Friday, May 18, 2018

Touching Up My Roots: Spanish Rice


It was appropriate that when going through my recipe box the other day that I ran across my mom's recipe for Spanish rice. Appropriate because it's been almost exactly ten years since she passed away suddenly, ten years during which I think of her almost every day, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes with a pang when I run across a spectacular rose on my walk through the neighborhood and think, "Oh, she'd love the blush on this one!" (She had a particular thing for roses, which she grew in abundance at my parents' home in The Dalles.)

My mother (r), me as a teenager (l).

For me, food has always been a connection to her, though not in the way that most food writers speak about their Jewish or Greek or African American grandmothers passing on generations of food culture to their offspring. My mother was a practical cook who came of age in the post-World War II switch to convenience food, when if you had a family of five to feed you bought ground hamburger, cans of vegetables, boxes of cake mix and Bisquick. Not that she couldn't "put up" multitudes of jars of fruit with her dark blue graniteware canner or use two dinner knives to cut up butter and Crisco, producing what I still remember as pie crusts that any pastry chef would envy.

But her milieu was the middle American cooking of Betty Crocker and Ladies Home Journal, the advice of practical how-to guides of the time like Joy of Cooking. So we grew up on dinners like tuna casserole and Swiss steak, with the occasional exotic soupçon of tacos made with hamburger browned in packaged taco seasoning or a "goulash"—more hamburger spiced with chili powder and tossed with frozen corn and noodles.

My recipe box, broken lid and all.

I still have—and make—my mom's recipes for pineapple carrot cake and potato salad. Though I've switched to James Beard as inspiration for my macaroni and cheese, and I've updated her tuna casserole with Oregon albacore and chanterelles rather than Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. So when I found that recipe card for her Spanish rice, it begged for some zhuzhing, too. It occurred to me, when browning the hamburger and pondering the origin of the name, that it bears a certain distant, Americanized resemblance to paella. Adding a handful of chopped Spanish olives (we keep them around for martinis on Friday evenings), switching the green bell pepper for a poblano pepper and adding a good dose of smoked paprika made a passable, and quick, version I think she'd approve of.

Spanish Rice

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. hamburger
1 yellow onion, cut in 1/4" dice
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped in 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. smoked paprika (Spanish pimenton)
1 c. rice
1/2 c. Spanish green olives, chopped (optional)
2 c. roasted tomatoes, puréed (or tomato sauce)
1 3/4 c. water
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the hamburger, breaking it up into a fine crumble as it browns. Add the onion and sauté until tender, then add the poblano pepper and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the paprika, rice and olives and stir to combine, then add the puréed tomatoes, water and salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and cook until rice is done, 20 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Travels with Chili: Lopez Island Idyll


For years I'd heard stories from friends who love Lopez Island—one of the San Juan Islands, a short hop on the ferry from Anacortes, Washington, north of Seattle—about its wild beauty and quiet spirit. I wasn't quite prepared to be swept away by the bucolic nature of the place, with its rolling fields and low profile perfect for biking and hiking.

By the time we departed after a long weekend, I was teary at having to leave—but I shouldn't skip ahead just yet.

Our cottage, number 4.

Our first sojourn on this smaller sister to its larger, more tourist-trafficked siblings was prompted by an invitation from Barbara Marrett of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau to attend an agricultural summit being held on Lopez. They offered to cover my attendance at the summit and one night's lodging, so I eagerly signed on and added two more nights at Lopez Farm Cottages, the better to do some exploring around the island.

Dave and I took the afternoon ferry from Anacortes after stopping for lunch in Seattle on what turned out to be a drop-dead-gorgeous, clear-blue-sky day. I find that whenever I set foot on a ferry, no matter how stressful the drive, I instinctively take a deep breath and feel myself relax into the rhythm of the thrumming engines and the movement of the big ferry as it glides across the water.

A "glampsite" at Lopez Farm Cottages.

Once the ferry docked, we drove down the ramp onto the island and found the farm a short drive away on one of the two-lane country roads that wind their way around the island. We parked in the large gravel lot next to a little wooden hut and found a note from owner Cathie Mehler welcoming us to the farm. With directions to our cottage in hand, we loaded up one of the wheeled carts with our luggage and walked the short path to a large meadow dotted with five cottages design by Cathie's husband, John Warsen.

John converted portions of the 30-acre historic farm property into simple lodging options including campsites and what he's dubbed "glampsites," as well as building the five cottages, but he and Cathie left much of the property undeveloped, including the meadow, woods near the road and a large pasture that he and Cathie rent out to a neighbor for her sheep. He said he designed the cottages in the same footprint as a typical hotel room, but arranged the homey space to contain a separate bedroom and bathroom, a sitting room and a small kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator and microwave.

Barn Owl Bakery goods at Blossom Market.

The two glampsites are kitted out with a queen futon (Sheets! Pillows!) in a carpeted tent, and a coffeemaker, microwave and access to showers and bathrooms. The dozen-and-a-half campsites are well-spaced and private, though kids under 14 and pets aren't allowed, the better to have a "quiet, peaceful experience."

Most of the island is agricultural land, with only one small village, though it has two coffee shops, a bakery and two very good restaurants—we dined at both Haven and Ursa Minor—as well as the wonderful Blossom Grocery that carries local goods from area farms and the astonishing organic, wood oven-baked breads made by Barn Owl Bakery at Midnight's Farm (which has its own two-bedroom farmhouse to rent).

Flowers from Arbordoun Farm.

Speaking of area producers, on Saturdays from May through September you can find dozens of local farmers, crafters, artists, bakers and more at the Lopez Farmers Market in the Village. Many of the island's farms welcome visitors who call ahead, including:

  • Jones Family Farms: Nick and Sarah Jones run a shellfish farm at Barlow Bay plus raise pastured beef, lamb, goat, pork and poultry on their farm on the south end of the island.
  • Sunnyfield Farms: Andre and Elizabeth Entermann have a raw milk goat dairy and produce cheese, yogurt, milk and meat.
  • Midnight's Farm: David Bill and Faith Van De Putte raise pastured pigs and cows, and house Barn Owl Bakery, a yoga studio and have the first Dept. of Energy-certified compost facility in the county.
  • Lopez Island Vineyards: Brent Charnley and Maggie Nilan run the first organic vineyard and winery in the state.
  • Arbordoun Farm: Susan Bill grows flowers and produces all-natural skin care products.

An unusual feature of the agricultural scene on Lopez is the Ellis Ranch Conservation Easement, a 313-acre farm that Dr. Fred Ellis and his wife, Marilyn, placed in a conservation easement in 1985. Their aim was to protect the active, productive wetlands on the property and to ensure that its open fields remain undeveloped and available for agricultural purposes in perpetuity. Today there are three commercial family farmers stewarding the property:

  • Horse Drawn Farm: Kathryn Thomas and Ken Akopiantz grow fruits, vegetables and meat that are stocked in the farm's honor-system farm shed. Most of the work on the farm is done using horses.
  • Sweetgrass Farm: Scott Meyers and Brigit Waring raise 100% grassfed Wagyu beef and were featured in a New York Times article about a marketing startup called CrowdCow.
  • T & D Farms: Todd Goldsmith & Diane Dear raise chicken, goats, hay, fruits and vegetables.

A community-funded cookbook featuring profiles and recipes.

A beautiful new book called Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community profiles 28 of the island's farms along with recipes celebrating what they grow. The result of a three-year, community funded effort, with gorgeous photographs of the food, farms and land that makes this such a special place, can be ordered through the Lopez Bookshop.

Walking, hiking and biking options are too numerous to mention, but Cathie and John at Lopez Farm Cottages have a great list of excursions. You don't even have to schlep your bike to the island, since Village Cycles has bikes for rent at hourly, daily or weekly rates. And of course, being an island on a calm inland waterway, you can also rent a kayak or sign up for a tour at Lopez Island Sea Kayak. I can tell you from personal experience there's no better way to explore the less accessible nooks and crannies of these islands.

In case you can't tell from the verbiage above, I'm in love with this place and can't wait to get back. For us, since shopping and tourist-y activities aren't on our priority list—though it's perfectly simple to take a ferry for a day trip to Friday Harbor or one of the other islands—this quiet place is right up our alley for camping, cooking, reading, exploring and hanging out. If those sorts of activities are high on your list, I can guarantee you'll love Lopez Island, too.


Photo of "glampsite" by Bill Evans Photography. Photo of Arbordoun Farm from their website.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Lost Valley Farm Owner Called "Drug-Addled" in Court Filing


In a court filing, Dutch agricultural lender Rabobank is seeking relief from a bankruptcy court in order to auction off the dairy herd at Boardman's Lost Valley Farm (LVF), owned by California businessman Greg te Velde, according to an article in the Capital Press.

In a previous court filing, Rabobank had claimed that te Velde was in default on more than $67 million dollars in loans from the bank on three dairies (two in California). The herd was to have been auctioned off at the end of April, but a last-minute bankruptcy filing by te Velde halted the auction. The bank is seeking to reinstate the auction order because te Velde claims he has "no cash on hand" and is asking the bank for another $4 million in advances to pay for "feed, water, and labor" at the facility.

Concerned that te Velde's lack of cash could have "potentially catastrophic consequences" to its collateral at Lost Valley Farm, Rabobank stated in the court filing that "te Velde’s 'erratic and unreliable' behavior is caused by 'habitual' use of methamphetamine." It goes on to state that "while Rabobank will act responsibly to protect the value of the LVF herd, Rabobank is not willing to finance the drug-addled fanciful dreams of this Debtor during a lengthy Chapter 11 case that involves about 24,000 cows, 28,000 other head of livestock, three dairies in two states and about $160 million in total debt."

Tillamook County Creamery Association, whose Columbia River Processing (CRP) plant in Boardman buys milk from Lost Valley, had threatened to pull out of the contract it has with the dairy. The bank said that "te Velde checked out of a drug rehab clinic in April to convince Columbia River Processing…to reinstate the milk-buying contract, but then returned to the facility." The article quotes  Patrick Criteser, CEO of the Tillamook creamery, who submitted a declaration supporting Rabobank's request, said that Tillamook "is buying milk from the dairy until Rabobank is able to conduct an auction but will stop after May 31."

* * *

Read the series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, as well as groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Top photo from Google Maps.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Not Your Mother's Boiled Vegetables: Italian Bagna Cauda


I had my first taste of the classic Italian dipping sauce, bagna cauda, at Portland's late, legendary temple of Italian food, Genoa. At the time it was co-owned by chef Cathy Whims, before she opened her equally legendary Nostrana just a few blocks away. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, like Whims, was inspired by Marcella Hazan, who introduced classic Italian food to American tables.

Boiling Vegetables

Many cooks think boiling vegetables is culinary heresy. If you've suffered through Brussels sprouts or cauliflower boiled to gray mush you'd probably agree. It's also true that some water soluble nutrients are lost when vegetables are boiled. But done right, boiling helps make vegetables delicious, and you can make up for any nutrient loss by simply eating more vegetables.

If you need more convincing, pick up Tamar Adler's excellent book, Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Its opening chapter, "How to Boil Water," will make you hungry.

But the basics are, well, basic: fill a pot with water (about 2/3 full; the vegetables need to fit, too), add salt (about one teaspoon per quart), boil, add vegetables. That last part is the key. Things with thick stalks, like broccoli, should be cut into pieces that let the thick part cook at the same rate as the tin parts. I cut cabbage into quarters with the core attached so the leaves stay together. Cauliflower goes into the pot whole, core down for two minutes, then flipped over for one more.

For most vegetables, three to five minutes seems like the sweet spot for getting them tender without overcooking. But stick the tip of a knife into the thick part; if it slides in easily, it's done. And I start timing when they go into the pot, not when it returns to a boil. Fish them out of the pot, let them drain a little, and they're ready. And use that water to cook more than one thing; cook another vegetable, make pasta in it, or save it for soup.

Bagna Cauda

Literally "hot bath," this classic sauce from northern Italy most often accompanies a plate of raw vegetables. But I was reading Brett Martin's 2018 best new restaurants article in GQ and a related piece about favorite meals of the chefs at the listed places, and the dish that jumped out was simple poached* vegetables with bagna cauda. So I made some.

Marcella Hazan's recipe is the definitive one, but if you can't find salt-packed anchovies, oil-packed work fine. Heat some extra virgin olive oil and butter (about 2/3 oil, 1/3 butter) until the butter foams, add some chopped garlic and and anchovies, cook for another minute, and serve warm with a little salt. Arrange some boiled vegetables on a plate and drizzle generously with the bagna cauda.

* Poaching is just like boiling but at a lower temperature; it does sound fancier, though.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

10 Easy Ways to Eat Less Meat


Oregon's Lynne Curry wrote the book, quite literally, on cooking with grassfed beef. A new edition of Pure Beef was issued last year and has just been listed as one of Oregon's Top 10 Cookbooks by Travel Oregon. So when she offered to share her tips for eating less meat and using grassfed or pasture-raised instead of conventional—a strategy that's better for us, for the planet, and supports small farmily farmers—I jumped at the chance! (See the end of the post for a free guide to where to find pasture-raised meat in Oregon.)

My strategies show you how to eat less meat even when you are eating it. So, if you’re looking to slim down the portions of meat you eat without giving it up completely, I’ve got 10 ideas to guide you.

1. Skewer it. Grilled meat on a stick is a worldwide favorite, often in the form of a kebab or satay. Sliced into ribbons or cubed and marinated in anything from teriyaki to garlicky yogurt, a little bit of meat becomes a meal when served over a pile of noodles or rice with ample fresh vegetables. Freezing the meat for 20 minutes eases close cutting. Plan on one meat kebab and two to three sticks of satay per person.

2. Stretch it. Depression-era cooks knew how to make a pound of ground meat feed many. Make your mixture roughly three parts meat (ground beef, turkey, pork, lamb, veal or combination) to one part breadcrumbs, oatmeal, bulgur, rice, quinoa or any other cooked grains or even legumes. Add chopped onion, an egg for binding, seasonings and spice it up as you like for classic meatloaf, exotic meatballs, burgers or sliders that go far.

3. Wrap it. Tacos are the model, but you can fold minced, cooked meat up in crepes, roti, rice paper rolls, tender lettuce leaves and nori, to name a few. Or, make a meat filling to encase in a dough—from pastries and empanadas to samosas and egg rolls. One cup of finely chopped or shredded meat makes six to eight portions to accompany with salsa, chutney or ginger-soy dipping sauce.

4. Serve it on the bone. Eating meat on the bone satisfies a primal urge and gives the feeling of satiety with relatively small amounts of meat. Whether it’s pork ribs, chicken wings or flanken-style short ribs, this is a meal to pile on sides of coleslaw and baked beans, steamed rice and vegetables or mounds of mashed potatoes. Cut between the bones of back ribs, spare ribs or racks to make single-serving portions.

5. Mince it. Hand-chopped raw or leftover meat is the basis for some of the world’s classic dishes—think fried rice and corned beef hash. Combine meat with cooked grains to stuff and bake into eggplant, peppers, cabbage leaves or acorn squash. The token protein—be it bacon or roast beef—serves as a major flavor boost. Or, serve slivers of meat in tiny amounts to fashion bibimbap or a stir-fry.

6. Stew it. No amount of meat is too small—like a ham hock to season a pot of beans or a couple of chicken thighs simmered in coconut-milk—to make stew. In a pot chock full of seasonal vegetables or legumes, the cheapest, toughest cuts have a lot to offer (all the better if there’s bone). And the more ingredients you add, the less meat you need in a belly-filling meal. Shred the cooked meat to disperse it into the stew before serving.

7. Stuff it. There is no better side dish for roasted meats than stuffing. Rolling the stuffing inside any boneless meat cut not only fancies up the presentation but bulks up portion sizes considerably. Butterfly larger cuts, like pork loin and turkey breast, or pound flank steak and chicken breast to 1/4-inch thick with a meat mallet or heavy rolling pin. Season a bread or grain-based stuffing well before rolling it up and securing the roll with toothpicks for oven roasting or grilling. Serve in one-inch-thick slices with extra stuffing on the side and add a gravy, if you like.

8. Slice it thin. When holidays and other special occasions call for a large roast or thick steaks, you still don’t have to go big on the meat. With a sharp slicing knife, make 1/4-inch thick slices of ham, for example, and serve it with all the trimmings. Instead of serving a whole steak, plate slices with a generous salad; that single cut will serve three to four. Portion the leftovers in resealable bags for the freezer for a month’s worth of ready-made sandwich fillings. A sandwich may be the most familiar form for protein portion control—so long as you follow the meat-moderate panini approach and not the Carnegie Deli’s.

9. Flavor with it. A single slice of bacon or a ham hock can flavor an entire pot of soup or stew. Split pea soup and Southern-style collard greens are both great examples of how a little bit of meat goes a long way. Or even no meat and just the fat, as in a pot of clam chowder flavored with salt pork or chicken soup that starts with schmaltz. Rendered fat from bacon, chicken and beef is one of the tastiest cooking mediums around—and if it comes from pastured animals, it’s loaded with nutrients like omega-3s.

10. Bone broth it. You’ve heard of this trend by now, of course. A nourishing broth made from bones, it is a perfect example of whole animal eating and limiting food waste, too. You can request bones from your butcher or reserve bones in the freezer from T-bone steaks or a whole roast chicken to make your own bone broth. It’s also great that more companies are offering good-quality chicken and beef bone broths and making good use of all those bones.

Read the full post and get more of Lynne's handy tips, including recipes, for eating less (and better) meat that supports Oregon's small family farmers. Find a farmer near you with this handy Oregon Pasture Network Product Guide.

Photos by Lynne Curry.