Saturday, January 25, 2014
Having conquered the art of making the perfect sourdough boule, Dave decided to get back to the first challenge he set himself: making the perfect baguette. He was sitting at the computer, grazing the various recipes on the internet, when a litany of "What? Sugar? Screw you!" and "Glaze? They put glaze their baguettes? Augh!"
(Just so you know, the words "screw" and "augh" should be replaced with a common four-letter invective for fornication.)
Boiling the bagels.
A similar stream of curses flowed when he was researching bagel recipes, especially those that called for milk to be added to the dough. Flour, water, salt and yeast—or sourdough starter—are, to him, pretty much all that is necessary for most breads. Time, too, is a key ingredient, and I'm constantly shuffling the contents of our refrigerator to make room for bowls of bread (or in this case, baking sheets of bagels) to sit overnight to develop their flavor.
The recipe below is written in his own inimitable style, with instructions and notes. It was his second attempt at making bagels, the first batch somewhat lacking in proper bagel texture and that perfect round shape. This effort was much more rewarding and will probably serve as the basis for future bagel-y goodness. I'll keep you posted on how his baguette efforts turn out.
Adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.
The day before you're going to bake the bagels, make a sponge:
1 tsp. instant yeast.
18 oz. unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used King Arthur bread flour)
20 oz. water, room temperature
In a mixing bowl, stir the yeast into the flour. Add the water and stir until you have a smooth batter, kind of like a thick pancake batter.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rise for two or so hours at room temperature until it's almost doubled in size and is foamy and bubbly.
Move on to the dough:
1/2 tsp. instant yeast.
17 oz. unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2-3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. malt powder
Stir the yeast into the sponge. Add 13.5 ounces of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir until it forms a ball. Slowly add the rest of the flour to stiffen the dough. (Note that I initially put the mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer, but the dough was too stiff and was straining the mixer, so I dumped everything onto the unfloured counter and kneaded by hand.)
Knead for 10 minutes. This is very stiff dough. Reinhart says the dough "should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky." I just kneaded until my hands got tired and I got bored, about 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 4-1/2 ounce pieces. Roll the pieces into balls. Reinhart has a process for this. Cover the balls and let them rest about 20 minutes.
Line two baking sheets with parchment and mist lightly with oil.
After the rest, form the bagels using one of two methods:
(1) Roll each ball into an eight-inch rope, wrap the rope around the base of your fingers and press the ends together, or
(2) Poke a hole in the ball with your thumb and gradually stretch the hole to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. I used the second method. In either case, the bagel should be fairly uniform in thickness.
Put the shaped bagels 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, spray with a little oil, cover with plastic wrap and leave them at room temperature for about 20 minutes. After that time, drop one into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it floats within 10 seconds, it's ready to go into the refrigerator. If not, dry the test bagel off and put it back on the sheet and let the bagels rest for 10 minutes or so until one passes the float test. When a bagel passes the test, dry it off, put it back on the baking sheet and put the covered baking sheets into the refrigerator.
1 Tbsp. baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina for dusting
The next day, heat the oven to 500 degrees and boil some water in a container wide enough to comfortably float three or four bagels at once. Add 1 tablespoon baking soda to the boiling water.
Remove the baking sheets from the refrigerator. Gently drop three or four bagels into the boiling water for 1 minute. Flip the bagels to boil on the other side for 1 minute. While you're boiling the bagels, dust the parchment-lined baking sheets with the cornmeal or semolina. When the bagels have boiled, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on the dusted baking sheets.
This is what Reinhart instructs next:
Put the two baking sheets on two racks in the middle of the oven. Bake for five minutes. Swap each baking sheet to the other shelf. Rotate each baking sheet so what was in front is now in back. Lower the temperature to 450 and bake for another five minutes or until the bagels are light golden brown. Remove the bagels and cool them on a rack for 15 minutes before eating.
This method makes perfectly good bagels, but if you look at them from the side they are a little flat on the side that rested on the baking sheet.
That's why there's a bagel board (Thanks, Elisha!). There are lots of websites that talk about these, but basically, they consist of a flat surface covered with burlap on one side. The bagel board is wet. The bagels are placed on it and put into the oven for a brief time, then are flipped onto a baking tile to finish baking. This allows the top side of the bagel to expand when first put into the oven, while the bottom side remains moist from the wet burlap. When the bagel is flipped, the side that was on the bottom now can expand and become rounded.
I made three bagel boards out of Doug fir (websites call for cedar or pine), cut to 4 by 13 1/2 inches, just long enough to stick over the edge of the baking tile to make it easier to flip. I found some burlap at a local store and washed it--don't do this in a washing machine, because the stuff starts to fall apart. Also, some of the fibers seemed to stick to the bagel's surface. (Maybe there's special bagel burlap?) So I tacked a white cotton kitchen towel over the burlap, which seemed to work.
The baking process is a little different from Reinhart's:
Preheat the oven containing a baking tile to 500 degrees. Boil the bagels as above. Wet the bagel boards thoroughly.
Place the bagels on the bagel boards. Place the bagel boards on the tile in the oven, leaving space on one end of the tile that is the width of a bagel board to allow room for flipping. Bake for three minutes.
Flip the bagels from the first bagel board onto the tile and remove the bagel board. Flip the next board's bagels onto the space left by the first board, etc. until all the bagels are flipped and no bagel boards remain in the oven. Reduce the temperature to 450 degrees and bake another seven minutes or until the bagels are light golden brown.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
If you haven't been to one of Chef Kathryn Yeoman's Farmer's Feast pop-up dinners, then you've just plain been missing out. I mean, if a famous food writer from GQ magazine called her food "a glorification of farm, field, woods and wild" and dubbed it the "most delightful meal" he had in the city, then you should seriously get your mouth over there. This Saturday, Jan. 25, she and Roger Konka, the farmer in the event's title, are hosting an Oregon Truffle Dinner consisting of seven courses of local, foraged and farm-grown deliciousness featuring that rarest of fungi, the truffle. And not just any truffles, but gosh-darn Oregon truffles of the black and white varieties, some of the most fragrant, earthy, divine truffles to be found on the planet. For just $65 for the meal, with wine available by the bottle or glass, it promises to be an evening to remember.
ps: If this supper is sold out, there's a Valentine's Day dinner for $50 per person at the same place on Feb. 14…just sayin'.
Details: Oregon Truffle Dinner from the Farmer's Feast. Sat., Jan. 25, 7 pm; $65, reservations required. E-mail with your name, phone number and the number in your party, or phone 503-734-4329. Event at Tabor Bread, 5051 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
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The Beaverton Farmers Market, a long-time supporter of Good Stuff NW, is debuting its winter market season on the first of February. In addition to the plethora of winter vegetables, there'll be plenty of fresh greens courtesy of the latest in hoop-house technology. Plus lots of warm and cozy prepared food and drinks from regular vendors like Bruce, whose legendary coffee drinks will be found at Pony Espresso, and Big O's delicious pizza will fill you up and warm you while your pie bakes in their wood-fired mobile oven. This truly community-based farmers' market is always a fun and flavorful stop, and makes a nice outing on a Saturday.
Details: Beaverton Farmers Market Winter Market. First and third Saturdays of Feb., Mar. and April from 10 am-1:30 pm. On SW Hall Blvd between 3rd and 5th Sts. 503-643-5345.
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FoodWorx conference on Feb. 4th. Aimed primarily at starting conversations about how we consume our food—whether at home, in restaurants or even how much is wasted in the process—it's centered around 20-minute TED-style presentations. Focused on the four topic areas of society, health, environment and economics and addressed by food scene movers and shakers, both local and national, it's sure to be a thought-provoking day.
Details: FoodWorx Conference. Tues., Feb. 4, 8:30 am-4:30 pm; ticket prices start at $99 ($79 for students) and are available online. Event at Gerding Theatre at the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave. 503-213-3700.
Monday, January 20, 2014
I know of very few people who are more dedicated to the regular consumption of brassicas than contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. In this essay he takes on raw kale lovers, staking out his ground on the side of long, slow cooking.
I have too many cookbooks, but that doesn’t stop me from buying more. David Tanis’ new one, One Good Dish, just arrived, and one of the first things I read as I thumbed the pages was his recipe for kale (top photo). Sorry to all the kale salad lovers, but I’m with Tanis; the leafy greens from these hardy Brassicas taste best after long cooking.
Then I saw “fried bread in the Iberian manner,” Spanish-style migas made from dry bread, another thing I make fairly often. And polentina, a Tuscan vegetable soup thickened with a spoonful of corn meal. The recipes in One Good Dish resonate because they’re just like the food I make every day. Maybe there’s some confirmation bias involved, but this is a book you could cook from for a long time.
Here are my versions of long-cooked kale and Iberian fried bread.
I cook either cavolo nero (aka Tuscan kale) or collard greens every week, and I always braise them with onion, olive oil, salt, and water. They’re so good I don’t think I need to try anything else (unless it's this). The secret ingredient is time; the greens are best if cooked for at least 45 minutes.
Chop an onion and start cooking it in enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan (anything with a decent lid will be fine). While the onion cooks, chiffonade a bunch of greens: roll half the bunch into a tight bundle and cut into quarter inch slices. It isn’t necessary to cut out the central stalk since you’re going to cook them until they’re tender.
Add the greens to the onion along with some salt and about a half cup of water. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Check after 20 minutes, and add water if needed to keep the bottom of the pot covered (I’ve burned greens more than once; sometimes you can save them and just say they’re “caramelized). Let them simmer for at least 45 minutes, longer is okay (but check for water). Drizzle with a bit of fresh extra virgin at the table.
Like Tanis, I usually have some kind of old bread in the kitchen. After a few days of fresh bread and toast, I cut the rest of the loaf into rough cubes and leave it out to get dry (a much better outcome than finding a moldy slice in the bag). For migas, I’ll use it after a day or so, but even older, really hard bread can be revived by sprinkling with a couple of tablespoons of water (let it sit for 15 minutes before frying).
Use enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet; heat it over a medium flame until it shimmers, then add the bread and fry gently until it’s nicely browned. Add some chopped onion and a little garlic if you like, and the rest depends on what’s at hand.
Migas are leftover food for me, so I’ll pull out whatever bits and pieces I have tucked in the refrigerator. Spanish-style chorizo, the dry cured salami version, is classic, and any kind of cured pork can fill in. Don’t have any? Use leftover chicken, diced bacon, or just leave it out. (For other ideas: migas with ham, eggplant migas.)
I always have cabbage, so I’ll chop a little and add it to the skillet. Peppers are good, too. Let everything cook together and get a little crispy, then splash in a a tablespoon or so of good vinegar (Katz, of course) and finish with a a few shakes of the smoky Spanish paprika called pimenton. Top with an fried egg or two if you like.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
In all the hoopla over farm-to-table eating and 100-mile diets, very little is ever said about the lives of the laborers who actually do the work to bring all that goodness to market. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm gives a behind-the-rows glimpse of that world.
For several years, our 15-acre berry field produced approximately 15% of the nation's organic blackberries. We sold roughly 200,000 pounds of berries annually to Cascadian Farm, and they were packaged and sold all across the country. The organic sector has grown tremendously since then, and today our production would fall several zeros on the right of the decimal point, but it was significant at the time. As our field aged, we decided to shift the focus of our farm. Nonetheless, those first seven years taught us a lot about farming and working with a large staff.
About 18 months ago, two blueberry growers had shipments of their blueberries blocked until they admitted they violated labor laws and signed consent judgements. As a relatively small direct sales farm operation, it is tempting to brush off the case as a matter affecting only big farmers, an event beyond our ken. On the other hand, the case represented a terrible miscarriage of justice from a farmer's perspective. Preventing the sale of a perishable crop and using its very perishability to exact a binding confession is wrong, and fortunately, as reported in the Oregonian yesterday, a U.S. Magistrate has sided with the growers with respect to the consent judgement.
The complaint against the blueberry growers asserted that they allowed "ghost workers." This was determined by the average the picking staff harvested in a month and people who picked more than the average were assumed to be assisted by another worker who was not submitting their own harvest tickets. Reading the paper, we were struck by the fact that Gregorio and Letica, both highly skilled solo pickers, who would have been considered by the Department of Labor as two or three people under the agency's formula. There was nothing ghostly about their skill. Treating harvesting of fruits and vegetables as unskilled work where everyone should pick at the same rate because any idiot can pick a berry or apple, the assumption behind the purely statistical investigation, degrades the workers' value. It is also a gross misuse of statistics.
One year, we had to harvest the field on Labor Day because of rain expected later in the week, and so many family members who had the day off came to help each other that we were done by 9:30 in the morning. That day, there were more ghosts than staff, but the family member on the payroll was paid for every berry brought to the scale and punched on their ticket; there was nothing spectral about the dollars they earned. They got the job done early and enjoyed the rest of Labor Day together.
Running any sort of farm is challenging and the shrinking availability of labor and the perils of dealing with the thicket of state and federal laws convinced us to shift how we farmed. The way the field operates today is more cerebral than sensuous, gone are the sounds of laughter and exchange of gossip, the tinny transistor radios, the rhythmic calling of the weight and the click as the tally card is punched and the dense fragrance 20,000 pounds of Chesters loaded on the big flatbed, ready to go to the processor in Salem. We harbor no nostalgia, but retain a healthy respect for those who farm as we did seven years ago. It is a hard business, and they deserve fair treatment by government agencies.
Photos: workers harvesting padron peppers at Viridian Farms, top and bottom; upper left, cutting wheat for frikeh at Ayers Creek Farm; harvesting greens for market at Foxglove Farm.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Excerpted from an article I wrote for The Oregonian:
Editor's note: In 2007, Oregonian reporter Leslie Cole profiled Paul and Kathy Obringer of Ancient Heritage Dairy in Scio. Just one year after starting their creamery, their sheep's milk cheeses were beginning to attract attention in Portland and customers were flocking to their booths at local farmers markets. This is the story of their evolution from those beginnings.
Kathy and Paul Obringer were ready to take the next step. It was 2009, and the lease was up on the farm they had rented in Scio, where they had established their tiny Ancient Heritage Dairy, producing sheep and cow's milk cheeses from their own animals. With recipes Kathy had developed based on the bloomy rind Chaource cheese of France, and with romantic names like Valentine, Adelle and Hannah, the couple felt they were at the point where they could move beyond their mom-and-pop roots and evolve into a small business.
Some of the creamery's flock.
The elderly owner of the property, while interested in selling it, was asking $100,000 over market value. Paul was getting fed up with the toll that the wet Willamette Valley weather was taking on the his sheep, the muddy pastures making it hard to keep them clean and healthy. Plus there was the yearly chore of lambing on damp, cold winter's nights that were hard on the ewes and their fragile newborns, not to mention the Obringers themselves, who had to go out at all hours to bring them into the shelter of the barn.
Neil (left) and Hank (right).
Paul said they were in the truck one day looking at property when Hank, his then teenage son who had been Kathy's assistant cheese maker since he was a boy of 12, suggested looking in Central Oregon.
"It was Hank's idea, he said it," Paul recalled. "I'd never said it because (although) I knew I liked it, I thought it was too much of a stretch for them. But then Hank said, 'Let's try it.' and Kathy said, 'Let's do it.' And I said, 'Great!' "
Willow, an aged cheese.
Soon after that they found 84 acres available outside of Madras, 65 of them irrigated, That would provide the ideal dry climate for raising the sheep and growing the alfalfa to feed them. With Kathy's name on the contract, because she was a woman business owner, they easily qualified for a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan.
Kathy's blue apron hangs in the creamery.
At the same time, they'd met Tony Arnerich, a former Portland restaurateur-turned-investment advisor, who was looking to invest in what he felt was the emerging artisan food culture of Oregon. Tony's son Nick, who was working at Thomas Keller's famed French Laundry in California's Napa Valley, had mentioned a cheese from a Portland creamery that the restaurant was serving.
"When he called that was the connection," Arnerich said, and he immediately went to the farmers' market to try it.
"I've been a food person all my life," he said. "And this guy made world-class cheese. Period."
Shortly after that, he and Paul began talking about Tony's firm, Arnerich Massena, providing expansion capital for the move to the new property.
Read the rest of the article here.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Canned salmon was one of the odder foods that my mother would, on occasion, serve for dinner. I can't say "cook" or "prepare" for dinner because, really, she just opened the can and dumped it out in a bowl. There it would sit, the cylindrical, fishy flesh still stamped with the rings from the can, sitting in a puddle of its juices.
These days, luckily, a tin of salmon can be a treat, especially when it's packed in its own juices. Just look on the label (above left) and if all you see on the ingredient list is salmon and salt—with no water or oil added—then you know it was packed fresh. It was just such a can that I was given as part of a swag bag at the Tribal Food Summit last week, a sample of wild pink salmon caught and processed by the Swinomish Fish Company in LaConner, Washington.
But what to do with it?
Something simple, for sure, to be able to appreciate the flavor of the salmon. I was originally thinking of a variation on a favorite recipe for pasta with tuna and lemon, but when I was pulling out the book containing the recipe, I also spied local author Diane Morgan's gorgeous book, Salmon (right), and pulled that out, too. Intrigued by her pasta recipe calling for an olive-mustard butter, I ended up combining those elements with the other recipe.
Turns out that capers, lemon, mustard and olives play quite well with tinned salmon. I only wish I could have made it for my mom.
Salmon Pasta with Mustard, Capers and Olives
1 lb. dried pasta
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
1 c. roughly chopped Castelvetrano olives (kalamata or oil-cured olives would also work well)
1 Tbsp. stone-ground or Dijon mustard
2-3 Tbsp. capers
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or a pinch of cayenne
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 lemon, juiced
4-6 oz. canned salmon, flaked, or leftover roasted salmon
Salt to taste, if needed
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente.
While pasta cooks, heat oil in large skillet. When the oil shimmers, add onions and shallots and sauté till tender. Mix in olives, mustard, capers and red pepper flakes. Sauté briefly. Just before pasta is done, add lemon zest, lemon juice and salmon and combine. Keep over very low heat while you drain the pasta. Put pasta in serving bowl, add salmon mixture and toss to combine. Taste for salt, and add more if needed. Sprinkle with parmesan, with more parmesan in a bowl on the table.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Last week, General Mills announced that it had stopped sourcing bioengineered corn starch and beet sugar for its original Cheerios. Many consumer advocates lauded the decision, some going so far as to hail it as the beginning of the end of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) altogether. Others, including Matt Dillon, former Executive Director and cofounder of Organic Seed Alliance, said all the celebrating might be premature. The following is an edited version of his post on Facebook.
I'm seeing all this celebration about Cheerios’ decision to source non-GMO corn starch and sourcing cane instead of beet sugar. For instance, people and organizations admired as leaders in the food and farming movement are saying that we should encourage people to buy Cheerios to show General Mills that we appreciate their change in ingredients.
Let’s hold on a second and do a reality check.
Our alternative food and farming movement was founded on the premise that the industrial/conventional/chemical/commodity food machine was unhealthy for people and for the planet. Non-GMO food (that isn’t also organic) is the same old conventional/chemical/exploitative food, both socially and ecologically.
So are these people celebrating Cheerios now saying that the horrendous food and horrendous practices—that for 40-plus years the alternative movement has tried to change—are now acceptable?
A decade ago we were focused on eliminating toxic pesticides from farming. Today we are fine with it, as long as it isn't GMO production. This is two steps backward—into insanity.
Yes, it can be spun as, "Well, General Mills is taking a step in the right direction."
No, they are not. They are eliminating two minor ingredients in one of their many brands. What would be worthy of celebrating is General Mills saying, "We will not buy crops grown with atrazine, 2 4d or methyl iodide. We will not sow corn seed coated in neocotonoids that impact bees. We will not use organophosphate and carbamate insecticides that are deadly to wildlife."
But labeling one brand of cereal as "non-GMO" doesn’t address this. In fact, non-GMO (no matter if it has a label or not) uses all of these harmful practices.
Want to really do something as a consumer? Don't buy products that are trying to give themselves a green halo for sticking a non-GMO label on their package if they aren't at least in transition to organic. Stop letting conventional companies steal "sustainable" dollars from organic farmers who do the real work of sustainability, and reject these straw man labels.
Top photo by Becky Hansmeyer from Flickr.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
As a kid I loved going to summer camp, a few days away from home spent in an old Episcopal Church retreat center in Eastern Oregon. Days were filled with swimming at the natural hot springs pool in town—diving for rocks in the deep end was the main activity—and art activities in the ancient crafts cabin taught by an equally ancient, and very sweet, woman who'd taught children to weave gimp lanyards and glaze copper jewelry since my mother went to the camp as a child.
The setting. The cabins are on the point of land jutting into the water in the upper left.
The original cabins, small and unadorned except for rows of cots for the campers, had the sweet smell of old wood and fresh air, a scent memory I was reminded of when we toured Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. The cabins there, 24 of them set in double rows along a stretch of beach on the Saratoga Passage, were no doubt made from trees logged on the property. The wood-paneled interiors were spartan, but with beds instead of camp cots, and furnished with a dining table, refrigerator and microwave oven.
Cubbies and thumbtacks in the office.
The park was originally a fishing resort in the 1930s, though the beach had been fished for centuries before that by the island's Native American population, and the old office building still had the cubbyholes and complicated colored thumbtack system that served to keep track of the renters. It also featured a historical collection from its heyday as a vacation spot for Seattle families along with natural history displays, including a whale jawbone.
A cabin interior.
No cars are allowed at the beach cabins, so campers and their supplies are shuttled by bus from the Welcome Center at the park's entrance. The Center, a concession to modern needs, was designed to fit in with the older style of the cabins and is set on a bluff overlooking the beach. It has a café and a small store in case campers need a break from the rustic cabins (or a box of matches), and also features a large hall for events.
Main boat dude Shane Bishop, the Cama Beach manager.
The Center for Wooden Boats is located on the shore near the cabins, with classes on toy boat building for kids and with boats of all stripes available to rent. There are also various historical boats on display, some that belong to the center and some that are being restored for clients. Which means that if you're a boat nerd, this is the place to go to get inside info on building and caring for wooden watercraft, or if you have a yen to stroke the hull of a 100-year-old Maine canoe.
And if the park itself feels like you're stepping back to a simpler time, it's easy to hop in your car and visit the other attractions of Camano Island, or drive over the dramatic bridge at Deception Pass and go on a day tour of Whidbey Island.
The peace and quiet of cabin life with a soupçon of modernity on the side? Sign me up!
(Map to drive the four hours from Portland here.)
Read the other posts in this series: Whidbey Island Idyll, Pt. 1, about the town of Langley, and Whidbey Island Idyll, Pt. 2, about Greenbank Farm and Camano Island Coffee Roasters.
Monday, January 06, 2014
Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is one of those natural cooks, not restricted to must-dos and must-haves of recipes and unafraid to stray from traditional preparations. No parsley when he wanted to make salsa verde? No problem! He just headed out into his garden.
The cold weather last month trashed my herb garden, so when I wanted to make a last-minute salsa verde for some halibut the only plants showing any green were the sage and rosemary. But my collard greens had survived the freeze, and I thought they might work as a substitute for parsley. I clipped off a few leaves and came up with this.
Collard Green Salsa Verde
Get some water boiling, add a large pinch of salt, and drop in 3 or 4 collard leaves (if you’ve got some winter collards in your garden, you may need more of the smallish leaves). Cook for a about 5 minutes, then lift out and let cool. Squeeze out as much water as you can, then chop into very small pieces (you could use a food processor, but I prefer the texture of hand-cut salsa verde). You should have a cup or more; put the finely chopped greens in a bowl.
Rinse and soak a tablespoon of Pantellerian salt-packed capers*; coarsely chop and add to the greens. Do the same, although maybe dice smaller, to a couple of garlic cloves. I had a lemon, so I added some zest and juice along with plenty of extra virgin olive oil (roughly twice as much oil as lemon juice; use good vinegar if you don’t have a lemon). Add a nice pinch of Pantellerian oregano*, mix well and taste for salt. Serve with fish, pork, eggs, vegetables or almost anything.
* Store-bought capers and dried oregano will substitute for the amazing Pantellerian varieties that Jim carries at Real Good Food, though the flavor will be slightly different.
Saturday, January 04, 2014
When we city people take the occasional drive in the country to clear our heads of the tumult of urban life, it's easy to drive by the fields planted in long, symmetrical rows of various crops and think only of how pretty they look or of the food they'll produce. But this land also has a hidden life not visible to the casual passerby, one that makes our ordered urban lives seem placid by comparison. It's the reason I love the essays of contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who gives glimpses into what's really going on between those neatly planted rows.
The bobcat, Lynx rufus, is a furtive spirit, more often observed by what is left than its actual presence. Our cur, Tito, picks up the cat's scent and has developed the sensible habit of demanding human company and looking over his shoulder when he goes out before bed. He is the same way when the coyotes hunt close by. Despite millennia of domestication, he retains the survival instincts of his ancestors. The average bobcat adult weighs about 20 pounds (9 Kg), though individuals can approach 40 pounds (18 Kg). Their diet is mostly rodents, though they can kill much larger animals if the opportunity presents itself, even deer. The bobcats west of the Cascades are distinctly darker than others of the species, and are recognized as the subspecies fasciatus.
We first saw the bobcat in September hunting in the draw, recognizing its feline gait and stalking mannerisms, an animal obviously leggier and taller than the feral tabby cats that survive being tossed out of passing cars as kittens by careless souls, but not a positive identification without seeing it face-on. Later in the month, Zenón went out at dawn to pull rocks from a newly cultivated field and saw "un gato grande" hunting voles in fresh ground, a more certain sighting. Our neighbor Darwin, a veteran hunter and outdoorsman, made the positive identification in late November when he turned a corner near his blind and came face to face with the cat. As he described it, they both paused, staring at one another for a moment to catch their breath, before the cat bounced away into the canary grass. In the twilight of Christmas morning, we watched the bobcat lope across the field and down the road towards the creek, quarry in its jaws. Evidence points to its denning at times in the briars near the pump station, a hunch with which Tito, his hackles high, concurs.
Animals that are active during the day are described as diurnal, those at night nocturnal. Crepuscular animals are active at twilight, the edges between day and night. In habitat as well habit, the bobcat is a species that thrives on the productivity of edges. As we have described previously, we are situated where the Tualatin Valley is at its narrowest between the Coast Range and the Tualatin Ridge, providing a short corridor between those two forested foothill habitats. The farm itself is a mosaic of cultivated fields, oak savannah and wetland, offering a lot edges between these ecotypes. The effect of our "edginess" is best seen in the variety of raptors that hunt on the farm. Kestrels, harriers, red-tail hawks, barn owls and great horned owls all nest on the farm, osprey and bald eagles nest in the valley and hunt here. Migrating cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, merlins and peregrines pause to fatten up during migration. Elk, deer, mink and cougar, among others, use the farm as a path between the foothills, but they pass quickly and with purpose beyond our boundaries.
Chicories, you will be missed.
The bobcat is likely a visitor as well, a youngster seeking its own territory. That it has lingered so long explains in part why we have so few chicories this year, even though we doubled our planting. We adhered to our pattern of crop rotation without considering that the planting bordered part of the farm that was in fallow for the past year. Last spring, the population of meadow mice (voles) was low so we paid little heed to them in our planting during the summer; it was an understandable but unfortunate oversight. Unobserved by us, the population in the fallow field skyrocketed over the summer, and there are few crops so well suited as chicories for feeding a hungry hoard of voles through the cold months. By September we sensed the problem and did everything we could to salvage the crop to no avail. Wave after wave of voles have kept the raptors well fed, and the surplus rodents kept us in the bobcat's hunting territory. The ground is covered with holes barely a foot apart, and the cold snap made the little rodents that much more ravenous. Without a bounty of fat, chicory-fed voles, the bobcat would probably have moved further into the foothills where there is better cover and a supply of prey, and less competition from the coyotes and raptors.
In the popular literature, healthy predator populations are supposed to stabilize prey populations, creating a population equilibrium and thus providing a service to humans. Yes, predators are valuable components of a healthy ecosystem, but it is important to understand that population dynamics in prey populations are driven by many environmental factors. Disease, weather, food and cover availability, for example, all have a far greater influence on rodent populations than the predators. Face it, predators are, like us, consumers rather than mere service animals. There is parallel with farming in that no matter how good we think we are as farmers, the weather and other exogenous factors ultimately determine our success. We can plot and plan, but the weather and vole populations defy anticipation for both bobcat and cultivator.
When you are chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle,
And this will help things turn out for the best, and
Always look on the bright side of life,
Always look on the light side of life…
Heeding Eric Idle's advice, as you grumble about the sloppy farmers who failed to deliver your chicories this year, maybe it will help to know that a leggy, elegant bobcat is meting out some form of retribution. And a host well-fed raptors as well. It is, after all, a backhanded compliment to our farming efforts that so many other animals thrive on the fruits of our labor.
Top photo by Calibas from Wikimedia Commons. Photo of kittens by Summer M. Tribble from Wikimedia Commons.