Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In a Slump? Just Add Peaches!

On our first camping trip of the summer, Dave baked perfect blueberry scones in his giant, footed cast iron Dutch oven—I found out it's named "Ol' Dutch" from the masking tape stuck to its carrier—and hash browns and eggs over the open fire on his as-yet-unnamed Lodge griddle.

He also had plans to make a peach slump in yet another, smaller Dutch oven ("Li'l Dutch"?), for which we'd lugged it and the four-and-a-half pounds of Baird Family Orchards fruit on our second trip of the summer. Unfortunately fate intervened when I threw out my back, forcing us to return home a day early.

Adding the dumpling topping.

Undaunted, with peaches ripening rapidly and temperatures soaring into the high nineties, it was untenable to turn on the oven, so he fired up the campstove in the back yard. It was both a great dry run for the recipe, which he borrowed from Corey Schreiber and Julie Richardson's classic Rustic Fruit Desserts, and a chance to find out exactly what a "slump" is. (Though originally we had been perfectly willing to try it out our camp-mates, since we never shy away from experimenting on our friends.)

With peaches oozing out when served, it's divine.

A slump is defined by the authors as a "simple steamed pudding" similar to a cobbler but made on the stovetop rather than in the oven. In the case of this recipe, the fruit is mixed with sugar and cornstarch then cooked briefly to activate the cornstarch and thicken the mixture, then a very wet biscuit dough (resembling a batter) is spooned on top, covered and simmered. The result is a soft, dumpling-like top rather than the drier, browned biscuit-y topping on a cobbler, but this version has a lovely lightness to it that would pair well with cream or crème fraiche.

And yes, you can expect it to appear on some future outdoor excursion. Stay tuned!

Peach Slump
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts

For the fruit:
4 1/2 lbs. peaches
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the topping:
1 c. all-purpose (AP) flour
1/2 c. unsifted cake flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" cubes
1 c. buttermilk or milk

Peel, pit and slice the peaches, making sure to do this over a large mixing bowl so you can collect all the juices. Separately, in a small bowl, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then add to the peaches with the lemon juice. Scrape peach mixture into a 10-12" non-reactive skillet or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand for 15 min.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low simmer, gently stirring it occasionally to prevent sticking. Simmer for 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cardamom together in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of peas. Add buttermilk or milk and stir until the mixture just comes together (it will be a wet dough).

With a large spoon or ladle, place the dough on top of the fruit in 8 or so portions, distributing it evenly over the fruit. Return to the stovetop and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cover and simmer for another 18 to 20 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and cooked through when tested with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Remove from heat, uncover and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

If you want to make this on a camping trip, Dave recommends mixing the dry ingredients for the topping together and placing them in a gallon zip-lock bag, then taking the milk, butter, sugar, cornstarch and lemon (or lemon juice) separately, as well as pans, pastry blender, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, etc. As pictured in the photos, it's super easy to make on a two-burner camp stove.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Camp Stories: Sublimely Quiet Fourth on Mt. Hood

It was time for our annual pilgrimage to the Northwest's national forests over the Fourth of July, not to celebrate the birth of our nation or the gifts that we gave ourselves in setting aside these national treasures, but to get the heck out of Dodge (i.e. PDX) while it resembled the set of a blockbuster war movie starring Vin Diesel and The Rock striding through mortar fire and clouds of smoke. We leave our beloved city when it sheds its politically correct, tree-hugging, sustainably sourced coat and turns into an explosives-fueled version of the Amish "rumshpringa" where adolescents are allowed to run wild—the word apparently translates to "jumping or hopping around," which accurately describes the reactions of our panicked pets to the booms and pops.

Creek walkin' Corgis.

So rather than drugging them into a stupor for several days before and after the event, years ago we opted to head for the hills—literally—since fireworks are strictly banned in national parks, enforced by vigilant camp hosts, no doubt drilled with slide shows of last year's fireworks-ignited Eagle Creek fire, which burned for three months and destroyed more than 50,000 acres.

What was that about "roughing it"?

Our backpacking days long over, "car camping" has now morphed into "pickup camping" since dogs, gear, food, drink, people and several large pieces of cast iron cookware won't fit in the Mini Clubman-and-cartop-carrier, which had already been dubbed a clown car-like affair by friends who witnessed the amount of stuff that tumbled from it. So we pulled into our reserved site at Camp Creek campground just off the Mt. Hood highway past Zigzag, set for four nights of blissful, off-the-grid quiet.

Chillaxin' around the fire.

When we can, we like to choose a site along a stream, the better to provide hours of creekside reading, as well as white noise to drown out any sound from passing traffic. (In our experience, during the summer months even relatively isolated campgrounds can have a fair amount of this.) My "top sites" suggestion for this quiet campground is number 10 along the creek at the less-traveled end, or number 14 at the opposite end, with both sites large enough for two tents if, like us, you're camping with friends. Both also have good creek access, and if you have a three or four families camping together, I'd try to reserve sites 14 and 15, which can accomodate several tents and are open enough to each other to facilitate common activities.

Natural. Beauty.

We didn't do any crazy cooking experiments this trip, contenting ourselves with tried-and-true variations on my pork posole rojo, pasta with pea shoot pesto and some of Dave's campfire scones and griddled hash browns and eggs. He's jonesing to make a cobbler and brownies, though, so stay tuned for future posts containing those recipes.

Otherwise our time was taken up with walks in the woods, reading by the creek and long evenings with the only crackling and popping coming from the logs on the fire.

Read more Camp Stories featuring great Northwest campgrounds, recipes and hikes.

Chillin' in Summer: 15-Minute Ramen Salad

It looks like summer's heating up, which means the oven is getting a break and the stove is only turned on for a few minutes at a time, if at all. We'd just come back from a blessed few days off the grid camping on Mt. Hood and hadn't yet made a trip to the store, so I was rummaging through the leftovers from our cooler and peeking behind tubs in the fridge for something to make for dinner.

Fortunately our son, who was cat-sitting while we were gone, hadn't devoured all of the goodies I left in the fridge, so there was a box of fresh ramen noodles—my new favorites are Lola Milholland's Umi Organic—and a half jar of Choi's Kimchi. Adding a leftover Persian cucumber that still had plenty of crunch remaining, plus a delightful dressing using miso, again from a local producer, Jorinji Miso, and in about 20 minutes, dinner was in the bag. Or the bowl, as the case may be.

15-Minute Ramen Noodle Salad with Kimchi

For the dressing:
1/3 c. canola or peanut oil
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. garlic
2 tsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. white miso
1 tsp. gochugaru (optional)
1 tsp. roasted sesame oil

For the salad:
12 oz. fresh ramen noodles (not dried)
1/2 c. kimchi, chopped
1 Persian cucumber (can substitute 1/2 c. chopped English cucumber)
1 Tbsp. chopped chives for garnish

Bring a pot of water to rolling boil.

While the water is heating, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until well puréed.

When the water comes to a boil, gently pull apart ramen noodles while adding them to the water. Tease the strands apart with chopsticks while the water returns to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from clumping. When they're done, drain them in a colander and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further.

Chop kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the cucumber and slice crosswise into 1/8” slices. Place noodles, kimchi, cucumber and dressing in serving bowl and combine. Garnish with chives.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Farm Bulletin: A Welcome Update, a Busy Summer

It's an incredibly busy time at Ayers Creek Farm, but contributor Anthony Boutard takes a few moments to give us an update—along with his usual edifying elaboration—on the farm in summer.

Even when we were at Hillsdale [Farmers' Market], we went quiet for the spring, only surfacing after the 4th of July. About 15 years ago we created our farm plan to emphasize production from late summer through winter, and avoid the distraction of trying to be the first to harvest this and that. It is a very busy time for us. Ten hour or longer days for us and staff, and little room for errors. We are very grateful that the Joshes at Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce have kept our grains, &c. available.

Delivering Montmorency cherries to Nostrana.

We finished parching the wheat last week and it is in the drying racks. [Top photo taken after threshing and cleaning the parched wheat, a dirty job.] Fruit for preserves is coming in apace and we are aiming at an increase in the popular varieties which run out too soon. We will thresh the mustard seed next week, trying to stay ahead of the buntings, finches, sparrows and quail who fatten up on the seeds. They will be demoted to the status of gleaners. The fields are in very good shape. We have expanded the plantings of most crops, some substantially. For example, the chickpea planting has gone from 24 to 46 rows, and we have added an extra row of Astianas. Perhaps, with luck, some new, unheralded odds and ends should emerge at harvest.

Tomatillo flower and immature fruit.

There are the usual frustrations. Bad batch of potting mix did a number on the vigor of the tomatillos and cayenne peppers. The plants sat moribund for ten days and when we dug them up and looked at the roots, they had barely grown. Three days ago, in a “Hail Mary” play, we decided to lift every plant, knock off the bad potting mix, and reseat it in the ground. We will see if this works. Interestingly, when we described the problem to others, they had experienced similar disappointing results. We looked at the plants 48 hours later and they looked better already, or at least we convinced ourselves that the effort was worthwhile.

Frogs love prunes, too…who knew?

We are scrambling to clean up the orchard so we can harvest the gages and prunes later in the summer. It is nearly impenetrable at the moment. For various reason, that work was neglected for the last three years. Otherwise talented field people, our staff are absolutely bone lousy at pruning fruit trees. In the cane fields, vineyards and tomato plantings they move deftly with confidence and art, in the orchard they are timid and visionless, making matters worse. Anthony has about three more weeks of work in the orchard.

There is no biological reason to prune an orchard. Fruits trees have evolved to multiply and be fruitful without much intervention. Human introduction of insects and diseases, pruning tools that spread disease and our compulsion towards monocultures lead to most biological challenges in the orchard, not neglect. However, good pruning is essential operationally. We need to pass the tractor under the canopy and the limbs must be spaced so as to facilitate harvesting. The tractor will strip the fruit of a low limb, and the operator suffers bruises and scratches. Moreover, if the staff cannot see a perfectly ripe fruit, it does not exist and will go unpicked. Pruning makes it easier to exploit the best of the orchard. The plant’s architecture at harvest is critically important in tomatoes, grapes, berries and orchard fruit.

Just shy of two weeks from now, the next two generations [of Boutards] will be out visiting us. We are now insistent they visit when there are fruits and vegetables ripening, rather than based on some nonsensical mid-winter holiday grounded in paranoid pagan ritual when the Pacific gales roar. They are old enough to run a bit feral.

Chesters in situ…

We are planning to have an “Open Farm” weekend when the first Chesters ripen. We will have parched wheat, barley and popcorn available, as well as whatever fruit is ripe. We will schedule an informal farm walk as well.

The exact weekend is impossible to nail down. The Chesters are notorious for their erratic ripening schedule. We have started harvesting as early as the 18th of July and as late as the 20th of August. After 20 years working with the fruits, we know better than to suggest we have even a glimmer of insight as to when things will get rolling. Better than the offhanded familiarity begotten by an all-too-predictable behavior. As our grandson noted with his customary theater, “I prefer to grow difficult plants.”

Barn owlet "in her emine stole."

Regarding the other element of the farm’s productivity, our birds, bees and insects are doing well. The barn owls raised five chicks. They are now in their immature plumage. Happens quickly. In mid June, the youngest was covered in down and looked like a duchess in her ermine stole, with just its feathers bearing new plumage. Today, the down has been shed.

Our water feature, the swan, is still about, contentedly keeping company with the three families of young geese and an oh-so-elegant great egret.

Frugivorous acorn woodpecker.

A reminder that acorn woodpeckers are frugivores, fruit eaters, equally content with both the fruit of the oak, acorns, and our staff’s sweet cherries. The acorn woodpeckers also enjoy other fruits such as grain kernels (yes, they are fruit) and plums. Soon, we will hear the reedy calls of the young when they leave their nest that the colony excavated in a fir snag.

All photos by Anthony Boutard except for cherries at Nostrana (used with permission) and Chester blackberries.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Spritzers: Simple Summer Sippers

There is nothing better on a summer evening than sitting peacefully on our front porch with the dogs at my feet and a cool drink in my hand. Goodness knows there are summer cocktails aplenty, between mojitos, caipirinhas, and the classic Americano, not to mention gin-and-tonics and gimlets. A nice glass of rosé or a crisp French chardonnay have their occasional attractions, too.

But when I want refreshment rather than a knockout punch, particularly if it's a social gathering in the early afternoon, I'm in favor of something light and bubbly, both cooling and hydrating, with just a splash of alcohol to elevate the mood and take the edge off the day.

I've been playing around with amaros lately, the bittersweet liqueurs of Italy, using the ubiquitous Italian aperitif of Campari, soda, ice and a lemon twist as a model. Cocchi Americano Bianco is a current go-to, with its bright sweetness—I'll often have a couple of ounces of it in a wine glass over ice for sipping in a hot bath—and with three kinds of mint coming up in the garden, all it took was a sliver of lemon peel and a top-up of club soda to make a smashing spritz for our front porch or back yard this summer.

Cocchi Bianco Spritzer

2 oz. Cocchi Americano Bianco
1 sprig mint, bruised
1 strip lemon peel
Club soda

Fill tall highball glass two-thirds full of ice. Add mint. Top with club soda. Squeeze lemon peel, skin-side down, over the drink and submerge the peel in the ice. Stir briefly with cocktail spoon to combine.

Check out these other recipes for cool, refreshing spritzers for summer.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer BBQ = Baked Beans

Quick: Name the most ubiquitous foods at summer picnics.

Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Potato salad. Baked beans. Extra points if you envision them on a picnic table covered with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Maybe some smoke from the barbecue wafting by.

Agrodolce, a combination of sour and sweet.

They're all-American classics for a reason, of course. Generations have grown up putting yellow mustard and ketchup—spelling it catsup, apparently, has gone the way of the dodo—pickles and onions on their burgers. But sometimes it's fun to mess with the classics once in awhile, especially if the tweaks, if not a paradigm-shifting improvement over the original, at least offer a delicious alternative.

My friend Jim Dixon got me started thinking about the Italian idea of "agrodolce," combining sour (agro) and sweet (dolce) flavors using vinegar and sugar (or honey) and often onions or fruit to spark the other flavors in the dish, much as we use salt for the same purpose. As opposed to the baked beans I grew up on, ketchup-y and, to my tastebuds, a bit too sweet, the use of the sweet-and-sour agrodolce took this tried-and-true picnic dish to a whole new level.

And adding a bit of bacon or, in this case, a whole ham hock, well, what dish doesn't smoked pork enhance?

Baked Beans Agrodolce

2 c. dried beans*
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 large bay leaves
Smoked ham hock (or 1/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon, cut in 1/4" strips)
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. sage leaves, chopped fine

Put dried beans in a pot and add water to cover by at least 2”. Cover and soak overnight on the counter.

Preheat oven to 250°.

Drain water from beans and add fresh water to cover. Add ham hock or bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too). Monitor every couple of hours to make sure the beans are still covered with liquid; if they're a bit dry, add water to cover and continue cooking.

Two hours before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add onion mixture to them and combine, then bake for an additional hour. Remove the bay leaves. Remove the ham hock and shred it, then stir it back into the beans. Taste for salt and adjust as desired. This is great served right out of the oven but is also spectacular made a day ahead for dinner or a picnic the next day.

* Dutch Bullet beans from Ayers Creek Farm hold their shape nicely after hours of cooking.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

In Discussion: Lost Valley Farm and Mega-Dairies in Oregon

When Chris Seigel, host of the Food Show on KBOO Community Radio, contacted me wanting to do a segment on my reporting on Lost Valley Farm and mega-dairies in Oregon, I saw it as a chance to get the word out about how these large factory farm dairies are affecting Oregon's communities and our air and water, as well as the health of Oregonians.

I immediately called in Amy Van Saun, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, and Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, who have been working on the issues these out-of-state-owned, corporate factories present to the state. (Give our discussion a listen by clicking on the audio bar below the photo, above.)

* * *

Read the series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, as well as groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Fava Beans: To Peel, or Not to Peel?

Once again, it's confession time.

I love fava bean season so much that, at the first sign of the bundles of young green shoots on farmers' market tables in the spring, I get a little giddy thinking of them stir-fried with garlic and tossed with pasta and preserved lemon, or slathered with oil and roasted, served alongside a beautiful grilled, pasture-raised chicken thigh. Then there's the knowledge that in just a couple of weeks, it'll be time for the pods to start appearing, their strange, off-green, blobby exteriors revealing pale green kidney-shaped beans pillowed in a porous white cushion.

Young favas in the field, perfect for shoots.

That's about when I remember that to prepare these little beany delights, I have to strip them out of their pods, boil them in a salty pot of water, then spend what seems like hours in the tedious task of popping them out of their skins to get a paltry—albeit decidedly delicious—pile of the bright green, shiny jewels.

I know, I'm whining.

Shucked beans ready to boil and use!

But, wonder of wonders, this year my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins, part-time resident of Italy and author of well-regarded books on Italian cuisine like Cucina del Sol and The Four Seasons of Pasta, saved me (and you) from hours of whinging.

In a post on her blog, she excoriates Americans who insist on peeling the skins from their beans:

"What a waste of time! What a waste of flavor!

"Where does this weird practice come from? I suspect from the French professional kitchen where chefs are constantly challenged to come up with new tricks and trucs to keep their enormous brigades de cuisine in operation. In Italy, where restaurant kitchens are run much more economically, no one has to dream up tasks—there are enough to go around and more.

Pasta with albacore and favas.

"But why do Americans insist on this? Every food writer except one (me) says you have to peel beans. Then they go through elaborate rigmaroles to show you how to do it. No wonder fava beans are not exactly popular despite their magnificent, slightly earthy flavor, so very different from string beans or limas. Every spring or summer I feel like climbing up in the pulpit and shouting: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT—IN FACT, IT IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE!!!"

Which, as you might imagine, got my attention. And came in mighty handy when my neighbor called offering a grocery bag full of freshly harvested favas from his garden. Let me tell you, I never relished preparing beans more—just shuck, boil in a pot of salted water for ten minutes and they're ready!

Read the rest of Nancy's post to get her serving suggestions and more cultural trivia about these delicate denizens of early summer. For me, I used some of my neighbor's beans in a pasta tossed with preserved lemon and albacore, sprinkled with chive blossoms and chopped chives, then used the rest to make the following dip for a party. Though when everyone oohed and aahed over the amount of work it took to peel all those beans, I was torn about revealing my secret. (Psst…I did.)

Fava Bean Spread

3 c. shucked beans
2 cloves garlic
1/2 fennel bulb, cut in half, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 c. parsley, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. mint, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Drop in fava beans and cook for ten minutes. Drain and run under very cold water (or ice bath) until cool.

Put beans, garlic, fennel, parsley, mint and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on and while its running drizzle in olive oil until puréed. Adjust lemon juice and olive oil and add salt to taste. Serve with slices of rustic bread or crackers, or on toasted slices of baguette (à la bruschetta).

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lost Valley Farm: Governor Under Pressure to Shut Down Mega-Dairy

"Cows standing ankle-deep in a slurry of their own waste is just the beginning of Lost Valley mega-dairy's long list of horrifying infractions. Lagoons have overflowed with manure and untreated wastewater, running off into areas where it could contaminate drinking water supplies for local families. 'Mortality boxes' are overflowing with dead cows. And recently it was reported that the dairy doesn't even have enough water to provide operational restrooms to its employees. Lost Valley's 15,000-cow mega-dairy has been a serial permit violator since its inception."

Waste overflows are common at mega-dairies (here at Threemile Canyon).

This alarming statement comes from the Center for Food Safety, an organization working to protect human health and the environment, which has joined with several other environmental and food system organizations to demand that Governor Kate Brown shut down the dairy for good.

They contend that Lost Valley Farm, which owner Greg te Velde has been licensed to operate for just over a year, threatens the safety of area water supplies—already considered at risk to the point of being designated a Groundwater Management Area by the state's Dept. of Environmental Quality—as well as the Columbia River itself.

Waste from mega-dairies add to pollution problems.

The Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), a partner in the effort to shut down Lost Valley, said that the violations at the mega-dairy, while egregious, are not unusual for factory farms of its size.

"Oregon’s mega-dairies have demonstrated time and time again that they are polluting our air and water, and the state of Oregon has failed to prevent this pollution," the OLCV states in a petition calling for Gov. Brown to shut down the dairy. "The mega-dairy known as Lost Valley Farm is facing huge problems that are affecting our water quality and the health of our environment. These problems occurring at Lost Valley are not unique, and Governor Brown should not allow another company to take over this poorly planned and massive confined animal feeding operation (CAFO)."

Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), an advocacy organization providing support for Oregon's small family farmers, has warned from the beginning that allowing mega-dairies like Lost Valley Farm and the nearby Threemile Canyon Farm—with its 70,000 cows producing 165,000 gallons of milk per day, along with 436 million gallons of waste per year—would endanger the state's small dairy producers, and pollute the area's air and water. In fact, since Threemile Canyon began operations in 2001, an average of nine family-owned Oregon dairy farms went out of business each month between 2002 and 2007. (Sign FoFF's message to Governor Brown.)

* * *

Read the series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, as well as groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

In Season: Summer's Tsunami Starts Now

In case you've been living in a cave the past couple of weeks, it's time to peek out and smell the strawberries. Or, as Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce said, "Strawberries are in full effect," though he adds that for Oregon's beloved native strawberries, whose season lasts for a couple of weeks at most, "Hoods are going to be over in a minute-and-a-half, so if you haven't bought them yet, go now."

Shortcake season!

After the Hoods are done for the season, two types of strawberries dominate the Oregon market. Albion and Seascape are everbearing varieties, which means they will produce two or three harvests during the summer. Both are good for fresh eating, but the Albions are a bit sweeter and are best sliced in fruit and green salads or dipped in chocolate or a fresh sheep's cheese. Seascapes, which have a less sweet, earthier note, are your best best for baking—think strawberry cake or as a topping on vanilla ice cream—because they're denser and hold their shape during cooking instead of just melting away. I served organic Seascapes from Winter Green Farm that I halved and sprinkled with a bit of sugar to draw out their juices, then spooned them over shortcakes topped with a dollop of whipped cream. (Excuse me while I drool at the memory…)

Local cherries galore…

Starting this weekend Alsberg said you'll also begin seeing local cherries in earnest, which will last at least through mid-July. Chelan cherries are generally the first on the market, followed by Brooks, Vans and Lamberts. Two other varieties to look for are Attica cherries, which he said have the most incredible flavor he's ever tasted, and Royal Brooks, which he described as "big and meaty and sweet." Rainiers and Bing cherries will make an appearance in mid to late June. (Pro tip: for best selection and quality, as well as the more unusual varieties, Alsberg recommends seeking out Baird Family Orchards, which has booths at most of the larger markets in town. He also gives a thumbs-up to Gala Springs Farm at the PSU farmers' market.)

In the parade of local fruit that will soon be marching down farmers' market aisles, cherries are followed by blueberries, which will be appearing in mid to late June. Alsberg recommends holding off until then, since many of the early blueberries in stores now aren't fully ripe and won't be until they get some significant sun. Raspberries will be arriving shortly thereafter, followed by the rest of the cane berries like tay, loganberries and blackberries, which will all arrive by the fourth of July.

Peachy keen.

July 4th also signals the beginning of peach season, which Alsberg also recommends getting from farmers' markets rather than at the supermarket. Farmers will be happy to provide samples for you to try as well as to talk about which varieties are the best for fresh eating and using in pies and preserves. Apricots and nectarines will be available before the end of June, preceding peaches by the slightest of margins. Call it nature's way of whetting your appetite.

I don't want to lose summer vegetables in the excitement over fruit season, since there's a boatload of local produce ready to cascade onto our picnic and dining tables this summer. Favas, asparagus and peas are dwindling, as are spring onions and some of the bitter greens like mustards and mizuna, so Alsberg recommends getting them ASAP. Local lettuce is coming on strong, with leaf lettuces, Little Gems and butter lettuce available in abundance through July. Spring roots like radishes and spring turnips will stick around until it gets hot, most likely through much of July.

Get your local corn on.

July will also bring local corn, along with the new crop of potatoes, fennel, cabbages and brassicas. Cucumbers, especially the seductively flavorful Persian variety, will start appearing along with their cousins meant for slicing and pickling. No summer would be worthy of the name without summer squash, so get ready to barricade your porch swing from your neighbors' giant I-forgot-to-check-the-garden-today zucchinis. Count on melons, figs and grapes to be rolling in later in July.

So get to the gym and start working out with your market basket to build those upper body muscles. Summer's here!

Watch Josh wax eloquent over local strawberries.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Farm Bill and Hungry Oregonians: Why Care?

When I was in college I needed food stamps—now called SNAP—for a few months to fill a gap in my budget, a situation familiar to many of us who, in a rough patch in our lives, have needed some sort of assistance. The following essay by Jacqui Stork, assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, explains the program, its importance in the lives of our fellow Oregonians, and the part it has in the larger national debate over the Farm Bill. You'll find links for more information at the end.

Administered by the USDA, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal food assistance program, distributing roughly $637 million in benefits to its 42 million recipients in 2017. Using SNAP benefits is not uncommon: the federal government estimates that approximately 51% of Americans will participate in the program at some point during their lifetime.

Oregon has had higher proportion of individuals on SNAP than the U.S. average since 2000, and participation remains over 1.5 times higher than it was in 2006. This is partly explained by a still-lagging economy, but since the recession underemployment remains high and housing costs have skyrocketed. The high proportion also reflects a more positive trend: increased participation among eligible people. Historically, it has been difficult to apply for and receive SNAP benefits in Oregon, but that began to change in the late 1990s when lawmakers simplified the process and engaged in strategic outreach to increase participation and access. Now, nearly 100% of eligible Oregonians participate in the program. Last year nearly 15% of Oregon households received benefits.

Eligibility is based on monthly income, not long-term financial outlook or assets, which is important because many people cycle in and out of poverty or food-insecure status. A person's SNAP eligibility status and participation can therefore fluctuate over time. In fact, although millions of Americans rely on SNAP long-term for assistance and security, many utilize the program short-term to alleviate the effects of a financial crisis. Even a small monthly benefit can help provide financial freedom—food insecurity rates are nearly 30% lower among SNAP-participating households than they otherwise would be.

That being said, new research has indicated that, nationwide, the allowable benefit is inadequate for many families to sustain a healthful diet, and that increasing benefits could lead to improvements in health and economic vitality in the long term. Although the program is intended to be supplemental, SNAP benefits make up the bulk of many families' food budgets. The maximum allowable benefit falls well below the average cost of food (in Multnomah County it is $1.86 max benefit per meal versus $2.54 actual cost per meal), so people must still find ways to bridge that gap. Many depend on food pantries, like the one administered by Neighborhood House, or other food assistance programs to meet this need.

Benefits have been distributed using the Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card starting in the late 1990s, but SNAP and its benefits are still commonly referred to as "Food Stamps" thanks to a long history of paper vouchers redeemed for eligible food items. In Oregon, the EBT card is known as the "Oregon Trail" card. Many believe that this change has reduced stigma for participants because it allows retailers to use the same Point of Sale (POS) system as with debit or credit cards. In order for retailers to accept benefits, they must apply and become an approved site through the federal government. Additionally, retailers must use an approved POS device to run transactions. Over the past decade, there has been a push by the USDA to help farmers' markets become approved retailers by providing training resources and subsidization of these POS terminals. Today, the National Farmers' Market directory lists over 2,800 markets nationwide that accept SNAP benefits—up from 750 in 2008. This means more people are able to access the abundance of fresh, local products and that more money goes directly into the pockets of farmers and our local economies.

Funding for SNAP is allocated and approved through the omnibus Farm Bill, thus named because it consolidates the appropriation of funding for several programs and projects into a single package—a vote for one is a vote for all. Along with SNAP, the Farm Bill includes farm support policies (like subsidies, crop insurance, etc), international food aid, land use and many, many other things. In essence, this bill touches every part of our national food system and pairs the oft-conflicting missions of large federal agencies. After teaching a graduate-level course dedicated to the Farm Bill, Marion Nestle, a pioneer in food policy research, stated that "the bill not only lacked an overarching vision, but seemed designed to obfuscate how the programs actually worked."

Every five years Congress must re-authorize the Farm Bill, and our current bill is set to expire in September 2018. Each of the two previous bills faced many challenges on their way to passage: the 2008 bill was vetoed by President Bush and then expired nearly two years before another bill was passed in 2014, and we seem to be in the same boat in 2018.

So far, proposals for this year's bill seek to reshape SNAP, mostly by reducing its budget and reach. Earlier this year, the White House proposed a $26.9 million budget cut in addition to imposing new work requirements for eligibility. Perhaps the most shocking part of this White House plan was the suggestion that rather than providing financial benefits which allow people to shop for and choose their own food, the SNAP program should be based on food boxes doled out monthly. Unsurprisingly, the description of these proposed boxes did not include fresh produce—let alone local or organic options.

Last week the House voted on a bill that would impose strict work requirements while rolling back policies that allowed states some flexibility in providing waivers for these requirements. Additionally, while the bill doesn't reduce spending on SNAP, it does cut funding for benefits and nutrition education programs. An estimated 1.2 million people could lose their benefits under this proposal, and luckily it did not pass. Yet. A new vote has already been scheduled for next month (June). After that, the Senate will vote on a bill and the different versions must be reconciled before being sent to a White House that has shown little to no interest in providing support for the less fortunate.

All told, this process could extend well into 2019 and, given the hyper-partisan nature of our current democracy, this seems likely. Because the current bill expires in September, this means that programs could go without funding for a period of months (this happened during the delay of the 2014 Farm Bill).

To be sure, passage of a clean Farm Bill is imperative for issues far beyond SNAP. But, making it more difficult for millions of Americans to receive food assistance hurts families and communities by reducing access to nutritious and appropriate foods. There is still time to make sure that the final bill is one that supports our most vulnerable, rather than punishing them. Call your representatives in Congress to let them know where you stand before it is too late.

And, if you're interested, here is some additional reading on SNAP, the Farm Bill, and food assistance:

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Queener Farm: How to Graft an Apple

On my visit to Queener Farm in Scio, farm partner Nick Routledge showed me how they graft apples to take advantage of the old rootstock, using traditional grafting methods to jumpstart the production of new varieties.

Read the story of Jeannie Berg and Queener Farm.

Queener Farm: Restoring an Orchard, Sharing It Through a CSA

Community supported agriculture, or CSA, is a relationship between a buyer and a local, family farm. Most people think of a CSA subscription as a box of assorted seasonal vegetables that arrives on your doorstep or that is dropped off at designated site every week during the growing season. And there are plenty of those traditional types of CSAs here in Oregon, but we also have CSAs where you can essentially shop for your produce from a list that the farm provides. There are even CSAs for specific types of products, like flowers, meat, fish and fruit.

Jeannie Berg of Queener Farm in Scio.

Jeannie Berg, owner of Queener Farm in Scio, has an innovative CSA called the Heirloom Apple Club where subscribers choose between a sampler box, three to five pounds of several apple varieties grown at the farm and delivered in eight installments over the season, or a family box of a whopping 40 varieties in 15-pound increments over seven installments.

It all started when Berg, who'd worked as a political consultant and staff aide for many years in Oregon, decided that all those years in the trenches in Salem led her "to develop a strong desire to dig into the real dirt."

Ready for harvest.

Following that instinct, Berg leased land on a farm in the Willamette Valley near Salem in 2009 and began her education in the soil, learning about the critical role that biodiversity plays both in the soil and on the land, and how to bring that land back to productivity after it's been exhausted from the use of chemical inputs.

After five years growing vegetables and running a CSA on that property, she began looking for a farm of her own, eventually meeting the owners of a hundred-year-old orchard in Scio. On its 40 acres grew more than 2,000 trees producing 100 different types of apples, and while the owners had only used chemicals in moderation, according to Berg, "the trees still depended on them to fight off disease." Not only that, but "the insect life on the farm was short of beneficial insects and had a population of codling moths just waiting for the chance to multiply."

Applying what she'd learned at her first farm, Berg knew the only way to really understand which apple varieties would thrive in an organic system in the Willamette Valley was to remove the chemical inputs and see how each variety responded. Despite losing some trees, she persevered, bringing the land back to the way the original homesteaders had envisioned it in the 1880s, long before pesticides had even been imagined.

Now four years in, she and her farm partners have transitioned the orchard using organic practices, and they are expecting to receive their official organic certification this year.

"We’re seeing all the right insects return, the diseases almost completely disappear and the pests drastically diminish," Berg reports. "The orchard appears to be thanking us with a robust kind of health that makes friends wonder what sort of miracle fertilizer we sprayed. It’s amazing and wonderful to watch. The most exciting part is watching the trees as they bloom, leaf out and now begin to grow their abundant set of fruit. They are green and lush, they thrum with pollinators and predator insects. It all adds up to an orchard that feels vibrantly alive.”

Watch the amazing process of grafting one variety of apple onto a different variety.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Guest Essay: What Does Real Change in Our Food System Look Like?

Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish Company, a sustainable seafood retailer in Providore Fine Foods, is a second-generation fishmonger and a vocal advocate for national fisheries policy. This is a guest post he wrote for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a coalition of fishermen, conservationists, scientists and citizens around a mission to conserve and revitalize wild ocean fisheries.

Obesity, chronic heart disease, depression, cancer, diabetes, and malnourishment are all components of our failing food system. Worldwide, we produce enough calories of food to feed the entire planet, but due to economic inequality and unequal distribution of power there are billions of people who are starving.

Here in the United States we have a different problem: the food we are eating could be killing us.

Comparison of wild Atlantic salmon (left) and farmed (right). Note misshapen jaws of the farmed fish.

In land-based agriculture we often overuse artificial chemical fertilizers, growth-enhancing hormones, and antibiotics. In most open ocean fish farming we use artificial color in the feed to make the fish look like wild salmon, we overstock the pens so disease is commonplace, and the finished product is less nutritious than its wild counterpart. Additionally, we abuse the use of preservatives in order to cater to our industrialized distribution of the food. These examples and many more show the alarming discrepancies between how our food used to be produced and how it is produced today.

The communities in which we live depend on the infrastructure of the old food systems. Rather than keeping jobs in the USA, however, corporations are shipping products overseas to be processed by cheaper labor. This doesn’t come without additional price tags, including child labor, green house gas emissions, inferior food safety standards, loss of domestic jobs, increased trade deficits, and lower food quality. We need to wake up and realize this isn’t okay; big changes need to happen.

So-called "free range" chickens in a factory farm.

There is a reason why large multi-national corporations don’t want consumers to see behind the doors of their production and processing facilities. The industrial food production system is structured to maximize output, minimize input, and maximize profit. What is missing is the humane, logical, reasonable conditions in which we would want animals to be raised, the commitment to using our natural resources sustainably, using minimal additives in order to provide our bodies with maximum nutrition and healthy antioxidants to fight off illnesses.

Now how do we change that?

The answer is: one bite at a time. In the famous writing of the Tao Te Ching, Laozi stated, “The journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.” This saying teaches that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point; something which only begins with taking the first step. The same goes for the food system. We have to learn to be conscious consumers, choosing to support local fishermen and community supported fisheries like Tre-Fin Foods from Ilwaco, Washington, which catch, process and distribute their own albacore tuna directly to consumers and restaurants. This is how we become active citizens who stand up against our current unsustainable food system.

Money spent at farmers' markets goes directly to farmers, ranchers and fishermen.

Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding area is an amazing mecca of food culture, world-renowned chefs and restaurants, biodynamic farms, non-profit organizations fighting the good fight, and a consumer base that genuinely wants to do good for the environment and for their bodies. Portland has a burning desire to learn, grow, and do things differently than the status quo. We are hungry to learn and change; we just need the information. It’s in communities like this that real change happens. We have the opportunity to be leaders in our nation by leading by example.

Changing a massive food system takes a whole gamut of folks. It’s people like Jeremy Coon, who is investing in infrastructure in the fishing port of Garibaldi, Oregon, to make it easier for fishermen to offload their catch and sell direct to small buyers, instead of being forced to sell to the massive seafood processing and distribution companies, which have been alleged to price-set and manipulate the market for their own financial gains.

It’s non-profit organizations like Ecotrust, which is investing millions of dollars in a food hub that provides a platform for local farms and fishermen to store and distribute their products in the Portland metropolitan marketplace. Finally, it’s the consumers who choose to shop at the small local artisan store or marketplace or, better yet, their local farmers' market, where they get to talk with the producers and put more money in local farmers, ranchers and fishermen's pockets by going outside the mainstream food system channels.

That’s how we change a food system, one step (and dollar) at a time.

Disclaimer: Providore Fine Foods is an advertiser on Good Stuff NW.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Touching Up My Roots: Spanish Rice

It was appropriate that, when going through my recipe box the other day, I ran across my mom's recipe for Spanish rice. Appropriate because it's been almost exactly ten years since she passed away suddenly, ten years during which I think of her almost every day, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes with a pang when I run across a spectacular rose on my walk through the neighborhood and think, "Oh, she'd love the blush on this one!" (She had a particular thing for roses, which she grew in abundance at my parents' home in The Dalles.)

My mother (r), me as a teenager (l).

For me, food has always been a connection to her, though not in the way that most food writers speak about their Jewish or Greek or African American grandmothers passing on generations of food culture to their offspring. My mother was a practical cook who came of age in the post-World War II switch to convenience food, when if you had a family of five to feed you bought ground hamburger, cans of vegetables, boxes of cake mix and Bisquick. Not that she couldn't "put up" multitudes of jars of fruit with her dark blue graniteware canner or use two dinner knives to cut up butter and Crisco, producing what I still remember as pie crusts that any pastry chef would envy.

But her milieu was the middle American cooking of Betty Crocker and Ladies Home Journal, the advice of practical how-to guides of the time like Joy of Cooking. So we grew up on dinners like tuna casserole and Swiss steak, with the occasional exotic soupçon of tacos made with hamburger browned in packaged taco seasoning or a "goulash"—more hamburger spiced with chili powder and tossed with frozen corn and noodles.

My recipe box, broken lid and all.

I still have—and make—my mom's recipes for pineapple carrot cake and potato salad. Though I've switched to James Beard as inspiration for my macaroni and cheese, and I've updated her tuna casserole with Oregon albacore and chanterelles rather than Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. So when I found that recipe card for her Spanish rice, it begged for some zhuzhing, too. It occurred to me, when browning the hamburger and pondering the origin of the name, that it bears a certain distant, Americanized resemblance to paella. Adding a handful of chopped Spanish olives (we keep them around for martinis on Friday evenings), switching the green bell pepper for a poblano pepper and adding a good dose of smoked paprika made a passable, and quick, version I think she'd approve of.

Spanish Rice

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. hamburger
1 yellow onion, cut in 1/4" dice
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped in 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. smoked paprika (Spanish pimenton)
1 c. rice
1/2 c. Spanish green olives, chopped (optional)
2 c. roasted tomatoes, puréed (or tomato sauce)
1 3/4 c. water
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the hamburger, breaking it up into a fine crumble as it browns. Add the onion and sauté until tender, then add the poblano pepper and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the paprika, rice and olives and stir to combine, then add the puréed tomatoes, water and salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and cook until rice is done, 20 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Travels with Chili: Lopez Island Idyll

For years I'd heard stories from friends who love Lopez Island—one of the San Juan Islands, a short hop on the ferry from Anacortes, Washington, north of Seattle—about its wild beauty and quiet spirit. I wasn't quite prepared to be swept away by the bucolic nature of the place, with its rolling fields and low profile perfect for biking and hiking.

By the time we departed after a long weekend, I was teary at having to leave—but I shouldn't skip ahead just yet.

Our cottage, number 4.

Our first sojourn on this smaller sister to its larger, more tourist-trafficked siblings was prompted by an invitation from Barbara Marrett of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau to attend an agricultural summit being held on Lopez. They offered to cover my attendance at the summit and one night's lodging, so I eagerly signed on and added two more nights at Lopez Farm Cottages, the better to do some exploring around the island.

Dave and I took the afternoon ferry from Anacortes after stopping for lunch in Seattle on what turned out to be a drop-dead-gorgeous, clear-blue-sky day. I find that whenever I set foot on a ferry, no matter how stressful the drive, I instinctively take a deep breath and feel myself relax into the rhythm of the thrumming engines and the movement of the big ferry as it glides across the water.

A "glampsite" at Lopez Farm Cottages.

Once the ferry docked, we drove down the ramp onto the island and found the farm a short drive away on one of the two-lane country roads that wind their way around the island. We parked in the large gravel lot next to a little wooden hut and found a note from owner Cathie Mehler welcoming us to the farm. With directions to our cottage in hand, we loaded up one of the wheeled carts with our luggage and walked the short path to a large meadow dotted with five cottages design by Cathie's husband, John Warsen.

John converted portions of the 30-acre historic farm property into simple lodging options including campsites and what he's dubbed "glampsites," as well as building the five cottages, but he and Cathie left much of the property undeveloped, including the meadow, woods near the road and a large pasture that he and Cathie rent out to a neighbor for her sheep. He said he designed the cottages in the same footprint as a typical hotel room, but arranged the homey space to contain a separate bedroom and bathroom, a sitting room and a small kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator and microwave.

Barn Owl Bakery goods at Blossom Market.

The two glampsites are kitted out with a queen futon (Sheets! Pillows!) in a carpeted tent, and a coffeemaker, microwave and access to showers and bathrooms. The dozen-and-a-half campsites are well-spaced and private, though kids under 14 and pets aren't allowed, the better to have a "quiet, peaceful experience."

Most of the island is agricultural land, with only one small village, though it has two coffee shops, a bakery and two very good restaurants—we dined at both Haven and Ursa Minor—as well as the wonderful Blossom Grocery that carries local goods from area farms and the astonishing organic, wood oven-baked breads made by Barn Owl Bakery at Midnight's Farm (which has its own two-bedroom farmhouse to rent).

Flowers from Arbordoun Farm.

Speaking of area producers, on Saturdays from May through September you can find dozens of local farmers, crafters, artists, bakers and more at the Lopez Farmers Market in the Village. Many of the island's farms welcome visitors who call ahead, including:

  • Jones Family Farms: Nick and Sarah Jones run a shellfish farm at Barlow Bay plus raise pastured beef, lamb, goat, pork and poultry on their farm on the south end of the island.
  • Sunnyfield Farms: Andre and Elizabeth Entermann have a raw milk goat dairy and produce cheese, yogurt, milk and meat.
  • Midnight's Farm: David Bill and Faith Van De Putte raise pastured pigs and cows, and house Barn Owl Bakery, a yoga studio and have the first Dept. of Energy-certified compost facility in the county.
  • Lopez Island Vineyards: Brent Charnley and Maggie Nilan run the first organic vineyard and winery in the state.
  • Arbordoun Farm: Susan Bill grows flowers and produces all-natural skin care products.

An unusual feature of the agricultural scene on Lopez is the Ellis Ranch Conservation Easement, a 313-acre farm that Dr. Fred Ellis and his wife, Marilyn, placed in a conservation easement in 1985. Their aim was to protect the active, productive wetlands on the property and to ensure that its open fields remain undeveloped and available for agricultural purposes in perpetuity. Today there are three commercial family farmers stewarding the property:

  • Horse Drawn Farm: Kathryn Thomas and Ken Akopiantz grow fruits, vegetables and meat that are stocked in the farm's honor-system farm shed. Most of the work on the farm is done using horses.
  • Sweetgrass Farm: Scott Meyers and Brigit Waring raise 100% grassfed Wagyu beef and were featured in a New York Times article about a marketing startup called CrowdCow.
  • T & D Farms: Todd Goldsmith & Diane Dear raise chicken, goats, hay, fruits and vegetables.

A community-funded cookbook featuring profiles and recipes.

A beautiful new book called Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community profiles 28 of the island's farms along with recipes celebrating what they grow. The result of a three-year, community funded effort, with gorgeous photographs of the food, farms and land that makes this such a special place, can be ordered through the Lopez Bookshop.

Walking, hiking and biking options are too numerous to mention, but Cathie and John at Lopez Farm Cottages have a great list of excursions. You don't even have to schlep your bike to the island, since Village Cycles has bikes for rent at hourly, daily or weekly rates. And of course, being an island on a calm inland waterway, you can also rent a kayak or sign up for a tour at Lopez Island Sea Kayak. I can tell you from personal experience there's no better way to explore the less accessible nooks and crannies of these islands.

In case you can't tell from the verbiage above, I'm in love with this place and can't wait to get back. For us, since shopping and tourist-y activities aren't on our priority list—though it's perfectly simple to take a ferry for a day trip to Friday Harbor or one of the other islands—this quiet place is right up our alley for camping, cooking, reading, exploring and hanging out. If those sorts of activities are high on your list, I can guarantee you'll love Lopez Island, too.

Photo of "glampsite" by Bill Evans Photography. Photo of Arbordoun Farm from their website.