Monday, March 18, 2019

Care About Your Food? Then Show Up in Salem!

In the last two years, we've all learned the value of just showing up. Two years ago, not showing up to vote cast this country into the nightmare we are living through right now. And showing up to a rally for women's rights demonstrated to the world the power and importance of women's voices. In the mid-term elections just last fall, sending postcards to complete strangers urging them to vote, and exercising our own franchise changed the balance of power on a national level.

Showing up, and learning the power of collectively putting our bodies where our beliefs are, has meant that from local school boards to state legislatures to the halls of Congress, our representatives are now more…well…representative of everyone in our communities.

Part of putting our energy into making change together also means getting involved in issues we care about, and I'd highly recommend that if you care about where your food comes from and about the small family farmers who work every day to produce the food we put on our tables, then you should make every effort to get yourself and your families to Salem on Wednesday, March 27. Not only will you get to meet many of those family farmers and show them you've got their backs, you'll have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process by meeting with your representatives in the legislature and tell them how important good, clean food is to your family.

If you're wondering what the heck the legislature has to do with your food, just take a glance at the issues before the current session: a moratorium on the factory farm mega-dairies that are spewing unregulated toxic emissions into the state's air and groundwater; a ban on aerieal spraying of toxic pesticides; bills that will support beginning farmers and encourage retiring farmers to keep their farms in food production rather than selling them for development; and a ban on the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides that are at least partially to blame for the collapse of pollinators. And those are just a few of the dozens of bills under consideration.

If you've never set foot in the Oregon's Capitol building, it's high time you did. And what better reason than to support the farmers whose labor we all depend on multiple times a day? Get more info and sign up here, and you can sign up to join a carpool to the event from Bend, Grants Pass, Amity, Portland, Monmouth, Corvallis, Springfield and other communities around the state. You even get lunch in the deal!

All you have to do is show up.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Celebrate Citrus: Blood Orange Margarita

It's like a soupçon of waking up on Christmas morning when I was a kid. Or seeing crocuses blooming in the stubbly, scant grass of a city parking strip. That frisson of excitement that tells you good things are on the way.

That's how I feel about citrus season, that tart, sweet interlude that brightens the leaden skies of winter and whispers in my ear that spring is just around the corner. So when we knocked on the front door of our friends' home the other evening and it opened wide with an invitation to come in the kitchen for a just-mixed blood orange margarita, we had to restrain ourselves from engaging in a full-on footrace.

The intensity of color can vary.

A natural mutation of the orange, which itself is theorized to be a hybrid between a pomelo and a tangerine, the red flesh of a blood orange is due to the presence of anthocyanins, pigments common to many flowers and fruits, but uncommon in citrus fruits. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) The flavor is less tart than many other citrus fruits, with a distinct raspberry-like note.

The recipe below would be wonderful for a small gathering mixed right before serving, but you could also make a pitcher for larger crowds and shake the drinks up in a cocktail shaker or, even easier, serve over ice with slices of lime or blood orange.

Blood Orange Margarita
Adapted from a recipe by Michael Schoenholtz.

Makes two cocktails.

3 oz. reposado tequila 
3 oz. fresh-squeezed blood orange juice (straining out pulp optional)
1.5 oz fresh lime juice
1 to 1 1/2 oz. triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier (can vary depending on sweetness of oranges)

Salt the rims of two martini glasses (if desired).

Fill shaker two-thirds full of ice. Add all ingredients, shake for 30-40 seconds. Strain into glasses and garnish with orange wedge.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Guest Essay: How To Harvest Wild Onions

Now that spring is on the way, it's time to get out in our fields and forests and bring home some wild goodness. My friend, author Hank Shaw, is an authority on hunting, foraging and cooking all manner of wild things—his four books on those topics are considered definitive guides—and his post on harvesting wild onions is particularly pertinent to this season.

Ramps, wild onions, wild garlic. These are some of our best wild foods come springtime.

More than 100 species of wild alliums call North America home—allium being the genus covering both onions and garlic—but it is the Eastern ramp, Allium tricoccum, that has been all the rage among chefs in recent years. They’ve become so popular I even see chefs here in California using them with abandon; no native ramp grows within 2,000 miles of San Francisco or Los Angeles.


Locavore issues aside, perhaps the trendiest thing about ramps right now is to bemoan their overharvest.

Is this happening? Certainly, in some places. I’ve seen some startling before and after photos. But most professional foragers I know harvest the same patches of ramps every year — and some of these folks have been picking for 30+ years. They know, as well as any good farmer, that you don’t eat your seed corn. The sustainability of any bulb, corm, root or rhizome harvest all hinges on how you pick the plant.

Here’s how you do it.

First and foremost, you must find your onions. Ramps are showy onions with large, wide leaves. They’re pretty easy to spot, especially in Eastern woodlands, where they can literally carpet the forest floor for acres. Most wild onions are not so easily located, although one, the invasive three-cornered leek of California and Oregon, A. triquetrum, is almost as gaudy as the ramp.

Wild onions in situ.

There’s an onion for pretty much every environment, from deserts to forests to streamsides to lawns to high above the treeline in Alpine meadows. My favorite is the dusky onion, A. campanulatum, which is common in the mountains from California to British Columbia.

Onions, being bulb plants, send up grasslike shoots first. This can be as early as January in the Bay Area for the three-cornered leek, to mid-July for Alpine onions. Onions, in general, like to live in large troops: It’s weird to find just one onion.

A great many onions have a rosy blush to the base of their stems. But not all. Your nose is your best tool when trying to figure out if that grassy shoot you are looking at is an onion. Anything that looks like an onion that also smells like an onion is an onion. Lots of bulbs, some of them poisonous, can look like an onion, but none will also smell like one, too.

A patch of wild onions.

Once you’ve found your onions, look at the patch. Are there only a few onions there? Or does the patch have hundreds or even thousands of plants? If there are only a few, consider moving on. I like to pick patches with at least 100 plants, and preferably patches even larger than that. Regardless, follow these rules when you do decide to pick:

  • Pick only the largest individuals. See the photo on the left above? There are a dozen little onions in that image, and only the largest one is worth picking.
  • Stick and move. Pick that large one and move on. Look for another large one. By doing this, you will scatter your picking activity and leave the patch thinned, without large holes in it.
  • Take only 10 to 20 percent of any given patch. And that 20 percent number is only really for private ground or ground you have a very good idea that no one else knows about. Think about it: If I collect 10 percent of an onion patch, then you come along and take 10 percent, then two other people come… well, we’ve screwed that patch, haven’t we?
  • If you really need some wild onions, but the patch is pretty small, pick one large green leaf from each plant. That’s what I do with my Chinese garlic chives at home and they never appear to really notice it. It’s a good way to get that flavor you crave without digging up the whole plant.

Read the rest of Hank's post to get more suggestions on harvesting these wild bulbs, plus recipes for home use, including pickling!

Wild onion photos by Hank Shaw. Check out Hank's books here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Your Food, Your Legislature: Report from the Halfway Mark

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to the Center for Food Safety and Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies: Introduced by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee to address the impacts of factory farm dairies in Oregon. Take action here. Read more about mega-dairies in Oregon.
  • SB 103: Establishes a moratorium on new "industrial" dairies—defined as those over 2,500 cows or large dairies that don't provide seasonal access to pasture—while making sure environmental impacts to water and air, as well as impacts to smaller farms, are considered when permitting these operations.
  • SB 104: Allows stronger local rules over siting of these industrial facilities.
Management of Future Mega-Dairies: Two bills emerged from a work group organized by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
  • SB 876: Creates a two-step permitting process for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to ensure greater scrutiny before they go into operation.
  • SB 886: Sets limits (not yet specified) on the use of groundwater for watering livestock at large confined animal feeding operations. 
  • HB 3083: Establishes a "Task Force on Large-Scale Dairy Farms" which would submit a report to the Legislature by September, 2020.
"Clean Energy Jobs" or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): Establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitters—except for agriculture and forestry, two large sources of emissions and industries heavily represented by lobbyists in the Capitol—while creating an ‘allowance’ program intended to generate funding for climate adaptation and other programs. Public interest and small farm organizations are working to include agriculture and forestry in this bill.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): Prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Allows farmers who have been harmed by contamination from genetically engineered crops to sue the patent holders of those crops.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators.

Beginning Farmer & Family Farmer Land Access: Three bills that would support new and existing small farmers have been sent to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources with a hearing set for 3 pm on Thursday, March 14. E-mail a letter of support for all three before that date (link for address and suggested verbiage).
  • HB 3085: Creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment.
  • HB 3090: Establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance.
  • HB 3091: Reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing "Aggie Bonds" beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit (HB 3092): Incentivizes landowners to lease land to beginning farmers and ranchers. Sent to the House Revenue Committee.

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 2729): Provides $10 million in grants for farm succession planning and funding for both long term conservation planning and protection for working farmland at risk of development or conversion to non-farm uses.

Limits on GMO Canola in the Willamette Valley (HB 3026; SB 885; HB 3219): A 500-acre restriction on growing this crop is expiring in July, 2019. These bills seek to extend that limitation going forward because canola easily cross-pollinates with food crops in the brassica family, endangering organic growers and specialty seed growers. Contact your legislators here. More info on canola in Oregon.

Find your legislators here and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Ciaffagnoni: Delicate Crepes from Tuscan Cowboy Country

Elizabeth Petrosian, co-owner of Portland's (tiny) palace of Florentine cuisine, Burrasca, is a fabulous writer, and when I asked if she'd share their Portland Dining Month recipe for ciaffagnoni—one of three courses for $33 during the month of March—she agreed, and then offered to write the whole post. I was thrilled! Get their full Dining Month menu here.

Italy isn't really a country; it's a patchwork of regions held together by a common respect for carbohydrates. But more than this, Italy is a tight, often rivalrous amalgamation of micro-regions. Take Tuscany, for example (my adopted home for 12 years). There's the postcard Tuscany you're all familiar with: the burnished gold, cypress-dotted mounds of the Val d'Orcia; the undulating hills of vineyard-strewn Chianti; the smug stones of Florence and the empty-headed starlet that is Cortona. With a land area of just under 9,000 square miles—about the same size as New Jersey—it's a remarkable solar system of mico-regional planets, each spinning in its own gastronomical orbit, all revolving around one Tuscan culinary sun.

There's the taciturn Mugello, peppered with ochre-colored Medici hunting villas, with its neighbor Emilia-Romagna sitting just over the spine of the Appenine mountains and casting its long glance over the local cuisine; the heavily forested, chestnut-loving Casentino; the rugged Lunigiana, playing mountain-bred, culinary Romeo to next-door Ligurian Juliet; there's the impossibly lovely Etruscan coast, with many of its gastronomic tradtions—as is to be expected—rooted in antiquity. Then there's the Maremma.

An appetizer, a simple folded crepe (top) or a hearty main course (left), ciaffagnoni are infinitly flexible.

The Maremma is Tuscany's Wild West: a no-nonsense-talking, game meat-loving region of rustic beauty known for longhorn cattle, butteri (Maremman cowboys), hunters, and winemakers who know how to wrangle grapes in iron-rich soil kissed by Tyrrhenian sea breezes. It's the place to eat cinghiale (wild boar), either stewed with mele cotogna (quince) or with small black local olives and red wine. With its rolling hillsides and pastureland, it's also the place where fresh, deeply flavored sheep's cheese is a common ingredient.

If you're lucky enough to find your way to the small hill town of Manciano in the Maremma, you can eat tortelli mancianesi and be much an improved person for having eaten them. Every part of Tuscany has its version of tortelli, but in Manciano they exalt the excellent local sheep's ricotta in a filling along with spinach and a touch of cinnamon, dressing the pasta with fine local Chianina beef ragù. Likewise, sheep's cheese stars in another specialty of tiny Manciano: ciaffagnoni. These are savory crepes traditionally adorned with ricotta or pecorino. Leafy greens or even a bit of fruit are often added, as in this version we're currently serving at Burrasca all March long as part of our Portland Dining Month menu: the crepes are filled with ricotta and diced pear, along with a whisper of nutmeg and cinnamon, then folded into fagottini and topped with a sauce of pecorino toscano, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chili and black pepper.

Contrary to what you might believe, crepes, or crespelle—a gift from Catherine de' Medici to France—are as Italian as Vespas, four-hour lunches, and crippling bureaucracy. Legend has it that they were willed into being as pilgrim-fodder by Pope Gelasius I in the late 400s, an early example of peninsular ingenuity when it comes to paltry ingredients. Regardless of origins, Manciano has a way with crepes that is, well, celestial.

As mentioned, ciaffagnoni lend themselves to a variety of fillings; we've also served them filled with ricotta and Swiss chard, topped with a bit of béchamel and truffled pecorino toscano, and served over tropea onions in dolceforte and oven-dried tomato. They make lovely appetizers. Use your imagination!

Ciaffagnoni with Ricotta Filling and Pecorino Sauce

Ingredients to make about 2 dozen crepes.

For the crepes:
4 eggs
1 c. (150g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c. (300 ml) warm water
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 c. (250g) fresh ricotta
1 c. (250g) ricotta salata (or you can use all fresh ricotta if you prefer)
2 whole eggs, plus 2 yolks
1/2 c. (60g) grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 D'Anjou pear, diced small
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg 
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
A bit of salt and black pepper

For the sauce:
1/2 c. (100g) fresh young (not aged) pecorino, diced—Tuscan preferred but we won't hold it against you if you go rogue
3/4 c. (80g) grated parmigiano-reggiano
3 tsp. (10g) corn starch
1 3/4 c. (400 ml) whole milk
3 eggs

Additional ingredients: honey, red chili pepper, black pepper

The crepe batter has to rest for a half hour, so you can get the filling and sauce ready in that time. You'll need a 6" or 7" non-stick pan to make the crepes.

To make the crepes: Whisk the eggs, add warm water little by little, then add flour little by little. Add salt and whisk until smooth. There should be no lumps. Let batter rest for a half hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Over medium heat, warm your pan and grease it lightly with olive oil or butter. Ladle in just enough batter to cover the pan surface—don't make it thick; the crepes should come out very thin. When it begins to bubble and detaches from the pan, flip it; it should have a light golden-brown color. Cook other side until lightly colored. Make sure to leave them moist, not crisp, otherwise they'll crack! Set aside.

Prepare the filling: Simply mix all the filling ingredients well.

Prepare the sauce: Put the sauce ingredients into a bowl and blend with an immersion blender. Then, in a small pot on the stove, bring to 170 degrees, stirring constantly, and remove immediately once the temperature is reached.

Assembly: Take a crepe and lay it flat. Place some of the filling (don't put too much or overstuff it) on 1/4 of the crepe and then fold the crepe over it into a half circle. Then fold it over again into a triangle (one-fourth of the original shape). Once you've folded all your crepes, place as many as you can onto an oven sheet pan and bake for 4 to 5 minutes. They'll crisp a bit at the edges.

Drizzle the finished crepes with the pecorino sauce, some honey, and a tiny bit of red chili pepper if you like a bit of a kick, and/or a bit of freshly cracked black pepper.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Simply Spectacular: Jacques' Apple Galette

We're not picky eaters or fussy cooks around here. Simple recipes using good—preferably organic and locally grown—ingredients that don't take a lot of time to prepare are the ones we go back to again and again. Recipes by celebrity chefs are usually avoided, since they tend to be far too complicated and ego-driven ("Hey, watch me do a back-flip while I sauté these onions!") to make it onto our roster, plus we've found they are often not carefully tested for home cooks who may not have the equipment found in professional kitchens.

Into the oven it goes!

There are a few old-time chefs whose recipes I know I can depend on to be a success, like those from Julia Child, James Beard and Jacques Pépin. Pépin has been making a regular appearance in our kitchen lately, since Dave has been volunteering to make dessert when company comes or there's a gathering that warrants a little something post-feast.

Pépin's apple galette, from his book Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is a stunningly simple feat, with a processor pastry crust that comes out of the oven a masterpiece of flaky crispness, and a filling that's just chopped and sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with honey.

Light and lovely, with a charmingly rustic look—what can I say but, "Parfait! Et merci, Jacques!'

Rustic Apple Galette
Adapted from Heart and Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all- purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
4 apples (tart and flavorful heritage apples work well)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. honey, preferably wildflower
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away or make it ahead and refrigerate overnight.)

Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4" thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12" by14" rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1" of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

Bake the galette for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and all of the apples are tender. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, March 04, 2019

What the Heck is a CSA? Find Out at the Fair!

The CSA Share Fair on Sunday, March 10, is a chance to meet more than 40 local farmers, ranchers and fishers who offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to the public. They'll be showcasing various options, including vegetables, fruits, pastured meats, wild fish, eggs, flowers, honey and more. To keep it simple for you, there's a matchmaking service where you can check off what you're interested in and a helpful volunteer will point you toward the best farmer for you! Time and location of this year's fair are at the bottom of this post.

Find the right CSA for your family.

If you're not sure what a CSA is or if there's one that might be right for you, here's a Q & A with CSA maven Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have that I posted earlier.

Why join a CSA?

Joining a classic CSA gives you a window onto a farm and what it takes to grow the delicious variety of things that you'll receive in your share each week. The farmer chooses what's best that week that  can relieve you of most of your decision-making, though more CSAs are giving members to order from a list of what's available. I actually love not having to make any decisions about what produce I'm getting because then I can concentrate on being creative with what I receive.

CSA farmers in our region tend to grow a staggering variety of produce and typify the saying, "What grows together, goes together!" Belonging to a CSA has expanded my repertoire and introduced me to vegetables I wouldn't have picked up at the farmers' market, though some people are not so keen on the "no-choice" bit. My online Seasonal Recipe Collection comes in handy, since the recipes are sorted by vegetable and there is a thorough introduction for each vegetable.

Watch local chef demos at the Share Fair.

I also subscribe to a CSA because it helps me budget, and when you calculate out the cost of CSA by the week it is quite reasonable. I pay up front or in a few installments, and then supplement from the farmers' market or the store with fruits or occasional vegetables I'm not getting in my CSA—like asparagus, artichokes and a few other things that aren't typically found in a CSA. If I know I'll be getting my gorgeous box of produce each week, I won't be tempted to buy other things, to make the most what I've already paid for.

What are the different kinds of CSAs?

Some CSAs focus exclusively on produce, some also include fruit like blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, pears, quince and so forth. Some give you the option to add an extra Salad Share for those who love salad greens; others might give the option to add eggs, honey, flowers or meat. Some CSA farms work together with other area farms to offer such a wide array. And then there are exclusive meat and fish CSAs as well as CSAs that focus on a single crop like apples or flowers.

There are so many local farms offering CSAs. What should I consider before joining a CSA?

Generally, if you want super-delicious produce and can't always make it to a farmers' market, a CSA is for you. If you like to cook or want to cook more and are typically home most nights of the week, a CSA is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you travel a lot or are out a lot at night, you'll struggle to keep up with the produce.

Many farms, many options to choose from.

Think about the size of your household and your family members' eating habits to decide if a CSA is a good idea or not—do you all like vegetables or are open to trying them? How much do you think you'll eat? You might start with a half share (most farms offer two different-size shares) and see how that works, setting yourself up for success rather than the guilt of wasting some. Also consider if the pick-up site is convenient (some CSAs deliver to your door as well). But make sure you think about the logistics of picking up your share—make a plan with a friend or neighbor, either to share the CSA or both do it so you can alternate doing the pick up. This is great community-building in and of itself, and you can also share ideas of what to do with less familiar produce.

Does a CSA subscription make sense for a single person?

It very much depends on the person—if you are a vegetable lover and like to cook and entertain, by all means. If I were single I would buy a CSA but I do cook and eat more vegetables than almost anyone I know! And again, consider a half-share or splitting it with a neighbor or friend.

I'm afraid I'd be paying for produce I can't use or my family won't eat, and I know nothing about rutabagas or kohlrabi. What should I do?

This is an important factor to consider carefully. As I noted earlier, I have vastly expanded my appreciation of certain vegetables (rutabagas being at the top of that list) by becoming a CSA member and I've enjoyed that.

Some farms offer a single product, like flowers or apples.

There are a handful good cooking techniques and methods—think grated vegetable pancakes, like latkes—that are a critical to successful CSA cooking. In fact I added a grated rutabaga to fried rice the other night and it was delicious! And if you occasionally share an extra kohlrabi with a neighbor (I have definitely done that, too) the benefits of the flavor, nutrition and connection to your place and those growing our food may well trump the "kohlrabi hardship"!

I don't drive. How would I pick up my share?

I pick up my share by bike and it works well. Most CSA shares will fit into two typical panniers. Some CSAs have pick-ups at companies or farmers' markets so you might inquire if your place of work is linked up with a CSA farm or ask them if they might consider it. Colombia Sportswear, Intel, various Providence sites, Good Samaritan Hospital, Ecotrust and probably many others have CSA drops.

Details: CSA Share Fair, Sun., Mar. 10, 10 am-3 pm; free. Event at The Redd, 831 SE Salmon St. If you can't make it to the Share Fair, there's a listing of metro-area CSAs at the Portland Area CSA Coalition, and a listing of Northwest (and national) CSAs at Local Harvest.

Photos by Shawn Linehan.

Farm Bulletin: Musings on the Arch Cape Chicory Harvest

The farm in winter is often portrayed as a dormant time, with barren fields devoid of activity but for the stalks and dead detritus of the previous year's crops. Nothing could be further from the truth, as elucidated by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm.

As we work our way down the row, it is clear the farmers are not the only organisms harvesting the chicory. We share the field with three different rodents: pocket gophers, voles and mice. We all have our own harvesting methods and challenges.

Our field knives: 6” and 5"produce (green, brown, white), lettuce and an 18” machete type.

Farmers use several different harvest knives. We maintain a fleet of ten six-inch produce knives and eight five-inch produce knives. These have straight blades and a square tip, the sort produce staff have in their holster at the grocery store. These knives are cheap (~ $14) and rugged. The six-inch knife is safe and easy to use in the field. The curved blades and sharp points of a chef’s knife are fine in the kitchen but a dangerous menace in the field. A lettuce knife is a more specialized tool, having two cutting edges. Carol and Linda use these to liberate the head from the ground, and shift to the produce knife for trimming. The five-inch knives, a bit too small for the field, are useful for the final trimming at the sink. For other tasks, the heft of the machete-style knives is useful.

Because the knives are used in the abrasive environment of the soil, after a couple of hours the edge is lost, and the knife is swapped out for a sharp one. We go through three or four knives in short order. Back at the shed, we put a fresh edge on the knives with an electric sharpener. A few years ago, a farm magazine had an absurd article telling farmers how sharpen their knives with an oil stone. Even with the mechanical sharpener, the effort takes  30 to 45 minutes. I sharpen my wood block tools with a series of Japanese water stones, but for a knife that will return to soil the next day it is a stupid waste of time. Staff prefer to use a mill bastard file which is a bit coarse for my tastes, but I always defer to them on the matter of tools they use.

Waterproof gloves round out the harvest tools. One hazard with field gloves is that it is easy to wind up with a community of left hand specimens. The cure is to name each pair and write the name on both gloves. For example, we have pairs named Jasper, Maine, Moscow and Olive. Once named, the left and right gloves hang together, a bit of magic I can’t explain.

A field vole.

Our most common companions in the field are voles. In literature, subterranean creatures shunning the sun invariably lack a sense of humor. Dwarfs and trolls, whether in Wagner, the Norse legends or Tolkien, are difficult characters. And so it is with the voles and gophers. During the winter, the gophers are lethargic and consume very little. They are a summertime menace. In contrast, voles become hyperactive in the winter.

Voles are aggressive hoarders, relentlessly caching food. In the chicories, they start with the root, working their way to the crown. Then they pull the leaves into their tunnel. (Top photo: A fine chicory hollowed out by a vole, a beautiful remnant.) Plant materials are masticated and then cached in hollowed out areas where the vegetation ferments, similar to ensilage. They aspire to no leisure activities, never ceasing in building their cache accounts. Voles excavate miles of tunnels, keeping them away from the eyes of predators. The voles have a short tail, small, beady eyes and their ears sit close to the head. They seldom leave the safety of their tunnels. In the winter they live communally in a hole lined with dry grass, conserving their energy. Even during the wettest weather, the underground nest stays dry.

A typical mouse run, where the mice leave the hole (right, near the snow) for a meal and chew on the chicory leaves.

We also encounter mice in the field. They don’t cache vegetation. Mice cache and consume seeds, and they seek out insect larvae and pupae. They eat some foliage to round out their diet. During the winter they also rest communally in grass-lined nests, with one or two sallying forth to feed while the others keep the nest warm. The live in underground burrows, or in hollow logs, irrigation pipes, bird houses, cars or any place providing shelter. They have long tails for balance, large ears to hear advancing predators and bulging eyes that give them a range of view, all valuable for an animal that forages above ground. They are adept climbers, and they have a more beguiling presence than their subterranean-dwelling kin.

A light snow highlights clumps of grass emerging from unused granaries.

The mouse seed caches are visible in both the cultivated and uncultivated areas of the farm. Not every store of seeds is consumed, and those left uneaten sprout. In the photo above, tufts of native grass betray an unused granary. In the field, clumps of chickpeas, wheat, corn and favas in a similar pattern are common.

What eats get eaten. A healthy population of rodents is the base for a healthy population of predators. We have barn and great-horned owls, kestrels, red-tail hawks, great blue herons and weasels all partaking of the fine rodent riches. The barn owls hunt in the open fields and the great-horned owls tend to stay in the cover of the oak savannah. No, predators do not control the rodent populations; it is exactly the reverse, rodent populations drive survival of the predator young. Without adequate food, the young languish and die.

Vole guts left on top of a birdhouse by a kestrel.

Both owls currently have chicks in the nest, and a good rodent year means more of these chicks will become adults. The owls tear apart the rodents, regurgitate a cast or pellet of fir and bones. The herons gulp down their prey whole. Red-tailed hawks and kestrels tear apart their prey. The kestrels don’t like the stomachs, so they eviscerate their prey, leaving a pile of guts near the feeding perch. The kestrels are more resilient than owls and other raptors because they feed happily on larger insects such as grasshoppers, frogs, worms and small snakes. As an aside, owls are more closely related to parrots than the hawks and falcons.

Aside from poison, which we would never use, there is no means of controlling these small rodents. Even poison baits are a stop gap measure of dubious efficacy, just a damaging outlet of the farmer’s anger. The gophers, mice and voles are part of the endeavor and, in their own right, remarkable creatures. A heathy ecosystem self-corrects. Rodent populations are cyclical. In 2013, we had intense rodent pressure and lost the entire chicory crop. As a concession prize, a young bobcat took up residence for several months. Tito was not happy about the matter, though. The following year, voles were scarce.

We are on a wildlife corridor, so various creatures, elk, deer and mink move through the farm. Thursday night, Abel saw a cougar and her kits near the barn. They are probably moving to the ridge dominated by Bald Peak in search of prey, deer in particular, but quite possibly small livestock as well.

Read more of Anthony's Farm BulletinsPhoto of vole from Wikipedia. All other photos by Anthony Boutard.

Friday, March 01, 2019

In Season: Galangal, Lemongrass and Turmeric

In the most recent Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, market manager Ginger Rapport offered a primer on using galangal, lemongrass and turmeric. Normally thought of as exotic ingredients, they've been adapted to grow in Oregon's maritime climate and are now being grown by several local farms. Find them at your neighborhood farmers' market, as well as at Rubinette Produce or other stores that carry produce from local farms.


This flavorful tuber (top photo) is the spicy cousin of ginger and is prized in Thai cuisine for the citrus-like flavor it imparts to soups and its burst of herbal heat in curry pastes. Usually found in Asian grocery stores, you can also find organic galangal at Denison Farms’ booth this Saturday alongside fresh lemongrass and turmeric.

Galangal’s knobby tubers are prepared much like ginger. To be recipe-ready, they are usually peeled and then minced, sliced or grated. It is possible to substitute ginger for galangal when it is unavailable, but we recommend you make the effort to use this zingy aromatic when it is in season. According to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, galangal’s distinctive piney flavor is best used in savory dishes as opposed to sweet dishes where ginger is a better option.

Since fresh galangal is not available all year round, we recommend putting a stash of peeled fresh tubers in your freezer for use when it is out of season. While you are thinking in advance, we recommend freezing lemongrass as well. Together, they provide the exciting flavors required for a variety of delicious dishes including soups, curries and sauces. To freeze lemongrass, trim stalks to the bottom six inches, then transfer to zip-lock bags and freeze.

Galangal is a critical ingredient in the popular hot and sour Thai soup known as Tom Yum or Tim Yam (above right). And, while it's possible to substitute ginger for the galangal, why bother when you are lucky enough to access the real thing? The combination of spicy aromatics, flavorful broth and tasty add-ins make this the perfect dish for our chilly winter days.


Lemongrass is a stalky plant that gives dishes a zesty lemon flavor and aroma. Look for stalks that are fragrant, tightly formed, and a lemony-green color on the lower stalk. To prepare lemongrass, remove tough outer leaves to expose the pale yellow interior that is softer and easier to slice. Use a sharp serrated blade to slice off the lower bulb, about two inches from the end of the stalk. Discard bulb. Stop slicing when you have cut two-thirds of the way up the stalk, or when it is no longer yellow and fleshy. Because lemongrass is so tough, the slices will need a to processed in the food processor on high, or pounded in a mortar and pestle for a minute or two.

Fresh Turmeric

Livelier than its dried form, fresh turmeric has bright orange flesh and is earthy, peppery and slightly bitter. Like ginger and galangal, it is usually peeled before using. Store fresh turmeric in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, or airtight container, or freeze it for several months. In recipes, one inch of fresh turmeric is equivalent to one tablespoon freshly grated turmeric, or 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lost Valley Farm Sold to Washington Buyer

Well, it's happened. Lost Valley Farm, the infamous factory farm dairy that in its first two years racked up more than 200 violations related to overflowing manure pits, leaking tanks of dead animals, over-application of manure that threatened area groundwater and drinking wells, and even failure to provide restroom facilities for employees, has been sold.

Cow stands in liquid manure at Lost Valley.

Who would be crazy enough to buy a facility that will require millions of dollars to clean up and more millions to install a new irrigation system? Apparently Cody Easterman of Easterday Farms of Pasco, Washington, a large potato and onion grower, who paid $66.9 million through a company called Canyon Farm LLC. (Easterman was contacted by phone but did not respond by the time of posting.)

With some 47 million gallons of liquid manure still remaining onsite—which one source estimated would fill 71 Olympic swimming pools—what is the draw that would make it attractive to a buyer like Easterman?

For one thing, the water rights.

"The irrigation rights for growing crops on the several thousand acres of land are in place, and very valuable," said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, an organization that had been involved in fighting against Lost Valley Farm since it was first proposed due to a lack of regulation and oversight on the part of the state. Though he added, "The water is for sustaining livestock and dairying year-round is still contested and not secure."

The site was originally the Boardman Tree Farm.

In an e-mail responding to questions I posed to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) about the sale, spokesperson Andrea Cantu-Schomus said that the ODA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have signed what's called an "Order and Mutual Agreement" (OMA) with the federally appointed trustee for Lost Valley Farms, Randy Sugarman, that "ensures the wind-down and cleanup process for the facility."

"The priority of ODA, and our partner agencies DEQ and the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), was that the OMA fulfill three principles: accountability, no gaps in responsibility and effort, and achieving the state’s desired outcomes," Cantu-Schomus wrote in an e-mail. "We believe the signed OMA achieves those principles."

Aside from the cleanup of the manure and dead animals remaining on the property, the OMA also requires that the remaining cows—still numbering as many as 8,000, according to some reports—be removed from the facility. (An auction of the cows is part of a separate agreement with the trustee.) The agreement requires that Easterman must apply for a new CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) permit if he wants to reopen the dairy or, if he does not, that the dairy must be decommissioned "to the satisfaction of the ODA."

Emissions into air and water are problems for communities near industrial dairies.

A complicating factor for Easterman, if he decides to reopen the dairy or lease the facility to another operator, are SB 103 and SB 104, two bills before the legislature that seek a moratorium on approval of new dairy operations in the state and require establishment of regulations governing factory farm dairies that are already located, or that may want to locate, in Oregon.

Both bills apply to mega-dairies, that is, facilities with more than 700 cows that are confined without seasonal access to pasture, or a total of 2,500 cows—Lost Valley was originally permitted for 30,000 cows. The legislation would regulate these dairies as the industrial factories they are rather than treating them as traditional agricultural farms, and would require limits on toxic emissions to air and water, including groundwater. These bills would also require studies on the impacts to Oregon's small and mid-size dairies and on animal welfare and would close existing loopholes that allow excessive use of scarce groundwater, as well as establishing a course of action if a facility fails to meet state standards, as happened with Lost Valley Farm. (Follow the progress of the legislation in Your Food, Your Legislature postings here.)

The sale of Lost Valley makes the passage of these bills even more critical, according to Amy van Saun, a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety.

"I think ODA realizes that Lost Valley was a giant problem, but the fixes they have suggested to the legislature at this point aren’t enough, in our minds, to fix the problem," van Saun wrote in an e-mail. "But [the ODA] realizes they need more oversight and are seeking it from legislature. The moratorium is all the more important now that once Lost Valley gets cleaned up, these owners may well want to restart dairy operations, and that could be within the year."

* * *

Read my series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened two years ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, plus massive groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and the farm's creditors, and former owner Greg 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.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Simple & Creamy: Mushroom chowder

In making the Choucroute Garnie featured in a recent post—it's an Alsation dish featuring sauerkraut braised for hours in chicken stock, with many meats added and then simmered some more—I apparently got a little over-excited estimating the number of potatoes that people might be hungry for. Then my husband and I got our wires crossed while grocery shopping and we ended up with an extra pound of cremini mushrooms.

To make a long story short, we had the aforementioned abundance of cooked potatoes and those mushrooms that were starting to look a little long in the tooth. Plus it coincided with our recent spate of late winter chilly temperatures hovering in the 20s and 30s. Always in the mood for a hearty soup—check out this 12-year collection of soup recipes if you don't believe me—I got the bright idea to make a mushroom chowder, albeit a vegetarian version since we're temporarily out of Dave's homemade bacon (a situation soon to be corrected).

To cut to the chase, this came together in about 40 minutes and was, frankly, the best mushroom soup I've had anywhere, including restaurants, that I can remember. (That opinion is backed up by those here who are not shy about criticism and not over-prone to praise, by the way.) And here's a wacky thought: If you should happen to leave out the potatoes, I'd even recommend it as a substitute if you've sworn off Campbell's cream of mushroom but still crave that comforting flavor.

Mushroom Chowder

4 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped in 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. celery, finely diced
1 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 oz. sour cream
3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 c. white wine
2 c. chicken stock
2-3 c. whole milk, depending on how thick you like your chowder
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 lb. potatoes chopped in 1/2" dice
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until tender. Add celery and garlic and sauté until tender. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender.

Remove from heat and sprinkle flour over the mixture, stirring well to combine. Put back on medium heat and stir frequently to keep it from sticking, about 3 minutes. Add wine and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot, and allow to thicken slightly.

Stir in sour cream until smooth, then add chicken stock, milk, bay leaves, thyme and potatoes. Bring to a bare simmer. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat, just enough to keep it barely bubbling, for 30-45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. (As mentioned above, leftover boiled potatoes are entirely substitutable.)

If you have some excellent bacon (like Dave makes), start with 3-4 slices cut in 1/4" pieces. Place it in the heated pan before adding butter and sauté until it's cooked but not crisp, then continue with the rest of the recipe.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Travels with Chili: A Fond Farewell

It may have been telling that a recent trip to Fraga Farmstead Creamery was taken in my husband's pickup rather than Chili, the intrepid Mini Clubman we bought 10 years ago, the first brand new car we'd ever owned.

A post way back then summed it up:

"Trumpets sounded, the crowd roared, a dog barked, clouds parted and, oh yeah, a baby cried. Y'know, the usual harbingers of a siginificant event in literature. In a workplace, a memo would have gone out and, befitting its importance, coffee and donuts would have been served in the conference room.

"In this case, we drove up to the house, parked, and pretty soon the neighbors started gathering, oohing and ahhing, opening doors and (if you're Mace, anyway) pushing buttons. Everyone had to sit in the driver's seat, watch the sunroof(s) slide back and forth, and close their eyes and breath in the new car smell.

"Pretty soon beer was being poured, wine bottles opened and a block party erupted that lasted into the late evening as kids played racecar driver in the front seat, complete with 'vroom vroom' sound effects. All of it a good sign of adventures sure to come."

And there were many of those. From Portland to Californiathe WallowasCanada, on summer camping trips and countless quick hops to area farms and coastal getaways, not to mention the more pedestrian errands that we ran every day. Our friends teased us whenever we went on trips together, saying that seeing us, the dogs and all our gear popping out of Chili was like was like the clown car at the circus.

Lately, though, there were signs that all was not well—a transmission failing, leaks here and there, check engine lights that, in order to get them to turn off, required an expensive infusion of cash. Plus we'd decided to downsize to one car, something that could serve as a road car, camping vehicle and city runabout, plus haul supplies for various house projects.

This last weekend the check engine light came on yet again, and we had to make the fateful decision. Emptying Chili of the grocery bags, road maps and collected detritus was a hard task, leaving it at the dealership even harder, with memories of so many happy times crowding around us. Our little red car, always the cutest in any lot or campground, will be sorely missed.

Check out our Travels with Chili.

Guest Essay: Goats Rule

My friend Jeffrey Hannan has had many past lives. An author, playwright and digital user experience manager, he lived on a farm as a child and gravitated to goats as his familiars. Which is why, whenever he visits Portland, it's a requirement that we stop by at least one spot where they gather, even if only through a pasture fence. His most recent appearance in Oregon entailed a road trip to the wilds of Gales Creek for a chat with Lise Bueschen-Monahan and her 100-or-so goats at Fraga Farmstead Creamery.

Goats rule.

At least in my private hierarchy of the animal kingdom. How, then, to resist an invitation to visit Steve Monahan and Lise Bueschen-Monahan’s Fraga Farmstead Creamery? Not possible.

Lise Bueschen-Monahan.

Kathleen Bauer and I bundled up and donned our farm boots one chilly afternoon in January. We climbed into her truck and headed 30 minutes west, to where the fringe of suburbanization meets wide open farmland. A bit further, to the south, before the road wants to rise into the Tillamook forest, lies a farm with a pond, a red barn and dense stand of pines trees.

Here a herd of 100-plus female goats roams a shady evergreen forest, rubbing themselves and their horns against the trunks of trees. They come running as a pack when Lise strides into the large open field and calls out to them: “Goaties!”

Some of Fraga Farm's goats.

Goats are curious looking things. Like most quadrupeds (and some humans), they have a big midsection supported by four slender appendages. Their heads are triangular. Their eyes are equal parts mischief and interrogation. They’re also set a bit too far apart, leaving us mere humanoids struggling to match their gaze.

They think nothing of strolling up and swarming around you, rubbing their thick bodies against your legs or chewing on your shoelaces as you stand in place to learn the story of the farm.

Goats like—they will often insist upon—your affection. They love to be scratched. However, they can be fickle creatures. They’re all too quick to divest you of their attention when they discern that fresh hay has been laid in the barn.

The farm's red barn and oak trees.

Lise is the goatherd of the family. She is aided by Franklin, a tall, amiable intern who, upon completion of his master’s degree, aims to establish a goat dairy when he returns to his native Ghana.

Lise’s husband Steve is the cheese maker. Together they create a small collection of superb goat milk cheeses—traditional chevre, camembert, feta, and an aged raw milk cheese akin to cheddar—as well as some insanely delicious goat milk caramels.

The quality of the product is not by accident. That’s why Kathleen and I were there: to uncover the method behind the magic.

Lise walking with her "goaties."

It was quiet time on the farm when we visited: a period of relatively little activity when milk production has waned and the busy-ness of kidding season has not yet begun. Kidding season lasts roughly from January through May. About 20 kids are born each year. Some of the does are kept as milkers; the rest of the kids are put up for adoption as pets.

In some industrial goat dairies, the moment kids are born they are taken from their mother and killed so that every drop of mother’s milk is reserved for commercial use. Not a drop, so to speak, is wasted. In contrast, when a kid is born at Fraga, both kid and mother are put in their own enclosure after birth to give them a chance to rest. The kids then nurse for about two months, at which point they are weaned and the mother’s remaining milk is used to make cheese.

This nurturing, natural method of raising goats leads to better cheese. Not to mention a healthy quality of life for the animal. It is fairly well documented that the commercial raising and slaughter of animals for meat and dairy is highly unnatural and traumatic. This trauma ultimately finds its way into the end product—be it meat, cheese, milk or butter.

Fraga Farm's chevre with honey.

“Everything is hormonal,” explains Lise. Birthing, feeding, weaning and milking all are driven by hormones, just as hormones drive interactions between human mothers and their children. When animals are dragged into slaughter or robbed of interaction with their parent or offspring from the moment they’re born, the animal’s normal hormonal processes are disrupted. Moreover, the cramped, unhealthy conditions in which many industrial food animals are raised adds a deeper degree of damage.

The natural, normal processes of grazing, birthing and weaning that take place at Fraga are antithetical to industrial methods. Fraga’s methods are emblematic of a larger food movement which strives to farm with the earth and its inhabitants instead of against it or in perceived domination of it.

The farm's camembert-style cheese.

The methods that small farmers like Lise and Stephen apply result in superior products with a higher cost of production. Unfortunately, the demand to keep retail prices as low as possible while maximizing profit means ethical trade-offs that holistic farmers are not willing to make.  As a result, small farmers face relentless competition from industrial farms and large retailers whose sole objective is to increase their own share of the consumer’s wallet.

When it comes to producing food or dairy, there is an uncomfortable symbiosis between man and animal: we are far more dependent upon them than they are on us. That said, a herd of animals—dairy goats, for instance—requires conscientious care if we’re going to right the current imbalance. These workers require and deserve our diligence and decency.

The same can be said of a bed of vegetables: by nurturing their growth through natural methods such as soil regeneration, which ensures a healthy mix of microbial magic, instead of creating land that’s been fertilized literally to death, the negative trends in industrial farming can be countered.

Farm intern Franklin intends to start a goat dairy in Ghana.

Whether those trends can be reversed is an entirely different argument. Even at a friendly sit-down at a wooden table in a farmhouse. After a tour of the farm and a lengthy visit with the herd in the barn, the three of us retreated to the farmhouse. Warmed by fresh coffee, farm-made cheese and bread, our degrees of optimism varied. What was agreed upon, though, is that many of us, when we buy food, have a choice: we can choose the cheaper industrial product or we can seek out humane and healthier alternatives.

This is the hard mission of Lise and countless other farmers in the bountiful Northwest: to create those options and stave off the inevitable demise wrought by big ag. It is also the work of Kathleen to provide exposure to these alternatives, to get people to understand where food comes from: to remember that we exist in a web of natural inter-relationships. If we are to eat well, and live well, we have to re-engage with the realities of our food supply.

With Lise and her goats, it's all about the love.

Food labeling, though, is an issue. (And a lengthy, head-spinning side topic.) What, after all, I wonder, is truly organic? What is “free-range”? These neat government labels, written by and for the benefit of commercial producers, do little to truly inform the public. They are guideposts that reveal nothing of the real methods of production behind them, but instead point us in directions we feel obliged to follow.

Are we being misled? This intentional ambiguity is a not just a crisis of conscience but a crisis of health: If the food we put in our mouths is grown in soil denuded of nutrients and nature’s complex, life-giving secrets, and if the animals we eat are abused in their service to us, what are we really putting into our bodies?

* * *

Sam (black), Marilyn (tan), and Jeff. La Mesa, CA, ca 1989.

Author's note: Sam and Marilyn hung out in the chicken enclosure, where they had a homemade house of wood where they slept at night, and a wooden picnic bench and table that they could hop around on. When I’d get home from work or school I’d let them out to run around the yard and climb the giant boulders on the property. Marilyn loved corn chips and a sip of white zinfandel, which perhaps, alas, contributed to her early demise.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Praising the Braise: Choucroute Garnie

It's not often I get to write, "As we drove through the rolling hills from Frankfurt across the German-French border, the towns grew increasingly smaller and older, the buildings more charming and fairy tale-like with stone and moss the predominant textures."

Braising the vegetables.

It was an incredibly long time ago, and our last through the French countryside, a road trip that took us from the Alsace region across to the Loire, then down through the Dordogne with a swing back up to Frankfurt. Our first stop was in an auberge in the tiny town of Riquewihr, one with a traditional Alsatian restaurant on the main floor and rooms for guests on the second floor.

Adding the bacon.

Coming down for dinner that night, we found we'd walked into a special evening featuring that most Alsatian of dishes, choucroute garnie. A long table ran down one side of the room, the length of it piled with the most sweetly fragrant sauerkraut, braised for hours in stock, bay leaves and juniper berries. On top of the sauerkraut were all kinds of sausages from the area, along with slices of smoked ham, whole pork chops and other meats, all of which had been cooked in the braised sauerkraut.

In goes the meat…getting there!

That choucroute (pron. shoo-CROOT) completely changed my attitude toward sauerkraut, which up to that point had always been a tart, vinegary-tasting accompaniment to my grandmother's cabbage rolls, which she called "hoblich" (probably a variation on Ukrainian "holopchi"), or my mother's sauerkraut with hot dogs, her attempt to pay homage to my father's German heritage. In this version, rinsed of most of the salt and sourness, then simmered until meltingly tender, even the most adamant of the sauerkraut averse will rave.

Choucroute Garnie
Loosely adapted from Time-Life Foods of World: Provincial France

6-8 lbs. sauerkraut
1 lb. bacon (optional)*
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 med. onions, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
2 c. carrots, cut in 1/4" rounds
1 tart apple, cored and chopped in 1/2" dice
6 c. chicken stock
2 c. dry white wine
1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
8 sprigs parsley
3 bay leaves
20 juniper berries
2 lbs. uncooked sausages, like bratwurst
2 lbs. chicken thighs**
3 smoked pork chops
4 1/2" slices ham
Yukon gold potatoes

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Rinse the sauerkraut in several changes of water to get rid of excess salt and vinegar. (Homemade is best, but if that's not available, I like a good commercial brand like Bubbies, containing just cabbage, salt and water.) After rinsing, squeeze it vigorously to get out as much water as possible. Repeat. (Save the fermented juice for all kinds of uses…search for "uses for sauerkraut juice.")

In a heavy 9-qt. casserole or Dutch oven (I used Big Blue), heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and carrots and sauté for 10 min., stirring often to prevent sticking. Stir in the chopped apple and continue cooking for 2 or 3 min., then stir in the sauerkraut and combine thoroughly. Reduce the heat as low as possible, cover the pot and braise the vegetables for 15 min. Then add the chicken stock, wine, salt, pepper, parsley, bay leaves and juniper berries and stir to combine. Top with bacon, if using. Cover tightly, place on middle rack of the oven and braise for 3 hrs.

After the sauerkraut has braised for 3 hrs., prick the sausages 4 or 5 times and add to the casserole with the chicken thighs, pork chops and ham slices, burying them in the sauerkraut. Cover, return the pot to the oven and braise for 1 to 1 1/2 hrs.

Toward the end of the cooking time, heat a large pot of water till boiling, halve the potatoes and cook till tender.

To serve, transfer the sauerkraut to a deep, heated platter or serving dish, removing the bay leaves and as many of the juniper berries as you can. Mound the meat over the top. Serve with potatoes on the side.

* The last time I made this, I left out the bacon and it was much less fatty. The smoked pork chops and ham made up for any loss of smoky flavor.

** Duck legs or rabbit would also be great in this.