Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our First Drink

That old cliché about dropping a rock in a pond? The one where the subsequent ripples cause effects far beyond the initial action? That's what happened around here when Dave learned to make margaritas.

The ripple effect from that simple beginning has reverberated through many dinner parties and backyard gatherings, and revealed a thus-far hidden talent for mixology, one I would place on the level of a superpower. All it took to bring this mighty power to full brilliance was a bit of encouragement, a cocktail-making class from the estimable Lucy Brennan and out poured a flood of martinis, negronis and toddies, shaken, stirred, mixed and blended.

And the margarita that started it all? You'll find Dave's recipe below, but be warned: There's no telling where it might lead.

Dave's Ultra Margarita
Adapted from the Coyote Cafe

2 Tbsp. extrafine sugar
6 Tbsp. lime juice
3 oz. blue agave tequila
2 tsp. Cointreau or triple sec
Kosher salt
1 lime

Put large-size martini glasses in freezer to chill. Fill cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Put all ingredients into shaker. Shake till "the sound starts to change just a little bit" (10-15 seconds at most). Take glasses out of freezer. Put salt in a wide, shallow container. Cut a small wedge of lime, make small cut in center of the wedge from cut edge to pith. Put over edge of glass and run the wedge around it. Holding the glass at an angle, submerge the edge in the pile of salt and twirl. Put one large ice cube in glass. Pour 1/2 of margarita mixture in each glass.

Truck Farm

"Parking spaces are an under-utilized open space," Ellis said with a laugh. "The idea is to bring it into places where there is not enough fresh food available and get people talking about the issues."

In an article in the Washington Post this week, writer Jane Black dug up the news that Ian Cheney and Oregon native Curt Ellis, filmmakers and creators of the marvelous documentary King Corn, have literally hit the road with their latest project. While King Corn took Ellis and Cheney to Iowa to grow an acre of corn, the new project is somewhat smaller in scale to reflect their new focus on urban agriculture.

Cheney's run-down 1986 Dodge pickup was getting a maximum of 10 miles per gallon and, instead of taking it to the junk yard or leaving it parked on the street, the guys decided to turn it into a teaching tool to (yes, here comes another one) jump start a discussion on farming when you don't have enough land.

The process is documented by three "webisodes" available on their website (click on Truck Farm) with great music that carries the story along. They'll be uploading new episodes every month until the movie comes out, and you can sign up to be notified of events leading up to the film's release. Great guys, great project, great fun!

Corgi Update: Walker Turns Two

OK, OK, I know you guys are all "What the f--- is this thing she has about Corgis?" But, look, you have to put up with some of the silly to get the good stuff, right? And it is a really cute picture, right? (And even if I'm not right, it's my blog and I can post pictures of my cute dog if I want. So there. Ha.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Buzz: Beaker & Flask

A revealing personal detail: I like lab equipment. Actually, I love it. The clear glass, the odd shapes, the tubes, the beakers (just the word "beaker" sets me off), the flasks. I'd use them for everything if I could only find a good (and cheap) supplier. So when I heard that there was a new bar in town called Beaker & Flask, I was in.

The "Walk, Don't Run"…refreshing and light.

I can't remember when there was that much anticipation around an opening. But then, the opening had been delayed for more than a year from first estimates by the various vagaries of remodeling an older space for a new purpose and the vicissitudes of dealing with the OLCC (all of which are exhaustively detailed in their blog). Owner Kevin Ludwig even did a stint as bar manager for Clyde Common for a bit, as he said, "because a boy and his dog cannot survive on intermittent staff meal(s) and smiles from strangers."

Ah, Blanche, we feel your pain.

But open he did, and the place is an airy yet fairly compact space with a minimalist, monochromatic, mid-century look. A long open bar stretches down one end and curvy round booths curl against the curved west-facing wall (how long has it been since you've seen round tuck-and-roll booths?) and there's a definitely low-key but efficient vibe on the part of the staff.

Squash blossoms with ricotta, peas and tasso ham.

The cocktails are as good, if not better, than many of the city's better bars, with a knowledgeable hands at the shaker. Housemade tonics appear, as do an array of bitters and unusual (though not just for the sake of being different) liqueurs. But the food here was the surprise, at least to me, since Ludwig's cocktails had been all I'd heard about.

On a couple of recent visits, the plates that chef Ben Bettinger, from Paley's Place and the James John Cafe, was throwing down were pretty much outstanding, the Mac & Cheese with blood sausage (top) being a must-have dish.

The smoked trout deviled eggs could have had more punch, but the grilled corn with roasted poblano aioli and grated cheese was to die for. Prices are extremely reasonable for food this good, and from all reports the scene here is already rocking.

Details: Beaker & Flask, 727 SE Washington St. Phone 503-235-8180.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tomato Fever

Everybody's got the fever
That is somethin' you all know
Fever isn't such a new thing
Fever started long ago
- You Give Me Fever by Peggy Lee

Everybody's got their own favorite season for foods, whether it's meat braising on the stove, promising warmth and comfort after a day skiing in perfect powder or a pile of fresh fava beans in the spring, simply dressed with olive oil, mint and a shower of salt.

For me it's tomatoes, particularly the first of the summer's heirloom varieties, that I long for every year. With names like Purple Cherokee, Green Zebra and French Carmello, there's nothing like their cool, sweet, acidic bite, eaten out of hand right off the vine, sliced in a myriad of salads or simply chopped and spooned onto toasted bread.

This salad is perfect as a side with grilled meats, or could also be used for topping crostini for a cool, refreshing appetizer. With some chunks of oiled and grilled bread mixed in it makes a great panzanella, and you could add cucumber as well. Any tomatoes will work, but a mix of colors and shapes make it tastier and more fun.

Tuscan Tomato White Bean Salad
Adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook and

2-3 c. diced tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
4-6 small cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. fresh basil, chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 15-oz. cans (or 3 c.) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Combine ingredients in a large salad bow. Toss gently to combine. Best made about an hour ahead of time so the garlic and herb flavors will meld.

Farm Bulletin: Worries Flow Downhill

It's more than the vagaries of the weather that grey the hairs and wrinkle the brows of farmers in Oregon. It can also be the activities, however well-intentioned, of their neighbors, as Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm elucidates in his latest essay.

It was an interesting month in the Wapato Valley. We had been pumping water from an irrigation canal for the last nine years without a hitch. Last September, a blue-green algae bloom in the canal clogged the sand media filters we use to clean the water. It was late in the season when our water needs were lower and cool weather slowed down the growth, so we cleaned things up and hoped it was a fluke of nature. The bloom had followed a brief rainy period, and we surmised that the valley's grass seed and wheat farmers, seeing record high prices, had dumped extra urea on their fields to increase the protein and seed yield and that nitrogen had washed into the canal.

In May and June of this year, the filters were back in their old form and we set aside our nagging worries about algae, having plenty else to fret about. In late June, we noticed a drop in pressure one day and checked the filters. The algae was back, and with a vengeance. The blue green algae is filamentous and has a slime coating. It completely invades the sand, forming a gritty green jello and preventing water from passing through the filter. You can slice it with a knife. At that point, it takes two hours to free up and disinfect the sand.

The filamentous growth pattern of blue-green algae.

We have developed a fine appreciation for the population dynamics of blue-green algae. At night, the populations declined, and we had about three hours of pumping time after sunrise before the population became unmanageable. Cloudy days extended the time to five or six hours. Using a venturi-type injector, we added a shot of sodium hypochlorite every 45 minutes or so to keep things flowing. It was amazing to watch the canal water color green over the course of the morning. Normally, at this time of the year, we run the low pressure drip irrigation through a series of sets that takes about 72 hours pumping time a week. Three hours for seven days doesn't get us there and some crops have suffered as a result.

Anticipating more algae blooms in the future, we have installed a chlorination system. Disinfecting water is allowed under organic certification as long as the free chlorine does not exceed the safe drinking water level of 4 parts per million. The advantage of the chlorination system is that we will be controlling human and plant pathogens as well. On the other hand, chlorine gas is pretty nasty stuff, and it adds another layer of record-keeping. That said, gas has a better safety record than the 12.5% liquid bleach we have been using and it's easier to calibrate.

Agriculture in our valley has changed over the last decade. The hayfields that greeted us when we moved here have been planted to perennial ryegrass for seed production. In the valley bottom, hundreds of acres of onions were grown. Today there are no more onion fields, and sweet corn and beets grow there instead. Prune orchards and walnut plats have been uprooted and replaced with grass seed fields. Linn County, the self-proclaimed "Grass Seed Capitol of the World," has had problems with excess use of nitrogen and phosphorous on the grass seed fields, degrading the waterways. Now the problem has landed in our lap.

Top photo from Microscopic close-up by Peter Parks.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quick Take: '09 Oregon Brewers Festival

I really like beer. More specifically, I'm a woman who really likes beer. And while that may sound like a strange thing to say, there are still lots of women who don't, or who like their beer sweet and fruity (i.e. not tasting like beer) rather than dry, full-bodied and hoppy.

But when it comes to beer festivals, I defer to the wisdom of he-who-is-all-about-beer in this household, and that is my husband Dave. He estimates barbecue and smoker time in terms of how many beers it'll take to get the job done. Vacations? How many brewpubs are there in the area? The day my brother moved into a tiny apartment and asked us to store his kegerator in our basement will go down as one of the great moments in his life. And don't even get me started on how much he loves the beers brewed at Hopworks Urban Brewery. Suffice it to say that the words, "It's me or Christian's beers" will never cross my lips.

We've skipped the last couple of Oregon Brewers Festivals for various reasons, and Dave's regular beer buddy had to work that day, so I volunteered to accompany him with the thought that it might make a good blog post. We parked Chili on the east side of the river and walked across the bridge to the festival, where the crowd was starting to fill the tents where more than 80 craft breweries were pouring their beers.

About half the beers are in the pale-to-golden range, with another quarter dedicated to amber and the rest falling in the red, brown and black range. Dave had a few he'd heard about and wanted to try, though after a couple of pales he was ready to move on, as he said, "to the real beers." Here, in order, are the ones we tried:
  • Organic Wild Salmon Pale Ale, Fish Brewing Co., Olympia, WA: Well-made (as are all these beers, so no need to repeat it each time) though unremarkable; a "lawn-mower beer."
  • Clackamas Cream Ale, Fearless Brewing Co., Estacada, OR: The brewer asked two local homebrew clubs to submit examples of this style of beer for inspiration, and this crisp, light example was the result.
  • Festivale, Terminal Gravity Brewing, Enterprise, OR: This one got the "Ooooh…that's good" rating right off the bat. (My man loves his big beers, all right.) At 8.3 ABV and an IBU of 73, this demands attention. The final word? "Pretty damn nice."
  • Radiant Summer Ale, Ninkasi Brewing Co., Eugene, OR: "Very nice." Lots of malt but nice dryness from hops. When we couldn't fight our way back for seconds on the Festivale, this was his next choice.
  • Big Eye IPA, Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA: When Dave says an IPA is "not bad" (especially one brewed this far from the Northwest), that's a high compliment considering it's his favorite style of beer. Definitely worth drinking.
  • India Red Ale (IRA), Double Mountain Brewery, Hood River, OR: "Really good." We've visited their taproom and it's well worth the drive to sample their excellent range of beers.
  • Bitter Bitch, Astoria Brewing Co., Astoria, OR: This was a good beer but, as Dave said, it was "very bitter, more like an IPA" than a traditional English-style bitter. "Despite the name, it's pretty good."
  • Organic Chocolate Stout, Bison Brewing Co., Berkeley, CA: One of the pleasures of going to these festivals is the chance to try beers you might not run across otherwise. "Good but not exciting" was the word on this one.

In Season NW: Market Roundup

There's just too much to talk about this time of year when it comes to markets. I can't imagine what it's going to be like next month when the real avalanche of fruits and vegetables starts to hit, making the profusion of July look like a wimpy little skiff of snow.

But we Oregonians are such drama queens, aren't we? It's either too cold, too hot, too wet, too dry, too dark or too bright. So my new resolution is to simply, in the words of Baba Ram Dass, "be here now" and enjoy what comes. And right now being here ain't bad, as this roundup of the past week's markets shows.

* * *

Eastbank Farmers' Market: Dennison Farms of Corvallis got the award for most colorful booth for its ten feet of orange, yellow and red tomatoes glowing in the afternoon sun. They were almost, but not quite, upstaged by the eye-popping yellow plums blushed with red in their green hallocks on a blue cloth. (Where are my sunglasses?) Just down aisle, the purple glow coming from the sheafs and tubs of lavender in Tanya Kern's Dancing Light Ranch booth was almost surreal, and stepping inside was like burying your nose in a lavender sachet. If fresh lavender wasn't your thing, she also offered handmade soaps, oils and lotions. Thursdays, 3-7 pm; SE 20th & Salmon between Belmont and Hawthorne.

* * *

Interstate Farmers' Market: With universal health care in the headlines this week,it was only fitting to take a trip to this market, across the street and sponsored in part by Kaiser Permanente. I was ecstatic to find Hot Mama Salsa had landed here, having become addicted to Nikki Guerrero's chips, salsas and hot chili oil when she was at the Hillsdale market last year. Her sister will be filling in for for the time being, since Nikki had her baby last week. (Congratulations, Nikki!) And you could have lit a torch with Tim Lang's smile at the J. Gelati Italian Ice booth, he was so proud of his products made from fresh Oregon fruit. And the haricot verts and tiny zucchini and crookneck squashes with their blossoms still attached were selling like hotcakes at the Radical Pastures booth run by mother-daughter team Rowena and Lily Owen (left). A quick roll in egg white batter (whipped egg whites folded into the yolks mixed with a little flour) when I got home and a few minutes frying in hot oil and those squash were ready to eat. The result? Dave and Mr. B. are asking when we'll have them again! Wednesdays, 3-7 pm; 3550 N. Interstate Ave.

* * *

Ecotrust Farmers' Market: As promised, Baird Family Orchards was stocked to the brim with the first of the season's peaches (top photo), Bill "Call me Mr. Peach" was passing out samples and shoppers were filling bags with the richly perfumed beauties. The stunning (and reasonably priced) bouquets from Lucky Farms Flowers (left), with their unusual combinations of lilies, eucalyptus, crocosmia, dahlias and mums, were drawing stares from passersby. And the warm afternoon required a stop at Catherine Myers' Fresh Juices and Delectables booth for a fresh limeade, though I was tempted to get one of the cups of sliced watermelon carried by several market-goers (right). Like I said, this time of year is all about choices! Thursdays, 3:30-7:30 pm; outside the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center on NW 10th between Irving and Johnson.

Dairy Report: Feeling Good (and a Quiz)!

Many of us have fantasies about owning a little café or having a farm, and this week Lisa Jacobs of Jacobs Creamery shares some of the realities of starting her own dairy business. One new venture is going to be a delivery service for her products, beginning with the Hood River, White Salmon, Lake Oswego and Milwaukie areas. If you're interested, you can e-mail her and let her know.

I woke up the other day and said "Hell, yeah!" The sun was out, my walk-in was full, my muscles were really sore and I thought, "Wow! Life is good!"

Challenge #191: Making cheese in 90° weather. Oh my, what not fun the cheese room was this week! So you can imagine that I am greatly looking forward to the soaring temperature next Monday. Not.

Since I don't have any time for real dates, I like to call the hour after I have hooped and pressed my cheese my "dates with Henry." Henry is my cheese vat. Dates with Henry are very hot, usually between 135-165°. This week I averaged about a 1 lb. weight loss with each date, but we are still "seeing each other." As I sent product down to (the farmers' market in) Cannon Beach last Tuesday and headed back into the cheese room for the third day, I thought that doing a triathlon might actually be easier than running six markets and producing all my products in a three day time span.

One of my college professors spotted me at my booth this last week and her comment was, "Oh, its so great that you do this! I'm sure it's nice to get out of the office." She was so certain that I would be practicing law by now that she figured it was a weekend job of some sort. It made me ponder what on earth I would do if I wasn't making cheese. I suppose with my expert cleaning ability and fleet of vehicles I could easily have a cleaning business or a moving company, but just thinking about it made me extremely thankful that I am able to do something I love and enjoy.

After several months, it's nice to finally get a routine down: walk-in full, walk-in empty, must make more cheese. And repeat.

Sadly, some of my cheese minions will be going back to school shortly, so I am looking for some additional help in the cheese room and markets. To help me weed through applicants, I created a quick little questionnaire. If you know someone that is a sparkly cheese enthusiast, have them fill it out and e-mail it to me.
  1. How many tubs can you package, label, stack and crate in 2 minutes?
  2. If you were tired and it was 1 a.m. and you saw a bit of curd on the wall in the cheese room would you: a) go to bed; b) get a sanitizing solution and start methodically cleaning the walls from top to bottom; c) not say anything but send me a text after you're far far away?
  3. Do you believe in the five second rule?
Since my dairy babe twins have worked out so well, preference will be given to triplets and those with triathlon endurance levels, of course!

Newsflash: Lisa just informed me that she and her cheese will be featured on ABC's Good Morning America on Tuesday, Aug. 4, as part of a visit the show made to the farmers' market in Cannon Beach. Tune in if you can!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Darling Dozen: Ready to Fly?

It's almost like they do it on purpose just to make you feel old. You get together with friends you haven't seen for awhile. You ask about their kids and they start hauling out pictures (or their iPhones), regaling you with stories about taking Bobby Sue and Jimmy Joe to visit colleges. And you think, "Wasn't this the kid who was just starting grade school a couple of years ago?"

It's like that with this litter of puppies. It seems like only a couple of weeks ago they were little wiggly things the size of a large cigar. Then today I visit and find myself suddenly surrounded by a dozen fat little bears all eager to lick my face and gnaw on my exposed feet (a dicey proposition unless you feel like giving them their first taste of blood).

At seven weeks their ears are going up and down like elevators, though some have definitely taken a stand. They're all spoken for, some going to "show homes" and some to "pet homes" but all of them thoroughly vetted. (I checked credentials…after all, I am their Auntie.)

But even though it made me feel like time is flitting by, I can't seem to stay away. And by the end of next week most of them will have flown the coop.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Travels with Chili: Happy, Sad, Happy, Part Two

It could all have gone very wrong. Especially since I'd waited till the last minute to make arrangements. And I'm not talking about scattering my parents' ashes. We knew exactly what we needed to do there because my mother had issued strict orders. Which, being the dutiful but still "You're not the boss of me!" types that we are, we pretty-nearly-almost followed to the letter.

The aptly named Safe Harbor.

We'd agreed on the date weeks before, but I hadn't made a reservation for a place for the seven of us and two dogs to stay. At the beach. On a sunny summer weekend. Get the picture?

Fortunately, while perusing Craigslist, I'd run across a rental agency that had several properties just south of Gleneden Beach. A phone call put me in touch with Lisa at the office of Bella Beach Vacation Rentals, who sent links to several of their rental properties in the development, a sort of Levittown-by-the-sea type of place. One, a three bedroom charmer called Safe Harbor, slept seven, would accept our two dogs and was perfect for our needs.

India Pelican Ale at the Pelican Pub.

The first night was a blur of cocktails, wine, steaks and reminiscing. The next day everyone else headed back to town, leaving us to a long walk on the beach and some shopping in Newport's Nye Beach area (a stop at my mom's favorite clothing shop, Toujours, was mandatory). Dave had hoped to have a beer at Sea Towne Pub, home of Steve Wilson's SKW Brewing. Wilson, the former cellar master from Newport's Rogue Brewing, had opened it fairly recently and we'd heard good things about his beers, but they were closed on Sundays.

Pelican Pub's excellent fish'n'chips.

But in Oregon you're never far from a freshly brewed beer, so we decided to hit the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City for an early dinner (Chili on the beach outside the pub, top photo). Their beers are truly great, their fish and chips are very good, but the real reason to go is the view out the windows. Sitting right on the beach, with water lapping the sand just yards from the door and overlooking the rocky outcroppings off Cape Kiwanda, this is the place to quaff a pint at sunset.

With a pint of Doryman's Dark for Dave and their India Pelican Ale (IPA, get it?) for me, it was the perfect grace note to end our weekend of sweet release.

Travels with Chili: Happy, Sad, Happy, Part One

It was bound to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, we were setting sail on our inaugural voyage on the good ship Chili, a trip to the Oregon coast on a weekend guaranteed to have good weather (photo above), a rare occurrence all by itself.

Wedding day, 1953.

On the other hand, the trip had a purpose to it, one that had taken more than a year to arrange, and that was to scatter my parents' ashes in the ocean off Gleneden Beach. Fortunately for my brothers and me, my mother had been very specific in her charge before she passed away.

Dad in the Navy, mid-1940s.

An inveterate rockhound and shell collector, she wanted us to take all the agates, shells and other rocks she'd collected in the years they'd lived at the beach, including her precious collection of heart-shaped rocks, and toss them back into the sea, with the idea that her grandchildren might someday pick up some of the same rocks she'd found there. (Yes, she was quite a romantic.) Then we were to take her and my father's ashes, mix them together and scatter them on the waves.

Mom on her graduation from OSU, late 1940s.

So low tide on Saturday afternoon found eight of us gathered on the shore in the bright sunshine, hurling handfuls of rocks out to sea (without beaning each other or putting out a single eye, mind you), then taking turns pouring the ashes into the waves as they rushed out into that very big ocean, crying and waving and yelling our farewells.

Read Happy, Sad, Happy, Part Two.

Monday, July 20, 2009

They're (Almost) Here!

Can you hear that? Like a stampede or an approaching storm or a train coming down the tracks, overlaid with that squeaky stretching noise a balloon makes as it inflates.

It's the sound of tomatoes ripening in gardens all over the city, a deluge that will soon flood our kitchens and tables, prompting a frenzy of chopping and stewing and drying and canning to preserve the summer they contain.

They're not only visible on the bushes in our garden, which are growing exponentially in this heat, but are also starting to show up at area farmers' markets in colors ranging from yellow to orange to purple to red, in stripes, dots and blushes. I picked up three nice-sized ones and brought them home, their sweet tomatoey scent perfuming the whole kitchen.

An heirloom tomato salad was the original plan, to be served alongside one of the staples of our quickie dinner repertoire, pasta with Italian sausage. I'd chopped the tomatoes and tossed them with basil leaves, dressed only with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. I'd fried the sausage with garlic, tossing in arugula at the last minute to wilt it. Then, almost without thinking, I dumped the contents of the salad bowl over the pasta. Call it a happy accident or a stroke of genius (my preferred term, of course), but this is a one-dish meal that we'll be seeing a lot of this summer.

Pasta with Warm Tomato Salad

1 lb. penne pasta (or other extruded shape)
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 bunch arugula
3 large heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors
1/2 c. basil leaves, torn in bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Parmesan, grated

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While it heats, brown sausage in frying pan, breaking into small chunks. Add garlic and saute till sausage is cooked through. Chop tomatoes into 1/2" cubes and put in medium mixing bowl, combining with basil. Add olive oil to moisten and salt to taste. When water comes to a boil, cook pasta till al dente and drain, then place in serving bowl. Add arugula to sausage, stirring it until wilted. Add it to pasta and mix slightly, then top with tomato salad. Sprinkle with more salt, freshly ground pepper and grated parmesan, serving more parmesan alongside.

Light Lunch

Lunch is to budget foodies as Goodwill is to penny-pinching fashionistas. If I want to try out a high-end place before plunking down serious cash for an evening out, I'll gravitate toward those that offer a down-sized (and lower priced) sampling of their menus at mid-day.

Always wanted to go to Nostrana but can't scrounge enough out of the sofa cushions for dinner? Or heard about the fabulous shoestring fries at Café Castagna but the full meal deal is out of range? Try lunch at either. Seriously. You'll spend a fraction of what dinner would cost and get a good idea of what the kitchen is capable of. Plus who orders a whole bottle of wine with lunch, much less a cocktail? Again, savings in the bank.

If there's one spot in Portland that has garnered endless gibbering in the local press since it opened, it's Andy Ricker's love song to Thai street food, Pok Pok. And lunch is the ticket here as well. Same fascinating food, somewhat lower prices, and you're not obligated to try everything on the menu.

I went with a friend the other day and ordered the Tam Kai Yaang (top photo), a mellifluous-sounding and flavor-packed melange of roasted game hen with long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, Chinese celery, cilantro, Thai chiles, garlic, lime, palm sugar and fish sauce for $9.50. And the Yam Makheua Yao (left), another salad that featured smoky grilled Chinese eggplant with fried dry shrimp and garlic, chopped boiled egg, Thai chiles, shallots, cilantro and a lime-fish sauce dressing, priced at $9. Smashing.

Now, you might well ask, "Two salads with similar ingredients?" and you would not be out of line. But in this kitchen, the sum of the parts do not mean the same tastes emerge in the final preparation.

A side of sticky rice and our lunch was still light. In more ways than one.

Details: Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division. Phone 503-232-1387.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Farewell to Frikeh: A Way Forward for Oregon

Looking at how other states differentiate between industrial food production and that done by farmers who sell directly to the public, Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farms sees a more equitable way forward for Oregon. You can find Anthony and Carol at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market every Sunday from 10 am till 2 pm.

In the first installment of "Farewell to Frikeh," we noted that the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) defines "food processing" as the "…cooking, baking, heating, drying, mixing, grinding, churning, separating, extracting, cutting, freezing, or otherwise manufacturing a food or changing the physical characteristics of a food, and the packaging, canning or otherwise enclosing such a food in a container." While this long recitation certainly includes all activities that happen in food processing factories, the definition also covers many traditional farm activities that fall well short of what we consider processing foods. Under a strict interpretation of ODA's rules, all of the activities identified above must take place within a licensed facility.

Because frikeh (top photo) involves heating and drying, ODA calls it a "processed food." Like many other traditional foods, including raisins, sundried tomatoes, dried peppers and herbs, frikeh is prepared outside in the field, and not in a factory. Under ODA's scheme, if a "processed food" is not produced in a licensed facility, the agency prohibits the sale of the food. If California took such a view of food processing, we would have neither raisins, nor domestic sun dried tomatoes and peppers. Most raisins, for example, are dried on kraft paper trays set out on the vineyard floor. Some of the newer varieties are dried as clusters attached to the trellis, but still outdoors.

After learning of Oregon's approach to regulating food, we decided to see how other states regulate small operations such as ours. What is immediately striking about Oregon is the lack of any stated policy regarding farmers markets or community supported agriculture (CSA) in either the statutes or rules. Although farmers' markets and CSA's have strong support among Oregonians, that support has not translated into written policies concerning direct sales. As a result, ODA's default position is to consider farmers' markets the same as retail stores. And when farmers stray from the narrow category of fresh fruits and vegetables, they are treated as food processors. It is as if everyone, from a bicyclist to a heavy truck driver, must get the same Commercial Drivers License (CDL). No distinction is made between farm based enterprises and multinational corporations. In fact, ODA has been adamant that no distinction should be made.

Many states, perhaps a majority, have adopted what is the regulatory equivalent to a bike lane for farms that sell directly to the public. In Ohio, the state has a category called "Cottage Food Production Operation." Farms are allowed to produce and sell a clearly defined range of nonhazardous foods, including sorghum and maple syrup, various baked goods, jams and jellies, candy, fruit butter, dried herbs. Kentucky and Iowa similarly allow farms to produce a range of nonhazardous foods without a processing license. Kentucky also has a "Homebased Micro-Processor" certification which allows greater latitude in pressure canning low acid foods.

In 2004, Minnesota passed the "Pickle Bill" which allows Minnesotans to make and sell their famous vegetable pickles without a processing license. Last month, the Indiana legislature passed a law that allows market vendors and roadside stands to make and sell nonhazardous foods made at home. New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts also have a separate tier for farm-based food production.

A couple of decades ago, Oregon's farmers sold virtually all of their production to food processors. The previous owners of our farm, for example, had contracts with Agripac (sweet corn), Steinfeld's (cucumbers), Smuckers (strawberries) and Cascadian Farm (blackberries). Today, three of those companies are no longer doing business in the Willamette Valley, and Cascadian Farm has but a few Oregon growers left.

New types of farm operations have arisen in the decades since the current statutes, definitions and rules were drafted. Over the last decade, new farmers have had little choice but to find new ways to sell their food, including directly to the public at farmers' markets and CSA's. We need to update the statutes and rules to reflect farming's future, not just its past. At Ayers Creek, we have been making wonderful raisins for our own consumption and we might even have our first run of sorghum syrup this year. Under the current rules, we are prohibited from selling these unadulterated and wholesome foods.

Our hope is that Oregon will take a closer look at states that have adopted less onerous approaches to increasing family farm income. A more realistic set of rules defining and regulating "food processing" as it is applied to farm operations will provide many benefits to farmers and consumers. Will loosening requirements for farm-based food production create a food safety issue? No. The "Pickle Bill" did not create a mass die-off of farmers' market customers in Minnesota.

The food industry is where the problem lies, not the family farm. The reality remains that, in states with progressive views on farm-based food production, food borne illnesses have not been an issue at farmers' markets or with CSA's. Farmers eat the food they produce and there is no chain of custody to track. Squadrons of food inspectors and a myriad of properly filled out forms and licenses cannot replace the simplicity of a direct sale when it comes to food safety and quality. In fact, if you read the ingredients for a jar of conventional, mass-produced pickles, you will understand why they have to be licensed.

In Part III of this series, we will discuss the various ways to improve the rules governing food production in Oregon. Up to now, those rules in Oregon have been shaped the industry, not consumers. That has to change. Consumers need to participate in governing how food is produced in Oregon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Travels with Chili: The Journey Begins

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

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

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

Introducing: Chili.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Camp Stories: Trout Creek Campground

Even though I've graduated from backpacking to car camping with a queen-sized mattress and zip-together sleeping bags, nothing says summer like tent camping. And there is beaucoup beautiful camping to be had in the Northwest, from the beaches in the west to the Wallowas and Snake River in the east to the vast Gifford Pinchot in the north and the volcanic lakes in the south.

Kicking off GSNW's new summer feature on great campgrounds and sites is the Trout Creek Campground in the Willamette National Forest. Just 19 miles east of Sweet Home, it has 24 sites ranged along the creek with access to the trails of the Menagerie Wilderness and the Old Santiam Wagon Road.

GSNW contributor Kim recommends "campsite #4 for its great beach and river access," as you can see from her photo, above. If you have recommendations (hopefully with photos) of your favorite campgrounds and sites in the Northwest, e-mail GSNW and I'll feature a few of the best this summer!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cherry Bomb

You just never know, when you open it, which door will dump a bucket o' learnin' on your head.

Peeling garlic was an exercise in frustration till Julia Child taught me that crushing the cloves under the flat blade of a kitchen knife was so much easier (and satisfying). And I used to think that I had to lay out raspberries on cookie sheets to freeze them, a hideously tedious task, until Anthony Boutard told me that all I had to do was to put the hallocks from the flat directly into the freezer, then the next day take them out, give them a squeeze into a zip-lock bag and throw them back into the freezer.

So when I was talking with Nate Albrecht, the young fellow manning the Baird Family Orchards booth on opening day at the St. Johns Farmers' Market, and he said he couldn't wait to get home to make cherry whiskey, I saw that bucket coming and got out my notebook. He said that he likes bings because of the color they lend to the brew and that, while ripe cherries will work just fine, it's also a great use for those left over that you hate to waste.

Maresh Family Farm's Cherry Whiskey

Take a one-gallon glass jar with a lid and fill it 3/4 full of stemmed (but not seeded) whole cherries. Pour in 2 cups of sugar, then fill with whiskey. Cover with lid and shake to partially dissolve the sugar, then set in a cool, dark place. Shake every day or so, and after 2 to 3 months you'll have fabulous cherry whiskey.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Dream of Eggplant

Grilling season has hit in earnest, and contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood shares his favorite grilled eggplant recipe. You can find him and his extra virgin olive oil, Katz Orleans method vinegars, Profumi Estensi balsamic vinegar from Modena, hand harvested sea salt, lye-free brined and oil-cured olives, farro, and beans most Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at Activspace, 833 SE Main #110-111, on the ground floor in the inner courtyard.

Grilled Eggplant “Parm”

Judith’s Sicilian roots introduced me to the joys of eggplant parmesan. Her father made it old school, breading the slices of eggplant and frying them before layering with tomato sauce and cheese. Judith used to bake the eggplant to cut down on the oil and labor. However it was made, the highest and best use for eggplant parm was making a sandwich from the cold leftovers the next day.

I’ve been grilling a lot of eggplant, and recently a plate of leftovers from the previous night’s grilling made me hungry for an eggplant parm sandwich.

If you don’t have any leftover grilled eggplant in the refrigerator, slice a large round one, brush both sides with olive oil and grill over direct heat until nicely browned on both sides. (I think salting the eggplant is a waste of time, and I’ve never felt that anything I made with unsalted eggplant was bitter.)

Make a simple tomato sauce by cooking a chopped onion in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes, then adding a large can of ground tomatoes (diced or any other form work fine, but you’ll need to do some work to get the degree of smooth or chunky you desire). Simmer for a few minutes, then set aside.

Combine a couple of cups of homemade breadcrumbs with a good glug of olive oil in a heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat until the crumbs are brown, about 10 minutes.

Slice or grate about a half pound of mozzarella or provolone and about a quarter pound of pecorino Romano or Parmigiano. (Despite the name, you don’t need to use Parmigiano cheese; eggplant dishes came to Italy via the Arabs who occupied Sicily, and the word “parmigiano” is a corruption of the Sicilian dialect word Parmiciana, meaning “in the style of Persia.”)

Spoon a little tomato sauce into a baking dish, then alternate layers of eggplant, breadcrumbs, cheese, a few leaves of fresh basil, and sauce. Save enough cheese for the top, then bake for about 45 minutes or until nicely browned. It’s okay to eat it hot (it’s delicious), but save enough for eggplant parm sandwiches the next day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In Season NW: Market Roundup

No matter which market you go to in the next couple of weeks, it's going to be all fruit, all the time, with raspberries, blueberries, blackcaps, loganberries and cherries flooding into the markets. I've already started stashing bags in the freezer for crisps and pies to carry us through the winter, and I've made a couple of batches of shortcakes to keep in the fridge for impromptu desserts. And word is that Baird Family Orchards will have Maryhill peaches starting next week. I love summer!

* * *

Multnomah Village Farmers' Market: There was a bit of sad news with the closing of this wonderful neighborhood market last Thursday. According to market manager Eamon Molloy, the market had struggled to find vegetable farmers and the attendance never really materialized. "The sales didn't justify keeping it open," he said, and the decision was made to close down for the time being.

* * *

Irvington Farmers' Market: Rumors of a farmers' market opening later this season in the Irvington neighborhood will remain just that for the time being. The sponsor of the location that was being considered decided there wasn't enough time to get it started this year. Maybe next year?

* * *

St. Johns Farmers' Market: Last weekend saw the kind of terrific neighborhood support that a well-organized farmers' market can summon with the opening of the St. Johns Farmers' Market. Located within spitting distance of the St. Johns Bridge and gorgeous Cathedral Park, it was mobbed by happy shoppers who not only came to buy but to visit with their neighbors and enjoy the multitude of offerings from local food and beverage vendors. A few of the larger farms were represented, including Sweet Leaf Organics and DeMartini Family Farms, but included a couple of smaller farms from Sauvie Island, as well as other vendors like St. Johns Coffee Roasters and Dovetail Bakery. Dovetail owner Morgan Grundstein-Helvey's (above left) wares were so popular she had to send someone back to the bakery to make more muffins. Luckily it was just a block away!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Our Fourth? Smokin'!

I'm a Yankee Doodle dandy
A Yankee Doodle, do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam'sBorn on the Fourth of July…
- George M. Cohan, circa 1904

When Dave gets a bee in his bonnet, there's nothing to do but stand back and stay out of his way. It was like that when he decided to build a work bench so he could pursue his woodworking dream, or getting a Mini Clubman (which arrives next Friday…woo hoo!).

Removing the membrane from the ribs.

So when he told me he was going to smoke some ribs for the Fourth of July, all I said was, "Tell me what kind and how many and I'll go to Gartner's."

Two days before the holiday (read about what it's like on July 3 and you'll see why I went early) found me heading in the door to find a moderate and friendly crowd, so I took a number and waited my turn. Dave had decided to take advantage of both grills on the smoker, so I walked out with four racks of baby backs and a six pound brisket, the equivalent of about 12 pounds of meat.

Nearly done (you can just see the brisket on the rack beneath them).

In his research he'd run across a website that suggested rolling the racks into cylinders and securing them with a skewer, so he was able to get all four racks on one grill, leaving the lower grill for the brisket. Which, conveniently, also meant that all the juicy goodness that dripped off the ribs would fall directly onto the brisket, bathing it in fatty, smoky deliciousness.

He was going for a long, slow smoke this time, keeping the temperature between 200° and 225° for at least eight hours on the brisket to try to get it to the point of dissolving, with the ribs coming off an hour beforehand.

The result? Some of the most delicious ribs we've had anywhere, completely moist and tender. The brisket was very close to (but not quite) falling apart, indicating that there will be another attempt to achieve perfection, but it was amazingly tender and flavorful. Paired with a bean salad and my mom's potato salad, and with raspberry and blueberry shortcake for dessert, it was about as traditional a Fourth as it gets. Yankee Doodle, indeed!

Dave's Amazing Rib Rub and Barbecue Sauce

For the rib rub:
Adapted from Soaked, Slathered & Seasoned by Elizabeth Klarmel2 Tbsp. Kosher salt
3 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

For the mop:
Adapted from The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen
1 1/2 c. cider vinegar
1 c. water
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 dried ancho chile, seeded
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the dipping sauce:
3/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 c. Bubbies pickle juice (or brine from jar of pickles)
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
3 shakes Worcestershire sauce

Take ribs out of refrigerator and set on counter for one hour to come up to room temperature. Remove the thin white membrane on the bone side to allow rub to penetrate both sides of racks. Combine all ingredients for the rub in a small mixing bowl. Smear ribs with rub, roll them up and place them in zip-lock plastic bags in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the mop sauce, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process till finely chopped and combined. Pour into non-reactive mixing bowl or in an aluminum foil pan that will go in the smoker.

Remove ribs from zip-lock bags and roll up, securing them with skewers. Place in smoker with mop sauce. Brush with mop sauce after two hours and then every hour and a half after that. Maintain temperature of smoker between 200° and 225°. Ribs are done when meat starts pulling away from the bone.

While ribs cook, prepare the dipping sauce. Combine all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process till smooth. Pour into saucepan and simmer briefly but don't allow it to come to a boil. Remove from heat, cool and serve in a bowl on the side.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Magazine Goes Ten for Twelve

It's a time when newspapers and magazines all over the country are vaporizing like flies on a bug zapper.

I suppose that, as a blogger and a contributor to the rise of the Twitter-verse, it's partly my fault. And as a devotee of that how-did-I-live-without-it, (not)-created-by-Al Gore entity called the internet for the past two decades, I've definitely played a role in print's plunge into the abyss filled with the dinosaurs of their day like...well...dinosaurs, transistor radios and Dick Cheney (he's in there, right?).

So it's encouraging when a print publication actually finds an audience, as well as advertisers, and increases its output to reflect that. And that's just what's happening to MIX (which I've written for), the glossy food magazine that's put out by the same folks who bring you the Oregonian's FoodDay section (ditto), according to FoodDay editor Martha Holmberg.

Currently publishing every two months, MIX will begin publishing ten times a year. "There will be a couple of 'double' issues, in summer and at the end of year," Holmberg said.

Frankly, as a writer, I couldn't be happier!

Sides of Summer

Summer sides around here take the form of cool salads, whether made from potatoes, grains or, one of my favorites, the much-maligned legume. The mention of a bean salad causes most folks to think of those terrible three-bean salads from the grocery-store deli made from canned green and yellow beans, with canned kidney beans and a sickeningly sweet, oily dressing.

So when I ran across this recipe for a black and white bean salad that called for fresh corn, red onion and red pepper, it didn't even take the mention of the cumin vinaigrette dressing to bring me on board. Easy, tasty and ideal even for the vegans in attendance, this salad will be the star of your summer gatherings.

Black & White Bean Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

For the dressing:
1/2 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. olive oil

For the salad:
2 15-oz. cans black beans, drained (or 8 oz. dried beans, cooked)
2 15-oz. cans cannellini or navy beans, drained (or 8 oz. dried beans, cooked)
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
1 15-oz. package frozen corn (or two ears corn, boiled and kernels cut off)
1/4 c. cilantro leaves, minced

Make the dressing by placing the vinegar, mustard, cumin, garlic, pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Slowly pour in the olive oil while processing till mixture is emulsified.

In large salad bowl, combine all salad ingredients, pour the dressing over the top and stir gently. Best when refrigerated for at least one hour before serving.

The Garden, Week 12: Carrots & Lettuce & Peas, Oh My!

First it was radishes and some really wild greens, then pea shoot pesto, snap peas and chard, and now there are carrots, head lettuces and the second crop of radishes. And before you know it we'll have peppers (paprika and Nardello's are lookin' good!) and tomatoes.


And pretty soon I'm going to have to start thinking of fall crops to replace the carrots and peas when they give out. All in the very manageable space of two (smallish raised beds) and a little parking strip. Though Dave doesn't know I've got plans for two more raised beds on our slope, poor guy.

Now I've got to start researching the best places to get a couple of fig trees to plant along the fence where the arbor vitae used to be. I'm leaning toward black mission or brown turkey, but any suggestions are welcome!