Friday, January 27, 2017

Party Favor: Green Olive Tapenade

I love dinner parties. Not fancy-schmancy, dress-up affairs where people make polite small-talk over hors d'oeuvres, then sit down at a table groaning with myriad special-purpose forks and spoons. (Can you tell I've been watching too many British life-in-the-manor shows?) I prefer small gatherings where the question isn't "what should I wear" so much as "what can I bring."

It's probably because I grew up with parents who had friends over for dinner frequently, where the laughter and conversation filled the house as full plates were decimated and bottles of wine were emptied.

Potluck dinners provide great opportunities to get new recipes, since people tend to bring favorite bites they only make for special occasions—my brother's deviled eggs with pancetta leaps to mind—or when they want to try out a new recipe, a practice a surprised guest once scolded me for but I still do on a regular basis. After all, what better time to try a labor or ingredient-intensive dish? Pour enough wine and your guests will forgive (or forget) any minor disasters!

One such recent gathering featured an intriguing appetizer that I first took to be guacamole because of its brilliant green color, but on taking a bite I was startled to find it crunchy and sparked with lemon and garlic. But what was it?

I immediately turned to Michael Schoenholtz, a terrific photographer and the one who brought the fascinating tidbit, and asked what this deliciousness was. Turns out that he had been working on the recipe ever since he'd had it at a restaurant, tweaking and fiddling to recreate the experience he remembered (an exercise in patience that I seldom can manage). Based on the intensely bright green Castelvetrano olives which I've been flirting with for years—I love them plain, marinated in orange zest or chopped in a salad—and which are a ubiquitous presence in grocery store olive bars, it adds Meyer lemon juice (be still my heart), garlic, almonds and mustard seeds to achieve that intoxicating flavor.

Better yet? It can be made in a food processor in minutes. Now I'm toying with the idea of mixing the ingredients into pasta or serving it with fish or on crostini, so you may be seeing a similar combination again. So try it, and feel free to take it to your next potluck!

Castelvetrano Olive Tapenade
From Michael Schoenholtz

40 pitted Castelventrano olives
1/3 c. blanched, unsalted almonds (slivers fine)
1/3 c. fresh fennel, roughly chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2-1 c. Italian parsley, roughly chopped
3 oz. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients except olive oil and salt in food processor. With processor running, drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture is a coarse blend. (You don’t want a smooth purée, so don't dawdle.) Empty processor into medium-sized mixing bowl and stir in salt to taste.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Bills Address New Farmers; CAFO Air Pollution; GMO Contamination

Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing you with contact information to voice your opinion on those issues. Thanks to Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers for help on details of the pending legislation.

The upcoming session of the Oregon legislature—scheduled to convene on February first—is going to be a tough one for the State of Oregon, which is facing a $1.7 billion (yes, with a "b") funding shortfall. That means that programs benefitting small farmers, like those supporting beginning farmers and for farmers transitioning to organic, as well as for Farm-to-School funding, are going to be David in a battle with big Goliaths like transportation, natural resources, education…you name it.

Here are three bills that I'll be keeping an eye on in the next few weeks and months, and I'll keep you posted on any new issues that arise.

New farmers gather to share information.

Tax credit for renting farmland to beginning farmers for a term of three years (HB 2085). This bill creates a beginning farmer tax credit to encourage landowners to rent land to beginning farmers, with higher rates given for organic practices. Despite growing demand for locally grown food, Oregon is in the midst of land crisis. The state lost nearly 25% of its beginning farmers (those in business fewer than 10 years) between 2007 and 2012, according to the USDA. The average age of farmers in Oregon is now 60 years old, and fast-rising farmland prices are raising serious question about who will grow our food in the future. HB 2085 is intended to help beginning farmers gain access to land, and builds on Oregon's Aggie Bonds program, which helps lower interest rates on loans to beginning farmers. If passed, the tax credit will apply to tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

Oregon CAFOs produce air pollutant like ammonia and nitrogen.

Regulation of air contaminant emissions from dairy confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) (SB  197). This bill would require new rules be established to regulate air contaminant emissions from large dairy operations by 2019. In 2007, Oregon exempted large-scale livestock operations from air-quality oversight, and though a 2008 state task force recommended an air quality oversight program for large dairies, the state's Departement of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is not monitoring air quality impacts from large CAFOs and feedlots. Elevated concentrations of ammonia from mega-dairies like the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms (photo, above right) have been linked to acid deposits in the Columbia River Gorge, and nitrogen compounds are contributing to elevated levels of ozone in the vicinity of these operations. A recent proposal for a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy called Lost Valley Ranch near the Columbia River has prompted renewed interest from legislators in creating an air contaminant emissions program as outlined in SB 197.

Contamination from GE crops threaten Oregon's small farmers.

Allowing local governments to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination from genetically engineered seed or products (HB 2469). This bill will allow counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. Up to that point, Oregon county governments had the highest degree of local discretionary authority of any state in the nation, according to the Oregon Secretary of State as quoted in an article at the time. HB 2469 would allow counties to once again regulate or ban GE crops to protect farmers growing traditional crops, and it would leave in place an existing ban on GE crops that passed in Jackson County on May 20, 2014. It would also allow a GE crop ban that passed in Josephine County in May, 2014, but which has been blocked in the courts, to finally go into effect.

The sponsors of legislation are listed on the information pages of the bills (links above), and links are provided for their offices. You can find your own legislators here if you want to contact them about these or other issues.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Meyer Lemon Relish Makes Cauliflower Sing

I adore Meyer lemons and try to use them as much as possible when they're in season. This year I made preserved lemons, the better to enjoy them long after they've disappeared from store shelves. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food chops them into a relish that he can serve with grilled fish or mix with any number of blanched vegetables and salad greens. Thanks, Jim! 

It wasn't that long ago (okay, maybe it was 20 years) that the only way to get a Meyer lemon was knowing someone in California with a tree in their backyard. The citrus, thought to be a cross of lemon and tangerine, actually arrived from Asia in the early 1900s. Less acidic and puckery than the common Lisbon and Eureka lemons, Meyers also have thin, aromatic skins and a lovely fragrance.

Cauliflower with Meyer Lemon Relish

This relish, a twist on the traditional Italian herb sauce called gremolata, comes from an Alice Waters recipe for slow-roasted salmon in the 1999 Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook. It's good with fish and almost everything else.

Drop a whole head of cauliflower into a pot of salted boiling water; pull it out after 3 minutes and let cool. Make the relish by cutting a Meyer lemon into quarters lengthwise, slicing the central white core from each quarter and removing the seeds. Then chop the lemon finely. [Preserved Meyer lemons, chopped as indicated, would be fabulous, too.]

Combine the chopped lemon with a finely chopped shallot, a quarter cup or so of chopped flat-leaf parsley, about a tablespoon of chopped chives, a tablespoon of Katz sparkling wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Let this sit for a few minutes while you chop the cauliflower (use the core, too; just chop it into smaller pieces). Toss the cauliflower with the relish, add more salt and a little black pepper and drizzle with more olive oil. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It's Time for a Barn Dance

The video above is so full of joy that I just had to share. But what's not evident is the reason behind this chore dance by farmer Jay Lavery of The Permaculture Inn in Sharon Springs, New York:

"It's that time of the year for the Lets Move Challenge. Dancing is how I stay warm in the barn and I never know when I'm going to break out into a dance. But what most people don't know is that 15 years ago I had a traumatic back injury that caused me to have several back surgeries including a discectomy and a spinal fusion and neverending back pain. Dancing along with yoga and meditation are my only alternatives to pain medication. So I hope this can inspire anyone to move in spite of pain and I hope this puts a smile on your face for the New Year."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snowy Day Calls for a Hot Toddy

This morning I awoke to a world that looked a lot like a Japanese woodblock print. You know the ones, contoured drawings washed in delicate neutral tones with accents of blue or red, showing hillside villages covered in a blanket of white. People, if they're depicted at all, are tiny details in the larger landscape, usually bent over in the cold.

Hiroshige, Night Snow at Kambara, 1833

Having dogs, of course, I had to get them outside first thing, so I bundled up in my big coat and boots, stuffing as many extra layers underneath as I could. Being dogs, of course, they bounded out in just their fur coats and, being Corgis, they sank up to their necks in the 10 or 12 inches of fluffy snow that had fallen overnight.

A snow angel? Of course!

Fortunately we hadn't lost power like many other residents of the city, so we had coffee and hot chocolate and oatmeal to fortify us for the day. Pretty soon we'll curl up on the couch with the pups and watch a few episodes of "The Crown," a costume drama about the early days of Queen Elizabeth II that somehow matches perfectly with snowy days, with its muted colors and somber tone.

Mmmmm…hot toddy.

At some point we'll put on a kettle to make hot toddies, our new favorite winter's drink. This one, a simple concoction of hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey with warming spices, was one that our neighbors made for us one icy night a couple of weeks ago. It's become a go-to recipe, so easy that after making it once or twice it doesn't even require measuring. I'd like to think that those tiny figures in the snowy Japanese landscapes were heading home to something like this.

Ann and Chad's Hot Toddy

1 slice lemon, 1/8" thick
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
1 1/2 oz. whiskey (your choice)
2 oz. boiling water
1 tsp. honey

Place lemon in bottom of a mug or heat-resistant cup. With a muddler or the back of a spoon, crush the lemon gently to release its juices. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Food News: GMO Grass; MA Farmers' Success Story; 30 Years in Beervana

Lawn-care products giant Scotts has a problem with the runaway success of one of its products. In this case, the runaway is a type of grass that had been genetically modified to resist the weed-killer RoundUp, made by the agrichemical company Monsanto. As reported in an article by The Oregonian's Jeff Manning, it was planted in supposedly contained test plots around the country, but has jumped the fence, threatening to contaminate Oregon's billion-dollar-a-year grass seed industry.

The article quotes Don Herb, a Linn Country seed dealer, as saying it "would be a catastrophic event for Oregon's grass seed industry. We don't need Scotts or others to put our industry at risk."

Even more frightening, Manning reports that the grass has now crossed with wild grasses, passing along its modified genes for herbicide resistance.

And Scotts? The company was fined $500,000 in 2007 for allowing the grass to escape and was charged with eradicating the grass, a costly and painstaking process that Scotts said was largely complete. Then more of it was found in patches in Malheur County, and the company is saying the problem now falls back on state and county governments. That means you and me, my friends.

Regardless who ends up paying for it, the article quotes Herb as saying, "we need to get out in front of this. This is an invasive weed that, in my opinion, you can't control."

* * *

A USDA report, released in December, said that farmers in the US "sold $8.7 billion in edible food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, and local distributors." Not surprisingly, California is at the top of the list, outstripping the second listed state, Michigan, by a factor of six. And Oregon, with its much-touted local food scene, farmers' markets and bounteous supply of agricultural land and coastline? Not even in the top ten.

So how did a small state like Massachusetts, known more for its industrial base than for vast tracts of farmland, manage to come in eighth on that list of farm-to-consumer sales? It may have started 18 years ago when an organization called Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) launched one of the nation’s first buy-local education campaigns, according to an article reporting on the ranking. Then in 2013 the Massachusetts Food Policy Council launched a statewide planning process to address the opportunities and challenges of the state’s local food system, which completed and accepted the plan in December of 2015.

The article said that these organized, sustained efforts over the years, along with a Local Hero campaign profiling local farmers, nine "buy local" organizations—which let folks know what's in season, where to find it and how to use it—as well as the support of a strong farmers' market association and the state's Department of Agricultural Resources, have helped to make this tiny New England state, and its family farmers, a national success.

“The direct sales business model can help older farms diversify their sales and often enables a beginning farm to launch their business,” Philip Korman, CISA executive director, is quoted as saying. “Farmers are able to keep every penny of their sales when they sell direct through farmers markets, CSA farm shares and farm stands.”

So come on, Oregon, we can do better!

* * *

Portland beer writer Jeff Alworth, author of many books on beer as well as the longstanding Beervana blog—he started it in 2006, the same year I began writing Good Stuff NW—has written a personal, and quite charming, story of Thirty Years in Portland. He begins in 1986, when he arrived in the city, describing it as a "poor, rough town" with one of the highest murder rates in the country, a "racially divided town [where] a century of racist policies had concentrated black Portlanders into a section of the Northeast, a poor section neglected by the city."

Alworth also chronicles the rise of Portland's beer culture from its inception—where the founding brewer of BridgePort Brewing, Karl Ockert, was told by a banker, "Breweries don't open, they shut down."—to the transformation of an abandoned warehouse district into the heavily commercialized Pearl District.

Through it all, he is still clearly in love with his adopted home. And its beer scene.

"I would argue that beer is actually the ür-product of Portlandia, the first of the artisanal products that would come to define the city and its culture," he writes. "Craft beer is in this way a metaphor for Portland. It arose because the circumstances were ripe in the city at the time (which was not unique), but flourished because of the way Portland's culture prizes indie projects, local projects, and the opportunity to do things its own way."

Photo of the farmers' market from the Shrewsbury (MA) Farmers' Market.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Smothered Cabbage, Louisiana Style

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is our local conduit for all things from New Orleans. With a kid (and now grandchildren) in the Big Easy, he's got an even better reason than food to spend lots of time there. As long as he keeps bringing back (and sharing) his recipes, I'm all for it!

There are lots of foods different cultures eat for good luck in the new year, including greens of some kind (some say it's because money is green). According to Gulf Coast chef John Folse, in Louisiana they'll be eating smothered cabbage on New Year's Day. But this old school recipe is so good you'll want to eat it all year.

Smothered Cabbage

Folse's recipe calls for andouille, the deeply smoked sausage of Cajun country, but it's hard to find the good stuff here in the northwest. You can order it from Jacob's or check with with the butcher shop at Laurelhurst Market [or Old Salt Marketplace], but you can smother cabbage with just bacon if you can't wait.

Start by cooking a quarter pound or so of chopped bacon in a little olive oil (if you've got andouille, cut it into bite-sized pieces and cook it with the bacon until brown). When it's browned, add a chopped onion, about half as much chopped celery, and a small green bell pepper, also chopped. While those are cooking, chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a tablespoon or so of fresh thyme; toss them in, along with salt, black pepper, and a half head of green cabbage cut into 2 inch pieces.

When the cabbage has wilted a little, add a quarter cup of water, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 25 minutes. As Folse notes in his recipe, it might seem overcooked, but that's they way they like in Louisiana. Everybody I've served this to feels the same way.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Quick Solution for a Hearty Breakfast: Oatmeal!

On frigid mornings like we've been having lately, the best thing I can think of—besides buckets of coffee, that is—is a warm, comforting breakfast. The problem is, most of the time those hearty breakfasts entail at least an hour of prep and cooking even if I've got the ingredients handy.

Then, the other morning, Dave said, "How about oatmeal for breakfast?"

What? Oatmeal? I haven't had oatmeal for at least a year…the last time I made it was when my 6-year-old nephew was here for a sleepover while his folks made a quick escape to Seattle. And I don't think Dave has ever made it in the (mumble mumble) years we've been together.

Fortunately I usually have rolled oats in the pantry left over from making granola, along with milk, currants and brown sugar, and ten minutes later we were tucking into warm, fragrant bowls of creamy cooked oats. And honestly, when you think about it, those instant packets of oatmeal? They take just as long if you consider boiling the water, mixing it and waiting at least a couple of minutes for the mass of processed oats to congeal. Plus the flavor doesn't even come close to cooking rolled or steel-cut oats from scratch.

So next time you're at the store, get some organic rolled oats from the bulk department. They'll come in handy for a warm, hearty breakfast (with maybe enough left over for a batch of oatmeal cookies).

Oatmeal for Two

2 c. water
1 c. rolled oats
Pinch salt

In a small to medium-sized saucepan, combine water, oats and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, and in 3 to 5 minutes you'll have oatmeal. Serve with milk and brown sugar or syrup, and feel free to add butter, chopped fruit or other condiments as desired.

Want to make more, or even cook up enough for a few breakfasts? Keep the ratio of water to oats at 2 to 1 and you're good to go.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Farm Bulletin: The Ecological Mosaic that is Ayers Creek Farm

It is appropriate that the first post of this new year is a short essay by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, taken from the 2017 farm calendar. His Farm Bulletins, about the intricacies of a farmer's dance with nature, have been an integral part of Good Stuff NW since 2007. I am gratified that he allows me to continue to share them with you.

Ayers Creek Farm has nearly 80 acres of ground suited to the production of crops. The remaining 64 acres include a 40-acre open wetland, 20 acres of oak savannah and some swales of green ash and hawthorn. A little over half the farm is a managed landscape, a little under is largely unmanaged. It is hard to imagine the farm without its two hemispheres. For us, a highly productive square of farmland would be a dull place indeed without the messy exuberance of the wild areas bleeding into our efforts at an organized ecology. Even on the managed parts of the farm, we seek to keep a light footprint on the landscape.


In both natural and managed ecosystems, dead plant material is the substrate of life. It can be seen as a stock market where the ecosystem stores and exchanges capital built up through the summer. The crop residue is still a productive part of life, but in a different way. During the winter months, these old cornstalks protect the soil from the driving rains, and as their roots decay, the resulting passages ease the path of the water in the soil. As the plants decay further, they contribute to humus in the soil, which provides nutrient and water storage. At first glance, it may seem messy, or even a sign of laziness, but as you observe it functioning there is actually great beauty, vitality and order in the tangled mass of death.

Photos by Anthony Boutard.