Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The "L" Word: Chilaquiles For Everyone!

I buy corn tortillas in the big stacks at the grocery store, in the packages that proudly declare "5 Dozen." I get home, throw them in the freezer, and when we have tacos or tostadas or pork posole verde, I make sure to peel off a couple more than I think we'll need for dinner. That's because I have a secret agenda for these leftovers for the next morning, a breakfast treat for myself that takes maybe five minutes to make but makes me clap my hands in anticipation of its gloriousness.

With eggs like these, who needs to dye them?

I first had chilaquiles (pron. chee-lah-KEE-lays) on our very first trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Our beachside hotel had a breakfast bar and I wandered down the line, taking a little of this, a little of that and a lot of fresh fruit. One of the warming trays had a combination of scrambled eggs and tortillas, jalapeños and tomatoes that was so good I was pushing aside the papayas to pile more on my plate.

Since then we've had them for brunch and dinner, just for us and for a crowd, with bell peppers and tomatoes chopped in or simply plain (top photo) with salsa on the side, and they never fail to satisfy. So next time you've got tortillas left over, make sure to save a couple for your own secret breakfast treat.


This is for one secret breakfast, but it's easy to up-size for a crowd. And feel free to sauté a mix of peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes or whatever strikes your fancy after you've fried the tortillas, then add the eggs and scramble.

1 Tbsp. butter
1 corn tortilla, halved, then cut in 1/2" strips
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. cheddar cheese, grated
Salt to taste

Heat pan over medium heat and add butter. When foam subsides, lower heat and add tortilla strips, frying briefly on each side to brown. Remove from heat, add eggs, cheese and salt and combine. Return to heat and scramble until the eggs are done (I like mine very soft). Serve with salsa on top or mixed in…it's your secret breakfast, so make it your way!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

From Boring to Dull and Back

Apparently all it takes is setting foot in Oregon to catch the whimsy that clings to the place like a shawl. Take, for instance, cyclist Elizabeth Leighton, who came here from her home in Scotland to tour the beautiful green byways of our state.

It happened the day she rolled through the town of Boring. Elizabeth, you see, was from the Perthshire town of Dull, and she quickly relayed the news of this odd conjunction of place names to her friends back home. As you can imagine, this was very exciting to the Dull folk, and they immediately communicated with officials in Boring to inquire about establishing a mutual municipal friendship.

A declaration of sisterhood was drawn up, with one story quoting Dull community council chairman Tommy Pringles saying, “It’s bad enough when people stop dead to photograph the signpost for Dull. Imagine how many would do a double-take if it said, ‘Welcome to Dull, a sister community of Boring’?”

On the Boring end of things, people were no less jazzed. Sensing an opportunity, the townfolk set up a Boring Oregon Foundation to construct a multi-generational community center for the greater Boring area.

Its first fundraiser?A raffle for a thrilling, fun-filled tour of Dull! Well, it is in Scotland, after all, tickets are only twenty bucks and they're only selling 500 of them. So your chances are way better than any lottery payout. All the deets are on the Boring, Oregon Facebook page, so get in on a chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime trip that'll take you all the way from Boring to Dull.

Details: Raffle to Benefit the Boring, Oregon Foundation. Rules, details and exclusions on their Facebook page. Complete itinerary here.

Photo from The Nation.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Yarnbombing, PDX style

Not content with simply making kooky hats or yarnbombing another bike stand, fiber artist Tyler Mackie decided she wanted to make art that would make a difference. Bridge for Blankets is her project to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Broadway Bridge during the PDX Bridge Festival on August 10.

She has a fundraising goal of $10,500 and is looking for volunteers to knit and help promote her effort to make art that will be recycled into warm wool blankets for the homeless. And that kind of spirit is worth supporting, don't you think?

Details: Bridge for Blankets by Tyler Mackie. Donate here. Become a member of the volunteers and donors Facebook group here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Canola Controversy: Seeding Change

The ability to collect and save seeds from the crops they grow has been a traditional practice among farmers for thousands of years. Those millenia of tradition may be brought to an abrupt halt if canola is allowed to be grown in the narrow confines of the Willamette Valley. Contributor Anthony Boutard explains why in his testimony before the Oregon House Agriculture Committee on March 19. 

Chair Witt and Members of the Committee,

For the record, my name is Anthony Boutard and I live in Gaston, Oregon. I am testifying in support of HB 2427.

My wife and I have a certified organic market farm bridging Yamhill and Washington counties. We grow a wide range of crops, including Chinese cabbages, turnips, various radishes, rutabagas, kales and mustards.

Because it is very difficult to find high quality organic seed for many of these and other crops, we produce a significant quantity our own seed on the farm. Under our organic farm plan, we produce seed for approximately 35 plant varieties on-farm. Next winter we are planning to produce seed for Chinese cabbage and turnip. We also rely on seed from other Willamette Valley growers to fill in the holes in our own production.

The decision by the Oregon Department of Agriculture to open up parts of the valley, no matter how limited, to canola production is a serious breach for those of us who grow our own seed and contemplate growing it commercially in the future. As you drive down the Willamette Valley, you can see the Cascades to the east and the coast range to the west. It really is a small place, isolated by the mountain ranges flanking it, which is one of the reasons why the prohibition on growing rapeseed [Another term for canola. - KB] was necessary in the first place.

The argument for lifting the valley-wide ban is similar to arguing that the pollution will only enter a pond at its fringe, so what is the problem. As anyone who battles teasel, tansy ragwort, or Himalayan blackberries knows, plants do not stay put; they move with great ease, especially along roadsides, railroad tracks and other disturbed lands. The toughness and resilience that makes canola an attractive crop for a handful of growers, also makes it a huge problem for the rest of us.

The opening of the Willamette Valley to canola production will needlessly pose the risk of increased disease and insect pressure, making it harder for small farms to produce their own seed, especially organic growers that do not use poisons in their crop production. As with plant pests, insect pests and fungal diseases move about this pond-like valley quickly. Allowing rapeseed production in the valley may provide a reservoir of harmful insects and diseases that can disperse into the seed growing regions. Every year, growers are confronted with new pests, most recently the spotted wing drosophila and the brown marmorated stinkbug, through no fault of their own. We also have a history of self-inflected damage, and the opening the valley to canola production may turn out to be another case history for the future.

Several times a year, farm business draws me from Gaston to the southern end of the valley, at it is amazing to see how many different crop seeds are grown in the valley. These seeds find their way around the world, producing vegetables that feed people throughout the Americas, and across Europe and Asia. For example, a tiny cabbage seed produced just south of Amity will grow into a head of cabbage winding up on a family’s table in Ireland or Germany.

Our neighbors grew a crop of spinach seed last summer, and this year or next somewhere in the world it will be planted for someone’s meal. In our part of the valley, specialty seed production is replacing the dwindling acreage of processing crops such as corn, cauliflower, cabbage, strawberries, cucumbers and beets. As the processors have left the valley, they have been replaced by seed houses and associated businesses, providing growers who formerly grew for processors a vital lifeline.

HB 2427 will provide me and my neighbors the assurance that the investments we make in high quality seed production, including years of selective breeding, will not be for naught. Seed production is a high-value agricultural activity that deserves protection from weedy, marginal rotation crops which will undermine the integrity of our efforts.

Please consider adding your voice to the approval of HB 2427. E-mail list and links here.

For more information on canola and the issues surrounding its production in the Willamette Valley, read the rest of the series, starting with "Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look" (links to other posts in the series at bottom).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Livin' in the Blurbs: April Events, No Foolin'

It's shocking to me that more people don't know about the annual Farm Fest Plowing Competition in McMinnville. For horse lovers young and old it's a no-brainer. For history buffs, it's like stepping back into a piece of Oregon's agricultural past (and more and more, its future). For Trekkies…well, that one's a stretch unless you pretend you're on the holodeck. But really, the chance to have a drive through some gorgeous country, to see these beautiful animals at work and the men and women who train and work with them, is a real privilege. And we're not just talking hobbyists here. Many of the competitors actually plow their farms with these horses and mules and are available for questions and photos. Plus you can take  a tour of the museum, see a quilt show and hear live old-time music. Seriously, it's well worth a couple of hours on a Saturday to see it.

Details: Farm Fest 2013 Plowing Competition. Sat., April 13, 10 am-4 pm; $3 per person, kids 12 and under free. Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, 11275 SW Durham Lane at the intersection of Hwy. 18 and Duram Lane, McMinnville. 503-434-0490.

* * *

Before we remodeled our kitchen we spent a lot of time looking at other people's, gathering ideas and making lists of what worked and didn't, what we wanted and, of course, what we could actually afford. Home tours were a part of that, but the most helpful to us, at least, was the Architectural Heritage Center's Kitchen Revival Tour featuring an array of homes from the 1890s to the 1950s. It's coming around again on April 13, so those considering a remodel at some point in the future, or those of a just-plain-snoopy bent should definitely put it on their calendars.

Details: Architectural Heritage Center Kitchen Revival Tour. Sat., April 13, 10 am-4 pm; $25, tickets available online. 503 231-7264.

* * *

"Going Beyond Happy Farmers & Recipes" should be the title of an upcoming day-long workshop on food journalism and issues. Called the Food + Agriculture Media Project (F+AMP)—I like to think of it as "FoodAmp"—it's being put on by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and Ecotrust on April 12. Coordinator Jackleen de la Harpe says that with the increasing interest on the part of consumers about where their food comes from, "it's time to go beyond the 'plate-centric' approach to food writing." She promises reporters, bloggers and writers an engaging exploration of the deeper issues of our food system, including sustainability, climate change, poverty and health disparities. Sounds like a worthwhile way to spend a day!

Details: Food + Agriculture Media Project. Friday, April 12, 8:30 am-3:30 pm; $40 with preregistration online. Event at Ecotrust Building, 721 NW 9th Ave.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Food Farmer Earth: Hydroponics + Aquaculture = Aquaponics

In my interview for Food Farmer Earth with Ann Forsthoefel of Aqua Annie, she explains why growing plants and fish together is a sensible way to produce food.

Growing up, Ann Forsthoefel’s family owned a small, three-acre parcel of land that supplied most of the family’s food. She joked that her mother invented permaculture, the au courant term for caring for the land and the animals, insects and plants that live on it, because it was the only way she knew how to farm in the days before corporate agriculture took over the food system.

Now, her home on a standard city lot in Portland has more raised beds and chicken runs than lawn, and she started a CSA (community supported agriculture) for her neighbors during the growing season. There’s also the burbling sound of water, but instead of a typical backyard water feature, it was coming from structures filled with flourishing plants fed by water pumped from nearby fish tanks, even on a cold day in late winter.

It’s obvious she’s excited by aquaponics, the growing of plants fed by nutrients from fish, which in turn provide a source of food when they reach maturity.

“There are so few inputs compared to growing crops in the soil,” she said. With her gardens, she’s constantly building up the soil that is depleted at the end of each growing season. The beauty of aquaponics, she said, is that there isn’t that constant work because the fish are giving nutrients to the plants.

Read the rest of the article.

This week's kitchen segment, naturally enough, is a recipe for Southern Fried Catfish and Hushpuppies. To get regular updates on local producers featured on Food Farmer Earth, consider a free subscription.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fractal Fantasy: Romanesco Rules!

Romanesco has to be the coolest vegetable on the planet with its mesmerizing swirls and fluorescent green color. It's also a great way to introduce kids to fractal geometry and, if they're not fond of vegetables, to distract them with the riveting tale of Benoit Mandelbrot. Here's a recipe from contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food that should provide a great opportunity.

Just because the calendar looks more Spring-like don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be eating anything much different that the usual members of the cabbage family that’ve been around all winter. But that’s okay; they’re delicious.

Romanesco with Olives & Capers

The fractal heads of the bright green cauliflower called Romanesco broccoli look so cool you have to serve them intact. This composed salad preserves the psychedelic shape.

Drop the whole head of Romanesco into a large pot of well-salted boiling water. Cook it for about 5 minutes, then drain and cool. Cut the flowerets from the stem; you can either chop the stem more finely and add it to the salad or save it for another dish. Combine the flowerets in a large bowl with a walnut-sized shallot, finely chopped, a couple of tablespoons of Pantellerian capers*, rinsed and chopped, a half cup of pitted & chopped oil-cured olives, and a couple of chopped small, inner stalks of celery with their leaves.

Drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a small splash of red wine vinegar (Katz Trio), a healthy pinch of flor de sal, and another or two of the Pantellerian oregano*. Toss well and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

* These are terrific, but if you don't have the Pantellerian version in your pantry, regular capers and oregano will do.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Zulu Word for Tomorrow: A Food Journey

Dave and I have known our friend Gary since he and Dave worked together at the now-defunct Oregon City Enterprise Courier, the local newspaper. We all went on to different careers but kept in touch off and on, updating each other on kids, moves and other mundane activities. Gary recently retired from Lane County Health and Human Services, and almost immediately signed up for the Peace Corps. Almost a year ago he was sent to serve in South Africa as an HIV outreach worker in KwaZulu-Natal Province, and has kept a meticulous blog on his service there. This is one of his recent posts.

I’ve been promising for months to write about food, but it’s such a huge topic I haven’t known where to start. Perhaps I’ll start with the Zulu word for tomorrow: kusasa.

Our friend Gary.

This is one of the first Zulu words I learned in training more than a year ago, and this is how it’s connected to food: I lived with a village family, Bhuta, Maria and their grandson, Siyabonga, 5, for 8 weeks during training. Unlike most of my fellow volunteers—who lived with families where at least one person spoke passable English—no one in my family spoke any English, so most of our communication was by sign language or acting things out as in pantomime. (Mr. Bhuta’s first language was Afrikaans because he was of an era when the white government forced young people to give up their native languages and learn it).

Its Zulu custom to serve rather large portions at meals—large by my standards—and my family was no exception. Maria would serve me a plate of “pap,” a staple of most meals that is made from “mealie meal”—ground corn or maize—that was almost the size of a football. With it would be chicken, the most commonly eaten form of meat, and servings of several of vegetables: beans, spinach, beets, squash are common. Early on I learned the word kususa and would point at the huge plate of pap, make a chopping motion with my hand as if cutting it in half, then point to one half and say, “Kusasa…kusasa,” sometimes while patting my stomach and making a small groaning sound like one would make if one were overfed.

A packet of mielie meal, a staple of the creche food system.

It soon became clear that she knew what I was saying. But she didn’t understand why I wanted to eat so little. Bhuta, who ate his pap and veggies in the traditional way, with his fingers (the rest of us used spoons), also always had a huge serving of pap, and ate it all, every day, though he was not nearly as big as me. Slowly, over time, Maria began giving me smaller portions, but it was the end of the 8 weeks before she really served me only as much as I could reasonably eat. Occasionally, I would find her in the kitchen just as she was filling my plate and would hold my palm up in the universal sign for stop, and keep her from overloading it. She also learned about salads when I made one for dinner one night and after that, on occasion, she would make one for me, though there was no salad dressing for it.

I recall one meal in particular where there were so many courses, nine, that I felt compelled to write down all the various courses as a good example of a great rural South African meal. In addition to pap, the meal included chicken, squash, “bhonchise” (beans, similar to baked beans), beets, salad, potatoes, rice…and one other thing I can’t recall (the written list is in the journal I took home at Christmas and no longer have with me). I like pap and all that goes with it and sometimes have it on weekends in Estcourt, my shopping town, where you can get it in restaurants, including chicken, vegetables and gravy, for 20 rand, about $2.50 under today’s rate of exchange.

Drinking homemade beer from a community beer tub.

Unlike as in many Western countries where many leftovers are tossed, in rural So. Africa food is saved for a future meal, though not always stored in a refrigerator. I’ve seen food that was cooked, but left over after the meal and set on a nearby counter for up to 3 days before someone ate it and did so without getting sick. Other times, leftovers are fed to dogs, chickens or goats. In the small cinderblock house where I live, the electricity is so spotty that it would not support a fridge—it’s been out for up to 13 days at a time—so my meals reflect that. I eat a lot of peanut-and-jelly sandwiches, apples and a raisin and nut mix I buy, along with dried fruit like peaches, pears and apricots. When I have power in the evening at dinner time I often eat rice or pasta with a sauce that’s from a package and/or canned meat like beef, chicken or pilchards, which are small, sardine-like fish that come in a can with a spicy tomato sauce. Sometimes I make two servings, eat one for dinner and have the balance for breakfast without its having been refrigerated. So far, haven’t gotten sick doing that.

Pap (usually pronounced “pop”) is one of at least three corn-based staples that are eaten here. Pap seems to be the most popular in the northern part of SA. Phutu (the “h” is silent), which is drier and more crumbly, is popular in the part of SA where I live in southern KwaZulu-Natal. A third staple called samp is similar to what’s called hominy in the Western U.S. where I live, and called grits in the Southern U.S. All are usually served with a gravy, often, but not always, with meat, usually chicken. It’s the version favored my many Xhosa, another of the tribes of So. Africa. At Masiphile, where we now serve lunch to the children in the creche each day—using food purchased with money provided by the Department of Social Development—the cook goes back and forth between rice and phutu, covered with brown gravy made from soy. It’s very good and I occasionally make spaghetti sauce from it at home. The gravy for the creche kids also usually includes vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes, from our garden. Usually, Busisisiwe, the cook, makes enough for us volunteers (there are no paid staff, including the program manager at Masiphile) to have lunch.

Feasting on goat meat, roasted over a fire. 

Occasionally, she even serves samp, though she’s Zulu. According to the American Heritage dictionary (4th edition), “samp” is of Native American origin, coming from the Narragansett word “nasàump.” New Englanders since early colonial times have referred to cornmeal mush or cereal as “samp.” Don’t ask me why a word originating in early America came to be used in rural So. Africa. Which reminds me, I’m always having to explain to South Africans why Native Americans are called Indians, when they’re not from India. But I digress—don’t get me started on Columbus!

It’s customary in Zulu culture for one to share one’s food with everyone else who is present. I committed a faux pas recently when I offered lunch to a worker who was at Masiphile erecting our new sign and was still working at lunch, toiling away in the hot sun, when food was being served. But a group of about 10 community profilers, Nonhlanhla, the manager, supervises was also there for a meeting and there wasn’t enough to serve all of them, so I shouldn’t have offered lunch to one person. Ultimately, he was asked to come into the creche to eat, where he was out of sight of the group sitting on chairs in the front yard. Crisis averted, but I will be more careful about offering people lunch. It's custom to serve no one, rather than some but not others, creche kids excepted. I sometimes walk to the nearby tuck shop to buy cookies—what are called biscuits here—for eating with tea. They come in packages of 10 and a package rarely lasts more than one tea break, since I offer them to all present! Some days, someone will bring something from home, in a Tupperware container, and all of us will grab a spoon and dig in, all eating from the same community bowl. Lately, Philder (the “h” is silent), one of the creche teachers, has been bringing huge containers of baked squash, or “isijinji,” or “mnandi” in Zulu, to share. Delicious! Other days we buy “igwinya” (not sure about the spelling here), fried bread rolls that are delicious, but not very healthy, from one of our neighbors. They cost one rand, 50 cents, about 16 cents, U.S.

No discussion of Zulu food would be complete without talking about the many functions or events that include food, such as an “unveiling,” a celebration of the life of a deceased loved one that occurs one year after the death. I’ve been to several of these, attended by both invited and uninvited guests—it's Zulu custom to accommodate all from the village who show up, invited or not—and large quantities of various foods are always served.

Grandmothers, or "gogos," working in the creche garden.

Like many cultures around the world, including American, food is often a significant part of any gathering. (It’s a given here that if you want good attendance at a public event your organization is sponsoring, make it known you are serving food at the end). Other family celebrations that call for lots of food and drink include celebrating one’s 21st birthday; a celebration that calls for a groom’s family to present gifts to the bride and her family, especially things that will be needed in the new couple’s new household (this event also includes dressing up a goat, in a dress, to represent the new mother-in-law); and of course the traditional wedding itself, an event that commonly lasts an entire weekend or more. Many couples have both a civil marriage—similar to going to the courthouse and finding the justice of the peace in the U.S.—and the traditional Zulu wedding that goes on for days and may involve hundreds of people.

Such events are often centered outside in the family compound, and involve slaughtering a cow, or cows, and a goat or two and God only knows how many chickens! I’ve seen the slaughter of all three, multiple times, and photographed such events. Most Americans don’t think much beyond going to the grocery store and buying their meat from a refrigerated case, avoiding thoughts of how the meat got from the farm to the store. With a respectful and honorable nod to my vegetarian friends who don’t believe in eating animals, I would nonetheless point out that animals slaughtered in rural So. African villages are treated relatively humanely and the deed is done quickly, effectively and, for the most part, pain-free. I’ll spare the details here, but, done properly, a cow is dead in less than a minute or so from the time the knife is pushed or tapped into the space that separates the brain from the spinal cord, severing the spine, which means the cow doesn’t feel the throat being slit to begin draining the blood.

Such family events almost always also include the serving of large quantities of home-made Zulu beer, which takes several days to make, resembles chocolate milk in color, and is tasty once one gets used to the taste. My supervisor, Nonhlanhla, says she will give me the recipe before I leave! Families that are relatively well off often follow the end of homemade beer with the serving of bottled beer and, for those who stay 'round to the end, shots of whiskey. I’ve developed an informal policy of departing such celebrations when about half the men are intoxicated, because it usually becomes less fun at that point—as, probably, it would be in any culture, including American.

There’s more I could say about Zulu culture and food, but I’m trying to keep my blog posts under 2,000 words. So, I will close with another of Peace Corp’s “core expectations” of volunteers:

Core Expectation #9: “Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America.”

Best Peruvian in PDX…in Gresham?

It's like finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk and there isn't a soul in sight to return it to. Or winning a bottle of local coffee liqueur by guessing a stranger's birth year (and yes, this actually happened to me). In other words, a smile from lady luck, a kiss from her lips on your cheek.

The somewhat unpromising façade.

That's how it felt when our neighbors invited us to their favorite Peruvian restaurant. One of the pair hails from Chile and knows his South American cuisine intimately, so I was excited to be going along. Though when he mentioned the place was in Gresham, I had to admit to a frisson of apprehension…great food? Gresham? Really?

Just as we were leaving to caravan to our destination, we were cautioned that it was not a fancy place. This was more than confirmed when we pulled into a dumpy strip mall somewhere out in deep suburbia. But when you're in, you're in, and I kept telling myself that these two wouldn't steer us wrong.

The signature rotisserie chicken.

The glaring signage of El Inka trumpeted their "Pollos a la Brasa," or rotisserie chicken, roasted in a giant wood-fired oven by owner Claudia Fernandez. Our guides had wisely requested that one be held for us, since the birds have been known to sell out on a fairly regular basis.

Though the small room was packed when we arrived, our table for five was ready quickly and we sat down. And this is where the one and only drawback to the place comes in—they have no alcohol available. No cocktails, no wine, not even a beer. Though I have to say that their chibcha morada, a traditional Peruvian juice made from blue corn, is quite refreshing, as is the mango drink called maracuyá.

Caucau de mariscos.

The chicken is, as advertised, a highlight of the menu, perfectly bronzed and succulent in a fall-apart tender way with a cumin and chile rub that causes even non-chicken skin lovers to fight over it. But the highlight of the meal was a starter of ceviche of mixed seafood and fish (top photo) that surpassed any ceviche I've had in Portland by several miles. Fresher-than-fresh white fish, squid, shrimp and teeny little shelled mussels were marinated in a lime-spiked bath and tossed with red onion, celery, green onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The capper was a side of what looked something like corn nuts and turned out to be cancha, or a popped, roasted corn kernel made from Andean maiz chulpa that gave the dish a crunchy, nutty, roasty snap. This is a dish worth traveling far out of your way for, even to a little strip mall in deep Gresham.

The rest of the meal was also really good, though the ceviche was a tough act to follow. We had the papa a la huancaina, steamed potatoes covered in a creamy aji amarilla sauce of yellow peppers and mayonnaise, a traditional preparation of Peru's indigenous tuber. A caucau de mariscos was a fish stew with a mix of vegetables and served with rice, a mild and pleasant dish. The quinoa salad, or ensalada de quinua, was like a Greek salad with that native grain added, a nice if somewhat pedestrian break that was elevated by the addition of more cancha. Love those things!

But rest assured I'll be dreaming of that ceviche until we return—soon!—to have it again. And I hear that there are a few other items we missed that are well worth ordering, so stay tuned.

Details: El Inka, 48 NE Division St., Gresham. 503-491-0323.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Raab, Rabe, Rape, Rapini…It's Time!

A day or two of sunshine and 50-plus degree weather, and my kale plants were busting with buds, aka raab, rape, rapini or rabe.

As Jim Dixon said in his rant on the subject, these greens are the immature buds of various cruciferous plants like chard, kale, collards and broccoli. They pop out in the spring for a short period, then flower and set seeds to make more of their kind. Like their adult versions, they're packed with vitamins and nutrients and, as I constantly tell my son when I serve them, "Your colon will thank me when you're my age."

I like them simply sautéed with a little olive oil and garlic, maybe some bacon if you've got it, and served as is, maybe as a bed under meat or fish. Though they're terrific blanched and chopped into salads and pastas or sprinkled on pizza, too. If you don't have any in your garden, not to worry…there are scads of all kinds of them at the farmers' markets.

Remember: your colon will thank you…

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Food Farmer Earth: Winter's Cold Sweetens Crops

Part two of my interview for Food Farmer Earth with Tom DeNoble of DeNoble's Farm Fresh Produce answers the question of why so many vegetables seem to taste sweeter in the winter months. Turns out there's a scientific explanation…thank goodness it wasn't all just in my head!

Watch part one, Winter Farming Bitter and Sweet.

In this week's kitchen segment, author and teacher Diane Morgan makes an easy and delicious recipe, Microbrew-Braised Rutabagas. To get regular updates on local producers featured on Food Farmer Earth, consider a free subscription.

The Beauty of Truffles, Distilled

You have to know, first, that I'm not a chocoholic. Generally speaking, I'd choose a piece of fruit pie over chocolate cake and I tend to browse the pickles section rather than the shelves of chocolate bars at specialty food stores.

But yesterday I had a chance to sample a new line of truffles from Moonstruck that infuse the ganache centers with spirits from some of Oregon's premiere craft distillers. The thing I like about them? The spirits are subtle and complement the chocolates used, rather than being overly alcoholic bombs.

Kudos to Moonstruck for staying the hand of excess, and creating these jewel-like beauties. I can think of a few gifting opportunities for these!

Details: Moonstruck Chocolate Oregon Distillers Collection. Order via e-mail or phone 800-557-6666. Also available at TOAST, the Oregon Artisan Spirits Tasting, Mar. 22-23. Fri., 5-10 pm; Sat., 1-10 pm; $20 adv., $25 door. Two World Trade Center. 121 SW Salmon St.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Food Farmer Earth: Winter Farming Bitter & Sweet

My interview for Food Farmer Earth with Tom DeNoble of DeNoble's Farm Fresh Produce was a real privilege. I've wanted to do a story about what it takes to farm in winter, and I knew Tom would tell it like it is.

When it comes to farming through the winter months, Tom DeNoble of DeNoble’s Farm Fresh Produce in Tillamook is no romantic.

“Winter farming is a big gamble,” he said. “It’s like rolling the dice every year.”

But give him a choice between a height-of-summer carrot and one pulled out of the ground in January, and it’s no contest. He’ll choose the winter carrot every time. According to him, the quality of winter vegetables is just as good or even better than in the summer, though they may not be quite as pretty.

That’s because cold temperatures cause the plants to produce sugars that act as antifreeze, making them taste sweeter. And because they’re also growing more slowly, they develop more intense flavors.

Read the rest of the interview.

Watch part two, Winter's Cold Sweetens Crops. In this week's kitchen segment, author and teacher Diane Morgan makes an easy and delicious recipe, Microbrew-Braised Rutabagas. To get regular updates on local producers featured on Food Farmer Earth, consider a free subscription.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Spare But Not Skimpy: Chinese Braised Spare Ribs

It's no surprise I would find a package of spare ribs in the freezer that'd been packed in there over a year ago, the very last remnant of Roger the pig. I mean, there are dust bunnies in our house that could be considered "vintage." And there was the time our son finally got tall enough to see the top of the fridge and I caught Dave frantically signalling him to not say anything about the quarter-inch of dust he could see there. The boy couldn't help himself, of course, and my response was to hand him a sponge…funny how he's never remarked on it since.

Montinore Estate's verjus…awesome!

Anyway, back to the spare ribs. When they thawed out I found a teensy bit of freezer burn on one corner, but otherwise they looked fine. After cutting off the little burn and figuring neither the weather outside nor the age of the ribs merited the traditional barbecue treatment, I remembered a dish we'd had recently that featured braised spare ribs.

A little research yielded a few recipes that gave me an idea of ingredients and timing, so I cobbled together what sounded good and what I could fill in with ingredients from the pantry. The brilliant part, if I do say so myself, was substituting verjus for the stock or wine called for in the other recipes. Its mild, slightly vinegary flavor seemed, at least to my mind, to go with that sweet-sour taste I love in Asian dishes.

It turned out to be a door-buster of a dish, the succulent meat not quite falling off the bone, and definitely fit for guests when I make it again (and I definitely will). In fact, if I'm not mistaken, there are some spare ribs from Petunia out in the freezer someplace. I'll just have to dig them out.

Chinese-style Braised Pork Spare Ribs

1 1/4 c. verjus, white wine or rice wine
1/3 c soy sauce
1/4 c hoisin
6 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
2 whole dried hot red peppers
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 lb spare ribs
Cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish

Preheat oven to 300°.

Put all ingredients except spare ribs in medium sized Dutch oven over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Add spare ribs and return to a boil. Cover and place in oven for 1 1/2 hrs.

Remove from oven and pour off juices into skillet, leaving ribs in covered pot to stay warm. Bring juices to a boil and reduce by half or until it thickens to a sauce-like consistency. Skim off fat (I used my glass fat separator). Put ribs in serving bowl and pour sauce over top. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Quick Hits: Clyde Common, Theory, Relish

Whether you call it luncheon or lunchin', Clyde Common is a downtown gem where business guys in suits (Are there really still offices where suits and ties are de rigeur?) settle in at the large common tables next to hipsters with short-sleeved plaid shirts and flapped hunting caps. The menu offers something for everyone, from simple salads of seasonal greens to big meaty sandwiches with house-made condiments to hearty entrées and hand-made pastas.

I was there for a casual ladies' lunch with a good friend, the only downside to the whole experience coming as the place filled up and the volume increased with it. That began the ever-escalating upward slope of noise, where, to be heard, everyone starts talking louder, etc., etc. Not to get off on an cranky rant, I'll just note that it's best to go when it's not crowded if you need to catch up with an old friend. The upside, of course, was that the food was terrific, particularly my squash and ricotta agnolotti in a luscious cream sauce sprinkled with candied walnuts. Heaven! Also, we weren't in a particular hurry, so eventually the business guys had to get back to the office and the hipsters migrated to the Stumptown outlet next door for their afternoon caffeine fix, leaving us to comfortably finish our conversation.

Details: Clyde Common, 1014 SW Stark St. 503-228-3333.

* * *

If you have kids or you're meeting a friend for lunch who does, it's a natural. But even adults needing a quick, fairly inexpensive noontime meal are going to find it a desirable option, particularly since every seat in the house has a million-dollar view of the river and downtown through the soaring walls of windows. And as soon as the weather warms up a bit and the patio opens, you'll be able to dine riverside on the patio.

Inside, it's set up like a modernist cafeteria, with stations for kid-centric comfort food like meatloaf and mac'n'cheese, another for ethnic street food, a full deli and even a gorgeous wood oven where you can build your own hand-thrown pizza. And did I mention a full pastry case and coffee bar? All of it is dedicated to serving fresh, local and sustainable food, with most dishes made to order.

So where is this paragon of modern dining, you ask? Shockingly, it's a new restaurant called Theory inside…wait for it…OMSI, the city's science museum-cum-kid heaven. Run by the forward-looking, award-winning Bon Appétit food service that's been revolutionizing so-called institutional food for years and overseen by executive chef Ryan Morgan, they've even got a full bar and tap list and are set to start regular happy hour service soon. Count me in for a cocktail on the patio when the sun comes out again.

Details: Theory, 1945 SE Water Ave. 503-797-4000.

* * *

The McMenamin brothers proved that Portlanders will go just about anyplace for a burger and a beer, opening pubs in somewhat unconventional locations like, say, an elementary school, the county poor house, even a funeral home.

Now the Moreland neighborhood has its own version of Portlandia-style quirk in the form of the recently opened Relish Gastropub, located in the former Wilhelm's funeral home building. It had been converted into a now-closed music club before being bought by Marla and Akhil Kapoor, who wanted to open a neighborhood-friendly, reasonably-priced place to serve fresh, local and seasonal cuisine (like their sturgeon-mussel stew, above*). A recent stop at their bar featured a surprisingly extensive and well-curated tap list, a wide selection of wines by the glass and a tempting range of cocktails. Dining rooms are intimate, and happy hour had several small plates that were promising. Be sure to ask to see the elevator they're using to haul the kegs up from storage, which used to be the casket elevator.

Details: Relish Gastropub, 6637 SE Milwaukie Ave. 503-208-3442.

* Photo of Relish sturgeon-mussel stew from their blog.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Edible Geometry

Say that one day, someone bursts into the room and says, "You have to watch this!" and introduces you to the amazing geometric world of Vi Hart. You start with the one where she introduces the concept of the Hexaflexagon, and pretty soon it's two hours later and you've just spent most of the afternoon that was scheduled for working on a project that's due at the end of the day.

I mean, we've all been sucked into the black hole that is YouTube and its endless loops of cute cats, ever-young rockers and crazy cartoons, but Vi and her quick, clipped and just-so-smart videos, like Lay's potato chips, are too appealing to stop at just one.

So I'm passing this on to you in the hopes that you'll understand my situation and maybe call my client and please beg them to understand why this project might be just a teensy bit late. I've got another video cued up…I just discovered her Mathematical Food videos.

Why I Love My Friends, Part Two

I was standing in front of the meat case at my local grocer and felt my pocket buzzing. Taking out my phone, I was greeted with a text from a friend who'd shared the photo above. She'd just come home and found the pair waiting on her porch, looking like they were dancing a reel.

It startled the butcher who was helping me when I let out a whoop of delight, then got a "That's awesome!" when I showed him the photo. Nothing better than that.

Why I Love My Friends, Part One

It's kind of like that British series that played here in the 80s called Good Neighbors. An English couple…well, the husband, actually…turns 40 and decides he and his wife need to become self-sufficient on their little walk-up in Surbiton.

Mom and kid.

My friends, who stopped short of their Brit-com counterparts in that they don't try to make their own clothes or generate their own electricity from animal waste, rented the as-yet-undeveloped pasture behind their Happy Valley home—which is surrounded by 9,000-square-foot McMansions—for their dozen or so chickens, a flock of sheep and some newly acquired Nigerian Dwarf goats.

Talk about DIY city living. And I get to visit and play with the animals. I call that awesome!