Thursday, September 12, 2019

Miso Happy: Creamy Miso Vinaigrette


Oil and vinegar. Oil and lemon. Oil and balsamic. Mustard vinaigrette on lively greens tossed for the briefest amount of time possible and showered with crunchy salt.

These dressings make a regular appearance at our table, but every now and then I crave the kind of tangy, smooth and creamy dressings I grew up with. My mother's recipe was based on my grandmother's go-to standard, which started with mayonnaise and a squirt of ketchup—an ingredient almost as ubiquitous as cream of mushroom soup in my mom's repertoire—plus a sprinkle of thyme and basil with a pinch of garlic powder, thinned with a splash of milk.

So when I've got some sturdy heads of romaine, escarole or chicories that can stand up to heftier dressings, my thoughts turn to Caesar dressings loaded with anchovy or, lately, miso mixed with mayonnaise (hey Mom!), studded with garlic and a dollop of mustard.

A small Portland-based miso company, Jorinji, makes authentic red and white unpasteurized miso from non-GMO soybeans fermented from six months to three years. Jorinji products are widely available at area supermarkets and last basically forever in the fridge. A little goes a long way, so get some and add a subtle hint of fabulous umami to your marinades, stir-fries, soups and braises.

This vinaigrette can also double as a dip for vegetables and fried foods, or as a drizzle over meats, fish and roasted veggies, and it's a splashy twist on a traditional coleslaw dressing.

Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as some chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

Combine ingredients and stir until smooth.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Farm Bulletin: What's In a Name?


In this Bulletin, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm contemplates the naming schemes of fruits and vegetables, for the most part adhering to geographical references at his farm. And speaking of table grapes, as he so eloquently does below, a selection of the farm's finest will be available along with Astiana tomatoes, tomatillos, Striped German slicers, plums, dry goods and other notions at the farm on Saturday, Sept. 7th, Sunday, Sept. 15th, and Saturday, Sept. 21st between 1 and 5 pm. To order 18-pound lugs of Astiana tomatoes, e-mail Anthony directly.

Traditionally, fruits and vegetables were named either descriptively, with a geographic epithet, or after the plant breeder. We have hewed to the geographic tradition with the "Arch Cape" chicory and the "Astiana" tomato. We are working on a new chicory selection and the project is named "Bald Peak." Sometimes the reference is a bit oblique. The "Peace, No War" corn shares its initials with the region to which it is adapted, the Pacific Northwest. Our "Ava Bruma" melon is descriptive, employing the Latin for “behold the solstice.” Alas, modern breeders are suckers for cute, insubstantial names, or worse.

Jupiter grape.

The "Jupiter" table grape is an example. Naming such a voluptuous fruit, linguistically and biologically a feminine organ, after the male Roman god of war is incredibly stupid and tacky. So callow, makes one seethe.  That said, the Rogers and Hart musical "By Jupiter" (top photo) was adapted from the book "The Warrior Husband." The comic premise is the Amazon women go out to battle under their queen Hippolyta. The story takes the perspective of husband who stays at home. The main character, Sapiens ("wise" in Latin), was played by Ray Bolger. Three songs from the musical made their way into the American songbook, including "Wait Till You See Her," "Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me" and "Ev’rything I’ve Got."

The last was one of Blossom Dearie’s standards, well-suited to her impish delivery and fine piano playing. Here is the original version with Bolger and Benay Venuta.

There is also a beguiling version with Betty Garrett and Milton Berle. Makes us want to rename the grape "Sapiens," a more apt name for a noble and contemplative fruit such as the grape. But, then again, if named Sapiens we would not have thought about a now-obscure Rogers and Hart musical from 1942, the last and longest-running result of their work together.

Summer Quencher: Classic Gin & Tonic


Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.

To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.

Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.

The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.

Classic Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

* * *

Elderflower Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.)
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Buying Whole Fish (Plus a Hack for No-Hassle Freezing)


If you've been seeing ads from your grocery store or fishmonger offering whole fish for a fraction of the regular retail price but you're not sure how you'd use it, I've put together this handy guide.

There is nothing better, or better for you, than fresh, wild, local fish. Fish are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, high in protein and low in saturated fat, and the American Heart Association advises eating fish twice a week. Trouble is, the usual price per pound for fresh fillets in the butcher case puts it out of reach for most budgets. Plus many commercially available ocean species can be high in mercury, and farm-raised fish are usually fed high doses of antibiotics—think of them as factory farms for finned creatures—due to the crowded pens they're raised in. And don't get me started on the effects of these farms on our waterways.

Albacore swims just off our coastline.

But those of us on the West Coast are fortunate to have access to some of the most delicious wild fish on the planet in our populations of native wild albacore and salmon. This year the fleet of primarily family-owned boats have been pulling in a supply of albacore from the fishery that stretches from Northern California up into British Columbia. Certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, these albacore are young—just three to five years old, low in mercury and weighing in at 12 to 25 pounds—and individually caught with a hook-and-line system. (Want more info? Read my post, Albacore A to Z, for details.)

Coho spawning in Tillamook State Forest.

Wild salmon, particularly from Alaskan waters, are in plentiful supply right now, too, with stores advertising tempting steaks, fillets and roasts. But if you want to get a real deal, look for special sales events featuring whole fish.

"Whole fish?" you say. "I don't even know where to start with a whole fish!"

Well, let's talk about where you buy it. Make sure the fishmonger is a reputable source—recent studies have found that almost 20% of fish sold to consumers are mislabeled, and fish ordered at restaurants are more likely to be incorrectly labeled than fish bought at markets or grocery stores. I recently bought two whole albacore and two whole Coho salmon at New Seasons Market, a regional chain that buys its whole fish from local boats and has several one or two-day sales events per season.

Whole albacore loins ready to freeze.

When you buy whole fish, you'll need to specify how you want it packaged. The fish are already cleaned, and most stores will butcher your fish at no charge, whether you want steaks or roasts or whole fillets. I always ask for the trimmings to be included, since the head, fins and bones make amazing stock for soups, chowders, risottos and paella, among many other uses. (Here's my technique for using those trimmings.)

Making stock is simple: put fish in pot, add water.

And don't believe those charts meant for chefs that say the yield from a whole albacore, gutted and without the head, is 50 percent of the weight. From the 17-pound fish (head off) that I bought, my yield was more than 80 percent after removing the loins, roasting the carcass (350° for 30 min.), picking off the meat (nearly 2 lbs.) and then making stock from the bones (2 1/2 qts.). The total weight of bones, fins and detritus that went into the compost bin was only two or three pounds. (Kind of tells you about the food waste that happens in restaurants, though, doesn't it?)

Coho fillet ready to freeze.

If you're not going to throw the fish on the grill right away—never a bad idea, but just one good-sized fillet will feed four to six—you'll also need to think about how you want to store it. With a vacuum sealer it's a done deal, since properly packaged fish will keep for as long as a year. The idea is to keep air away from the meat to prevent freezer burn, so if you don't have a vacuum sealer, what do you do?

I quizzed the fellow at the fish counter when I bought my salmon, and he said that his dad, an avid fisherman, would put a single fillet in a zip-lock bag and submerge it in a sink full of water, holding the closure just above the water line. The water pressure pushes the air out, making an airtight seal around the fish. Not having a sealing machine myself, a little smoothing of the wrinkles in the bag while it was underwater did almost as good a job as the machine. (I found that a two-gallon zip-lock bag will hold a good-sized fillet quite nicely.)

Note: Pull those pinbones!

A note: it's good to go over your fish to check for pinbones or other bones that the butchers may have missed. First, it makes it easier to just throw it on the grill without worrying about biting down on one while you're eating and, second, it keeps those pokey bones from puncturing the bag and letting air in. Just hold the fillet and feel for any bones by running your fingers down the flesh, then use a pair of (clean) needle nose pliers to pull out the bones.

All this is to say that you can have more fresh, local, sustainable fish in your diet without paying dearly for the privilege. As the old commercial used to say, "Try it, you'll like it!"

For fabulous salmon recipes, click here.

For to-die-for albacore recipes, click here.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Tillamook's Milk Comes from Cows on Concrete, Not Pasture, Lawsuit Claims


A group of consumers has filed suit against the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) claiming its advertising misleads the public into believing its milk comes from cows munching on coastal pastures, when in truth most of the milk used in its famous cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter comes from cows fed on grain, living on concrete and dirt feedlots in factory farms in Eastern Oregon.

Photo used in Tillamook's promotional materials.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a legal advocacy organization for animals that filed the suit on behalf of the Oregon consumers, the TCCA's "heavily advertised 'co-op' of small family farms in Tillamook County represent just a tiny proportion of the company’s production. In reality, Tillamook sources up to 80 percent of its milk from the largest dairy feedlot in the United States. Located in the desert of eastern Oregon, the facility that provides the majority of Tillamook’s milk keeps 32,000 dairy cows (and more than 70,000 cows total) in inhumane, industrialized conditions. Tillamook sells dairy products nationwide under the 'Tillamook' brand name, and is poised to do over $1 billion in sales in 2020."

Part of Tillamook's Dairy Done Right campaign.

The TCCA's advertising encourages shoppers to "Say Goodbye to Big Food," depicting cows grazing on pristine coastal grass under sunny blue skies, when in reality, the lawsuit claims, its industrial practices are the epitome of "Big Food." The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, says that "consumers increasingly seek out and are willing to pay more for products that they perceive as being locally and ethically sourced—better for the environment [and] more humane. Tillamook has projected such ethical sourcing as its company ethos, deliberately crafting its marketing messages to attract these consumers, who believe they are getting such responsibly sourced products when they buy Tillamook cheese and ice cream. As the company says, 'Tillamook cheddar cheese is made with four ingredients, patience, and old-fashioned farmer values in Tillamook, Oregon."

Threemile Canyon Farms is so large it can be seen from space.

The industrial factory farm where Tillamook sources its milk, Threemile Canyon Farms, covers 93,000 acres in Boardman, Oregon, and is "so large it's visible from space" according to the lawsuit. Unlike the rich coastal pastures shown in the advertising, Boardman is a hot, dry climate classified as steppe or semi-arid, the lawsuit reads, describing the area as “flat, arid and often swelteringly hot—nothing like Tillamook County." (Read more about the problems caused by mega-dairies in my story, Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities.)

A cow stands in its own manure at shuttered Lost Valley Farm.

Until recently Tillamook also bought milk from Lost Valley Farm, another Boardman-area mega-dairy permitted for up to 30,000 cows that racked up more than 200 environmental violations in its first year-and-a-half of operation and has since been shut down and sold. (Read my coverage here.) "Industrial mega-dairies are also major polluters, generating huge quantities of waste that is disposed of⁠—virtually untreated⁠—on land where it can contaminate rivers, streams, and groundwater and harm wildlife.

Manure runs into open lagoons at Threemile Canyon Farms.

"The noxious air emissions these facilities produce can threaten public health, contribute to climate change, and decrease visibility in special places like the Columbia Gorge," according to a statement from a coalition of seven consumer, environmental and small farm advocates that has been working to establish more stringent regulations of these industrial facilities. [Oregon has extremely lax regulatory oversight of these factory farms.] Tillamook’s increasing reliance on industrial mega-dairies to ramp up production further contributes to overproduction, which lowers prices for family farmers and contributes to Oregon’s devastating decline in family dairies."

Exhibits at Tillamook depict cows on pasture.

Tillamook's response, typical of corporations under fire, attacks the credibility of the plaintiffs rather than addressing the issues raised, claiming the ALDF "is anti-dairy and actively advocates for people to cut all dairy products from their diets." It further stated that "Tillamook takes great pride in being a farmer-owned and farmer-led co-op, and we only work with business partners that share our values and live up to our extremely high standards."

The lawsuit, on the other hand, states that Tillamook intentionally contributes to confusion "as to the source of its dairy products by extensive advertising that the products are sourced from humane, pasture-based farms producing 'real food.' Consumers who believe they are buying products from small, high-welfare, pasture-based dairies in Tillamook County are instead unwittingly purchasing cheese, butter, ice cream, and yogurt made from milk from the largest industrial dairy in the country—that confines tens of thousands of cows on concrete in the desert of Eastern Oregon." It seeks "to hold Tillamook accountable for its uniform and pervasive claims falsely representing the company's products as coming exclusively from small-scale, pasture-based farms in Tillamook County that provide individualized care for cows, when this could not be further from the truth."

* * *

For more information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article, Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities as well as my post on Tillamook's connection to these factory farms, Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese. Read my full reporting on Threemile Canyon and Lost Valley mega-dairies.

Top photo of cows in an industrial CAFO courtesy Center for Food Safety.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

New Farmers' Market Builds a Community Around Local Food


The Portland metro area has a wealth of farmers' markets stretching from suburban communities like Beaverton and Hillsboro to Gresham and Oregon City, with dozens scattered throughout the city itself. On almost every day of the week during harvest season there's a farmers' market brimming with local produce, meat, cheese and products made from the bounty of Oregon's fields, streams and oceans. Almost a dozen operate year-round, made possible by our mild maritime climate and farmers willing to adapt crops to cooler growing conditions, as well as educate shoppers about how to incorporate winter produce into their diets.

But not every neighborhood has equal access to these markets, which are generally located in the more central areas of the cities. So what do you do when you think your neighborhood would benefit from more access to fresh, local food but the nearest farmers' market is miles away?

Peak harvest season: a good time to debut a market.

In the case of the area near Rocky Butte—an extinct cinder cone near Northeast Broadway and 82nd Avenue, part of the Madison South, Roseway and Sumner neighborhoods—a group of neighbors started by surveying their community to gauge whether they would support a farmers market. When the survey came back with an overwhelmingly positive response, the group then spent two years working on strategy development and planning, which also involved finding a location and sponsors.

Goal: a diverse community of vendors.

Discussions held with Portland market veterans and others who had been in the trenches for decades largely discouraged organizers, saying that the city was oversaturated with farmers' markets. Not to be put off, the new market's organizers argued that while there may be a saturation of markets in closer-in neighborhoods, communities in farther-flung areas were hungry for their own market that they could walk or bike to.

Organizers formed a steering committee, then implemented an innovative strategy to launch the Rocky Butte Farmers Market with two pop-up events at the height of the summer harvest in 2019. At the first, held in mid-July at the Dharma Rain Zen Center, it was an open question as to how many people, if any, would show up.

Organizer Hillary Barbour.

"Our opener blew our expectations completely out of the water," according to Hillary Barbour, one of the organizers and a resident of the neighborhood, as well as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Burgerville. "We had no idea if we would get 50 [shoppers], or 500. And we ended up with darn near close to 1,000." The relatively small number of vendors sold out of seasonal produce, pasture-raised chickens and farm fresh eggs.

Exit surveys from that first pop-up showed a strong demand for more seasonal produce and prepared food options. In response, the market team added almost double the number of vendors to the second pop-up, scheduled for August 3. It included several farmer vendors who are part of  the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s Headwaters Farming Incubator program, as well as Mudbone Grown’s Pathways to Farming Incubator program. Student participants of Mad Roots, a youth-led sustainable agriculture program at nearby Madison High School, offered produce from the program's gardens. Vendors also came from many of the diverse populations in the neighborhood, including Latino, African-American, Vietnamese and Queer-owned businesses, among others.

MadRoots students from Madison High School.

"For many vendors these pop ups were their first farmers market experience," said Barbour. "We have long sensed that a new and emerging market in our neighborhoods—Madison South, Roseway, and Sumner—could be an important opportunity for new and beginning farmers who have neither the experience nor scale to enter a more mature metro-area farmers market. These two pop-ups appear to be confirming our theory."

Volunteers counted attendance at the second pop-up at more than 800 shoppers. These volunteers were key to both events, doing everything from distributing flyers to posting on social media to helping with set up, directing traffic at the event site, staffing and break down. Several came from the neighborhood branch of OnPoint credit union, which also supplied a $500 grant to cover some start-up costs. More support came from other nearby markets.

A place start for smaller-volume producers.

"I cannot say enough good things about the support we've received from other neighborhood markets [and] market managers," Barbour emphasized. "Especially Cully, which loaned us tables, chairs and canopies for both pop ups. Also the managers from the Hollywood and Montavilla markets were tremendously helpful and generous with their knowledge and experience. It's never felt competitive or discouraging" unlike, she added, the reaction from some of the larger markets in the area.

With the success of the pop-up events, organizers are committed to a series of regularly scheduled markets in the 2020 season. Fundraising is underway through a combination of grant requests, local business support, and a GoFundMe campaign, with one of the goals being to hire a part-time market manager for next season.

Visibility for local business owners.

Another challenge facing organizers is finding a new site for the market, since the Dharma center is not able to host the market in 2020. But that challenge brings opportunity, according to Barbour.

"One thing to keep in mind about [the neighborhood] that's interesting is that the entire look and feel of Northeast 82nd between Siskiyou and I-84 is changing over the next three years," she said, citing a major upgrade scheduled for Glenhaven Park as well as the rebuilding of Madison High School. "The entire composition of our area is changing as more first-time homebuyers move in and houses turn over. I've lived in Roseway since 2004 and I feel like this year represents the second major wave of turnover I've seen."

Which means that a new farmers' market can be ground zero for this emerging area, a place to gather and build the community they want, based around supporting a vibrant local food system.

Most photos courtesy Rocky Butte Farmers Market.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Salad Smackdown: Nectarine and Cherry Salad


Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.

What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or smooth skin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.

To peel or not to peel?

Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.

If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:

With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.

Roasted nectarines, anyone?

Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)

Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.

Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts

1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced
1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.

Click here to get more fabulous peach (or nectarine) recipes for desserts, jams, salads and even cocktails! The Beaverton Farmers Market is an advertiser and supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Fermentation Fascination: Rave-worthy Quick Refrigerator Pickles


I'm not a woo-woo sort of person. Pragmatism runs deep in my veins, but recently it's been feeling like the universe is pointing me in the direction of fermentation. Not in a Portlandia "I can pickle that" way, though the show definitely picked up on a trend here with almost every chef in town featuring her own house-made pickles on every plate.

Great-grandma's recipe.

Granted, for several years I've been saying "This is the year I'm going to learn to make pickles!"—or kimchi or sauerkraut or whatever. And the year comes and goes without much progress being made, though I've participated in a few pickling sessions with friends. One of those sessions involved making pickled onions with my neighbors Bill and Jen, who have a huge garden on their city lot and preserve a great deal of what they grow every year.

When I dropped by their place to pick up some cucumbers the other day, Jen brought out one of two thick, three-ring binders full of favorite family recipes that her grandmother had carefully typed out—color me envious! It included one from her great-grandmother for fresh cucumber pickles that are ready in 24 hours. Need I mention that anything quick and easy has my name written all over it?

Rinse those cukes!

And indeed, when I got home, I sliced up those cucumbers, salted them down per great-grandma's instructions, made the brine, and a couple of hours later had two quart jars of pickles sitting in the fridge. I admit I sampled them before the 24 hours had gone by and they were delightful. So good, in fact, that they ended up coming with us that very evening as part of an antipasto platter we were taking to celebrate our friends' new home.

As for future fermentation festivities? Turns out the universe wasn't done with me just yet. Dave gave me a copy of Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation as an anniversary present, so expect to read about those adventures in future installments!

Great-Grandma's Fresh Cucumber Pickles

5-6 cucumbers, about 8" long
1 medium onion
3-4 Tbsp. salt
2 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Optional: mustard seeds, peppercorns, fresh dill, dried chiles, whole garlic cloves

Slice cucumbers into 1/8" coins. Slice onion into quarters lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices crosswise. Combine in large bowl. Add salt and mix. Place in refrigerator for 90 minutes.

While cucumber mixture is soaking, in a medium-sized pan heat vinegar and water to a bare simmer. Add sugar. Stir until it dissolves, then add any desired spices (mustard seeds, pappercorns, dried chiles and garlic cloves). Allow to cool slightly.

When cucumbers are ready, rinse in several changes of running water, draining thoroughly between rinses. (Great-grandma says to rinse until they no longer taste of salt, but mine never did get to that stage.) Drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers and onions into quart jars, layering them with spices from the brine and the fresh dill. Pour brine over packed cucumbers, using a chopstick inserted down the side to press out air bubbles as much as possible. Cover with lid and put in refrigerator. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours. Makes approximately 2 quarts.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Equipment and Martin Update


As important as a reliable employee, equipment a farmer can depend on is a critical component of any farm, from working the soil to planting to growing to harvesting. New equipment is often prohibitively expensive, so farmers patch and nurse and replace parts on older machines until they simply give out. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm offers several examples, and welcomes a new arrival.

All machinery is serviced and checked over the month before our summer harvest starts. That helps but doesn’t completely avert troublesome moments.

Early in July, we went to use the van for a quick run the hardware store; it wouldn’t shift out of first gear. Turns out mice had chewed the transmission harness and fried its brain. Brought to mind Malvina Reynolds’ “The Little Mouse.”  Fortunately, it wasn’t on a delivery run and full of berries. We had it towed to N. Columbia for a new brain and it is back home. A couple of delivery runs in a rental made us appreciate the simple, open structure of the original Sprinter vans. We have modified ours so we can comfortably load it with up to 200 flats.

The Gator in action.

Light ground transportation is essential for an efficient farm operation. We have two old John Deere Gators. Each has seen two decades and several thousands of hours of service. We have two small ATVs of the same age. They have been reliable but we decided we needed a back-up utility vehicle after an ATV clutch failed. The van problem also spooked us.

We wanted to avoid another internal combustion engine to feed and service. Last year, Polaris introduced an electric version of its Ranger (top photo). After a couple of weeks of using it, we are very happy. Polaris mostly makes aggressive, noisy recreational off-road vehicles with sinister feline or heavy bull lines designed to show dominion over nature. It was a surprise to stumble upon this silent, gentle and rather comely bit of iron and plastic from the company. It will be staff’s primary transportation after Carol's ATV returns. We are ready to convert to electric ATVs when they are available.

Colorful burros for holding berry flats.

On a simpler equipment level, staff use “burros” to hold and move the berry flats as they fill them. Made by us of lightweight cedar and thin plywood about 15 years ago, they were due for rehabilitation and modification. The burros were getting rickety and had been repaired at various times. The trays were a bit too big so berries would fall between the walls of the tray and the flat, staining the flat. We might say, who cares? Well, staff did and mentioned it, so the observation was heeded. The plywood had started to disintegrate so it was time to address the problems.

We reduced the dimensions of the tray and used lightweight but rigid plastic “twin-wall” for its bottom. The structure is pulled together with threaded rods to support the tray. As a final gesture, we painted the various parts and assembled ten different and cheerful burros, each with its own markings. No two are alike.

A young martin with immature plumage.

The handle of the burro makes an attractive perch for birds, so we tip them on their side in the field so they stay clean.

Finally, the purple martins successfully raised their brood of six. We are in the processing of adding 16 gourd-style nesting boxes specifically designed for the birds. The young that emerged this year will be of breeding age in 2021. As they are a gregarious species, other mature birds are expected to join our breeding pair next year.

Photos of Polaris ATV, burros and purple martin by Anthony Boutard.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Marination Nation: Feta For The Win


I needed an easy appetizer to take to the annual gathering of "lady food writers" the other night—spectacularly talented writers, cookbook authors and cooks all—and was not feeling inspired. That is, until I saw that one of my favorite cheesemakers, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, had posted on social media that they would have fresh feta at their farmers' market booths over the weekend.

Simply chop and stir…

As luck would have it, one of those farmers' markets happened to be in our neighborhood, and I knew this crowd would be the perfect audience for Fraga's stellar cheese. So I got myself dressed and out of the house Saturday morning, shimmied over to the market, bought a jar of snow-white feta cubes swirling in whey brine, and rewarded myself for the effort with a breakfast bowl of Umi Organic noodles. (I think I deserved it, don't you?)

…marinate and serve!

The day of the gathering I simply drained the whey, reserving the brine for later use, and transferred the cubes of cheese to a bowl where I added chopped herbs from the garden, olive oil, chile flakes and garlic. I left it on the counter for a couple of hours, swished it around a few times, placed it on a platter lined with grape leaves foraged from my neighbor's vines, added triangles of pita, and took it to the party. Raves ensued.

I can't wait to crumble more of this amazing feta into a shrimp salad this summer, or tuck it into a hamburger patty for stuffed cheeseburgers. Yes, it's that good!

Feta Marinated with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon

1/2 lb. brick feta cheese
Olive oil
Fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon)
Zest of half lemon
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red chile flakes

Cut feta into 1/2" cubes. Place in medium-sized mixing bowl along with herbs, zest, garlic and chile flakes. Add enough oil to barely cover and mix gently. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with pita wedges.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Camp Stories: Must-Have Camping Gear and Best Hacks


Getting ready to go camping means making lists. Lots of them. Gear, cooking utensils, food, first aid supplies, dog food and, at least for us, cocktail fixings.

Paella over the fire, anyone?

As I've mentioned before in this series, we're what is known as "car campers" so we eschew freeze-dried packets for fresh ingredients that'll be prepped and cooked at the campsite, whether over the fire or on our trusty Coleman campstove. So paring down to the lightest, most essential gear isn't always the point, especially now that Dave has become a devotée of all things cast iron.

Need a side table? Improvise!

Recently it occurred to me that it might be valuable to share our decades-in-development list of staples for those of you just beginning your camping journey, or if you've reached that point when you're ready to trade in your backpacking tents and sleeping pads for a double bed-sized blowup mattress. (Welcome to the club!) The suggestions below are, of course, in addition to tents, sleeping bags, camp chairs, stove, headlamps, etc., etc. And I'd love it if you'd add your own must-have camping necessities in the comments below.

Gear

Camp table, lidded storage bins: An indispensible part of our kitchen gear is a simple folding table where we can get our supplies off the ground and easily accessible without squatting while you're rummaging to find which bin the silverware is in. Lidded bins are also easily stackable, water and critter-proof and the lids make handy cutting boards and serving trays.

High Sierra (cup) martini.

Waterproof tablecloth: I still have my parents' green vinyl camp tablecloth that has covered every campsite picnic table during decades of family outings. (There's even a minor slash from when I was in high school and sliced vegetables without a cutting board. Sorry, Mom.) It cleans easily, and makes those sometimes funky campsite picnic tables more presentable.

Sierra cup: This old-school backpacking cup (above left) was purchased on one of our very first camping trips and is now a requisite piece of gear. Handy for drinking, dipping water out of hot pots, and even as a spare cocktail glass, it hangs at the ready over the back of our decades-old campstove.

No steaks in the firepit, thanks!

Folding campfire grill: It may look flimsy, but this over-the-campfire grill can be used over the fire, or can fold flat to use for cooking over the sometimes gross firepit grates. It also helps position items over the fire with more finesse, can stop hot dogs from falling through the widely spaced camp grates, or when you need to extend grill space (e.g. for steaks and corn for 10…we've done it!).

Cast iron frying pan: A well-seasoned frying pan is a thing of beauty, and Dave keeps ours in prime condition. Goes from campstove to fire easily.

Cast iron griddle: Again, seasoning is the key (top photo). Great for batches of fried eggs, hash browns, pancakes, etc.

The best pot for baking in the wild.

Cast iron Dutch oven: Large and heavy, but if you love to bake out in the woods, it's indispensible. (Mostly for advanced users or inveterate bakers.) Also great for heating up dinners for a crowd over the fire.

Hatchet: Because camping requires fires. (Duh.)

Long-handled metal spatula and tongs: You're probably going to be cooking over the fire (steaks!), so these are a necessity.

Leather fireplace gloves: Handling hot pans, placing logs on the fire. Thank me later.

Cocktail bag: Once again, a brilliant idea from our friend Keith, the MacGyver of the campsite. He stocks an open-topped canvas gear bag with fifths of booze, using smaller lidded bottles for vermouth, etc., with tiny dropper bottles for bitters and other flavoring agents. Utensils and other accoutrements go in the outside pockets.

A variation on the propane camp lantern.

Three-candle lantern: Keith has become inordinately fond of this three-candle lantern over the Coleman propane-powered version, though I think Dave might argue over that choice.

Hacks

Zip line: Keeping dogs contained within a campsite is tough, but Keith turned us on to an easy zip line made from a rope strung between two trees with small carabiners clipped onto it and that you can then clip to the loops of the dog's leash. Can also double as a clothesline, as long as you don't have a super active dog.

Three Corgis, one zip line might be pushing it.

Hot water dispenser: Made from a 2.5-gallon water container with a spigot, this was a brilliant hack Dave came up with last year and has made washing dishes and hands a dream. You'll need to empty the container first, which usually happens the first day in our case, what with filling pots for hot water, cooking and drinking. The ones we get are made of lighter plastic (like the stuff used for milk jugs), so it's easy to slice around the front three sides near the top, leaving the back attached as a hinge. Put it on the table with the spigot over a dishpan on the bench, pour in some hot (but not boiling!) water and, voilà, hot running water!

Dish scrubber: Cooking over fire often causes food to stick stubbornly to pans, and in the absence of a scrubber pad, Keith uses a short piece of thin, flat wood with the end squared off to scrape off any burned-on gunk. Brillz.

Click to read more Camp Stories, including recommended campgrounds, sites and easy recipes that'll please everyone.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bumbles in My Back Yard!



Earlier this summer I was having a bit of a crisis. You see, for the last couple of summers we've had a very active bumblebee nest in our back yard. It's hidden behind a bed of hostas and a bleeding heart growing around the foundation of our garage, the entrance hidden under a scattering of oak leaves (see above).

Orange sacs on the bumblebee's back legs hold the pollen it has collected.

I was alerted to its presence when I was innocently watering the garden and suddenly heard a vibrant buzzing coming from a corner of the garden bed. Several fairly large bumblebees were circling around the area, looking for the intruder—me—who had apparently come a little too close to the nest.

Now, some people might freak out at the thought of a bees' nest in their back yard and call an exterminator. But knowing as I did that, in general, bumblebees are peaceful insects and will only sting when they feel cornered or when their hive is disturbed, I simply stepped back several feet and waited for them to realize I wasn't a threat. It also gave me a chance to see where they were returning to.

Of course my first act was not to look up the Wikipedia article on bumblebees. It was to call our long-suffering neighbor, who works for the Xerces Society and who puts up with my endless bee questions, along with the occasional accusation along the lines of "one of your friends just stung me!" He informed me that congratulations were in order because there was indeed a bumblebee nest under our garage and they seemed perfectly happy.

I felt like a new parent.

Busy as a bee collecting more pollen.

Which is why, when earlier this summer I observed no activity from the nest and very few bumblebees on the flowering shrubs and bushes on the block, I got a little panicky. When I consulted my neighbor (like I said, he puts up with a lot), he said it was possible that they had abandoned the nest, but with the unusually cool spring and early summer, they might just be late in appearing.

So I waited. And waited.

It was just about exactly when our neighbors' prodigious stand of lavender bushes burst into bloom that, joy of joys, I saw the bumbles return, buzzing happily from wand to wand, taking their gathered treasure back to the nest behind the garage. I was ecstatic. And yes, I texted our neighbor with the good news.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Summer Discoveries: Cicely Straws, New Greens and…Fries with Eyes?


Though I love to travel to faraway locations as much as anyone, I don't have to go far from home to make some (potentially life-changing) discoveries. We're only a little over a month into the summer—in the Pacific Northwest the good weather can extend well into September or October—and it's been a banner season so far for eye-opening experiences.

Along with making my own infused vinegar and oil from the spiky pink pompoms in my chive patch, I've had three other new-to-me revelations.

At the Hoodland Farmers Market.

While I was planning a week-long sojourn in a cabin on Mt. Hood, I heard that the Hoodland Farmers Market in Welches had launched its first season and would be open during our stay. Being the farmers' market obsessive that I am, it was immediately put on our schedule. The day after we arrived, I had picked up a few greens to tide us over for the week when a small pile of green stick-like bundles caught my eye.

A hand-lettered sign said "Sweet Cicely Straws 10¢," so I asked the tall bearded fellow standing behind the table what they were like. He said they had a mild, slightly sweet flavor and that they'd be good with light sodas, but when he mentioned he preferred them with gin and tonics, I was sold. A little research revealed that cicely is related to anise, fennel and caraway—it's sometimes used to flavor akvavit—and that the leaves, seeds and roots are all edible.

In the interest of science, on our return to the cabin we immediately tested them with gin and tonics, served al fresco by the river, and while the flavor was subtle, indeed, they were a perfect (and perfectly local), functional garnish.

* * *


Confession time: My name is Kathleen and I have a greens problem.

There. I said it. I can't pass by a pile of leafy vegetation at a market without stopping and admiring the fluorescent light green, dark green or medium green hue, caressing a leaf to find out whether it's thick and substantial or soft and ephemeral. I imagine what it would be like to cook with (or not), whether to steam, chop, chiffonade or leave it whole, what preparation would bring out its best flavor.

Like I said, a problem.

So, of course, when Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce mentioned in passing that he'd just received some sweet potato greens from Groundwork Organics north of Eugene, it was all I could do not to grab him by the lapels—Josh with lapels is an odd image, but an apt metaphor for my mania—and insist he give me some right away.

But I held myself in check, picked up a bunch (well, two) and brought them home. Fairly substantial, the deep forest green leaves seemed like they would hold up to a quick stir-fry, so I threw them into a hot pan already heaped with sautéed spring onions and green garlic, spritzed them with tiny bit of chive vinegar and served them alongside rotisserie chicken.

So, you might ask, am I going to try to free myself of this greens obsession? Um…no…not anytime soon, as a matter of fact.

* * *


It started with a dinner on the garden-like patio at Burrasca with owners Elizabeth Petrosian and Chef Paolo Calamai. Elizabeth had posted photos of their Tuscan artichoke dishes made with organic purple Italian artichokes, grown by Tom and Patreece DeNoble of DeNoble Farms, which included a salad of raw shaved baby artichokes, tiny and tender fried baby artichokes and a creamy, delicate artichoke sformato.

Over the fire.

Another dish on the menu was frittura con gli occhi, amusingly translated as "fries with eyes," which was, to me, an irresistible must-have, not only because of the name but it also being fresh West Coast anchovies simply breaded and fried whole. (Yes, whole, as in heads on.) Tiny, crispy and tasting of the sea, I was entranced.

Tiny, tender and delicious.

So it was fortuitous when, the very next day, I stopped by Flying Fish, Lyf Gildersleeve's outpost for sustainably sourced fish, and what should be in the fresh case but some of those very same fresh anchovies. I bought a pound and brought them home, breading half of them in a flour, salt, pepper and pimenton mixture and the other half in a panko, salt and pepper mix.

Frying them in olive oil on a cast iron skillet on the grill, the flour breading coated them more completely and gave the little fish some extra crunch, while the panko was a bit scanty and not as crispy. But oh so fun and so delicious! (Plus I got to say frittura con gli occhi several times that evening.)