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!

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