Sunday, July 27, 2014

Get More For Your Money: Roast Those Carcasses!

Summer means that cooking moves outdoors, with electricity replaced by fire. Around here we're putting not just steaks and chickens on the grill but fish, usually whole salmon or tuna loins.

Whole albacore on sale.

Albacore season has just started and you'll see whole fish going on sale at supermarkets around town. Caught off our coastline, mostly by small family-owned boats using a pole-and-line method, the entire West Coast fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). These smaller fish (12-25 lbs.) are low in mercury and other toxins simply because they haven't spent as much time in the ocean environment as the larger, 40 to 60-lb. fish caught in the deep oceans, the ones that appear in cans on store shelves. (Read my story on Oregon albacore for more information.)

Roast that carcass, don't toss it.

So enjoy roasting those triangular loins, whether whole or sliced into steaks and seared on the outside, leaving the centers barely warm and still pink. But please, oh please, when you buy that whole fish, ask them to bag up the carcass, too, or you'll be throwing away two pounds or so of good meat, not to mention the stock you can make from the bones, fins and head (if you buy it with the head on).

Pick meat off the roasted carcass, then make stock with the bones.

And don't believe those charts meant for chefs that say the yield from a whole albacore, gutted and without the head, is 50% of the weight. From the 17-pound fish (head off) that I bought yesterday, my yield was more than 80% after removing the loins, roasting the carcass (350° for 30 min.), picking off the meat (nearly 2 lbs.!) and then making stock from the bones (2 1/2 qts.). The total weight of bones, fins and detritus that went into the compost bin was only two or three pounds. (Kind of tells you about the food waste that happens in restaurants, though, doesn't it?)

The flaked albacore from the bones will be going into salads, fish cakes, sandwiches and soups or chowders, and the stock is fabulous for paella, risottos, chowders, bouillabaisse, etc. So get the most for your money, roast those carcasses, and reap the delicious rewards!

Here's the blog post from my friend Hank Shaw that got me started roasting carcasses.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Sparrow Hawks

As organic farmers, contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, are caretakers of the 144 acres of land that comprises Ayers Creek Farm and that grows the crops that they sell at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. An integral part of that stewardship is protecting and promoting its natural systems, as well as contributing to a greater understanding of how those underlying systems work.

Ayers Creek Farm is 144 acres, almost a half-mile square, actually more a trapezoidal-rhomboidal hybrid than a simple square. At the northern end of the property we have about 22 acres of oak savannah and the farm buildings. It is a raptor-rich area, supporting a nesting pair each of great horned owls and red tailed hawks, two pairs of barn owls, as well as two to three pairs of kestrels. 

Prof. Van Buskirk and student banding baby kestrel.

Kestrels—those of us over 50 most likely grew up calling them "sparrow hawks" and we like that name better—are the smallest of the falcons and nest in holes. They have narrow, swept-back wings and a long tail, and the head markings often adopt the style of ancient warriors' helmets. These traits are shared with their larger brethren, including the merlins and peregrines that linger during migration. These birds of the savannah and grasslands are permanent residents in the Willamette Valley, and you often see them hunting from utility wires. We build 20-foot tall perches to make their wintertime perch-and-pounce hunting method easier across the property. On the lighter summer and autumn air, kestrels will hover above the field. The slighter males have slate blue wings which distinguishes them from their mates that have brown wings.

Baby kestrel.

At Ayers Creek, the kestrels have utilized both natural cavities in trees as well as boxes we build. However wholesome "natural" may sound, as with us, a fine stickbuilt with an ample floor plan is preferred by the birds over a dank cave built by a woodpecker in a rotten tree. The boxes have a 10" x 10" floor, and are approximately 12" deep, with a 3" entry hole. In the British Isles, they use a box that acts more like a ledge than a cavity. Our boxes are used by flickers and starlings, as well as kestrels. All three are welcome birds, even the much-maligned starling which may eat a few cherries and grapes, but is first and foremost an insectivore that eats many thousands of grubs. 

Remnants of a meal.

When offered a selection, the kestrels change nest boxes annually. Just as in organic farming, the rotation interrupts the buildup of pests and diseases. We have come to the conclusion that it is important to offer at least three boxes per nesting pair. The kestrel, starling and flicker belong to three different bird orders, just as humans, dogs and cats belong to different mammal orders, and the three different birds move nest to new locations each year. Last year, as soon as one of our  kestrel families left their nest, a pair of flickers moved in and raised their family over the remaining days of the summer. We have three nesting pairs of kestrels close to one another and we suspect this is due to a high density of suitable nest sites. 

Their diet in the winter consists of mice and voles. These they carefully eviscerate, abandoning the guts but eating the rest of the animal. We find the entrails left on top of the smaller nesting boxes where the kestrels perch to enjoy their prey. Occasionally they will eat a bird; this spring I watched one grab and consume a junco. They also eat insects, especially grasshoppers, as well as worms and small snakes. The preference is for mice and voles, but in the summer grasshoppers probably assure their survival.

Young kestrel's first "flight."

The southern half of the farm provides no natural nesting cavities, nor are there any in the vicinity. There is a grove of trees, but it consists of Oregon ash and hawthorns, neither of which provide a good source of cavities. The ash falls apart before cavities appear and the hawthorn is too small of a tree. As a result, kestrels are rarely seen on that part of the farm during breeding season. This year we added four nesting boxes to the area; a pair settled in and the young are now out of the nest and hanging out in the shelter of the ash and hawthorn grove. One of the considerations in locating the boxes is having cover for the young who cannot fly when they plunge out of the box and are quite helpless for the first few days. Even when they do get aloft, their attempts to land are more akin to a crash onto a limb, and perhaps not the one intended.

Rich Van Buskirk, Associate Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Pacific University, has been studying kestrels in the valley, including the four pairs nesting at Ayers Creek. The adults have been trapped and banded, and the chicks are banded as well. The female nesting at the southern end of the farm was from one of the clutches Van Buskirk and his students banded here last year. His work will give us a finer-grain picture of the kestrels on the farm over time, and their relationships to one another. He has also been studying the success of birds raised in natural cavities compared to nesting boxes. We enjoy seeing the Professor and his students at the farm on their regular visits. We are, after all, just naturalists who happen to grow some food on the side, and happy when people notice.

Counting My Blessings: Salads with Blueberries, Peaches

I will often begin dinners, not with the holding of hands and the saying of grace, asking the deity to please sprinkle holy fairy dust over the bounty of which we are about to partake, but with an apology. As in, "Please forgive me, my dear family members for whose digestive systems, indeed whose entire well-being, I am responsible for from now until I shuffle off this mortal coil, for I have no roughage or greenery to offer and thus have failed in my duties."

Or something to that effect.

A proper meal.

The guilt induced by these failings haunts me, brought up as I was was by the duty, indeed the holy orders, to build a pyramid based on the trinity of protein, carb and veg. Which means that often you will find me, while the casserole is baking or the chicken is roasting or the pasta is boiling, head down in the vegetable bin searching for anything that might allow me to be redeemed in the eyes of my family.

Peaches add a je ne sais quoi quality.

Recently that redemption has come in the form of little green hallocks of fruit brought home from the farmers' market, specifically some blueberries and peaches, that, when combined with leftover cabbage from tacos the night before or extra leaves not used in an escarole salad, gave me the benediction I was seeking.

Peach and Pepper Slaw with Mint

1/4 head green cabbage, sliced thin
1/4 head red cabbage, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1/4 c. Mama Lil’s mixed peppers, chopped
2 medium-sized ripe peaches, chopped in 1/2” cubes
2 Tbsp. chopped mint
1/2 c. olive oil
1 tsp. salt or to taste

Combine all ingredients in salad bowl and toss.

* * *

Blueberry, Cherry Tomato and Escarole Salad

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 pint blueberries
1/4 finely sliced onion
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Several leaves of escarole, roughly torn
Salt to taste

Put cherry tomatoes, blueberries, onion and vinegar in a zip-lock bag. Shake to combine and place bag in refrigerator for at least 30 min. to marinate. Remove from refrigerator and empty contents into salad bowl with torn escarole. Toss to combine. Adjust salt to taste and serve.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gadget Guy Has A Purpose: Blueberry Sorbet

Call me slow, unobservant or simply (and perhaps more accurately) in denial, but I just realized a few months ago, after decades of marriage, that my husband is a gadget geek. It kind of snuck up on me slowly, because he doesn't buy a bunch all at once. They dribble in, one at a time every few months, each meant for a particular project. It doesn't seem like that much. At first.

The KitchenAid mixer was one he found on Craigslist for a steal, cherry-red and still in its original box, intended for his initial bread experiments. Handy for grinding meat or tomatoes, too, once we got the grinder attachment. Then he switched bread techniques, requiring the purchase of a few cast iron Dutch ovens, the better to get the kind of crusty artisan loaves he'd been dreaming of.

A soda streamer came at some point, to make soda water for cocktails and soft drinks with fruit syrups we'd made, then an ice cream maker, which he's used for sorbet and ice cream experiments. But it was the bright orange instant-read laser thermometer gun that finally got my attention, with its "pistol grip" designed to "accurately measure temperatures at a distance!"

That one I'm still trying to figure out, but I'm sure he had a good reason. After all, the other gadgets and doodads have certainly paid off in some delicious additions to our repertoire. It could be worse, right?

Dave's Blueberry Sorbet

2 pints blueberries
4 Tbsp. granulated sugar
4 Tbsp. mild-tasting honey
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

Place all ingredients in a blender* and purée until smooth. Put a fine-mesh sieve over a medium-sized mixing bowl and, working in batches, press the purée through the sieve with a spatula. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour, then follow directions on your ice cream maker to process the sorbet.

* Some sorbet recipes call for adding a pinch of salt before puréeing, but it's terrific without.

Quick Hits: The Barlow Room

Growing up outside the Willamette Valley in Eastern and Central Oregon meant my parents piled the kids in the station wagon—I preferred the back end, with more room and a barrier between me and my two younger brothers—every few months and drove over the mountains to Portland. These trips always involved a stop about halfway for a bathroom break, coffee, lunch or pie at a café, some landmark place my parents had been stopping since they were young marrieds.

Basil gimlet, anyone?

Even now on road trips to the coast, usually much shorter journeys than those of my childhood but still requiring a stop to fortify or relieve, I was always looking for a place that reminded me of those childhood cafés, but never really found one that felt right. Until just recently, that is.

Chili likes it, too.

The esteemed Czarnecki family, founders and owners of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton (father Jack has been featured extensively on Good Stuff NW), decided that what wine country needed was not another wine-themed bistro with precious tchotchkes and even more precious pricing, but a good burger and a solid tap list. So son Chris, chef and current owner of Joel Palmer, decided to rehabilitate a historic restaurant and bar across from Dayton's Courthouse Square Park to provide locals and travelers a casual place to meet and have a bite. In other words, a good old-fashioned tavern.

The Barlow Room is a comfortable brick-walled room with a bar along one wall featuring the aforementioned beers, but also an intriguing cocktail list—my basil gimlet was made with basil from the tavern's garden out back—as well as small plates for noshing, sandwiches, salads, pastas and desserts. (And that signature burger? Well, just know that when I'm craving a burger, this is the one I'll be thinking of.) A destination all on its own, it'll also give weary wine-tasters a welcome break when their tastebuds tire of pinots, not to mention anyone traveling through and needing a place to stop and refuel.

Details: The Barlow Room, 306 Ferry St., Dayton. 503-714-4328.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Farm Bulletin: A Scolding Regarding Chester Blackberries

Sully the Chester blackberry's reputation and you should expect a thorough tongue-lashing from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. In for a trip to the woodshed in this essay are no less than the Oregonian and two professors in the Horticulture Department at OSU.

Opening the A&E section of the Oregonian on Friday was a less than pleasant experience. This once distinguished daily broadsheet has devolved into a flimsy, irregular tabloid. But, for crying out loud, you would think they could get the facts straight on blackberries, a fruit for which the backyard of Oregon is known. Under the title "State's lesser berries win time to shine," the entry for "chesterberry" states:

"Developed in 2007, the chesterberry is a close cousin to the blackberry, but the fruit is roughly three times as large. In the marionberry family, chesters come with small seeds and a bitter taste."

Chesters in the field at Ayers Creek Farm.

The name of the berry is "Chester Thornless Blackberry" not chesterberry, though we use the less formal Chester. It is capitalized because it is named after a person. Chester came out of the breeding program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1968, not 2007 as asserted by the author. Sakes alive, we have been selling them at Hillsdale since the market opened in 2002. It is a blackberry, pure and simple, not a cousin. The Chester, a thornless, semi-erect plant is from a very different breeding line than the Marion, a thorny trailing type plant. There is no familiar similarity between the two and their different ancestries are reflected in the flavor of the berries. Finally, what is this nonsense about the fruit being bitter?

For some strange reason, the primary blackberry researchers at Oregon State University hold the Chester in very low regard, and this shapes the opinions of people who have not actually tasted the berry. I have had numerous discussions with Chad Finn and Bernadine Strik about Chesters, pointing out that it is a magnificent fruit for the smaller, organic grower and perfect for out-of-hand eating, but they are unshakable in their distain for the fruit. Fair enough, we harbor a similar distain for the Marion, which is great for industrial, machine harvest farms but not a fruit where the farmer plans to park the ATV and eat berries for a while and think of shoes and ships and sealing wax. I guess that is why we don't grow it. This year, we have planted more blackberry rows, Chesters, of course.

Several years ago Kathleen Bauer posted a good essay [by Monsieur Boutard - KAB] on her blog about the Chester blackberry, nicely illustrated, for those who want the full and interesting history of the berry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camp Stories: Return to Paradise

It was the Fourth of July and at 10 o'clock at night it was pitch dark and instead of sounding like a war zone, with booms, cracks, flashing lights and sulphurous clouds of smoke drifting across the battlefield of competing patriotic displays, all we could hear was the quiet burble of the Wind River as it rushed over rounded stones on its way to join the Columbia.

Camp cocktails? Yes, please!

Rather than having to drug our dogs, or watch them pant and shiver and pace through the conflagration—"Go outside? No thanks, I'll just hold it till tomorrow."—they were bedded down quietly at the other end of the tent we'd pitched at Paradise Creek campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest north of Carson, Washington.

Our annual pilgrimage, which had ballooned in past years to 14 people in five campsites but this year, for various reasons, numbered only five members in two sites, was a much simpler affair but no less delicious (or fun). While a big group of good friends has always been a blast, fewer people meant much less coordination, and led to simpler packing—salami and cheese instead of dozens of fresh oysters—and much more time reading in beach chairs streamside.

Cast iron-baked scones.

I'd wanted to try my hand at a campfire paella and Dave was itching to use his cast iron, footed Dutch oven to make scones using a perforated cast iron trivet to prevent scorching (left). And of course we had the usual fixings for negronis and martinis to help smooth any bumps in our mattresses at night.

The paella (top photo) was amazingly simple, since I used the frozen stock in place of one of the bags of ice in the freezer chest, and had simplified the list of main ingredients to chicken, frozen shrimp, olives and chorizo. Thanks to Dave's expert fire-building, the split dry fir from the "Camp Wood!" guys down the road burned down to a lovely bed of coals. A little sautéing over the fire, then adding the stock over the top and a half hour later—just enough time for a cocktail, thank you—dinner was ready.

Breakfast of champions.

The scones were a tour de force, and even Dave admitted that he was as surprised as anyone that they turned out so well. He'd mixed the dry ingredients at home, then added the rest at camp. Then it was flattening the dough, cutting it in segments, and putting it on parchment paper on the trivet in the bottom of the preheated Dutch oven. There was a little concern that the oven hadn't gotten up to temperature, but when the time was up he opened the lid and that flattened disk of dough had turned into perfectly light and fluffy scones. Needless to say, there was much oohing and aahing around the breakfast table.

And me? I'll take these kind of fireworks over the other kind any time.

For an idea of how to make paella on a campfire, check out my recipe for paella on the grill.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homemade Nocino: Waiting's the Hard Part

It was five years ago that I read Martha Holmberg's story in MIX magazine about a yearly nocino-making party in winemaker Anne Hubatch's back yard, and got to try some of the walnut-based liqueur they made courtesy of my friend, writer Peter Szymczak. I kept swearing I'd make it myself one of these days, even participating in a nut harvest and nocino demo at my friend Jim's place three years ago.

Unripe English walnuts.

Originating in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, nocino is a sweet liqueur made in the spring—late June in Italy, early to mid-July in the Northwest—from the green, unripe fruit of the walnut tree. Fortunately for Oregonians, walnut trees abound in our climate and, from the broken green detritus I tiptoe through with the dogs on our walks through the neighborhood, most of the fruit ends up rotting on the sidewalks or getting tossed in the compost bin.

Some halved, some not.

It's the simplest of processes to make nocino, and even Jim has given up halving the soft green fruit before stuffing them in gallon jars and pouring in enough 190-proof alcohol—available at Oregon liquor stores under the odd brand name "Clear Spring"—to cover them. Wait a couple of months, add some simple syrup, and…bingo…nocino! (Check out Jim's recipe.)

So right now you'll find two gallon jars sitting out on the patio (top photo), and every once in awhile between now and mid-September I'll give you an update. See what I mean about the waiting? Yikes!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hot Nights Call For Easy Chorizo Tacos

With long-term forecasts calling for temperatures in the 80s and 90s and with no rain for the next several weeks—climate change deniers notwithstanding—it's time to get some cool and groovy plans laid for dinner.

Lookin' toasty.

If only that would include eating out every night, right?

But since that's a situation that will have to wait until we chance upon that winning lottery ticket at our local stop-and-shop, I guess it's going to be me battling it out in front of the stove every night with my very own version of Top Chef.

"What's she going to tantalize us with tonight, folks?"

The spread.

Well, the other evening I happened to have some ground pork in the fridge, thinking it was time to make a meatloaf, but it was just too dang hot to crank up the oven. That's when the idea of tacos blipped across my brain's radar. Cool. Easy. Simple. Just involves a bit of chopping and mixing and they're done.

The pork would make a nice chorizo, I thought, and wondered how hard it would be to replicate the incredibly good Tolucan red chorizo made by Salud and Angela Gonzales of Don Felipe (available at the Beaverton Farmers' Market). A quick internet search yielded some basic guidelines, and with a bit of improvising I was able to fry up a pretty good facsimile. Now I have to go get some of theirs and try them side by side!

Tolucan-style Chorizo

4 dried red chiles (I used three New Mexico chiles and one ancho chile)
2 c. boiling water
1/4 c. rice vinegar
1 lb. ground pork
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. tequila
3 large cloves garlic, minced

Remove stems and seeds from chiles and tear into 1” pieces. Place in medium bowl (I used my 1 qt. Pyrex measuring cup). Pour boiling water over the top, making sure that the water covers the chiles. Let stand 30 mins. Drain, reserving the chile soaking liquid for another use (chili, chile sauce, etc.). Put chiles, vinegar, oregano, salt, thyme, allspice, cloves and tequila in blender and purée.

In large bowl, thoroughly combine pork, chile mixture and garlic. Place in large skillet over medium heat and fry until the pork is cooked through, stirring to break it up and crumble it, approximately 15-20 min.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Great People and Great Food Make A Great Story: Burrasca

Just named one of the Oregonian's top ten food carts, Burrasca is a celebration of the foods of owner Paolo Calamai's native Florence, Italy. After sampling many of Paolo's offerings at his food cart on SE 28th Avenue, I knew I had to write about him and his wife, writer Elizabeth Petrosian, and their journey to Portland. Here's an excerpt from that article, "At Portland food cart Burrasca, homey Italian dishes are rooted in owner's Florentine past."

When they announced their decision to move their family lock, stock and pasta machine from Florence, Italy, to Portland, Oregon, to open a food cart, American friends of Florence native Paolo Calamai and his Michigan-born wife, Elizabeth Petrosian, were aghast.

Gnudi con pomodoro.

“But you’re living in Florence!” the friends wailed, thinking their life in Italy must be like all those I-left-my-boring-life-for-the-Tuscan-sun books that were popular a few years back.

The life their friends imagined the couple was living?

“It was a postcard,” Paolo said. “You’re living in a postcard or you’re living in the reality.”

Paolo, educated in restaurant management, had traveled back and forth from Italy to the United States many times since his maiden voyage in 1984 when he visited the families of Stanford students he’d met at the Florence villa that university owned. Remembering his first trip to the states, his expression still carries the awestruck quality of his younger self.

Pappa al pomodoro.

“It was a beautiful experience,” he said. “Visiting the national parks and seeing the Grand Canyon, the big cities. I mean, you see New York in the eighties, oh my god, to us, coming from Europe it was like, wow.”

After that first trip, he worked the front of the house—as waiter, manager, wine buyer and menu consultant—in several high-end Italian restaurants in New York and San Francisco. He met Elizabeth at the former Etrusca restaurant in San Francisco where she was supporting herself as a waitress, saving on food bills by taking full advantage of shift meals at the restaurant while attending graduate school in English literature.

The proprietor.

“She was the cutest one there,” he said. They dated, then moved across the country to work in New York, he at Pino Luongo’s Tuscan Square in Rockefeller Center, a forerunner of market-based restaurants like Eataly, and she at Gramercy Tavern. While it may have sounded glamorous from the outside, they realized that they weren’t able to spend much time together or enjoy the city. Plus they were missing the slower pace of life on the West Coast.

“We realized there’s something about the West Coast lifestyle, it’s closer to a Mediterranean life,” she said.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Travels with Chili: Whidbey Island Redux

This post was going to be about our trip with a friend to Seattle to celebrate her birthday. Other friends were driving down from Vancouver, BC, and we figured the Emerald City made a nice halfway point. That's until some research revealed that the only hotel rooms available were running about $250 bucks a night, and even if we shared a room with the birthday girl—yes, we've known each other that long—it would still be at least $500 a night to accomodate all of us.

Port Townsend from the Coupeville ferry dock.

Being frugal and also flexible, we started casting about for alternatives. When someone mentioned Whidbey Island, we heartily endorsed the notion, having just been there last fall. Our Canadian comrades quickly found a sweet little house overlooking the Saratoga Passage just outside the quaint mid-island town of Coupeville. With a view over the water, a pebbled beach to walk on and Mt. Baker looming over the scene, the price of $175 a night split five ways seemed like a steal.

View from the deck of our rented house.

I rode up with my friend on Friday, taking a route that avoided the obstructed bowel that is the traverse between Tacoma and Seattle. Instead, we cut off I-5 just before Tacoma, crossed over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and wound our way up a four-lane scenic highway through Bremerton to Port Townsend. A quick ferry ride across the narrow entrance to the Puget Sound put us ten minutes from Coupeville, the whole trip taking almost exactly the same amount of time as driving from Portland to Mukilteo, north of Seattle, then catching the ferry to the southern end of the island with Coupeville still a 40-minute drive away.

Whidbey Pies & Cafe at Greenbank Farm.

Feeling very clever, we pulled up to the house at almost exactly the same time as the northern half of our group. We quickly unpacked and headed out to the sheltered side deck with our drinks in time to see a stunning sunset reflecting off of Mt. Baker in the distance. Dinner that night was a paella studded with delicate Penn Cove mussels that we'd picked up at Toby's tavern in Coupeville. The mussel version of Kumamoto oysters in their small size and creamy texture, they were not only gorgeous but gave that local, briny kick to the meal.

It took very little arm-twisting to convince the rest of the crew to explore Coupeville proper the next morning then hit Whidbey Pies & Cafe at Greenbank Farm for lunch. (Frankly, I doubt if this crowd heard much more than "pies" and agreed immediately.) That way we could meet Dave, who was driving up that morning from Portland, and we could all have lunch and some well-deserved beers before heading back to our new island "home."

The Oystercatcher's duck breast and confit.

The birthday girl's dinner took place that evening at the Oystercatcher, a casual but well-regarded spot in Coupeville. Longtime owners Joe Scott and Jamie Sastre had only recently sold the restaurant to Tyler and Sara Hansen, which left locals wondering if the change of hands might mean big changes to their beloved dinner house. If our meal there was any indication, the place is in expert hands, with everything made in-house and showing a clear dedication to working with island fisheries, farmers and ranchers.

My beef shoulder with creamed new potatoes and nasturtium butter was meltingly tender and deeply flavorful, though I have to say the whole table agreed that the duck breast and confit leg with roasted potatoes and an intriguing cherry mostarda was the hit of the evening. The 2011 Syncline Grenache was so lovely that we had to order a second bottle, followed by toasts with a couple of older Scotches back at the house to send the birthday girl off to bed.

So while I'm sure the Seattle trip would have been equally nice, the DIY aspect of this adventure, plus the opportunity to simply hang out with friends in a beautiful and relaxing place, made it so much more—and this is the operative word—fun.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Farm Bulletin: The Season Begins!

Once again I will ponder the utter idiocy of growing soft, early season fruit in the Willamette Valley as I wind my way up Bald Peak on the way to our first Hillsdale Farmers Market of the summer. Fortunately, we have a competent and kind staff, which removes some of the anxiety that the last few days of rain generated. Still, it is a foolish business.

The always-edifying Ramble.

We have rescheduled our annual Farm Ramble for the 12th of October. If you plan on attending, please note the change in your calendars.

Despite some bumps along the way, we are very happy with outlook for the farm this year. We have about 30% more ground in cultivation, which is a huge jump for us and our staff. We hit our stride and it made sense to keep planting. Our manic seeding spree meant we had to buy 4,000 more seven-foot poles for the beans, as well as more of all the other essential inputs. We start parching the frikeh on Monday, and it should be ready two weeks later. By August, things will be tearing along if the weather cooperates.

Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have.

Many of you are familiar with our charming customer Ellis—as farmers with two Allis Chalmers machines, we valiantly resist, mostly, calling him Ellis Charmer. His whole life he has brought his parents to the market, and is fully engaged in the process. The secret to his enthusiasm is, no doubt, his mother's talent for preparing the food they have collected at the market. We have enjoyed the food at Katherine Deumling's table and understand why Ellis approaches market day with such gusto.

For several years, Deumling has used her talent to write custom recipes for farms offering CSA boxes, and now she is ready to extend this service to the general farmers' market community. Deumling's recipes are simple, adaptable and free of the dreadful suggestion that food needs to be medicine, i.e. no post-neo-Adelle-Davis preaching. Just a good mix of influences. For $25 a year, less than most cookbooks, you can receive her Seasonal Recipe Collection and eat like Ellis.

Ayers Creek Amish Butter corn.

A relationship that frays after more than a decade and ends up in a separation exacts its financial toll, the alimony. As you will notice on Sunday, we have gone through that recently. After 14 years of using Oregon Tilth as our certifier, our differences led us to an uncontested separation, the surrender of our certificate, and now we are certified as organic by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Because of the new certifier, we have all new labels and signs. A snappy yellow banner will greet you all on Sunday, as well as more legible labels on the popcorn, cayenne and cornmeal. We are happy with the change on all accounts.

This year, Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's and his staff will host an Outstanding in the Field dinner on the 12th of July. The brave lad has to impress a table of 180 guests. The venue is at Ayers Creek and, if you want to see how they fit a table with 180 into our landscape, there may be some tickets still available. Like most of the chefs we work with, Joshua and his staff know the farm on the ground, not just as a delivery service. He has taken the time to understand the process of growing food, not just preparing it. It makes a difference when you are a farmer.

Note: The fact that some of this note is in the first person has nothing to do with the aforementioned separation. Carol's foot is on the mend, but standing on the hard pavement for seven hours is not a good idea at the moment. So she will remain on the farm for the first three markets. Be nice to this poor old man, who picked up a few more grey hairs with this week's rain, as he brings you our hard-earned fruits.

Burle Rosé In The House

I'm generally not the sort to post so-called "haul videos," but this is one I'm particularly excited about, considering it's time for rosés to appear in the wine rotation. It's from my favorite French winery, Vignoble Edmond Burle, in Gigondas, France, known for their rustic Côtes de Rhone wines.

The box rosé is brought into the Northwest in very limited supply, and it has the deep pink color and richness of body that goes so well with smoky, grilled meats (and paella), while remaining dry enough to enjoy with snacks in the back yard. All that's needed now is for the sun to come back and I'll be all set for summer!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Quick Hits: Oso Market

In case you hadn't noticed, the latest thing on Portland's dining scene isn't spherification—using sodium alginate and calcium chloride to make balls of flavored liquid—or making bacon-flavored ice cream or even adding a surcharge to your tab to provide health care for a restaurant's employees (as worthy a cause as that is). Walk into a recently opened eatery in this town, particularly one that caters to a younger demographic, and you'll find shelves stocked not with the usual logo-ed t-shirts and shot glasses, but wines, beers and foodstuffs.

Luce opened with one wall loaded with hand-picked Italian dry goods. Laurelhurst Market boasted a full-blown butcher shop and deli sandwiches. Old Salt Marketplace integrated a meat case stocked with pork, chicken and aged grass-fed beef, along with house-made sausages and charcuterie into its whole animal meat program, as well as offering packages of the flours, beans and other products from local farms used on its menus.

Oso Market is just the latest bistro showcasing this trend, with wines, beers, ciders, honey, cheeses and bread stocked along two walls of its wood-raftered space at the east end of the Morrison bridge. Light pours in from the large windows on Southeast Grand Avenue and stop sign-red metal chairs glow against the clean, neutral-toned walls. But of course it's the food, served on mix-and-match vintage plates, that make this place worth checking out.

After a couple of lunch visits, along with a thumbs-up review of their by-the-glass wine pours from my brother, I'm ready to put this spot on my regulars list, especially after Sasha Davies decided to pull the plug on lunch at Cyril's (sob) my most recent mid-day go-to. Reasonably priced, with super-fresh seasonal offerings like sardines, wild boar brats and beautifully composed salads populating its menus, it's open for lunch, happy hour, casual dinners and weekend brunches.

Details: Oso Market and Bar, 726 SE Grand Ave. 503-232-6400.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick One-Dish Dining with Cauliflower and Chicken

I don't mean to break out the violins or start wailing "Woe is me!" here, because, when you get right down to it, we're pretty darn lucky to have the bounty of seasonal produce that is coming into the farmers' markets and to have terrific local supermarkets that fill in the gaps. But sometimes I envy those who can reach into their cupboards and break out a box of macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper for those nights when you need to get dinner on the table pronto.

But really, even those "instant" dinners require at least a half hour of prep and cooking, especially if you're adding a salad or vegetables to the mix. Fortunately—or unfortunately, if you think about it—I don't actually like the bland, dusty, overly salty taste of most of these convenience foods, so my solution has been to come up with quick, one-dish dinners that I can throw on the table in short order, not to mention actually feeling good about feeding them to my family.

This one was a what-do-I-have-on-hand solution when I'd just hit "send" on my story about Ben Meyer and looked up to see Dave walking in the door after a hard day at work. Oops. So I rummaged through the freezer, found some chicken thighs I'd stashed in there, opened the veg bin to find a head of cauliflower and pulled a can of tomatoes out of the pantry.

Just about 45 minutes later we were sitting down to what turned out to be a dish we'll be having again* even when I'm not in a rush!

Spanish-style Cauliflower, Chicken and Tomatoes

1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut in 1” pieces
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
2 bay leaves
1 28-oz. can tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, separated into small florets
10-12 green olives, sliced crosswise into 1/8” slices  (I used Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives)

Place saffron threads and salt in the bowl of a mortar and pestle and grind the saffron threads into the salt with the pestle. There’s no need to pound it…the sharp edges of the salt crystals will do most of the work for you.

Pour oil into a deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken and brown, turning pieces occasionally. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to keep it at a steady simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

* Next time, assuming I'm not pulling this together at the last minute, I'm going to add chopped Spanish-style chorizo to the sauté. Even more delicious and totally company-worthy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oregon Cheese Maker Comments on FDA Ruling Regarding Use of Wood Shelves

This essay by Oregon cheese maker Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm was prompted by a Food and Drug Administration executive order that came to light last week in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Dept. from Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch. She stated that "wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized" and would no longer be allowed in American aging rooms. This prompted an outcry from artisan cheese makers around the country and within days the FDA rescinded its order.

Aging Cheese on Wood Shelves and Food Safety: A Non-Issue

As a person who tends to want to follow rules, it is sad to be reminded that a good portion of food production regulations have little to do with actual food safety. Rather they are the result of a ponderous, rigid system that steamrolls forward, sometimes based more on the ease of generalizing rather than the complexity of reality. The FDA has never liked wood shelves, especially when you set food, in this case naturally rinded cheese, directly on its porous surface. Wood does not fit their Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) model for a cleanable surface.

Wood shelving is used worldwide. These are in Argentina.

While wood aging shelves have technically never been okay with the FDA, they have until now been mostly ignored and the decision to allow them been left to individual states. In many "big cheese" states, the regulators defer to the scientific knowledge of the leading expert within each state. For example, in both Oregon and Wisconsin (where at least 30 million pounds of cheese is aged on wood each year) the departments of agriculture have an official stance of "no wood shelves." But in both states, if a cheesemaker gets a thumbs-up from an academic expert regarding their maintenance protocol for the shelves, then [wood shelves] have been allowed.

Isn’t that sensible? Did you hear me mention the words “scientific knowledge”? Let’s review what is well researched and known about wood shelves [list of citations here]. Guess how many outbreaks of food-borne illness they have been implicated in since the dawn of cheesemaking? Zero. This doesn’t mean that pathogens can’t exist on a wood shelf. If a cheese is contaminated and the shelf is poorly cared for, it will pass it to the shelf, no matter what material it is made from. Contamination of any aging shelf can happen when poor practices occur at any stage of cheese production, but it is not any more likely when wood is used. Bottom line.

Pros and Cons

So why do cheesemakers and affineurs (the folks that age cheese) love wood shelving? Tradition? Romance? Practicality? In the days before the invention of plastic, that ubiquitous, malleable material that we now take so for granted, wood was the logical and singular option. But fortunately it was also perfect. Like naturally aging cheese, wood "breathes," holding moisture without being wet, pulling it both out of the cheese and also helping keep the aging space at a steady level of humidity, not unlike the natural stone walls and bricks of the pre-modern aging space. Wood shelves used in aging rooms also take on the same family of fantastically helpful microflora—yeasts, molds, and especially bacteria—that help create distinctive, out-of-this-world cheeses. The usefulness of these microbes has not only to do with flavor, but also with the final safety of the cheese.

Twig Farm, Vermont.

Given what I have just told you about how awesome wood shelving is, why isn’t everyone using it?  Or at least trying to use it? (At least 60% of American Cheese Society cheesemaker members do.) First it is, not surprisingly, highly discouraged thanks to the stance of our federal friends. Second, the knowledge of how to properly care for wood is tucked away in the minds of a few and only available in a smattering of books and papers. Third, many make only fresh cheeses where aging is not used. And, finally, it is more work. More work is not what most cheesemakers need or can even contemplate.

Let me tell you about our experience with wood shelves in our own aging room.

Wood Shelves at Pholia Farm

A few years ago we got permission from our inspectors to use wood shelves as long as we consulted with Dr. Lisbeth Goddik, Oregon State University’s Dairy Extension Specialist—a darned amazing woman. She suggested routine cleaning of the shelves with mild soap and warm water, then after rinsing with plain water either wiping the boards down with vinegar or a lactic acid bacteria wash. We did both. We marked which side of each shelf was treated with vinegar and which with bacteria. After aging the cheeses for many months, and before selling them, we swabbed the shelves and sent samples of the cheese to Agri-mark lab. All results, for cheese and shelves, whether vinegar or lactic acid bacteria washed, were free from pathogens.

So why did we stop? Ironically enough, it was another aging room reality that is on the FDA’s hit list (not recent hits list…) cheese mites. I won’t go into too much detail about these little buggers (see one of my most popular posts for all of the itchy details), but what is pertinent is that the dark underside of the cheese sitting on the board was very desirable real estate for the mites. This required more frequent cheese rind labor, something that we were not prepared to do at that time. But I am now.

So Why the Ruling?

Consider for a moment that the FDA is tasked with an enormous responsibility. As that responsibility grows and food systems expand it becomes more expeditious to simplify. This means generalized rules that apply to everyone—versus thoughtful, logical exceptions. Think about it: before a couple of decades ago, you would be hard-pressed (like one of those fabulous wood-aged European Comtes) to find any U.S.-made cheese that was aged in a cellar type situation with a natural rind. Consequently, the paradigm for aging became a squeaky clean walk-in cooler. The regulations that developed reflected that reality. With the looming burden of the Food Safety Modernization Act, it’s not surprising that they are now seeking to streamline and enforce existing regulations, rather than allow states to take the responsibility of allowing exceptions.

As we move forward as cheesemakers, I think we need to nurture a new paradigm, one in which the aging room is not treated as a processing room, but as a separate type of space in which a different set of GMP’s apply. When I was at a cheese science conference in England, it was repeatedly said that “The dairy/cheese plant is NOT A HOSPITAL.” Nothing could be more true in a room in which you are counting on microbes to flourish.

What Can We Do?

I am a member of the American Cheese Society’s Regulatory and Academic committee. This morning (June 10th) we finalized the press release and position of the largest body of cheese professionals in the United States.

So support ACS (join if you are not a member), contact your congressional representatives, let the FDA know how you feel, and most importantly keep buying and making great cheese! Now, I am going to go put those beautiful Pacific maple shelves back in the aging room. Watch out cheese mites, I’m watching you!

Top photo of Tumalo Farms cheese courtesy Tami Parr of the Pacific NW Cheese Project. Photo of cheese from Argentina courtesy Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm.

Gianaclis Caldwell is also the author of three books on dairying, including Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producer.