Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blog for Food

One of your elderly neighbors said, "It’s either buy food or take your medicine. It’s a real hard choice."

Another neighbor, a young mother with her kids, said, "There are times when you have to choose between milk and diapers."

You can choose to listen, or you can ignore them. But these are real Oregonians facing real choices, and it's time for those of us who can to take real steps to do something about it.

"These Oregonians have been feeling the economic downturn long before Wall Street plummeted," said Rachel Bristol, executive director and CEO of Oregon Food Bank. "We believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. As the recession continues, we anticipate the need for food assistance will climb for months to come. In these troubled times, we need everyone to do whatever they can to help their neighbors in need...because no one should be hungry."

That's why 38 Oregon bloggers are joining together during the month of February to raise funds for the Oregon Food Bank, the hub of a network of 915 hunger-relief agencies in Oregon and Clark County, Washington.

Each is displaying the Blog for Food logo and asking readers to click to donate whatever they can to help relieve hunger in Oregon. And so we can track your donations and report on how it's going, we're asking that you enter "Blog for Food" in the "Tribute Gift: In honor of:" space on the donation form.

As President Obama said in his inaugural address, "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

This is a good way to start.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Crunchy Granola. Sweet!

Bittman's all over it on Bitten. Bloggers are going nuts (pun intended) trying to one-up each other with wacky additions like marshmallows and exotic spices. (Star anise? Please!)

Not to get all editorial, but granola is the perfect food for hard times, whether those are economic, emotional or otherwise. It's hearty in a stick-to-your-ribs, carry-you-through kind of way. It's less expensive to make than to buy at the store. It tastes way better than anything you'll find in a box. And it's sweet, always a boon in tough situations.

You can eat it for breakfast, grab a handful between meals or sprinkle it on any number of food items like fruit or ice cream. Though I'd avoid eating it in bed, since those hard bits would be unpleasant to roll onto. Not to mention finding them embedded in your armpit in the morning. But I digress.

So here's my recipe for the best granola in the universe, courtesy of my mom, who developed this recipe for Shakers Café. Thanks, Mom!

Janet Bauer's Shakers Café Granola

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. orange juice
2/3 c. honey
8 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. wheat germ
1 1/4 c. coconut
1 c. walnuts
2/3 c. slivered almonds
2 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 325°.

Melt butter in small saucepan. When melted, remove from heat and stir in cinnamon, vanilla, orange juice and honey.

In large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients except raisins. Add honey mixture and stir till moistened. Spread on cookie sheet and bake for 30 min. Remove from oven, reducing heat to 300°, and turn oats with spatula. Place in oven and bake for 25 min., checking every few minutes to make sure granola does not burn. Cool thoroughly and store in quart zip-lock bags. [I keep them in the freezer until needed. - KAB]

Livin' in the Blurbs: A Pass, More Produce and InFarmation

Pick up a Passport to Dine at one of the Clinton/Division Dining District restaurants and get it stamped by five participating restaurants before Feb. 13. Then turn it in at any of the 19 establishments on the list and you'll be entered in a drawing to win one of six fabulous (they're promising) prizes, including a cooking class with Ben Gonzales of Nuestra Cocina, dinner for two at Vindalho, or a wine and cheese tasting for eight at Bar Avignon (at that great back table!). Sounds like a deal!

* * *

The Portland Farmers' Market is adding a fifth to their roster of four markets. This one, called the King Market, will open for business this spring at the corner of NE 7th and Wygant, just one block south of Alberta. What started as a suggestion at a neighborhood meeting blossomed into reality when the Portland Farmers' Market partnered with the NE Coalition of Neighborhoods. So look for Sundays to start looking lots greener on the east side!

* * *

In the next ten years, 25 to 50% of Oregon's farmland is expected to change hands," says Michelle Knaus of Friends of Family Farmers. "Who will be taking it over? Will they be farmers or real estate developers? Will it be Big Ag or sustainable farmers?" You can join the discussion about "The Next Generation of Oregon Farmers" at the next InFarmation gathering featuring Meghan Fehrman of Talent, Oregon, and find out about the resources and programs available for new and beginning farmers, as well as listen to young farmers with stories of what it's like trying to make a go of farming.

Details: "The Next Generation of Oregon Farmers" with Meghan Fehrman. Tues., Feb. 10, 5:30-8 pm; free. Check location on the website.

Pleasures of the Piedmont

Cocktail parties where the glittering guests use pretty words that shred like shards of glass? No thanks. Restaurants where the room is dressed better than I am and the prices are inverse to the amount of food on my plate? I don't think so. And so-called molecular gastronomy, with its foams and toys, should have stayed in the lab as far as I'm concerned.

Carne cruda.
When I go out, I'm all about feeling comfortable. Not in a fuzzy-slippers-and-bathrobe kind of way, but walking in I want to be put at ease, to smell the aromas of good food coming from the kitchen, to know that the smiles on the faces of the staff are for me and not for the contents of my wallet.

Smoked trout and peppers with greens.

We went to Alba Osteria the other night, courtesy of a gift from my in-laws (thanks, Kay and Anne!) and on the recommendation of my brother, who has written glowingly about it. It's a place that calls attention to the food on your plate and the wine in your glass, with a noise level that encourages conversation rather than shouting.

Agnolotti dal plin.

We started with martinis and antipasti, a carne cruda drizzled with olive oil and lemon and showered with curls of parmesan. The beef was impeccably fresh and bright, light and refreshing. And the smoked trout salad we had alongside was wonderful, too, again showing a light touch and a wonderful attention to comingling flavors.

Grilled pork loin, corona beans and pork belly.

On the recommendation of our waiter, Jeff, we ordered a bottle of '05 Paitin Campolive Barbera d'Alba from their very reasonably priced wine list to accompany our primi selections. The ricotta gnocchi with leeks and cream were an ideal version of this commonly represented but apparently difficult-to-execute dish. (I can't tell you how many times I've had chewy lumps of dough served to me instead of the light pillows that gnocchi is supposed to be.) And the very traditional Piedmontese agnolotti dal plin, clever envelopes of homemade pasta with a veal, pork and rabbit filling were fabulous.

Bollito of brisket with roasted vegetables.

Amazingly, we weren't already full when our secondi selections arrived, and we immediately got down to business. I went off-roading a bit with my choice, ordering the veal sweetbreads and liver with mustard sauce, something I'd ordinarily only think about and never order, but this version was excellent, with clean flavors and a real old-fashioned comfort food feel. The grilled pork loin was slightly pink in the middle just the way we like it, and the corona beans and pork belly made this sing. Slices of brisket, again tender and juicy rather than too-dry, served on a bed of roasted vegetables was terrific, a real meat-eater's delight. And a little espresso after we sipped the last of our wine allowed us a moment to sit back and savor a fantastic evening.

Alba fits into that slot reserved for frequent favorites, and is someplace I could go back to again and again for a birthday or other occasion, with friends or family or even for a light dinner of wine with pasta. It's a place that's special without being precious.

Details: Alba Osteria, 6440 SW Capitol Hwy. in Hillsdale. Phone 503-977-3045.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Off Topic: Star Wars Retold

What can I say? It made me laugh, and that's a good thing!

From Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Signs of Life

Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm have worked hard to return a diversity of wildlife, including plants, animals and insects, to their land in Gaston and are as committed to its stewardship as they are to the quality of the berries and grains they've become known for.

At the southern end of our berry fields, there is a shallow draw that is uncultivated. It was a dense thicket of Himalayan blackberries when we arrived. So thick, we could walk across the draw atop the tangled mass, and five feet above the ground. It is now mostly grassy. The western slope has dry, thin soils and is covered with the blue blossoms of Brodiaea Douglasii, or wild hyacinth (left), in late spring. For some reason, a small patch of native roses thrived in one part of the eastern slope, and the blackberries were held at bay. We suspect the soil is a bit different, or maybe a bit springy, favoring the roses. In subduing the blackberries, we left the roses alone. They serve as cover for various animals and birds.

Earlier this week, we passed the patch of roses and heard scuffling and the soft alarm notes of quail. There was a covey of 15 to 20 quail. These small birds cannot survive as individuals in the winter. At night, the birds of the covey cluster together to conserve energy. The hen nests on the ground and lays about 12 eggs. The cock keeps watch over her, and in the late afternoon, he returns to the same high perch to call monotonously until dusk. When the chicks hatch, he takes on the role of sentinel as the flock forages. One day, after threshing out some turnip seed, we noticed the ground was covered with worm castings. Odd, we thought. Passing by a second time, the worm castings turned out to be quail droppings. They had tarried to clean up the spilled turnip seed.

California quail (top photo; listen to its call here) are native as far north as southern Oregon and were introduced into the Willamette Valley. Aliens here ourselves, we were happy to see the quail in such good shape. It means we will have a few clutches of quail on the farm this summer. They are not home free, though. Harvesting some sow thistle nearby, Linda Johnson found a scattering of feathers and the remains of a quail's head a couple days later, all very fresh. The pattern is typical of the after-breakfast mess left by hawk, harrier or falcon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

He's Funny, and He Listens, Too

It's nice to have people with a sense of humor in the White House. Not the passive-aggressive kind like calling Vladimir Putin "Pootie-Poot" or using "Turd Blossom" for political advisor Karl Rove, but something resembling wit.

An article in today's New York Times titled "Partisan, Playful and Profane, Obama Aide Tries to Hold It In" talks about the good-natured relationship between President Obama (I love typing that!) and Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff.

For instance, at a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers, the article says that Rahm Emanuel "began nervously cracking a knuckle. Mr. Obama then turned to complain to Mr. Emanuel about his noisy habit. At which point, Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama’s left ear and — like an annoying little brother — snapped off a few special cracks."

Or at a 2005 roast for Mr. Emanuel, "who is a former ballet dancer, during which Mr. Obama credited him with being 'the first to adopt Machiavelli’s The Prince for dance' (a number that included 'a lot of kicks below the waist'). When Mr. Emanuel lost part of his middle finger while cutting meat at an Arby's as a teenager, Mr. Obama joked, the accident 'rendered him practically mute.'"

It's a different White House. Like when I heard on NPR this morning that, unlike his predecessor, who routinely left the Democrats out of the process, Obama invited the Republicans to share their opinions and concerns about the upcoming budget package. We can only hope the humor, and the willingness to listen, continue.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Livin' in the Blurbs: Health and Cheese!

Two movies in McMinnville next week talk about whole food nutrition from the perspectives of Dr. Weston Price, a dentist and researcher in the 30s, and Dr. Francis Pottenger, Jr., who founded a hospital specializing in the treatment of asthma and did a study of the effects of various diets on cats. Both are known for their promotion of diet as a way to "avoid the chronic degenerative diseases of civilization."

Details: Eat Well, Move Well, Think Well, Be Well: Empower Yourself, Your Family And Future Generations. Wed., Jan, 28; 6:30-8 pm; $8 pre-registered, $10 at door (seating is limited); admission includes buffet salad, pizza, drink. McMinnville Pizza Company, 326 NE Norton Ln., McMinnville. Phone 503-472-6550.

* * *

More cheese education (and some lovely cheese tasting, too) at Kookoolan Farms with classes on making feta, hard cheeses, blue cheese and soft cheeses. Great for those wanting to start making cheese at home as well as those who like to watch and eat! Check the website for details.
  • Sat., Feb. 7: Basic hard and aged cheeses, taught by winemaker Rudy Marchesi.
  • Sat., Feb. 21: Making blue cheese taught by Mary Rosenblum, along with a tasting of eight great blues.
  • Sat, Mar. 7: Basic soft cheeses taught by Gaston cheesemaker Scott Catino (right).
* * *

Plan a trip down to sunny southern Oregon for the Fifth Annual Oregon Cheese Festival hosted by Rogue Creamery. There's a dinner on Friday evening, but the real draw is the market-style food and wine festival on Saturday where you can not only taste the amazing artisan cheeses made right here in Oregon, but meet the folks who make them.

Details: Fifth Annual Oregon Cheese Festival. Sat., Mar. 14, 10 am-5 pm; $5 entry fee includes tastings and demonstrations; $5 wine tasting fee includes a commemorative wine glass. Rogue Creamery, 311 N Front St, Central Point. Phone 866 -396-4704.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gluten Free Portland

With our recent entry into the "special diet" club (Dave has become lactose-intolerant), I'm starting to hear from folks about other types of food sensitivities. While some are definitely related to preference, others can affect a person's health (like gluten-intolerance) or even be life-threatening (like nut or mold allergies that can cause anaphylactic shock).

In short, it's good to know about options when it comes to diet, and the blog Gluten Free Portland does a nice job of reviewing restaurants, providing recipes and checking out products for the gluten-intolerant crowd. Right now you'll find a review of Francis on Alberta, a test of Trader Joe's gluten-free pancakes along with a recipe for orange butter and then a comparison of prices for quinoa pasta.

Are there diet-related sites you like? Let us all know!

Photo of gluten-free eggs Benedict at Francis from Gluten Free Portland.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chester the Big Red Cat

He was big. He was red. He was our cat.

He gave great tail-hugs, twining it around your leg like a vine, especially, let it be noted, at dinner time. His purr was like a bus rumbling by and could be heard through walls. His green eyes glowed like he was lit from within. My brother called Chester the most charismatic cat he'd ever met, and he wasn't alone in that assessment.

He died today at the ripe old age of 15. We'll miss him terribly.

Q & A: To Clean or Not to Clean?

Produce maestro and FoodDay's "In Season" columnist Pete Peterson had a question from a reader that prompted a response he thought GSNW readers might be interested in. Do you have an opinion on the issue? Leave a comment below!

Q: Especially during the season when one cannot know the point of origin of produce, I like to rigorously clean produce before using/storing. I have sometimes used vinegar. Does that help? Do you have any recommendations on this subject?

A: Your question is, perhaps unwittingly, a provocative one. Because of that I want to emphasize my answer is one with which I'm certain some folks will disagree. Also, the column I write is a freelance effort, so my opinions here are unrelated to The Oregonian and FoodDay.

My experience suggests there is next to nothing to be gained by application of any foreign substance to cleanse fresh produce. As for vigorous rubbing, I doubt that accomplishes much either. I rinse my vegetables and fruit under cool water. Anything with open pores (carrots, spuds and the like) gets a gentle scrub. Absent some specific recipe requirement or presentation issue, I nearly always eat fruit (some citrus excepted) and veg unpeeled. The peels often contain significant amounts of nutrients and, of course, fiber.

As I say, these are my ideas, but the prep techniques I use are influenced by my 35-plus years of practical experience. During that time, various agencies tested produce from the racks and warehouses where I worked, as well as those I owned and managed. In only one case, involving winter squash, was there ever a trace of pesticide residue. In that situation, the residue was contained in the flesh.

The problem with pesticide use, as I see it, is the effect of the residue on the people who apply it and that which is left to creep into our water system. It's there where the trouble lies and it's where we should put our efforts to promote use of as little pesticide as possible.

Leave your suggestions for cleaning produce by clicking on the "Comments" link below.

My Inaugural Breakfast

Dave had to work. My son was going to catch it later on the internet. So when Michel asked if I'd like to join her to watch the inauguration and then walk the dogs afterward, it was a date. And when she threw a breakfast of her famous corned beef hash and poached eggs into the mix, it would have taken an invitation from Barack to join him and Michelle on the podium to keep me away.

I arrived to the smell of onions, green peppers and potatoes frying away in her trusty cast iron skillet (left) as she made me a cappucino from her candy apple red Barista espresso machine. (She said it gives great crema.) Is it any wonder I love this woman?

I sipped coffee, agreeing with her that the test for really good friends was that they like their eggs poached soft and their steaks rare-to-medium rare. Then some shredded corned beef (bought in a chunk from New Seasons) was mixed in with the hash, which was plated and topped with those perfectly poached eggs, and we sat down in front of the television to watch that amazing event.

Oh, and there was lots of crying (we both do that, too).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh, Say, Does That Star-Spangled Banner Still Wave?

There's a flag flying in front of our house for the first time ever.

I gave Dave a chance to talk me down from the ledge. Veto power over my impulse. His response?

"You should show your excitement!" (Is it any wonder I married the guy?)

It's there because, for the first time ever, I can say I'm proud to be an American. Not just thankful to be born in a privileged country with the highest standard of living in the world. Not because I live in one of the most beautiful and bounteous parts of that country. But because we have a new president who represents hope with a big helping of optimism, tinged with the sober realism of the work we have to do together. One who sees in the rest of the world a chance for peace and partnership rather than a threat to our way of life or an opportunity for exploitation.

In the past, Old Glory hasn't been representative of my feelings about my country. But now I want to say, "I'm on board!" when it comes to helping solve the daunting crises facing us. And so there it is, waving in the wind, symbolic of a new beginning and opportunities being born. Long may it wave.

This Land is Our Land

Man, it doesn't get better than this, does it? Woo hoo for us!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sing Along, America

It's only Saturday morning, for goodness' sake.

I listened to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition and was tearing up over the inauguration. Then his interview with Will.I.Am, the artist who made the "Yes We Can" video above, caused those tears to overflow.

So, if I'm feeling like this now, what will I be like by Tuesday?

What Had to Happen

Three minutes. In the time it takes to soft-boil an egg, to brush your hair, to put a band-aid on your child's owie, Chesley Sullenberger had to transition from what was just another routine take-off to crash-landing his plane in a river in the middle of New York City. What was that like? My friend Dana's brother is a pilot and sent her the following:

This guy made it look easy there in New York yesterday. Thought you might be interested what had to be accomplished by the crew in the 3 minutes they were airborne:

1. Brief the flight attendants.
2. Advise ATC of the situation. Declare an emergency and set the transponder to 7700.
3. If practical, brief the passengers of the situation and your planned course of action.
4. Place the GPWS SYS pb to OFF.
5. Place SEAT BELTS and NO SMOKING switches to ON.
6. Place the EMER EXIT LT switch to ON.
7. Place the COMMERCIAL pb to OFF.
8. If required, turn the CABIN PRESS LDG ELEV selector out of AUTO and set the actual landing elevation.
9. Set the local altimeter setting (if available).
10. Place the OXYGEN CREW SUPPLY pb to OFF.

When below 5,000 feet:
5. Place the GPWS SYS pb to OFF.
6. Place SEAT BELTS and NO SMOKING switches to ON.
7. Place the EMER EXIT LT switch to ON.
8. Place the COMMERCIAL pb to OFF.
9. Select 1,000 feet with the LDG ELEV rotary selector.
10.Select the local altimeter setting (if available).
11.Place the OXYGEN CREW SUPPLY pb to OFF.
12.Confirm the landing gear lever is UP.

If the engines are running:
• Use the maximum flap setting available.

If the engines are not running:
• Place the LAND RECOVERY pb to ON.
• Select FLAPS 1 for landing.
• Place the T TK MODE pb to AUTO.
• Place the T TK FEED switch to AUTO.
• Maintain a minimum RAT speed of 140 knots.
• Use rudder with care.
13. Place the ENG START selector to NORM.
14. Ensure that the CAB PRESS MODE SEL pb is in AUTO.
15. Place the ENG 1 BLEED, ENG 2 BLEED, and APU BLEED pbs to OFF.
16. Place the DITCHING pb to ON.

At 1,000 feet:
17. Announce “FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, BE SEATED FOR LANDING” via the PA and flash the SEAT BELTS signs OFF to ON several times. If the PA is inoperative, flash the SEAT BELTS signs OFF to ON several times.
18. Just prior to ditching: Place both ENG MASTER switches to OFF and the APU MASTER SW to OFF.
19. Attempt to touchdown at a pitch attitude of 11°

After Ditching:
20. Notify the flight attendants “EASY VICTOR” three times.
21. Push the ENG 1 FIRE, ENG 2 FIRE and APU FIRE pbs.
22. Push all of the ENG AGENT and APU AGENT pbs.
23. Notify the flight attendants “EVACUATE THE AIRCRAFT” three times.

Photo from the New York Times.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What Goes Around

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has been under the weather lately, and nothing soothes a throat or a tummy like chicken soup. His recipe for quick relief, which I'd like to call "Uncle Jim's Cure-All Elixir," looks like it would be good any time!

I’ve been fighting something nasty the last few days. It might’ve been the short-lived flu-like bug that seemed to hit everybody that was home for the holidays, or maybe just food poisoning. At any rate, all I wanted was chicken soup, and that meant a batch of this:

Not Exactly Instant But Quick Chicken Soup

Put 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cheaper and better flavor than breast meat) in a couple of quarts of water, add sea salt, and start cooking. While it’s coming to a boil, chop an onion, carrot, and some celery (I never buy a whole bunch, but instead cherry-pick the inner stalks from the loose celery in the New Seasons produce section so I get the tasty leaves, too). Toss it in, then chop a half head of green cabbage (and all this chopping should produce relatively small bits that fit into a soup spoon). Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Use tongs to fish out the chicken thighs and set them aside to cool a bit. Taste the broth, add more salt if necessary. I also add a splash of fish sauce (or even a few diced anchovies), a little soy, and a healthy dose of Crystal or Frank’s (both Louisiana-style vinegar hot sauces).

Tear or chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the broth. If you like noodles, add some now, but sparingly if you want the soup to have some broth. Ditto for rice. Cover and let simmer gently until the pasta or rice is tender.

Turnip Diaries, Part IV: We're in This Pickle Together

I'm a pickle fiend myself, a lover of salty and sour, so Anthony Boutard's entry in his continuing series has me contemplating making some pickles of my own. (A chip off the old block, my son has even taken to sprinkling a bit of fish sauce on his kosher dills.)

The world is divided into lovers of pickles and those who simply can't understand why anyone would curl their lip around a soured vegetable. For pickle lovers, here are a couple variants of the art as applied to the turnip.

The middle eastern mezza includes pink pickled turnips. They are simple to make. Cut up some turnips and a beet, and pack into a jar. Sprinkle in some salt, a teaspoon or so. Heat up a cup of water and add a cup of vinegar. We use white wine vinegar. The recommended dilution varies, but most recipes suggest a equal proportions. Pour the hot diluted vinegar into the jar. You want the turnips covered by the liquid. Use a non-metallic lid or plastic wrap to cover the jar. We leave them on the counter for a few days to hasten the cure, and then refrigerate. They will last several weeks. The variations you adopt will establish the character of the pickles. You can use beet juice instead of the water. Some people add garlic or hot pepper. A bit of celery green or root is welcome by some. And you can also pickle rutabagas.

Turnips are lacto-fermented just like cabbage. Sauerruben is made in the same way as sauerkraut. Slice, julienne or grate the turnips, salt and then pack into a crock with a weighted top. The proportion is 3 tablespoons of salt per five pounds of turnip. Use only fresh, young turnips. If you do a lot of fermentation, the Harsch fermentation crocks available at Mirador Community Store (2106 SE Division) make life a whole lot easier. They are fitted with weights to keep the vegetables submerged and a bell cover that is sealed with water. Elegant design. The ten-liter size is probably the most practical.

Read the other posts in the Turnip Diaries series: Part I: The Wapato Valley, Part II: Chestnuts, Persimmons and Turnips, Part III: Misery Loves Company, Part V: The Spicy Turnip, Part VI: The Turnip Also Rises, Part VII: WWPD (What Would Pliny Do)

Top photo from Her Able Hands.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fantasy Dinner: Toast?

I'm sure I've mentioned my recurring fantasy before. Not the one about Prince Charming riding up on his horse and sweeping me off my feet. Not even the one from junior high that had Mr. Spock beaming down and carrying me away to the Enterprise where he'd cock his eyebrow and murmur "Fascinating!" in my ear. I've got my prince right here, and no horse poo to clean up. And I'm sure Spock's Vulcan half wouldn't be too crazy about cleaning out the dishwasher or picking up after the dogs.

No, this fantasy has to do with the seemingly endless chore of making dinner. In my fantasy, it magically appears on the doorstep, piping hot and delicious. Or someone rings the doorbell and announces, "We just dropped by to kidnap you and take you to dinner."

And then, the other evening, it happened. My friend Lindsey phoned to say that Donald Kotler, owner of the charming Toast in the Woodstock neighborhood, had called and said that someone canceled their reservations for a private dinner and would she and I like to take their places. Before she had finished saying the guest chefs were Jameson Maspaitella of The Farm Café and Jason Tom from a Cena, I was knocking on her front door.

We arrived just in time to sit down at what were now our places (thank you, whoever you were!) to a tiny liqueur cup of piping hot apple, celery root and fennel soup (left, above) and a glass of the butteriest pinot gris I've ever tasted. The pureed soup was smooth and comforting, and the smallest sprinkle of bacon crumbles added a nice crunch. The gris, from Mt. Baker Vineyards, was the chilled counterpoint to this course and the next, a trio of spreads (an olive tapenade, a baba ganoush and a trout rillette) with a sweet-and-sour pickled fennel compote (right) served with cracker-like flatbread shards.

Next up was a small endive and mache salad (left) dressed with a refreshing yogurt vinaigrette and garnished with segments of tangerine, pink grapefruit and a shower of candied walnuts. Having dispensed with the last of the pinot gris, an '03 Ridge Crest Syrah was poured with the raclette cheese melted over roasted root vegetables. It was also the choice for the pasta course of handmade pappardelle with braised lamb shank, cipollini, shaved brussels sprouts and little chunks of chevre (right, below).

And, yes, I was feeling like this fantasy dinner was working out pretty darn well to this point and no one had better try to wake me up just yet. This was a standout, with the pasta perfectly al dente and the shanks fall-apart tender.

I was ready to call it a night, knowing there was probably a dessert yet to come, when Donald started carrying out platters of sliced, roasted pork loin on a bed of sautéed kale along with sauce boats of bernaise (left), a totally, insanely delicious capper to an already over-the-top dinner.

When the dessert, a blessedly petite vanilla panna cotta with blood orange marmalade, a fennel seed and sea salt shortbread cookie and a shot of madeira (top), were brought out I was practically comatose from the incredible combination of amazing flavors. But a cup of coffee made it possible to rise from my seat and make my way home, this particular fantasy having been a very real treat.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Season: Celery Root

I've asked, and got the same response from several farmers.

"How are things looking after the recent Arctic Blast?" I query.

"Brown and slimy," they answer.

And that's why, at the last farmers' market I went to, there was nary a green in sight. But take heart. Your winter greens will reappear. And there are other delights awaiting discovery, like the ugly but tasty celery root, also known as celeriac or knob celery.

Perusing my haunts, I ran across a recipe from the always-delightful Edward Schneider (a contributor to Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten) on the charms of this delightful vegetable (and read to the won't regret it!):

"Nowadays, when we buy more fish than we need, or when I’ve trimmed a fillet to make neat portions (for company), the extra gets frozen and usually becomes fish cakes. I’ve always felt a little stupid serving them with potatoes, because they already are potatoes, but since its only Jackie and me that’s what I do. The other night, though, I addressed this redundancy and replaced the potato with celery root (celeriac, knob celery), a wonderful vegetable too little used and just appearing in our local farmers’ market.

"This worked like a charm, but it took a little figuring out, because — duh — a celery root isn’t a potato. It’s wetter, for one thing, and that meant making sure I had enough bread crumbs in the house. Here’s what to do:

"For four portions (eight fishcakes) you’ll need about three quarters of a pound of fish. What I had in the freezer was hake, an ideal choice.

"Finely chop a medium-small onion and a small rib of celery and cook them in two tablespoons of butter and some salt over low heat until soft but not browned. Set aside to cool.

"Ruthlessly peel a celery root. In other words, forget about your Ecko peeler: Take a knife and cut away all the dirty parts, right down to the flesh; my 20-ouncer lost a quarter of its weight in the process. Rinse, cut into big chunks and put into a pan. Top with milk to cover (perhaps two cups) and add salt. Simmer until tender, about a quarter hour or a little more. Watch carefully; this can and will boil over if your attention wanders. Remove the celery root — do not throw away that milk — and mash it with a fork — you want a few small chunks to remain, but some of it should be almost pureed.

"Put the fish (defrosted, or nearly, if it’s from the freezer) into the milk, bring it to the boil, let it simmer for a minute, then turn off the heat. Cover the pan and let it sit for five or six minutes. Remove the fish and put it into a big bowl with the cooked onion. Flake/mash with a fork or your fingers. Add about as much mashed celery root as you have fish (eyeballed by volume) and season well with salt, pepper and a lot of chopped parsley. It should no longer be hot, so you can add two beaten eggs, then enough breadcrumbs to hold the mixture loosely together; it will still feel moist. This could take a whole cup of crumbs made from stale but not desiccated bread, but start with half that. Mix thoroughly and taste for seasoning.

"Let the mixture sit for five or ten minutes, then shape it into eight one-inch-thick cakes. Dip each one in beaten egg then in more crumbs, patting gently to make sure everything adheres. At this point they can be refrigerated until dinner time. Fry them golden brown in an eighth inch of (ideally) clarified butter or neutral oil, over quite low heat.

"By now, you’ll have thrown away that milk. If you hadn’t, you could have used it to make a sauce. But forget it: anything more than a squeeze of lemon will interfere with the flavor and texture of the celery root. Serve with — hooray! — potatoes, mashed or fried."

Late Addition: Anthony Boutard, our Farm Bulletin contributor, has his own way with the root:

"So crisp and sweet, it is a shame to cook them. Prepare as a salad or celeriac remoulade. First, grate or julienne the raw roots.

"For a salad, dress with lemon juice and olive oil. We mince the greens into the mix, or add chopped celery when available.

"For a celeriac remoulade, sprinkle the grated roots with lemon juice and then dress with a remoulade sauce. The sauce is mayonnaise seasoned with mustard and a sprinkle of cayenne. We follow James Beard's suggestion of mixing a sharp Dijon with sweeter German mustard and the pungent English mustard. A nice balance. The salad is especially good the next day. On occasion, we sprinkle some caraway seed into the remoulade, a Nordic gesture."

The Basics: Chile Sauce

Garret Dillahunt is an actor I first noticed in the TV series "Deadwood." He played Jack McCall, the man who killed Buffalo Bill. He was also another minor, slightly crazed character named Francis Wolcott. In the same series.

Now, it took me a little while to recognize him in the second role, but eventually I got it. And now I see him all the time in character roles here and there. He's not shiny, but he does a workmanlike job in the parts he gets.

And that's an apt metaphor for the way I cook. I have basic recipes that appear over and over again, slightly tweaked for different uses, but staying pretty much the same from incarnation to incarnation.

For instance, the chile sauce recipe I used for turkey enchiladas after Thanksgiving made more than I needed for the recipe, so I froze the remainder for another use. It could have made another great pan of enchiladas when I had some leftover roast chicken. And it's fabulous for huevos rancheros, drizzled over the layered tortilla, black beans, cheese and egg. But when I found big hunks of chuck roast on sale at the store, all I had to do was mix the leftover sauce with some puréed tomatoes to make a wonderful braising sauce for a batch of chili.

That may have been the same night we saw Mr. Dillahunt in a rerun of NYPD Blue.

Beef Chili

I used to make chili with beans and meat, but in the last couple of years I've become a convert to the all-meat version. I serve it with bowls of warmed kidney beans and rice alongside, as well as some chopped raw onions and grated cheese.

For the sauce:
6 dried ancho chiles, seeded and torn into pieces
2 small hot red chiles, seeded and torn into pieces (optional)
3 1/2 c. boiling water
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. (6-8) garlic cloves
4 tsp. oregano
3 Tbsp. paprika (I use 1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish pimenton and 2 Tbsp. regular paprika)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, puréed

For the chili:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 3/4" cubes
1/2 c. flour
Salt and pepper

Place the torn chiles in a heat-proof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Soak for 30 min. until they are soft and pliable. Drain them, reserving the soaking water, and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients and 1/2 c. soaking liquid and process till smooth, gradually adding the rest of the soaking water. If you have a larger processor, add the pureed tomatoes or simply stir them together with the chile sauce in a large mixing bowl.

Add salt and pepper to the flour in a small mixing bowl. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium high heat. In batches, put the pieces of meat in the flour mixture to coat lightly, then brown them in the hot oil, making sure that the pieces are not crowded or they'll steam instead of browning. Remove to a plate and brown the next batch. When all the meat is browned, put it back in the Dutch oven with enough chile sauce to almost cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Freeze any leftover sauce for later.

Read more recipes in The Basics series: 20 Minute Tomato Sauce, House Vinaigrette, Caesar Salad and Strata. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Sweetening the Pot

Winter, like those deeply snowy days we had recently, gives us time to ponder and plan. And at Ayers Creek, Anthony and Carol have had lots of time for that. They promise, however, that they'll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at this Sunday's (1/11) Hillsdale Farmers' Market.

We started thinking about syrup recently. The cold snap followed by the thaw and the heavy, wet snow reminded us of spring in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the Boutard family had a small sugar bush. In late winter we would see the icicles of sap forming on the broken maple tree branches. The sweet ice told us it was time to get out the brace and bit, and start setting the metal spigots. That first run of sap produced the finest flavored syrup. It would run so fast we needed to empty the buckets two or three times a day. As the season progressed the syrup became darker and took on a deeper mineral flavor.

A traditional maple sugar house.

The bush started out with 15 to 20 spigots; the sap was processed in the kitchen. The metal buckets came from a friend who was converting his operation to plastic tubing. We later purchased a small sugaring pan and stove from a family who was expanding their maple syrup production. Soon we had a traditional maple sugar house; a hygrometer replaced the spoon and burned lips. Afterwards, vinyl tubes and plastic spigots replaced the satisfying clang of galvanized buckets.

The season waned as the woodcocks started their courtship flights. Seeking foraging ground during the freeze, a flock of snipe took up residence in the springy ground of the canyon. These close cousins brought back memories of watching the pudgy little woodcocks spiral upwards and then listening to their lovely, liquid warble as they tumbled back to earth. Snipe have a similar courtship ritual, and we hope they will nest here someday.


With no hope for a Gaston sugar bush, we have started researching cane sorghums. Can we grow sweet sorghum in Oregon? Hard to say. It is likely the early homesteaders tried. If there was an effort, it died without vestige. The cane syrup houses have a design similar to the New England sugar houses, and we have yet to see one here. An omen, perhaps. As we have given up on field peas, leaving the "Quixotic Crop" slot open, 2009 will be "Annum Sorghorum" at Ayers Creek. Although we have not seen evidence of cane culture here, other vanished crops have left their mark.

In Cornelius there is a collection of buildings on the south side of town called the "flax plant." Around 1844, the first crop of flax was planted near Tualatin. Linen manufacture is a labor intensive process, and historically farm-based. The plants must be pulled, roots and all, without breaking the fibers. The plants are bound in shocks, field dried and then retted. Retting is a form of bacterial fermentation that loosens the soft tissues from the bast fibers. When dry, the retted stems are scutched, a process of cleaning and separating the fibers. Scutching requires dexterity and judgement. A good scutcher has to coax the fiber free without rendering it useless tow. The scutched fibers are then hackled to separate the short fibers, the tow, from the line fibers which are spun into thread. Among other uses, the tow was used to make cigarette papers. This process, retting, scutching and hackling, is the same for all bast fibers, such as hemp, jute and ramie. Traditionally, it was all farm based.

Flax stems and fibers.

Flax is the earliest of the vegetable fibers to be processed. The neolithic Swiss lake dwellers made woven and dyed fabric from flax. With long, strong fibers, linen was a valuable industrial fabric, until nylon displaced it. Flax is also an oilseed crop, but the plant, having gone to seed, is then useless as a fiber crop. The crop density is much lower when the crop is grown the seed, so the fibers are shorter and heavier. Linseed oil soap, Lin Soap, is manufactured in Portland and is much better than other oil soaps.

The quality of Willamette Valley linen was reportedly high, rivaling the cloth from Belgium and Ireland. There were flax processing plants in Cornelius, Salem, Turner and Scio, among other places. Long before "Prison Blues," linen production was a prison industry in Oregon. In 1935, 2,000 acres of flax was planted in the valley. The linen industry faded away by the 1950s. The process resisted mechanization, and high quality linen remains an expensive fabric. It must have been beautiful to pass the blue fields of flax.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Natural?

In the last few months I've started getting all kinds of press releases from public relations people. Mostly they're about local food events or news, most of it not usable on GSNW. But today I got one from a fellow named Dan, a senior account supervisor at an agency called Zeno that, among other clients, represents Pizza Hut.

He felt I needed to know that Pizza Hut has just released a pizza it's calling "The Natural" that has a whopping eight grams of whole grains per slice and has earned the seal of approval from the Whole Grains Council. Part of his press release states that "The Natural is topped with a sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes and all-natural mozzarella cheese. There are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Pizza Hut also developed a collection of all-natural toppings for The Natural, including sliced Rustica Sausage, pepperoni, marinated sliced Roma tomatoes, and fire-roasted red peppers. You also can get your pizza topped with a number of traditional toppings that are already natural, such as green peppers, red onions, sliced mushrooms and pineapple."

Which prompted me to respond:

Dear Dan.
Thanks for your press release, but to my readers "all natural" doesn't mean much. Foods grown with pesticides can be considered "natural" as can those developed with genetically modified organisms. One "natural" product listed something called "natural grill flavor" that was made of "tapioca maltodextrin."
As a writer who focuses on local, seasonal and sustainably grown foods and encourages people to eat seasonally whenever possible, the idea that your pizzas have "vine-ripened" tomatoes and are sold year round when all the tomato plants around here are dead is a little weird.
That it features "all-natural" mozzarella cheese doesn't really make me feel comfortable, either, since the ingredients for Kraft Natural Mozzarella lists ingredients like "Inulin (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese, Sodium Citrate (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Artificial Flavor (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Whey (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Sorbic Acid as a Preservative (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Artificial Color (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Sodium Phosphate (Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese), Vitamin A Palmitate); Potato Starch, Cellulose Powder, and Calcium Sulfate Added to Prevent Caking, Natamycin (a Natural Mold Inhibitor)." Doesn't sound very natural, does it? Especially when mozzarella really only requires milk, rennet and salt.
Other questions I'd have are: Is the milk used in the cheese hormone-free? Are the peppers grown without pesticides? Are any of the ingredients grown or raised organically? And that's not even considering the questions about the real cost of cheap food to family farms, health, the environment, etc.
I'll get excited when Pizza Hut starts doing something about the real issues here, including paying attention to the health of its customers and that of the environment instead of finding a new hook to boost sales.
Thanks again.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Green Eggs and Ham

OK, OK, I know they're not really green eggs. Or ham, for that matter. More like greens, eggs and bacon. But green eggs and ham was a much more interesting title, don't you think?

Last night was one of those times when I'd been working on a story all day and barely had time to feed the dogs and swab the decks (meaning clear some counter space in the kitchen) before Dave got home from work and some semblance of dinner would be called for. A glance in the fridge produced no ready solutions since we were low on just about everything. And the weather outside was yucky and dark enough that a trip to the store was a very unattractive prospect.

I was about to announce that peanut butter sandwiches would be the evening's featured entrée when I remembered a breakfast dish we'd had on a camping trip with friends, a simple one-dish meal of wilted greens topped with eggs. Though the original was made with bok choy, I'd seen a bunch of chard in the vegetable bin, along with a couple of slices of bacon left over from pasta carbonara a few nights ago.

A little chopping, a little sautéing and half an hour later we sat down to dinner. How simple is that?

Greens, Eggs and Bacon (or Green Eggs and Ham)

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch chard, kale or bok choy, chopped in 1"strips
6-10 eggs, depending on how many you need
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté bacon until fat has rendered. Add olive oil and garlic, sauté briefly. Add greens and cook till wilted, tossing them around haphazardly. Break eggs over the top, trying to keep the yolks from running off the greens. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover, checking every couple of minutes and cook till yolks are at the desired level of doneness for your guests. (I like the yolks runny but the whites cooked.) These can be served as is or you can spoon them onto toasted slices of bread.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

18 Things I Loved in 2008

Today's FoodDay section of the Oregonian is dedicated to the "100 Things We (Absolutely) Love," highlights from 2008 chosen from the submissions of staff and contributors. They picked 18 (!) of my faves and, listed by category, they were:

Put Up or Shut Up

The latest from the gals at Preserve is a season-long series of classes titled "Householding: From Seed to Pantry." Held once a month, the series is "intended to offer concrete tools for creating new patterns of food production, direct-farm purchase, preservation and meal planning."

Instructors include Glen Andreson, Metro's natural gardening educator and host of "The Dirt Bag" on KBOO as well as "The Ground View" gardening columnist; Mary Rosenblum, a master cheese maker (she does classes at Kookoolan Farms, among others) and well-regarded science fiction author; and the inimitable Harriet Fasenfest, food activist, writer, blogger and your host at Preserve. As Bette Davis growled in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Now That's Aged Cheese!

Some families stay in hotels when they go on vacation. Some rent houses. I grew up in a family that camped. Our first tent was an old canvas single-pole structure that had a wonderful musty, woodsy smell. Our family of five would crowd into it at night, the three of us kids wrapped in our sleeping bags, dreaming about the pancakes my mother would make in the morning over the fire on a big cast iron griddle.

Often that trip would be to the beach to spend a few days at Cape Lookout State Park near Tillamook, where we'd look for rocks and shells and wade out into the surf, always alert for the dreaded undertow or a sneaker wave. The freezing temperature of Oregon's coastal waters never deterred us, since all we had to do was wait until our legs went numb from the cold to spend hours playing in the waves.

Each trip would also inevitably involve trooping over to the Tillamook Cheese Factory to take a tour, the smell of sour milk permeating the air with its tang, and it always amazed me that this unpleasant odor could be associated with such a delicious end product.

And now I read on Tami Parr's most excellent blog that Tillamook Cheese is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year with a roster of events both at the creamery and here in Portland:
  • Tillamook Anniversary Kick-Off Party. Feb. 6 at the Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center in Tillamook, 4175 Highway 101 N, Tillamook. 503-815-1300.
  • 100th Anniversary Celebration. July 31 in Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW 6th Ave., Portland. 503-294-9120.
  • 100th Anniversary Celebration. Aug. 1 at the Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center in Tillamook, 4175 Highway 101 N, Tillamook. 503-815-1300.
So get out the tent and the griddle, throw the kids in the car and head to the beach. I promise they'll have lots of memories to bring back home.

Photos from Tillamook Cheese.