Thursday, June 28, 2018

Spritzers: Simple Summer Sippers

There is nothing better on a summer evening than sitting peacefully on our front porch with the dogs at my feet and a cool drink in my hand. Goodness knows there are summer cocktails aplenty, between mojitos, caipirinhas, and the classic Americano, not to mention gin-and-tonics and gimlets. A nice glass of rosé or a crisp French chardonnay have their occasional attractions, too.

But when I want refreshment rather than a knockout punch, particularly if it's a social gathering in the early afternoon, I'm in favor of something light and bubbly, both cooling and hydrating, with just a splash of alcohol to elevate the mood and take the edge off the day.

I've been playing around with amaros lately, the bittersweet liqueurs of Italy, using the ubiquitous Italian aperitif of Campari, soda, ice and a lemon twist as a model. Cocchi Americano Bianco is a current go-to, with its bright sweetness—I'll often have a couple of ounces of it in a wine glass over ice for sipping in a hot bath—and with three kinds of mint coming up in the garden, all it took was a sliver of lemon peel and a top-up of club soda to make a smashing spritz for our front porch or back yard this summer.

Cocchi Bianco Spritzer

2 oz. Cocchi Americano Bianco
1 sprig mint, bruised
1 strip lemon peel
Club soda

Fill tall highball glass two-thirds full of ice. Add mint. Top with club soda. Squeeze lemon peel, skin-side down, over the drink and submerge the peel in the ice. Stir briefly with cocktail spoon to combine.

Check out these other recipes for cool, refreshing spritzers for summer.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer BBQ = Baked Beans

Quick: Name the most ubiquitous foods at summer picnics.

Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Potato salad. Baked beans. Extra points if you envision them on a picnic table covered with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Maybe some smoke from the barbecue wafting by.

Agrodolce, a combination of sour and sweet.

They're all-American classics for a reason, of course. Generations have grown up putting yellow mustard and ketchup—spelling it catsup, apparently, has gone the way of the dodo—pickles and onions on their burgers. But sometimes it's fun to mess with the classics once in awhile, especially if the tweaks, if not a paradigm-shifting improvement over the original, at least offer a delicious alternative.

My friend Jim Dixon got me started thinking about the Italian idea of "agrodolce," combining sour (agro) and sweet (dolce) flavors using vinegar and sugar (or honey) and often onions or fruit to spark the other flavors in the dish, much as we use salt for the same purpose. As opposed to the baked beans I grew up on, ketchup-y and, to my tastebuds, a bit too sweet, the use of the sweet-and-sour agrodolce took this tried-and-true picnic dish to a whole new level.

And adding a bit of bacon or, in this case, a whole ham hock, well, what dish doesn't smoked pork enhance?

Baked Beans Agrodolce

2 c. dried beans*
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 large bay leaves
Smoked ham hock (or 1/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon, cut in 1/4" strips)
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. sage leaves, chopped fine

Put dried beans in a pot and add water to cover by at least 2”. Cover and soak overnight on the counter.

Preheat oven to 250°.

Drain water from beans and add fresh water to cover. Add ham hock or bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too). Monitor every couple of hours to make sure the beans are still covered with liquid; if they're a bit dry, add water to cover and continue cooking.

Two hours before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add onion mixture to them and combine, then bake for an additional hour. Remove the bay leaves. Remove the ham hock and shred it, then stir it back into the beans. Taste for salt and adjust as desired. This is great served right out of the oven but is also spectacular made a day ahead for dinner or a picnic the next day.

* Dutch Bullet beans from Ayers Creek Farm hold their shape nicely after hours of cooking.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

In Discussion: Lost Valley Farm and Mega-Dairies in Oregon

When Chris Seigel, host of the Food Show on KBOO Community Radio, contacted me wanting to do a segment on my reporting on Lost Valley Farm and mega-dairies in Oregon, I saw it as a chance to get the word out about how these large factory farm dairies are affecting Oregon's communities and our air and water, as well as the health of Oregonians.

I immediately called in Amy Van Saun, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, and Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, who have been working on the issues these out-of-state-owned, corporate factories present to the state. (Give our discussion a listen by clicking on the audio bar below the photo, above.)

* * *

Read the series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, as well as groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Fava Beans: To Peel, or Not to Peel?

Once again, it's confession time.

I love fava bean season so much that, at the first sign of the bundles of young green shoots on farmers' market tables in the spring, I get a little giddy thinking of them stir-fried with garlic and tossed with pasta and preserved lemon, or slathered with oil and roasted, served alongside a beautiful grilled, pasture-raised chicken thigh. Then there's the knowledge that in just a couple of weeks, it'll be time for the pods to start appearing, their strange, off-green, blobby exteriors revealing pale green kidney-shaped beans pillowed in a porous white cushion.

Young favas in the field, perfect for shoots.

That's about when I remember that to prepare these little beany delights, I have to strip them out of their pods, boil them in a salty pot of water, then spend what seems like hours in the tedious task of popping them out of their skins to get a paltry—albeit decidedly delicious—pile of the bright green, shiny jewels.

I know, I'm whining.

Shucked beans ready to boil and use!

But, wonder of wonders, this year my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins, part-time resident of Italy and author of well-regarded books on Italian cuisine like Cucina del Sol and The Four Seasons of Pasta, saved me (and you) from hours of whinging.

In a post on her blog, she excoriates Americans who insist on peeling the skins from their beans:

"What a waste of time! What a waste of flavor!

"Where does this weird practice come from? I suspect from the French professional kitchen where chefs are constantly challenged to come up with new tricks and trucs to keep their enormous brigades de cuisine in operation. In Italy, where restaurant kitchens are run much more economically, no one has to dream up tasks—there are enough to go around and more.

Pasta with albacore and favas.

"But why do Americans insist on this? Every food writer except one (me) says you have to peel beans. Then they go through elaborate rigmaroles to show you how to do it. No wonder fava beans are not exactly popular despite their magnificent, slightly earthy flavor, so very different from string beans or limas. Every spring or summer I feel like climbing up in the pulpit and shouting: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT—IN FACT, IT IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE!!!"

Which, as you might imagine, got my attention. And came in mighty handy when my neighbor called offering a grocery bag full of freshly harvested favas from his garden. Let me tell you, I never relished preparing beans more—just shuck, boil in a pot of salted water for ten minutes and they're ready!

Read the rest of Nancy's post to get her serving suggestions and more cultural trivia about these delicate denizens of early summer. For me, I used some of my neighbor's beans in a pasta tossed with preserved lemon and albacore, sprinkled with chive blossoms and chopped chives, then used the rest to make the following dip for a party. Though when everyone oohed and aahed over the amount of work it took to peel all those beans, I was torn about revealing my secret. (Psst…I did.)

Fava Bean Spread

3 c. shucked beans
2 cloves garlic
1/2 fennel bulb, cut in half, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 c. parsley, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. mint, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Drop in fava beans and cook for ten minutes. Drain and run under very cold water (or ice bath) until cool.

Put beans, garlic, fennel, parsley, mint and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on and while its running drizzle in olive oil until puréed. Adjust lemon juice and olive oil and add salt to taste. Serve with slices of rustic bread or crackers, or on toasted slices of baguette (à la bruschetta).

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lost Valley Farm: Governor Under Pressure to Shut Down Mega-Dairy

"Cows standing ankle-deep in a slurry of their own waste is just the beginning of Lost Valley mega-dairy's long list of horrifying infractions. Lagoons have overflowed with manure and untreated wastewater, running off into areas where it could contaminate drinking water supplies for local families. 'Mortality boxes' are overflowing with dead cows. And recently it was reported that the dairy doesn't even have enough water to provide operational restrooms to its employees. Lost Valley's 15,000-cow mega-dairy has been a serial permit violator since its inception."

Waste overflows are common at mega-dairies (here at Threemile Canyon).

This alarming statement comes from the Center for Food Safety, an organization working to protect human health and the environment, which has joined with several other environmental and food system organizations to demand that Governor Kate Brown shut down the dairy for good.

They contend that Lost Valley Farm, which owner Greg te Velde has been licensed to operate for just over a year, threatens the safety of area water supplies—already considered at risk to the point of being designated a Groundwater Management Area by the state's Dept. of Environmental Quality—as well as the Columbia River itself.

Waste from mega-dairies add to pollution problems.

The Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), a partner in the effort to shut down Lost Valley, said that the violations at the mega-dairy, while egregious, are not unusual for factory farms of its size.

"Oregon’s mega-dairies have demonstrated time and time again that they are polluting our air and water, and the state of Oregon has failed to prevent this pollution," the OLCV states in a petition calling for Gov. Brown to shut down the dairy. "The mega-dairy known as Lost Valley Farm is facing huge problems that are affecting our water quality and the health of our environment. These problems occurring at Lost Valley are not unique, and Governor Brown should not allow another company to take over this poorly planned and massive confined animal feeding operation (CAFO)."

Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), an advocacy organization providing support for Oregon's small family farmers, has warned from the beginning that allowing mega-dairies like Lost Valley Farm and the nearby Threemile Canyon Farm—with its 70,000 cows producing 165,000 gallons of milk per day, along with 436 million gallons of waste per year—would endanger the state's small dairy producers, and pollute the area's air and water. In fact, since Threemile Canyon began operations in 2001, an average of nine family-owned Oregon dairy farms went out of business each month between 2002 and 2007. (Sign FoFF's message to Governor Brown.)

* * *

Read the series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened just a year ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, as well as groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and creditors, and te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

In Season: Summer's Tsunami Starts Now

In case you've been living in a cave the past couple of weeks, it's time to peek out and smell the strawberries. Or, as Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce said, "Strawberries are in full effect," though he adds that for Oregon's beloved native strawberries, whose season lasts for a couple of weeks at most, "Hoods are going to be over in a minute-and-a-half, so if you haven't bought them yet, go now."

Shortcake season!

After the Hoods are done for the season, two types of strawberries dominate the Oregon market. Albion and Seascape are everbearing varieties, which means they will produce two or three harvests during the summer. Both are good for fresh eating, but the Albions are a bit sweeter and are best sliced in fruit and green salads or dipped in chocolate or a fresh sheep's cheese. Seascapes, which have a less sweet, earthier note, are your best best for baking—think strawberry cake or as a topping on vanilla ice cream—because they're denser and hold their shape during cooking instead of just melting away. I served organic Seascapes from Winter Green Farm that I halved and sprinkled with a bit of sugar to draw out their juices, then spooned them over shortcakes topped with a dollop of whipped cream. (Excuse me while I drool at the memory…)

Local cherries galore…

Starting this weekend Alsberg said you'll also begin seeing local cherries in earnest, which will last at least through mid-July. Chelan cherries are generally the first on the market, followed by Brooks, Vans and Lamberts. Two other varieties to look for are Attica cherries, which he said have the most incredible flavor he's ever tasted, and Royal Brooks, which he described as "big and meaty and sweet." Rainiers and Bing cherries will make an appearance in mid to late June. (Pro tip: for best selection and quality, as well as the more unusual varieties, Alsberg recommends seeking out Baird Family Orchards, which has booths at most of the larger markets in town. He also gives a thumbs-up to Gala Springs Farm at the PSU farmers' market.)

In the parade of local fruit that will soon be marching down farmers' market aisles, cherries are followed by blueberries, which will be appearing in mid to late June. Alsberg recommends holding off until then, since many of the early blueberries in stores now aren't fully ripe and won't be until they get some significant sun. Raspberries will be arriving shortly thereafter, followed by the rest of the cane berries like tay, loganberries and blackberries, which will all arrive by the fourth of July.

Peachy keen.

July 4th also signals the beginning of peach season, which Alsberg also recommends getting from farmers' markets rather than at the supermarket. Farmers will be happy to provide samples for you to try as well as to talk about which varieties are the best for fresh eating and using in pies and preserves. Apricots and nectarines will be available before the end of June, preceding peaches by the slightest of margins. Call it nature's way of whetting your appetite.

I don't want to lose summer vegetables in the excitement over fruit season, since there's a boatload of local produce ready to cascade onto our picnic and dining tables this summer. Favas, asparagus and peas are dwindling, as are spring onions and some of the bitter greens like mustards and mizuna, so Alsberg recommends getting them ASAP. Local lettuce is coming on strong, with leaf lettuces, Little Gems and butter lettuce available in abundance through July. Spring roots like radishes and spring turnips will stick around until it gets hot, most likely through much of July.

Get your local corn on.

July will also bring local corn, along with the new crop of potatoes, fennel, cabbages and brassicas. Cucumbers, especially the seductively flavorful Persian variety, will start appearing along with their cousins meant for slicing and pickling. No summer would be worthy of the name without summer squash, so get ready to barricade your porch swing from your neighbors' giant I-forgot-to-check-the-garden-today zucchinis. Count on melons, figs and grapes to be rolling in later in July.

So get to the gym and start working out with your market basket to build those upper body muscles. Summer's here!

Watch Josh wax eloquent over local strawberries.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Guest Essay: The Farm Bill and Hungry Oregonians: Why Care?

When I was in college I needed food stamps—now called SNAP—for a few months to fill a gap in my budget, a situation familiar to many of us who, in a rough patch in our lives, have needed some sort of assistance. The following essay by Jacqui Stork, assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, explains the program, its importance in the lives of our fellow Oregonians, and the part it has in the larger national debate over the Farm Bill. You'll find links for more information at the end.

Administered by the USDA, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal food assistance program, distributing roughly $637 million in benefits to its 42 million recipients in 2017. Using SNAP benefits is not uncommon: the federal government estimates that approximately 51% of Americans will participate in the program at some point during their lifetime.

Oregon has had higher proportion of individuals on SNAP than the U.S. average since 2000, and participation remains over 1.5 times higher than it was in 2006. This is partly explained by a still-lagging economy, but since the recession underemployment remains high and housing costs have skyrocketed. The high proportion also reflects a more positive trend: increased participation among eligible people. Historically, it has been difficult to apply for and receive SNAP benefits in Oregon, but that began to change in the late 1990s when lawmakers simplified the process and engaged in strategic outreach to increase participation and access. Now, nearly 100% of eligible Oregonians participate in the program. Last year nearly 15% of Oregon households received benefits.

Eligibility is based on monthly income, not long-term financial outlook or assets, which is important because many people cycle in and out of poverty or food-insecure status. A person's SNAP eligibility status and participation can therefore fluctuate over time. In fact, although millions of Americans rely on SNAP long-term for assistance and security, many utilize the program short-term to alleviate the effects of a financial crisis. Even a small monthly benefit can help provide financial freedom—food insecurity rates are nearly 30% lower among SNAP-participating households than they otherwise would be.

That being said, new research has indicated that, nationwide, the allowable benefit is inadequate for many families to sustain a healthful diet, and that increasing benefits could lead to improvements in health and economic vitality in the long term. Although the program is intended to be supplemental, SNAP benefits make up the bulk of many families' food budgets. The maximum allowable benefit falls well below the average cost of food (in Multnomah County it is $1.86 max benefit per meal versus $2.54 actual cost per meal), so people must still find ways to bridge that gap. Many depend on food pantries, like the one administered by Neighborhood House, or other food assistance programs to meet this need.

Benefits have been distributed using the Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card starting in the late 1990s, but SNAP and its benefits are still commonly referred to as "Food Stamps" thanks to a long history of paper vouchers redeemed for eligible food items. In Oregon, the EBT card is known as the "Oregon Trail" card. Many believe that this change has reduced stigma for participants because it allows retailers to use the same Point of Sale (POS) system as with debit or credit cards. In order for retailers to accept benefits, they must apply and become an approved site through the federal government. Additionally, retailers must use an approved POS device to run transactions. Over the past decade, there has been a push by the USDA to help farmers' markets become approved retailers by providing training resources and subsidization of these POS terminals. Today, the National Farmers' Market directory lists over 2,800 markets nationwide that accept SNAP benefits—up from 750 in 2008. This means more people are able to access the abundance of fresh, local products and that more money goes directly into the pockets of farmers and our local economies.

Funding for SNAP is allocated and approved through the omnibus Farm Bill, thus named because it consolidates the appropriation of funding for several programs and projects into a single package—a vote for one is a vote for all. Along with SNAP, the Farm Bill includes farm support policies (like subsidies, crop insurance, etc), international food aid, land use and many, many other things. In essence, this bill touches every part of our national food system and pairs the oft-conflicting missions of large federal agencies. After teaching a graduate-level course dedicated to the Farm Bill, Marion Nestle, a pioneer in food policy research, stated that "the bill not only lacked an overarching vision, but seemed designed to obfuscate how the programs actually worked."

Every five years Congress must re-authorize the Farm Bill, and our current bill is set to expire in September 2018. Each of the two previous bills faced many challenges on their way to passage: the 2008 bill was vetoed by President Bush and then expired nearly two years before another bill was passed in 2014, and we seem to be in the same boat in 2018.

So far, proposals for this year's bill seek to reshape SNAP, mostly by reducing its budget and reach. Earlier this year, the White House proposed a $26.9 million budget cut in addition to imposing new work requirements for eligibility. Perhaps the most shocking part of this White House plan was the suggestion that rather than providing financial benefits which allow people to shop for and choose their own food, the SNAP program should be based on food boxes doled out monthly. Unsurprisingly, the description of these proposed boxes did not include fresh produce—let alone local or organic options.

Last week the House voted on a bill that would impose strict work requirements while rolling back policies that allowed states some flexibility in providing waivers for these requirements. Additionally, while the bill doesn't reduce spending on SNAP, it does cut funding for benefits and nutrition education programs. An estimated 1.2 million people could lose their benefits under this proposal, and luckily it did not pass. Yet. A new vote has already been scheduled for next month (June). After that, the Senate will vote on a bill and the different versions must be reconciled before being sent to a White House that has shown little to no interest in providing support for the less fortunate.

All told, this process could extend well into 2019 and, given the hyper-partisan nature of our current democracy, this seems likely. Because the current bill expires in September, this means that programs could go without funding for a period of months (this happened during the delay of the 2014 Farm Bill).

To be sure, passage of a clean Farm Bill is imperative for issues far beyond SNAP. But, making it more difficult for millions of Americans to receive food assistance hurts families and communities by reducing access to nutritious and appropriate foods. There is still time to make sure that the final bill is one that supports our most vulnerable, rather than punishing them. Call your representatives in Congress to let them know where you stand before it is too late.

And, if you're interested, here is some additional reading on SNAP, the Farm Bill, and food assistance: