Saturday, August 19, 2017

Quick Trip: Astoria and Back

I have friends and family members (you know who you are!) who cruise airline reservation sites for deals and have plans made months in advance for getaways to celebrate special occasions. Dave and I are pretty much at the opposite end of that spectrum, waiting until the last minute to make a decision and often ending up staying home, though we usually manage to have a good time regardless.

River traffic view from the balcony.

Our anniversary this year was no different in terms of advance planning, but we were determined to take the bull by the horns and get out of town for at least one night. A favorite place of ours is Astoria, a historic port at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean that's experiencing a renaissance with breweries, restaurants and retail flocking to its downtown core.

Just inside of two hours' drive from Portland, Astoria is perfect for a day trip or quick overnight. On a previous trip we'd stayed at the Cannery Pier Hotel (top photo), and decided to return there to enjoy one of the rooms that sit right on (actually over) the river. With a balcony featuring a front row seat to the river traffic plowing by under the Astoria-Megler Bridge, it provided a romantic moment for a glass of champagne before we headed downtown for dinner.

View from Clemente's dining room.

Clemente's had just opened downtown when we first went there, then in 2015 relocated to a dockside location on the town's Riverwalk promenade. The new location, now calling itself a "café and public house," is more casual and relaxed, a better fit with the restaurant's reasonably priced menu showcasing fresh local seafood and produce, and the setting with its view out over the river is wonderful.

3 Cups Coffee House.

Another new discovery, which Dave ferreted out the next morning, was 3 Cups Coffee House, handily located just a short stroll across the main road from our hotel and featuring coffee from local Columbia River Coffee Roaster. A sweet, casual throwback to coffee houses of old, the brews are solid, the food hearty and simple and the service fast but friendly…definitely worth a stop any time of day.

A quick drive down Highway 101 got us to the beach, where we could take a walk in the surf for an hour or so before hitting the road for the drive home, feeling pretty smug that we were able to get ourselves out of town to celebrate. Who knows, with this success in our pocket we might start planning for next year!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Samfaina: Spain's Ratatouille

Contributor Jim Dixon's been on a tear lately over the cooking of Spain, inspired by the release of his pal Robin Willis's new cookbook from Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona. Here's his version of one of the legendary bar's signature dishes.

With basically the same ingredients and cooking technique, samfaina usually gets tagged as Spanish ratatouille. But Catalonians would argue that their neighbors to the north are really just making French samfaina. We can leave the wrangling to the nationalist gastronomes and just be happy it's the time of year when all of the produce used in making this summery dish are abundant and delicious.


To make samfaina, you'll need an eggplant, a zucchini or two, an onion, some kind of not-very-hot pepper (green preferred, but not a green bell pepper unless that's all you can find), a clove or two of garlic and a few good tomatoes. (If you're a fan of the version served at Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona, add raisins and pine nuts to the shopping list; add the raisins with eggplant, toast the nuts and add at the end.)

Start by chopping the onion and cooking long and slow in plenty of extra virgin olive oil. While the onion is getting soft and golden brown, cut your tomatoes in half (across their "equator" so the stem end is on one half). Most recipes, including Pinotxo's, tell you squeeze out the seeds, but the seeds and their surrounding "jelly" contain most of the umami-rich glutamtes, so leave them in. Rub the cut tomatoes gently across the large holes of a box grater (over a bowl, natch) until all that's left is the peel.

Add the grated tomato to the onions with some salt and cook for about 15 minutes (or longer) until they've thickened. Cut the eggplant, zucchini, garlic and pepper into small pieces and add. Cook over low heat for at least an hour (or, if you have time, put the skillet in the oven at 200° for a few hours, checking and stirring every once in awhile).

In the end you want a thick, jam-like sauce. You can eat samfaina by itself, spread it on grilled bread, set a piece of fish on it, spoon it over chicken, or stir it into a bowl of garbanzos. It tastes like slow-cooked summer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Food News: Big Dairies Threaten Family Farms

This month Friends of Family Farmers launched a new blog it's calling Corporate Ag Watch to highlight the difference and expose the influence that corporate agribusiness interests have in our state. It aims to connect the dots between lobbying, campaign finance activity and policy outcomes that don’t often get covered in the press.

Oregon agriculture is predominantly made up of small and mid-sized family farms. According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, of the approximately 35,500 farms in Oregon, 84% are individually or family owned. In terms of size, 81% of Oregon farms are under 180 acres, with over 61% under 50 acres. Additionally, 87% of Oregon farms have under $100,000 in sales per year. While some family farms may be larger in size or may be incorporated, smaller and mid-sized farms are the backbone of Oregon’s agricultural economy, our local and regional food systems, and many rural communities.

However, corporate agriculture is generally dominated by out-of-state companies whose primary concern seems to only be about profits, not the well-being of small and mid-sized farms. Despite Oregon’s small family farm reputation, large agribusiness companies spend a lot of money on lobbying and political activities here in order to make sure their interests are taken care of by the state’s policymakers.

Unlimited Corporate Campaign Contributions in Oregon

Did you know that Oregon is one of only six states with no limits on corporate money in politics? This means that corporations can give unlimited money directly to the political action committees (PACs) that fund candidates and elected officials as they run for office. Twenty two states ban corporate campaign money completely, but Oregon is not one of them.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this means that individual corporations with deep pockets can have a tremendous amount of influence over the political process in Oregon.

Cow standing in waste at Threemile Canyon.

For example, let’s take a look at Threemile Canyon Farms LLC (top photo and right), one of Oregon’s largest corporate farming operations and likely the nation’s largest dairy concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) with roughly 70,000 cows near Boardman, Oregon. With all those cows in confinement, Threemile Canyon Farms may be the state’s largest individual source of agricultural air pollution, including haze causing ammonia and methane, a potent climate change-inducing gas. Already a huge operation, Threemile Canyon Farms is actually owned by an even bigger company out of North Dakota called R.D. Offutt, which also happens to be the nation’s largest potato producer and a key supplier of McDonald’s french fries.

The face of Oregon’s dairy industry has changed dramatically since Threemile Canyon Farms arrived here in 2001, with many small and mid-sized farms going out of business. According to USDA data, in a five year period shortly after Threemile arrived in Oregon, the state lost nearly half its dairy farms, mostly small and mid-sized operations struggling to compete in a market increasingly dominated by larger and larger confinement dairies. Data from the Oregon Department of Agriculture shows a loss of over 140 permitted dairies in Oregon over the past decade—a nearly 40% decline—even as cow numbers have increased at large operations like Threemile.

Waste runoff at Threemile Canyon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Threemile Canyon Farms has been a staunch opponent of new rules to require large factory dairy farms like theirs to control harmful air emissions, and it has also been a shameless advocate for a lucrative tax credit that it is the primary beneficiary of. We wrote about both these issues in a recent recap of the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session.

To represent its interests, Threemile Canyon Farms employs multiple lobbyists, one of the few individual farms in the state that has a lobbyist at all. According to filings with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, Threemile has spent nearly $200,000 on lobbying to influence the outcome of legislation in Salem since 2015. But Threemile also makes significant campaign contributions to Political Action Committees used to help elect and re-elect candidates for public office.

Marty Myers, General Manager of Threemile Canyon Farms.

According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, Threemile has given nearly 30 political candidates and elected office-holders of both parties more than $36,000 dollars combined for election campaigns since early 2016. Most of these contributions have been in $500 or $1000 increments and were primarily given to legislative leadership and legislators who chair key committees that help decide the fate of bills that could impact Threemile’s business interests. But the largest recipient of Threemile’s campaign contributions since early 2016 has been Governor Kate Brown, who has received $9,000 from the company so far.

In 2015, Governor Brown appointed Threemile Canyon Farms’ General Manager to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, a board that advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy, regulatory and budget matters. In 2016, it successfully lobbied to extend a lucrative tax credit for animal manure digesters they benefit from that was set to expire at the end of 2017. With Threemile as the largest recipient of this tax credit, the Legislature’s decision to extend it will direct millions in public funds to their operation in coming years. In the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session, Threemile was also able to block a bill that would have enacted consensus recommendations for the creation of an air emissions program that would address air pollution from the state’s largest dairies.

Read about Threemile Canyon Farms and its connection to Tillamook Cheese.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Camp Stories: Kingfisher on Mt. Hood

As a native Oregonian, I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit that I haven't been to every corner of the state and seen every single sight from multiple angles. Such was the case several years ago when we finally decided it was high time to visit southeastern Oregon's magnificent Steens Mountains, staying in a double-wide trailer at the astonishingly beautiful Malheur Wildlife Refuge and gazing over the spare, parched landscape of the Alvord desert.

Sharing nature's wisdom. And sticks.

Closer to home, while we've tramped over a lot of Mt. Hood's forested east and west sides, I've somehow never managed to explore the area above Estacada on the road to Bagby Hot Springs. Fortunately a friend decided to organize camping trip to the area, and our group of five families was able to secure multiple reservations in the Kingfisher campground along the Collawash River.

Relaxing is the name of the game.

Small, with only 23 campsites, and fairly primitive—think narrow dirt track, unpaved sites, water from a pump, vault toilets and no electrical hookups—its basic nature scares away the big rigs with their generators and sound systems, but it was perfect for our veteran camping crew. Food was apportioned according to the talents and desires of each family, with dinners of hot dogs with trimmings the first night (Olympia Provisions and Old Salt Marketplace were featured), steaks the second night and, for those staying an additional night, it was "hobo packs" à la foil packets cooked in the fire (recipe here, perfectly adaptable for the home grill).

Steak night with the grill-master.

All the campsites are fairly private, well-spaced and screened from each other by trees, but the prime sites are those along the river, particularly sites 6, 8 and 10, which have nice shady stretches of river-front for setting up chairs and reading. When we were there, the river itself was pretty tame, with lovely shallow, wade-able stretches perfect for skipping rocks or for finding a perch midstream and contemplating the nature of the universe.

Who needs a stinkin' campstove?

If you're looking for some nice gear to add to your collection, I'd highly recommend a cast iron griddle for cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausages over the fire. Dave threw together an ad-hoc stove from river rocks that MacGyver would approve of, though we've used it on the fire grate numerous times.

Fun with hammocks.

Another recent addition to our repertoire has been a nylon hammock. Simple to sling between a couple of trees and a must-have for a peaceful nap streamside, it's also sturdy enough for kids to play in (ours is rated for 500 pounds). Come to think of it, it might also be the perfect solution for teens who cringe at the thought of sleeping en famille.

Clocking in at just under two hours from Portland, this idyllic campground is justifiably described as a diamond in the rough and got the thumbs-up from everyone in the group. We'll definitely be adding it to our list of great spots for a quick weekend camping trip.

Read more Camp Stories including site recommendations, recipes and more!