Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Get Out of the Way

As Clare of Big Table Farm says here, whether it's the animals they raise, the wine that she and her husband Brian Marcy make or the food they grow and prepare, they just try to get out of the way and follow their instincts. Pretty good advice no matter what you do!

This video was produced by Outstanding in the Field and also features chef Jason French of Ned Ludd.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Simple Pleasures of Summer

One of the benefits of travel is getting inspired by new sights, sounds and tastes. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood did just that on a recent trip down south and brought back an easy way to sweeten the last days of summer.

We’re just back after spending a long weekend in San Francisco; we ate a lot, but I didn’t do much cooking. We did drink many delicious cocktails with Joe (he works at the world’s best rum bar, Smugglers Cove), and while I’m not much of cocktail innovator myself, I’ve often thought this lemon verbena syrup could be put to good use in something alcoholic. It makes iced tea wonderful, and I’ve used it to make sorbet. Or mix a little into creme fraiche to top grilled fruit.

The compounds that give verbena its unique flavor are heat sensitive, so any kind of hot water extraction is less than satisfying. I learned this cold water technique from Jerry Traunfeld when he was chef at the Herb Farm. It captures that unique lemon verbena flavor.

Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup

The most difficult thing about making this is finding the lemon verbena.* I’ve never seen any for sale fresh, so you either need to be growing it yourself or know somebody who’s got a plant. Once you get over the acquisition hurdle, the rest is easy.

Combine a handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves with a cup or so of sugar in the food processor. Hit the “on” button and process until the leaves are nothing but green flecks in the sugar.

Blend the now greenish sugar into about the same amount of cold water (roughly a cup if you used a cup of sugar). Stir well for a few minutes so the sugar is completely dissolved. Strain the syrup through a clean dish towel or several layers of cheesecloth; discard the solids. The syrup will keep refrigerated for several weeks.

* Lemon balm, or melissa officinalis, also known as lemon mint, is not related to verbena. It grows like a week in my yard and, though he's not familiar with it for this purpose, Jim says it's worth a try. I'll keep you posted, and do chime in if you've used it for syrup.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Found: A Piece of Beervana History

We used to be big garage sale fans. Dave would scour the paper early Saturday morning, circling his picks in the classifieds, with those offering tools or, especially old woodworking planes, in bright red ink. After a cup of coffee I'd take a crack at the ads and we'd map our route to get to as many of our best picks within the couple of hours of precious weekend time we could devote to the hunt.

In the last few years we've slacked off, realizing that at this point we need to get rid of stuff rather than accumulate it. Though once in a great while we'll come across a treasure that just can't be passed up.

This morning Dave came home from running errands with a real find. Stopping at a sale in the Hollywood area, he noticed some brewpub growlers sitting on a table. One in particular stopped him dead in his tracks. On the front was a sticker announcing it was from Old World Pub & Brewery, an early but short-lived brewery and café that was taken over by Mike DeKalb's nascent Laurelwood Brewing.

We'd gone to Old World to check it out and, while the food was uneven, its beers were spectacular, the work of a young and then-unknown brewer by the name of Christian Ettinger. When Old World morphed into Laurelwood, Ettinger stayed with the company, developing an award-winning array of hop-forward beers that would help define the Northwest style of brewing. As most beer fans know, he left Laurelwood after several years to start his own Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB), an all-organic brewpub and café on SE Powell, opening the Hopworks BikeBar on North Williams this summer.

The woman who was giving the garage sale rolled her eyes when Dave handed over his money and, pointing at the growler, said, "Portland brewing history!" But, needless to say, he's beside himself with excitement over his treasure, and can't wait to take it to Hopworks and get it filled. The question is, will they notice?

Farm Bulletin: Teasing Out the Threads of an Outbreak

This week contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm takes a stab at teasing out the complex threads of an issue that all farmers of field crops contend with (and fear): contamination. From whatever source, whether animals, water or acts of the gods, every farmer must be vigilant and regularly train workers in detection and prevention methods. His livelihood, and that of the community, depends on it…yet another reason to know your farmer.

This week was a reminder as to why our primary business code is berry farming. Berries will occupy us seven days a week into the next month.

We had planned to include a longer essay providing our perspective on the illnesses linked to strawberries. Somehow or another, it didn't gel written despite several attempts. There were several threads that refused to come together in a cohesive, manageable piece.

The first is our desire to assure you all that we have been taking this issue seriously for years. Our commercial farming career started in the post-Odwalla era. That outbreak initiated a huge change in the organic farming community, and harvest sanitation is included in the certification audit.

There is also the anger that these scourges of the giant feedlots have contaminated the natural world around us, all for cheaper chicken breasts and hamburger. The victims, their families and a farm have had their lives turned upside down, and the anguish will continue during the months or years of litigation while the true culprits continue to rake in massive profits.*

Then there is the emerging understanding of how these organisms operate in terms of their ecology and pathology. This is not problem we can rinse our way out of, despite the banal advice proffered by the pubic health officials. These are tough, persistent organisms and we must employ every strategy possible to avoid contamination in the first instance. Our understanding of these organism is still fragmentary and deficient.

There is a public policy dimension to this issue. In this case, it was a local outbreak handled by local officials who decisively identified the food and farm involved, the outlets where the berries were sold and a likely source of the contamination: deer scat. A measured and professional response by our local agriculture and public health officials prevented a panic. Great credit is due to our state epidemiologist, Charles Keene, and our director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Katy Coba.

Finally, the incident underscored the wisdom of Hillsdale being a true farmers market, where reselling some other farm's fruits and vegetables is prohibited. Farmers' markets should be different than bricks and mortar types of stores, and allowing resale blurs that distinction.

You can why the essay rolled out of control. It is a complex subject, and it is on our minds all of the time that we are growing the food we sell.

[* There is concern that the deer might have come into contact with the e. coli bacteria when grazing near a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) in the area of the strawberry farm. By grazing in an e. coli-contaminated area then wandering into a strawberry field to graze on the plants, the deer then contaminated the ground-level fruit with their droppings. - KAB]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thinking of Eating: Roger Grows Up

I got a call from Clare the other day saying that Don and Roger were growing much faster than she expected and would reach their ideal slaughter weight a couple of weeks before she'd anticipated.

You might remember the last time I went out, the pigs weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. Don has always been the larger of the two, outweighing Roger by ten or so pounds, and he's definitely the more food-oriented. It was obvious when we went out to feed them table scraps and vegetable trimmings—Don went right for their food bowl, while Roger stood and leaned against me, insisting on getting scratches before he joined his brother.

After playing some piggy tag with them, Clare suggested feeding them some of the blackberries from the bushes just outside the pasture. Now, these are big animals, at least three times the size of the biggest dog I've played with. Even Walker has surprised well-meaning guests when they've proferred a treat and in his excitement he's taken their whole hand into his mouth.

But when I offered Roger a juicy blackberry, rather than chomping down, he gently took it from my fingers with his lips and swallowed, grunting appreciatively. After several more he ran off to play with Don, who'd decided that he was through with this dainty exercise and had gone to the grain bucket for some real chow.

While Don was munching away, we gauged his weight by measuring him with string. Yes, you heard me right. You take a five foot or so length of string, put one end between your pig's ears and run it down his back to the base of his tail (illustration, right), then mark it with tape or a knot. Then you measure his girth by putting the string around him just behind his front legs. Measure the marks on the string with a tape measure, use the following formula and you'll get a weight that Clare has found accurate (on pigs…not so much on people or dogs) to within five pounds:

Weight (lbs) = (Length x Girth x Girth) ÷ 400 (inches)

Which put Don at about 285, making Roger's weight around 270, confirming her suspicion that they were going to be ready for slaughter any time in the next couple of weeks.

Not to get off track, but we had a delicious posole verde the other day, made with pork shoulder that had been simmered for several hours till it was fall-apart tender. Served with rice and a cabbage slaw it was fabulous. I no more thought about the pig that shoulder came from than I thought about the plant the tomatillos came from.

Which is where this whole thing gets complicated. I find myself thinking at odd moments about Roger, who's definitely a people-oriented guy, and I'm getting kind of attached to him for just that reason. It's hard thinking he's going to be killed in just a couple of weeks and I'm frankly not looking forward to being there.

Having been through this several times before, Clare says she find it helps to replace the sadness with feelings of gratitude, so I'll be working on that in the coming days. I'll keep you posted.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger and Me, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes, The Meat of the Matter and Pasture to Plate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Smokin' Fish

We are firm Craigslist devotées. In addition to buying our living room furniture, teak outdoor dining table and some of my most prized pieces of Bauer ware from it, we've managed to sell some of the crap…I mean…hard-to-part-with and probably valuable items that were stacked in our basement for way more money and with way less pain than having a garage sale.

One of our best purchases, though, was the practically brand new and ridiculously cheap Weber Smokey Mountain (left) that has provided bellies-full of brisket, ribs, pork belly and pernil for the last couple of years.

So with albacore season in full swing, it was time to dive into the deep end and smoke some fish. West Coast albacore makes a perfect candidate with its high fat content and meaty texture. Plus, as opposed to pork belly which takes a solid week to cure and a full day to smoke, a loin of fish takes less than an afternoon to produce a bounty of toothy, tender and totally mouth-watering smoky deliciousness.

If you're spending any time at all at the coast, or just want an excuse to make a day trip over there, stop in at the local fish processing plant and pick up a loin or two. Or heck, even buy the whole thing and have them cut it up for you. Then you can freeze a couple of loins and smoke the other two!

Smoked Albacore Loin
Adapted from a Jan. '08 forum post on Sportfishermen.com by Andaman Andy

For the brine:
1 gal. water, room temperature
2 c. salt
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. white pepper

2 albacore loins (3-4 lbs.)

For the brine, mix all ingredients until everything is dissolved. (Dave made about 1 1/2 batches of brine to cover all the fish.)

Cut the loins into 4" chunks for ease of submerging and later handling. Put the fish into a container large enough to allow the fish to be completely submerged but not piled on top of each other. (Dave used two Pyrex baking pans for two loins.)

Pour the mixture over the fish so it's completely submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour.

After brining rinse the fish quickly under cold water. Pat dry and place the fish on a lightly oiled wire rack elevated on a tray. (Dave mentioned that the forum post said to place the racks in front of a fan in a place where flies and pets can't get at it.) This is intended to allow a  thin glaze ("pellicle") to develop; it's supposed to be a little sticky, and it helps the fish maintain moisture and allow smoke to adhere to the fish. We just put the tray into the refrigerator to wait for the pellicle.

Dave removed the fish from the refrigerator after about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, but he felt that may have been a little early.

Put the fish onto the cleaned and well-oiled grate of a smoker at 180-200 degrees. The fish is done when you can flake it easily with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. (Ours took about 1 1/2-2 hours to be done.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oregon Albacore A to Z

With albacore season in full swing, it seemed like a good time to run this article, which I wrote last season for NW Palate magazine.

Wind off the ocean whipped through the rigging on his boat, and sea lions barked in the background as albacore tuna fisherman Rick Goché recalled growing up on Tillamook Bay on Oregon’s north coast.

“I’ve been fish crazy since I can remember,” he said. “When I was old enough to make my way down to the creek, I was fishing with a safety pin and a string. I can still remember when I got my first factory-made hook.”

Rick Goché's boat, the Peso II.

Goché grew up to be a fisherman; today, he fishes the Pacific Northwest’s deep, abundant waters, casting off from Coos Bay for two to six weeks at a time. It’s hard work, and definitely not child’s play. “When you’re a hundred, 200, 300 miles offshore, it’s not like you can duck into a port when the weather gets bad,” he says.

His brother, Larry (below right), fishes with him, and his son, his daughter, and his grandson have taken turns on the boat as well. He has hopes that his daughter Lauren, who will be working on tuna boat this summer, may eventually take up fishing as a career.

“Even though she won’t be on the boat,” he said, “it’ll be cool to be on the water with her.”

Larry Goché on board the Peso II.

The average age of a fishboat owner is 62 (Goché is 57—“I’m one of the young guys,” he says), and the industry has had trouble attracting younger people into a career that not only is dangerous but also requires hard physical labor and long periods away from home.

Another issue facing the industry is consumer awareness, a concern voiced by chef Eric Jenkins while he was handing out samples of hot-off-the-grill wild West Coast albacore outside a Portland-area Whole Foods market. “I’ve had a couple of people say they won’t eat fish because of the mercury,” he said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Wayne Heikkila, a second-generation albacore fishboat owner and now executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). “[People] don’t know tuna from albacore, or skipjack from yellowtail.”

Unloading the albacore from the hold.

The tuna most of us grew up eating in casseroles and sandwiches was probably skipjack, which is caught on giant factory ships that operate in the deep, tropical oceans of the world and is sold under brand names like StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea. Nearly all of those ships are longline fisheries, which tow a fishing line several miles long with thousands of hooks baited at regular intervals along its length. The problem with this method is that it produces significant bycatch—meaning that it also hooks endangered and threatened sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and other fish besides skipjack.

The tuna caught in these deep waters are several years old and can weigh 40 to 60 pounds. They have absorbed mercury and other toxins, enough to cause the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to advise pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to limit their intake of the fish.

Those warnings have caused big headaches for the West Coast albacore industry.

That’s because the advisories don’t distinguish between the albacore caught in the deeper oceans and those younger and smaller tuna caught off the West Coast of the United States and Canada. Ranging in age from three to five years old and weighing 12 to 25 pounds, these younger albacore simply have not spent enough time in the ocean environment to contain the levels of mercury found in the larger, older fish.

Heikkila is frustrated that so much of the albacore caught off our own coast is exported to Japan for sushi, and that Northwest foodies would rather buy a can of albacore tuna from Spain (produced, ironically, from West Coast albacore that is exported to that country) than albacore caught and canned on their own coastline.

Fresh Oregon albacore just before it's sealed.

“We’re trying to get consumers to eat more of the local product,” Heikkila said. Approximately 16,000 to 23,000 tons of albacore are caught per year. “It’s crazy—we send 80% to 90% of it to other countries and then the U.S. consumer has to buy it from overseas. That money could go into local fishermen’s pockets.”

What’s more, Northwest consumers are generally unaware that these local fish are caught one at a time using what’s called a pole-and-line or troll-and-jig method. This approach employs 10 to 15 lines of nylon cord measuring six to 100 feet long that are towed behind a boat. Each line has a barbless “jig” or lure at the end that is attached to a double barbless hook. When a fish bites the jig, the fisherman hauls it by hand into the boat, allowing the fishermen to keep only “right-size” fish and eliminating bycatch.

The Goché's Sacred Sea brand albacore.

The U.S. and Canadian albacore fisheries in the North Pacific, made up of mostly small, family-owned boats like Rick Goché’s, received a boost last year when Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that evaluates the ecological sustainability of wild-caught and farmed seafood, listed U.S. and Canadian troll- and pole-caught albacore from the North Pacific as a “Best Choice” due to negligible bycatch and the healthy stock of albacore in the region.

But the biggest shift in public awareness may come from the recent announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which has certified the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF), an albacore fishery of Canadian-based boats, and the U.S.-based WFOA as sustainable and well-managed.

“It’s a very rigorous, on-site process that looks at a fishery as opposed to a sweeping view of a species,” said Kerry Coughlin, the Regional Director for the Americas of the MSC. “It’s our view that’s how you get a very rigorous assessment process that’s accurate, and it’s how, in some cases where fisheries aren’t sustainable, you’re going to bring about change on the water.”

And when they see the blue MSC label (right) in their grocer’s seafood case or on a can of albacore, “consumers can have the assurance that it is an environmentally responsible choice,” Coughlin said. And, because they come from younger fish, the fresh loins of albacore available from July through October at most retailers contain more have more “puppy fat,” as an industry spokesperson called it.

“I think it’s moister,” Jenkins said. “It seems to have higher fat levels, particularly concentrated in the belly.” His suggestion to consumers buying a whole loin is to ask their butcher to keep the belly meat on, adding that many butchers either keep it for themselves even cut it out, which he considers a travesty.

Locally canned albacore would be almost as much of a shock to most shoppers. The major-brand tuna on their grocery shelves was caught and frozen at sea, then thawed at a cannery and cooked in big steamers, where it loses much of its natural juices and fats. It is then packed in cans and cooked again, requiring the addition of water or oil to keep it moist.

That contrasts with most local tuna, which is packed in cans when it’s fresh and cooked only once, sealing in the natural juices and not requiring the addition of oil or water to keep it moist.
Between MSC certification and a growing concern among consumers about where their food comes from, families that depend on the North Pacific albacore are seeing a brighter future for their children, and a way of life that they prize.

“On a boat, you have to have all your senses attuned to your boat and the fish and your gear, but what it comes down to is stay alive and fill up the boat,” said Rick Goché. “When I pull away from the dock and I cross the bar and I feel the ocean lifting the boat, I leave everything behind as much as possible. Sure, I miss my family, but I don’t miss all the complexities of being on land.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sugar Low? Have Dessert!

When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes, make lemonade. So when life gave contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood some less-than-luscious apricots, he knew exactly what to do with them. 

The cool weather we’ve had keeps fruit from developing enough sugar, and the result is disappointment when you expect that sweet taste of summer. While it may not evoke the sun when eaten out of hand, a lot of less-than-perfect fruit can be redeemed with a little help. I love apricots, and this simple trick lets me eat a lot more, even when they’ve been missing the sunshine as much as the rest of us.

Olive Oil & Honey Roasted Apricots with Creme Fraiche

Cut the apricots in half and remove the pits. Arrange them cut side up on a baking sheet, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, then enough honey so that each one gets about a teaspoon’s worth. Roast at 350° for about 30 minutes or until they get a little brown.

You can eat these warm, but I prefer to chill the fruit. Put the sheet pan in the refrigerator for a few hours, then transfer to a bowl or jar. Be sure to get the collected juices off the pan, too.

And while they’re good plain, they’re even better topped with a dollop of creme fraiche. To make your own, stir about 2 Tbsp. of Nancy’s yogurt (doesn’t matter if it’s whole milk or nonfat, but I always use Nancy’s because it’s got a lot of live cultures) into a half pint of heavy cream, cover, and let sit in a warm place overnight. Chill for a few more hours and it’ll get even thicker.

Mix a little of the apricot roasting juices into some of the creme fraiche, then spoon it over the roasted fruit. Garnish with fresh mint for company. Roast enough to have leftovers; I like them plain, too.

Photo by Jim Dixon.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Husband, the Car Nut

I married a car guy. He reads the car sections in the newspapers and knows what the latest consumer report says about the new models. He loves those goofy cable shows where a group of guys each gets a car and races it to a destination, or where a couple of guys take an old wreck and turn it into a giant popcorn popper.

1948 Tucker Model 48 Torpedo.

His favorite car movies? I'll bet you can guess: Bullitt. The French Connection. The Italian Job (the first one). And heaven forfend if a 1967 Mustang shows up in a movie that's supposed to be set in 1965, even if it's in the background of a shot. I've lost the thread of many a plot due to the rewinding that takes place when he's trying to identify an out-of-focus car in the distance.

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster.

So when the Portland Art Museum announced they were scheduling an exhibition called The Allure of the Automobile, let's just say it was a foregone conclusion that we'd be going. I thought I'd take one for the team, put on my martyr suit and accompany him as he oohed and aahed over a bunch of antique cars. Then after the first twenty minutes of excruciating boredom I could excuse myself and hit the coffee shop while he continued ogling.

Detail of 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante.

When we walked in, the first car in the exhibit, a 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Coupe, had me cocking my head over its muscular lines and exquisite engineering. And I was dying to run my hands over the ostrich skin seats in the 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante. Then there was the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS “Teardrop” Coupe that would be so fun to drive down the Champs Elysées and around the Arc de Triomphe.

1948 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow.

And that's what this exhibition does to you. Even if you're not a car nut like Dave, you'll be imagining sitting beside Steve McQueen in his 1957 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster, terrorizing the residents of that twisty two-lane backroad in Los Angeles called Mulholland Drive.

Details: The Allure of the Automobile at the Portland Art Museum. Now through Sept. 11. Tickets available online.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Livin' in the Blurbs: Challenge, Celebrate, Win!

There's nothing like watching chefs go toque-to-toque for culinary supremacy as evidenced by the popularity of Iron Chef and its ilk. But if you've never seen a live version of this food fight, get yourself down to Pioneer Courthouse Square on Monday, Aug. 22, for the Country Chef Challenge at the Portland Farmers' Market. The throw-down for three of Portland's premier chefs, Anthony "Kid" Cafiero, Jason "Roundhouse" French and Cathy "Rabbit Punch" Whims, is to shop the market in 30 minutes for ingredients to make a dish of their choice, then to make that dish within 30 minutes. The top prize for best dish will be awarded by a panel of celebrity judges, and visitors will get reusable canvas bags and a chance to win a $100 gift card to each of the competing chefs’ restaurants. So do you think the tomato logo looks more like French or Cafiero? (Just asking.)

Details: Country Financial Country Chef Challenge. Mon., Aug. 22, 11:30 am-1 pm; free. Portland Farmers' Market at Pioneer Courthouse Square, SW Broadway & Morrison St. 503-241-0032.

* * *

Hillsdale Main Street was founded to  rejuvenate and invigorate Southwest Portland's Hillsdale community, and it's throwing a giant Paella Party to celebrate the neighborhood's awesomeness. Not coincidentally, it's also going to be the largest paella ever made in Oregon, with the traditional Valencian dish of rice, saffron, meats and vegetables cooked in a five foot wide paella pan that will serve 300. Chef Ted Coonfield has primary responsibility for pulling off this culinary feat, but preparing a monster like this is more than one man can handle, so he's enlisted the aid of his pals Greg Higgins of Higgins Restaurant and Bar and Chris Biard from Napa's Auberge du Soleil. The evening will include making the paella, yes, but will also feature flamenco dancers and wine tasting, with tapas, breads and desserts from Baker & Spice. So get in on this record-setting opportunity and enjoy a late summer evening in a great Portland neighborhood.

Details: Hillsdale Paella Dinner. Sat., Sept. 10, 6 pm; $75, tickets available online. Event will take place next to Korkage Wine Shop, 6351 SW Capitol Hwy. Info: 503-896-9211.

* * *

Call it soda pop, pop, soda, or soft drink, Portland's own Hotlips Soda is bent on not being just another beverage battling for your thirst, but a true People's Soda. To celebrate their 1,000,000th bottle, they're asking you to share how you enjoy your favorite Hotlips Soda flavor in a photo, drawing, recipe, video or even a song. They'll be awarding prizes from now until Sept. 9 on a daily and weekly basis, and then pick a grand prize winner to receive a case of 24 bottles of the winner's favorite soda. So if you're a fan, check the contest web page for entry details.

Details: Hotlips Soda's 1,000,000th Bottle Contest. Entry details on their website.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stuffing Myself for a Good Cause

Field to table. Farm to table. Plate and pitchfork. Outstanding in the field.

The table awaits.

I've been hearing those phrases everywhere this summer, and they pretty much all mean dining outdoors under the stars, feasting on fresh-from-the-farm produce and meats prepared by local chefs dedicated to seasonal cuisine. It goes without saying they're served with locally produced wines from some of the state's premier winemakers. Some of these events happen on actual working farms, some on restaurant patios, others on private lawns or at wineries.

Dinner in progress.

They're generally not cheap, costing anywhere from $100 to more than $200 per plate, serving from a dozen to a hundred folks at a time. Some are benefits for charity, others are for-profit businesses. But all of them have a interest in spreading the gospel of local food and celebrating the region's bounty.

Wood oven-baked fig and fennel seed flatbread.

Me? I'd never been to one, so when Zenger Farm asked me to attend their first-ever Farm Supper, I jumped at the chance. And not only because I knew the food would be fantastic, prepared by my friend, chef and Zenger board member Linda Colwell and the inimitable Mark Doxtader of Tastebud, with wine poured by Ben Thomas of Montinore Estate. It's because proceeds from the dinner, which totalled nearly $3,000, would go toward Zenger's work educating youth and adults about where good food comes from.

Corn spoonbread.

I arrived to find Mark hunkered over his brick oven, pulling out the perfectly browned fig and fennel flatbread and bubbling roasted peaches and cherries that would start the dinner. These paired perfectly with Ancient Heritage Dairy's Adelle cheese with its delicate ooze and creamy center, and the crisp pinot gris and Müller-Thurgau that Ben was pouring.

Tomato zucchini gratin.

There was a brief tour of the farm, which offered sweeping views over well-tended fields down to the green wetland, all of 16 acres along the Springwater Corridor. Then the twenty or so guests were seated on wooden benches lining an elegantly appointed table next to the farm's barn. The four, yes, four wine glasses looked really promising, and the first course of a bright pink Eastern European-inspired sour cherry soup (top photo) with Montinore's slightly dry, strikingly delicious gevurztraminer had me closing my eyes and sighing with pleasure.

Full plates, happy diners.

The second, main course was an explosion of summer on a plate with…get this…a large meatball-sized lamb kebab, wood oven-roasted corn spoon bread , a tomato-zucchini gratin and a frikeh, beet, carrot and purslane salad. Crazy! That was washed down with two of Montinore's premier reds, their Parsons’ Ridge and Graham’s Block 7 pinots, both insanely good, matching especially well with the smoke from Mark's oven.

Panna cotta with blackberry coulis.

I was already groaning when the dessert, softly oblique cylinders of panna cotta topped with Chester blackberries, came dancing out on sweet pastel-colored glass plates. As the sun was setting, Ben couldn't help but offer Montinore's completely over-the-top ruby port and watch as the whole crew swooned.

Tired but happy chefs.

To say the evening couldn't have been better would be true, but knowing that it benefitted this unique educational community center made it stellar. I'd highly encourage you to check their calendar for upcoming dinners and events that help support this great organization.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Frikeh in the Making

An excellent video just out from my friends Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy at Cooking Up a Story with a great explanation of how frikeh is made. Plus you get to see contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in action, a rare treat.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tomato Sandwich, Tweaked

Though I'm sure he doesn't mean to (he's a bonafide sweetie), this week contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood mocks my lack of ripe tomatoes.

This time last summer I had yet to pick a tomato from my garden. While the weather this year has been depressingly similar, I ate my first homegrown tomato last week. Moving the plants out to our south-facing driveway, a heat sink that’s always about 10 degrees warmer than the beds in back, is why. Whether you have just one or a basketful or buy them at the farmers market, eat ripe tomatoes like this.

Deconstructed Tomato Sandwich

If you’ve been reading my postings for long, you’ve seen this before. But keep reading, because this year’s version is a little different. For those new the to DTS, here’s the backstory.

Fresh, in season, “real” tomatoes don’t need much embellishment. Salt, extra virgin olive oil, and good bread. (And mayo, which is basically more oil and egg, if you lean that way; I think Best Foods, Hellman’s to the easterners, is just fine, though you can make your own if you want.) But a traditional sandwich gets too messy if you load it up with tomatoes. So my version devolved to a pile of sandwich ingredients and skips the assembly.

Toast a few slices of good bread. For me, that means Ken’s, New Seasons wheat levain, or Grand Central campangolo. While the bread is toasting, slice the tomatoes, as many as you can eat, and sprinkle with flor de sal. Drizzle the bread with extra virgin olive oil (that’s the new part). Put a slice of tomato on a piece of toast, add a nice dab of mayo, and eat. Repeat as long as the tomatoes keep coming.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Equal Time for Kitties

I got an e-mail recently from the Association for Fair Treatment of Felines about the amount of time that the dogs were getting on the blog.

The threatening tone and noises being made about "cease and desist," civil rights violations and other unpleasantnesses had me going, "All right, all right already!"

So here you go, AFTF. Happy now?

Farm Bulletin: Plums and Celebrating the Slump

It is truly the height of the summer season, and it only gets better from here on out. Plums for tarts and clafoutis, berries for pie, crisp, cobbler and slump…what's not to like? Contributor Anthony Boutard shares what you'll under the Ayers Creek Farm gaily colored banner this week.

Imperial Epineuse Plums

This is a superb free stone dessert prune from the Clairac region of France. It is the first of the top quality plums to ripen with us. In The Plums of New York, U.P. Hedrick notes that the original seedling was found in an old monastery around 1870. It was brought to California by Felix Gillett around 1883, and few years later trials were planted in Oregon. Gillet touted the virtues of the prune, which he called the 'Clairac Mammoth', in the Eighth Biennial Report of Oregon Board of Agriculture (1905).

Nonetheless, it never gained a commercial foothold here, which is a pity. It has proved a reliable plum for us. The texture is very fine, and some pomologists have suggested that it may have a bit of damson in its background. The skin provides a pleasing and contrasting acidic note. Most of our plums have have had another very bad set because of the cool spring. The gages and Fellenberg (Italian) prune trees are almost bare again.

Chester Blackberries

Our good friend, Martie Sucec, gave us this old Gourmet Magazine recipe for Blackberry Slump when we started at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Martie was our first customer on that Bastille Day, 2002, and the first entry on this email list. That first week, we had some boysenberries, and lots of summer squash and red currants. Our daughter Caroline, who now runs Italy Hill Produce in Branchport, New York, helped us out that summer

We returned home with some summer squash and lots of red currants. After expressing her approval of our boysenberries, Martie returned the following week with a still warm-from-the-oven slump and a stack of recipes on sturdy oatmeal paper. This is our 171st newsletter and market, and while the market and our farm have both evolved, the very qualities of the market that we loved from that first day remain, exemplified by Martie's return each week. And we still have lots of currants on Bastille Day, but they sell now, part of the evolution.

The slump is simple to make. It has become a favorite among our Hillsdale customers. Last week, several people mentioned how much they enjoy the slump, so it worth reprising again this year.

Blackberry Slump
Courtesy of Martie Sucec and Gourmet Magazine

4 c. fresh blackberries (2-3 pints)
2 tsp. lemon juice (add some zest, if you like more lemony flavor)
3/4 c. sugar; depending on the sweetness of berries, or to taste
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk (whole,  2%, hemp or soy) room temperature
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375°.

Put berries in an ungreased 5 to 6-cup casserole, gratin dish, deep dish or ceramic pie plate and sprinkle evenly with about 1/2 cup of the sugar. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar into a medium bowl. Add milk and melted butter and whisk until smooth, then pour over berries (don’t worry if berries are not completely covered). Bake slump in middle of oven until top is golden, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Plum photo from Territorial Seed Company.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Less Stress, Better Lives

It was a case of unintended consequences.

The Bush recession, in addition to throwing millions of middle class Americans out of work and decimating retirement funds, made life much harder for small farmers who depended on selling the meat from the animals they raised. That's because many smaller, local slaughterhouses closed, leaving farmers with no choice but to truck their animals hours away to a larger slaughter facility. Catering to large producers, small farmers were often crowded out of line at these large facilities.

Not only did they have to spend more time getting their animals to the slaughterhouse, high gas prices made it prohibitively expensive. As outlined in the video above, a group of farmers in Pierce County, Washington, got together and developed their own solution: a USDA-approved mobile slaughter unit.

Note: No animals are shown being killed in the video above.

Cool as a Cucumber

I'm not what you'd call a woo-woo person. Or one who believes that our path is laid out for us like some version of Prince of Persia, where we have to figure out how to jump over the pit of spikes and defeat the "boss" to finish the game. But once in awhile the timing of things seems a tad cosmic.

For instance, it was just about cocktail hour the other evening…you know, when you're supposed to be thinking about what to make for dinner but would really rather put it off for an hour…when I checked my Twitter feed and noticed that Imbibe magazine had tweeted a link to a new cocktail recipe. Hmmm, I said to myself, what could it be?

Well, my friends, it turned out that it was the Cucumber Cooler, described as a "contemporary twist on a gin & tonic." And it called for cucumbers, several of which a friend had (air quotes here) coincidentally just harvested from his garden and shared with us. So call it synchronicity, call it fate, just be sure to call me when it's ready.

Link to recipe here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thinking of Eating: Roger and Me

Can I eat an animal I've played tag with?

It's a question I've been struggling with since committing to buy half a pig from my friend Clare Carver at Big Table Farm. Twice a year for the last several years, Clare has bought two organically-certified weaner pigs from her friends Amy Benson and Chris Roehm at Square Peg Farm, and I'd promised myself that someday I'd get one.

Genuine pigtail.

This spring she got two Berkshire Cross pigs, a heritage breed known to thrive on pasture and whose meat is darker and far more flavorful than store-bought. Named Don and Roger after two of the main characters from the TV series Madmen, they're being raised inside an electrified tape corral on grass pasture. The corral is moved every few weeks in a process called rotational grazing, an especially good idea since young pigs like to root around, roll and generally tear up the ground. Their diet consists of grass, organic grain, occasional treats of the farm's organic eggs and scraps and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen.

Clare doesn't believe in moving her animals off the farm for slaughter because of the stress it puts on them and the effect that can have on the quality of the meat (see previous story here). So when Don and Roger reach 270 pounds or so they'll be killed in their pasture on the farm.

One happy guy.

Which is a problem when it comes to selling her pasture-raised, humanely treated pigs to people like me, who are looking for exactly that kind of meat for our tables. That's because the only meat that the USDA allows farmers to sell to the public must be killed in a USDA-approved facility, and there are no USDA-approved mobile slaughter units in Oregon for Clare to call on. But an exception to that rule allows her to offer her pigs to buyers while the animals are still alive in an arrangement where the buyer ostensibly pays the farmer to raise the pigs for them and pay separately for their slaughter and butchering.

Which is where I came in.

Playing in the sprinkler. Roger's on the left.

When she got her weaners, Clare sent out an e-mail to her list of interested pig-buyers offering half a pig to three buyers (she and Brian will keep one half for themselves). I responded quickly to the first-come-first-serve offer and will get half of Roger sometime in September. I plan to attend the killing and slaughter, then take my half to Portland's Culinary Workshop where co-owner Melinda Casady will guide Dave and I in butchering the meat.

So far I've made two trips to the farm to visit Roger. On the first visit he and Don weighed in at around 100 pounds, about the size of a big dog (top photo). I'm always startled at how much like dogs they are as they run around and play with each other, obviously enjoying rolling in the dirt or grunting with pleasure as they scratch themselves against their mobile pig house, dubbed the "Winnapigo."

If this is slop, give me some, too!

They'll even play a piggy version of tag, ears pricked up at attention as you run behind their house, running around to "tag" you when you peek out, then dashing away to start again. On my second trip three weeks later they weighed around 200 pounds (above left and right). Clare turned on the hose and they ran under its arcing spray like kids playing in a sprinkler on a hot summer day.

My next visit is in a little more than a week, with slaughter scheduled for mid-September. And while I have no illusions about developing a deep relationship with Roger, I'm wondering if spending some time with him is going to change the experience of consumption in unexpected ways. Regardless, I'll be sure to let you know what happens in future installments.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger Grows Up, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes, The Meat of the Matter and Pasture to Plate.

Strawberry Fields Forever?

The information for this post came from articles by Lynne Terry in The Oregonian.

This weekend may be a test for area farmers who sell strawberries. That's because the berries from one area farm, Jaquith Strawberry Farm, were found to contain the bacteria E. coli 0157:H7, which has so far sickened 13 people and killed one.

All of the strawberries from the farm have been pulled off the market and farmers who purchased berries for resale to shore up their supplies have been notified. State health officials are asking anyone who thinks they may have purchased tainted berries to throw them out. That's because the bacteria, which at this point is thought to have come from the feces of deer, can live for some time in uncooked jam or even if frozen.

Unfortunately some area farmers' market vendors (link here) also resold the berries as their own, which is illegal, though some markets allow vendors to sell as much as 25 percent from another grower. Rebecca Landis, president of the Oregon Farmers' Markets Association, said, "The trend is toward saying no to resale." While tragic, this incident may prompt markets to forbid the practice altogether.

See the complete list of locations and vendors online, or download the list in pdf format.