Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Fava Beans: To Peel, or Not to Peel?


Once again, it's confession time.

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

Young favas in the field, perfect for shoots.

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

I know, I'm whining.

Shucked beans ready to boil and use!

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

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

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

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

Pasta with albacore and favas.

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

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

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

Fava Bean Spread

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

Waste from mega-dairies add to pollution problems.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

In Season: Summer's Tsunami Starts Now


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

Shortcake season!

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

Local cherries galore…

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

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

Peachy keen.

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

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

Get your local corn on.

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

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

Watch Josh wax eloquent over local strawberries.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Farm Bill and Hungry Oregonians: Why Care?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Queener Farm: How to Graft an Apple



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

Read the story of Jeannie Berg and Queener Farm.

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


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

Jeannie Berg of Queener Farm in Scio.

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

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

Ready for harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now how do we change that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Touching Up My Roots: Spanish Rice


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

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

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

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

My recipe box, broken lid and all.

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

Spanish Rice

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

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Travels with Chili: Lopez Island Idyll


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

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

Our cottage, number 4.

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

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

A "glampsite" at Lopez Farm Cottages.

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

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

Barn Owl Bakery goods at Blossom Market.

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

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

Flowers from Arbordoun Farm.

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

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

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

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

A community-funded cookbook featuring profiles and recipes.

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

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

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


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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Lost Valley Farm Owner Called "Drug-Addled" in Court Filing


In a court filing, Dutch agricultural lender Rabobank is seeking relief from a bankruptcy court in order to auction off the dairy herd at Boardman's Lost Valley Farm (LVF), owned by California businessman Greg te Velde, according to an article in the Capital Press.

In a previous court filing, Rabobank had claimed that te Velde was in default on more than $67 million dollars in loans from the bank on three dairies (two in California). The herd was to have been auctioned off at the end of April, but a last-minute bankruptcy filing by te Velde halted the auction. The bank is seeking to reinstate the auction order because te Velde claims he has "no cash on hand" and is asking the bank for another $4 million in advances to pay for "feed, water, and labor" at the facility.

Concerned that te Velde's lack of cash could have "potentially catastrophic consequences" to its collateral at Lost Valley Farm, Rabobank stated in the court filing that "te Velde’s 'erratic and unreliable' behavior is caused by 'habitual' use of methamphetamine." It goes on to state that "while Rabobank will act responsibly to protect the value of the LVF herd, Rabobank is not willing to finance the drug-addled fanciful dreams of this Debtor during a lengthy Chapter 11 case that involves about 24,000 cows, 28,000 other head of livestock, three dairies in two states and about $160 million in total debt."

Tillamook County Creamery Association, whose Columbia River Processing (CRP) plant in Boardman buys milk from Lost Valley, had threatened to pull out of the contract it has with the dairy. The bank said that "te Velde checked out of a drug rehab clinic in April to convince Columbia River Processing…to reinstate the milk-buying contract, but then returned to the facility." The article quotes  Patrick Criteser, CEO of the Tillamook creamery, who submitted a declaration supporting Rabobank's request, said that Tillamook "is buying milk from the dairy until Rabobank is able to conduct an auction but will stop after May 31."

* * *

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

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

Top photo from Google Maps.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Not Your Mother's Boiled Vegetables: Italian Bagna Cauda


I had my first taste of the classic Italian dipping sauce, bagna cauda, at Portland's late, legendary temple of Italian food, Genoa. At the time it was co-owned by chef Cathy Whims, before she opened her equally legendary Nostrana just a few blocks away. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, like Whims, was inspired by Marcella Hazan, who introduced classic Italian food to American tables.

Boiling Vegetables

Many cooks think boiling vegetables is culinary heresy. If you've suffered through Brussels sprouts or cauliflower boiled to gray mush you'd probably agree. It's also true that some water soluble nutrients are lost when vegetables are boiled. But done right, boiling helps make vegetables delicious, and you can make up for any nutrient loss by simply eating more vegetables.

If you need more convincing, pick up Tamar Adler's excellent book, Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Its opening chapter, "How to Boil Water," will make you hungry.

But the basics are, well, basic: fill a pot with water (about 2/3 full; the vegetables need to fit, too), add salt (about one teaspoon per quart), boil, add vegetables. That last part is the key. Things with thick stalks, like broccoli, should be cut into pieces that let the thick part cook at the same rate as the tin parts. I cut cabbage into quarters with the core attached so the leaves stay together. Cauliflower goes into the pot whole, core down for two minutes, then flipped over for one more.

For most vegetables, three to five minutes seems like the sweet spot for getting them tender without overcooking. But stick the tip of a knife into the thick part; if it slides in easily, it's done. And I start timing when they go into the pot, not when it returns to a boil. Fish them out of the pot, let them drain a little, and they're ready. And use that water to cook more than one thing; cook another vegetable, make pasta in it, or save it for soup.

Bagna Cauda

Literally "hot bath," this classic sauce from northern Italy most often accompanies a plate of raw vegetables. But I was reading Brett Martin's 2018 best new restaurants article in GQ and a related piece about favorite meals of the chefs at the listed places, and the dish that jumped out was simple poached* vegetables with bagna cauda. So I made some.

Marcella Hazan's recipe is the definitive one, but if you can't find salt-packed anchovies, oil-packed work fine. Heat some extra virgin olive oil and butter (about 2/3 oil, 1/3 butter) until the butter foams, add some chopped garlic and and anchovies, cook for another minute, and serve warm with a little salt. Arrange some boiled vegetables on a plate and drizzle generously with the bagna cauda.

* Poaching is just like boiling but at a lower temperature; it does sound fancier, though.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

10 Easy Ways to Eat Less Meat


Oregon's Lynne Curry wrote the book, quite literally, on cooking with grassfed beef. A new edition of Pure Beef was issued last year and has just been listed as one of Oregon's Top 10 Cookbooks by Travel Oregon. So when she offered to share her tips for eating less meat and using grassfed or pasture-raised instead of conventional—a strategy that's better for us, for the planet, and supports small farmily farmers—I jumped at the chance! (See the end of the post for a free guide to where to find pasture-raised meat in Oregon.)

My strategies show you how to eat less meat even when you are eating it. So, if you’re looking to slim down the portions of meat you eat without giving it up completely, I’ve got 10 ideas to guide you.

1. Skewer it. Grilled meat on a stick is a worldwide favorite, often in the form of a kebab or satay. Sliced into ribbons or cubed and marinated in anything from teriyaki to garlicky yogurt, a little bit of meat becomes a meal when served over a pile of noodles or rice with ample fresh vegetables. Freezing the meat for 20 minutes eases close cutting. Plan on one meat kebab and two to three sticks of satay per person.

2. Stretch it. Depression-era cooks knew how to make a pound of ground meat feed many. Make your mixture roughly three parts meat (ground beef, turkey, pork, lamb, veal or combination) to one part breadcrumbs, oatmeal, bulgur, rice, quinoa or any other cooked grains or even legumes. Add chopped onion, an egg for binding, seasonings and spice it up as you like for classic meatloaf, exotic meatballs, burgers or sliders that go far.

3. Wrap it. Tacos are the model, but you can fold minced, cooked meat up in crepes, roti, rice paper rolls, tender lettuce leaves and nori, to name a few. Or, make a meat filling to encase in a dough—from pastries and empanadas to samosas and egg rolls. One cup of finely chopped or shredded meat makes six to eight portions to accompany with salsa, chutney or ginger-soy dipping sauce.

4. Serve it on the bone. Eating meat on the bone satisfies a primal urge and gives the feeling of satiety with relatively small amounts of meat. Whether it’s pork ribs, chicken wings or flanken-style short ribs, this is a meal to pile on sides of coleslaw and baked beans, steamed rice and vegetables or mounds of mashed potatoes. Cut between the bones of back ribs, spare ribs or racks to make single-serving portions.

5. Mince it. Hand-chopped raw or leftover meat is the basis for some of the world’s classic dishes—think fried rice and corned beef hash. Combine meat with cooked grains to stuff and bake into eggplant, peppers, cabbage leaves or acorn squash. The token protein—be it bacon or roast beef—serves as a major flavor boost. Or, serve slivers of meat in tiny amounts to fashion bibimbap or a stir-fry.

6. Stew it. No amount of meat is too small—like a ham hock to season a pot of beans or a couple of chicken thighs simmered in coconut-milk—to make stew. In a pot chock full of seasonal vegetables or legumes, the cheapest, toughest cuts have a lot to offer (all the better if there’s bone). And the more ingredients you add, the less meat you need in a belly-filling meal. Shred the cooked meat to disperse it into the stew before serving.

7. Stuff it. There is no better side dish for roasted meats than stuffing. Rolling the stuffing inside any boneless meat cut not only fancies up the presentation but bulks up portion sizes considerably. Butterfly larger cuts, like pork loin and turkey breast, or pound flank steak and chicken breast to 1/4-inch thick with a meat mallet or heavy rolling pin. Season a bread or grain-based stuffing well before rolling it up and securing the roll with toothpicks for oven roasting or grilling. Serve in one-inch-thick slices with extra stuffing on the side and add a gravy, if you like.

8. Slice it thin. When holidays and other special occasions call for a large roast or thick steaks, you still don’t have to go big on the meat. With a sharp slicing knife, make 1/4-inch thick slices of ham, for example, and serve it with all the trimmings. Instead of serving a whole steak, plate slices with a generous salad; that single cut will serve three to four. Portion the leftovers in resealable bags for the freezer for a month’s worth of ready-made sandwich fillings. A sandwich may be the most familiar form for protein portion control—so long as you follow the meat-moderate panini approach and not the Carnegie Deli’s.

9. Flavor with it. A single slice of bacon or a ham hock can flavor an entire pot of soup or stew. Split pea soup and Southern-style collard greens are both great examples of how a little bit of meat goes a long way. Or even no meat and just the fat, as in a pot of clam chowder flavored with salt pork or chicken soup that starts with schmaltz. Rendered fat from bacon, chicken and beef is one of the tastiest cooking mediums around—and if it comes from pastured animals, it’s loaded with nutrients like omega-3s.

10. Bone broth it. You’ve heard of this trend by now, of course. A nourishing broth made from bones, it is a perfect example of whole animal eating and limiting food waste, too. You can request bones from your butcher or reserve bones in the freezer from T-bone steaks or a whole roast chicken to make your own bone broth. It’s also great that more companies are offering good-quality chicken and beef bone broths and making good use of all those bones.

Read the full post and get more of Lynne's handy tips, including recipes, for eating less (and better) meat that supports Oregon's small family farmers. Find a farmer near you with this handy Oregon Pasture Network Product Guide.

Photos by Lynne Curry.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

On-Farm Seed Production, Part Four: 'Peace, No War' Corn


When I would go to the farmers' market or the grocery store, I browsed the vegetables on offer to find the one that I deemed worthy to take home to my table. I never wondered how it got there—I assumed the farmer planted seeds from a previous crop (or a seed packet) and the vegetable would grow reliably as it had in previous seasons. It never occurred to me that what I was looking at was the result of deliberate choices on the part of the farmer (or seed breeder) over many years. The following is the final part of an article that contributor Anthony Boutard wrote for Acres USA magazine outlining that patient process. (Read the other posts in the series.)

We fielded many inquiries about blue corn so we decided to try it. Despite the expressed interest, it sold poorly. Blue cornmeal looks like concrete mix, which is off-putting to most people, ending our blue corn moment. Among the blue ears, however, we found a single purple ear. It intrigued us so we decided to plant some of its kernels. Fourteen years later, black flour corn is our art project that arose from that chance purple ear.

Package label designed and produced by Anthony Boutard.

The design brief materialized as we noticed the wide range of purples that resulted from the initial planting. Using millo corvo (crow millet), the black corn of northern Spain, as our inspiration, we decided to draw out ears with such intensely purple kernels that they appeared black. At its simplest, the purple coloration seen from the outside of the kernel results from a red pericarp and blue pigments in the aleurone layer of the endosperm. Ears with a combination of red and purple kernels were removed from the breeding population because the red kernels lacked the blue pigments.

In addition to red pigments, a wide range of purples will show up in the pericarp. These colors are regulated by a complex of genes that also lead to different pigments in the stalk, silk, cobs and leaves. These pigments are water soluble, staining the hands during harvest, and can be used as dyes. Many different shades appear and, in the extreme, some plants produce so much pigment that photosynthesis is severely reduced. The plants are beautiful, though stunted, and fail to produce any kernels.

Early ripening is an essential element of the brief. Flour type corn ripens later than the flints—some of the initial purple ears didn’t ripen until mid-November. Our goal was to have the ears ripen by early October.

Evaluating the ears.

The challenge with the flour corns is that the meal is not richly flavored compared to the flint and popcorn types, thus not great as polenta or grits. The high level of anthocyanins associated with the purple coloration also confers a slight bitterness to the meal. There is not much point in a beautiful cornmeal if it doesn’t sell. Fortunately, sweetened recipes bring out the best in the purple meal. Think of bittersweet chocolate. Cornmeal cookies and cornmeal poundcake are delicious and attractive on the plate. The water-soluble anthocyanins are also pH indicators. In Oaxaca, tamales made from purple corn are a traditional part of the “Day of the Dead” celebration, and in Ecuador the corn is used to prepare a drink for the same celebration.

As a flour corn, it is suitable for masa. However, the costs of growing flour corn in our climate, combined with hand harvesting, makes our pricing unattractive to local tortilla makers. This flour corn will remain a small fraction of our corn production and sales, which is fine. It pays for itself and is fun to grow.

When we started this project 12 years ago, the French descriptor pièce noir (black object) came to mind, but over time the homonym ‘Peace, No War’ took root. Why not have a punctuation mark in a variety name? Moreover, the initials are also those of the Pacific Northwest, the region where we farm.

Conclusion

We still use our old Citroën 2CV around the farm. The design brief developed in the 1930s remains useful. That said, we must carefully maintain it or it will fall apart. Crop varieties are no different. They are subject to genetic entropy, the inexorable natural process that moves a crop from a highly ordered state to a less ordered state unless energy is devoted to keeping the genetics well ordered. In the cases of melon and chicory varieties described in previous installments, we had to restore a variety that had started to fall apart, adding a few flourishes of our own. With the corn (above) and tomatoes, we continue to trick them out, adding pigment through selection and pushing them to go a bit faster.

The process of shepherding a variety tailored to your preferences, the region and ground where you grow, and your customers, is a satisfying creative effort. As the design brief develops and evolves, you gain an intimacy with the crop that can never be captured by simply reading a catalogue entry. That said, the gardener or farmer also gains a deeper respect and appreciation for the effort that goes into producing that good variety they purchase from the seed catalogue.

Note: Each crop has its own protocol for seed production and I have refrained from getting into the specifics. The following books are excellent references on seed production:

Ashworth, Susan. 2002. Seed to Seed: Seed saving and growing techniques for vegetable gardeners. Decorah, Iowa: Seed Savers Exchange

Deppe, Carol. 1993. Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardeners and Farmers Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Read the other posts in the series. All photos by Anthony Boutard.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Lost Valley Farm Declares Bankruptcy, Halting Sale


There's just no end to the drama at Lost Valley Farm in Boardman, Oregon's second-largest factory farm dairy.

Today the farm's cows—estimates range from just over 11,000 to as many as 19,000—were scheduled to be auctioned to pay off the $60 million in loans owner Greg te Velde owed to Rabobank, a Dutch agricultural lender. In mid-April a Morrow County judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing te Velde from interfering with the auction, according to an article by the Associated Press, though the injunction left open a loophole that could be used to forestall the liquidation of the herd.

Advertisement for auction.

So late Thursday night, just hours before Friday's auction was to begin, te Velde crawled though that loophole by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that stops all foreclosure actions by the farm's creditors. An article in the Capital Press reports that the filing also encompasses te Velde's California dairy operations, Pacific Rim Dairy in Corcoran and GJ te Velde Dairy in Tipton.

"Together, the dairies have more than 40,000 cattle that are listed as potential 'hazard property' that poses a safety threat or requires immediate attention" wrote Capital Press reporter Mateusz Perkowski. "Te Velde’s companies owe between $100 million and $500 million to [nearly] 1,000 creditors and have between $100 million and $500 million in assets, according to the bankruptcy petition."

Cow standing in manure from overflowing lagoon.

One of the creditors te Velde is leaving in the lurch is Morrow County, which county Deputy Assessor Patricia Hughes said is owed more than $360,000 in back taxes.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), in a direct message on Twitter, said that it "will continue to monitor Lost Valley Farm weekly by conducting inspections of the facility. ODA will also continue to assess compliance of the stipulated judgement and all of the CAFO Permit conditions. "

I also reached out to Tillamook, which is a major purchaser of the milk produced by Lost Valley. It had not responded by the time of posting, so stay tuned for updates as more information comes in.

* * *

UPDATE: The Salem Statesman-Journal reports that Wym Mathews, in charge of compliance for factory farms at the ODA, told the paper that Lost Valley had been issued two notices of noncompliance for violations of the dairy’s wastewater permit, including manure spills, despite a stipulated agreement settling a lawsuit the state had brought against the dairy for previous violations.

"Te Velde’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, filed April 26 in California, provides an automatic stay of time during which judgments, collection activities, foreclosures and repossessions are suspended and may not be pursued," the article states. "Oregon officials could not say whether it also prevents enforcement of the stipulated judgement. Under the judgment, Oregon has the right to revoke the dairy’s wastewater permit if te Velde does not comply with its terms."

In a subsequent interview, reported in the same article, Matthews appeared to change his story, saying only one notice had been issued, and that "there have been no other enforcement actions taken against the dairy since the settlement."

"'It was a big mistake to give this facility a permit, and ODA should have closed it down months ago after it became clear how badly it was being managed,'" said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, who was interviewed for the article.

 "'There were so many warning signs that ODA and other decision makers either overlooked or ignored,' Maluski said. 'Where is the accountability? What steps are being taken by ODA and the Governor to make sure this kind of thing won't happen again?'"

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

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

Top photo from Google Maps. Photo of cows standing in manure obtained via a public records request by Friends of Family Farmers.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Eats Shoots and Leaves


A panda walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why? Why are you behaving in this strange, un-panda-like fashion?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda walks towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

An old joke, but one that has relevance to this spring season, and not because we'll find pandas behaving badly. It's due to the plethora of spring shoots like raab and rapini, yes, but also other sweet tendrils like those of fava beans and peas.

Go to the farmers' market and just behind the explosions of fresh flower arrangements you'll often see a rickety old card table mounded with green bundles of bok choy, pea shoots and other lesser-known but delicious spring greens like culantro, sawtooth herb and unusual mint varieties. You'll also find that the prices are often less than at larger stands and the quality is always superb.

On my last trip to the market I brought back a huge bunch of pea shoots, with their fine, twisty tendrils and blossoms just beginning to color, so a spring pesto was called for. Plus there was enough left over to chop and sauté the remaining half bunch and toss it with some mushrooms and spectacular purple asparagus.

Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto, Asparagus and Mushrooms

For the pesto:
1 lb. pasta (I like fettucine or linguine for this recipe)
1 large bunch pea shoots
Olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 c. parmesan, grated
Salt to taste

For the pasta:
3 anchovy filets (optional)
1/2 lb. asparagus spears, sliced in 1" lengths
1/4 lb. mushrooms
1/4 tsp. dried hot red peppers, like cayenne, seeded and ground

Put a large pot of water on to boil. While it heats, make the pesto.

Slice the bunch of pea shoots into 2” lengths, reserving a few tendrils for garnishing the final dish. Take the pieces from the bottom half (the thicker stems) and place them in a blender with the garlic and pine nuts. Drizzle in some olive oil, turn on the blender and continue drizzling just until it makes a smooth purée. Pour into small mixing bowl and stir in cheese and salt to taste.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot and cook till al dente. While the pasta cooks, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the anchovies, if using, and mash them with the back of a spoon until they dissolve (1 min. or so). Add the cayenne, mushrooms and asparagus and sauté until the vegetables are tender but still crunchy. Add the remaining chopped pea shoots and sauté till wilted.

Drain the pasta, add the pesto and toss until thoroughly combined. Top with pea shoot mixture and garnish with reserved tendrils. Additional grated parmesan can be served alongside.

Get the excellent and grammatically witty tome containing the panda joke, Eats Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by British writer Lynne Truss.