Spring Flavor

As I teach a lot of kid’s classes, I work a lot of weekends, and rarely get to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, something I sorely miss. There is a hopeful expectancy among the farmers and producers, as well as among the shoppers: what will I find today?? This past weekend I was able to go. Our NW Spring has been cold so far, cold and rainy, but my sister and I caught the market an hour or so before any rain. Yay! Saturday evening I’d be making dinner for my Mother-in-law’s birthday, or as we generally refer to it, Spring. We celebrate Spring and she gets presents! Shopping the market for dinner was my goal.

Pre-vinaigrette but so pretty!

With the cool temperatures, some greens are filling stalls and the storage veggies are still in supply, but options are meager. I came home with Loki salmon, Foraged & Found wood sorrel, Nash’s chioggia beets, knotted rolls from Tall Grass, and some beautiful Glendale Shepherd aged sheep’s milk cheese. With potatoes on hand and chives snipped from my patch, we managed to have a lovely meal, complete with an einkorn-crusted rhubarb & cream tart!

For me, Spring should taste like light and vigor and growth and the wood sorrel is that in abundance! Complete with a lemony-zing, this little green is a powerhouse of flavor. Due to its high levels of oxalic acid you shouldn’t consume too much in one sitting but the flavor is there so you don’t have to. Since I was starting a new class series the next day, I took the opportunity to run through 2 of the recipes, adding those to our menu. Potage Parmentier, leek & potato soup, with its light taste, easy texture & mouthfeel, is another perfect addition to a Spring menu.  The bright green and slight onion of the snipped chives adds an additional bit of interest. Though rich, the classic Pommes Dauphinois, with thinly sliced red potatoes and only a touch of the Glendale cheese, was delicate and gently flavored. The richness countered that bright acidity of the wood sorrel. Beets and potatoes are two of the over-wintered storage vegetables that I don’t grow weary of!

Rhubarb & cream

The springiest of all flavors, however, has to be rhubarb. This vegetable as fruit is strange. I still wonder how the first human was brave enough to  try the stalk after those trying the leaves grew very ill. In our western Washington climate, this is our first choice of a truly local fruit. I made a light einkorn tart dough and pre-baked it for 10 minutes to set the bottom. I then filled the crust with chopped rhubarb, macerated with white & brown sugars, adding a combination of cream and beaten egg to fill into around the tangy fruit. The picture doesn’t do the flavor justice but this solo rhubarb was very good.

Teaching cooking & baking classes has many advantages: better hours, more menu variety, a sense of empowerment for those learning. I love my job. A downside for me, however, is that while I get to focus on a variety of menu items, I cook & bake for classes rather than just for me. Having dinners such as this one, our yearly celebration of Spring, gives me opportunity to think outside and away from the cooking class box. Cooking foods for my eaters: what can I do with her salmon this year?  Should I do rhubarb with strawberries for dessert? Nope, I’m only going to use rhubarb: strawberry-rhubarb would be for him. This gratin is for my class but it’ll be perfect!

Our bodies need food for fuel, but making food is best when it’s for others. Sharing that food as a meal, cook included with this community of eaters, makes it all worthwhile.

I cheated with asparagus from CA/MX. I can’t wait for that stuff!!!

Happy Spring!

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In Season

I love my Farmer’s Market. My market runs year round and only supports first-hand food growers and producers. I don’t get there every week-I often work weekends with shifts that conflict with market hours. I don’t always have market money in my budget-but do try to go for the pre-freeze enormous bunches of greens, always better tasting and a better price than anywhere else, and the kombucha, not (yet!) available at my usual brick-and-mortar market.

More kale than the fridge could hold!
This is late sumer

Beside knowing the faces and names of the people I buy from, the thing I love best about the market is the grounding effect it has. If I only shop at a conventional grocery store, even if that store is a co-op, organic, with goals of supporting local produce and products, there will always be items on hand, far out of our local season, every day of the year.

Shop
This is beauty

Shopping in the grocery store vacuum, seeing 3 kinds of bell peppers, cilantro bunches, corn-on-the-cob, and strawberries during January in the PNW can start to seem “normal”. I begin to feel numb to the when and where and who of the food I buy. Bundling up with scarf, hat, gloves, and warm coat early on a January Saturday morning brings everything back to real: there’ll be root vegetables minus carrots, there’ll be some little bunches of always-hardy kale, there will still be apples, there will be fruit and chilis dried by the growers, there will be the bakers, the butchers, the kombucha, and cheese makers, but it will be slim. There will be camaraderie and smiles, the summer poet’s fingers perhaps too cold to type, but the tamales, salmon slider, or cup-of-soup will be warming.

This is Seattle
This is Seattle

I don’t have a root cellar or even a second fridge at my house. I store some squash and potatoes in the barely heated basement, but I will be buying carrots and kale from California.

This is Fall
This is Fall

I will buy Washington-grown fruit until it’s all gone, or too musty from storage, but won’t buy apples or pears from Chile or New Zealand or  whereever else they might come from. I will use the seasonal fruit captured in my freezer rather than that shipped fresh across the planet.

This is November
This is November

In January, I’ll be teaching new groups of kids how to make a soup and a few other things. I will be emphasizing ingredients that might still be available at a Farmer’s Market, though will be using some that won’t be. Things like celery, local only for a moment, are so integral to the flavor base of every soffritto or mirepoix. Celery seed can be used as a substitute, and I will include the seeds in our conversation, but first learners need to mess around with the whole food before experimenting with stand-ins. For this reason, I do buy celery out-of-season. I buy it intentionally. Having taken many road trips to central California, I can imagine the trucks, the stops, the last In-N-Out of Redding, the low water levels of Lake Shasta, the relief of Portland, the amazingly boring (no offense!) highway between Vancouver and Olympia. Yes it’s more than 100 miles away, but I can reasonably drive to celery. I know the trip it will take, and I will be grateful.

This is me
This is me

As for the soup, it’s a minestrone I’ve tweaked, and, yes, the celery makes a difference. I make this with Junior, both of us practicing our knife skills. The rosemary comes from my garden, nestled where it is, protected from the coldest our PNW Winter can muster. For economy, I usually use the small white beans available where I buy bulk, cooked, then frozen in recipe-ready quantities. If I cooked the beans, I add their liquid to the soup. Take care with canned tomatoes. Always buy whole, it’s good to know what really might be in the can, and buy from companies that care about canning practices, limit toxins whenever possible. Frozen vegetables are a good winter substitute for from-across-the-planet fresh. The green beans can be happily exchanged for strips of kale or any other vegetable you prefer. The touch of green makes me happy.

This is simple food. Each time I start a batch, I have doubts about the meal to come. But each time I sip a spoonful, I marvel that such few ingredients turn into something as comforting, satisfying, and tasty as I find this soup to be. Cheers!

Minestrone • Serves 4-6

Preparation time: 15 minutes • Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

 Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 large celery stalk, diced

1 pinch of red pepper flake

1 garlic clove, minced

1 ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 large potato, diced

1 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained (save liquid) and finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

About 5 cups of water

1 10-ounce bag frozen green beans

Optional: ¾ cup grated Parmesan for serving

Method

Place a large pot onto the stove. Turn the burner onto medium. Pour the olive oil into the pot. When the olive oil is warm, add the onion, carrots, celery, red pepper flake, and garlic.

Stir the vegetables to coat with oil. Stir in the salt and pepper.

Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the onion begins to turn golden.

Add the tomatoes, potatoes, cannellini, rosemary, the saved tomato liquid, and about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Let soup cook for 15 minutes, gently boiling. Test the vegetables for tenderness.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen green beans. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. While the soup is cooking, grate the Parmesan, if using, and set aside.Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan, if using

Rant No. 37

I don’t do well on surveys wherein asked to agree Completely, Mostly, Somewhat, Not At All. The questions or statements foggy with Finding What I Really I Think, similar questions, worded slightly different to catch me and my opinion. I over think these questionnaires, trying to see behind the query to what is really wanted.

from Rent's Due Ranch
from Rent’s Due Ranch

This being said, I do, most certainly, have opinions. I described myself once as having a Boxcar full of Band Wagons loaded with Soap Boxes. THIS being said, there are few of my diatribes I make public. Today’s Rant, however, I share unapologetically.

Genetically Modified Organisms. 

According to Wikipedia:

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals.

Genetic engineering is not the same as traditional, or selective breeding, whether of plants or animals. Traditional breeding, practiced by humans for all recorded history, is time-consuming, choosing the desired male and female, waiting for gestation and growth, seeing if the result meets the desired objective:Does the cow produce lots of cream? Is the zucchini green enough? How sweet is the watermelon, meaty the tomato, or pest-resistant the corn? To get the highest result, the process will takes years, syringe upon syringe of prize-winning sperm, painstaking collection of top-producing pollen, seed-saving for another planting, soil and feed kept optimal for healthy growth. Over the course of 300-1000 years of selective breeding, early Central American farmers invented maize. That’s a long time.

Preparing breakfast
Preparing breakfast

Genetic engineering was first accomplished in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen were able to transfer DNA from one species to another. 41 years later, bio technology has become big business. I haven’t devoted myself to what’s happening with stem cell research, animal or human cloning, or even genetic engineering uses in industrial applications. I care about food.

Since World War II ended, the companies that profited heavily from weapons and chemical production turned their attention to agriculture. People needed to eat. Whole regions and countries devastated by combat, farms and food supplies gone. What was needed? A food supply to serve the world. Companies like BASF, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Bayer began  producing chemicals for farming: herbicides to kill weeds but not crops, pesticides to kill plant-eating insects but not crops, fertilizers to increase yield without the need to rotate crops or amend soil in traditional ways. As part of the inaptly named Green Revolution, these companies set out to “help” farmers feed the world.

After a few years of initial higher yields from these “revolutionary” methods, those not in line to make profit from the new practices began to see disturbing trends. Farmers began to require more of the chemical to achieve previous results. Insects and weeds began to appear resistant to the sprayed-on killers.

No. 8 plus butter & olive oil
No. 8 plus butter & olive oil

More applications were required. Finger-crossed farmers hoped for high enough yields to pay the mortgage, the seed bill, next season’s required chemicals. More and more farms began to fail. Small farms sold or walked away from, were amalgamated into super holdings, acres upon acres of wheat, corn, soy, or cotton, operated by corporate employees, and state-of-the-art computer-controlled farm machinery. Acreage, over fertilized, began to fail, began to turn to salt. Where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico began to develop Dead Zones, zones unable to support marine life due to nutrient runoff consumed by algae which in turn sinks, decomposes, and uses up oxygen. In 2013, this area was only the size of Connecticut. The revolution was ending.

Rather than turn back the clock to crop rotation, animal foraging, winter wheat, and other time-honored healthy soil practices, our former WWII heroes gathered up the burgeoning genetic engineers and set-to on crops. Monsanto, the top seller in pesticide production with its “safe” RoundUp, available at Home Depot, Lowes, and most suburban garages, worked diligently to produce seed that contained resistance to the weed killer.

Grated, towel-dried
Grated, towel-dried

The corn, weakened with a strain of e.coli to allow for cross breeding, married to genes resistant to RoundUp, producing a plant that could be sprayed with the pesticide but not itself succumb. Similar treatment has been applied to soy, canola, cotton, and sugar beets. RoundUp Ready seeds are expensive and because patented by Monsanto, cannot be saved by the farmer who plants them, eliminating an age-old practice for plant selection and cost savings. RoundUp has long been touted as safe at recommended levels, but rogue weeds and studied health problems are on the rise. Also disturbing has been the increase in crop contamination, especially as concerns canola: an adjoining non-RoundUp Ready field finding non-RoundUp susceptible plants growing. Monsanto has insisted that their RoundUp Ready seed will not cross-pollinate and has tirelessly pursued these farmers in court, suing them for illegally growing the Monsanto product without license.

For a longer time over medium heat
For a longer time over medium heat

Monsanto has usually won these cases, another independent farmer losing everything. Bayer markets its version of this corn as Liberty Link. Monsanto has also been the leader in producing seeds that are resistant to certain pests. Most notably, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, has been introduced into corn to combat the effects of the European corn borer. This pesticide remains in the plant, the insect only having to nibble its last meal. No spray required. They have also introduced DroughtGard corn, allowing corn to be grown with less water, and subsequently, grown more densely.

Yesterday the USDA announced that Simplot was given the green light on its genetically modified potato. Evidently potatoes contain acrylamide, shown to be a carcinogen when cooked at high temperatures, most notably as deep-fried french fries. Simplot’s new potato will eliminate this problem component, as well as be less susceptible to bruising, something evidently unsightly to consumers. Rather than find better cooking methods for potatoes, Simplot has rushed to a GMO solution to keep its profits high in frozen french fries and hash browns.

There are plenty of places on-line to read the science, both for and against, this kind of genetic breeding. Plants are still developing resistance to  RoundUp and Bt. The soil is still turning into to salt, the waterways still polluted with runoff. Whole developing countries are saying “No” to GE seed being dumped within their borders. People like Vandana Shiva are battling to keep their countries free and thriving without GMOs. Healthwise, there hasn’t been time for long-term studies since humans only started ingesting GMOs in 1982, with the introduction of Humulin, a GE insulin. In 1997, the EU began requiring labeling for all GMO food products, including animal feed, something the US Federal government has refused to do, leaving many states fighting for this right of self-determination, against the millions of dollars spent by GMO companies. So far, the only way to avoid GMO foods is by consuming those organically grown.

Crispy, breakfast goodness
Crispy, breakfast goodness

The Organic Standards, updated yearly, state that GMOs cannot be considered organic, something Monsanto is lobbying strongly to overturn. A better way than buying organic is to meet the farmer who grew the food. I bought these potatoes from Mike of Rent’s Due Ranch in Stanwood, Washington. I picked them up from April at the University Farmer’s Market. They are the Satina variety, a Yukon Goldish type, yellow, not too starchy, delicious. They have been left with dirt on to increase the keeping quality, something this consumer finds beautiful.

Labeling of GMOs should be available, should be the standard. We should all be able to choose what foods we consume. Third World and developing nations should be able to choose what seeds are grown within their borders, without ramification of losing other global assistance. Seeds are the beginning of all life. Do we want a few multi-national corporations to control the world’s seed supply, to say who can plant, to say when and where their seeds can be planted? If someone else controls the food, we will all be controlled by them. Do the research. Speak up. Meet a farmer. Buy some seeds. Put in a vegetable plot, however small. We still have each other, and life is still good.

Just say no
Just say no

Toe•may•toe, Tah•mah•toe

Bluebird, having a summer sale of 10% off any order, had me crunching numbers for emmer and einka. I can source emmer at my coop, but einka, the name Bluebird uses for einkorn farro, is harder to find. I was happy indeed that ordering einka from Winthrop, including USPS shipping, was less money than the one Seattle source that I know of. I ordered 10 pounds.

IMG_2786
a box of beauty

Fast forward 2 days. It’s Saturday, Farmer’s Market day. I haven’t been doing the Saturday market, opting for the closer-to-home, a-little-less-expensive Sunday market. However, the Saturday market is where you score excellent clams and amazing kombucha, so with clams & pasta on the menu, I went. I make a clam & pasta dish originating with Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food, a book I bought before ever knowing who Mario Batali was. Since it’s summer and warm out, I brought home some whole wheat linguine to boil up rather than mix up handmade pasta. When the mail carrier brought me a box from Winthrop, however, my plans changed.

I thrilled that my order from receipt Thursday mid-morning had grain at my door Saturday mid-afternoon! Wasting no time, I loaded the mill, knowing we’d be trying Einka pasta with our clams.

Nutrimill at the ready
Nutrimill at the ready
Einka and backyard eggs
Einka and backyard eggs

I’ve not used a lot of gluten-free flours, but the einka does remind me in texture of oat flour, even the way almond flour looks and feels. I found 1 recipe for einkorn flour pasta and it was essentially identical to how I always make pasta so I did 3 heavy cups of flour and 3 eggs. The flour is very loose when processed in the Nutrimill, the air has not been compressed out of it via packaging/storage. The dough came together nicely, and I left it to rest for 30 minutes.Kneaded, ready to rest

I use a pasta machine for rolling but I do knead the dough before it rests, per Marcella Hazen’s insistence. I got the moisture level just right, with little sticking and no crumbling.

Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers
Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers

While the rolled dough waited for cutting, I got the water boiling, and proceeded with the other items on dinner’s menu: clams, kale, green peas for Junior, green salad, and baked-this-morning sourdough bread. When the dough is perfect, I love using the cutting attachment on the pasta machine.

Fettuccine
Fettuccine
A busy stove
A busy stove

The pasta turned out great. The texture and bite of the noodle seemed like the other whole wheat version I make. For a low-gluten grain, the final product was not slimy, and it held together in the sauce. I look forward to more recipes with my new stash of Bluebird Farm Grains Einka.

Bon appetit!
Bon appetit!

Big Deal

Choosing to be an omnivore is a big deal. While eating plants should be done with a concern for life, eating meat is the result of taking a walking-around, oxygen-breathing life, so that my body is physically nourished. If I know that the creature was well cared for, allowed to flourish according to its innate biology, had only one bad day in its life, then the food it provides can emotionally nourish as well. It is important to me that the life of the animal was not cheapened:

  • with crowded, polluted living conditions
  • by being fed grains not suited to its digestive system
  • by being fed grains that have been genetically modified
  • by getting shot full of growth hormones to speed development and with antibiotics to curb disease rampant in its filthy environment
  • with its short sad life ended at the hands of uncaring, un-careful humans

One of the largest insults to the animals who offer so much protein, is the deflated price most Americans pay. This cheap protein comes from enormous contained animal feedlot operations, or CAFOs. Thousands of animals packed into tight spaces eliminating the need for expensive grazing acreage. The feed consists primarily of corn and soy, the two main crops subsidized by the Federal government, keeping the price very low. Ruminating animals are not made to eat these grains, preferring grasses instead, easily becoming ill, requiring antibiotics and other medications. More details, descriptions, and photos of CAFOs are an internet search away-I’ll leave that to you. The resultant cheap price at the grocery store, means I can consume this meat without any further thought: no thought of conditions,  no thanks for the life given, no knowledge of where it came from.

Ranchers and farmers like George & EikoJerry & Janelle, and the crew at Sea Breeze Farm, take careful meat production very seriously. I buy meat from these people at the University District Farmer’s Market. I can visit their farms. I can talk with them about their practices. I can take classes from them to learn the processes they employ. I spend a lot of money to buy their food.

When I buy meat produced with care at the farmer’s market price, I am making a financial sacrifice. I recognize that the life of the animal I’m consuming is worth this higher monetary cost. I recognize that the farmers I’m paying are worth the price of their attention and hard work on behalf of these animals. I recognize that life is not cheap and it should never be treated as such.

There are some who learn the details of modern conventional meat production and walk away from consuming any animal product. There are others who learn and continue to choose the cheaper product. There are those, like me, who learn the bad, but also find the good, the people who they can support. I leave you with a link to a short video from a sheep farm in southern Oregon, a blessing.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti

Here and There

Foods from France and Italy are my favorites to make. The flavors suit me and the wines to go with are delicious but the idea behind the flavors is what draws me most. Use the best of what’s available: the freshest, the ripest, the just-picked, the what’s-from-here.

I’ve started pursuing this philosophy in my kitchen. Foods I grow, those available at the year-round farmer’s market and those produced within my state are what I try to stock my fridge and pantry with. It made sense to me to eat food handled and processed as little as possible by anyone other than myself. The tomato should taste like a tomato. The jalapeño should have some heat. The zucchini need not be of a perfect uniform size. Crunchy salads containing a variety of greens, both bitter and sweet, can exist.

Just because I can buy broccoli at the store in February doesn’t mean I need to. Farmer’s markets will supply foods that grow here, regardless of how desirable those foods are to the general food-buying masses. This year I used rutabagas and celery root for the first time. I grew and braised radicchio Treviso. I’ve become addicted to all forms of kale and raab (rapini). Foods I’ve never really wanted to try I did because they were available.

I can also procure grass-fed, organic beef, chicken, pork and eggs; 7-8 different varieties of potatoes; wild-caught salmon; sustainably raised shellfish; cheese from several local artisans; the best dried mix of foraged mushrooms I’ve ever used; beautiful wheat and emmer farro berries; seasonally: chiles, tomatoes and several varieties of apples; locally produced milk, amazing cinnamon rolls, jarred pickled veggies and kombucha, all at one place on a Saturday morning.

There will probably always be things I buy from elsewhere.  We can’t grow olive trees where I live and locally made parmesan can’t hold a candle to the Parmesano Reggiano from Italy. When I read a recipe though, I look for how I can make the dish using what is available to me locally. It increases my sense of place and, really, makes me feel more human.