Friday, May 27, 2016

Big Holiday Barbecue Begs for Baked Beans

My husband, it can be stated without hesitation, is a guy who knows what he wants. For his birthday, which happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend this year, he was given the choice of what to do over the long weekend to celebrate his special day. No restrictions…anything he wants, I'll do my best to accomodate.

No "trip to Paris" crossed his lips, no "dinner at _________" restaurant. Without hesitation, he answered, "Brisket."

Dave's brisket.

You see, Dave is a guy who loves his smoke. The last brisket he made (left) used a method called the "Texas crutch" where the meat is first smoked for several hours, then wrapped in butcher paper and returned to the smoker. After a few more hours, it goes into a cooler to rest and break down any remaining collagen that has withstood the battering of heat, smoke and time. At the end of which emerged the most succulent, tender and delicious hunk of meat he'd ever made.

Ayers Creek Farm borlotto beans.

The pressure to come up with appropriate sides then lands on me. My fallback is always my mother's potato salad, a family favorite that pairs perfectly with smoky protein. I was struggling with what else would be appropriate when I remembered a baked bean dish I'd made a couple of years ago that had the slightest bite of vinegar, an Italian-inflected version based on a recipe from contributor Jim Dixon.

So the menu is set, and if you want updates I'll be posting photos of the results to my social media feeds (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook). But if you're simply want to make the baked beans for yourself this weekend, you can find the instructions below.

Baked Beans Italian Style

2 c. dried beans (I'm using borlotti beans from Ayers Creek Farm)
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. bacon
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 by 1”. Add bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 5 to 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too).

One hour before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a small 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 piece of bacon and slice it into pieces or 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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Do Me A Fava…

Their color couldn't scream spring any louder. And with a delicate, earthy flavor and creamy texture, these little beans are like little nuggets of gold. Add in the labor of peeling them from their skins, and they're elevated to the level of food fit for the gods. I like them boiled whole in salted water, popped from their pods and tossed with good olive oil, a sprinkling of mint and a whisper of garlic and salt. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food likes them whizzed into a spread for bruschetta.

While favas have been cultivated for at least 8,000 years, nobody's figured out an easy way to get them out of their skins. Of course, for most of those millenia, people left the skins on the beans, and my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins makes a good case for doing just that. [Her very funny post is well worth the read. - KAB] But other cooks I like argue convincingly that the time and labor spent is worth it.

Whether to skin your favas depends on how you plan to eat them. American farmers tend to let them get too big, but if you grow your own or can find small favas (pods thinner than your finger, with beans about a half inch long), spend a sunny afternoon acting like a Roman. Shuck the beans and eat them raw with a some good pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and a crisp white Vermentino. Or make the classic Spring vegetable stew called vignarola. Traditional versions leave the beans unpeeled, but others [like this one from Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana] call for naked favas.

Bruschetta with Favas & Arugula

Making a spread with favas is one of my favorite ways to get more out of the time spent dealing with them. Sometimes it's just a few ingredients, like this one with mint and garlic. But if I need to feed more than a few people, I'll add a few more things.

Start with pound of favas in their pods. Split open the pods, remove the beans and drop them into a pot of well-salted boiling water. Cook for about a minute, drain, and run some cold water over them until they're cool enough to handle. Use a fingernail to nick the skins and squeeze out the bright green bean. You'll end up with about a cup of shelled beans.

Combine them in your food processor with a cup or so of fromage blanc (or other soft goat cheese), a few tablespoons of pecorino Romano, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, about 2 cups of arugula, a half cup of fresh mint, a couple of pinches of salt, a splash of Katz Viongier Honey vinegar and 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Process until you have a coarse puree, taste and add salt, vinegar or oil as necessary. Toast or grill some good bread, drizzle with a little olive oil and top with the fava spread.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Try It: Salt-Cured Egg Yolks

Sometimes I see a recipe that's so unusual it begs to be made. It's usually simple—I'm not the kind of ambitious cook who loves devoting hours of labor to a project—and the fewer the ingredients, the better. Throw in low risk, and I'm in!

Egg yolks after curing.

So when I read my friend Hank Shaw's description of curing egg yolks in salt, I was intrigued. Two ingredients, egg yolks and salt. And time: a couple of weeks.

And voilà…two small, moderately hard, slightly gummy pucks that, when grated, taste like salty, eggy parmesan, only richer. Unctuous aged cheese, if you will. And if you're using eggs from pasture-raised chickens—a trip to the farmers' market should be enough—the color from those tangerine-tinted yolks is going to be brighter than marigolds in the sun.

Sprinkled over beet risotto (recipe).

Hank says they'll keep for a year wrapped in cheesecloth in a sealed plastic container, so next time I'll make a half-dozen. Grated, the two yolks I cured came to about half a cup, enough to sprinkle over four servings of risotto (right), a pound of pasta or a good-sized Caesar salad. All of which I'm planning on trying very soon.

Here's my recipe for the beet risotto pictured above right.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Farm Bulletin: An Empty Nest at Ayers Creek Farm

Watching and waiting are hallmarks of farming, and contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has been observing the great horned owls' nest in the stand of firs near their home for months. Though they are wild creatures with lives beyond domestication, a certain attachment occurs over time, and this week brought a poignant moment. As the Bard said, "parting is such sweet sorrow…"

The last couple of days it was obvious that the owlets were about to depart. The eldest was perching atop the snag, and even the younger bird was standing tall on his legs. In the morning twilight, as I watched the older bird surveying the neighboring trees and exercising its stubby wings high on its perch, I knew they would leave. By the time the sun moved above Bald Peak and there was enough light for a good photograph, there was just one in the nest. In the photograph you can see the older owl tucked into the fir boughs (top photo).

The empty nest.

Once they can perch on a branch, they are ready to leave the exposed setting of the nest. It will be a few weeks before they can attempt flight, and months before they can do so gracefully. At this point they are essentially arboreal penguins. The movements are nothing more than hop-and-flop. During the next month, they will build up their flight muscles and grow in their primary feathers on their wings. It will probably be a while before we catch a glimpse of them again. They are hyper-furtive at this stage. This year we have a raccoon skulking about so life is a bit more hazardous.

When I returned from St. Paul in the early afternoon, the nest was empty. They will perch close together and very quietly, no keening or other activity to draw attention to them. This is the first time since the 21st of February with no owls atop the snag. That urine-splashed redoubt will have no significance to the owls, no sentimental returns to the old homestead. They will remain safely tucked in the fir boughs closer to where the red-tailed hawks nest. A doubling of the raptor watch duties perhaps. The snag remains a Grand Hotel of sorts with cavity nesters still raising young. A second brood of starlings is in the hole beneath the nest. The young owls will leave the farm in the late autumn. Sometime next February, the hen will settle down for another reproductive vigil.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Guest Essay: Spring, That In-Between Season

Sasha Davies is a cheesemonger, restaurateur and co-owner with her husband, Michael Claypool, of Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery. She's also a fine writer, having authored two books on cheese, The Guide to West Coast Cheese and the Cheesemakers Apprentice. Her newsletter for May struck a chord with me, as I hope it will with you.

Liminal: (adj.) Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

You have all experienced liminal time, the kind where you're somewhere between a Here and a There. This can be very much a matter of logistics, like being on an airplane, or slightly less well defined like the time between making a decision (to move, take a job, have a baby, take a trip, quit a job, commit to/end a relationship) and the first moment where it feels like that decision is manifesting in the world.

Liminal times can be tense (picture yourself straddling a fence) and uncertain—filled with anxiety about what's coming—they can also be times of great release and letting go, or leaning into a spot of blank space.

The liminal nature of May—the month—is something I feel every year here in Portland, and I can see it play out in our kitchen at Cyril's; I sense that the rules of Here (spring) and There (summer) are malleable. This feels somewhat liberating.

Part of this could be because I grew up in California, where May felt much more like the beginning of summer than the midst of spring. When I moved here eight years ago (in April) and didn't see the sun on a regular basis until July 5th, my idea of spring got entirely rearranged. The early warmth and sunshine this year has shattered my ideas about May yet again.

Personally, I find this time of year to be one of the more challenging of the seasonal transitions. While I do find the green shoots and kaleidescope of blossoms utterly delightful, there is a quickening up that I find myself resisting. In subtle ways I cling to the last bits of slowness left over from our winter habits.

There is an overarching theme of freedom we feel about summer, the season we're barreling toward, and yet in the kitchen—and in my life—sometimes I feel there is a certain pressure about it as well, an unspoken demand that one engages in that time of year with a particular vigor. This is precisely the kind of thing that makes me anxious—you know, because what if I'm tired and I feel like staying inside?

At Cyril's we are doing our best to embrace the liminal nature of now both in terms of what is available at the market and what our guests are interested in eating. The menu feels like a bit of a moving target but somehow this pop of early warmth in the weather has meant a larger overlap of the seasons in terms of ingredients. We only just said farewell to sweet potatoes and risotto and have now created our first salad with lettuce in a starring role.

Photos courtesy Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Seafood Chowder

Spring in Oregon is a flighty thing. She can be wearing a summer dress and flip-flops one moment, then bundled up in fleece and rain boots the next. She's been seen making daisy chains and picking peonies aplenty, but there's just as good a chance you'll catch her stomping through ankle-deep puddles.

Pea shoots.

A Northwest spring is the time for taking the cozy flannel sheets off the bed and putting the heavy sweaters and coats in the closet for next year. But any Oregonian worth her salt knows that even a several-day stretch of warm, summery weather will almost always turn toward the cool and damp at some point, at least until after the Fourth of July.

Sorrel at the farmers' market.

That's the reason my braising pot is never far from reach this time of year, so I can pretty much whip up a big batch of stew or soup whenever inclement or chilly weather returns. The chowder below is quick and simple, and you can use any fish or shellfish that comes easily to hand. And it's perfectly permissible to substitute chicken, vegetable or corn stock if you didn't boil up your fish bones or crab shells to make fish stock—just make a note to do it next time!

The fun thing about making soups in spring is throwing in whatever's growing in the garden—curls of pea shoots, green tips from favas, chard or sorrel that's starting to come back—to give that chowder some color and a little zip of flavor. Slice a few thick pieces of bread for sopping and you've got a meal in a bowl.

Spring Seafood Chowder

1/4 c. butter or margarine
1 onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 med. russet potatoes, cut in 1/2" dice
4 c. whole milk
4 c. fish stock
3 c. pea shoots, cut in 1" pieces
1 lb. white fish, such as cod
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and cut in 1/2" slices
3 sprigs fresh thyme (each about 4" long)

Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until it becomes translucent. Add celery and garlic and sauté till tender. Add potatoes and sauté about 5 min. Add milk and fish stock and bring to a simmer. Add fish, shrimp, pea shoots and thyme sprigs. Return to a simmer and cook for at least half an hour, or longer if possible.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Life Gives You Lemons (and Rhubarb)? Make Cocktails!

You know what it's like: It's cocktail hour and a gin and tonic would taste really good, but you're out of tonic and all the limes in the fridge are brown and shriveled. Which rules out a gimlet, a caipirinha or a margarita.

But wait…there are lemons, and you just made a batch of rhubarb syrup so your nephew could have his favorite thing at auntie's house, her fabulous rhubarb soda.

Since that was precisely the situation I found myself in the other day, I cast my mind way, way back to the 1990s and what popped into my head was that chichi happy hour cocktail—and the bane of bartenders everywhere—the lemon drop! I simply substituted the rhubarb syrup for the simple syrup and, voilà, cocktail hour was saved. Huzzah!

Rhubarb Lemon Drop

For the syrup:

For the cocktail:
2 lemons, juiced
2 1/2 oz. vodka
1 1/2 oz. rhubarb syrup
3/4 oz. triple sec
Sugar for the rim

For the syrup, wash rhubarb and chop stalks crosswise into 1/2" pieces. Place in saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Pour rhubarb mixture through a sieve into a medium-sized mixing bowl to strain off solids. Add equal amount of sugar to the strained liquid (you're making a 1:1 simple syrup) and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool. The syrup can be stored in pint jars in the freezer to keep you well-supplied until next rhubarb season.

For the cocktail, make a sugar rim on the glass by slicing partway through a wedge of lemon and running it around the edge of your glasses. Make a mound of sugar on a plate and, inserting the edge of the glass into the mound at a 45° angle, twirl the edge of the glass  fill cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice and add all ingredients. Shake 15-20 seconds. Pour into sugar-rimmed martini glasses and serve.

Friday, May 06, 2016

In Season: Looking at May with Josh Alsberg

My friend, writer, author, forager and hunter Hank Shaw said that May is "the start of the slow, fat times. Times when dinner consists of tossing things onto the grill and arranging them haphazardly on the plate, to be eaten with a crisp, cold beer or light red or white wine."

Josh in his element.

Though if you look at the following list—courtesy of Josh Alsberg at Rubinette Produce—of what you can expect to see coming from local fields and farms this month, it may be fat but it's anything but slow: from the first Hood strawberries and asparagus spears aplenty, look for fava beans, sugar snap peas, pea vines, lettuces (Butter, Leaf, Little Gems, Romaine), spring onions (done soon once the heat kicks up), fennel, new potatoes, chicories galore (Escarole, Frisee, Curly Endive, Treviso, Radicchio, Sugarloaf), dandelion greens, lots of herbs, cucumbers, early tomatoes, zucchini and other squash varieties, scapes of all kinds, beets, carrots, bulb garlic, spinach, green onions and scallions, spring cabbages.


All of the above and more will also, of course, be making their debut appearances at Oregon's farmers' markets, many of which are swinging into their regular seasons with longer hours and tons more vendors. I'll be talking to Josh occasionally throughout the summer and fall in a series of posts titled In Season, quizzing him on the best the time of year has to offer with suggestions on what to do when we get it home.

Leek scapes.

Alsberg's roots—no pun intended—in the produce businesses began, oddly enough, when he was in sales and marketing for a local uniform company. At the time he was living in the Concordia neighborhood of Northeast Portland and wandered into the New Seasons store that had just opened near the corner of Northeast 33rd and Killingsworth. He was bowled over by their produce program, where employees were encouraged to cut open fruits and offer vegetables for customers to taste, and he ended up pestering the store's produce manager until he offered Alsberg a job.

Fava beans…divine!

He found he loved learning about the new types of vegetables that local farmers were bringing into the store and relaying that information to customers. That and a knack for making beautiful produce displays—known in the business as the "wet rack"—convinced him that he'd found his calling. According to Alsberg, that first job also taught him "what quality does and doesn't look like…what's going to be the best flavor not just on your tongue but on your nose."

He also learned which distributors he could (and couldn't) rely on to supply the quality he was looking to provide, a knowledge base that served him well when he became the produce manager and buyer at Food Front Cooperative Grocery. At Food Front his network of local farms and farmers grew exponentially, and produce sales at the co-op grew dramatically as well.

With six years under his belt at Food Front it was time for Alsberg to move on, a shift facilitated by his friend Ron Paul, who'd heard that Pastaworks owners Kevin de Garmo and Kaie Wellman were looking to move from their Hawthorne location. They wanted a new store with a new produce vendor, which fit right in with Alsberg's desire to feature as much local produce on his wet rack as possible as opposed to getting the bulk of his stock from packing houses.

Salad chicory.

"The incentive for me is that I'm growing my business," he said of the innovative approach he's taking at Rubinette. "For [supermarket] produce managers there's no reason to step outside the box as long as they're making their margins."

For Alsberg, stepping outside that box means working with new farmers as well as local favorites like Gathering Together Farms, Dennison Farms and Ayers Creek Farm. He's particularly excited by the possibilities presented by the Headwaters Farm Incubator Program, a 60-acre property east of Gresham that is owned by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD). The program, which leases out parcels for the development of new farm businesses, provides affordable access to land and farm resources, training new farmers who want to use organic practices and learn about soil conservation.

Golden beets.

Black Locust Farm, owned by Dan Sullivan, who cut his teeth at Gathering Together, is one of those Headwaters start-ups that has Alberg's juices flowing. You'll find Sullivan's arugula, castelfranco, chrysanthemums, escarole, peashoots, goosefoot, spigarello and raab proudly displayed on Rubinette's rack in the coming month.

In Alsberg's estimation, farmers are "the unsung heroes of the local food scene. Without guys like Tom Denison, Anthony Boutard, John Eveland and Frank Morton, we wouldn't have the exciting food scene we enjoy now." And his philosophy at Rubinette bears that out: "Learn from the farmers and treat them and their products with the utmost respect, while educating people about farms and farming practices."

Monday, May 02, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Great Horned Owl Update

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm sends along a photographic update on the great horned owl pair that has now hatched two owlets in a Douglas fir snag on the farm. So cute!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mr. Gildersleeve Goes to Washington

Last week, Pew Charitable Trusts convened a meeting in Washington, DC, for the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), a bipartisan law created to regulate and protect fisheries, enacted on April 13, 1976. Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish, a sustainable seafood retailer in the Providore Fine Foods space on NE Sandy Boulevard, was invited to attend. At the end of his report is a link to contact your congressional representatives, which I urge you to do.

There seems to be consensus, particularly among West Coast officials, that the MSA has been successful. The work to maintain it is constant and always evolving, but we’re fortunate to still benefit from such a great piece of legislation.

The 1996 and 2006 reauthorizations added new provisions which strengthened the MSA and gave it some teeth in addressing overfishing, rebuilding stocks and reducing bycatch. These provisions created on-the-water components beyond the letter of the law—often unpopular smaller quotas, new marine-protected areas and gear restrictions for bycatch reduction and habitat protection. These tough decisions certainly affect fishermen, fishing communities and many other components of the fishing industry, but they’re critical to maintain the overall sustainability of the resource.

Atlantic stripers at The Wharf in Washington, DC.

But the goal—and the good news—is that the MSA’s provisions have allowed stocks to rebuild, causing fishing quotas to start rising again, too. As well, the untargeted fish, often forage fish important in the food chain that feed the prized fishes, remain in the ocean. In short, sustainable fisheries policy enables sustainable business in coastal communities.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC), one of eight regional councils to come about because of MSA, has likewise adapted their policy to reflect an ecosystem-based approach, rather than a focus on individual species. This approach accounts for the all the components in the fishery’s web, rather than a single focus that has no regard for the effect it has elsewhere. It’s a relatively new approach, and NPFMC is the only regional council using this kind of management strategy.

It’s a West Coast success story to be sure, but unfortunately not all management areas in the United States yield the same successful results.

East Coast councils have continually struggled to rebuild stocks. They’ve implemented rebuilding programs that include conservation areas and lowered annual catch limits, but stocks have yet to recover. It’s the typical story of overfishing beyond a level of sustainability, and now too few fish remain to adequately reproduce and rebuild the population.

In the South, states like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida remain locked in a huge allocation battle for red snapper. The fishery has faced tremendous pressure as a staple Southern dish, and thus stocks are weak. The resultant smaller quotas must be split between commercial, recreational, and charter boat fishermen.

Oregon delegation (l to r): Lyf Gildersleeve, Flying Fish; Bob Rees, Assoc. of NW Steelheaders; Paul Engelmeyer, Audobon Society Portland.

Issues also exist in the definitions of state and federal waters. Some states want to extend fishable boundaries into federal waters, which would create a gray area for overlapping fishing areas (i.e. multiple takers for singular fisheries). It would also create a ripple effect for threatened species from red snapper in the South to striped bass in the upper Atlantic, not to mention the potential for exploitation of gas and oil extraction and development. Allowing any additional boundary extensions is simply a bad idea.

In a nutshell, the West Coast has served as an exemplary model for MSA implementation and operation by regional fisheries management councils. We’ve done a lot of work so far, but much more still remains.

One of the biggest takeaways from my time in Washington was the need for a coalition of delegates and representatives to stand together and promote the policy’s successes. We need to come together with a cooperative effort to improve upon the existing MSA; we can’t wait for someone to draft legislation that would weaken it. Now is the time to act—to lead with positive action, rather than waiting to counter and oppose a bad plan.

This should not be a partisan issue, and it wasn’t in 1976 when Senators Warren Magnuson (D-Washington) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) drafted the first law. This is our ocean, our resource, our food. Here in 2016, we’re watching a divisive election campaign unfold in front of an unproductive Congress. The MSA’s renewals in 1996 and 2006 were each bipartisan; the new reauthorization must be handled the same way—professionally and humanely, across the aisle. There is no other way.

The MSA’s statute spans ten years, so given its last renewal in 2006, it’s up for another renewal. But, with a short session this year and a Congress that seems uninspired to advance anything with the environment in mind, it’s unlikely it will be renewed this year. That means the law will remain as is  with almost no risk of being adulterated.

That said, in 2014, H.R. 4742—the "Empty Oceans Act"—passed through the House, but stalled in Senate and was fortunately not adopted. Its biggest offenses were introducing terminology like “flexibility” and “if practicable,” which enabled regional councils to exercise wiggle room, opening the door for overfishing in the name of higher profits. It’s not only crucial that the current MSA must be maintained, but with a longer view in focus it can incorporate new topics like: climate change, ocean acidification, estuary protection and upstream forestry protection.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the government entity that oversees the funding necessary for the MSA’s performance. And like many important interests, budget allocation issues are creating undue stress, in this case on fisheries.

For starters, there isn’t enough funding for research. The MSA states that regional councils must make the best choices possible with the best science available. But as it stands, the best science available is insufficient. Within the limits of current research, very tangible problems exist such as: 1) harvesting too many fish because populations were overestimated, and 2) its opposite, the underutilization of resources due to ineffective population analysis. Both of these are dangerous categories. Overfishing clearly causes damage, as we’ve seen on the East Coast, as it threatens to push a fishery beyond recovery. With underfishing, we risk one species overtaking a weaker one, creating the potential for further damage to weaker populations.

Within its current confines, NOAA doesn’t recognize the bigger picture. A more comprehensive overview would craft a better ecological picture—the relationship between what happens way upstream and deep in the ocean. Continued and deeper research on global warming and its effects on fisheries, ocean acidification and more is paramount.

NOAA also needs to create national training programs for displaced fishermen to build and enhance domestic aquaculture production, reducing our demand on foreign products. Currently, upwards of 90% of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported, most of it from China and Southeast Asia. We need to, and can, do better here at home.

With NOAA’s funding for research so limited, they should be more open to third-party science and research to help guide their decisions and policy. The current protocol, employing only in-house research, doesn’t work when there isn’t enough money for proper research.

Finally, I believe that NOAA could benefit from a marketing and awareness campaign, elevating the good work that NOAA does, like, and bringing better attention to American fishing and seafood. I feel that much of the problem with the funding allocation stems from states not prioritizing a discussion about fisheries and the ocean.

I encourage you to write your congressional representatives and show your support for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

All photos courtesy Lyf Gildersleeve.

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Eating is an Agricultural Act."

This past week I was invited to give a short, eight-minute talk about Portland's food scene to a gathering, called an "incubator," of project leaders from EcoDistricts, a Portland-based nonprofit supporting projects that make cities more sustainable. These were folks from around the country, with one crew from New Zealand, many of whom had never been to Oregon before. They asked me to cover "Portland's food, wine, craft beer and spirits culture and industry." With a nod to a former creative director of mine, I opted "to give them what they want, just not what they expect."

When you hear a mention of Portland’s food scene, I’m guessing what comes to mind are its booming restaurants, with tatted-up chef-dudes in sideways trucker hats putting bacon and foie gras into every course, including dessert. You might also be (justifiably) excited about the city’s much-touted cocktail culture, with bartenders vying for who’s the baddest in the land, shaking cocktails made from local spirits, with a lineup of housemade bitters and syrups displayed on the bar.

So I don’t mean to disappoint you, but that’s not the food scene I’m going to be talking about today. The food scene I’m interested in, and the one that I write about on my blog, Good Stuff NW, is the one that happens in the fields and rivers and in the ocean.

Carol and Anthony Boutard.

It’s the not-very-sexy but incredibly important story of how the harvest from those places gets to my plate.

It’s the story of farmers like Carol and Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, transplants from Western Massachusetts who, after settling in Portland and working on land use issues for decades, decided, at the age of 50, to buy 140 acres of fields, oak savannah and wetland west of the city to start an organic farm. In the decade-plus that they’ve been farming, they’ve become known for the quality of their corn, an old New England variety that they’ve adapted to the growing conditions here in the Northwest, which they hand-shell and grind into polenta and dry to make popcorn. Then there are their Astiana tomatoes, named for the area of the Piedmont in Italy where they first tasted them and where Carol—legend has it—was so enamored of their flavor that she went dumpster-diving in the restaurant’s garbage to salvage a handful of seeds to bring back to their farm.

All of their hard work selecting seeds year after year is in pursuit of better flavor, and it shows in the legions of their loyal customers who can’t get enough of their dried beans, a South Asian green called fenugreek (that growing in the fields smells just like maple syrup), Italian chicories, garlic and other crops.

Ivan Maluski and Kendra Kimbirauskas.

This same dedication to soil and the health of the land—which also happens to result in incredibly flavorful food—is evident in the way that Kendra Kimbirauskas and her husband, Ivan Maluski, of Shimanek Bridge Farm in Scio raise their pigs, goats and chickens. A small-scale operation, they reject the confined, factory farm conditions and antibiotic-laden diets that most of America’s meat is raised in, raising all of their animals on pasture in a system called rotational grazing, where the animals are moved from one section to another in sequence and the pastures are allowed to regrow before the next group of animals is moved onto it.

I recently bought half a pig from them and, with help, butchered it—an incredibly budget-friendly way to get a year’s supply of meat—and I can tell you that there is nothing as beautiful as the fat from a well-raised animal. Its flavor is clean and rich, offering more "good" fats and fewer "bad" fats. The meat is richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C and it doesn’t have traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.

Tasting carrots at the Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase.

And since we’re on the subject of the pursuit of flavor, Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher at Oregon State University, has started an innovative program called the Culinary Breeding Network, bringing together plant breeders, seed growers, fresh market farmers, chefs and produce buyers to talk about how to make our food more delicious. (Imagine that.)

Historically these various groups have had widely divergent agendas in developing the crops that we find in the produce section at the store or on our plates at a restaurant. Plant breeders and seed growers looked for germination rates, vigorousness of growth and consistency of product. Fresh market farmers and produce buyers wanted big yields, durability in shipping and shelf life. Chefs and home cooks wanted flavor and beauty on the plate.

So Lane’s effort, supported by OSU and the Organic Seed Alliance, has been to bring all these groups together to talk about how to grow food—using traditional plant breeding processes (think Mendel’s peas)—that will be profitable to grow and sell while not sacrificing flavor. Currently there are field trials happening on regional farms for sweeter carrots, amazing varieties of parsley that can taste minty or savory rather than cardboard-y, squashes of all descriptions, greens, a variety of purple broccoli, and a habanero pepper that has no heat but keeps an incredibly sweet, deep undertone.

School tour at Zenger Farm.

Like many larger cities across the country, there’s also a vital urban agriculture scene in Portland that includes 51 community gardens covering more than 20 acres in the city, with more than 70 acres of land under cultivation commercially. In sizes ranging from small residential lots to larger plots of an acre or more and supporting themselves through CSA ( or community-supported agriculture) subscriptions, farmers’ market stands, restaurant clients, classes and even pop-up dinner events onsite, these small businesses are sought out by city folk like me anxious to support these entrepreneurial efforts.

And speaking of farmers’ markets, our metro area supports more than 60 farmers’ markets during the height of the season from June through September, with a dozen that continue through the winter months. Since I understand that some of you work on projects that address food access, I wanted to mention that in addition to the Oregon Food Bank, which has a network of 17 regional food banks and 960 partner agencies that serve 900,000 people a year, as well as education classes and community food system training, there is the Farmers Market Fund, recently awarded a-half-million dollar grant from the USDA for a program called Double Up Food Bucks. It is a SNAP (which used to be called food stamps) incentive program that offers farmers’ market vouchers for low-income families. These vouchers are available at 50 farmers markets across the state, giving a dollar-for-dollar match—up to $10—to purchase fruits and vegetables. The Fund also provides funds up to $200 to help purchase CSA shares from area farms.

SNAP and regular farmers' market tokens.

One of the best things about the SNAP benefits offered at farmers’ markets, at least to my mind, is that when someone uses their SNAP debit card to get tokens that they can then use like cash at market stalls, the tokens they get are barely distinguishable from non-SNAP tokens of other customers, eliminating the issues of shame and embarrassment that many low-income people often have to endure.

The poet, author, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, Wendell Berry, said that “eating is an agricultural act.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Farm Bulletin: White Birds

Contributor Anthony Boutard's keen eye spotted some unusual visitors to the Ayers Creek Farm wetland. Click on the photos to see them full size.

For the past week, we have had a bunch of white birds in the further reaches of the wetland. Wasn't sure if they were egrets or swans.

Today, they moved closer and I brought out the spotting scope. Turns out we are hosting a group of 19 white pelicans. Unlike the brown pelican of the coast, the white pelicans are generally found inland. This is the first time we have seen them on our wetland. The birds in the water on the right are fishing in a coordinated effort which increases their catch.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Farm-to-Table Problem

The following essay was written as a response to an article titled "Farm to Fable" in the Tampa Bay [FL] Times, part of a comprehensive series written by their food critic, Laura Reiley, on the reliability of sourcing claims made by restaurant, farmers' markets and retail stores. You can read other local responses to the article at LetUMEat.

When I tell someone I’m a food writer, often the first thing they say is, "Oh, so you're a restaurant critic?" And I have to say no, I don't know enough about food to be able to criticize professionals; I'm just a home cook who loves to eat. An enthusiast, if you will.

What I do care about when it comes to restaurants is truthfulness. As a food writer who tries to tell informative stories about how our food gets from the fields—or forests or rivers or oceans—to our plates, it's important to me that readers get accurate information so that they can be more informed consumers.

The real deal: Gathering Together Farm produce.

When, as in the examples that Laura Reiley cites in her story in the Tampa Bay Times, restaurant owners and chefs obfuscate, stretch the truth or outright lie, it undermines the power that we have to make informed decisions about what we eat. In one example that I ran across recently, when a supermarket chain posts a billboard saying that their beef has never seen a feedlot, but they're only talking about the 100 percent grass-fed meat in their butcher cases—which, by law, must be fed only grass from weaning to slaughter—that's confusing to their customers who then think that none of the meat in the case has been fed the GMO corn and soy, along with antibiotics, that feedlot animals are given before slaughter.

The real deal: Kendra Kimbirauskas of Shimanek Bridge Farm.

Likewise the local restaurant that has a blackboard touting a list of the local farms they buy from, when it's January and 90 percent of those farms don't have crops available at that time of the year. Or restaurant menus that state their meat is bought from suppliers that have the word "Farms" in their names, but those "farms" are just a slaughterhouse that processes factory-farmed meat shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Or a "farm" that raises its chickens in closed buildings with a barely passable vent to the outside, birds that spend their short lives in litter that is contaminated with their own urine and feces.

The real deal: Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm and his organic flint corn.

Fortunately for us here in Oregon and the Northwest, good sources of food are plentiful for both home cooks and professional chefs, from farmers' markets—60 and counting in the metro area at the peak of the season—to farms, fishing boats and ranches that make their living from direct-to-consumer and retail sales. We also have a plethora of organizations that promote and encourage small family farms and beginning farmers, as well as nascent efforts to bring chefs together with seed breeders and farmers to grow more marketable, tastier crops.

And there are many, many restaurant owners and chefs who wage the daily struggle of ordering and scheduling deliveries from dozens of sources, and who shop the farmers' markets for the freshest ingredients for their customers. As Ms. Reiley writes in her article and is reiterated in Leah Scafe's response, it's up to us to be informed consumers, ask questions and hold our food sources responsible as much as we can. And that is what is going to change our food system, both locally and nationally, into a much more workable, healthy and sustainable one.

Top photo: The sustainably sourced meat case at Old Salt Marketplace with pasture-raised beef from Bill Hoyt's Hawley Ranch in Cottage Grove.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cooking with Fire: Charred Cabbage

I have to say that Jim Dixon's commitment to grilling or, as he would say, cooking with fire, is pretty close to matching the obsession that my husband, Dave, has with the flame. So when one of them offers advice on improving and/or expanding on your fiery repertoire, it's best to prick up your ears.

While fire and food have been part of the human experience for millennia, cooking over burning embers still offers surprises, like the charred cabbage I ate last week. More on that below; the first step is is the actual fire. One of my favorite quotes says everything: "The first thing, if you have a gas grill, is get rid of it," said Donald Link.

The standard Weber works great, but so does a backyard fire pit with a grill. Some kind of cover comes in handy for longer, lower heat cooking, but it's not absolutely necessary. I burn a mixture of real wood charcoal (sometimes called lump briquet even though it's not the same as the standard charcoal briquet) and hardwood, usually a mix of oak and frutwood trimmings from my backyard trees. Whatever you burn, don't use lighter fluid to start it; get a charcoal chimney.

Start your fire, spread it out in your Weber (or whatever you're using), and let it burn down a little. Move the coals around so one part of the fire is hotter. Clean your grill grate with a wire brush after it gets hot. You're ready to cook.

Charred Cabbage with Mint & Walnut Pesto

Make the pesto by picking the leaves from a lot of mint (for a cup or so of walnuts, use about 2 cups of loosely packed mint leaves). Blitz the walnuts in the food processor* with a couple of garlic cloves, then add the mint, about a half cup of extra virgin olive oil to start, and about a half cup of grated pecorino romano cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano or a mix of both). Add a pinch of salt and process until smooth, adding more oil if the mix seems a little dry.

Cut a head of green cabbage into quarters, keeping the core intact so the pieces hold together. As usual, the grilled vegetable manifesto applies, so no oil on the cabbage. Cook the cabbage pieces over direct heat (right over the hot coals), turning occasionally until they're nicely charred on all sides. Move the cabbage to the cooler part of the fire while you cook other stuff (if you build a fire, you might as well cook everything over it).

Serving the charred wedges whole is more dramatic, but chopping them up makes for easier eating. Either way, pour some good extra virgin olive oil on them and serve with a big dollop of the pesto.

*  I use a blender for making pesto. It seems to make a smoother sauce, and doesn't warm up the ingredients the way a processor can. - KAB

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Farm Bulletin: First Sighting of the Owlets

Each spring finds contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm observing the pair of great horned owls that make their nest in a snag out behind the farmhouse. The eggs the female laid have now hatched and the young owlets are making their debuts.

Here are some shots of the eldest great horned owlet. The first shot (top photo) caught a starling leaving her brood [the starling's head is poking out of a cavity at the bottom center of the photo]. The other owlet is still too small to sit up properly. These owls start incubating their eggs as soon as they are laid, so there will be a noticeable lag in maturity between the first laid and the second. As far as I can tell, there are two chicks this year, which is normal.

Other birds wait to incubate until the whole clutch is laid. The starling nesting in the cavity immediately below the owls follows this pattern, so all of her chicks will leave the nest within a few hours of one another. This decaying fir snag hosts many different birds, including nuthatches, chickadees, brown creepers and flickers. I wouldn't be surprised if a wren also found a suitable nesting cavity there. The owl's nest is about 150 feet from a red-tail hawk nest. That snag also hosts a variety of birds.

Over the past two weeks, several pairs of wood ducks have been eying the nesting boxes we put up for them. It is hard to suppress a double take when you see a pair of ducks roosting in a tree. The birds nesting in the fir are all what is termed "altricial." Their young are helpless when born, and remain in the nest for a few weeks tended by their parents. The wood duck lays her eggs over a period of ten days to a fortnight, and then goes broody, just like her neighbors. When she starts incubating the eggs, the embryos will begin their development synchronously.

However, her young are "precocial." Within hours of hatching, the downy young will leap from the nest and follow their parents to the water. Although ducks live on the water, the nests can be some distance away. At the farm, we have encountered mallard and black duck nests a quarter mile from the nearest water. Although these birds avoid the bald eagles, osprey and harriers that hunt the marshland,  coyotes, weasels and skunks are on the prowl for those upland nests.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Day at Ayers Creek Farm

For the past few years I've had the privilege of occasional visits with Carol and Anthony Boutard at their farm outside of Gaston, spending a few hours helping with various chores. While not the most efficient worker, I hope that my enthusiasm for this wonderful place makes up for any lack of skill.

It starts with the alarm going off. I'm in the middle of a dream, but it disperses into steamy wisps when I open my eyes. As soon as I move dogs are tumbling off the bed and rolling on the floor like the demented dwarves that they are. Making my way to the bathroom I gingerly step over them, trying not to begin the day with a major injury. Ablutions done, contact lenses poked in my eyes, Walker leads me down the stairs with Kitty, as always, bringing up the rear (they somehow arrived at this arrangement soon after she joined the family and it's been that way ever since.)

Garlic, before weeding.

They dance around my feet as I put shoes on and untangle their leashes, Kitty barking in her hoarse but insistent voice, Walker whining and moaning to please-please-hurry-I-gotta-go. And out we do go, then in we come again, and while the coffee drips I feed them breakfast. I fill my water jug and pile up boots and coats for all the kinds of weather the day might bring, the fields wet and dripping or dry and dusty.

I pull up in front of Linda's house pretty much on time, her dogs begging for attention after a thorough sniffing to suss out who I've been with lately (at least four or five other dogs on this pair of jeans). Lunch at the farm today, as always, will be brought by Linda, who's planned a sprouted barley and beef soup with a cardoon salad tossed with an anchovy and lemon vinaigrette. I slap my forehead as I realize I've forgotten the loaf of Ayers Creek-grown barley bread that Dave made, so we'll have to "make do"—a gross misstatement of the facts—with Anthony's weekly allotment of Nostrana's wood oven-baked bread.

Garlic, after weeding.

The route from our Northeast neighborhood is a quick dash over the Fremont Bridge, out the Sunset Highway to Forest Grove then south to Gaston, but from Linda's home in Southeast it's easier to cross the river at Ross Island, heading out Highway 10 through Beaverton, then over Bald Peak to Springhill Road. It's a slower, albeit much more scenic, route, especially at the point you leave the suburbs behind, and I pull Chili up to the house before ten. Opening the front door sets off the Tito alarm, and he must be held and adored before any discussion of schedules can begin.

Anthony harvesting a cardoon.

By the time we head out to the fields Carol's sister, Sylvia, has arrived, and Carol introduces us to the "scuffle hoe," a stirrup-shaped scraper that basically uproots shallow weeds and cuts off deeper-rooted weeds when dragged over the surface of the soil. It's a fairly unsubtle instrument and can…ahem…also cut off the young plants if you try to get too close. (Note: I only beheaded two, Carol, honest!)

Cardoon salad.

Our task is to weed the tops and sides of a 100-foot row of garlic and a parallel 100-foot row of tarragon, thyme and sorrel. Linda (top photo, demonstrating proper technique) and I work the garlic while Carol and Sylvia tackle the other row, and we chat about books and movies and kids and laugh, sharing our experiences as I imagine farm workers have done for millenia.

When the rows are cleared it's time to head in for lunch where Anthony joins us—he's been off working on other projects all morning—and we dig into the hearty bowls of beef, sprouted barley, carrots and vegetables while thick slices of bread are slathered with butter and the cardoon salad is devoured.

The wicked euphorbia.

After lunch we head off to help Carol weed a section of her garden that was infested by an invasive form of euphorbia. What makes it worse, to her mind, is knowing that this calamity was self-inflicted. She bought the "cute little plant" at the garden store and within a couple of years it had wound itself around the daylilies, daffodil bulbs, lavender and shrubs in the bed, all of which have to be pulled out and disentangled from its grip.

Tea and cookies are our reward after this heroic rescue, and then it's time to jump in Chili and climb back over Bald Peak and home, a good day's labor behind us and, at least for me, a nice cocktail waiting to ease my tired muscles.