Thursday, February 28, 2013

Food Farmer Earth: Hash Around the World

In part two of my interview for Food Farmer Earth with Clark Haass of Hashcapades, he talks about the history of hash, and what makes it such a ubiquitous dish.

Watch part one of this interview, Hash + Escapade = Hashcapade. In this week's kitchen segment, the multi-talented Michele Knaus shares her recipe for a classic Red Flannel Hash with Corned Beef. To get regular updates on local producers featured on Food Farmer Earth, consider a free subscription.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Canola Controversy: Write Right Now

If you haven't written to your legislator about the dangers presented by allowing canola to be grown in the Willamette Valley, now is the time to do it. Here's a letter from seed farmer Hank Keogh of Avoca Seed Farm about why he's pushing for the passage of House Bill 2427 (pdf of full text). Links to more information and for e-mail addresses of lawmakers are below Hank's letter.

[A note from Hank Keogh] I just wrote 14 legislators that might hear this bill in committee. You can too! It is important now because the Farm Bureau [the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture] has come out pro-canola. Feel free to use all or part of this message. See below for details on who to contact.

Please support House Bill 2427: Willamette Valley Canola Ban

My name is Hank Keogh. I was born and raised in Oregon, and I am now an organic vegetable seed farmer. I support legislation to prohibit the production of canola in the Willamette Valley.

We need a hearing on this canola ban bill because the Oregon Department of Agriculture has done a very poor job of handling the issue, incurring lawsuits from seed farmers, and ignoring research on the impacts of canola paid for by taxpayers and conducted by Oregon State University. In addition, planting time for canola is coming. If no action is taken to prevent this, canola will be planted and begin to spread and contaminate our crops.

Canola is a big problem for three different agricultural industries in Oregon: Specialty Vegetable Seeds worth $50 million, Fresh Vegetables at $30 million, and Clover Seed at $20 million. Canola directly crosses with seed crops, incubates and spreads pests and diseases to neighboring fresh vegetable and seed fields, and also contaminates clover seed through physical seed mixing. Canola is a subsidized commodity crop and adequate control measures would make it unprofitable. These three established industries, with a combined annual value of $100 million are being threatened by the possibility of canola worth less than $3 million. There is no co-existence.

Specialty vegetable seed is an established industry that pays healthy taxes and creates and keeps good jobs. Canola is subsidized $.05 per pound and requires minimal labor.

I am a farmer and the Farm Bureau does NOT represent me on this issue.

Please support a ban on canola in the Willamette Valley.

Thank you,

Hank Keogh

E-mail addresses of committees and legislators:

Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee:
Arnie Roblan, Chair
Herman Baertschiger Jr., Vice-Chair
Ginny Burdick (Senate President Pro Tempore)
Betsy Close
Floyd Prozanski

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee:
Brad Witt, Chair
Sal Esquivel, Vice-Chair
Caddy McKeown, Vice-Chair
Brian Clem
Wayne Krieger
Jeff Reardon
Jim Thompson
Ben Unger
Gail Whitsett

Find your legislators' e-mail addresses.

For more information on canola and the issues surrounding its production in the Willamette Valley, read the rest of the series, starting with "Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look" (links to other posts in the series at bottom).

Food Farmer Earth: Hash + Escapade = Hashcapade!

I was drooling all over myself doing this interview with Clark Haass for Food Farmer Earth, not just because he's bright, handsome and well-spoken, but because the dude can (and did) whip up a mighty fine plate of hash.

Clark Haass is bent on world domination, but not in the evil-overlord, bwa-ha-ha sense. He wants to bring the world to the table over a heaping plate of hash.

A senior business development manager for Intel, he spends his working hours in the capital division overseeing investments and acquisitions. But after work and on weekends, Clark Kent-like, he becomes Master of Hashcapades, crusader for a food he considers misunderstood and underappreciated.

It may have something to do with growing up in a family of six kids, where his mom took a break during the summer to go to art school, leaving his dad in charge of the tribe. Clark became known for what he called his “gourmet cinnamon toast,” recalling that later on his dad also taught him to cut up a chicken and make dinner.

Eventually Haass became a father of three himself, saying his “aha!” moment with hash came when he and his family went to the now-closed Roux restaurant in Portland and he ordered their trout hash. Its silky, lush texture combined with the salty smoked fish was an epiphany, and he vowed to recreate the dish at home.

Of his first efforts, he said, “It was good but it didn’t have the right combination of spices.” Single-mindedly, he kept working at it, substituting smoked salmon for the trout and adding crême fraiche, dill and half sweet potatoes, half white potatoes to achieve the the dish he’d imagined.

Read the rest of the story.

Watch part two of this interview, Hash Around the World. In this week's kitchen segment, the multi-talented Michele Knaus shares her recipe for a classic Red Flannel Hash with Corned Beef. To get regular updates on local producers featured on Food Farmer Earth, consider a free subscription.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Joys of Butchering

Last night we totally ignored the Oscars. Not intentionally, or in protest over the annual Sturm und Drang that churns up every year, dominating everything for weeks ahead of the event.

It was because our neighbors are planning to remodel their kitchen and I'd highly recommended the contractor who did ours. This, of course, necessitated a viewing of his handiwork and a discussion of the process involved in what is often a fraught undertaking. Which, in turn, provided the opportunity to suggest a live demonstration in the form of drinks and dinner the next weekend.

The drool-inducing standing rib roast.

It had been awhile since we'd pulled some Petunia out of the freezer, and grilled chops were sounding pretty tempting. So the day before the dinner I opened the freezer and pulled out three white paper packages labeled "2 Rib Chops." Now, it had been a little over two months since Linda and I had done the butchering, and I was a little foggy on some of the finer details of the decisions I'd made.

Assuming that the packages contained two chops each, I figured six would more than feed five people, so I set them out to start thawing. A few hours later I peeled off the paper and the plastic wrap and discovered that, instead of the six inch-and-a-half thick chops I expected, there were three humongous three-inch thick pieces, more like three small roasts (top photo).

Portioning Petunia.

That's when the memory rushed back of that long, cold day on the back porch at Ayers Creek Farm, working through the carcass and deciding what cuts to make, choices that would determine so many future meals. I remembered looking at the gorgeous section of the primal containing the backbone and the ribs, and the decision to cut one long five-rib roast (above left), destined to be the star of our Christmas dinner, and several double-rib chops.

The reasoning behind the double chops was two-fold: first, the way the backbone was constructed, it was easier to slice between every two ribs rather than every rib and, second, those huge chops would be singularly impressive to pull out for dinner sometime. And that's what I'm gradually learning is the true joy of butchering my own meat: I'm not only getting familiar with the structure of an animal, I get to make choices as to how it's divided, which then gives more choices for how to prepare it. Combined with the fact that I know exactly who raised the animal, what it was fed and where it was raised, as well as knowing that my money is going to support a small family farmer in my area who produces a sustainably and responsibly raised animal.

Though he'd never grilled pork chops that size, Dave decided to treat them like a pork roast, searing them over the coals, then pushing the coals to the side and roasting the chops over indirect heat. Moist, tender and luscious, these were chops that more than did right by the pig they came from. Thank you again, Petunia!

Photo of Petunia by Clare Carver.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Return of Malacca

It must have been a birthday or an anniversary, a celebration of some sort that required making a reservation and appearing at an appointed time in clothes we never wore around the house. Seated at the bar while waiting for our table, trying to look sophisticated in those unfamiliar-feeling outfits, the bartender asked what we'd like to drink.

This was in the days before I could ask for a gin by name, then descend down my preferred list until the bartender nodded an affirmation. Before I could rattle off "Plymouth martini, very dry, shaken, with olives, please" without thinking twice.

My response was to ask what he'd recommend. In this case, being the late 90s…I suspect around '97 or '98…he suggested a new gin called Malacca, made by Tanqueray, that was a little sweeter, a little more citrus-y than a traditional English gin. The cocktail he shook was a variation on the martini called a Cooperstown, the glass washed with vermouth and rubbed with mint before the chilled gin was added.

I still remember the bartender setting the glass on the bar, the slightly frosty martini glass, the crystal clear pool of liquid with the tiniest of mint leaves floating on its surface, how it tasted of lime and herbs and a hint of mint. We bought our own bottle and made that drink many times and it became, in many ways, our gateway to the world of cocktails. We were shocked a few years later…2001, to be precise…to find that Malacca was discontinued by the company.

While we tried to replicate it many times with other gins, nothing had that herbaceous, citrus-mint glint that we remembered. Then, twelve years later, there was the surprising news that the company had decided to bring back Malacca. Last week we were able to buy our first bottle (actually, two) and make that drink again, remembering nothing of the occasion that brought it into our lives, only the cool liquid pool with its delicate mint float.


Makes one drink.

3 oz. Malacca gin
Splash dry vermouth

Fill cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Add gin and shake. In chilled martini glass, add splash of vermouth. Using a mint leaf, rub the vermouth all around the inside surface of the glass. Discard vermouth and mint. Strain gin into the glass. Float a small mint leaf on the surface and serve.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Farm Bulletin: The Measure of a Farm

I begin this introduction with a clarion call to attend the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sunday, Feb. 17. That is because it is the last market of the winter season for Ayers Creek Farm, and the last time you can stock up on Anthony and Carol's greens, roots, corn and beans. Their outstanding preserves are available at several specialty groceries around town, including my brother's wine shop, Vino, on SE 28th and Ash. They return to their market stall at Hillsdale on July 7th.

Farm income and deductions are declared on the Schedule F of the personal income tax form. Every five years, the USDA conducts a census of people who file a Schedule F or a corporate return indicating farming as a business activity. Last year, 2012, was a reporting year for the Census of Agriculture, and we submitted our report on the 4th of February, right at the deadline. A response is required by law, and we are now spared a visit by a determined census enumerator.

The author of the first book on agriculture, De Agri Cultura, from around 200 BC was Cato the Censor. It is a good book on farming. As his title indicates, he also served a term as censor, the person responsible for maintaining a census of citizens. The censor was also responsible for public morals, hence the modern definition. Although modern census enumerators have no role in determining public morals, they are also not so well versed in agriculture as Marcus Porcius Cato was, so it made sense to send our answers in on time. Old Marcus was also a pecuniary and heartless s.o.b., as well as a nativist concerned about the encroachment of all things Greek, so we might have sent in the census even in his day to avoid hearing his extreme political views. Even today, the libertarian Cato Institute, its name and character derived from the Roman's family, still has its shorts twisted up about Greece. La plus ça change…

Aside from avoiding pesky enumerators, we willingly submit our farm data because the Census is used by government agencies and advocacy organizations to shape agricultural policy. If small market farms such as ours underreport, we lose visibility and a place at the table in policy debates. It takes a few hours to assemble the information and fill out the form. For highly diversified farms such as ours, it is a daunting task easy to put off until the very last minute.

Filling out the 24-page form is also frustrating because the structure of the questions reflects commodity farming where the production is sold as just so many widgets grown and harvested in standard units. Everything is reported in acres, whereas we measure our plantings in row feet or trees planted. For example, we planted 20,000 row feet of corn, and have no idea how many acres that is. Grains are reported in bushels, and legumes in hundred-weights harvested. The list of crops mirrors a suburban Safeway, not a vibrant urban market. With 72 different crops, tracking their individual yields is an utter waste of time; what is important is the picture that emerges from the mosaic, and the bank balance on the 31st of December. In many cases, we can back-out the numbers, others are wild guesses, and how on earth do you report frikeh*?

There are signs of progress. For example, the national census now includes questions about organic certification, community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers' markets. Nonetheless, the data garnered from those questions will give only a rough idea of how farming is changing. The balance of questions are grounded in the past, and will not provide a good sense of how agriculture is changing.

The USDA also manages field offices at the state level. As a matter of principle, we refuse to participate in those surveys that do not include the question of whether or not the crop is certified organic. Before the National Organic Program (NOP) was implemented, we were sampled in a detailed survey assessing chemical use on fruit crops. Press releases accompanying the survey's results lauded a drop in chemical usage on fruits as though farmers were using fewer chemicals across the board. Knowing that our organic farm was part of a small sample that drove that conclusion stuck in our craw. When we complained, we were told there was no generally accepted definition of organic so they couldn't collect that information.

In 2006, four years after NOP adoption, we were again included in the sample of the chemical use survey. Even though there were now legally binding national standards of what constitutes organic farming, the survey still did not collect that information, so we sent a letter explaining our refusal to answer. The director wrote back stating that it wasn't important to the survey on chemical usage to separate out farms that "have non-traditional production practices." The letter chided us for not participating and noted that "we will use computer models to estimate your information." A textbook case of bureaucratic insouciance. With a well-practiced script, we still carefully explain to the enumerators who visit or call why we refuse to participate. Amazingly, a survey of Oregon farms issued in December, 2012, a decade after the NOP adoption, still collects no information about the organic certification of the state's crops. It sits, untouched, on the desk.

Agricultural statistics are mired in the late 20th century industrial model of agriculture. The practices and marketing the USDA quaintly considers "non-traditional" are as old as agriculture itself. Heck, we still heed Cato's advice on a wide range of farm practices, even though his politics were obnoxious. With time, fresh ideas will creep into the census, but it is a slow process that needs some obdurate farmers to nudge it along.

* Watch a video of how frikeh is made, as well as a rare interview with Monsieur Boutard.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Holidays, Schmolidays: Bring On the Cola de Mono!

I love my neighborhood. Depending on the day, you can walk its tree-lined streets and catch the scent of smoke from barbecues and smokers wafting along the breeze. Other days the aromas of roasting chiles or the curry-like scents of Fijian cooking or the rich sauces of Chile will be brought to your nose. Let me tell you, it's more than once I've been known to shamelessly peer over the fence to comment on how delicious it smells, hoping the cook will get the hint and give me a bite.

We have an ongoing food-fest with our neighbors Kelly and Rodrigo. Kelly, a Texan, makes fabulous southern specialties like a deadly but irresistible Chess Pie, a little thing consisting of eggs, sugar, butter and more sugar. And more butter. And sugar. Rodrigo hails from Chile and treats us to Chilean delights like pastel de choclo (a beef and corn casserole) and chanco en piedra (tomato salsa served with bread).

Rodrigo had been talking about bringing over a Chilean holiday drink called Cola de Mono or Tail of a Monkey, a creamy, milk-based concoction laced with a goodly amount of pisco that tastes to me like a heady Bailey's. Pisco is a grape brandy that's made in the wine-growing regions of Chile and Peru. I'd only had it in cocktails like the Pisco Sour or, more recently, in the As You Like It, Dave Shenaut's creation featured as a special at Raven & Rose.

We'd scheduled a wine-and-snacks meetup here at the house with Kelly and Rodrigo, and when I opened the door and saw them bearing a full bottle labeled "Cola de Mono" in lacy script, I grabbed it, slammed the door and ran upstairs to slurp it in private. (Just kidding!)

After a few sips I begged for the recipe, and Rodrigo obliged. Cheers to terrific neighbors and sharing native libations!

Cola de Mono (Tail of a Monkey)

This is a traditional Chilean Christmas drink, usually served cold.

3 qts. whole milk
4 c. of sugar
Peel of an orange (about 1" wide by 2" long)
4 cloves
A pinch of nutmeg
1 stick of cinnamon
2 Tbsp. freshly ground coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 qt. Aguardiente*, grappa** or pisco

Boil milk with sugar, orange skin, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Once the milk has come to a boil, remove from stove and add the coffee and vanilla extract and stir constantly for about 5 to ten minutes or until the coffee dissolves as much as possible.

Once the mixture is cold, filter it (paper filters work best) or use a really fine colander with a paper towel. Add the spirit and pour into bottles with tight lids. Place in refrigerator and let it sit for a couple of days before serving. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Shake well before opening. Serve cold, over ice if desired (though not traditional). Can be garnished with a cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.

* Aguardiente is a denomination of spirits that can range from vodka to sugar cane based, so the name is given not because of the source, but the alcohol content, which can be upwards of 120 proof alcohol. In Chile, Aguardiente is made from grapes and the alcohol content is usually somewhere between 45-55% (above 55% is illegal). Because aguardiente is a very generic term and the actual product and alcohol content varies from region to region, I suggest using a grape spirit such as grappa or pisco, preferably between 45-50% alcohol.

** Grappa, like champagne, is a spirit produced from grapes and can only be called grappa if it complies with certain requirements, such as being produced in a certain region of Italy. That’s why substituting it with a grape-based spirit like pisco can lower the cost considerably.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Canola Controversy: ODA Caves to Canola

One of Oregon's premier organic seed breeders, Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, has been a tireless activist on behalf of agricultural integrity in the Willamette Valley. He and other stakeholders successfully sued and won a case again Monsanto over planting genetically modified sugar beets in the valley. He is currently advocating on behalf of Oregon's critical specialty seed industry, which is threatened by the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture's (ODA) recent unilateral decision to allow canola to be grown here.

On the occasion of ODA accomplishing what it has fought hard to do—that is, allow the introduction of rapeseed production to the Willamette Valley without providing a reason to depart from its previously long-held position that growing rapeseed/canola is incompatible with growing specialty seed—I leave us with this paragraph from the 2007 Crop Production Science in Horticulture publication #14, Vegetable Brassicas And Related Crucifers, by GR Dixon from the School of Biological Sciences, Reading, UK.

Canola field in Boardman.

"Recently in Europe and parts of Asia, greater production of agricultural oilseed brassicas (mainly B. napus) [rapeseed] has increased the incidence of some Brassica pests and pathogens on horticultural crops (Lamb, 1989). This situation is exacerbated as the economic threshold for damage caused by pests and pathogens on oilseed rape is higher than for horticultural brassicas, and therefore less control is used. Consequently, large pest or pathogen populations can develop in oilseed rape in the absence of control and then move en masse on to horticultural crops with devastating consequences. Overwintering oilseed rape (B. napus) provides a substantial 'green bridge' for light leaf spot (P. brassicae) and in consequence it is the major foliar disease of that crop. In turn, rape provides a reservoir of infection that transfers on to vegetable brassicas and can cause appreciable losses of quality to leafy types." p. 194.

Canola blossom.

So indeed, ODA has accomplished a make-work reversal of its own rule regarding rapeseed canola--it has made work for ODA, it has created work for specialty seed companies as they nozzle-up their perimeter defenses, it has made work for fresh market and organic vegetable producers as everyone tries to play self defense against bigger problems than we had before and, yeah, maybe a half dozen farmers will get to start playing with canola, once they go through a new ODA canola permit maze. Worst of all, this is going to create farm neighbor disputes that never existed before.

There is now a Bill before the Legislature that will do, very simply, what we could not do through years and years of argument with the ODA. Keep canola production out of this one precious valley. I ask all of you to please contact your legislators regarding this issue. Please share the concern you have for Oregon's specialty seed and quality vegetable farmers, and the threat to our reputation as a world class place to grow seeds.

Make your concerns known: You can find your legislator here and get his or her contact information. You can also e-mail Rep. Brad Witt (D), the new Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, with your concerns and tell him to make sure the Bill makes it to the floor for a vote.

Suggested points to cover include:
  • Why did the ODA reverse it's reasoning as regards coexistence of rapeseed/canola and specialty seeds?
  • Is there any new information that would justify this change in perspective?
  • Is this decision a source of risk for Willamette Valley seed and vegetable growers?
  • Why Not?
  • Doesn't there seem to be some risk involved?  Who bears that risk?
For more information on canola and the issues surrounding its production in the Willamette Valley, read the rest of the series, starting with "Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look" (links to other posts in the series at bottom).

Friday, February 08, 2013

Spring, While Not Yet Sprung, Is In the Wings

To our East Coast friends, and those who are still thigh-deep in winter weather, here is a harbinger of the spring that is sure to come, photographed on my daily rounds with the puppies yesterday.

Obviously I'm knocking on wood as I say this, hoping the spirits don't decide to dump a big ol' load o' winter on us in spite.

Stay safe, stay warm!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Improving on Mac'n'Cheese? Is it Possible?

I wasn't sure if I was courting disaster or on the verge of discovering a fabulous new world. Not that I'm any Amerigo Vespucci or Ferdinand Magellan, but I sure know how they must have felt when they got to the edge of the map that stated in capital letters "HERE BE DRAGONS."

A delicious beginning.

Incongruous as it seems, it all started with a batch of pimento cheese dip. I'd made it to take to a Super Bowl event, though I only needed a small portion for the party (which was summarily scarfed down and the bowl practically licked clean). So when we got home there was plenty left over and I wondered what the heck I was going to do with it.

How bad could it be?

Inspiration struck the next night as I was casting about for what to make for dinner. Hm…a cheesy mix of cheddar and roasted red peppers, just about the right amount for mac'n'cheese. Now, most of the time when I get these wacky I-Love-Lucy type ideas it's pretty low risk, but this time I was potentially wasting a pound of very good cheddar, not to mention the possible humiliation when I put a pan of inedible glop in front of my family.

Not bad at all!

Casting aside my fears, I sailed forth and found that the cheese dip melted oozingly into the milky roux, with a certain promising je-ne-sais-quoi from the slight amounts of relish, bourbon and Crystal hot sauce from the dip recipe. I said a little prayer to the dinner gods as I mixed it with the pasta and poured it into my lucky casserole dish, then set the timer for 30 minutes.

The aroma of bubbling cheese filled the kitchen, and pulling out the sizzling, perfectly browned casserole from the oven made me want to shout out the kitchen equivalent of "land ho!" The subsequent ooh-ing, ahh-ing and slurping confirmed it was a successful voyage, the only dragons being those of my own doubts, which were slain without further ado.

Pimento Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Jim Dixon's recipe for Pimento Cheese Dip

For the cheese mixture:
1 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 roasted, peeled, seeded red bell peppers (about 2 cups worth after the peeling, etc, or the equivalent amount of roasted red peppers from a jar, either red, pimento, or piquillo)
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. good bourbon
Crystal hot sauce to taste

For the sauce:
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
4 Tbsp. flour
2 c. milk
4 oz. cream cheese
Cheese mixture (above)
Salt to taste

1 lb. pasta

Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

To make the cheese mixture, grate the cheddar. In a food processor, combine the peppers and other ingredients (not cheese) in the processor and pulse a few times. Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed, but not so much that you can’t detect little bits of red pepper. (You want everything chopped and mixed but not puréed.)

Put the pasta on to cook while you make the sauce.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When it has melted, turn off the heat and add the flour, stirring until completely combined with no lumps. Return the heat to medium and cook the flour and butter, stirring constantly to avoid burning, approximately one minute. Add the milk slowly, stirring to prevent lumps and avoid scorching until it thickens. Add cheese mixture in large spoonfuls, stirring to melt after each addition. Add cream cheese and stir until it melts. Season to taste with salt.

Drain pasta and put it back in the pot. Add cheese sauce and stir to combine. Pour into preheated casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes until browned and bubbling.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Righteous Roots: Beet Salad Can't Be Beat

What's your favorite meal to take camping or cook for friends when you're away from home? For contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, it includes a hearty spread of roasted beets and garlic with a Middle-Eastern twist.

For the last 10 years a bunch of us have spent the big game weekend skiing (could be longer, but none of us can remember for sure). I don’t really follow football, and I’d much rather take advantage of the uncrowded slopes than watch television all day. But since we’re a bunch of old guys we get tired and are usually worn out by 3 o’clock. So even after a drink in the bar and driving from Bachelor down to the house we rent in Sunriver, there’s still lots of football to see.

Après-ski plate o' goodness!

Most of us like to cook, and we eat well while we’re there. My night for dinner was Thursday, and I made pimento cheese, spicy chicken wings, porky red beans, smothered cabbage, winter squash gratin, Cajun-style eggplant rice dressing and these amazing puréed beets.

Jerusalem Puréed Beets

Adapted from the Ottolenghi-Tamimi cookbook Jerusalem, this dish has become one of my favorite things to eat. It works as either a salad or dip for pita crusty bread, or even tortilla chips, although it’s thick enough you’ll need to provide some kind of spreading utensil.

Start by roasting 4-5 red beets by removing the long root and greens and placing them in a small roasting pan or Pyrex dish. Leave them unpeeled and cook at 400° for about an hour or until a knife goes in easily. Let cool enough to handle, then peel (really roasting like this, as opposed to the wrap-in-foil method, leaves the beets dry so the skins don’t just slide off; I use a sharp knife to cut off the outer layer of the beet).

Cut the beets into quarters, then combine in the food processor with about a cup of yogurt (the book calls for Greek style, but I’ve used regular plain yogurt), 3-4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic, 3-4 chopped dates, a jalapeno with seeds and membrane, about a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, at least a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of the Middle Eastern spice blend called za’atar (roughly equal parts ground sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and oregano). Process until completely pureed.

You can eat it like this and it’s good, but even better is the garnish of about a half cup of lightly toasted and chopped filberts (hazelnuts to non-Oregonians), some soft goat cheese torn into small bits and scatttered on top and a couple of thinly sliced green onions. Add another good shake of za’atar and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin, too.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Farm Bulletin: Farmer, Rockstar

Little did he know that when he first saw an ad for flint corn in a seed catalog, it would lead contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm to acclaimed author-dom and, dare I say it, rockstar status among corn cognoscenti. There are two opportunities coming up to meet him and purchase a copy of his book, Beautiful Corn: America's Original Grain from Seed to Plate, the second of which comes with tasty snacks!

Acres is a national magazine for farmers dedicated to "eco-agriculture." The term encompasses organic, biodynamic and permaculture. This month featured an interview with Anthony and it has been interesting fielding the calls from kindred spirits in the corn world. They are scattered across the country, working with traditional varieties similar to ours. We are at the cusp of a re-localization of this wonderful grain. It is also encouraging to hear how our gentle approach to managing the land resonates with other growers.

Chesters ripening at Ayers Creek.

On Monday we gave a tour to 170 members of the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association. They were a more skeptical audience, though over the years we have made a modicum of progress with people at the Oregon State Extension Service. Nonetheless, they still regard Chester blackberries as an unattractive and unpleasant fruit, and remain mystified that we are able to sell them. The problem is that they push their Chester for high yields as opposed to limiting the fruit and drawing out the best flavor. Funny how people understand the idea of limiting fruit load in wine grapes but reject the notion in berries. The same principle holds for corn, as well, where high yields and high quality are mutually exclusive outcomes.

On Saturday, the 9th of February, Anna Stulz of Slow Food Portland, together with Friends of Family Farmers, has put together an evening centered on corn and wine. Anthony will share insights and inspirations from Beautiful Corn, which will be available for purchase. We will be joined by our good friends Kathryn LaSuza Yeomans and Mark Doxtader, who will cook up some corn treats, and Shari Sirkin of Dancing Goat Farm who will enhance the evening with her vegetables. Arcane Cellars will be pouring wine for tasting. It will be a fun evening.

Earlier the same day, we will be at Pastaworks for a Beautiful Corn event co-hosted by Powell Books. A busy day.

Details: Book Signing with Author Anthony Boutard. Sat., Feb. 9, 3-5 pm; free. Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-232-1010.

An Evening of Corn and Wine. Sat., Feb. 9, 7-8:30 pm; $12, tickets available online. Vintage Design Collective, 7126 SE Milwaukie.

A Curious Collection of Cats (and More!)

"I think everyone should live their lives as if it was a really grand adventure, starting now." - Michael Wertz

My friend Michael lives in San Francisco and spends his time drawing everything he sees. Or at least that's the way it seems, judging from the prodigious output he displays on his Wertzateria website.

Lively, zippy, colorful and crazy, his world is full of everything from flying cats to grinning skulls to rollerskating Egyptian gods. Posters, books, illustrations, songs, even drawings of matchbook covers come flying out of his head from some bottomless well of creativity. Oh, and he teaches, too, at the California College of the Arts. And he's is one of the founding members of Monster Illustration, a loose confederation of illustrators who seek to bring color back to an otherwise gray landscape. He is a proud member of the Elsewhere Philatelic Society, an interactive fiction project set in various locations throughout San Francisco Bay Area.

Then, in his spare time, Michael and his husband Andy host a radio show called The Argyle Adventure Tree on the first Thursday of every month. He's also a member of the Verasphere, whose members create characters out of recycled items and appear at impromptu events and parades, making San Francisco even more colorful and wonderful than it already is. Fortunately his dog, Miss Olive, insists that he spends some time at home with her, or he might never sit down and relax.

You can order a copy of his first book, A Curious Collection of Cats, or the follow-up, A Dazzling Display of Dogs. Me, I'm going to take a nap…recounting all that activity has worn me out!