Saturday, October 12, 2019

In Season: Fall Has Fell? More Like Exploded!


Like many farmers I've talked with in the last couple of weeks, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce seemed shell-shocked at how quickly summer has left the scene. "It fell off the cliff real fast," he said, recalling how our usual leisurely stroll from summer into fall seemed more like a bad writer's solution to tying up the loose ends of a messy script.

A high mountain pass, a hairpin curve, screeching brakes and a looping, slow-motion tumble into the canyon. (Like one person's summary of the voluminous Anna Karenina: "Anna. Train. Squish.")

Espelette peppers for a spicy hot sauce.

It's certainly not all doom and gloom, though. Alsberg emphasized that farmers' market shoppers will find that some peppers are still available, as are some local table grapes that weren't mush-ified by the cold rains, but you'd best catch them now or say sayonara until next year.

Josh's favorite apple, the Rubinette, of course!

What you will discover at farmers' markets are a panoply of apples and pears from local orchards, along with fresh ciders by the gallon. And, on October 19th at Providore Fine Foods, Alsberg is hosting a tasting of more than two dozen varieties of heritage, heirloom and hard-to-find apples—specially priced for the event—as well as local ciders and a variety of apple-y treats from Tim Healea at Little T American Baker. Another reason to go? Five percent of the day's sales will go to benefit the Sauvie Island Center, which provides local children with unique experiences that helps them make the connection between the food they eat, farming and the land.

Black futsu.

Look for squash to come on strong—Alsberg hates the term "winter squash," preferring instead the term "hard squash" to differentiate it from the softer-textured summer squash like zucchini, costata romanesco, crookneck and pattypan. He rattles off delicata, acorn and butternut as the more common exemplars of the hard squashes, but gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about his fondness for more unusual (and usually better-flavored) varieties like Black Futsu, Tetsukabuto, Gill's Golden Pippin and Robin's Koginut, an organic variety developed by rock star vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek of Cornell University.

If you're looking for the best flavor, it's always better to know your local grower, Alsberg believes. "When it's industrially grown the flavor goes out the window," he said. Big growers are looking for yield and an ability to sustain less-than-ideal shipping conditions; flavor is way down the list of their priorities, he says.

Castelfranco chicory.

Chicories are also going to be abundant, and you'll find local farms offering not just radicchio, escarole and frisée on farmers' market tables, but pale green-speckled-with-red heads of Castelfranco, the long green romaine-like Sugarloaf (known as Pan di Zucchero in Italy) and the pink-to-deep-rose Rosalba. Tardivo is another variety that's gaining popularity, with its long, thin, arching leaves and thick white ribs. (Alsberg claims to have created the hashtag #ChicoryIsTheNewKale, and who am I to argue?)

A good year for mushrooms!

Local mushrooms are going strong, plentiful enough that you can look for good pricing on chanterelles in the coming weeks. Persimmons are also looking plentiful, and you might begin to find pawpaws from a couple local farms. Pawpaws, also called the Indiana banana, are the largest edible fruit native to North America with a flavor that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana, and breeders have been adapting them to the Northwest's maritime climate.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

When I exclaimed at the bunches of purple sprouting broccoli that I saw on his shelves, Alsberg launched into the glories of brassicas, saying that they're just beginning their season and should be abundant for the next few weeks. The bottom line is, don't mourn the passing of summer, because there's plenty to be excited about in the chilly days to come.

Providore Fine Foods, which includes purveyors Rubinette Produce, Pastaworks, Flying Fish, The Meat Monger, Little T American Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers, is an advertiser on Good Stuff NW.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Getting 'Shroomed: On the Mountain with Oregon's First Family of Foraging


"That's why we call it mushroom hunting, not mushroom picking."
- Jack Czarnecki on the rigors of foraging for mushrooms

The Czarnecki family is well on its way to becoming a mushroom foraging dynasty, with fungi running in their veins the way filaments of mycelia run under the forest floor. In 2012 I was privileged to meet Jack Czarnecki when I interviewed him for a story about Oregon truffles, then just beginning to be recognized as equals to their legendary cousins in France and Italy. Jack, the third generation of this restaurant family, migrated from his native Pennsylvania to Oregon so he could hunt mushrooms year round. Sensing my curiosity about his craft, he subsequently invited me to join him and his compatriots to climb in the legendary Trufflemobile on a hunt for their wiley prey.

Jack at Joe's Donut Shop on a previous hunt.

Jack, retired from restaurateuring as well as active mushroom hunting, has passed on the family's traditions to his sons Chris and Stefan. Chris, a chef, took over ownership of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, assiduously maintaining its mushroom-centric focus while adding a more contemporary twist to its preparations. Stefan (top photo), who owns wine touring company Black Tie Tours, had announced he was taking a day away from that business to head up to Mt. Hood to hunt mushrooms for the restaurant, and I inquired if he might be able to squeeze in one additional passenger.

Dick Nelson, mushroom maven.

As with his father before him, we arranged to meet at Joe's Donuts in Sandy, a requisite stop for foragers to pay obeisance to the mountain gods for a successful hunt and a dandy place to get sustenance for what was sure to be a long day of clambering through brush and up and down hillsides. As we set out for the mountain, the shotgun position in the front seat next to Stefan was taken by his dad's longtime mushroom-hunting buddy Dick Nelson, as familiar with the spiderweb of rutted tracks leading to the best spots as was Jack. Much discussion ensued as to which spots might yield the best results, and a general plan was formulated.

White chanterelle emerging.

Our primary goal was to hunt matsutake mushrooms, prized for their distinctive spicy scent as well as their flavorful culinary properties. The "matsies" were just beginning to appear, pushing their way up out of the duff of the forest floor, often no more than a bump in the undergrowth or, at best, a glimpse of white through the needles. Second were porcinis, also considered a seasonal delicacy. Last but not least on the list were white chanterelles, cousins of the more ubiquitous gold-colored variety, and much more abundant than either the matsutakes or porcinis.

An early dusting of snow.

A dusting of snow covered the trees as we headed down the highway past Government Camp, turning off the main road to one of the secret spots euphemistically named for a distinctive feature like The Rocks or The Dock. A few favorite spots yielded a smattering of the targeted fungi, but it was our last stop, an anonymous wooded slope that I'd visited with Jack on a previous trip, that ended up yielding a small bonanza of matsutakes and a plethora of whites.

Dick finds the prized "matsi" of the day.

Fortunately I was with Dick, who would point with his walking stick—actually a mop handle he'd borrowed from his utility closet at home—at a slight mounded lump on the ground, suggesting I should brush aside some needles in case it might disguise a matsutake just popping up. Which it invariably would. These mushrooms need to be dug in their entirety rather than cut off at the base like the chanterelles, to reveal dusty, dry earth clinging to the base that, along with their distinctive aroma, is a telltale sign.

All told we gathered more than thirty pounds of mushrooms in five hours, most of which would be going to the Chris at the restaurant, but I was generously allowed to bring a few pounds home to roast and freeze for future dishes where I could relive the smell of the woods on our hunt, the bracing nip in the mountain air, and Dick's charming Mona Lisa smile.

Read more about this iconic Oregon family, including links to my articles on Oregon truffles and mushrooms. Top photo courtesy Stefan Czarnecki.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Fermentation Fascination: DIY Hot Sauce


I had this whole plan, see? I'd been searching without success for the thick-skinned, thick-walled, fleshy espelette peppers like the ones I found four years ago from Viridian Farms—which is unfortunately no longer in existence—and used to such great effect to make some kick-ass, fruity, smoky harissa. In the intervening years I'd tried espelette peppers from various area farms, but the fruit, while it had the requisite thick skin, was uniformly thin-fleshed. When roasted, the flesh stuck to the skins like glue, making peeling arduous and not worth it in terms of resulting volume.

This year I was determined to try again to find those perfect peppers and purchased peppers from two more farms. Again, sad trombones.

Harissa.

With the first couple of pounds I managed to make a very small batch of harissa, but the next two pounds were just not going to be worth the work. Not wanting to waste their fruity, biting heat, I was casting about for good uses. Most suggestions were to dry and grind them to a powder, but then I ran across farmer and author Josh Volk's Instagram photo of chopped peppers that he'd fermented in a 3.5 percent salt mixture.

Bubbling away.

Aha!

A little back-and-forth with Josh led me to chop the two pounds of peppers in the food processor, add the salt, pack them in a Mason jar, set the jar in a dish in the basement, then put a zip-lock bag of water inside the jar like a pickling weight, which allows it to breathe (and overflow if necessary). Putting a lid on isn't necessary, but if you do, make sure it isn't screwed on tight—it needs to breathe!

After four days I saw bubbles and a little puddle underneath the jar, which indicated that fermentation was, indeed, occurring, so I left it for a few more days. Recipes say you can allow it to ferment for as long as a month, but being the impatient person I am, I gave it a week before bringing it upstairs to whiz in the blender, adding water to thin it to a sauce-like consistency.

Sour (i.e. pickled) corn.

The result? Well, we used it as a hot sauce on pork tacos along with some of Hank Shaw's sour corn that I'd made earlier and we thought it was great. But the real test came when I gave some to my neighbor Ivy Manning,  a hot sauce aficionado as well as author of countless authoritative cookbooks, for her expert opinion. Her reaction? "Can you just pour some out on the counter so I can roll in it?"

'Nuff said.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Public Interest Group Calls for Boycott of Tillamook Products


The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a public interest and environmental advocacy organization, called on Wednesday (9/25) for a consumer boycott of Tillamook dairy products "until the dairy giant commits to sourcing the milk in its products from farms which use the sustainable, humane practices that the company's advertising suggests."

Cows in a typical industrial dairy.

This follows on the heels of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of four Oregon consumers alleging that Tillamook's advertising misleads the public into believing its milk comes from cows munching on coastal pastures, when in truth the vast majority of the milk used in its famous cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter comes from cows fed on grain and living on concrete and dirt feedlots in industrial conditions in Eastern Oregon.

Referring to Tillamook's advertising as "greenwashing," the CFS press release quotes senior attorney Amy van Saun as saying that "Big Food companies like Tillamook are exploiting consumer preference for small, local, and sustainable [food] by pretending that their practices support health, the environment, and a local living economy, when the reality is that the milk they're buying is dirty. Community food system advocates have fought too hard to protect the livelihoods of small family farmers, animals and our planet to see companies greenwashing their unsustainable products, especially a brand so beloved by Oregonians."

One of the ads in Tillamook's campaign.

The lawsuit accuses Tillamook, which projects $1 billion in sales in 2020, of violating multiple Oregon consumer protection laws. These laws state that, essentially, "consumers are not required to spend hours doing online research in order to correct deception that is being put forth by a marketer’s pervasive marketing campaign, ” according to an article quoting Kelsey Eberly, a lawyer with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDS), which filed the class action lawsuit.

CFS has mounted an online petition titled "Be the Truth Tillamook: Say Goodbye to Mega-Dairies!" urging loyal consumers to tell Tillamook that "we have long believed your advertising about the source of your milk: family farms in Tillamook county, raising cows humanely on pasture, letting them roam free on rolling green hills."

Tillamook has always touted its small family farmers.

The petition goes on to say "Tillamook claims to be the answer to Big Food and 'Dairy Done Right,' but in reality, the majority of the milk that goes into Tillamook dairy products, including the signature cheddar cheeses, comes from the nation’s largest industrial confinement mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon—quintessential 'Big Food.'" CFS is launching a concurrent social media campaign using the hashtags #BeTheTruthTillamook and #DumpDirtyDairy.

As of the time of this posting, the Tillamook County Creamery Association, the co-op behind the Tillamook brand, has not issued a comment on the boycott, nor has Threemile Canyon Farms, the mega-dairy that provides the bulk of its milk. Easterday Farms, a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy—it bought the failed Lost Valley Farm in Boardman—has applied for a permit to supply milk but is not yet in operation.

* * *

For more information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article, Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities as well as my post on Tillamook's connection to these factory farms, Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese. Read my full reporting on Threemile Canyon, Lost Valley and Easterday mega-dairies.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Quillisascut Farm: Hands-On Approach Teaches How a Local Food System Works


"It was mind-opening to hear others' opinions, perspectives and how passionate they were about them. I was inspired to see how beautiful everyone's cooking was and how sustainably it was done. To see that it CAN be done with effort and knowledge." - Culinary student attending Quillisascut Farm School

* * *

In the far northeastern corner of Washington State, among the high desert pines populating the northern reaches of the Columbia River, Lora Lea and Rick Misterly have created a hands-on learning center where students spend a week immersed in a living example of what a local food system looks like. No lemons spark the salads; instead, the kitchen uses verjus made from the pressed juice of unripened grapes—the vines left from an abandoned attempt to make wine in the farm's early days. No branded items are allowed at the table, save for wine bottles (thank heavens).

The farm table.

I was invited to Quillisascut Farm to experience the program that now exposes dozens of students a year to small intensive workshops like Farm Culinary 101 (the workshop I attended), Edible Education, and Chefs of Color, among others. Each workshop has a particular focus, and most are aimed at professional chefs and culinary students, though serious cooks and those interested in building strong local food systems will find them perfectly approachable.

Lora Lea Misterly.

Lora Lea and Rick originally bought 26 hillside acres in the early 80s, intending to build a self-sufficient homestead where they could raise animals and have a garden to feed them throughout the year. She had grown up on a dairy farm in the area, so they started with both cows and goats, but Lora Lea was increasingly drawn to goats because of their intelligent and inquisitive natures. She also began making cheese from their milk.

The school building.

They built a home with a cheese room and cellar for Lora Lea, and eventually added another 10 acres to the property. The couple marketed their cheeses to chefs in Seattle, Rick making the exhausting twelve-hour round trip deliveries. Several of their customers became interested in visiting the farm after hearing of their integrated approach to farming and making food from what they grew themselves. These customer visits and the inclusive approach the Misterlys took led them to start offering classes to culinary professionals, students and food writers. The visits prompted Rick to build a large straw-bale building that houses a professional kitchen, a large dining room, a living room for nightly gatherings and dorm rooms upstairs. (He also included a large double-wide barn entrance that farm equipment could access in case the school idea didn't work out.)

Rick demonstrating the farm's compost system.

Conservation and use of resources is a key tenet of the curriculum at the school, and the very first workshop on the week's schedule was a demonstration of making the compost that enriches the soil that feeds the plants, animals and people who live there. It's a holistic approach that underlies everything at the farm, which depends on a well system for water—the bathroom mantra "if it's yellow, let it mellow" is drilled into students' heads—as well as the need to make use of every part of the plants and animals harvested.

Slaughtering and cleaning chickens.

A typical day at Quillisascut begins in the pre-dawn dark after a (very) quick cup of coffee made by the saintly staff who volunteer their time at these workshops—and fyi, that 5:45 start time was tough for this freelance writer. The morning session usually begins at the barn up the hill with anything from butchering a neighbor's heritage Karakul ram killed earlier that morning, to slaughtering and eviscerating several of the farm's chickens, to helping Lora Lea milk her goats.

Cracking walnuts for walnut oil.

After the early morning session, a large breakfast of farm-grown fruit and eggs, with breads made from grains milled onsite, is served buffet-style off the butcher block counter in the kitchen along with (thank the goddess once again) lots more (locally roasted) coffee. Each day has a "Word of the Day" theme—the first word was "Respect"—which students are encouraged to consider as they move through their assignments. The schedule moves swiftly from breakfast to classes on cheesemaking with Lora Lea, or a foraging walk with Chef Kären Jurgenson, or feeding and watering the pigs, chickens and goats. At least one morning is dedicated to harvesting whatever is in season in the garden (top photo), which will be pickled, cooked, baked or otherwise utilized in meals that week.

Making bread with Chef Don Reed.

After a hearty farm lunch prepared by students, who are divided into four or five-person "teams" for the week, classes continue apace with field trips to other area farms—John and Michelle Progar of Meadowlark Farm's innovative organic cropping system was fascinating—a presentation on bees and pollinators with beekeeper Steve Schott or bread baking with Chef Don Reed. After dinner is discussion and reflection on the day's activities led by Lora Lea, followed by well-earned sleep.

* * *

[Quillisascut] really created some sort of special bond.  Maybe it was the community that type of work creates, but on the last day, our final word was "grateful." It was a wonderful experience and one of those places your soul likes to stay for a while even after you have left." - Professional chef attending Quillisascut Farm School

* * *

Student making goat cheese.

The farm school at Quillisascut has drawn participants from around the country, indeed from around the globe, but is primarily attended by students from Seattle-area culinary programs who compete for scholarships to the workshops. The school has become successful enough that it provides the bulk of the farm's income, and Lora Lea has cut back her milking goats to seven from a high of around 40, and they have found a distributor for the cheeses so that Rick no longer needs to make the long deliveries to Seattle.

Now in their mid-60s, the Misterlys believe that their primary mission is to spread the message about the hard work and care it takes to produce good food, with the intention that not just the education, but the interactions with the people and animals, as well as the quality and flavor of the sustainably grown food that students harvest, make and eat, will become an integral part of their lives as they move forward in their careers.

See more photos from my trip to Quillisascut Farm on my Instagram feed.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Miso Happy: Creamy Miso Vinaigrette


Oil and vinegar. Oil and lemon. Oil and balsamic. Mustard vinaigrette on lively greens tossed for the briefest amount of time possible and showered with crunchy salt.

These dressings make a regular appearance at our table, but every now and then I crave the kind of tangy, smooth and creamy dressings I grew up with. My mother's recipe was based on my grandmother's go-to standard, which started with mayonnaise and a squirt of ketchup—an ingredient almost as ubiquitous as cream of mushroom soup in my mom's repertoire—plus a sprinkle of thyme and basil with a pinch of garlic powder, thinned with a splash of milk.

So when I've got some sturdy heads of romaine, escarole or chicories that can stand up to heftier dressings, my thoughts turn to Caesar dressings loaded with anchovy or, lately, miso mixed with mayonnaise (hey Mom!), studded with garlic and a dollop of mustard.

A small Portland-based miso company, Jorinji, makes authentic red and white unpasteurized miso from non-GMO soybeans fermented from six months to three years. Jorinji products are widely available at area supermarkets and last basically forever in the fridge. A little goes a long way, so get some and add a subtle hint of fabulous umami to your marinades, stir-fries, soups and braises.

This vinaigrette can also double as a dip for vegetables and fried foods, or as a drizzle over meats, fish and roasted veggies, and it's a splashy twist on a traditional coleslaw dressing.

Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as some chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

Combine ingredients and stir until smooth.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Farm Bulletin: What's In a Name?


In this Bulletin, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm contemplates the naming schemes of fruits and vegetables, for the most part adhering to geographical references at his farm. And speaking of table grapes, as he so eloquently does below, a selection of the farm's finest will be available along with Astiana tomatoes, tomatillos, Striped German slicers, plums, dry goods and other notions at the farm on Saturday, Sept. 7th, Sunday, Sept. 15th, and Saturday, Sept. 21st between 1 and 5 pm. To order 18-pound lugs of Astiana tomatoes, e-mail Anthony directly.

Traditionally, fruits and vegetables were named either descriptively, with a geographic epithet, or after the plant breeder. We have hewed to the geographic tradition with the "Arch Cape" chicory and the "Astiana" tomato. We are working on a new chicory selection and the project is named "Bald Peak." Sometimes the reference is a bit oblique. The "Peace, No War" corn shares its initials with the region to which it is adapted, the Pacific Northwest. Our "Ava Bruma" melon is descriptive, employing the Latin for “behold the solstice.” Alas, modern breeders are suckers for cute, insubstantial names, or worse.

Jupiter grape.

The "Jupiter" table grape is an example. Naming such a voluptuous fruit, linguistically and biologically a feminine organ, after the male Roman god of war is incredibly stupid and tacky. So callow, makes one seethe.  That said, the Rogers and Hart musical "By Jupiter" (top photo) was adapted from the book "The Warrior Husband." The comic premise is the Amazon women go out to battle under their queen Hippolyta. The story takes the perspective of husband who stays at home. The main character, Sapiens ("wise" in Latin), was played by Ray Bolger. Three songs from the musical made their way into the American songbook, including "Wait Till You See Her," "Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me" and "Ev’rything I’ve Got."

The last was one of Blossom Dearie’s standards, well-suited to her impish delivery and fine piano playing. Here is the original version with Bolger and Benay Venuta.

There is also a beguiling version with Betty Garrett and Milton Berle. Makes us want to rename the grape "Sapiens," a more apt name for a noble and contemplative fruit such as the grape. But, then again, if named Sapiens we would not have thought about a now-obscure Rogers and Hart musical from 1942, the last and longest-running result of their work together.

Summer Quencher: Classic Gin & Tonic


Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.

To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.

Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.

The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.

Classic Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

* * *

Elderflower Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.)
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Buying Whole Fish (Plus a Hack for No-Hassle Freezing)


If you've been seeing ads from your grocery store or fishmonger offering whole fish for a fraction of the regular retail price but you're not sure how you'd use it, I've put together this handy guide.

There is nothing better, or better for you, than fresh, wild, local fish. Fish are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, high in protein and low in saturated fat, and the American Heart Association advises eating fish twice a week. Trouble is, the usual price per pound for fresh fillets in the butcher case puts it out of reach for most budgets. Plus many commercially available ocean species can be high in mercury, and farm-raised fish are usually fed high doses of antibiotics—think of them as factory farms for finned creatures—due to the crowded pens they're raised in. And don't get me started on the effects of these farms on our waterways.

Albacore swims just off our coastline.

But those of us on the West Coast are fortunate to have access to some of the most delicious wild fish on the planet in our populations of native wild albacore and salmon. This year the fleet of primarily family-owned boats have been pulling in a supply of albacore from the fishery that stretches from Northern California up into British Columbia. Certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, these albacore are young—just three to five years old, low in mercury and weighing in at 12 to 25 pounds—and individually caught with a hook-and-line system. (Want more info? Read my post, Albacore A to Z, for details.)

Coho spawning in Tillamook State Forest.

Wild salmon, particularly from Alaskan waters, are in plentiful supply right now, too, with stores advertising tempting steaks, fillets and roasts. But if you want to get a real deal, look for special sales events featuring whole fish.

"Whole fish?" you say. "I don't even know where to start with a whole fish!"

Well, let's talk about where you buy it. Make sure the fishmonger is a reputable source—recent studies have found that almost 20% of fish sold to consumers are mislabeled, and fish ordered at restaurants are more likely to be incorrectly labeled than fish bought at markets or grocery stores. I recently bought two whole albacore and two whole Coho salmon at New Seasons Market, a regional chain that buys its whole fish from local boats and has several one or two-day sales events per season.

Whole albacore loins ready to freeze.

When you buy whole fish, you'll need to specify how you want it packaged. The fish are already cleaned, and most stores will butcher your fish at no charge, whether you want steaks or roasts or whole fillets. I always ask for the trimmings to be included, since the head, fins and bones make amazing stock for soups, chowders, risottos and paella, among many other uses. (Here's my technique for using those trimmings.)

Making stock is simple: put fish in pot, add water.

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

Coho fillet ready to freeze.

If you're not going to throw the fish on the grill right away—never a bad idea, but just one good-sized fillet will feed four to six—you'll also need to think about how you want to store it. With a vacuum sealer it's a done deal, since properly packaged fish will keep for as long as a year. The idea is to keep air away from the meat to prevent freezer burn, so if you don't have a vacuum sealer, what do you do?

I quizzed the fellow at the fish counter when I bought my salmon, and he said that his dad, an avid fisherman, would put a single fillet in a zip-lock bag and submerge it in a sink full of water, holding the closure just above the water line. The water pressure pushes the air out, making an airtight seal around the fish. Not having a sealing machine myself, a little smoothing of the wrinkles in the bag while it was underwater did almost as good a job as the machine. (I found that a two-gallon zip-lock bag will hold a good-sized fillet quite nicely.)

Note: Pull those pinbones!

A note: it's good to go over your fish to check for pinbones or other bones that the butchers may have missed. First, it makes it easier to just throw it on the grill without worrying about biting down on one while you're eating and, second, it keeps those pokey bones from puncturing the bag and letting air in. Just hold the fillet and feel for any bones by running your fingers down the flesh, then use a pair of (clean) needle nose pliers to pull out the bones.

All this is to say that you can have more fresh, local, sustainable fish in your diet without paying dearly for the privilege. As the old commercial used to say, "Try it, you'll like it!"

For fabulous salmon recipes, click here.

For to-die-for albacore recipes, click here.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Tillamook's Milk Comes from Cows on Concrete, Not Pasture, Lawsuit Claims


A group of consumers has filed suit against the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) claiming its advertising misleads the public into believing its milk comes from cows munching on coastal pastures, when in truth most of the milk used in its famous cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter comes from cows fed on grain, living on concrete and dirt feedlots in factory farms in Eastern Oregon.

Photo used in Tillamook's promotional materials.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a legal advocacy organization for animals that filed the suit on behalf of the Oregon consumers, the TCCA's "heavily advertised 'co-op' of small family farms in Tillamook County represent just a tiny proportion of the company’s production. In reality, Tillamook sources up to 80 percent of its milk from the largest dairy feedlot in the United States. Located in the desert of eastern Oregon, the facility that provides the majority of Tillamook’s milk keeps 32,000 dairy cows (and more than 70,000 cows total) in inhumane, industrialized conditions. Tillamook sells dairy products nationwide under the 'Tillamook' brand name, and is poised to do over $1 billion in sales in 2020."

Part of Tillamook's Dairy Done Right campaign.

The TCCA's advertising encourages shoppers to "Say Goodbye to Big Food," depicting cows grazing on pristine coastal grass under sunny blue skies, when in reality, the lawsuit claims, its industrial practices are the epitome of "Big Food." The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, says that "consumers increasingly seek out and are willing to pay more for products that they perceive as being locally and ethically sourced—better for the environment [and] more humane. Tillamook has projected such ethical sourcing as its company ethos, deliberately crafting its marketing messages to attract these consumers, who believe they are getting such responsibly sourced products when they buy Tillamook cheese and ice cream. As the company says, 'Tillamook cheddar cheese is made with four ingredients, patience, and old-fashioned farmer values in Tillamook, Oregon."

Threemile Canyon Farms is so large it can be seen from space.

The industrial factory farm where Tillamook sources its milk, Threemile Canyon Farms, covers 93,000 acres in Boardman, Oregon, and is "so large it's visible from space" according to the lawsuit. Unlike the rich coastal pastures shown in the advertising, Boardman is a hot, dry climate classified as steppe or semi-arid, the lawsuit reads, describing the area as “flat, arid and often swelteringly hot—nothing like Tillamook County." (Read more about the problems caused by mega-dairies in my story, Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities.)

A cow stands in its own manure at shuttered Lost Valley Farm.

Until recently Tillamook also bought milk from Lost Valley Farm, another Boardman-area mega-dairy permitted for up to 30,000 cows that racked up more than 200 environmental violations in its first year-and-a-half of operation and has since been shut down and sold. (Read my coverage here.) "Industrial mega-dairies are also major polluters, generating huge quantities of waste that is disposed of⁠—virtually untreated⁠—on land where it can contaminate rivers, streams, and groundwater and harm wildlife.

Manure runs into open lagoons at Threemile Canyon Farms.

"The noxious air emissions these facilities produce can threaten public health, contribute to climate change, and decrease visibility in special places like the Columbia Gorge," according to a statement from a coalition of seven consumer, environmental and small farm advocates that has been working to establish more stringent regulations of these industrial facilities. [Oregon has extremely lax regulatory oversight of these factory farms.] Tillamook’s increasing reliance on industrial mega-dairies to ramp up production further contributes to overproduction, which lowers prices for family farmers and contributes to Oregon’s devastating decline in family dairies."

Exhibits at Tillamook depict cows on pasture.

Tillamook's response, typical of corporations under fire, attacks the credibility of the plaintiffs rather than addressing the issues raised, claiming the ALDF "is anti-dairy and actively advocates for people to cut all dairy products from their diets." It further stated that "Tillamook takes great pride in being a farmer-owned and farmer-led co-op, and we only work with business partners that share our values and live up to our extremely high standards."

The lawsuit, on the other hand, states that Tillamook intentionally contributes to confusion "as to the source of its dairy products by extensive advertising that the products are sourced from humane, pasture-based farms producing 'real food.' Consumers who believe they are buying products from small, high-welfare, pasture-based dairies in Tillamook County are instead unwittingly purchasing cheese, butter, ice cream, and yogurt made from milk from the largest industrial dairy in the country—that confines tens of thousands of cows on concrete in the desert of Eastern Oregon." It seeks "to hold Tillamook accountable for its uniform and pervasive claims falsely representing the company's products as coming exclusively from small-scale, pasture-based farms in Tillamook County that provide individualized care for cows, when this could not be further from the truth."

* * *

For more information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article, Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities as well as my post on Tillamook's connection to these factory farms, Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese. Read my full reporting on Threemile Canyon and Lost Valley mega-dairies.

Top photo of cows in an industrial CAFO courtesy Center for Food Safety.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

New Farmers' Market Builds a Community Around Local Food


The Portland metro area has a wealth of farmers' markets stretching from suburban communities like Beaverton and Hillsboro to Gresham and Oregon City, with dozens scattered throughout the city itself. On almost every day of the week during harvest season there's a farmers' market brimming with local produce, meat, cheese and products made from the bounty of Oregon's fields, streams and oceans. Almost a dozen operate year-round, made possible by our mild maritime climate and farmers willing to adapt crops to cooler growing conditions, as well as educate shoppers about how to incorporate winter produce into their diets.

But not every neighborhood has equal access to these markets, which are generally located in the more central areas of the cities. So what do you do when you think your neighborhood would benefit from more access to fresh, local food but the nearest farmers' market is miles away?

Peak harvest season: a good time to debut a market.

In the case of the area near Rocky Butte—an extinct cinder cone near Northeast Broadway and 82nd Avenue, part of the Madison South, Roseway and Sumner neighborhoods—a group of neighbors started by surveying their community to gauge whether they would support a farmers market. When the survey came back with an overwhelmingly positive response, the group then spent two years working on strategy development and planning, which also involved finding a location and sponsors.

Goal: a diverse community of vendors.

Discussions held with Portland market veterans and others who had been in the trenches for decades largely discouraged organizers, saying that the city was oversaturated with farmers' markets. Not to be put off, the new market's organizers argued that while there may be a saturation of markets in closer-in neighborhoods, communities in farther-flung areas were hungry for their own market that they could walk or bike to.

Organizers formed a steering committee, then implemented an innovative strategy to launch the Rocky Butte Farmers Market with two pop-up events at the height of the summer harvest in 2019. At the first, held in mid-July at the Dharma Rain Zen Center, it was an open question as to how many people, if any, would show up.

Organizer Hillary Barbour.

"Our opener blew our expectations completely out of the water," according to Hillary Barbour, one of the organizers and a resident of the neighborhood, as well as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Burgerville. "We had no idea if we would get 50 [shoppers], or 500. And we ended up with darn near close to 1,000." The relatively small number of vendors sold out of seasonal produce, pasture-raised chickens and farm fresh eggs.

Exit surveys from that first pop-up showed a strong demand for more seasonal produce and prepared food options. In response, the market team added almost double the number of vendors to the second pop-up, scheduled for August 3. It included several farmer vendors who are part of  the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s Headwaters Farming Incubator program, as well as Mudbone Grown’s Pathways to Farming Incubator program. Student participants of Mad Roots, a youth-led sustainable agriculture program at nearby Madison High School, offered produce from the program's gardens. Vendors also came from many of the diverse populations in the neighborhood, including Latino, African-American, Vietnamese and Queer-owned businesses, among others.

MadRoots students from Madison High School.

"For many vendors these pop ups were their first farmers market experience," said Barbour. "We have long sensed that a new and emerging market in our neighborhoods—Madison South, Roseway, and Sumner—could be an important opportunity for new and beginning farmers who have neither the experience nor scale to enter a more mature metro-area farmers market. These two pop-ups appear to be confirming our theory."

Volunteers counted attendance at the second pop-up at more than 800 shoppers. These volunteers were key to both events, doing everything from distributing flyers to posting on social media to helping with set up, directing traffic at the event site, staffing and break down. Several came from the neighborhood branch of OnPoint credit union, which also supplied a $500 grant to cover some start-up costs. More support came from other nearby markets.

A place start for smaller-volume producers.

"I cannot say enough good things about the support we've received from other neighborhood markets [and] market managers," Barbour emphasized. "Especially Cully, which loaned us tables, chairs and canopies for both pop ups. Also the managers from the Hollywood and Montavilla markets were tremendously helpful and generous with their knowledge and experience. It's never felt competitive or discouraging" unlike, she added, the reaction from some of the larger markets in the area.

With the success of the pop-up events, organizers are committed to a series of regularly scheduled markets in the 2020 season. Fundraising is underway through a combination of grant requests, local business support, and a GoFundMe campaign, with one of the goals being to hire a part-time market manager for next season.

Visibility for local business owners.

Another challenge facing organizers is finding a new site for the market, since the Dharma center is not able to host the market in 2020. But that challenge brings opportunity, according to Barbour.

"One thing to keep in mind about [the neighborhood] that's interesting is that the entire look and feel of Northeast 82nd between Siskiyou and I-84 is changing over the next three years," she said, citing a major upgrade scheduled for Glenhaven Park as well as the rebuilding of Madison High School. "The entire composition of our area is changing as more first-time homebuyers move in and houses turn over. I've lived in Roseway since 2004 and I feel like this year represents the second major wave of turnover I've seen."

Which means that a new farmers' market can be ground zero for this emerging area, a place to gather and build the community they want, based around supporting a vibrant local food system.

Most photos courtesy Rocky Butte Farmers Market.