Monday, November 30, 2009

Habitual Behavior


Hello. My name is Kathleen, and I've got a mushroom problem.

There, I've said it and it's out in the open. Ever since Roger Konka and Norma Kraven of Springwater Farm started selling bags of mixed mushrooms at their market stalls, I've been hooked. Sure, at first the $5 bag (note the drug reference here) was enough, but soon my cravings increased and I bumped up to the $10 bags. And, like good suppliers, they were happy to feed my need.

I found myself supplementing their product with stuff I scavenged myself, the pure golden product known as Cantharellus cibarius or "Northwest Gold." And I was slipping them into everything from tuna casserole to cream soup, hoping that my family wouldn't notice the frequency of their appearance.

But of course they did. They took me aside and gently, kindly yet firmly told me they loved me but that the fungus obviously had a grip on me. I begged for one more dish, a farewell salute to my mushroom habit (recipe below), and they agreed.

Little do they know I've got plenty more stashed in the freezer to pull out when the craving hits again.

Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Shavings

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. assorted wild mushrooms or crimini mushrooms, sliced*
6 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. parmesan, grated fine, plus more for sprinkling
Salt and pepper, to taste
Black truffle for shaving

Heat oil in deep skillet or saucepan. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add mushrooms and sauté briefly. Add wine and stock and bring to simmer over medium heat. Add rice and bring back to simmer, stirring frequently to avoid sticking, until most of liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender but wet. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper. Serve, grating truffle on top.

* With wild mushrooms, I tend to chop the larger, more solid ones and slice or tear the lighter-weight mushrooms so the dish has a variation of textures and shapes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gracious Gifting


You'd expect someone who writes a blog about what's happening in the Northwest to be up on what's happening around town, but I sure get surprised a lot. Downtown shops? A complete mystery to me. Shopping in the Pearl? Haven't a clue.

So when I wandered into a fascinating little shop in Multnomah Village called Indigo Traders and was taken with the mix of pottery, soaps, scarves and bedding it carries, I shouldn't have been shocked when owner Samir Naser said they'd been open for seven years. But really, had it been that long since I'd taken a stroll through the shops in the neighborhood?

While he made me a cup of complimentary Turkish coffee roasted for them by Mudd Works Roastery (he also offers shoppers mint tea), I browsed the beautiful Pashmina wool wraps (left) he imports from Turkey. The intricately embroidered pillows, wall hangings and table runners he carries are made by the women of the Palestinian Embroidery Society of Jordan (PESJ). The Society was founded by Indigo Traders to preserve the art of traditional Palestinian embroidery and provide an opportunity for Palestinian women refugees living in Jordan to learn business skills while earning an income.

Samir is also an accomplished cook and the shop has started carrying food products from Canaan Fair Trade, an organization based in Palestine that is working to empower rural communities, educate farmers about sustainable practices and support them as they convert to certified organic production. Products include olive oils from the Nabali tree, native to Palestine, that produces a light, fruity oil and the more robust, pungent oil from the Rumi tree, brought to Palestine by the Romans. You'll also find za'atar, a combination of sumac and wild thyme, as well as capers, olives and couscous. I also understand that Samir offers occasional cooking classes, so I'll keep you posted as those are scheduled.

Which all goes to show that it's good to venture outside your usual haunts. There's a lot to discover out there!

Details: Indigo Traders, 7878 SW Capitol Hwy. in Multnomah Village. 503-780-2422.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keeping It Fresh


In a longtime relationship it's all about keeping it fresh. And I'm not talking about that old 70s trick of meeting your significant other at the door in an ensemble consisting of plastic wrap and a martini.

It can be as simple as meeting at a bar after work for a quick drink before coming home for dinner. Or going for a drive and taking along a picnic lunch. Growing up, we had an annual tradition of driving out into the woods in the dead of winter for a picnic in the snow. After having lunch, Mom and Dad would sit in the car and drink coffee or hot chocolate (possibly laced with something warming) while we kids would run around like wild animals, exhausting ourselves so we'd sleep all the way home.

It tends to work that way with food, too, where my habit is to reach into the same old, though perfectly tasty, bag of tricks for appetizers, usually a dip, some favorite olives and a wedge or two of cheese. The other day I ran across a recipe for gougères, a simple snack I used to make in college. They're basically little cheesy clouds of flour, butter, eggs and cheese, and are ideal for those of us who like to make our guests think we sweated for hours.

Gougères
From David Lebovitz


From Mr. Lebovitz's recipe: "Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don't let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you'll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don't 'cook' them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I'm not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but the intrepid can put the dough in a food processor or use an electric mixer to add and mix the eggs in quickly."


1/2 c. water

3 Tbsp. butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes

1/4 tsp. salt
Big pinch chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 c. flour

2 large eggs

12 chives, finely minced (or 1 to 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme)

3/4 c. grated cheese


Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

Heat the water, butter, salt and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don't 'cook.' The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.) Add about 3/4 of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato. Or you can simply use two spoons to scoop out bits of dough and place them on the sheets. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375° and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they're completely golden brown. For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they're done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking. Makes about thirty bite-sized puffs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Season's Greenings: Good for the Environment


Today is Black Friday, and I can't think of a better way to turn this mad season of consumption on its head than to think about ways we can start spending money in a sustainable fashion. This is the third in a five-part series adapted from an article I wrote for the Nov.-Dec. '09 issue of NW Palate magazine.

Lindsay Coulter is the Queen of Green at the David Suzuki Foundation, which works with government, businesses, and individuals to conserve the environment by providing science-based education, advocacy, and policy work.

Coulter suggests giving paper new life. Recyclable papers made from newspapers, magazines, and envelopes can be made into cards, bookmarks, gift tags, and small gift boxes, and can be embedded with seeds that grow herbs and flowers indoors in pots or outdoors in the spring. Plus, crafting is a great family, kid-friendly activity. Check out her recipes here.

Coulter also recommends buying used goods, whether recycled, vintage, pre-owned, or antique, which minimizes the carbon footprint attached to the gift. One more idea: “Consider giving experiences instead of stuff,” she says. Gift certificates to restaurants, for instance, make great gift card stuffers. “Throw in bus tickets or passes for an extra shot of green,” she adds. For more of Lindsay's ideas, go to her website, and take a look at other green gifts in the Suzuki Foundation holiday catalog.

* * *

Eco-Guides puts homeowners on the path to sustainability with in-home consulting on home energy conservation, waste reduction, toxics reduction, water conservation, and green gardening. The Portland, Oregon-based service offers a three-session package that has estimated per home savings at $466 per year, much less than the cost of the service.Taste of the Oregon Coast gives you a delicious way to support the protection of Oregon’s wetlands habitat. Along with a $100 donation, you’ll receive a can of Local Oceans Seafood Smoked King Salmon and a bottle of Rogue Beer, plus a personalized thank you letter. Call 503-691-1394 for information.

A recycled bike chain bottle opener from Resource Revival in Mosier, Oregon, says love to your dearest beer aficionado.—$14

Fat of the Land by Seattleite Langdon Cook. This book explores the Pacific Northwest via adventures in foraging and discovers a regional stew of food, natural history, and unusual characters.—$27

Read Part One: Gifts That Grow, Part Two: Farm to Table, Part Four: Helping Others and Part Five: DIY Food & Drink.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proper Porchetta


Talk about nose-to-tail eating! This is what Mark Doxtader was dishing up at his Tastebud stand at today's Eastbank Reunion Market. (Kids were dragging their moms over for a look.) With any luck, you'll find it on Saturdays at Tastebud at the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU through Dec. 19. Just look for the smoking brick oven.

Mad About Mushrooms


Our drippy, damp fall and winter weather may not be everyone's cuppa, but some thrive in this moist environment. They're called fungi. Welcome them into your home with this creamy, cozy soup from contributor Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans.

As the cold comes on, many farms wind down for the winter, but the opposite is happening at Springwater Farm, whose offerings are at their peak. Chanterelles, porcini, truffles, hedgehog, black trumpet, yellowfoot, matsutake, fried chicken mushrooms, cauliflower mushrooms, nameko, shiitake and maitake are all in season right now!

Here's Springwater Farm's own fantastic Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe:

Springwater Farm Cream of Mushroom Soup

4 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms
4 oz. fresh maitake mushrooms
4 oz. fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1 Tbsp. good olive oil
1/4 lb. (1 stick) plus 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1 c. chopped yellow onion
1 carrot, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme plus 1 tsp. minced thyme leaves, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c. chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. half-and-half
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

To make the stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot. Add the onion, carrot, the sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add 6 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of stock. If not, add some water.

Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 pound of butter and add the leeks. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the leeks begin to brown. Slice the mushrooms 1/4-inch thick and, if they are big, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are tender. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir for another minute, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the vegetable stock, minced thyme leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the half-and-half, cream, and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste and heat through but do not boil. Serve hot.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Following 999 and Preceding 1001


One-oh-oh-oh.

10 x 10 x 10.

1K.

In other words, a whole boatload of posts have come before this one. Some silly, some serious, some happy, some sad. But all meant to be shared with you, the incredibly patient and kind readers of this blog. I can't tell you how lucky I feel to be writing it, or that I hope it makes a difference in some small way. Just know that it means so very much to me that you continue to read and comment on my writing, and I'll do my best to make it even better in the next thousand posts!

In The News: Market Closes and MPUs

A couple of news items have come across the digital transom in the last couple of days that I thought were worth sharing.

Portland Farmers' Market has announced the closure of their Thursday market at Ecotrust, the second closure of this market season after the cancellation of the Multnomah Village farmers' market back in July.

Ecotrust "never seemed to reach its full potential," said executive director Ann Forsthoefel, noting that while its four other market locations experienced increased traffic and sales, the Thursday market did not share the same rate of growth.

The press release stated that PFM is "currently evaluating other possible locations for a weekly market in Northwest Portland. The organization describes the ideal site as one that offers high visibility, community engagement and support from neighborhood and business associations."

* * *

A paradigm shift in our ability to access meat produced by small farmers is outlined in an article recently posted at Grist. Titled "Will Whole Foods’ New Mobile Slaughterhouses Squeeze Small Farmers?" and written by Tom Laskawy, the article drops the bomb that Whole Foods, wanting to aggressively expand its local meat sourcing, is working with the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a fleet of mobile processing units (MPUs).

These units, initially designed to process poultry, would provide small farmers with a way to slaughter their animals on their farms and sell that meat to the public. Because of current regulations, only meat from animals slaughtered at USDA-approved facilities is allowed to be sold.

The development of MPUs became critical because of the closure of many local meat processing plants in the recent economic downturn, making it nearly impossible for some small farmers to get their animals to a USDA-approved facility unless they wanted to ship them hundreds of miles. With a booming demand for local meat and with farmers eager to provide farm-raised meat to a broader public, mobile units seem to provide a solution.

While Whole Foods will not require farmers to sell their meat exclusively to Whole Foods markets, some critics caution that proposed guidelines might cause small farmers to lose their independence because of the strict requirements that all birds produced for the company would need to have "a consistent look and taste." Raising the specter of "contract farming," or farmers essentially becoming indentured servants on their own land, critics are hoping to shape the debate to ensure farmers' access to these mobile units while being able to produce a unique product.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Livin' in the Blurbs: Turkey Week Events & More!

If you got busy and didn't make it to the farmers' market for your favorite Thanksgiving foods over the weekend, fear not, because several markets are going to be open this week for your shopping convenience. They are:
* * *

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a total fan of my brother's wine shop, Vino, in Sellwood. With the attitude that it's wine, not brain surgery, he's got a great selection of value-oriented Euro goodness and domestics from the US of A, plus some hard-to-find goodies from some of the finest garagistes in the NW. He's celebrating his 10th anniversary this week with holiday hours and special tastings as follows:
  • Sun., 11/22, 12-5 pm: Sampling of Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne and '08 Broadley "Willamette Valley" Pinot Noir; take 15% off any bottle in store
  • Holiday Hours: Mon., 11/23, 12-4 pm; Tues., 11/24, 10:30 am-6 pm; Wed., 11/25, 10 am-2 pm; Closed Thurs., 11/26
  • Fri., 11/27: Open 10:30 am; Wine tasting of South American red wines, 4:30-8 pm.
  • Sat., 11/28: Open 10:30 am-6 pm with free tasting of a selection of great values.
Details: Vino's 10th Anniversary Week. Nov. 22-28. Vino, 1226 SE Lexington St. 503-235-8545.

* * *

In this season of celebrating all the things we are thankful for, it's important not to forget those who may be struggling at this time of year. New Deal Distillery is hosting an event they're calling Season's Eatings, a holiday market of local artisan food, wine and spirits on Sat., Dec. 5. Some of the vendors include Organics to You, Monteillet Fromagerie, Random Order Coffeehouse, Nonna's Noodles, Xocolatl de David, Black Sheep Bakery, Little Red Bike Café, Velo Café, River Wave Foods, Pacific Pies and others, and they'll have samples and products available for sale.

Details: Season's Eatings Holiday Market benefit for Oregon Food Bank featuring local food artisans. Sat., Dec. 5, noon-5 pm; free with one perishable food item or cash donation to Oregon Food Bank. At New Deal Distillery, 1311 SE 9th Ave. 503-234-2513.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Giving Thanks


The transition from fall to winter prompts reflection, which might account for Thanksgiving's place on the calendar at the end of November. Contributor Anthony Boutard takes a moment to express appreciation for those who help get his and Carol's goods to market, as well as to take the measure of some of this year's successful crops.

This week marks the last of the weekly markets at Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Next month we assemble but fortnightly. The market starts at 10 am, and is located in the parking lot of Wilson High School.

We do want to take a moment to acknowledge market manager Eamon "Shoehorn" Molloy and the Hillsdale Farmers' Market volunteers. Sometimes you all ask us why we only come to Hillsdale. Our answer: Why mess with perfection? It is a wonderful neighborhood market, and the intimacy that results is why we want to be at the market. Shoehorn and the board have been careful to keep that neighborhood spirit alive, and we appreciate their efforts. Thank you.

The staff at Ayers Creek is regularly joined by volunteer helpers on Fridays. Especially in the winter when our staff is working Copenhaven Nursery down the road and the harvesting falls to the two us, a few extra hands make a huge difference. For the last few years, Linda Johnson helped us harvest winter vegetables. This spring, Linda, a dancer, accepted an appointment at Mills College, so we picked up a new Linda, Colwell that is, who is also a regular at Hillsdale. Linda was joined a family friend, Julia Ruby, who helped with spring planting and is now a freshman at Oberlin College. Last month, sisters Meg and Cate joined us as WOOFERs.

After hearing her mother refer to "the sisters" several times, daughter Caroline asked if we were working with a convent. Meg and Cate Critcos are familial sisters. Meg's dog, Lucy, with a fair portion of pit bull in her, has taught our portly and bandy-legged little dictator, Tito, a few well deserved lessons in manners. More recently, Fridays have been enriched by China Tresemer and Bill Bains. We appreciate the help and, most importantly, the excellent company our friends have provided.

Kale, Collards & Swiss Chard

Like Jack Kerouac (left), chard is a rootless beet. They are the same species, beets and chards, that is. We have worked hard to find a true Swiss Chard with big, white ribs. Unfortunately, this form of the vegetable has slipped into obscurity, replaced by the leaf type chards. We still prefer the type with big stems, and have found a good variety from the Italian seed house Franchi. The white stems on these chards are sweet and tender. The leaf blade is fine for soup, but is incidental to the stem. The stem makes a wonderful gratin, either alone or in combination with potatoes. Alternatively, they are cooked until tender and then added to an olive oil and anchovy-based sauce with thyme, fennel seed, capers and perhaps some garlic. The French also pickle the stems.

And don't neglect the kale. Several years ago, we sat in a presentation where a researcher was talking about the antioxidant qualities of blueberries, blackcaps and blackberries. The tables caught our attention because Chester rated highest among the blackberries. As he summarized the results, he noted that the study illustrated the impressive benefits of eating dark-pigmented berries, adding quietly, "So long as no one compared them to kale." Kale is off the charts in its antioxidant qualities, vitamins, minerals and everything else you might dream of. Of course, there is no kale commission to promote the greens and tout their manifold health benefits. Another example of what Michael Pollan coined "the silence of the yam."

Rutabagas

This is a special white-rooted variety of incomparable flavor and fine texture (top photo). Suspend any judgement you may have made about rutabagas.

For us, this was an accidental discovery. We bought a small package of seed labeled Gilfeather Turnip and promptly forgot to plant it. At the last moment, we sprinkled it at the end of the row because, if no roots formed, the turnip greens would be good. No turnips resulted and we forgot about the it.

Late in February, we noticed some odd-looking kale with a bulbous root. We cooked up the roots and they were absolutely delicious. Suddenly it dawned on us that the turnip was actually a white rutabaga, hence the unrecognized foliage. Eager to grow more, we opened the Fedco catalogue and under the variety it was noted that the seed crop had failed. Fortunately, we had not eaten all of the roots, so we immediately worked the remains of the patch, keeping the big roots and roguing out runts.

The next step was to eliminate any cabbages, turnips or kales growing in our fields. Pollinated by native bees, the various brassicas cross freely, and we needed to keep the seed pure. Fortunately we have good isolation in this valley. We harvested about a half pound of seed. Our first foray into rutabaga seed production proved a success as the plants grew true to type. Enjoy.

Beet Beat: The Fight Begins in Earnest


Now that a federal judge has ruled against the process that the FDA used to deregulate the planting of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds, industry giants like Monsanto that get their income from those seeds and the pesticides and chemicals those crops depend on are screaming mad.

In a recent report on NPR's business program, Marketplace, it's pointed out that more than half of the country's sugar comes from sugar beets, almost all of which are grown from Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds. Luther Markwart of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association is quoted as saying "This is a food security issue. We need to make sure that we have a good, strong, viable domestic beet-sugar industry."

Reporter Mitchell Hartman also spoke with Oregon plant breeder and seedsman Frank Morton (left), who produces and sells organic seed for his Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon. Morton, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says it's also a food security issue for him and the other organic growers in the Willamette Valley where nearly all of the country's GE sugar beet seed is grown.

"If biotech traits show up in my seeds, then my seeds are worthless," Morton said of his beet and chard crops that are susceptible to cross-pollination from the GE beet pollen. "If my traits show up in conventional or biotech seeds, it's not a big deal to them, it does not destroy their value. It's an asymmetrical relationship we have here."

Judge Jeffrey White has ordered the FDA to produce an environmental impact statement which, the program says, could take years. And on December 4, the plaintiffs are going to ask the judge to issue a permanent injunction "to halt the sale and planting of GE sugarbeet seeds now and into the future, until the USDA does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike," said Zelig Golden, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety.

The Marketplace report continues, "in a similar case, a judge banned Roundup Ready alfalfa; Monsanto's appealing that decision to the Supreme Court. If there's a ban on sugar beet planting nationwide, it's doubtful there's enough conventional seed in storage to lay in a crop next spring."

Rather than blaming the organic seed industry and farmers like Frank Morton, not to mention the courts, for this problem, maybe we need to look at the corporations that put us in this position in the first place.

Read the other posts in the series: The Beet Beat, In The Wind, The Wheels of Justice, The Wheels of Justice, Part 2.

Photo of Frank Morton by Mitch Lies for the Capital Press.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Macarena? Line Dancing? Pfft! Try the Pink Glove!



I would have loved to walk into Providence hospital when this video was being filmed. Initially instigated by the employees to increase breast cancer awareness among the staff, it's become a YouTube hit. No wonder!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sweating Blood for Her Art?


We all have friends who are fabulously talented. Some are writers, some are cooks. Others are singers and teachers. My friend Antonia is an artist whose work I've admired since I first saw her portfolio of illustrations lo these many years ago.

She's moved on from commercial illustration to producing digital prints of her artwork, and you can see some of them from now through Dec. 17 at the Life's Crossing Gallery in the Red Cross building at 3131 N Vancouver Ave. The gallery is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily.

The prints are extremely affordable, so if there's someone on your holiday gift-giving list who'd appreciate a new piece of art to spark up a dull corner, consider one of these. She also has postcard and greeting card sizes available…don't you love our digital world? You can see more samples on her website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Talkin' Turkey


How lucky are we?

Dave announced the other day that he was jonesing to grill a bird this Thanksgiving, so I called New Seasons to order a turkey and got a litany of choices, including Fresh Free-Range Turkeys, Fresh Petite Turkeys, Fresh Certified Organic Turkeys, Certified Organic Heirloom Turkeys and Kosher Turkeys. If you'd rather have white meat only, you can get Free-Range Turkey Breast or Organic Turkey Breast. For fancier tables, there are Brined Turkeys and Turduckens.

And those are just the turkey-based choices. There are hams, rabbits, beef, lamb, duck and pork for you rebel types, not to mention patés and meaty bits for appetizers and sides from places like Olympic Provisions and Laurelhurst Market.

I'm definitely not moving.

Photo of last year's bird…so delectable!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Markets in Peril Update: Using Scare Tactics


And you thought scare tactics were so last year. Turns out Dick Cheney isn't the only one who wanted to frighten people into panicky overreactions…now food officials are summoning the image of (ick!) bloody diarrhea to try to support increased restrictions on Oregon's burgeoning farmers' markets.

Small farmers who sell direct to the public at farmers' markets are facing the prospect of punitive rules that may reduce consumer choices in the markets and cause further headaches and uncertainty. Not to mention that these new rules are being proposed without one Oregon farmers' market ever having been linked to an outbreak of food-borne illness.

In a recent article in the Bend (OR) Bulletin on the "surveillance exercises" conducted by the ODA last summer, Ron Klein, a food safety manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, was quoted as saying that "in Alaska last year…more than 60 people became sick from raw peas sold at farmers markets. The peas had been infected with bird feces, and some of those infected suffered from weeks of diarrhea, fever and vomiting. One case even led to permanent neurological damage.

"Regardless of whether Oregon has had a reported problem, Klein added, 'You should not have to wait until somebody dies.'"

Sounds pretty bad, right? What the article failed to mention was that the problem originated from a flock of Sandhill Cranes that were nesting in the field and that the farm neglected to use chlorine in the wash water of the shelled peas. Furthermore, neither of these problems would be prevented by any new regulations the ODA is considering for Oregon farmers' markets. Oh, and by the way, nobody died. And the farm wasn't found to be operating illegally and none of the retailers who sold the peas were cited.

Kind of makes you wonder what the motive was for bringing this up, doesn't it? In the article, the ODA's Ellen Laymon said, “We don't want politics to drive food safety decisions.” Hm…sounds like it's too late for that. Maybe Dick Cheney could help us figure it out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

We Are All Connected



This is a moving melding of music and technological art, a project by John Boswell called The Symphony of Science. Using auto-tuning to stitch together videos of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye into a musical quilt, its stated purpose is "to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form."

Farmers' Markets in Peril?



The wheels of justice grind ever so slowly. Last spring the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) started rumbling about the need to impose new rules regulating the vendors at farmers' markets. Their idea was to do a series of "surveillance exercises" to check compliance with exisiting regulations. Sounds fine, right?

The answer is, not so much. The problem is that current ODA regulations see small farmers who sell directly to the public in the same way they view large industrial agricultural operations. In the series he wrote for GSNW titled "Farewell to Frikeh," contributor Anthony Boutard outlined the problems and suggested solutions.

The video above gives a basic overview of the issues, and a hearing at the Capitol in Salem on Wednesday will discuss the issue further. Hopefully things will move forward at more than the current snail's pace.

Details: Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities Informational Hearing on Farmers' Markets. Wed., Nov. 18, 8 am. Room HR F (House wing), State Capitol Bldg., Salem. 503-986-1755.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Season NW: Back in Balance


I try to walk the walk even as I talk the talk. But, darn it, I have to admit that, down deep, I really hate not being able to have my favorite things simply because they're not in season.

So this morning the dogs scattered like a flock of startled birds when I leapt out of bed with uncharacteristic speed, slammed down some coffee and dashed out the door to be at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market when it opened. You see, it's been weeks since Anthony and Carol of Ayers Creek have been at the market, and every store in town was out of Carol's incredible preserves.

Not only that, ever since I started making polenta from their heirloom Roy's Calais Flint corn, every other polenta seems pasty and flat in comparison. And I haven't had the heart to subject myself, not to mention our guests, to the disappointment I knew would be in the cards from making any other kind. Which explains my desperation to get there, right?

When I saw on Anthony's e-mail bulletin that they'd have a full complement of preserves along with the first of the season's polenta, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to snag some. Of course, when I got there and saw the Aci Sivri Hungarian peppers that swept me off my feet last year, I grabbed a couple of bags of those, as well.

Now that there are six pounds of polenta sitting in the freezer, and with preserves and peppers in the cupboard, I feel so much better about winter. But maybe I'll have to get just a couple more pounds of polenta next week. Just in case.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Spraying with Abandon


Anthony and his incisively erudite and always stunning wife, Carol, are beginning their seventh season at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this weekend. As Anthony notes, "the market opens at 10 am, regardless of rain, snow or even overly bright sunshine. So long as the market can be operated safely, it will open. Heavy winds are the biggest safety concern." For a complete list of their offerings this week, refer to the market website.

Some farms have signs stating that they are "No Spray" or "Spray Free." Occasionally people will ask if we are "no spray." We dodge the question by pointing out that we are "Oregon Tilth Certified Organic," which satisfies the subtext of the inquiry. Oregon Tilth (logo, below) is a local organization that certifies farms as complying with the National Organic Program standards. Our farm received Oregon Tilth certification in 1998.

Because we grow organically, we spray with wild abandon, and at any spare moment. We own a 200-gallon air-blast sprayer, a 100-gallon boom sprayer that sprays six rows of vegetables at a time, and 25 gallon sprayer that fits on the ATV, all told, a serious investment in spraying machines. Foliar feeding, or spraying dilute nutrient solutions on the crop, is standard practice among high quality organic growers. Typically we apply a solution of kelp extracts, sea salt and enzymatically digested fish. We also apply nettle and compost tea at various times.

We start spraying early in the morning, just before sunrise, when the dew is heavy upon the plants. We want to apply the nutrients when the leaves are cool and the stomata, the tiny organs through which the leaves regulate gas exchange, are fully open. At 5 am, the tank mix releases a daunting fragrance. The crop is drenched and dripping with the feeding mix yet, by the next morning, not a trace of odor can be detected in the field. The mixture has been absorbed by the plant and the colonies of micro-organisms it hosts. Like humans, plants have a wide array of bacteria and fungi that live upon and within the plant tissues. On a healthy plant they are beneficial and serve a protective function.

Foliar feeding is expensive and time-consuming, and many growers doubt the worth of such applications. In fact, this sort of feeding does not increase yields in any substantial way, and does not replace good soil management. So why do we invest so much time and money in spraying? The plant responds with better flavor and vigor. We have found that foliar feeding leads to fruits and vegetables that are brighter and denser, and they resist insect and disease pressure better. It is worth noting that even growers who rely on synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals use foliar applications to quickly correct trace mineral deficiencies in their crops.

Sea salt, especially, is an under-appreciated agricultural amendment. Deeply ingrained in our minds is the salting of Carthage's cropland following the Third Punic War (illustration, top). In reality, salt has long been used in crop production. Many vegetables are domesticated maritime plants. These include asparagus, beets, turnips, cabbage, chard and chicories. Old texts make note of this fact, and recommend sea salt applications for both forage and crop plants. Research in the US, Italy and Israel has demonstrated that foliar salt applications improve the quality and nutrition of tomatoes. Here in Oregon the soils are very low in sodium, an essential plant nutrient, and sea salt provides a rich collection of trace minerals in addition to the sodium. Although care must be taken in applying salt, either to the ground or as a foliar feed, crops respond well to its use.

At the southern end of the Venice Lagoon is the port of Chioggia. The vegetables grown in the area are renowned for their flavor and quality. In fact, many vegetable varieties bear the name Chioggia as a horticultural benediction of sorts. As we crawl along with our spraying rig, we like to think that we are duplicating, however feebly, the salty sea breezes that spray off the Adriatic and imbue those vegetables with their fine flavor. We cannot imagine why anyone would want to claim to be "no spray."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Composting Confusion


We've all seen the signs in stores. "We only use compostable food containers." Which is a good thing, right? Whether made from corn-based plastic or other "plant-derived" materials, they're being marketed as the solution to all our container-waste problems. But, as Luan at Foster & Dobbs found out, they're not exactly the nirvana that her salesman promised.

As Luan wrote in a recent newsletter, "I shared that we're now part of the Portland Composts program and are transitioning to all compostables for our packaging materials. Gleefully I announced that you could extend our efforts by disposing of our new olive tubs, sandwich wrappers, soup bowls, etc. in your green bin at home. A delightfully green plan, eh? Well, no. A customer who works at a waste management company kindly e-mailed me to say these materials are not compatible with the yard waste program—in fact, they cause havoc by jamming the shredding and sorting machines. I called the City of Portland and they told me the same thing, adding that it's a huge problem because these so-called compostable materials can be neither composted nor recycled at consumer level, they can only go to the landfill. They can be composted through Portland's business composting program because it's a different composting process than the yard waste program. This bamboozle is not the fault of the waste companies or the City, that blame goes to the manufacturers who do not clearly state the limitations of their products."

So before you happily fill that "plant-derived" container at your local supermarket, thinking you can toss it in your recycling or composting bin or, worse yet, on your compost pile, ask if you can to bring it back to the store for them to recycle in their commercial program. Or else it's going to end up exactly where you don't want it to—in the landfill.

Top photo from Chow.com. Photo at left from GreenChoiceVendors.com. Photo at right from GreenPaperProducts.com.

Season's Greenings: Farm to Table


Leading up to the holiday season, I've been contemplating the way we celebrate and, particularly, about the way we buy. Since gift-giving is a traditional, and often unavoidable, part of the festivities, I thought it might be helpful to start thinking sustainably. Here is the second of a five-part series adapted from an article I wrote for the Nov.-Dec. '09 issue of NW Palate magazine.

The year-round farmers markets in the Northwest are on the mind of Chris Curtis, Director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle. “If someone gave me ten pounds of local organic potatoes, I’d be thrilled,” she said, acknowledging that it might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect holiday gift.

For more conventional presents, she said that farmers will be offering what are called “value-added” products like preserves, jams, dried fruits, shelled nuts and wines that make a terrific gift basket for foodie friends or for taking to holiday and office parties.

She said that cheese lovers would do well to check out the markets for local cheeses. “Farmers markets are some of the best places to get local farmstead cheeses,” she said, especially from hard-to-find specialty cheesemakers who don’t produce enough to sell to larger supermarkets.

* * *

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Many farms in the Northwest offer subscriptions, or “shares,” to community members. It’s an investment in a local farm, in healthy and seasonal eating, and will likely open the recipient’s eyes to a new meal or two. For a list of CSAs, visit localharvest.org.

Meat shares work the same as the CSAs, but instead of produce you can purchase a side of beef, pork, or lamb and share it with your friends and family. For a list of producers raising livestock on a small scale by family farmers, visit localharvest.org.

A selection of local honeys tastes and smells of the Northwest like few other products, and ships well to far-flung relatives and friends. Imagine how magical it will be when that jar is opened for a holiday breakfast! Check your local farmers market or natural food store.

The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locallyby Portlander Ivy Manning. As America’s desire for local, natural ingredients continues to grow, Ivy Manning offers this spectacular collection of recipes, including special dishes from some of the most touted Northwest chefs and restaurants that have made their marks using the freshest local ingredients.—$20.

Read Part One: Gifts That Grow, Part Three: Good for the Environment, Part Four: Helping Others and Part Five: DIY Food & Drink.

Micro Machines


"It's being called the fourth wave, and it's represented by the tsunami of small roasters that are making Portland the new beachhead on the nation's coffee front."

Read my article in today's FoodDay section of the Oregonian titled "The New Micro-Roasters: A Big Passion for Small Batches."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pitching Some Chicken


I rarely order chicken when we got to a restaurant because it's something we have here at home fairly often, whether roasted, smoked or curried.

But, like Pedro Martinez, it's nice to have a changeup in your pitching repertoire when the family gets that "Chicken again?" look in their eyes. So I was very pleased to see this recipe raved on my brother's blog the other day, and it looked eminently adaptable to what I had in the vegetable bin. Plus it's quick and easy, and perfectly suitable for company when you want a comforting, seasonal dish. And I guarantee you'll get asked for the recipe.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Legs with Root Vegetables
Adapted from Epicurious.com

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
6 whole chicken legs with skin and bones, approx. 3 lbs. (chicken thighs work, too)
1 Tbsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly grated or ground nutmeg
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks (I had a cauliflower, broken into florets)
3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears (I used Yukon Golds)
4 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears
8-10 whole peeled garlic cloves
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°. Coat large roasting pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Place chicken in roasting pan. Turn to coat with oil and set skin side up. Mix salt, thyme, pepper and nutmeg in small bowl. Sprinkle half of mixture over chicken. Roast until chicken starts to brown and some fat has rendered, about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all vegetables and garlic, 2 tablespoons oil and remaining salt-thyme mixture in large bowl. Transfer chicken pieces to medium bowl; set aside. Transfer vegetable mixture to same roasting pan; turn to coat with drippings. Roast until vegetables soften, 20-30 minutes. Place chicken on top of vegetables; pour accumulated juices from chicken over. Return sheet to oven. Roast until chicken is cooked and vegetables brown, 15 minutes longer. Place vegetables and chicken on platter; sprinkle with chives if desired.

Little Red Bike Rides at Night!


As a long-married person, and by that I mean decades (note the plural), I'm here to tell you that it's hard enough staying together without throwing in working together, too. Total props have to go out to couples like Anthony and Carol of Ayers Creek Farm and Jeremy and Andrea of Cellar Door Coffee.

The Little Red Bike Cafe.

But then add in running a restaurant, with the endless hours it requires, the disaster in the middle of dinner service when the ice machine/walk-in/grill breaks down or a cook/waiter/busser/dishwasher doesn't show up for his shift…eek! I can't imagine it. I mean, we get cranky when it's cold out and the dogs need to pee and neither of us wants to take them.

So I bow to the saint-like patience of people like Bruce and Mary Fishback of Bread & Ink Cafe, who've been cooking for the neighborhood for more than two decades. Or Jackie and Adam Sappington at the Country Cat, profiled in the latest issue of NW Palate. And probably the cutest couple in Portland restaurant circles, Ali and Evan Jepson-Dohrmann of Little Red Bike Cafe.

Ali and Evan.

Ali and Evan have been providing some of the city's most inspired cooked-from-the-heart breakfasts and lunches since 2007, and their converted storefront in North Portland has become an under-the-radar hit with foodies and neighbors alike. But a couple of days ago they announced on their blog that they're hankering to start serving dinner.

Oh, sure, they're saying it's starting out at one night a week. But we know where that'll go. With the to-die-for quality of the food they serve, it'll no doubt be an instant hit and sell out weeks in advance. Then they'll open two nights a week and then…well, you get the picture. I mean, get a load of their first dinner menu (scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13). For only $25 (what???), you'll have:
  • Roasted Broccoli Soup with Irish cheddar croutons
  • Meatball Slider served on housemade parmesan brioche bun
  • Mache, Pear, and Butternut Squash Salad with formage blanc and Oregon Hazelnuts
  • Macaroni and Cheese with brussels sprouts and bacon
  • Dad's Apple Pie with vanilla bean-bourbon ice cream
See what I mean? It's only a matter of time before this hits the New York Times. I think it might be wise to put a marriage counselor on retainer now, don't you?

Details: Dinner at Little Red Bike Cafe. One seating, 7:30 pm. Call 503-953-3527 (Tues.-Fri., 12-4 pm) for reservations or e-mail your request. Little Red Bike Cafe, 4823 N Lombard St.



Due to a family emergency, dinner service on Friday, Nov. 13, has been postponed. Stay tuned for new date and details!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Staying Warm in Winter


Winter is coming, as evidenced by the recent plummeting temperatures and lashing rains. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood is fighting back with hearty soups made from grains and root veggies, and he shares a recipe here. You can find him and a wide selection of imported grains, beans, Katz vinegars and Italian olive oils on Mondays from 5 till 7 at Activspace, 833 SE Main #111 in the inner courtyard (and cash or checks only, please).

The weekend’s storm definitely felt like winter, and I made a big pot of soup to keep warm. You could cook the beans and farro in the soup, but it will take longer.

Farro and Bean Soup with Kale, Squash, and Celery Root

Soak a cup or more of Bluebird Grain Farms farro overnight, then simmer in salted water for about an hour. Cook a cup or more of Haricot Farms red beans (I combine the beans, unsoaked, with water, salt, and olive oil in a clay bean pot, then bake at about 200° until done, usually a few hours).

Start by making an Italian-style sofrito. Cook a chopped onion in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes, then add chopped celery and cook a bit longer, then carrots and cook a little more. Add a little salt and water (several cups or more) and bring to a gentle boil.

Peel and cube a celery root, add to pot. Ditto a smallish butternut squash (or half a bigger one). Chiffonade a bunch of cavalo nero (aka lacinato kale) by cutting the leaves into thin strips. Add to pot. Chop half a head of green cabbage, into the pot as well. Add more water to cover, if necessary, and simmer gently for an hour or so.

Add the cooked farro and beans, check the salt and add more if needed. Stir in a cup or so of polenta (Ayers Creek is the best. They'll be back at the Hillsdale Farmers Market on Sunday, Nov. 15. Check the website to find out what they'll be bringing.). Simmer for another 30 minutes or longer.

Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Livin' in the Blurbs: Tasty Tidbits

A few upcoming events are on tap from the Oregon Brewers Guild, including these beer-alicious happenings:
  • Nov. 10: Meet the Brewer from Klamath Basin and his Butt Crack Brown, Golden and Red ales. 6-8 pm. Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub, 928 SE 9th Ave. 503-517-0660.
  • Nov. 11: Holiday Ale Brewers Dinner. 6 pm; $55. Ft. George Brewery, 1483 Duane St., Astoria. 503-325-7468 for reservations.
  • Nov. 12: Double Mountain Fa La La La La Release Party. 5:30 pm. Victory Bar , 3652 SE Division.
  • Nov. 12: Oakshire Beer Belly Dinner with brewer Matt Van Wyk. 6:30; $35. Eastburn, 1800 E Burnside. 503.236.2876 for reservations.
  • Nov. 12: Terminal Gravity's Festive Ale and Bucolic Plague BarleyWine. 5 pm. Horse Brass Pub, 4534 SE Belmont. 503-232-2202.

* * *

Now that she doesn't have 10 farmers' markets to cover (she's dropped down to only six or eight), Lisa Jacobs of Jacobs Creamery has decided to take all that time she has on her hands and help manage Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese and learn to make blue cheese. And start raising her own sheep. And renovate a 1900 farmhouse. And teach cheesemaking classes at Sweetwares, the baking supply company recently launched by the fabulous folks from Baker & Spice. Upcoming classes include:
  • Nov. 18: Basic Cheesemaking includes yogurt, créme fraiche and farmer's cheese; light dinner served. 6:30-8:30 pm; $75, reservations only.
  • Nov. 29: Basic Cheesemaking includes yogurt, créme fraiche and farmer's cheese; light lunch served. Noon-2 pm; $75, reservations only.
To register, contact the store by e-mail or phone 503-546-3737. Sweetwares, 6306 SW Capitol Hwy.

* * *

The revitalization of NE Alberta Street in Portland took a huge leap forward when Random Order Coffeehouse opened several years ago, and since then it has become ground zero for pie lovers of all stripes (and added "& Bakery" to its name). If you're thinking one of their pies might make a tasty addition to your holiday table—and what table wouldn't benefit from a locally-harvested, organic fruit pie—then now's the time to get your order in. The 2009 Thanks to Pie Menu includes "Old World Apple Farm" apple, organic pear and cranberry, blackberry organic apple, brandied pear with dark chocolate and candied ginger streusel, Kentucky pecan and spirited pumpkin.

Details: Holiday Pies from Random Order. $28 for a 9" Pie. Order by Sunday, Nov. 22. Call 971-340-6995 or go to the store, 1800 NE Alberta St.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Touching Up My Roots


What to do with all those mushrooms I collected on my trip to the mountain, especially since they really don't last long in the refrigerator and needed to be dealt with quickly? After sautéing a few for snacking on while I cleaned the rest, I took Michael Ruhlman's advice and loaded them in a roasting pan, drizzled them with a tiny bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and put them in the oven to roast.

What came out was a pan full of deep golden mushrooms swimming in a broth of the liquid that had seeped out of them (top photo). Realizing that chanterelle broth was probably not readily available on the shelf at the store, I drained off the liquid, chopped up the mushrooms and bagged them for storing in the freezer.

I had a cup or so of mushrooms left over and pondered the best and highest use of this treasure, this wonder from the wilds. And that's when it hit me. A dish from my childhood, something comforting and full of personal meaning.

The solution.

"Tuna noodle casserole!" I crowed. I've mentioned my love of that 50s-era "convenience" food before, the one my mother made practically every Friday night of my childhood, right?

But mine wasn't going to be a casserole made from a processed cream-like substance with little brown bits floating around in it and with shreds of big brand, mercury-laced chunk light tuna, no sir. I'd make the cream sauce from the roasted mushroom broth and those golden mushrooms and with a tin of low-mercury, line-caught and Monterey Bay Aquarium-approved Oregon albacore. And, since I know you'll ask, no, there were no Kettle salt'n'pepper potato chips crumbled on top—I wasn't brought up that lucky!

Chanterelle and Oregon Albacore Casserole

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 c. milk or cream or a combination of both
1 c. mushroom stock, preferably from the roasted chanterelles, below
1 c. (approx.) roasted chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 6-oz. can Oregon albacore tuna (drain and reserve juice)
1 lb. dried pasta

Heat oven to 350°.

Put pot of water for pasta on to boil. Meanwhile, melt butter in medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in flour until thoroughly combined. Replace on medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until raw taste of flour is gone. Add milk and continue stirring until sauce thickens. Add mushroom stock, mushrooms and reserved juice from tuna and heat. (Because most Oregon albacore is packed fresh then cooked, the juice in the tin is from the tuna itself. If using albacore packed in water or oil, do not add to sauce.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove sauce from heat, stir in chunked albacore.

When pot of water boils, add pasta and cook till al dente. Drain. Mix pasta and sauce and pour into casserole (add crumbled potato chips if you must). Bake 30 min. until top is browned.

Note: After adding the mushrooms and mushroom broth to the sauce (but before adding tuna juice or tuna), you basically have a mushroom soup. Add salt and pepper to taste and call it dinner.

Season's Greenings: Gifts that Grow


Leading up to the holiday season, I've been contemplating the way we celebrate and, particularly, about the way we buy. Since gift-giving is a traditional, and often unavoidable, part of the festivities, I thought it might be helpful to start thinking sustainably. Here is the first of a five-part series adapted from an article I wrote for the Nov.-Dec. '09 issue of NW Palate magazine.

When I was a kid growing up, my brothers and I would spend weeks before the holidays combing the toy section of the giant mail-order catalogs, reading descriptions of the latest baby dolls and racing cars, making and prioritizing lists of the gifts we absolutely must have or we'd die. At least that's what we'd tell our parents.

The thought that the ability of the household, much less the planet, to sustain that level of consumption never occurred to us.

Now that I’m older and wiser (let’s hope), I search out gifts that are self-liquidating, that is, they can be consumed completely—well, aside from some recyclable packaging—soon after being given.

This year I’m thinking baskets packed with goodies from my local farmers' market, like polenta made from farm-ground heirloom corn, pepper jellies, organically grown heirloom dried beans and locally made wine. For gifts that will last longer, I’m eschewing anything that would need to be dusted and instead heading for the practical: garden tools, kitchen knives and favorite vegetable or flower seeds fit the bill.

Thinking sustainably and supporting an eco-friendly lifestyle is a hallmark of the Northwest and a paragon for other regions. The key is acting locally, which not only means purchasing products that are produced locally, but also buying from neighborhood stores that are more likely to support the economy in your area.

With that in mind, I’ve asked few luminaries in the sustainable community to assemble their suggestions, and I’ve also put together a few ideas of my own. They might just make the holiday joy last for years to come.

* * *

Matthew Dillon, Director of Advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Washington, believes that seeds embody both our common cultural heritage and a living natural resource fundamental to the future sustainability of food production.

As you might expect, Dillon’s all about getting people out in the garden, and suggests giving a Northwest gardener the gift of season extension with floating row covers or fleece tunnels. Seed saving kits also rank high on his list, including cleaning screens, desiccants, and containers. He said to be sure to get sizes appropriate to the recipient’s needs. (Kits are available through local nurseries or online at Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon)

For garden tools, he has two favorites. Of soil thermometers, he said, “If you're like me you feel a burning desire to start planting green beans and summer squash on those rare early warm spring days. Planting seeds in cold soil is a sure way to get poor germination and/or unhealthy plants, and a good soil thermometer will help you get the timing right.” Then there’s the classic Felco pruner. “I recommend the No. 2. It’s the tool for any gardener to have, from pruning to clipping seed heads.”

And he’s got a unique idea for donating to the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). “You can support healthy seed systems by having a winter garden catalog party. OSA staff will come to your home or garden club and give a short presentation of heirlooms and organic seeds. Afterwards we'll thumb through catalogs and share what we look for in a seed company, what questions you should be asking, our approach to trying new varieties, as well as a few recommendations on our favorite varieties.” For more information, visit the OSA website.

All Seasons Indoor Composting Kit consists of bucket with spigot and 1 gallon of bokashi—an anaerobic composting system that is practically odorless. Check your local nursery or Amazon.com—$75

Gift Of Pollination Starter Kit is the way to ensure that area apple, cherry or other fruit trees produce plentiful fruit. The kit includes a cedar nester box, a set of pre-packaged nesting tubes, the book The Orchard Mason Bee and a coupon for a set of 20 Orchard Mason bees—and don't worry, these bees don't sting! Check your local nursery or apiary supply store or KnoxCellars.com—$63.95

Earthbox Ready to Grow Kit is for friends or family member who don’t have gardens but do have patios or outdoor space. The kit includes a planter box, watering tube, covers, potting mix, fertilizer and dolomite. Check your local nursery or Earthbox.com—$59.95

Read Part Two: Farm to Table, Part Three: Good for the Environment, Part Four: Helping Others and Part Five: DIY Food & Drink.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Travels with Chili: A Mountain of Mushrooms


Let's just say it was within an hour of Portland. On a mountain. At an undisclosed location. And yes, if I told you where it was I'd have to kill you. Or it would be my neck in a noose.

"Pick me! Pick me!"

But that's the way the mushroom-foraging world works. Secrecy. Blindfolds. Sworn statements.

So when my friend Kate told me she was going up to one of her favorite spots to pick chanterelles, I knew the rules. No loose lips, no sinking ships. Blogging, and even photos were allowed as long as there were, ahem, no distinguishing marks that would give away our location. Like spy craft from a John le Carré novel, only in heavy coats and wellies. And if I ever go back to that location at a later date? I would need to share the harvest (I think she even referred to it as "tribute") with her.

Beautiful but possibly deadly.

But for chanterelles at the height of the season in a prime picking location I would have signed away rights to my first born and given up in-house I.T. help forever. Fortunately such draconian measures weren't mentioned, and we drove up to (hmhmhmhmhmhm) just outside of (lalalalalala) under a high cloud cover and no rain in sight. The temperature was even moderate, which was a blessing considering we'd be thrashing through the dense undergrowth and over fallen logs, looking for little golden highlights poking up through the duff.

It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to the terrain, since the leaves from the deciduous trees that make up the understory are exactly the same color as the mushrooms, and it's rare that the whole chanterelle will be sticking up, waving its arms and shouting, "Over here!" And once you do make the adjustment, you see all kinds of mushrooms…big black ones, little buttons dotting a log, speckled mahogany ones gleaming and no doubt deadly.

The haul: Chanterelles and a cauliflower mushroom.

So you walk and climb and look in likely spots, generally very near the base of the big doug firs, at first hopeful, then resigned, then irked that other people are finding them and you're not. But eventually you'll stumble upon (or step on, in my case) a beautiful specimen and just when a howl of frustration starts to issue from your throat, you see another one nearby, and several more right around that.

With a break for sandwiches, coffee and maybe a wee dram from a flask, we admired our sizable harvest and then spent another hour or so hunting just a few more. And with a solemn reminder to keep mum, we packed up our suddenly heavy baskets and drove down the mountain.