cycle lasts for more than two years, so think of herbs like mint, chives, bay, oregano, sage and rosemary. This does not include basil or cilantro; hold off on those tender herbs until nighttime temperatures warm up.

And believe it or not, now is the time for planting strawberries! Hood Strawberries are a market favorite. They are a super sweet berry with the entire crop coming over a short period of time. Sun Gold will also have an everbearing variety called Tri-Star that will keep you in fruit for a longer period of time.

Lastly, it is not too late to plant blueberry bushes. Both Sun Gold Farm and Northern Pacific Farm will have a wide variety of blueberry bushes in their stalls this Saturday. Ask for advice on selecting the variety best suited for your tastes.

* * *

The Beaverton Farmers Market is kicking off their summer season a full week ahead of schedule, so make plans to get your summer going on May 2nd from 8 am to 1:30 pm.

If you happen to have a furry friend with you, the market offers Sit-n-Stay, a drop-in dogsitting service adjacent to the market run by Home Plate Youth Services. Open from 7:30 am until 2 pm, it'll cost just $5 for the first 30 minutes, then $2.50 for each additional 15 minutes after that. Additional donations to HomePlate's program serving young people with precarious housing are welcome.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fabulous Roast Chicken with Apologies to Sam Sifton

I don't know if this is true of other cooks, but I can't seem to follow a recipe to save my life. Even though I consider myself a recipe-dependent cook rather than one of those people who, like my friend Denise, freestyles her way through ingredients, following her intuition to come up with creative, fabulous meals.

This entire blog is a testament to my need for guidance, chock-full as it is of favorite recipes gleaned from family dinners and camping trips, or—ssssshhhh…don't tell!—stolen from friends. So the other day when I was browsing through the New York Times magazine and saw a gorgeous photo of a dish of roasted chicken legs, I had to stop and check out the recipe.

The article, by the Times' food editor, Sam Sifton, whose writing I find pretty irresistible, clever without being one of those "Look at me! Look at me! I can do a double flip!" food writers, was an interview with the designer Steven Stolman. He'd first had the dish, called Roasted Chicken Provençal, as a college student in New York.

Sifton wrote, "the chicken was seasoned with spices meant to evoke the flavors of southern France: rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, lavender, marjoram, chervil, sage. It all seemed exotic and wonderful to Stolman, a child of the Hartford suburbs and new to Manhattan. 'I thought it was the coolest thing,' [Stolman] said. The dish and the evening left an impression on him that has lasted for almost 40 years."

A couple of paragraphs later Sifton wrote, "it is still the coolest thing: chicken dusted in flour and roasted with shallots and lemons and vermouth under a shower of herbes de Provence until it has gone crisp above the fat and wine and lemon juice, and the shallots are melted and sweet."

It's a dead simple recipe, and with my crazy love of roasted chicken it seemed like a natural for a test run. And that's where I went ever-so-slightly off the rails. You see, I had almost everything the recipe called for…except shallots. Hm. While it sounds like they're pretty crucial to getting the dish just right, I've also cooked enough chicken to know that shallots aren't a make-or-break ingredient.

So I decided to throw in a few extra garlic cloves and call it good. Then I saw a half-full basket of cherry tomatoes left over from a vinaigrette I'd made a couple of days before sitting on the counter. Those'd be good, too, and still keep it in the Provençal theme. Pulling the chicken out of the fridge my eyes fell on a dozen or so leftover oil-cured olives. They're Mediterranean, too, right?

Except for those "tweaks," if you can call it that, I pretty much made the chicken as originally intended and it was indeed as wonderful as advertised. Like Stolman, I'll definitely make it again and probably serve it to company. Maybe I'll even follow the recipe.

Roasted Chicken Provençal (Kind Of)

4 chicken legs or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. herbes de Provence
1 lemon, quartered
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 dozen or so oil-cured olives, pitted and halved
1/3 c. dry vermouth

Preheat oven to 400. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow pan, and lightly dredge the chicken in it, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Swirl the oil in a 9” by 12” pyrex roasting dish, and place the floured chicken in it skin-side up. Season the chicken with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes and olives around the chicken, and then add the vermouth to the pan.

Put the pan in the oven, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, then baste it with the pan juices. Continue roasting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is very crisp and the meat cooked through.

Serve in the pan or on a warmed platter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Personal Gets Political

One of the scariest phrases I've ever heard, and one I've tried to avoid thinking about, is "antibiotic resistant bacteria." It means that a bacteria has developed a genetic mutation that makes it resistant to an antibacterial agent like antibiotics. There are now antibiotic resistant forms of Staphilococcus aureus (also known as MRSA), E. Coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, influenza and others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a report released in 2014 that "this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections—is now a major threat to public health."

Why am I bringing this up in a post about the 2015 session of the Oregon legislature?

It turns out that a dear friend of mine recently died because he contracted a drug-resistant form of E. Coli while being treated for cancer.

That's very sad, you might think, but, again, what does that have to do with the legislature?

It turns out that there's a bill in the state Senate, SB920, that seeks to limit the use of antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. If national statistics are any indication, 70 percent of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those that are used to treat diseases in people—are used in the livestock industry on perfectly healthy animals.

The practice of administering regular doses of antibiotics in animals' water and feed developed because it was widely believed that antibiotics promoted the growth of the animals and because most of the animals we consume for food, including chickens, pigs and cattle, are raised in confinement in crowded, unsanitary and stressful conditions.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) might give a better idea of how feeding antibiotics to healthy animals has brought about the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria:

According to an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal, opponents of this bill say that regulation should be left up to the federal government. Unfortunately, in addressing this issue in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration only asked the industry to voluntarily refrain from using medically important antibiotics as a growth promoter while allowing the industry complete freedom to use these same drugs to "prevent" disease. Meaning it could continue its practice of using these drugs in the same way and at the same rate as before.

How has that tactic worked? In an article in Mother Jones magazine, reporter Tom Philpott quoted FDA statistics indicating that between 2012 and 2013 the use of medically important drugs on these factory farms actually grew by 3 percent.

So if this issue concerns you as much as it does me, you need to contact your state senator immediately to voice your opinion. Here are points you can mention:
  • SB 920 requires that antibiotics used on livestock be used responsibly in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, allowing farmers, as well as veterinarians, to use antibiotics to treat illness and infections in sick animals. 
  • SB 920 prohibits giving farm animals low doses of antibiotics in feed and water for growth promotion and 'disease prevention' in perfectly healthy animals to mask unsanitary conditions in the facilities that animals are raised in.
  • The bill requires the largest federally regulated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Oregon to report annually on their use of antibiotics, which is key in tracking how much antibiotics these operations are using and whether their practices are contributing to the development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • New FDA rules and White House initiatives contain huge loopholes for factory farms to feed antibiotics to healthy animals under the guise of 'disease prevention.' SB 920 closes this loophole.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be spread to humans through handling the meat, through airborne dust from manure, and through manure from factory farms leaching into waterways.
Read the other posts in the series: Opening Salvos and The Good, The Bad and the UglyThanks to Friends of Family Farmers for the talking points mentioned above.

Top photo from

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Perfect Dressing for Your Early Spring Greens

I know it's unfashionable to use the adverb "literally." But I have been hungering for spring. Literally. I was seeing those first shoots of rapini in my dreams—literally—and imagining the whorls of fiddleheads, spears of asparagus and nettle leaves that were soon to make an appearance on my plate.

Violets…in January?

Spring was apparently as anxious as I was to make her debut on our Northwest stage, and I was shocked to discover, in mid-January, miner's lettuce popping out of the ground on parking strips and the scent of violets in the air. By mid-February all hell had broken loose and those earlier scofflaws were joined by rogue daffodils bobbing their yellow heads on sunny slopes and heady clouds of perfume from daphne and witch hazel drifting by on my walks through the neighborhood.

Can you blame my stomach for getting a little rumbly?

Daffodils in February…call 911!
It's a climate emergency!

So when just before Easter my friend Michel, source of much goodness on our table, mentioned that her new favorite brunch was poached eggs on kale dressed with a cherry tomato vinaigrette with Reggiano, I heard a little "ping" in my head. Not just about the poached eggs on kale, which sounded heavenly, but the cherry tomato vinaigrette that had somehow hit just the right note in my spring greens-obsessed brain.

With my nephew bringing his parents over for a brunch-and-Easter egg-fueled extravaganza, I thought Michel's creation might just make a delicious and colorful counterpoint to some bright green asparagus spears. Served alongside a garden-herb-and-cheese-stoked frittata, my craving was satisfied. For the moment.

Michel's Cherry Tomato and Sherry Vinaigrette

1-1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, chopped in 1/4" dice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Splash of sherry vinegar (adjust to taste)
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste

In a small mixing bowl combine ingredients and allow to macerate for an hour or so on the counter. Toss with your favorite sturdy greens like kale, asparagus, rapini, etc.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Great Man, and a Lifelong Friend, Has Passed

Episcopalians are party people. At least that's the impression I got growing up in Redmond, part of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, which takes up two-thirds of the eastern side of the state of Oregon.

That impression came from the frequent gatherings of their church friends that my parents convened at our home. Now I know that might conjure visions of polite ladies in white gloves sitting primly in straight-backed chairs sipping tea, but, let me tell you, these were anything but.

Rusty at our wedding reception.

Wine flowed, plates of food were passed, loud arguments (but not angry—it was the 60s, after all) erupted and much laughter was heard from my hiding spot at the bottom of the stairs, where I would crack the door, the better to eavesdrop on the adults' conversations. Always at the center was Rusty, known to the rest of the world as the Reverend (and eventually Bishop) Rustin R. Kimsey, and his wife, Gretchen.

St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Redmond was his first assignment, and though he would go on to pastor churches in Baker City and The Dalles, Rusty—not Father Kimsey, Rev. Kimsey or any other honorifics, just call him Rusty, if you don't mind—was always challenging his own and other's beliefs.

Rusty and Gretchen.

In a piece in the Bend Bulletin from January 7, 1967, titled "The Servant Church," the young rector asked, "What is the role or purpose of the Church in society?

"Jesus’ primary mission his life was to serve mankind….There are times when the Church neglects this basic calling to serve mankind. Too often Christianity becomes a comfortably institutional bureaucracy and neglects its service to others. Too often the Church becomes so mindful of the 'housekeeping' within that it forgets the deep needs of those outside its doors….It is most evident that the roads of peace and brotherhood must still be paved with compassion, understanding, justice and, most of all, love."

The chapel at Cove.

His questioning was reflected in his passion for the small Episcopal summer camp in Cove, in far Eastern Oregon, where the children of the diocese spent glorious days swimming in the local geothermal pool and going on trail rides in the hills. Amid the rolling green cattle pastures of that valley he invited some of the most controversial voices of the Episcopal church of the day to its sprawling lawn, including James Pike, Bishop of California, who in the early 1960s was a proponent of ordination of women, racial desegregation, and the acceptance of LGBT people within mainline churches, who narrowly avoided being branded a heretic. These family retreats also featured the theologian Bishop John Shelby Spong and anti-apartheid activist and eventual Nobel Prize-winner, and Rusty's close friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Years later Rusty would officiate at our wedding, unconcerned about the fact that we were, as the quaint turn of phrase at the time had it, "living in sin" or that we had, in another dated phrase, a "mixed marriage," i.e. Episcopalian/Catholic. And despite our mostly non-churchgoing ways, he was always there when we needed him, to baptise our son or to perform the funeral services when my parents died.

An influential figure nationally, willing to speak out on issues and question entrenched beliefs, he was also a great friend and mentor, always ready to gather you in his arms for a hug. He died in his home in The Dalles on the evening of April 10, 2015.

Top photo: Rusty (right, in shirtsleeves) leaning in to make a point with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Bishop John Chien of Taiwan in 1992. Episcopal News Service photo by Bob Stockfield.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Guest Essay: Seeing

We've all watched the videos of people walking and texting, the ones where the texter falls into a fountain or splats into some wet cement. I see it around me when neighbors walk by, absorbed in their phones when they're walking their dogs or, worse, strolling with their children, missing the opportunity for connection. My friend, journalist, hunter, forager and author Hank Shaw, recently published an essay on this phenomenon, and has given me permission to post an excerpt. I encourage you to click through to read the entire piece.

I went for a walk today, and found myself surrounded by zombies.

One of the places where I wander around to read nature’s news also happens to be a spot that on any given sunny weekend is choked with walkers, runners and bikers. On those rare weekends when I venture out into this, I feel oddly out of place, like those people who stand still in Times Square while being photographed in time lapse: a rock in a raging torrent of humanity.

This is not to say that I sit motionless on a bench like some octogenarian feeding pigeons. I actually do end up walking five miles or so on a given day, but it can often take me several hours because, well, to read the signs of the natural world you must slow yourself down. Slowing down: A concept so alien to most modern Americans that they view it as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, an overly regimented life is one empty of wonder. And wonder is no weakness.

I honestly have no real way of gauging the inner lives of those earnest exercisers around me, but their exterior isn’t pretty. At best their eyes appear vacant, their minds focused on whatever it is they are listening to on their headphones. At worst they look like the damned in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

As I walk through this bustle, noting the comings and goings of flowers and fruits and leaves, checking to see what schedule life seems to be taking this year, I am almost never noticed, even though I might be picking up pine nuts off the ground or collecting seeds or elderberries or mustard greens in full view of the good people of the path. I used to think everyone just thought I was a crazy homeless person and were consciously avoiding eye contact. That does still happen, but I’ve learned to recognize the difference between that and those who truly don’t register my existence.

This obliviousness fascinates me. Why, if you are so intent on whatever it is blaring itself into your skull, are you out in nature at all? Wouldn’t a treadmill suffice?

Of course it won’t. I was once a runner. A competitive one, even. So fast there was no possible way I could truly appreciate my surroundings. But I did, or at least I told myself I did. Nature exerts a sort of osmotic pressure on us all, seeping into those who lack nature within themselves even if ignored, much the way a salt brine works in meat. Even something as simple as sun on your head and a breeze in your face makes a world of difference.

Yet to me, a forager, they all still seem zombies. The difference is one of degree, I suppose, a sliding scale ending with the wild animals who live along this path. As intimate as I am with nature, my life does not depend on it the way a squirrel or goose or scrub jay’s does. For those of us who slow down and take the time to really look at their surroundings, we at least get to borrow that sight a wild thing possesses permanently — a sight the cyclist or runner can never attain (at least while they’re hurtling through nature rather than looking at it).

So what, exactly, did I see? (read the rest of the essay)

Photo of ithuriel's spear by Hank Shaw.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Livin' in the Blurbs: Farm Restaurant, Butchery Classes and Doing Good for Local Kids

That 100-mile diet that was all the rage a few years ago? So passé! At one farm in Oregon's mid-valley you can dine on food that comes from 100 feet away.

In 2003, farmers John Eveland and Sally Brewer of Gathering Together Farm opened what they thought was just going to be a farm stand selling their organically grown produce along with pastries, soups and salads. But demand was so great that they eventually opened for lunch, dinners and Saturday breakfast, hiring Chef J.C. Mersmann and bringing in locally grown meat and products from other neighbors.

They've just opened the restaurant for the spring season, with lunches Tuesday through Friday and dinners Thursday through Saturday. And keep your eyes peeled for their summer wine dinners, which are said to be some of the finest, not to mention freshest, dining available in the state.

Details: Restaurant at Gathering Together Farm. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11 am-2 pm; Dinner Thurs.-Sat., 5:30-9 pm; Breakfast Sat., 9 am-2 pm. 25159 Grange Hall Rd., Philomath. 541-929-4270.

* * *

There's no better way to understand more about the meat you eat than to take a butchery class, and we're lucky to have several places where you can learn how animals are raised, how to break down a whole carcass and then how to make use of every single part to feed your family. Listed below are three places that have regular butchery classes, teaching everything from how to fillet a fish, to breaking down a chicken or rabbit, to butchering a lamb, goat or pig. Check out their classes online, or take a gander at the calendar on the left. From personal experience, I guarantee it'll be an eye-opening and meaningful, not to mention delicious, way to get closer to your food source.
  • Old Salt Marketplace just released its spring and summer schedule of classes. 5027 NE 42nd Ave. 971-255-0167.
  • Portland Meat Collective has a full lineup of classes for all kinds of butchery. At Elder Hall, 3929 NE MLK Jr. Blvd. 503-347-5540.
  • Portland's Culinary Workshop features butchery classes with a turducken class at the holidays. 807 N Russell St. 503-512-0447.
* * *

Every parent knows how hard it is to keep teenagers interested and engaged during their high school years. It's even harder when kids come from challenging backgrounds. The Portland Kitchen is a free, comprehensive culinary program for urban kids from disadvantaged families, empowering them to graduate high school with job skills and improved eating habits. A friend of the program has pledged to match donations between now and May 15, dollar for dollar up to a total of $25,000, an amount critical for it to move into its third year of serving area youth. If you can, please consider helping them reach their goal.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Nettlesome Topic? Nettles, Of Course.

One of the first signs of spring in the Willamette Valley is the appearance of nettles, which pop up on farmers' market tables with signs labeled "Don't Touch! Ask farmer for assistance." Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is a big fan, and he links to several recipes here.

Stinging Nettles

Tiny glass-like needles, each with a bulbous base filled with chemical irritants, cover the leaves of stinging nettles. The lightest touch shatters them and unleashes a poisonous brew of neurotransmitters, histamines and formic acid, the same acid that makes bee stings and ant bites so painful. The smart thing is to avoid stinging nettles altogether.

Unless you want to eat them, that is.

Roasted nettles.

Heat neutralizes their sting, and when cooked, nettles have a robust, almost meaty flavor. The leaves are high in calcium and iron, and studies have confirmed their effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, a use that goes back to ancient Greece.

While nettle greens can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach, one of my favorite way to eat them is an adaptation of a recipe from Faith Willinger’s Red, White, and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables cookbook. Called subrich (soo-brick) in the Piemontese dialect of northern Italy, these are basically little eggy fritters. If the mint has come up in my garden, I make nettle and mint fritters, but you can use the same recipe without the mint. Nettles are also good roasted, cooked with caramelized onions and za'atar, or sautéed with thinly sliced garlic and finished with cream.

Nettles with onions and za'atar.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) grow throughout North America, but are especially abundant in the wet coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest. Anyone who’s inadvertently stumbled into a patch remembers what they look like, and it’s easy (if painful) to test a leaf to make sure it stings. Bring along an experienced forager if it’s your first time out nettle-gathering, make sure you have good gloves and don’t eat the leaves if the nettles have flowered or gone to seed. After that point, they develop bits of calcium carbonate which may cause urinary-tract irritation. You can often find nettles at the Portland Farmers Market (check with Roger and Norma at Springwater Farms) and sometimes at New Seasons Market.

More nettle recipes? Sure! Try this nettle flan, or how about a pork leg roast with nettle pesto stuffing? Oh, and this spring leek and nettle tart is to die for!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Easy-Peel Farm Fresh Hard-Boiled Eggs…Really!

With Easter weekend coming up and farm-fresh eggs rolling into farmers' markets this weekend, the idea of dyeing some incredibly delicious, plucked-from-the-nest eggs for that Easter egg hunt sounds like a great idea, doesn't it?

But wait, you think, aren't fresh eggs unbelievably hard to peel without half the white sticking to the shells?

Peeling hard-boiled fresh eggs can be easy!

The answer is that they can be if you try to cook fresh eggs as you would the regular ones from the store, which might be as much as a month old. But if you take advantage of the technique I picked up a couple of years ago that make the shells practically fall off in your hands, you'll have incredibly beautiful, pristine eggs to use for post-Easter deviled eggs or for shredding on tender spears of blanched asparagus.

Seriously, give this technique a try…you won't have to be embarrassed at serving tasteless, conventionally grown hard-boiled eggs again!

Hard-Boiled Fresh Eggs

  1. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature (very important!). This will reduce cracking when submerging them in boiling water.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat.
  3. Slowly lower the eggs into the boiling water.
  4. When boiling resumes, set timer for 15 minutes and reduce heat to keep water at a low boil.
  5. When timer goes off, drain eggs and submerge in ice bath until chilled, then peel.

Get my recipes for Spanish-style Deviled Eggs and Curried Mustard Deviled Eggs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cook Your Way Through China, Region by Region

Growing up in Central Oregon, there wasn't much of a dining scene outside of steaks, burgers and baked potatoes. The one shining light for me was Stockton's New China Café, where my parents would take us occasionally. Looking back on it, the menu was no doubt Americanized to fit the tastes of small-town America. But to me, the fried rice, chow mein, chop suey and egg foo young were wondrously exotic, tastes and textures that came from far beyond the boundaries of my small world.

From that initial taste of broader culinary horizons, I've had ample opportunity to sample other Chinese regional specialties, but I've never been comfortable enough, or felt my pantry was stocked well enough, to really dive into making genuine Chinese delicacies here at home. But now my chance may have come in a series of classes being offered by the Northwest China Council.

As part of its 2015 program on “Food in China,” the China Council is teaming up with Susana Holloway of Portland’s Culinary Workshop to offer a series of quarterly cooking classes, each featuring the specialties of China's four main culinary regions. Even better, each of these hands-on classes will be followed by a dinner featuring the dishes the class has made.
Beijing and Northern Regions
Sun., April 12, 3-6 pm
Pork and spiced vegetable dumplings with a vinegar/soy dipping sauce
Lotus root and ginger salad
Fish braised in rice wine and black mushrooms
Warm silken tofu in a sweet ginger syrup

Shanghai and Eastern Regions
Sun., July 12, 3-6 pm
Pork stuffed bitter melon with black bean sauce
Prawns stir-fried in green tea
Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) with bamboo shoots
Red bean sesame balls

Sichuan and Western Regions
Sun., Oct. 11, 3-6 pm
Garlic chive cakes
Spiced pork and mung bean noodles
Long Beans with shredded bamboo in chili oil
Fried wonton stuffed with sweetened Asian pear

Guangzhou and Southern Regions
Sun., Jan. 10, 3-6 pm
Stir-fried minced duck in lettuce cups
Chilled chicken and egg noodle salad with a tangy peanut dressing
Congee with Pork, herbs and egg
Coconut and lemon pudding

Details: Food in China: Four Regional Cuisines of China is a series of hands-on cooking classes sponsored by the NW China Council. $80 per class with preregistration. Classes held at Portland's Culinary Workshop, 807 N. Russel St. 503-512-0447.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Make Your Own Dirt

Okay, I give. Yesterday I was out on a walk and I saw the neighbor's lilac bush starting to bloom. And another neighbor's dogwood popping out its little pink blossoms. So what can I do but throw up my hands and admit that spring has indeed sprung, despite the fact that it's still March, for heaven's sake.

As anyone knows who has lived here for any length of time, all it takes is a few days of temperatures hovering in the 60s and hints of sun peeking out from behind the clouds for Oregonians to put on their shorts and Crocs and head out into the garden. So with spring insisting that it's sticking around for the foreseeable future, I thought I'd share my friend David Kobos' recipe for making your own dirt!

David uses it as a seed starting mix and for potting soil, and swears it's not only cheaper than buying the stuff at the store but that it's miles better, too. He also makes his own organic fertilizers, and if his insanely prolific garden is any example, those work incredibly well, too. Many of the ingredients can be purchased at Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, Concentrates or other farm supply stores.

Seed Starting Mix
From David Kobos of Kobos Coffee (and so much more)

Use a 2-gallon bucket for measuring:
3 buckets peat moss
3 buckets steer manure
1/2 c. dolomite lime
1 bucket perlite
1 bucket vermiculite
2 c. organic fertilizer (see below)

If not using sifted peat moss and steer manure, dump buckets onto 1/2" framed screen (photo, top) and sift by hand to remove debris. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly using a shovel or garden hoe. Using bucket, dump into 50 lb. seed bags. Makes 2 1/2 cubic feet.

* * *

Organic Fertilizer Mixes
From David Kobos

Mix #1:
4 parts seed meal (cottonseed, soybean, linseed, etc.)
1 part dolomite lime
1 part ground phosphate rock (or 1/2 part bone meal)
1 part kelp meal

Mix #2:
1 part ground phosphate rock
1 part blood meal
1 part greensand

Read the original post here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Squash Party!

I was fortunate to be invited to this event, charmingly called a Squash Party, by Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network. As the video relates, it was a gathering of seed breeders, farmers, produce buyers and chefs to taste varieties of lesser-known squash that are being grown for their unique flavor profiles.

Musquée de Provence.

The aim of the network is to provide consumers with more delicious choices for their tables, not just with squash but with all kinds of produce like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, potatoes…you name it, it's being grown. And if the squash presented looks delicious in the video—including Chef Tim Wastell's squash ice cream paired with Linda Colwell's pumpkin seed sablé—in person it was fabulous.

Keep up the good work!

See my previous post about the Variety Showcase that Lane organized…more photos of gorgeous produce!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Budget Cuts: Braised Beef Neck Roast

They used to be called "butcher's cuts" or "butcher's favorites" because they were the unglamorous, but often very tasty, cuts of meat that wouldn't sell in the case and that the butcher would take home to feed his family. Steaks, chops and big roasts were the grill-friendly, oven roast-able and far prettier cuts. Stew meat, fatty beef chuck or pork shoulder roasts were considered the bottom of the barrel, needing long, slow braising and mostly used to make chili or stews of various kinds.

Searing the neck roast.

Back in the day you'd never see flank steak, hanger steak, bavette or skirt steak in the meat case at the supermarket. But if you did, they'd be dirt cheap…and I mean a couple of dollars a pound at most. Sometime in the late 90s the meat industry realized that these cuts might be worth some money and started marketing them to chefs. A case in point was the "Denver steak" that, instead of being ground into hamburger and sold for $2.99 a pound, could be cooked like a steak and served to a restaurant patron for many times more. (See "Slicing Meat So You Pay More.")

So it is with some hesitation that I share my latest find, lest it become the next victim of the Denver steak syndrome.

Ready to go in the oven.

Neck meat, whether from a pig, lamb or cow, could be called the latest butcher's cut to garner space on restaurant menus. Sometimes lumped in with offal or thrown out as scrap, this bony cut has plenty of meat on it and becomes shreddy and tender with long, slow cooking. I first saw it a couple of months ago in the meat case at Old Salt Marketplace, a beautifully aged piece of grass-fed beef from Hawley Ranch that was priced at—get this—five bucks a pound.

Yes, I gasped, too.

Five hours later, bones removed…perfect!

Recently I brought home a four-pound hunk of neck, put it in the oven with a simple braising sauce and pulled it out five hours later—it could have been pulled out at three, but I wanted it at that seriously falling-apart stage—and served it to some pretty impressed guests. And there was enough left over to mix in with some pasta later in the week.

But please, could you do me a favor and keep this one quiet?

Braised Beef Neck Roast

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
4 lbs. beef neck, bone in
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. pimenton dulce or piment d'Espelette
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 c. red wine
3 c. roasted or canned tomatoes
A dozen or so oil-cured olives
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 325°.

Generously salt and pepper roast on all sides. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add roast and sear well on all surfaces. Remove from pan.

Add onions and garlic to fat in pan and sauté over medium heat until translucent, scraping up any browned bits from meat. Add pimenton and dried spices and stir into onions, then stir in wine, tomatoes, olives and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and return the roast to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Roast for 3 to 5 hours, turning the roast every hour to make sure all sides are evenly cooked (if the roast is completely submerged in the braising liquid, don't worry about this step).

When the roast is done, you can skim off the fat floating on the surface with a spoon (optional). Tear off the meat remaining on the bone and remove the bones and the bay leaves from the liquid. Chop any large pieces of meat into smaller chunks and serve. Goes well with roasted root vegetables, sautéed greens and/or polenta. I also made a quick gremolata of the carrot greens processed with some garlic, lemon peel, salt and olive oil.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The following is an edited version of an original report that was published on the Friends of Family Farmers' Muckboots in the Capitol blog. The numbered title of each bill (in bold) is linked to an overview on the state website.

The Good

House Bill (HB) 3239: The "Aggie Bonds" bill was introduced with bipartisan co-sponsorship on February 27. It builds on 2013’s Beginning and Expanding Farmer Lending Program (aka Aggie Bonds) by expanding the definition of "lender" to include both NW Farm Credit Services and what are called seller-carried financing contracts, when a landowner agrees to carry the loan for the beginning farmer. This bill will help provide lower interest loans for qualifying beginning farmers.

HB 2446: The raw milk advertising bill would repeal the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA’s) ban on advertising legally available raw milk. Oregon allows small batch raw milk production if it is sold directly to consumers on-farm, but prohibits advertising of this legally available farm product, which severely limits farmers' ability to reach consumers.

The ODA had been directing some farmers to remove information about raw milk from their website, threatening them with penalties. Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville sued the ODA with help from the Institute for Justice, arguing that the advertising ban was an unconstitutional restriction on the First Amendment right of free speech. ODA settled the suit and agreed to not enforce the ban and introduced HB 2446 to repeal it.

The Good and Bad

Senate Bill (SB) 341: Similar to laws on the books in over 20 other states, this bill would protect agritourism providers—farmers and ranchers—from lawsuits and legal liability when customers come onto their property and are injured through no fault of the owners. This is based on the customer's presumed acceptance of the "inherent risks" of being on a farm or ranch.

The bill requires posting of clear signs, inspection of equipment and other steps to ensure baseline safety standards are being met. The goal is to help support agritourism activities in Oregon, which can be an important "value-added" source of income for farms, and it includes actives like U-Pick, harvest-your-own, pumpkin patches and educational activities.

On the "bad" side, this bill was firmly opposed by the powerful Oregon Trail Lawyers Association during the committee hearing. That means there will be a lot of extra work to do to ensure it gets a full public hearing rather than the lower-level "informational hearing" it received, and a committee vote.

HB 2674 and HB 2675: These two bills would give the ODA authority to set up "control areas" and other designations to keep genetically engineered (GE) crops from contaminating non-GE crops. The bills would also require that ODA gather information on the use of genetic engineering in agriculture in Oregon to fill in substantial data gaps that make responsible management difficult.

The bill got a generally cool reception from the House Rural Communities, Land Use and Water Committee, including from legislators who voted for a bill in 2013 that put ‘exclusive regulatory power’ over GE crops in the hands of the state, while preventing local communities from enacting their own GE regulations. The committee chair announced he would form a ‘work group’ to see if any ideas from the legislation can garner enough support to move forward and pass the committee.

The Ugly

SB 25: This bill would exempt a number of counties in Oregon from the statewide land use planning system, including requirements for citizen involvement and protecting farmland from development. This could lead to a loss of valuable farmland and make it harder for farmers to compete for land against developers and other interests when land prices are driven up. The bill received a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on February 23.

HB 2449: This bill would extend the sunset on bioenergy tax credits and amend a number of the credits. The Oregon Department of Energy has proposed a significant reduction in the amount of tax credit that would be available to animal manure digesters. These tax credits have primarily benefited large factory farms, providing an unnecessary and costly taxpayer subsidy for these operations in the name of "green energy."

Unfortunately, this proposed change has not gone unnoticed by the the large-scale dairy operations that benefit most from the current tax credit. Several amendments to keep the tax credit high for manure digesters have been proposed and, if adopted, may not only support existing factory-scale farms that have significant manure management and air pollution problems, but would amount to a taxpayer handout for new large-scale factory farms that may want to set up shop in Oregon as long as they install a manure digester.

On March 5, the House Energy and Environment Committee heard testimony on this bill, which Friends of Family Farmers, among others, supports as written without the amendments.

Click here for more information on the bills that are coming up before the Legislature this session. Find your legislators and let them know what you think. And stay tuned for further updates as the 2015 session progresses!

Read the other posts in this series, Opening Salvos and The Personal Gets Political.

Photos: Evan and Rachel of Boondockers Farm; raw milk from Cast Iron Farm; manure digester from Farm Energy Images.

Stuffed Peppers: Inspiration from Virgin Territory

Great cookbooks are more than just the sum of the recipes they contain. Gorgeous photos and recipes can stimulate both the mind and appetite. The stories an author shares can introduce exciting new cultures and ideas, not to mention information about ingredients both familiar and new. And the recipes themselves often teach me new cooking techniques or ways of combining flavors that I hadn't thought of before.

The best do all of the above, and provide the opportunity for me to go off on my own tangents depending on what I have in my pantry or what's in season.

In the category of the best, I would place the new cookbook Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Though I have to admit that I'm a little jealous that this Maine native who grew up to become a leading authority on olive oil and the Mediterranean diet now lives on a 25-acre olive farm in Tuscany where she and her family produce their own olive oil.

I met the author recently at a reception at the invitation of Cathy Whims of Nostrana, where Nancy told the story of the book while guests were served dishes based on recipes featured in it. One, though, a nettle and spinach flan that the kitchen was inspired to create, was served as an entremet. It celebrated both the spirit of the book and the freshest spring things from our area. It was smooth, bright—obviously I'm still thinking of it—and knee-bucklingly good. Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm was sitting opposite me and I had to laugh as our eyes rolled back in our heads at its incredible deliciousness.

A couple of days later I was paging through the book and came across Nancy's recipe for Eastern Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers with bulgur, tomatoes and spices that would give it a rich Moroccan scent. I didn't have any bulgur on hand, but I did have some of Ayers Creek Farm's frikeh that I'd thoughtfully stashed in the freezer. But then I looked at the cover of the book and there was another roasted stuffed pepper pictured, though this was stuffed with anchovies, tomatoes and capers, meant for serving as an appetizer.


Stuffed Peppers with Frikeh, Tomatoes and Anchovies
Loosely adapted from Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

1/2 lb. frikeh, barley, farro, bulgur or rice
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 onion, chopped fine
1 large fennel bulb, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-oz. tin anchovies, or 8 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed
10 oil-cured black olives, chopped fine
1 pint assorted cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. paprika, pimenton or piment basquaise
4 medium sweet peppers, halved, seeded and membranes removed
1 c. boiling water
3 oz. fresh chèvre

Place grain (whichever you choose) in medium pot. Add water to cover by 2”. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer for ten minutes. Check occasionally to make sure water hasn’t been completely absorbed; add more if necessary. When grain is al dente, drain in colander and rinse with cold water.

While grain cooks, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and sauté till translucent. Move onion to edges of pan and add anchovies in center, chopping them until they dissolve. Stir into onions. Add fennel and garlic and sauté till tender.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Put onion mixture into large bowl. Add cooked grain, olives, tomatoes, capers and paprika and combine. Stuff mixture into pepper halves, top with thin slice of chevre, a grinding of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Grease a 9” by 11” glass baking dish with olive oil and pour in boiling water to a depth of 1/2”. Add peppers skin-side down. Bake at 350° for 1 hour.