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

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Breakfast of Champions

So, my sister has been doing smoothies for 2 years. Since her diagnosis, she has become a nutritional fount of knowledge, practicing the art of a plate 2/3 full of vegetables and fruit, limiting animal protein and grains, and eliminating anything remotely allergenic to anyone. She is doing well.

Here, weekday breakfasts for spouse-on-the-go, and for me whenever I get around to eating, have usually consisted of plain, live-cultured yogurt, with my soaked-grain, slow-dried granola, and fresh fruit. My alternate meal was most often scrambled backyard eggs and toasted long-ferment, high-hydration sourdough. Always wanting to “get more fruits and vegetables into my diet”, and because my parents gave me this for Christmas, and because of the off-putting marketing materials that came with it, and because I already had a great blender that I wanted to prove was a great blender, I, one day, decided to smoothie. With what I’d gleaned from my NutriGuru sister regarding hemp hearts, quinoa, avocado, flax and chia seeds, I dusted off the Waring Bar Blender and set-to.

Here we go
Here we go

In went chopped kale, raw sweet potato, hemp, flax, avocado, a little parsley, some pear, and berries from the freezer. Some water to make it blendable, and presto-breakfast! I was amazed at how unvegetablely it tasted, and how easy it was to consume anywhere. The greens and seeds were not pronounced. The thick consistency forced mindful eating, it wasn’t possible to guzzle, the mix of flavors a mystery for my tongue to unravel. When I realized, after a few months, that I had felt pretty good, and since this was the primary change I had made to my diet/lifestyle, I began to smoothie for Spouse as well-he needed in on my new practice.

When the bar blender began to chime the toll of burnout, I humbled myself, unpacked the NutriGizmo, read only as much material as needed for the how-to, and kept making smoothies.

The magic bullet of health we've all been looking for!
The magic bullet of health we’ve all been looking for!

So far, the little device is great. The capacity is far smaller than the bar blender but since Spouse leaves home before me, I make our smoothies separately. It is a quieter blender than the Waring, but given the noise-carrying open plan of our house, I leave the base in the laundry room, so a still-sleeping Junior will stay that way.

Pre mix
Pre mix

This morning’s version: celery, carrot, kale, avocado, cooked quinoa, flax seed, hemp hearts, fresh lemon juice, Anjou pear, and water. I regrettably forgot the tiny knob of ginger I’ve grown to love.

Ready for launch
Ready for launch
Partial mix
Partial mix
Done
Done

While I’d rather have a Vitamix, this silly thing was free. A gift, most likely inspired by an infomercial, a thing I’d tried to give away on 2 separate occasions, saved the day and kept me in my new habit. The product is a crass appeal to Seniors for longevity and happiness. This device “extracts” nutrients from the foods it blends! Whatever. It smoothies.

Taco Night

When Junior was very small he ate everything. As he aged, his tastes limited, and he began to have a pronounced issue with food texture. In my very-slow-to-dawn Maternal Wisdom, I have learned to ask him whether it’s the taste or the feel of a food that troubles him. While this helps with understanding, I still feel frustration when a dish or item once tolerated or enjoyed, now causes at-table gagging or worse. I may be able to help with texture, preparing a dish a different way, using slightly different components, but taste is taste. Since Junior’s taste buds are far newer than mine, and there is a legitimate reality that he could have more taste receptors than I do, I have learned (finally) to trust his palate. This doesn’t make dinner rejections easy. Especially when I’m tired and actually tried to make a better dinner.

I don’t go in for weekly menu planning solely based on alliteration. No Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, or Weetabix Wednesdays.  My goal is to have ingredients in the cupboard and fridge (or freezer) that can be turned into dinner each night of the week. I try to keep less complicated meals for busy days, days when Junior and I might not return home until after my usual Dinner Prep Time has past. The freezer is great for these nights. Luxurious whole-days at home are good for dishes requiring long cooking times, long rising times, or time to thaw, since last night I forgot to transfer the meat from freezer to fridge.

In addition to the everyday busyness of classes, read-alouds, and grammar mastery, my solo interests of writing, collaging, gardening, recipe researching, are activities that devour extra minutes, minutes that I could have used for clearing the kitchen counters for prep, mincing, dicing, or julienne; minutes for freezer-rummaging, remembering to write what we’d used up so I could remember to buy a replacement. From this slough of Not Enough Time Meets Picky Eater, emerges a basic weekday dinner rotation of: foods that have ready-made components in the freezer, foods Junior will eat, back-up foods Junior will eat when Spouse and I have something off-list, and not-really-favorites of Junior but items he will eat if very hungry, usually when he has lunch at noon, rather than at, say, 4PM.

One item that fits all of my menu planing criteria is the humble taco: Beef or Chicken. While we might have an accidental Taco Tuesday, we more often have Taco Mondays or Wednesdays as those are consistent late-getting-home days. We alternate between the two proteins, changing it up each time with the accompaniments at hand. The proteins can be prepared ahead of time: chicken poached or roasted, ground beef cooked and seasoned, then all frozen in containers sized for our meal.

Minced garlic, dried onion, red pepper flake, salt, ancho, pasilla, & chili blend powders
Minced garlic, dried onion, red pepper flake, salt, ancho, pasilla, & chili blend powders
Simple.
Ready for shred.

Junior prefers a simple addition of grated cheddar, with sour cream on the side, some hot sauce for the tortilla chips, and his fruit/veggies on a separate plate. Spouse and I use less animal protein, replacing with pinto beans, also cooked and frozen in advance, and any number of vegetable combinations. For a last-minute-dinner we might have simple shredded lettuce. But our otherwise veggie options include: garlicky greens with kale or chard; raw cabbage slaw with shredded carrot, super thin onion, and cilantro; grilled zucchini and carrot; a raw shredded sweet potato slaw. If I’m really thinking ahead, I might even marinate some onions for a day or two.

The salsa I prefer originates from Rick Bayless’ My Mexican Kitchen: Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeño Salsa. This recipe alone is worth the price of the entire book!

Roasted
Roasted

I roast the tomatoes under the broiler, peel, then add with all their juice into a food processor. Roasted chilis and garlic, both done easily in a hot, dry, cast iron pan, stemmed and peeled respectively, follow the tomatoes into the processor.

Garlic (jalapeno roasted and frozen in late summer!)
Garlic (jalapeño not pictured, roasted and frozen in late summer!)

I usually use the whole chili, seeds and all. The first batch of salsa will have serious spice, but I have noticed that the spice level decreases with each round of thaw/refreeze. For anytime after late summer/early fall, I roast and freeze the chilis, picked and processed at their height of local ripeness, so we can have consistent chili heat all winter and spring. With the tomatoes, garlic, and chilis blended, I add finely chopped and rinsed red or white onion, and, if I find any in the garden or fridge, chopped cilantro.

Adding onion & cilantro
Adding onion & cilantro

Rinsing the onion eliminates the stuff that causes tears, the stuff responsible for turning anything with raw onion rather nasty after a few hours. I make salsa and freeze most of it, so when thawed, want it to be almost as good as the day made.

For the other ingredients, I have tried my hand at flour tortilla-making, and will make on occasion but generally try to have a package of my preferred coop-bought tortillas in the freezer. Sometimes I buy some cotija or queso fresco, but we generally go with Junior’s favorite “yellow cheese”, an item always on hand.

On any given day, I can pull from my freezer: tortillas, cooked chicken or beef, long-soaked lightly salted simmered pinto beans, fabulous salsa. From the fridge I have cheese to grate, sour cream to spoon, and some kind of vegetable to grill, roast, or shred. If I’m lucky, I’ll have an avocado to slice. We could all have some variation of this meal 2 or 3 times a week and be quite happy. Cheers!

One of our standby, go-tos!
One of our standby, go-tos!

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!

Kale

Dwarf Blue Scotch. Black Tuscan. Red Russian. Lacinato. Dinosaur. All kale. Some different names for the same variety, all available as seeds from my favorite grower Uprising Organics. Kale is a hearty green. Hearty means thick leaf, tough vein, strong stem, a commitment made if  eaten raw, and filling. A strong-tasting, sometimes bitter green, as well as a potential source of gastro discomfort,  kale can be off-putting to the uninitiated. Once charmed, however, the kale aficionado is an addict for life.

Where I live, kale can be grown year round. Summer kale has a more tender leaf, but a hotter, more bitter flavor. It is a plant hounded by the ever-flittering white codling moth. A moth whose sole purpose in its 2-week flying existence, is to lay eggs on my kale. Summer kale sports tiny leaf holes, bites of food enjoyed by the moth progeny. As the weather in the PNW starts to cool, nighttime temperatures in the low 40s or below, happy chimes begin to peel for the kale. Cool temps mean farewell to the moths and welcome to sweeter taste.

My favorite and usual way to prepare kale is to braise. I start with some olive oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the garlic begins to sizzle, I add the kale, fattest stems removed, leaves torn into manageable sizes, with only the water still clinging to the rinsed leaves as moisture. I toss to cover the leaves with the oil, cover the pan with its lid, waiting only a few minutes for the leaves to wilt and take on the flavor of garlic-pepper-oil. Braised kale draped on an olive oil bathed pizza is lovely; bacon and kale on a pizza is crazy. White beans and kale make a deliciously thick soup. Kale massaged with salt and olive oil makes a more approachable raw salad. Kale sliced thin, tossed with julienned carrot, thinly sliced onion, apple-cider vinaigrette, and queso fresco is a tasty way to fill a tortilla. If you’ve not tried it, do. If you’ve only tried kale once, give it a second chance. I believe this is the food that kept Europeans in the far north alive and contributing to the gene pool. Go kale!

Pizza

I love pizza. I love making pizza. I have been making pizza for several years. The ingredients have morphed over time. The dough has been made by hand, by food processor, and now by my KitchenAid. The crust has evolved to something resembling Neapolitan, with the difference of using a flour with more substance than the Italian 00 grind. I’m using a two-part rise, an hour and a half in a bowl, then an additional hour as scaled lumps of dough.

The dough is fairly soft. I can work it by hand or if in a time crunch, I will use the rolling pin, though that is not at all traditional.  

The sauce has devolved into one that is simply tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. The mozzarella is one I make myself using the beautiful raw milk from Dungeness Valley Creamery.  In fact, some of the best pizza to emerge from my 2nd hand electric oven is one with just the simple sauce, some torn mozzarella and a few basil leaves.  Yum.

I have two problems when making pizza. The first, my oven only goes to 500F. Really good pizza comes from a very hot oven. My oven is not wood-fired nor made of masonary materials. I use baking stones and preheat them at least an hour in advance, leaving the oven on at its highest temperature.

The second problem is limiting what I put on the pizza. When I have such a fabulous crust, tasty sauce and great cheese, I don’t need much else to make the pizza really good. Less being more definitely applies here.

Some of my favorites of late are: roasted spicy winter squash and carmelized onions with olive oil; thinly sliced sweet potato, raw onion and a cream base; thinly sliced yellow fin potato, Skagit River Ranch bacon and some Beecher’s cheddar. Using something other than the tomatoes for a base opens up alot of combination options.

I like to think seasonal and what traditionally goes together. If I find a tasty sweet potato gratin, I take the basic elements and put it on the pizza. It tends to always work out.
It is possible to make really good pizza at home. Someday I may have a better oven; I may have a wood-fired oven on my patio. I’m not going to wait until then to enjoy this great food.