Monday, July 24, 2017

Simple Pleasures: Romano Beans, Cherry Tomatoes


A skillet slicked with olive oil, a few random, slightly crushed garlic cloves browned over a hot fire. Big, flat, meaty romano beans from a local organic farm, sautéed to a satisfying crunch. Halved red cherry tomatoes at their sweet peak, thrown in and melted with the beans. This not-really-a-recipe recipe requires no cheffy tweezers to zhoozh it to perfection, no cloth-napkined, candlelit table set with the finest silver. Though a spoon to drizzle the slightly reduced tomato juices over the top of your beans might be nice.

Sautéed Romano Beans with Cherry Tomatoes

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 pint sweet, in-season cherry tomatoes
1 lb. romano beans
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté till browned on all sides. Add cherry tomatoes and beans and sauté until beans are tender but still slightly crunchy. Serve with a shower of salt.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Farm Bulletin: Grace, Gentleness and Chesters


First, a calendar note: Contributor Anthony Boutard announces that the Ayers Creek Farm harvest shed will be open the last Saturday and Sunday of July, with hours from 3 to 5 pm, at 15219 SW Spring Hill Road in Gaston. Chester blackberries, half flats ($20) or full flats ($38) must be reserved. Please e-mail with your request. Check for more details on what will be available at the end of this post. With that taken care of, Anthony updates us on another recent development in their lives on the land.

This will be a challenging fruit season for us. As some of you have heard, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in February. It is a terminal cancer of the bone marrow. I have been in treatment since, which will extend my "use by" date a matter of years. I have been approved for an autologous stem cell transplant. The transplant will be from my own tissue which reduces the complications associated with transplants. If all goes well, they will harvest those cells in a few days, depending on how fast the drugs stimulate their production. On the 3rd of August I will become a ward of the succinctly named OSHU Center for Hematological Malignancies for about three weeks. After release, it will take about 100 days to rebuild the rudiments of my immune system and I will be one of those fragile medical parolees walking around with a surgical mask and a diminished coif. The transplant protocol erases your entire immune history, from departing the birth canal, nursing, childhood vaccinations, to last year's flu shot. The first 30 days are the most hazardous. It is a challenge many of you on this list have already handled.

Given the aggressive treatment over the last few months, I am in good shape both emotionally and physically. One advantage of a strong academic background in biology and statistics/probabilities, I understand what is happening, how the doctors are managing the condition, and the framework of predictions. As a recent review article in Science pointed out, about 65% of cancers are the result of a chance mutation that has nothing to do with lifestyle or genetics, nor how much kale, quinoa and blueberries you consume, or meritorious your emotional disposition. A minority of cancers are a product of lifestyle, despite what some pious scolds and weird food marketers would have us believe. Multiple myeloma is one of those chance mutations.

I have managed to put in a day's work on the farm most days, and my gallows humor is in fine form. Staff have really extended themselves to make sure everything is moving smoothly and there are no loose ends, and the farm has never looked better. Linda Colwell and Sylvia Black have shouldered through, helping everything run better in a myriad of ways. Carol has taken over the very demanding delivery route and schedule. If you make it out to the farm next weekend, take a walk around. Down in the wetland, we have a tundra swan who lost its ability to fly but is content, along with a host of other birds including marsh wrens in the tule clumps, with bittern, coots, ducks, green and blue herons plying the channels carved out by beaver and nutria. It is a beautiful place to linger, and I often do. We will have our next open days in September when the Astianas and grapes are ripe.

The paradox of being diagnosed with a treatable but incurable cancer is that you have no choice but to root for it. After all, it would be a crying shame to go through several challenging months of treatment only to be run down by a distracted driver. I also hate all of the war metaphors that attend the diagnosis. From my perspective, it is a condition that is best addressed with grace and gentleness, and enjoyment of every moment of love and peace that comes my way.  

I hesitated to put this out to the public, but thought of rehashing it over and over again is not that appealing. This will be the last direct mention of the matter and I will return to pondering Pliny, Gerarde, the flavor variables of tomatoes, the virtues of late season chicories, Ave Bruma melons, and introducing our new bean—the peculiar Otello's Pebbles. Oh yes, and the return of all the other favorite beans.

* * *

Chester blackberry deliveries have begun, and by the end of the week they will be available at New Seasons, Food Front and Rubinette Produce. Our preserves are available at the Gaston Market, People's Food Co-op, Providore, and will soon be returning to both Food Front stores. Rubinette Produce, part of the Providore complex, carries our popcorn, cornmeal, barley and parched green wheat, and later on will have the full range of our legumes. 

For the open day, we will have parched green wheat, migration barley (milled and whole grain), Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint cornmeal, Amish Butter popcorn and preserves. We will also have some Imperial Epineuse prunes. A reminder that Chester blackberries (half flats, $20) or full flats ($38) must be reserved. Please e-mail us with your request.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In Season NW: Cherry, Corn & Poblano Salsa


Ripe, round, luscious Northwest cherries. An ear of sweet corn. A melon at the peak of ripeness. Add a little heat from a roasted chile and the zing from citrus, and you've got one of the great bites of summer.

My friend Michel put these brilliant ingredients together a few years ago, and it's become one of our go-to summer salsas with backyard grilled salmon. It just so happened that I stopped by Providore on Sandy, and Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish was featuring bright orange Kenai salmon filets. Then I noticed Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce had just brought in some juicy dark cherries from Baird Orchards, so dinner was basically planned for me.

I might just have to stop by the farmers' market this weekend and get the makings for another batch!

Cherry, Corn and Poblano Salsa

1 c. corn kernels (about 1 ear)
1 pt. cherries, pitted and halved
1 mango, melon or ripe pear, cut in small dice
1 roasted poblano or ancho chile, chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

Combine ingredients and serve. Amounts and ingredients can be varied depending on what you have on hand.

For more super summer recipes, check out my recipe for Pulled Pork with Cherries and Apricots or this Grilled Corn Salad with Cherry Tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Guest Essay: A Grain of Wheat


There's the old saw that the best way to teach kids to swim is to toss them into the deep end of the pool. While I may not agree with that theory (Hello…Red Cross swimming lessons???), the idea of learning by doing is a good one. So when my friend, hunter, forager and author Hank Shaw, found wheat growing in his yard, he decided to see what it took to grow, harvest, thresh, winnow and grind his own flour.

“I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” - John 12:24

How little we consider the grains that sustain us.

Tiny seeds that contain within them the power to change humanity, and by so doing render themselves almost invisible in their ubiquity. By the time The Gospel of John was written, somewhere around 70 AD, wheat, rice, barley, rye, millet, and, here in the Western Hemisphere, corn, had already dictated our existence for eight millennia.

Grain, or more accurately dependence on grain, is what separated farmers from foragers, Jacob from Esau. Grains underpin civilization: portable, easily renewable, nutritionally dense foods that can be grown in surplus and stored—or kept from those the holder deems unworthy.

Every culture that tamed a grain, although it could easily be argued that the grains tamed us, has held that grain sacred. In Japan, there is a saying that each grain of rice contains 88 souls, and to waste one is a sin. Similar proverbs exist all over the world.

So how did grain fall from sacred to commonplace? To become something tossed about without thought, wasted, even scorned?

I have been guilty of all of this. And chances are, so have you. I can distinctly remember times when I’ve thoughtlessly poured several cups of flour into a bowl to dust a piece or fish or schnitzel, then tossed the vast majority of it into the trash when I finished. It’s just flour, right?

Well, yes. But then, one day, I decided to make flour.

I started with acorn flour. Why? Well, I am a forager living in California. Here, the native people relied not on grain for their daily starch, but on flour made from acorns. California acorns have the decided advantage of being large — sometimes three inches long in the case of the Valley oak. And, again in the case of the Valley oak, these acorns can be low in tannins, and plentiful. Very plentiful. One old mother tree can drop a literal ton of acorns in a good year.

Making flour from acorns requires that you leach out the tannins first. You do this by shelling the acorns, breaking them up into small bits and soaking them in multiple changes of water. It is a lengthy, but not difficult process. (If you are interested, here are my directions for making acorn flour) When your acorns are no longer bitter, you must then dry them and grind once more to get flour.

When I did this, I became acutely aware of how much work this all was. How precious this flour truly is. I do my best not to waste a teaspoonful.

But acorns are not grains. Grains, by definition, are the seeds from grasses. They offer a distinct advantage in that they are annual. If my village is dependent on a grove of oak trees, many of which may be a century old, and you come and burn down my oaks, my village starves. But I can hide a sack of grain seeds in a hole. And when marauders have burned everything and left, I can replant, and, in a year, rebuild. From one seed comes many grains of wheat.

As it happens, I got a chance to see this first hand. No, marauders did not come to my house and burn down my oak trees. Rather, my yard became an impromptu wheat field.

Holly [Heyser, Hank's partner in crime] bands doves for the state fish and wildlife department. To do so, she is given bags of mixed grain to bait them into a live trap, so she can capture the doves, band them and let them go. Apparently doves vastly prefer safflower to wheat, because when the rains came in October this past year, it was wheat that began to grow in our yard. Lots of it.

I became determined to harvest this wheat. I had no idea what the yield might be, nor did I care. I wanted to see what it actually takes to harvest a grain of wheat.

In late spring I began with green wheat, called freekeh or farik in North Africa. You harvest it when the grain heads are fully grown, but the plant still holds moisture; typically when it begins to yellow.

Now if you’ve seen a wheat grain head in all its glory, it is a beautiful sight. You can see why gatherers all those millennia ago would want them. Large seeds (for a grass) that are, relatively speaking, easy to collect and remove.

I gathered a mess of green wheat and set the sheaves on a steel plate. To make farik, you then set them on fire briefly to burn away the little spikes on the grain heads, and to parch the seeds a bit. You then let all this dry in the sun for a day or two, which makes it far easier to thresh and winnow your wheat—literally separating the wheat from the chaff.

Read how Hank threshed his wheat. Read how Hank winnowed his wheat. And read one of the very practical reasons our ancestors may have ground their grains into flour.

Top photo by Holly Heyser; the rest by Hank Shaw.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Camp Stories: A Prescription for Peace of Mind


Feeling overwhelmed at work? The insanity of current politics stressing you out? Can't handle the barrage of social media a minute longer?

The Rx I'm recommending won't be found in a pill or a bottle, or by turning off the lights and pulling the covers over your head. I'm not even advising you to shut down your computer and turn off your devices.

Simply go where none of those screens will work, where your coworkers can't find you, where there's no news but the sun transiting your campsite, the trees shifting in the breeze and the sound of a creek chattering in the background.

For years we've been avoiding the war zone that erupts in the city over the Fourth of July by heading to a small national forest campground where fireworks and nighttime noise are strictly verboten, where our dogs don't need to be drugged and we can sleep in the dead quiet of a night so dark you can't see your hand waving in front of your face. But the real benefit, one we appreciated even more in this seemingly daily onslaught of "can you top this" craziness on the national political scene, is the peace, the quiet, the lack of demand for our attention other than cooking meals, washing dishes and the occasional call to sit by the creek and read a book.

Imagine that!

This year we managed to reserve a prime creek-side campsite at one of our favorite campgrounds, the aptly named Paradise Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just north of Carson, Washington. Small at just 42 sites and basic—vault toilets, dirt sites and a handled pump for water—it discourages large RVs and provides a modicum of simple activities like biking around the campground, playing in the creek and a few hikes nearby.

I'd made and frozen a batch of my Coney Island sauce and picked up some smoked dogs from Old Salt Marketplace, and then froze a pot of pork shoulder braised in tomatillo salsa—freezing as much as possible helps keep things cold as well as saves room in the ice chest—that we could warm up for dinners. A couple of steaks, Dave's scone mix to stir up and bake, breakfast and lunch fixin's and cocktail makings and we were set for our four-night stay.

Our neighbors Chad and Ann joined us for the second day, bringing their dogs and what turned out to be a spectacular camp dinner of shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes cooked in foil packets on the campfire coals (left and top photo). This is one I'll be making again here at home, since it's perfect for cooking on charcoal in the Weber. With a salad on the side and an ice-cold glass of rosé to sip, it's the definition of summer.

Good food, good drink, good friends, the basic necessities of life and a beautiful setting; it's a prescription for a good, stress-free life. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Shrimp, Andouille Sausage and Corn Campfire Packets
Adapted from Creme de la Crumb

1 lb. potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 lb. andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1 1/2 lbs. shrimp
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. Old Bay seasoning (or make your own)
1 Tbsp. salt
Lemon wedges

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add potatoes and parboil 5 minutes. Drain.

Shuck the ears of corn and slice each one crosswise into four rounds. Stand each round on end and slice in half lengthwise. In large mixing bowl combine potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp with garlic, olive oil, paprika, Old Bay seasoning and salt.

Cut four 12" squares (or so) of aluminum foil. Divide the shrimp mixture into quarters, putting each on a piece of foil (you can redistribute the number of ingredients in each packet to even them out). Seal the packets and place on coals. Cook for 10 minutes, turn them over and cook another 5-6 minutes. Take one packet out and test for doneness. Serve one packet per person with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top.

Find more great campground and recipe suggestions in the Camp Stories series.