Saturday, September 29, 2018

Umami Bomb from…Tomato Skins?

I'm admitting up front that I am borrowing this from the estimable Ms. Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have, who mentioned this unique idea recently. Intrigued, and still in the middle of processing, oh, about 100 pounds of tomatoes, I was swimming in tomato skins that I had plucked out of the sheet pans of roasted tomatoes that were flying out of my oven.

Dried tomato skins.

Instead of tossing them into the compost, I spread them out in a thin layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan and put them in the oven, which I'd preheated to 150°. It took a few hours, but eventually there was a whiff of roasty tomato smell coming from the oven. Checking them, they were very slightly moist but with that leathery texture of good dried peppers. So after letting them cool, I threw some in the spice grinder, and in a few seconds they were reduced to a fine, flakey consistency, with that gorgeous red color intact.

As a layer in rolled pork loin.

So far I've sprinkled them in scrambled eggs, scattered them on top of macaroni and cheese, and layered them in a pork loin roast with rosemary, fennel pollen and salt, all to delicious effect. Their roasted tomato essence carries through when they soften, and adds a layer of umami that you might get from, say, roasted peppers. I can see using them in hummus or a sour cream dip, in sauces and as a sprightly addition to some of my favorite deviled eggs.

Thanks, Katherine, for the suggestion!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pasture Network Grows with New Online Guide

When I'm at the grocery store or the farmers' market, I'm inundated with so many labels and certifications it makes my head swim. From "non-GMO" to "organic" to "pasture-raised" to "natural," I feel like I have to be a legal expert to suss out which ones are questionable—sometimes even fake—and which ones I can trust.

How do you know what you're buying?

And I hate to say it, but even at the farmers' markets you have to be careful of claims by farms that their products are "all-natural" or "no-spray" or even "local." In one case, Willamette Valley Cheese, which in previous years had won top honors from the American Cheese Society, had its dairy, Volbeda Farms, shut down by the state Department of Agriculture for more than 200 violations since 2007. Since it stopped using milk from its own cows, it is instead buying milk from a regional cooperative, Darigold, while claiming on its website that it is buying from a "local dairy." And showing pictures of cows on grassy pastures belies that fact that much of Darigold's milk is sourced from large factory farm dairies.

But help is here for people like me wanting to buy my meat, dairy and eggs from local farmers who raise their livestock outdoors, on pasture in a humane and ecologically sustainable manner. The  Oregon Pasture Network Product Guide is a free statewide online guide for buying products from more than 60 Oregon farmers who are committed to agricultural practices that put a high value on family farms, animal welfare, public health, the planet and our local rural economies.

Cattle raised on pasture.

Organized by Friends of Family Farmers, the Oregon Pasture Network (OPN) requires producers to sign a Pasture Network Pledge, as well as go through an application process that includes a farm visit. Farmers who sign the pledge agree to operate "on a scale that is appropriate to our land and to use practices that allow our animals to live a high-quality life on pasture [and] make operational decisions intended to foster the long-term viability of the land, air, and water of our local community."

Farmers at a Potluck and Pasture Walk.

Once a farm is accepted into the network—a no-fee process at this point—farmers are listed in the product guide with an accompanying farm profile, as well as being given access to classes that provide expert assistance to improve their pasture-based systems and deepen their understanding of the art and science of responsible grazing. The OPN also provides a producer listserv where farmers can share tips and information, and the network launched a Potluck and Pasture Walk series this past summer, scheduled around Oregon so producers can share stories of what it's like to raise animals on pasture in their particular part of the state.

And if you want to know more about local producers and where your food comes from, Friends of Family Farmers is sponsoring a series of free informational evenings called InFARMation that will take a deep dive into the benefits of responsible grazing and pasture-raised poultry (including eggs), meat and dairy. Each evening will feature tastings and a panel discussion, as well as beer provided by Lagunitas Brewing, which sponsors the meeting place and donates all sales of beer to Friends of Family Farmers. Dates and topics are:
  • Pasture-Raised Poultry and Eggs featuring farmers Geoff Scott and John Mathia of Marion Acres Farm; Piper Davis, co-owner, and Laura Ohm, product director of Grand Central Bakery; Justin Ashby is meat monger for Flying Fish Company and owner of Tidal Boar Foods.Aug. 25, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.
  • Pasture-Raised Pork, Oct. 9, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.
  • Pasture-Raised Dairy, Nov. 13, 6-9 pm, Lagunitas Community Room, 237 NE Broadway St., Suite 300.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Court Orders Feds to Take Over Lost Valley Farm, Appoint Trustee

“[Owner Greg] Te Velde is unwilling, or unable, to comply with his duties as a fiduciary,” wrote Judge Fredrick Clement of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of California in his decision to allow a federal takeover of Lost Valley Farm in Boardman, Oregon.

“Since filing (bankruptcy), [te Velde] has continued his long-standing habits of methamphetamine usage and gambling," Judge Clement continued. "Drug usage has occurred once or twice per week, and he has gambled estate monies of $2,000 to $7,000 monthly. Te Velde borrowed $205,000 without court authorization, and in a one-month period took personal draws of $28,000 more than authorized.”

With that damning decision by Clement, te Velde failed in his efforts to maintain control of Lost Valley Farm in Boardman as well as the two mega-dairies he owns in California. Clement then ordered the appointment of a trustee to manage the three factory farm dairies.

According to an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal, "it's uncertain whether replacing te Velde with a trustee will hasten or slow environmental improvements at the dairy" since "creditors have said they are reluctant to approve any spending on environmental compliance until a consultant completes a report outlining the cost of all needed improvements."

Until that report is done, and even in its current questionable state, the dairy will continue to operate, selling the milk from its approximately 7,000 cows under the contract it has with the Tillamook Creamery Association's processing plant in Boardman. That is despite Tillamook's claims in bankruptcy hearings in June that the milk from Lost Valley violated the company's testing standards for safe levels of bacteria on at least 60 occasions.

"The Lost Valley mega-dairy has been a disaster from the beginning, and hopefully this decision will lead to it finally being closed down," said Friends of Family Farmers Policy Director Ivan Maluski in the Salem paper's article. "The Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture could have prevented this fiasco and should have denied this operation a permit at the outset. This situation makes it clear that Oregon needs stronger laws to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future."

* * *

Read my 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, plus massive groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and the farm's 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.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Season: Late Summer and Fall Bounty

As Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is fond of pointing out, we here in the Northwest live in a maritime climate, on the same latitude as Italy's Piedmont and, interestingly, Hokkaido, the northernmost of the islands that comprise Japan. Which means, fellow travelers, that we have a relatively mild climate moderated by its proximity to the ocean, with a fairly long growing season that can extend well into the fall.

So here we find ourselves, on the cusp between late summer and autumn with the harvest still pouring in from local fields, and I thought it was a good time to chat with Josh Alsberg about what we can expect to find at farmers' markets (as well as at local greengrocers like his own Rubinette Produce).

His summary? "Apples, pears, squash, roots and greens. 'K, bye!"

Price and canadice grapes.

Pushed for just a teensy bit more detail, he added that local table grapes are just coming into full bloom and should be available for the next three or four weeks. One of his favorite farms for grapes, aside from Ayers Creek Farm, is Farmers Table Grapes, owned by Bill and Karen Farmer in Rickreall. Certified organic, they grow more than 30 varieties of grapes like Interlaken and Eisenstadt.

As for apples, he suggests getting them at farmers' markets, since most apples found in supermarkets come from large corporate farms. Whether at the market or the store, he said the best way to know if you'll like a variety is to ask for a taste. His mantra? "You have to be brave enough to ask questions," whether for a sample or to learn more about a farm's practices. Fresh local apples—as opposed to storage apples, which tend to be "older and more tired"—should be available until the end of November.

Forell pears.

Alsberg noted that pears are also going to be available in abundance, at least through the end of October. He said the early pears like Bartlett, Starkrimson and Cascade tend to have a slightly more astringent quality, and that as we move into October dessert pears—think Comice, Bosc and Taylor's Gold—will start appearing along with Seckel and Forell pears.

Local plums and pluots, which hang to ripeness on the trees and tend to have a more nuanced flavor than those imported from outside the Northwest, will be available through September. He said that melons are on the way out, so enjoy them now because they'll disappear from the scene.

There's still time to make corn salsa!

Sadly, I am obligated to report that the supply of local tomatoes is also waning rapidly (personally, I'm eating as many tomato sandwiches as I can) and the window for corn and eggplant is closing quickly. Peppers will be strong through early October, and a few farmers' markets are featuring fresh-roasted peppers for sale.

The good news is that local potatoes, onions and winter squash are beginning to appear. Some sage advice Alsberg shared is to pace yourself when it comes to winter squash. "You don't want to burn out before the good stuff gets to you," he said, and suggested referring to the Winter Squash Cooking Chart that lays out the four categories of winter squash—Simple, Saucy, Sweet and Salad—and easy recipes to take advantage of each variety's unique flavor profile.

Fresh shell beans are a fleeting pleasure.

Asked what excites him about this time of year, he mentioned different onion varieties that are being grown by area farmers. "It's more than just red and yellow," he said, and suggested trying Tropea, a sweet red onion often labeled "Torpedo," along with cipollini, shallots and elephant garlic.

Greens are still available in abundance but Alsberg said that we're moving away from leaf lettuce and into the hardier varieties like kale, chard, radicchio and other chicories, as well as frisée, all of which he says are best in late September when cooler temperatures cause the plants to put out more sugars to protect them from frost. Green beans are also going strong, and we should be looking for shell beans and brussels sprouts in October and November. Roots like beets, turnips and rutabagas will come on in October, too, so check out some recipes for roots and belly-warming soups to whet your appetite.

A quick note that Rubinette will be holding it's annual Apple Tasting on Oct. 20 that will feature at least a dozen heirloom and hard-to-find varieties like the Oregon-bred Rubinette—not surprisingly Alberg's favorite—Crimson Crisp, Ashmead's Kernel, Pippin and more for sampling as well as for sale.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dropping Knowledge Word by Word

Revelations often come from unexpected places, and this week's CSA newsletter from Gathering Together Farm struck me with the idea that the food I put on my table has much deeper benefits than just a meal for my family—it's also nourished the minds and hearts of the farmers and crew members who grew and harvested it.

"Whenever I sit down to write this newsletter, the conversations that took place while we harvested your produce starts flitting through my mind. More than any one particular conversation, I wanted to draw attention to the amazing language immersion experience that one has on our harvest crew. While we’re sharing immense amounts of knowledge about how to harvest vegetables properly, in doing so we are also exchanging immense amounts of language in order to get the job done.

"Our 2018 harvest crew is an incredibly diverse bunch of folks, all of whom speak different combinations of languages. There are those who speak Spanish and English to varying degrees, those who speak either Spanish or English, and then there are Spanish speakers who speak indigenous languages, including Mixteco from Mexico, and Mam and Kanjobal, both Mayan languages from Guatemala. Some people have been farming their whole lives, some for the past decade, and others are experiencing farm life for the first time.

"At the beginning of the season, it felt like the language barrier hindered efficiency, but the barrier has since been broken. Over this season, everyone has learned so much English and Spanish, and a few select language buffs have even taken to learning the differences and similarities between the indigenous languages. For me, I have honed my Spanish abilities to a whole new level that is simply not possible in a classroom. But what’s more important than the words we’ve learned has been the relationships that we’ve built with each other as we laughed and grumbled our way through communication breakdowns and successes, just as any good learning process should be.

"As you eat your way through your box this week, remember the diversity of words that passed through the air as we harvested, the words that made possible the logistics of assuring quality control and efficiency as we moved from field to field, the words that maybe didn’t make sense the first time and had to be laughed off and said again before they got the message across. As we have spent our days working our bodies in the fields, our minds have been far from dormant. It’s been one stimulating season of knowledge exchange, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

"Best, Laura Bennett"

Read more about Gathering Together Farm and owner John Eveland.

Top photo by Gathering Together Farm.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Braise is Back: Beer-Braised Poblano Pork

Now, I'm not one to trumpet the end of summer and the beginning of that four-letter word beginning with "f" (and ending with "double toothpicks" for those of you old enough to remember that old saw). But I do appreciate the moderating temperatures during the day and the rapid cooling at night, making pulling up the covers a welcome necessity.

Yes, I'm a native Oregonian. Is it that obvious?

A drizzle of cilantro chimichurri? Sure!

While there's still plenty of grilling weather in the forecast, with salmon and albacore running strong, and tomatoes, peppers and a bounty of other delicious things coming in from local farms (whew!), it's also possible to turn on the stove without the fear of making your home feel like you're living in some hot, humid East Coast city. (No wonder those politicians in DC are so grumpy all the time, huh?)

The other day I'd picked up a pork shoulder at the store, pondering what to do with it when I got home—Chili? Posole? Pulled pork?—and then, while rummaging in the vegetable bin, found several large poblano peppers that had jumped into my farmers' market basket the weekend before. Excellent!

A little chopping, a little sautéing, a can of Hopworks pils from the fridge, and in under half an hour I had a pot of pork bubbling away on the stove. Then two hours later we were sitting down for what I have to say was a spectacular dinner. By the way, the chimichurri came about when during the aforementioned rummaging I ran across a bunch of cilantro that was soon to expire, so whizzed that up in the processor with some lime and garlic and, voilà, instant zhoosh!

Beer-Braised Poblano Pork

4 lbs. pork shoulder, cut in 1” pieces
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, in 1/2” dice
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 large poblano peppers, seeded and chopped in 1” pieces
2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
12 oz. light beer (a Northwest pilsner works nicely)
2 c. chicken stock
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt plus more to taste

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté until translucent, then add garlic and peppers and sauté until tender. Add pork, beer, stock oregano, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. When pork is tender (almost falling apart), taste for salt and serve in bowls with rice or grain and a drizzle of chimichurri (recipe below).

* * *

Cilantro Chimichurri

2 c. cilantro
1/3 c. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. lime juice
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Summer Book Report, Part II: Two in the Far North

Memoir. History. Love story. Ecological screed. A meditation on our place in nature. Astute political analysis. Even some murder and mayhem (of the natural world sort).

I've never read anything quite like Margaret Murie's Two in the Far North, which is, at its core, a memoir of her life growing up in pre-statehood Alaska, meeting her husband, Olaus, a wildlife biologist, and spending much of their lives together studying and working to preserve Alaska's wild places. It was a lifetime of effort and advocacy that eventually led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) in 1960.

With one of her beloved sled dogs.

We meet Murie when she is just nine years old, at the point when she and her mother traveled from Seattle to meet her father, an assistant U.S. attorney for what was then called the Territory of Alaska. In the early 1900s, that meant a several-day journey via steamship from Seattle to Skagway, in Alaska's southeast panhandle, then another several days to travel by train to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon. The next leg took the pair up the Yukon River to Dawson where they were met by Murie's father, and then traveling together up the Tanana River to Fairbanks on a river steamer.

The first woman to graduate from Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

"In 1911 the river steamer was queen. There was a great fleet then, nearly all with feminine names, churning and chuffing their stern wheels up the rivers and sliding briskly down them. When the great two-stacker Mississippi-style steamer came in to any dock, she came like a confident southern beauty making a graceful curtsy at a ball. [These steamers] lived their lives between St. Michael at the mouth of the river and Dawson, sixteen hundred miles upstream." Arriving in Fairbanks, the family moved into the one vacant house which Murie describes as "way out on the edge of town," with only four rooms, a handpump in the kitchen and a woodstove that heated the house.

Murie's early life is described from her vivid memories growing up in the far north, cooking on that woodstove, walking to school even in fifty-below-zero weather and exploring the world of the gold rush town where "there were no others nearer than eight days by horse sleigh or ten days by river steamer."

Dressed for the trail.

Going off to college—in Portland, to Reed College, no less—at the age of fifteen, she traveled by dogsled accompanied only by a driver and his dogs for nine days, traversing frozen rivers and mountains and staying in rough-and-tumble roadhouses along the way. From this point on, Murie quotes extensively from her astonishingly descriptive diaries about meeting her husband and spending their honeymoon on a research expedition above the Arctic Circle, studying its flora and fauna with the idea that documenting this unexplored region could help to preserve it for future generations.

The camp on Lake Lobo on the Sheenjek River above the Arctic Circle.

This love of the wilderness, her enchantment with the natural world and the difficult, funny and moving experiences they had together that bring the times and places to life, putting flesh on the characters they meet along the way, some in the most unexpected circumstances. Murie is a storyteller of great warmth and humanity, and I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Read Part One of my summer book report, "Henry David Thoreau: A Life."

Photos from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska's Digital Archives.

Cast Iron Cooking: Tomato Cornbread

Reading recipes has always inspired me, and even those I'm annoyed by can contain the seeds of a good dish. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares one of those that he used despite quibbles with its moniker.

Tomato Cornbread

A recipe in the Washington Post inspired me, but the name, "Savory Tomato Cornbread Cobbler," is both too long and misleading. "Savory" is just superfluous food porn, and cobbler, while not really precisely defined, really requires the batter portion on top. It's not exactly a pie, but nether is the tamale version. Whatever you call it, it tastes good.

Put a nine-inch or so cast iron skillet (or similar baking dish) in a 350° oven. Cut three or four tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, add a bit of chopped garlic or shallot, some chopped herbs (basil, mint and parsley for me; if you don't have any growing in your yard, just use basil), a splash of one of the the Katz vinegars and the same for oil. I used about 2-3 cups of this tomato mix.

The cornbread is a simple hot water version made with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter or lard. The real star is the cornmeal: I used Ayers Creek Amish Butter, but the purple Peace, No War would also work (I've got both in stock). Mix a cup of cornmeal with a teaspoon of sea salt and 2 tsp. of baking powder. Add a cup of boiling water and one of extra virgin olive oil, mix well. It'll be a little oily, but that's okay.

Pull the hot skillet from the oven, pour in the cornmeal batter, and spread out into a smooth layer. Spoon the tomato mix on top, distributing evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, and let cool. I like it best at room temperature.

Check out more of Jim Dixon's recipes on Good Stuff NW!