Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Samfaina: Spain's Ratatouille


Contributor Jim Dixon's been on a tear lately over the cooking of Spain, inspired by the release of his pal Robin Willis's new cookbook from Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona. Here's his version of one of the legendary bar's signature dishes.

With basically the same ingredients and cooking technique, samfaina usually gets tagged as Spanish ratatouille. But Catalonians would argue that their neighbors to the north are really just making French samfaina. We can leave the wrangling to the nationalist gastronomes and just be happy it's the time of year when all of the produce used in making this summery dish are abundant and delicious.

Samfaina

To make samfaina, you'll need an eggplant, a zucchini or two, an onion, some kind of not-very-hot pepper (green preferred, but not a green bell pepper unless that's all you can find), a clove or two of garlic and a few good tomatoes. (If you're a fan of the version served at Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona, add raisins and pine nuts to the shopping list; add the raisins with eggplant, toast the nuts and add at the end.)

Start by chopping the onion and cooking long and slow in plenty of extra virgin olive oil. While the onion is getting soft and golden brown, cut your tomatoes in half (across their "equator" so the stem end is on one half). Most recipes, including Pinotxo's, tell you squeeze out the seeds, but the seeds and their surrounding "jelly" contain most of the umami-rich glutamtes, so leave them in. Rub the cut tomatoes gently across the large holes of a box grater (over a bowl, natch) until all that's left is the peel.

Add the grated tomato to the onions with some salt and cook for about 15 minutes (or longer) until they've thickened. Cut the eggplant, zucchini, garlic and pepper into small pieces and add. Cook over low heat for at least an hour (or, if you have time, put the skillet in the oven at 200° for a few hours, checking and stirring every once in awhile).

In the end you want a thick, jam-like sauce. You can eat samfaina by itself, spread it on grilled bread, set a piece of fish on it, spoon it over chicken, or stir it into a bowl of garbanzos. It tastes like slow-cooked summer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Food News: Big Dairies Threaten Family Farms


This month Friends of Family Farmers launched a new blog it's calling Corporate Ag Watch to highlight the difference and expose the influence that corporate agribusiness interests have in our state. It aims to connect the dots between lobbying, campaign finance activity and policy outcomes that don’t often get covered in the press.

Oregon agriculture is predominantly made up of small and mid-sized family farms. According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, of the approximately 35,500 farms in Oregon, 84% are individually or family owned. In terms of size, 81% of Oregon farms are under 180 acres, with over 61% under 50 acres. Additionally, 87% of Oregon farms have under $100,000 in sales per year. While some family farms may be larger in size or may be incorporated, smaller and mid-sized farms are the backbone of Oregon’s agricultural economy, our local and regional food systems, and many rural communities.

However, corporate agriculture is generally dominated by out-of-state companies whose primary concern seems to only be about profits, not the well-being of small and mid-sized farms. Despite Oregon’s small family farm reputation, large agribusiness companies spend a lot of money on lobbying and political activities here in order to make sure their interests are taken care of by the state’s policymakers.

Unlimited Corporate Campaign Contributions in Oregon

Did you know that Oregon is one of only six states with no limits on corporate money in politics? This means that corporations can give unlimited money directly to the political action committees (PACs) that fund candidates and elected officials as they run for office. Twenty two states ban corporate campaign money completely, but Oregon is not one of them.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this means that individual corporations with deep pockets can have a tremendous amount of influence over the political process in Oregon.

Cow standing in waste at Threemile Canyon.

For example, let’s take a look at Threemile Canyon Farms LLC (top photo and right), one of Oregon’s largest corporate farming operations and likely the nation’s largest dairy concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) with roughly 70,000 cows near Boardman, Oregon. With all those cows in confinement, Threemile Canyon Farms may be the state’s largest individual source of agricultural air pollution, including haze causing ammonia and methane, a potent climate change-inducing gas. Already a huge operation, Threemile Canyon Farms is actually owned by an even bigger company out of North Dakota called R.D. Offutt, which also happens to be the nation’s largest potato producer and a key supplier of McDonald’s french fries.

The face of Oregon’s dairy industry has changed dramatically since Threemile Canyon Farms arrived here in 2001, with many small and mid-sized farms going out of business. According to USDA data, in a five year period shortly after Threemile arrived in Oregon, the state lost nearly half its dairy farms, mostly small and mid-sized operations struggling to compete in a market increasingly dominated by larger and larger confinement dairies. Data from the Oregon Department of Agriculture shows a loss of over 140 permitted dairies in Oregon over the past decade—a nearly 40% decline—even as cow numbers have increased at large operations like Threemile.

Waste runoff at Threemile Canyon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Threemile Canyon Farms has been a staunch opponent of new rules to require large factory dairy farms like theirs to control harmful air emissions, and it has also been a shameless advocate for a lucrative tax credit that it is the primary beneficiary of. We wrote about both these issues in a recent recap of the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session.

To represent its interests, Threemile Canyon Farms employs multiple lobbyists, one of the few individual farms in the state that has a lobbyist at all. According to filings with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, Threemile has spent nearly $200,000 on lobbying to influence the outcome of legislation in Salem since 2015. But Threemile also makes significant campaign contributions to Political Action Committees used to help elect and re-elect candidates for public office.

Marty Myers, General Manager of Threemile Canyon Farms.

According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, Threemile has given nearly 30 political candidates and elected office-holders of both parties more than $36,000 dollars combined for election campaigns since early 2016. Most of these contributions have been in $500 or $1000 increments and were primarily given to legislative leadership and legislators who chair key committees that help decide the fate of bills that could impact Threemile’s business interests. But the largest recipient of Threemile’s campaign contributions since early 2016 has been Governor Kate Brown, who has received $9,000 from the company so far.

In 2015, Governor Brown appointed Threemile Canyon Farms’ General Manager to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, a board that advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy, regulatory and budget matters. In 2016, it successfully lobbied to extend a lucrative tax credit for animal manure digesters they benefit from that was set to expire at the end of 2017. With Threemile as the largest recipient of this tax credit, the Legislature’s decision to extend it will direct millions in public funds to their operation in coming years. In the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session, Threemile was also able to block a bill that would have enacted consensus recommendations for the creation of an air emissions program that would address air pollution from the state’s largest dairies.

Read about Threemile Canyon Farms and its connection to Tillamook Cheese.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Camp Stories: Kingfisher on Mt. Hood


As a native Oregonian, I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit that I haven't been to every corner of the state and seen every single sight from multiple angles. Such was the case several years ago when we finally decided it was high time to visit southeastern Oregon's magnificent Steens Mountains, staying in a double-wide trailer at the astonishingly beautiful Malheur Wildlife Refuge and gazing over the spare, parched landscape of the Alvord desert.

Sharing nature's wisdom. And sticks.

Closer to home, while we've tramped over a lot of Mt. Hood's forested east and west sides, I've somehow never managed to explore the area above Estacada on the road to Bagby Hot Springs. Fortunately a friend decided to organize camping trip to the area, and our group of five families was able to secure multiple reservations in the Kingfisher campground along the Collawash River.

Relaxing is the name of the game.

Small, with only 23 campsites, and fairly primitive—think narrow dirt track, unpaved sites, water from a pump, vault toilets and no electrical hookups—its basic nature scares away the big rigs with their generators and sound systems, but it was perfect for our veteran camping crew. Food was apportioned according to the talents and desires of each family, with dinners of hot dogs with trimmings the first night (Olympia Provisions and Old Salt Marketplace were featured), steaks the second night and, for those staying an additional night, it was "hobo packs" à la foil packets cooked in the fire (recipe here, perfectly adaptable for the home grill).

Steak night with the grill-master.

All the campsites are fairly private, well-spaced and screened from each other by trees, but the prime sites are those along the river, particularly sites 6, 8 and 10, which have nice shady stretches of river-front for setting up chairs and reading. When we were there, the river itself was pretty tame, with lovely shallow, wade-able stretches perfect for skipping rocks or for finding a perch midstream and contemplating the nature of the universe.

Who needs a stinkin' campstove?

If you're looking for some nice gear to add to your collection, I'd highly recommend a cast iron griddle for cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausages over the fire. Dave threw together an ad-hoc stove from river rocks that MacGyver would approve of, though we've used it on the fire grate numerous times.

Fun with hammocks.

Another recent addition to our repertoire has been a nylon hammock. Simple to sling between a couple of trees and a must-have for a peaceful nap streamside, it's also sturdy enough for kids to play in (ours is rated for 500 pounds). Come to think of it, it might also be the perfect solution for teens who cringe at the thought of sleeping en famille.

Clocking in at just under two hours from Portland, this idyllic campground is justifiably described as a diamond in the rough and got the thumbs-up from everyone in the group. We'll definitely be adding it to our list of great spots for a quick weekend camping trip.

Read more Camp Stories including site recommendations, recipes and more!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona: A Portland Connection



A fellow named Robin Willis, a former Portlander and a filmmaker, artist, writer, bon vivant and friend of contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, was in town recently with his new book "Bar Pinotxo: God is in the Garbanzos" about the "history, stories, and recipes from the 17 stool chiringuito in the most famous mercado in the world." (See video, above, and be sure to turn on the closed captioning.) This legendary bar is in Barcelona, where Willis now lives, and he recently shared a recipe from that book.


As Jordi [Asin, the chef at Bar Pinotxo] says, “good food comes from poor cultures… a rich culture has everything they want but those with less have to get by, refine, reuse and make the best out of simple ingredients” and like the vast majority of Spanish and Catalan dishes it is the simplicity of the technique and the quality of ingredients that make this dish so magical, sensuous, tasty and in this case, a little bit... dirty.

"Now how do I eat this?”

Another aspect of life in Iberia is that people here are not afraid to touch each other, things and food... both theirs and that that technically belonging to others. When they cook they dive in with both hands as naked as the day they arrived in this odd and beautiful place. Poking, squeezing, wiping, tasting…sometimes licking. Obviously, here when it comes to microbes it’s the more the merrier and considering that Spain has the healthiest population in Europe it must be working.

With this in mind here’s a potential eating scenario: Undoubtedly you will start by picking the clams out of their shells with your fork… and you might just stab an errant chunk of briny egg. Soon you will realize that much of the egg has affixed itself to the shell and ultimately to the meat of the clam. The residual heat has pretty much melded their molecules or at least glued them together pretty damn well. What are you going to do, go for the low hanging fruit? The big chunks? The easy pickings…and leave the rest on the plate? You are not one of those people who leave behind pizza bones, are you?

God bless you for your propriety, and this plan of attack may be the correct and tidy thing to do but you will miss out on all of the good stuff and you will go away hungry and frustrated. Give up and give in…put down that fork, grab one of those tiny mollusks, spread the shells apart, stick out your tongue and get busy. OK…I could get really descriptive about the sea-i-ness and salt-i-ness and the firm rigid texture of the clams and how this contrasts with the warm soft suppleness of the eggs and how you have to use your tongue and your teeth to scrap them off of the rock hard shells…and how it seems oh so beautiful but at the same time oh so obscene and forbidden but just oh so right…but I shan't…I shall leave some things up to imagination. Just go for it.

Scrambled Eggs with Very Small Clams

Serves 2 as a main dish or more as tapas.

Big dash of extra virgin olive oil
300 grams (10 oz.) of really fresh tallerinas [1] [very small clams like littlenecks]
50 grams (2 oz.) of thinly sliced onions
2 or 3 high quality, free range eggs from very happy chickens [2]
Sea salt flakes [3]
Twist of freshly ground black pepper or a dusting of Pimenton de la Vera [4]

Secret cooking tool: 1 glass pan lid…and it has to be glass because you have to see what’s going deep inside the pleasure dome. (Jordi and company put the clams directly on the griddle and use an old pyrex bread pan. They also have a quarter inch of callouses on their fingers. Trust me, use the pan lid.)

Beat the eggs well.

Pre-heat a skillet to medium—relax, no matter what you do it will come out really tasty—unless you go for a half hour jog or something while it's cooking, now that's a different story. Add the olive oil. Let the oil heat up a second of two then lower the heat then fry the onions very slowly until golden and then add them to the beaten eggs. Frying onions at a low temperature is part of the "sofregit" Catalan karmic cooking experience.

Toss in a little more oil and add the tallerinas. Now quickly cover the pan with the pan lid (you are in effect making a steamer). Paying attention, you will notice that in a short while the tallerinas will open and release this amazing sea juice that was trapped inside their shells. Once all the clams have opened (and this is the tricky part because you want as many of them as possible to open but you also don't want all the juice to evaporate) remove the lid and toss in the eggs and onion mixture then lightly oscillate everything with a wooden spoon.

Cover the pan and watch closely. Once the eggs are just “cooked” (and by this I mean they have just turned opaque... undercooked is better than overcooked) switch off the heat. The residual temperature of the pan and the clams will finish cooking the eggs. Slide the eggs and the clams (which have now become one, more or less) into shallow bowls. Add a sprinkle of the salt, a crack of pepper or a very light dusting of the pimenton and serve while it’s still warm.

[1] These are very small clams. But bigger ones work fine too. OK... steamers... no geoducks! 
[2] In Spain we have amazing chickens. Small, wiry and happy and sadly for them, really tasty. They are sort of the Antonio Banderas of poultry... and they make amazing eggs that need no refrigeration. Nevera? Nevera? We don't need no stinkin’ Nevera!
[3] I once almost got into a fist fight over the concept of "finishing salt." Apparently it's the salt you finish with as opposed to the salt you start with. Nonsense! Any good, flaky sea salt will do. Maldon is great stuff as is the smoked stuff from Brittany. What you want is wispy little pillows of salt. No rock salt pellets, please.
[4] Oh my how I love this stuff. Smoky, round, dusky…Pimenton de La Vera is to generic paprika what bacon is to olive loaf. People have to stop me from putting it on ice cream. It comes but from one small county in the harsh and wild province of the aptly named Extremadura.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Simple Pleasures: Romano Beans, Cherry Tomatoes


A skillet slicked with olive oil, a few random, slightly crushed garlic cloves browned over a hot fire. Big, flat, meaty romano beans from a local organic farm, sautéed to a satisfying crunch. Halved red cherry tomatoes at their sweet peak, thrown in and melted with the beans. This not-really-a-recipe recipe requires no cheffy tweezers to zhoozh it to perfection, no cloth-napkined, candlelit table set with the finest silver. Though a spoon to drizzle the slightly reduced tomato juices over the top of your beans might be nice.

Sautéed Romano Beans with Cherry Tomatoes

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 pint sweet, in-season cherry tomatoes
1 lb. romano beans
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté till browned on all sides. Add cherry tomatoes and beans and sauté until beans are tender but still slightly crunchy. Serve with a shower of salt.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Farm Bulletin: Grace, Gentleness and Chesters


First, a calendar note: Contributor Anthony Boutard announces that the Ayers Creek Farm harvest shed will be open the last Saturday and Sunday of July, with hours from 3 to 5 pm, at 15219 SW Spring Hill Road in Gaston. Chester blackberries, half flats ($20) or full flats ($38) must be reserved. Please e-mail with your request. Check for more details on what will be available at the end of this post. With that taken care of, Anthony updates us on another recent development in their lives on the land.

This will be a challenging fruit season for us. As some of you have heard, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in February. It is a terminal cancer of the bone marrow. I have been in treatment since, which will extend my "use by" date a matter of years. I have been approved for an autologous stem cell transplant. The transplant will be from my own tissue which reduces the complications associated with transplants. If all goes well, they will harvest those cells in a few days, depending on how fast the drugs stimulate their production. On the 3rd of August I will become a ward of the succinctly named OSHU Center for Hematological Malignancies for about three weeks. After release, it will take about 100 days to rebuild the rudiments of my immune system and I will be one of those fragile medical parolees walking around with a surgical mask and a diminished coif. The transplant protocol erases your entire immune history, from departing the birth canal, nursing, childhood vaccinations, to last year's flu shot. The first 30 days are the most hazardous. It is a challenge many of you on this list have already handled.

Given the aggressive treatment over the last few months, I am in good shape both emotionally and physically. One advantage of a strong academic background in biology and statistics/probabilities, I understand what is happening, how the doctors are managing the condition, and the framework of predictions. As a recent review article in Science pointed out, about 65% of cancers are the result of a chance mutation that has nothing to do with lifestyle or genetics, nor how much kale, quinoa and blueberries you consume, or meritorious your emotional disposition. A minority of cancers are a product of lifestyle, despite what some pious scolds and weird food marketers would have us believe. Multiple myeloma is one of those chance mutations.

I have managed to put in a day's work on the farm most days, and my gallows humor is in fine form. Staff have really extended themselves to make sure everything is moving smoothly and there are no loose ends, and the farm has never looked better. Linda Colwell and Sylvia Black have shouldered through, helping everything run better in a myriad of ways. Carol has taken over the very demanding delivery route and schedule. If you make it out to the farm next weekend, take a walk around. Down in the wetland, we have a tundra swan who lost its ability to fly but is content, along with a host of other birds including marsh wrens in the tule clumps, with bittern, coots, ducks, green and blue herons plying the channels carved out by beaver and nutria. It is a beautiful place to linger, and I often do. We will have our next open days in September when the Astianas and grapes are ripe.

The paradox of being diagnosed with a treatable but incurable cancer is that you have no choice but to root for it. After all, it would be a crying shame to go through several challenging months of treatment only to be run down by a distracted driver. I also hate all of the war metaphors that attend the diagnosis. From my perspective, it is a condition that is best addressed with grace and gentleness, and enjoyment of every moment of love and peace that comes my way.  

I hesitated to put this out to the public, but thought of rehashing it over and over again is not that appealing. This will be the last direct mention of the matter and I will return to pondering Pliny, Gerarde, the flavor variables of tomatoes, the virtues of late season chicories, Ave Bruma melons, and introducing our new bean—the peculiar Otello's Pebbles. Oh yes, and the return of all the other favorite beans.

* * *

Chester blackberry deliveries have begun, and by the end of the week they will be available at New Seasons, Food Front and Rubinette Produce. Our preserves are available at the Gaston Market, People's Food Co-op, Providore, and will soon be returning to both Food Front stores. Rubinette Produce, part of the Providore complex, carries our popcorn, cornmeal, barley and parched green wheat, and later on will have the full range of our legumes. 

For the open day, we will have parched green wheat, migration barley (milled and whole grain), Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint cornmeal, Amish Butter popcorn and preserves. We will also have some Imperial Epineuse prunes. A reminder that Chester blackberries (half flats, $20) or full flats ($38) must be reserved. Please e-mail us with your request.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In Season NW: Cherry, Corn & Poblano Salsa


Ripe, round, luscious Northwest cherries. An ear of sweet corn. A melon at the peak of ripeness. Add a little heat from a roasted chile and the zing from citrus, and you've got one of the great bites of summer.

My friend Michel put these brilliant ingredients together a few years ago, and it's become one of our go-to summer salsas with backyard grilled salmon. It just so happened that I stopped by Providore on Sandy, and Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish was featuring bright orange Kenai salmon filets. Then I noticed Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce had just brought in some juicy dark cherries from Baird Orchards, so dinner was basically planned for me.

I might just have to stop by the farmers' market this weekend and get the makings for another batch!

Cherry, Corn and Poblano Salsa

1 c. corn kernels (about 1 ear)
1 pt. cherries, pitted and halved
1 mango, melon or ripe pear, cut in small dice
1 roasted poblano or ancho chile, chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

Combine ingredients and serve. Amounts and ingredients can be varied depending on what you have on hand.

For more super summer recipes, check out my recipe for Pulled Pork with Cherries and Apricots or this Grilled Corn Salad with Cherry Tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Guest Essay: A Grain of Wheat


There's the old saw that the best way to teach kids to swim is to toss them into the deep end of the pool. While I may not agree with that theory (Hello…Red Cross swimming lessons???), the idea of learning by doing is a good one. So when my friend, hunter, forager and author Hank Shaw, found wheat growing in his yard, he decided to see what it took to grow, harvest, thresh, winnow and grind his own flour.

“I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” - John 12:24

How little we consider the grains that sustain us.

Tiny seeds that contain within them the power to change humanity, and by so doing render themselves almost invisible in their ubiquity. By the time The Gospel of John was written, somewhere around 70 AD, wheat, rice, barley, rye, millet, and, here in the Western Hemisphere, corn, had already dictated our existence for eight millennia.

Grain, or more accurately dependence on grain, is what separated farmers from foragers, Jacob from Esau. Grains underpin civilization: portable, easily renewable, nutritionally dense foods that can be grown in surplus and stored—or kept from those the holder deems unworthy.

Every culture that tamed a grain, although it could easily be argued that the grains tamed us, has held that grain sacred. In Japan, there is a saying that each grain of rice contains 88 souls, and to waste one is a sin. Similar proverbs exist all over the world.

So how did grain fall from sacred to commonplace? To become something tossed about without thought, wasted, even scorned?

I have been guilty of all of this. And chances are, so have you. I can distinctly remember times when I’ve thoughtlessly poured several cups of flour into a bowl to dust a piece or fish or schnitzel, then tossed the vast majority of it into the trash when I finished. It’s just flour, right?

Well, yes. But then, one day, I decided to make flour.

I started with acorn flour. Why? Well, I am a forager living in California. Here, the native people relied not on grain for their daily starch, but on flour made from acorns. California acorns have the decided advantage of being large — sometimes three inches long in the case of the Valley oak. And, again in the case of the Valley oak, these acorns can be low in tannins, and plentiful. Very plentiful. One old mother tree can drop a literal ton of acorns in a good year.

Making flour from acorns requires that you leach out the tannins first. You do this by shelling the acorns, breaking them up into small bits and soaking them in multiple changes of water. It is a lengthy, but not difficult process. (If you are interested, here are my directions for making acorn flour) When your acorns are no longer bitter, you must then dry them and grind once more to get flour.

When I did this, I became acutely aware of how much work this all was. How precious this flour truly is. I do my best not to waste a teaspoonful.

But acorns are not grains. Grains, by definition, are the seeds from grasses. They offer a distinct advantage in that they are annual. If my village is dependent on a grove of oak trees, many of which may be a century old, and you come and burn down my oaks, my village starves. But I can hide a sack of grain seeds in a hole. And when marauders have burned everything and left, I can replant, and, in a year, rebuild. From one seed comes many grains of wheat.

As it happens, I got a chance to see this first hand. No, marauders did not come to my house and burn down my oak trees. Rather, my yard became an impromptu wheat field.

Holly [Heyser, Hank's partner in crime] bands doves for the state fish and wildlife department. To do so, she is given bags of mixed grain to bait them into a live trap, so she can capture the doves, band them and let them go. Apparently doves vastly prefer safflower to wheat, because when the rains came in October this past year, it was wheat that began to grow in our yard. Lots of it.

I became determined to harvest this wheat. I had no idea what the yield might be, nor did I care. I wanted to see what it actually takes to harvest a grain of wheat.

In late spring I began with green wheat, called freekeh or farik in North Africa. You harvest it when the grain heads are fully grown, but the plant still holds moisture; typically when it begins to yellow.

Now if you’ve seen a wheat grain head in all its glory, it is a beautiful sight. You can see why gatherers all those millennia ago would want them. Large seeds (for a grass) that are, relatively speaking, easy to collect and remove.

I gathered a mess of green wheat and set the sheaves on a steel plate. To make farik, you then set them on fire briefly to burn away the little spikes on the grain heads, and to parch the seeds a bit. You then let all this dry in the sun for a day or two, which makes it far easier to thresh and winnow your wheat—literally separating the wheat from the chaff.

Read how Hank threshed his wheat. Read how Hank winnowed his wheat. And read one of the very practical reasons our ancestors may have ground their grains into flour.

Top photo by Holly Heyser; the rest by Hank Shaw.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Camp Stories: A Prescription for Peace of Mind


Feeling overwhelmed at work? The insanity of current politics stressing you out? Can't handle the barrage of social media a minute longer?

The Rx I'm recommending won't be found in a pill or a bottle, or by turning off the lights and pulling the covers over your head. I'm not even advising you to shut down your computer and turn off your devices.

Simply go where none of those screens will work, where your coworkers can't find you, where there's no news but the sun transiting your campsite, the trees shifting in the breeze and the sound of a creek chattering in the background.

For years we've been avoiding the war zone that erupts in the city over the Fourth of July by heading to a small national forest campground where fireworks and nighttime noise are strictly verboten, where our dogs don't need to be drugged and we can sleep in the dead quiet of a night so dark you can't see your hand waving in front of your face. But the real benefit, one we appreciated even more in this seemingly daily onslaught of "can you top this" craziness on the national political scene, is the peace, the quiet, the lack of demand for our attention other than cooking meals, washing dishes and the occasional call to sit by the creek and read a book.

Imagine that!

This year we managed to reserve a prime creek-side campsite at one of our favorite campgrounds, the aptly named Paradise Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just north of Carson, Washington. Small at just 42 sites and basic—vault toilets, dirt sites and a handled pump for water—it discourages large RVs and provides a modicum of simple activities like biking around the campground, playing in the creek and a few hikes nearby.

I'd made and frozen a batch of my Coney Island sauce and picked up some smoked dogs from Old Salt Marketplace, and then froze a pot of pork shoulder braised in tomatillo salsa—freezing as much as possible helps keep things cold as well as saves room in the ice chest—that we could warm up for dinners. A couple of steaks, Dave's scone mix to stir up and bake, breakfast and lunch fixin's and cocktail makings and we were set for our four-night stay.

Our neighbors Chad and Ann joined us for the second day, bringing their dogs and what turned out to be a spectacular camp dinner of shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes cooked in foil packets on the campfire coals (left and top photo). This is one I'll be making again here at home, since it's perfect for cooking on charcoal in the Weber. With a salad on the side and an ice-cold glass of rosé to sip, it's the definition of summer.

Good food, good drink, good friends, the basic necessities of life and a beautiful setting; it's a prescription for a good, stress-free life. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Shrimp, Andouille Sausage and Corn Campfire Packets
Adapted from Creme de la Crumb

1 lb. potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 lb. andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1 1/2 lbs. shrimp
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. Old Bay seasoning (or make your own)
1 Tbsp. salt
Lemon wedges

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add potatoes and parboil 5 minutes. Drain.

Shuck the ears of corn and slice each one crosswise into four rounds. Stand each round on end and slice in half lengthwise. In large mixing bowl combine potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp with garlic, olive oil, paprika, Old Bay seasoning and salt.

Cut four 12" squares (or so) of aluminum foil. Divide the shrimp mixture into quarters, putting each on a piece of foil (you can redistribute the number of ingredients in each packet to even them out). Seal the packets and place on coals. Cook for 10 minutes, turn them over and cook another 5-6 minutes. Take one packet out and test for doneness. Serve one packet per person with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top.

Find more great campground and recipe suggestions in the Camp Stories series.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tiki Torch: The Father-Son Duo Behind Munktiki


This weekend brings all things tiki to Portland in the over-the-top extrava-palooza called Tiki Kon. The announcement reminded me of a story I wrote in 2011 for MIX magazine about the Nielsens, a father-son duo who were part of the budding tiki renaissance and helped put Portland on the global tiki map.

It was the summer of tiki here in the Rose City. The mayor declared August as Tiki Month, several bars featured tropical drinks in its honor, and Trader Vic’s returned to the city after a 15-year-long absence. You would think we had just discovered a new trend, but actually Portland has always had a soft-spot for Polynesian pop, from the venerable Alibi and Thatch tiki bars, to Tiki-Kon—a three-day, mai tai-fueled homage to the exotic that comes around every July.

The highlight of Tiki Kon is the “Bus of Rum” tour of home tiki bars. And each year the tour inevitably ends at the gracious home of Paul and Debra Nielsen, a mid-century gem that just happens to be the birthplace of some of the most sought-after tiki mugs on the planet.*

Paul and his son Miles are the duo behind Munktiki, a ceramics company with a cult following among tiki-philes worldwide. Working side-by-side out of Paul’s garage, their handmade, limited-edition mugs have been known to fetch hundreds of dollars. They even designed a custom mug for the new Trader Vic’s.

It all started more than 10 years ago. A native of Monterey, Calif., Paul had built a big commercial ceramics business there, making bathroom accessories for companies like Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as teapots for museum gift shops at the Smithsonian and the Guggenheim. But being big wasn’t satisfying his craving for creative expression.

“The bigger we got, the more expenses there were,” Paul said. “It felt like we were on a big wheel and that we were just kind of going in circles.”

He’d also become tired of the music he’d been listening to, mostly Punk and New Wave. “It was kind of getting tense, and cocktail music is relaxing and fun, and a great blend of jazz and exotica,” he said. “So I went to thrift shops and started buying the old albums by Martin Denny or (Juan Garcia) Esquivel.

He started making cocktails to pair with his newfound musical fascination. “I thought it would be fun to have a tiki mug to go with the drinks, so I made a volcano bowl tiki mug,” he said. On a whim, he took some samples to a New York gift show.

“It totally bombed.”

It was the late’90s and, trying to unload the samples, he put them up on a new website he’d heard about called eBay. “It just took off,” he recalled. “I found out there were a lot of collectors out there. I was shocked. Miles and I didn’t know anything about the resurgence in the tiki movement. We just stumbled into it, and it offered a lot more creativity and enjoyment.”

He and Miles, who’d been helping his dad with the ceramics business as well as running his own business making pipes for head shops (aptly called Stoned Ware), decided to close down and form Munktiki in 2000. They decided to move their operation to Portland because it had a more convivial tiki scene—but one problem nearly stopped them in their tracks.

“When we first started our production we moved in here and nothing was drying,” Miles said. “It was taking days and we were like, ‘how’s this even going to work?’ We had huge deadlines on projects and it was very stressful.”

“I think we went three weeks without anything drying out and finally got our act together,” Paul said, pointing at the heater and dehumidifier humming away in the corner.

When asked what advice he’d give to someone wanting to dive into tiki culture, he simply leads the way into his basement showroom. Opening the door was like stepping back 60 years, all shag carpeting, dark paneling and midcentury art hanging on the walls.

“There’s a tacky side of tiki, which I would persuade anyone not to get into,” Paul said, looking around at the stylish arrangement of vintage artwork and the floor-to-ceiling display of the mugs he and Miles have created. “We’re trying to do it more artfully, more tastefully. We do some traditional stuff and try to do everything with respect.”

* The Nielsens no longer live in Portland, so the Bus of Rum tour of home tiki bars no longer concludes at their home, but their love of tiki is shared by many home bartenders who are included on the tour.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Death by a Thousand (or a Billion) Cuts?


A black hole—a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape—may well be the metaphor that engulfs the 2017 session of the Oregon legislature. Prior to convening, it was announced that the state faced a 1.6 billion dollar shortfall despite record low unemployment and jobs being added at a steady pace. Though that scary figure was revised slightly downward to $1.4 billion, it was still a frightening gap to fill.

The school garden at Sabin School.

A proposal, spearheaded by House Speaker Tina Kotek, was made to increase the corporate tax to help fill the hole. But even though Democrats hold a majority in both houses of the legislature, they were unable to sway enough Republicans to their side to get the three-fifths majority required to pass budgetary measures, so the effort fizzled late in the session.

See what I mean about the Black Hole of 2017?

With the corporate tax proposal dead and not likely to be revived, if at all, until the 2019 session, all that was left was to start cutting state budgets. Which means that any new programs with even a whisper of a budget are dying instantly in the airless vacuum inside the hole, and even existing programs may well die a death by a thousand cuts.

For Oregon's small farmers and ranchers, this is not good news.

Getting healthy local food to kids.

For instance, the state's Farm-to-School program was cut altogether from the governor's budget early in the session but was included in a bill (HB 2038) that is currently languishing in the Ways and Means committee, perhaps facing elimination or drastic cuts. This program not only gets healthy, local farm products into school meal programs across the state (and into the bellies of our kids), it is a revenue stream for many Oregon farmers. (Contact your legislator about this bill.)

Another key bill (HB 2739) is one that would protect farmers who have experienced financial losses due to contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. It would allow farmers to be compensated by GE crop patent-holders when their products have crossed property lines and caused financial damage.

Scotts genetically engineered bentgrass.

"I’ve had a front row seat to the damage caused by Roundup Ready GE bentgrass, which spreads easily on the wind and through water, infesting irrigation ditches and cross-pollinating with wild relatives," wrote Vale farmer Jerry Erstrom in an op-ed published in the Capital Press.

"I am not opposed to genetically engineered crops, but as a farmer of some non-GE varieties and after my experience with GE contamination in my alfalfa seed production and with the GE creeping bentgrass escape, I am a supporter of making the right people accountable if crops are damaged," he wrote. (Contact your legislator about this bill.)

Preserving biodiversity on Oregon's farms.

Way back in 2015—officially the "good old days," budgetarily speaking—the legislature made significant new investments in the Oregon Statewide Public Service Programs which led to new work in support of small farms, on-farm conservation and more. But now Oregon’s budget crisis has put those 2015 investments at risk. At $9.4 million (part of the larger Extension and Agricultural Research budget in SB 5524), cutting it doesn't represent a huge savings, and cancelling a promising program that benefits small farmers seems like a waste of that initial investment. (Contact your legislator about this bill.)

Even as this session winds down—the legislature is required by law to adjourn sine die, by July 10—there is still time to make your voice heard. I hope you take a moment to contact your legislator on behalf of Oregon's small farmers and ranchers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spanish Marinated Zucchini, The Perfect Small Plate


Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food can take the most maligned of summer vegetables, say, for instance, the zucchini, and turn it into something extraordinary, a treat that you would happily set in front of the most hoity-toity of guests. Though we don't have many of those, fortunately, I'll still be setting this out as a tapa on the table this summer.

Spanish Marinated Zucchini

The Moors ruled the Iberian peninsula for 700 years, and their legacy includes dishes like this. The Spanish word escabeche refers to foods cooked and marinated in vinegar; the word itself derives from the Arabic al-sikbaj, a sweet and sour meat dish. But even without the interesting culinary history, escabeches are delicious.

Start with relatively thick slices of zucchini or any summer squash, about half-inch, so they don't get too soft. I like to split long squash lengthwise, then slice. Cook them in fairly hot extra virgin olive oil until they're lightly browned, about 5 minutes. While the squash cook, toast a couple of tablespoons of cumin seeds in a dry skillet for a few minutes, until they're aromatic and just starting to brown.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked squash to a bowl; you want some of the oil but not all of it. Add some chopped garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary, and a good sprinkling of Katz Trio red wine vinegar [or any good quality red wine vinegar]. Toss with flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Grass-fed Burgers


When I wanted to get some advice about grilling the best grassfed burgers at home, I turned to my friend Lynne Curry, who literally wrote the book on cooking with grassfed beef. (Her book, Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut, has just been rereleased should you want a copy.) Fortunately she had just written a post about burgers on her Forage blog, and I asked if I could share it with all of you.

At last, it’s grilling season!

(I know you have already cleaned the old ashes/ grate of your grill, filled the propane tank and checked the lines if you use gas or purchased plenty of hardwood charcoal—right?)

In celebration, I’ve compiled everything I know about grilling grassfed burgers. For a quick primer, check out my previous posts on perfect grassfed burgers:

5 Quick Facts for Perfect Grassfed Burgers at Home, Part 1
5 Quick Facts for Perfect Grassfed Burgers at Home, Part 2

Here’s what’s included in this post:

What's Different About Grass-Fed Burgers

By now, you’ve certainly encountered grassfed ground beef wherever you shop. And maybe you’ve even made the switch because of the reasons I touched on in Part 1—namely the traceability and quality of grassfed beef.

Caramelized onions…heavenly!

You feel good about buying grassfed beef for your backyard barbecue, but how confident do you feel about grilling it? I’m here to help.

Most important to me is that the beef I buy comes from animals raised for their whole lives on pasture. And it supports family farms, not factory farms.

Maybe for you it’s the composition of good fats and the overall nutritional profile of grassfed over conventional beef. Whatever your reasons, grassfed beef is a completely different animal when it comes to grilling.

Here’s why.

The Lean Factor

Every cut of grass-fed beef is more susceptible to overcooking simply because it is extra-lean. Ground beef from pasture-raised animals is typically 85 percent to 90 percent lean, far less fatty than the 70 percent lean meat many burger connoisseurs recommend.

A burger that fits the bun is essential.

Less fat means that there’s less insulation to protect the proteins and baste the meat internally. So how do you grill a juicy grassfed burger?

Some home cooks blend egg, milk and bread crumbs into their ground grass-fed beef as insurance against dryness. Shredded or diced cheese, sautéed vegetables and minced pancetta are other mix-ins that can help protect the burgers from heat and keep them juicy.

Since I prefer my hamburgers to be 100 percent grass-fed beef, I do nothing but season them well with kosher salt just before cooking.

And I cook them over high heat, but more on that in a moment.

How To Form Hamburger Patties

Many recipes caution that over-handling ground beef will make hamburgers tough. This warning can cause cooks to barely form patties at all, resulting in scraggly, lumpy burgers that don’t fit the buns.

Grilled to perfection.

The truth is that the grinding process forces beef through a die cutter and minces every strand of connective tissue, making the meat tender enough to eat raw à la steak tartare.

The key is to handle the ground beef just enough to shape it without compressing it like a meatball, and without melting the fat with the heat of your hands. If you prefer, you can use a jar lid or one of the burger molds on the market.

I like to form the patties a few hours before cooking (but I do not salt them until I’m ready to cook because the salt will draw out the moisture.).

My ideal hamburger is 1/3 pound of meat (about 5 ounces) shaped into a uniform disk about 1 inch thick. I make it wide enough to fit within the bun, roughly 5 inches.

Now, the one sure way to make your burger dry is by pressing on them with a spatula while grilling and squeezing out all the juices. But again, I get ahead of myself.

Over-Handling Versus Under-Handling

Keeping that fat intact is key to a tender and juicy burger. So if you handle the ground beef for too long and it starts sticking to your hands, then your burger will be compromised.

I’ve realized that shaping hamburgers is a lot like making pie dough. People have been warned for so long about not overhandling the dough that they tend to underhandle it. So they end up with dry, raggy-edged pie crust.

Same is true with the burgers. Try this:
  1. Shape nicely uniform discs of ground beef while keeping contact to a minimum. I use a scale to portion the ground beef. But if you have a one-pound package of ground beef, it’s easy to eyeball it into thirds for 1/3-pound burgers, or fourths for 1/4-pound burgers.
  2. Then take each piece in your hands and press it while spinning it around like you’re making mini-pizza about 5 inches wide and 1 inch thick (okay, a very thick mini-pizza).
  3. Put it on a plate and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center so that when the patty expands during grilling, it won’t blow up into a burger ball. I have witnessed too many burger balls at backyard barbecues, and it’s a sad sight.
Now, how long did that take? If it was less than one minute, you’re safe from over-handling but still have an actual hamburger patty, not a blob of ground beef.

And now that you have your burger patties ready to go on the grill, here's how to cook them to perfection (plus toppings that will put them…well…over the top)!

All photos courtesy Lynne Curry.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Season NW: Summer's Upon Us—Berries & Veg Aplenty


"Strawberries strawberries strawberries!" are the words spilling out of Josh Alsberg's mouth when I ask what's going to be appearing on his shelves at Rubinette Produce and on farmers' market tables. First are the June-bearing—"Hoods! Seascapes! Albions! Shuksans!" he chants—followed by the ever-bearing varieties with two harvests, one in early summer and one in the fall. To say this guy is excited this time of year is indeed an understatement; he virtually vibrates with anticipation of the fruit and vegetables that are about to cascade in from local farms.

Hood strawberries.

When I asked about the cherries I was seeing at local supermarkets, he scoffs and spits out "California" as if he just bit down on the pit in an unripe specimen. He emphasizes that unlike the last two years, the harvest this year is trending back in the normal direction because of the wet, cool spring we've had.

Cherries lookin' good!

Like a good farmer, Alsberg doesn't tempt fate, so he hedges his bet when saying that, assuming rain doesn't come at the wrong time and ruin the crop, it looks like the supply of cherries this year will be robust. Look for Northwest varieties from local farms to start appearing in the next couple of weeks and for them to be in good supply—Alsberg stops to knock on a wood crate—through August.

Blueberries and raspberries.

Cane berries—starting with raspberries, followed by marionberries, loganberries, tayberries (a blackberry-raspberry cross), boysenberries, silvanberries (or sylvan blackberry)—will start trickling in now but really get going at the end of June and early July. In mid-July look for gooseberries, jostaberries and currants, along with blackberries (thorned first, then thornless) going strong through August.

Peeeeeaches!

As cherries bow out, peaches—be still my heart!—will roll in sometime in mid to late July, with August being their time to shine. Also in August are the sun-loving melons, grapes, figs, plums and prunes that will keep picnickers and preserves busy. When I ask if that'll be all in the fruit category, Alsberg declares, "I'm never done talking about fruit!"

Tomatoes? Yes, please.

But when I force him to look at other seasonal crops, he somewhat reluctantly turns his attention to tomatoes, corn and cucumbers, with the first sweet red globes of the earliest-ripening varieties appearing at the end of June (thanks largely to hoop houses) with local sweet corn starting in July and cukes of the lemon and Persian persuasion getting started at the end of June.

Multicolored cauliflower.

Leafy greens that are so fresh they practically leap into your basket are happening now, with Little Gems at the top of my personal list, but look for spinach, pea tendrils, fava greens and fava beans now, with string and pole beans following close on their heels. Spring onions are plentiful now, too, with new crop potatoes trickling in and the denser brassicas—cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower—scheduled for the end of June through the summer.

Before you lock in any of those dates, though, be like a good farmer and accept that the weather is going to do what it wants to do. So hope for the best and maybe knock on some nearby wood.