Thursday, March 31, 2016

Food News: A Climate Solution; Herbicides in Wines; Neonicotinoid Pesticide Ban

Instead of fearing carbon, a Yale University lecturer is suggesting we farm it. In his recent book with the brain-numbing title The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security, author Eric Toensmeier describes a system of "carbon farming" that is being developed in Veracruz, Mexico.

In an article about the book on, Toensmeier writes about an effort initiated by Ricardo Romero, a former cattleman who became concerned about the degradation of his pastureland from traditional ranching practices. He started a small cooperative called Las Cañadas which is demonstrating that a combination of methods like planting native trees, reintroducing cattle—a technique called silvopasture—as well as managed grazing, fodder banks and planting certain perennial crops, can feed people, build more fertile soils and contribute to ecosystem health without forcing communities to radically change their diets.

While not claiming that this is a turn-key solution to climate change, he posits that it is a step in the right direction and, if adopted globally along with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions, could contribute substantially to changing our current situation.

* * *

Before you toast the end of climate change as described above—it is, after all, just being modeled on a small scale—you might want to know that the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and recently declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization, has been found in random testing of 10 California wines.

A study, initiated by the group Moms Across America after 14 brands of German beer were found to have traces of the herbicide, and described in an article in the Digital Journal, found that that the wines, including some organic wines, had residues that exceeded the limit of .1 micrograms per liter allowed for drinking water.

"Using the Microbe Inotech Lab of St.Louis, Missouri…a total of 10 different wines from large and small vineyards in the Napa Valley, Sonoma and Mendocino counties in California were tested. According to the final report, the contamination of conventional wine was 28 times higher than organic wine."

The article goes on to state that "wine growers on conventional farms say that glyphosates are probably in the manure and/or fertilizers they use from animals fed genetically modified grains" and that "one big concern is for the folks who buy organic products, expecting to get what they are paying for." It says that the organic wine was probably contaminated by overspray, or "drift," from neighboring farms using the herbicide.


* * *

Efforts to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, the systemic neorotoxin linked to global bee die-offs, got a boost last week from the state of Maryland, according to an article in the Washington Post. Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, is expected to sign legislation passed by both houses of the state legislature to "ban stores from selling products laced with neonicotinoids to homeowners who tend to lather too much [of the pesticide] on trees and gardens."

Maryland's ban only applies to non-commercial uses of the pesticide, leaving "farmers and professionals who better understand how to apply them in a way that poses a lesser threat to bees…exempted by the law when it takes effect in 2018." Anyone who remembers the 2013 poisoning of more than 50,000 bees in Oregon by a commercial landscape company may disagree with this assumption.

Of this move by Maryland, Aimée Code of the Xerces Society, a national organization that promotes invertebrate conservation, said, "This is a great step forward to curb the use of chemicals that are causing dramatic harm in the environment."

Last year the Portland City Council banned pesticides containing neonicotinoids on city-owned property despite heavy pressure from industry lobbyists, though the pesticide is still widely available from suppliers and nurseries for use by commercial companies and private individuals. Wholesale nurseries routinely apply it on bedding plants used in commercial landscaping and for home gardens.

Here in the Northwest, Code said that while large nurseries often sell plants that are bred to "look pretty" but are often treated with pesticides because they are more susceptible to pests, smaller nurseries stock more native plants that aren't as vulnerable to local pests. In a win-win for pollinators and gardeners, she said that "our native bees prefer native plants" because they have higher levels of the pollen and nectar the bees are seeking.

So when you're out shopping for plants for your gardens, ask your local garden center if the plants you're interested in were treated with neonicotinoids, and consider purchasing native plants. Our bees will thank you!

Photo of bumblebee by Beth Nakamura for the Oregonian.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Salad Smackdown: Raw Brussels Sprouts Are Hot!

Brussels sprouts are apparently experiencing a moment of mad popularity. I'm seeing recipes calling for them popping up everywhere, except maybe in desserts, though I wouldn't be surprised to see some celebrity chef trying to convince us all that they're terrific when added to cheesecake. Really!

I was browsing the produce section of my supermarket the other day and saw bags of shredded sprouts (left) sitting atop a pile of the unshaved version and thought, wow, I wish I'd thought of that. One of my favorite salads has shaved brussels sprouts spiked with lots of lemon, shards of olives and minced anchovies. But trimming and shredding all those sprouts takes a lot of time…not that it stops me from making it, but with all that knife-work it definitely increases the opportunities for whining.

I've served this salad alongside grilled meats and fish with rave reviews, and, like slaws, it makes for terrific leftover greens a day or two later when the sprouts are wilted and infused with the lemon dressing.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon and Olives

3-4 c. shaved brussels sprouts
10 castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3-6 anchovies, minced
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon or chopped preserved lemons
Salt to taste

If you can't find bags of shaved brussels sprouts in your store's produce section, trim and halve whole brussels sprouts, then slice crosswise into very fine chiffonade. Place the shaved sprouts in a large salad bowl and add the olives, anchovies (start with the lesser number and add to taste), olive oil and lemon juice. Toss, adding salt to taste.

Check out these other recipes in the Salad Smackdown series!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Showing Off My Take on Portland's Food Scene

Where would you take a well-known food writer who asked you to show her your favorite Portland haunts? That happened to me last week when Leslie Kelly, Seattle food and wine writer and staff writer for the Dish section of, asked if I'd be interested in meeting up and showing her a few of my go-to spots.

She made it easy when she asked to start a few blocks from our house at Muscadine, the tiny outpost of genuine Southern American cooking owned by chef Laura Rhoman. During our sumptuous order of fried chicken, sea island red peas, collard greens, biscuits, oxtail ragu, cheesy grits and eggs arrived—did I mention we're both passionate eaters?—she did a short video of the meal while we plotted a few stops in the 'hood.

Since, like me, Leslie's a committed carnivore, I wanted her to meet my favorite vegan-turned-whole animal-butcher Ben Meyer (left). Handily for us he was right next door at Grain & Gristle for the day, so we marched in and promptly ordered G&G's signature and justly lauded burger along with a tap cocktail, a house-made hibiscus gin fizz that was an ideal counterpoint to the richness of the juicy pasture-raised beef in the burger.

Leslie managed to moan over the burger while at the same time talking cuts of beef with Ben. With second lunch literally under our belts, we drove up the street to tour the newly burgeoning businesses on 42nd Avenue. We stopped in so I could buy a chuck roast from Old Salt Marketplace's butcher case (right), and as it was being wrapped I gave Leslie a tour of the meat aging gracefully in the walk-in, then showed off the dry goods and value-added pickles and preserves that Ben has begun producing out of the space.

Across the street was Tommy Habetz's new Pizza Jerk, so we popped in for a slice of cheese pizza (left). (If you're keeping count we're now at third lunch…) Part of my not-so-hidden agenda was to drag my guest away from restaurants and shift the conversation to ingredients. Knowing that the Cully neighborhood is home to two urban farms, we drove a few blocks down NE 42nd to Simpson Street Farm, Rex Rolle's nearly 1-acre plot that supplies vegetables to farmers' markets and local restaurants.

A little further up the street is The Side Yard Farm (top photo), one of the small-acreage urban plots that is also a farm-to-plate catering service and supper club, the brainchild of chef and farmer Stacey Givens. As we stood surveying the orderly planted beds, Stacey herself emerged from one of the outbuildings and gave us the background on the project, along with farm schwag of mugs and a shopping bag. Do I need to mention that Leslie was totally impressed with the scale and ambitiousness of our urban agriculture scene as embodied by these two places?

My guest was needing to get back for her next appointment, but I prevailed upon her to make one more stop at Providore Fine Foods (right) the new location for the patres familias of the city's provisioners, Peter de Garmo and Don Oman, who opened their legendary Pastaworks shop on Hawthorne 25 years ago. This new incarnation is now owned by de Garmo's son Kevin and his wife, Kaie Wellman, who converted (in an oh-so-Portland move) a former car dealership on what is a still-developing stretch of lower Sandy Boulevard.

After chatting about kalettes and sea beans with Ken Fisher, wet rack wunderkind and body man to Rubinette Produce owner Josh Alsberg, exchanging fish stories with Flying Fish's Lyf Gildersleeve, then oohing and aahing over the fresh-baked focaccia, cheese-and-charcuterie counter and pasta display, I almost had Leslie packed in the car when she saw the Pie Spot (left). Part of the Ocean micro-restaurant hub that backs up to Providore, she had to run in and grab a few samples of the mini-pies on display and try to recruit them to open a branch in Seattle.

I'm guessing that means she was happy with our three-hour tour.

Read more about Providore Fine Foods and its purveyors.

All photos by Leslie Kelly.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Farm Bulletin: A Farmer and Chef Collaborate

Portland is known as a city with a vibrant farm-to-table scene, which can mean anything from a few seasonal specials on the menu, to the chef buying select ingredients at a farmers' market, to a stream of farmers pulling up to the restaurant's door on any given day. And while some chefs may boast a list of favorite farms on their menus, there are few that have the collegial collaboration that contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm describes below.

Once again, Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's (above) and his staff will host an "Outstanding in the Field" dinner on the 10th of July. The brave lad has to impress a very long table seating about 150 hungry and discerning guests. Fearlessly, as he has proved up to it two years ago. The venue is at Ayers Creek and, if you want to see how these talented impresarios fit the table, bedecked by white linen and an astounding number of wine glasses, into our landscape, tickets are now available.

As with most of the chefs we work with, Joshua and his staff know the farm starting at the soil, not just as a mere delivery service. The staff at Ava Genes—the whole restaurant from prep staff to the service staff—have taken the time to understand the process of growing the food we deliver by visiting the farm and peppering us with questions. This familiarity makes a tangible difference when you are a farmer. Next year when the "Ave Bruma" melons make their public debut, another dimension of the relationship will be revealed: Ave Gene's staff worked with us in selecting desirable culinary traits for this storage melon. McFadden's staff will be visiting the farm next month for a refresher and to give new members a view from the ground.

The meal will bring together the fruits, grains and vegetables that you are sitting among onto the plate as orchestrated by Joshua and his staff. Another familiar face at the farm and to Ramble visitors, Sarah Minnick, will be working our fruit into the dessert. Sarah is also the inspiration for our newly hatched "Sarah's Hay" project, incorporating the complex flavors of the Trigonellae as a vital ingredient of the Pacific Northwest. An active participant in the Sarah's Hay project, Myrtha Zierock, will be on hand to showcase her family's wine from the Dolomites of Italy. Her family has been instrumental in reviving the Teroldego grape of the Trentino-Alto Adige. 

Despite the fact that at the last event our forklift driver (nameless, of course) almost moved one of the toilets with a staff member inside, Outstanding in the Field has decided to return a second time. Having Joshua and his team to cook the meal provides interpreters of the farm's efforts who understand and respect the dialect and idioms of the ground we cultivate. It will be a good evening and we appreciate their confidence in us.

Your Food, Your Legislature: A Decidedly Mixed Session for Consumers

With my left arm swaddled in a brace from fingertips to elbow for a week—not serious, just a careless slip with a knife—and my typing reduced to a single finger, I decided that in order to publish a timely roundup of the month-long legislative session that ended on Mar. 3, I needed some help. The following is an edited version of the 2016 Oregon Legislative Recap published by Friends of Family Farmers.

Regulation of Genetically Engineered Seeds and Crops (HB 4122):

[This bill would] allow local restrictions on genetically engineered (GE) crops in order to protect Oregon’s non-GE farmers from the risks of contamination of their seed and other crops [field of genetically modified canola, above].

Genetically modified sugar beet and field.

After more than two years of inaction by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Legislature to chart out state-level farmer protections, [this bill was intended] to address the need for GE regulations in the state. As a reminder, in late 2013, the Legislature "pre-empted" local restrictions (with the exception of a GE crop ban already on the ballot in Jackson County). And along with that pre-emption came promises from then-Governor Kitzhaber and many legislators that Oregon would enact state-level GE rules to protect at-risk farmers.

Despite hearing a large volume of supportive testimony from farmers, organic industry representatives and sustainable agriculture organizations in favor of allowing local regulation of GE crops, the House Committee on Consumer Protection declined to let the bill out of committee with this language in it. Instead, in response to the recent federal approval of a fast-growing genetically engineered salmon, the committee modified the bill to require labeling of GE fish sold for human consumption in Oregon. While the House passed this bill in a 32-27 vote, it died in the Senate.

Minimum Wage Increase (SB 1532)

Facing proposals to raise Oregon’s minimum wage via ballot measure this fall, the Legislature decided to pass its own minimum wage increase. In order to accommodate rural and agricultural concerns, the bill phases in wage increases more slowly than the ballot measures would have, and creates three different minimum wages in Oregon, with the highest located in urban areas.

Under the new law, the minimum wage (currently at $9.25/hour) will go up in July 2016 by $.50 to $9.75/hour inside the urban growth boundary (UGB) at the edge of Portland, and up $.25 to $9.50/hour in several "mid-sized" counties including those in the Willamette Valley, the North Coast, and Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, and Josephine Counties, and also in 18 more remote "frontier" counties. The minimum wage rate will continue to rise gradually until 2022 when it reaches $14.75 inside the Portland UGB, $13.50 in the "mid-sized counties," and $12.50 in the more rural "frontier" counties. As a result of the bill’s passage, campaigns to pass separate ballot measures for statewide $15/hour and $13.50/hour minimum wages have now been abandoned.

In the final few days of the session, proposals to create a tax credit for farms, agricultural, and food businesses to help them adjust to the minimum wage increases were discussed. However, efforts to limit these credits to smaller farm and food businesses were opposed by groups representing large food processors and large agricultural operations and the Legislature did not act on that item. This tax credit proposal will likely be discussed again by the Legislature in 2017 and, if carefully crafted, could help smaller farms that may struggle to meet some of the wage increases.

Urban Growth Boundary Expansion Pilot Project (HB 4079)

Complaints over a lack of affordable housing in Oregon were the impetus for a land use pilot project bill passed by the legislature in February. The legislation allows the Land Conservation Development Commission (LCDC) to approve two pilot projects for expanding urban growth boundaries (UGBs) by 50 acres each if developments are for the purpose of meeting identified affordable housing needs, one in a town smaller than 25,000 people, and a second in a city larger than that. Some counties are excluded altogether including Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, and Polk, leading some to speculate that planned UGB expansions onto farmland under this pilot could happen outside Eugene or Bend. Many fear that high value farmland will be lost as these two 50 acre pilot projects are established. Farmland protection advocates will need to remain vigilant to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Manure Digester Tax Credit (SB 1507)

In the Legislature’s final days, a tax credit bill was revealed that included the extension of controversial payments for manure digesters (left). This expensive tax credit primarily flows to the state’s largest factory-scale dairy operation, Threemile Canyon Farms, in Eastern Oregon [link for more information on this controversial factory farm]. The tax credit, paid at $5 per "wet ton" for manure converted to energy in an anaerobic digester, was set to expire at the end of 2017. Since 2013, it has paid approximately $6 million in taxpayer funds to Threemile after they built a long-promised digester to handle manure from roughly half their cows. Under the bill the legislature eventually passed, the credit was reduced to $3.50/wet ton but extended for five more years, until 2022. If the credit remains unchanged and Threemile does not expand their digester any further, this one operation will receive approximately $9 million in additional taxpayer funds in coming years.

[The opposition to] the manure digester tax credit [was] because it has very limited to negligible environmental benefits, and primarily benefits larger (including Oregon’s largest) confinement livestock operations, that have manure disposal problems not faced by smaller pasture-based producers. A tax subsidy this lucrative could even serve as a recruitment tool for new factory farms to set up shop in Oregon.

[This bill was passed on a vote of 53 ayes to 6 nays, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on Mar. 10. It will take effect June 2, 2016.]

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring Things: Nettles

One of the first wild greens of spring along with fiddlehead ferns, nettles are no fun to run into on a hiking trail. But if you're wearing sturdy gloves and have a canvas bag to stash them in, you've got a treat in store. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food elucidates.

Stinging Nettles

Tiny glass-like needles, each with a bulbous base filled with chemical irritants, cover the leaves and stems of stinging nettles. The lightest touch shatters them and unleashes a painful brew of neurotransmitters. The smart thing is to avoid stinging nettles altogether.

First ouch, then itch.

Unless you want to eat them, that is.

Heat neutralizes their sting, and when cooked, nettles have a robust, almost meaty flavor. The leaves are high in calcium, iron and a surprising amount of protein. Studies have confirmed their effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, a use that goes back to ancient Greece.

While nettle greens can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach, one of my favorite way to eat them is an adaptation of a recipe from Faith Willinger’s Red White and Greens cookbook. Called subrich (pron. SOO-brick) in the Piemontese dialect of northern Italy, these are basically little eggy fritters. If the mint has come up in my garden, I make nettle and mint fritters, but you can use the same recipe without the mint. Nettles are also good roasted, cooked with caramelized onions and za'atar, or sautéed with thinly sliced garlic and finished with cream.

Nettle sformato (recipe below).

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) grow throughout North America, but are especially abundant in the wet coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest. Anyone who’s inadvertently stumbled into a patch remembers what they look like, and it’s easy (if painful) to test a leaf to make sure it stings. Bring along an experienced forager if it’s your first time out nettle-gathering, make sure you have good gloves, and don’t eat the leaves if the nettles have flowered or gone to seed. After that point, they develop bits of calcium carbonate which may cause urinary-tract irritation. You can often find nettles at the Portland Farmers Market (check with Roger and Norma at Springwater Farm) and sometimes at New Seasons Market.


This Italian savory flan makes a delicious vehicle for nettles, but almost any vegetable will work, too.* The name comes from the verb sformare, which among other things means to umold, and most sformati are turned out of their typically single-serving baking dishes. I skip that step and serve sformati right from the pan.

Start with about a cup of nettles that have been boiled for about a minute, then squeezed dry and chopped coarsely (always save the nettle cooking water; it tastes great and is much better than any grocery store stock). Combine in a mixing bowl with 2 eggs, about a cup of ricotta, a half cup of cream (or milk, but cream is much better), a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a half teaspoon of salt, some black pepper, and pinch of nutmeg.

Heat the oven to 350°, butter a baking dish, and cook the sformato for about 35 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. You can eat it hot, but I think sformati taste best if cooled a bit.

More recipes for nettles.

* I've had sformati made with lacinato kale, artichokes and cardoons, all delicious. So feel free to experiment!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

CSA Share Fair: Find Your Farmer

The CSA Share Fair on Saturday, March 19, is a chance to meet more than 40 local farmers, ranchers and fishers who offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to the public. They'll be showcasing various options, including vegetables, fruits, pastured meats, wild fish, eggs, flowers, honey and more. To keep it simple for you, there's a matchmaking service where you can check off what you're interested in and a helpful volunteer will point you toward the best farmer for you! Time and location of this year's fair are at the bottom of this post.

If you're not sure what a CSA is or if a share might be right for you, here's a Q & A with CSA maven Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have that I posted last year.

Why join a CSA?

Joining a classic CSA gives you a window onto a farm and what it takes to grow the delicious variety of things that you'll receive in your share each week. The farmer chooses what's best that week and relieves you of most of your decision-making, though some CSAs give members a bit of choice. I actually love not having to make any decisions about what produce I'm getting because then I can concentrate on being creative with what I receive.

CSA farmers in our region tend to grow a staggering variety of produce and typify the saying, "What grows together, goes together!" Belonging to a CSA has expanded my repertoire and introduced me to vegetables I would unlikely have picked up at the farmers' market, though some people are not so keen on the "no-choice" bit. My online Seasonal Recipe Collection comes in handy, since the recipes are sorted by vegetable and there is a thorough introduction for each vegetable.

I also subscribe to a CSA because it helps me budget, and when you calculate out the cost of CSA by the week it is quite reasonable. I pay up front or in a few installments, and then supplement from the farmers' market or the store with fruits or occasional vegetables I'm not getting in my CSA—like asparagus, artichokes and a few other things that aren't typically found in a CSA. If I know I'll be getting my gorgeous box of produce each week, I won't be tempted to buy other things, to make the most what I've already paid for.

What are the different kinds of CSAs?

Some CSAs focus exclusively on produce, some also include fruit like blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, pears, quince and so forth. Some give you the option to add an extra Salad Share for those who love salad greens; others might give the option to add eggs, honey, flowers or meat. Some CSA farms work together with other area farms to offer such a wide array. And then there are exclusive meat and fish CSAs as well.

There are so many local farms offering CSAs. What should I consider before joining a CSA?

Generally, if you want super-delicious produce and can't always make it to a farmers' market, a CSA is for you. If you like to cook or want to cook more and are typically home most nights of the week, a CSA is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you travel a lot or are out a lot at night, you'll struggle to keep up with the produce.

Think about the size of your household and your family members' eating habits to decide if a CSA is a good idea or not—do you all like vegetables or are open to trying them? How much do you think you'll eat? You might start with a half share (most farms offer two different-size shares) and see how that works, setting yourself up for success rather than the guilt of wasting some. Also consider if the pick-up site is convenient (some CSAs deliver to your door as well). But make sure you think about the logistics of picking up your share—make a plan with a friend or neighbor, either to share the CSA or both do it so you can alternate doing the pick up. This is great community-building in and of itself, and you can also share ideas of what to do with less familiar produce.

Does a CSA subscription make sense for a single person?

It very much depends on the person—if you are a vegetable lover and like to cook and entertain, by all means. If I were single I would buy a CSA but I do cook and eat more vegetables than almost anyone I know! And again, consider a half-share or splitting it with a neighbor or friend.

I'm afraid I'd be paying for produce I can't use or my family won't eat, and I know nothing about rutabagas or kohlrabi. What should I do?

This is an important factor to consider carefully. As I noted earlier, I have vastly expanded my appreciation of certain vegetables (rutabagas being at the top of that list) by becoming a CSA member and I've enjoyed that. There are a handful good cooking techniques and methods—think grated vegetable pancakes, like latkes—that are a critical to successful CSA cooking. In fact I added a grated rutabaga to fried rice the other night and it was delicious! And if you occasionally share an extra kohlrabi with a neighbor (I have definitely done that, too) the benefits of the flavor, nutrition and connection to your place and those growing our food may well trump the "kohlrabi hardship"!

I don't drive. How would I pick up my share?

I pick up my share by bike and it works well. Most CSA shares will fit into two typical panniers. Some CSAs have pick-ups at companies or farmers' markets so you might inquire if your place of work is linked up with a CSA farm or ask them if they might consider it. Colombia Sportswear, Intel, various Providence sites, Good Samaritan Hospital, Ecotrust and probably many others have CSA drops.

Details: CSA Share Fair, Sat., Mar. 19, 10 am-2 pm; free. Event at The Redd, 831 SE Salmon St. If you can't make it to the Share Fair, there's a listing of metro-area CSAs at the Portland Area CSA Coalition, and a listing of Northwest (and national) CSAs at Local Harvest.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The "L" Word: Leftover Squash? You've Got a Party!

Confession time: I almost always make too much food. Instead of cooking for three, I somehow think I'm cooking for a dozen. And big eaters though we are—a pound of pasta barely feeds the three of us—when I roast a big, meltingly tender and delicious squash, there tends to be some left over. And I'm a real stickler (OK, some might say a Nazi) about not wasting food, so there are always bits and bobs of leftovers hanging around.

My best kitchen helper with the Sibley.

So the other afternoon, when we got an invitation to join my brother and his family for braised lamb shanks that evening, I volunteered to bring a nibble for sharing before dinner. With no time to go to the store, I was digging around in the fridge for ideas (what, you don't do that?) when I ran across some roasted Sibley squash we'd had a couple of nights before. Thinking that if a bean spread is good enough for Italians, if a chickpea dip is good enough for the Lebanese, then maybe a puréed squash dip might solve my evening's challenge.

I checked out a couple of resources online and found a New York Times recipe that sounded like a good place to start. Subbing in a couple of ingredients and adding a couple of others, I think it's a winner, garnering admiring "mmmmmms" and "yummmmms" from the crowd of critical tasters gathered around the counter. See what you think!

Roasted Squash Spread

2 c. roasted squash
2 green onions, light halves only, roughly chopped; finely chop the greens for garnish
1 clove garlic
1/4 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts
1/4 c. parmesan, grated
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste

Place roasted squash, whites of green onions, garlic, peanuts, parmesan and nutmeg in bowl of food processor. Pulse a few times to get ingredients broken up, then process while drizzling in the olive oil. Add more oil if necessary to get a fairly smooth, thick purée. Serve in small bowl showered with chopped green tops of green onions. Goes well with simple crackers, pita bread or pita chips.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Food News: Toxins in PDX Gardens; FDA Begins Testing for Glyphosate in Vegetables

Two stories from the food policy website Civil Eats caught my eye recently. If you like these kinds of stories, consider a subscription to support their reporting on food system issues. I do!

Who hasn't heard about the high levels of toxins found in moss samples surrounding two glass factories in Portland, and then the devastating results of air pollution studies in the metro area? An article on Civil Eats about the city's soil crisis echoed a question I'd had, and that was: If the air and the soil around those factories is polluted, what about my friends in those neighborhoods who garden and raise vegetables to feed their families?

It's hard to think that those leafy green lettuces, juicy red tomatoes and carrots might be contaminated, too. Writer Elizabeth Grossman queried Portland public officials about these concerns and got a disturbing answer. She writes, "Oregon health and environmental authorities have admitted 'it is difficult to say for sure.' They’ve…recommended that people should avoid eating produce grown within a half-mile of the highest mapped metal concentrations until further notice."

Having your soil tested for heavy metals is an expensive process, and Grossman reports that while the EPA has guidelines for levels of heavy metals at toxic waste sites, it has no guidelines for garden soils. The article recommends that if gardeners want to grow vegetables, mitigation efforts include deep raised beds filled with clean soil and compost, and keeping those beds away from roof drip lines that could wash contaminated particles into the soil.

Grossman winds up by asking about the health effects of eating vegetables from contaminated areas and coming into contact with contaminated soil. "Children, says Tulane [University School of Medicine research professor Howard] Mielke, are 'extraordinarily sensitive.' He says there’s not enough research into exposure to soil contaminants so available information is limited. 'You get the runaround with people saying it’s probably safe,' when it may not be, he says. Mielke calls the soil information gap 'enormous.'"

* * *

It's a good news/bad news situation regarding herbicides, at least when it comes to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world. An article on Civil Eats by Carey Gilliam starts off with the bad news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never tested foods like soybeans, corn, milk and eggs for residues from this herbicide, much less established guidelines for how much, if any, might be safe.

Gilliams reports the good news is that, as a direct result of a recent declaration by experts at the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, the FDA is going to start testing for residues of the herbicide on certain foods. She writes that "the FDA’s move comes amid growing public concern about the safety of the herbicide known as glyphosate, and comes after the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) rebuked the agency for failing to do such assessments and for not disclosing that short-coming to the public."

Additionally, she reports that "critics say several studies have linked glyphosate to human health ailments, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney and liver problems, and because glyphosate is so pervasive in the environment, even trace amounts can be harmful due to extended exposure." A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that the FDA plans to initiate testing on corn and soybeans.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Take that Pork and Smother It (in Gravy)!

There are very few people who love the Cajun food of New Orleans more than contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. Fortunately for those of us who are not as well-versed in the region's cuisine, he's always happy to share his recipes!

Smothered Pork

The last time I wrote about smothered food someone asked if I couldn't use a nicer word. The French and a lot of people in Louisiana use étouffée, but mostly when talking about seafood. The Venetians smother cabbage with onions and wine and call it sofegao in the dialect of the lagoon. But I'm sticking with smothered when it comes to pork (or cabbage, okra, steak, liver, and the other foods smothered in Acadiana).

What does the actual smothering can vary, though. Okra gets smothered by the typical trinity of onion, celery, and pepper with the addition of tomatoes (but not always). Sometimes it's just a lot of cooked down onions, like with smothered cabbage.

This smothered pork comes from Donald Link's first cookbook, Real Cajun. Cochon, one of his restaurants in New Orleans, introduced me to the country food of southern Louisiana (and has been a Real Good Food customer for more than five years). Link's homage to his grandmother's cooking slowly roasts a big pork shoulder in a roux-based gravy flavored with onions and garlic, and it's delicious. But the same smothering technique works well with other cuts of pork, too.

The photo above shows country style "ribs," actually chunks of pork shoulder, and I've smothered chops, too (I find the cheaper pork chops, sometimes sold as sirloin chops, taste better than loin chops). They all start with a good dusting of salt, and if you can let the meat sit for awhile after salting do so.

Use a heavy skillet or Dutch oven (preferably cast iron) and brown the pork on all sides in a splash of olive oil. Remove the meat and add a chopped onion or two (use a couple if you're cooking a big roast, just one for a skillet of chops or shoulder chunks). Toss in some chopped garlic, a couple of sprigs' worth of fresh rosemary and the same amount of fresh thyme, a healthy grinding of black pepper, and cook until the onions have softened, maybe five minutes.

Add about as much flour as there is fat (the olive oil and pork fat from the meat; add more oil if it's less than a couple of tablespoons), and cook it for a few minutes. Add a couple of cups of water or stock, stir well, and put the pork back in the pot. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat, cover, and cook it in a 275° oven until the pork starts to come apart when poked gently (two to three hours for a big roast, less for chops or country ribs).

When the pork is done you can take it out and reduce the gravy a bit if you like, but I find it's usually just right. Serve this with some Kokuho Rose brown rice, and you'll have my friend Pableaux's definition of Cajun food: anything with gravy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Discovering the Salish Sea: Port Townsend and Fort Worden, Pt. 3

Mention Port Townsend and I immediately think of its physical location: a forested point of land at the northeastern tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, jutting into the waters joining the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound. This fortuitous placement made it an ideal seaport in the 19th Century, easy for large sailing ships coming up the West Coast to duck into, dock and unload their cargo.

Staircase detail with painted ceiling.

Which brings to my mind the other feature of the town, which is the astonishing number of intact Victorian homes ringing the port and climbing up the hills that overlook the harbor. Built by wealthy merchants and sea captains, many are still in private hands, and several others have been converted into bed and breakfast hotels. The large number of these historic buildings has given birth to a Victorian Festival in mid-March that features tours, a Victorian Ball and even a pub crawl of saloons and shanghai tunnels.

Elaborate Victorian post office.

What I didn't know about before this latest foray, courtesy of Christina Pivarnik of the City of Port Townsend, was Fort Worden State Park, originally a military facility built as an artillery fortification in the early 1900s to defend the Puget Sound. Now a state park that comprises more than 430 acres, it features 100 historic structures and spans two miles of saltwater shoreline with views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and the San Juan Islands.

View of parade grounds and the bay.

Our group of travel writers was scheduled to stay in one of the historic officers' quarters (top photo), and I was having a moment of déjà vu until Christina mentioned that the row of Victorian structures featured prominently in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Built as duplexes to house the Fort's highest-ranking military families, they've been updated with modern kitchens and amenities and are available to rent to individuals or groups, some even designated as pet-friendly. Located overlooking the vast lawn of the parade grounds, the homes also have a stunning view out over the water.

Back in town there's beer with a view!

The grounds of the base include a large conference center and café, great for those of us who like a stroll with a destination that includes a snack, and ambitious plans are afoot to develop resort and education facilities over the next few years. Already there is a Marine Science Center on the property, 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, an artillery museum and a plethora of year-round activities for families and individuals, including the old gun batteries that are open for the public to explore (kids would love this feature, guaranteed). Plus, of course, a lively farmers' market in town from April through December.

Getting my steampunk on.

One incredibly charming feature of Port Townsend, and I'm not surprised considering its Victorian roots, is that it has become a nexus of activity for the steampunk community. In mid-June, in fact, you'll find the town flooded with characters straight out of a Jules Verne novel, outfitted for the annual Port Townsend Steam festival. One of the keepers of the flame for local steampunk enthusiasts is Olympic Peninsula Steam, which sponsors other steampunk activities throughout the year.

And don't worry if you don't have your goggles, helmet and hose—stop by World's End downtown like we did and get your steampunk on!

Read the other posts in this series: San Juan Island, Pt. 1 and San Juan Island, Pt. 2.