Monday, December 28, 2009

Beet It

I am bogged down with indexing, carefully listing beet after beans and going over proofs right now, but I wanted to tell you about the market this last weekend of the year.

It's winter now and roots--rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes and beets--are everywhere. My favorites, beets. Though that wasn't always the case. I grew up hating beets but my only experience was the canned versions. Once I sampled fresh local Northwest beets, I was won over.

I stopped at Nash’s Organic Produce since they offered a varietyof beets for sale.

Since I'm working on the final proofs, here's an excerpt about beets from my book now called, THE NORTHWEST VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK: 200 INSPIRED RECIPES THAT CELEBRATE THE FLAVORS OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON. (published by Timber Press May 2010).

Beets have been around since prehistoric times, and centuries ago they grew wild near the coast in Europe. While many Americans have encountered only pickled beets in salad bars, Northwest farmers cultivate a wide variety of beets. Albino, golden, candy-striped, and Chioggia beets (pronounced kee-OH-ja) are unique varieties that don’t bleed purple over everything. Among the red varieties you can choose baby, red, and cylindrical beets. Look for bunches with firm roots and deep-colored fresh greens attached. The leaves should be cooked within a day or two. In the winter, the greens aren’t available. The roots will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, stored in a plastic perforated bag in the vegetable bin.

I also offer these tips and observations on beet selection and use.

  • Beet flavor varies with age and size more than any other vegetable, says Barbara Kafka in Vegetable Love. As beets age, they become less sweet.

  • Choose small or medium beets; these are more tender than large ones.

  • Most prevalent use of beets is in salads

  • Baking is the best way to preserve beet’s earthy-sweet flavor.

I found some of the most creative beet recipes in Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka. Have I mentioned how I love this book? Some Kafka’s innovative recipes include:

  • Rhubarb Energy Beets

  • Ruby-red Beet Biscuits
  • Beet Sorbet, and Beet and Apple Strudel

I created this recipe while perusing other ideas for beets:

Beets with Orange-Berry Sauce

I used two medium sized cylindrical beets for this recipe and after I was finished realized that since I'd used frozen berries in the sauce, the beets wouldn’t store as long as it would if I used raspberry vinegar. The upside is these beets taste so good, they won’t stay around that long. I used Rent’s Due Ranch raspberries frozen from last summer’s harvest for this one. You can purchase locally grown, frozen raspberries from Willie Green’s Organic Farm at the University District market.

4 cups sliced beets

1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

1.Steam beets until tender. While beets cook combine orange juice, zest, raspberries, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

2.Drain steamed beets, reserve water. Pour sauce over beets and gently mix, adding a little beet water, if necessary. For best flavor, allow to marinate for 1 hour before serving.

Can Finn wait one hour?

Friday, December 25, 2009

A is for Apples, V is for Vegetable Love

Two days before Christmas a package arrived on my doorstep and it wasn't a gift. The manuscript and proofs of my book had arrived for me to proofread and complete the index. Merry Christmas!

I marveled over the layout, gazing at the photo that might be the cover. A simple farm--I love it! Authors rarely have any control over book covers, but it this is it. But it was only a black and white image. I want to see it in color. I glanced at the proofs and the work ahead right before the holiday dampened my enthusiasm just a bit. Slogging through the index from amaranth to zucchini, listing and cross listing--well, it didn't really sound stimulating, in a story-telling way.

All I could remember about indexing was that my last index was detail oriented and seemed to take forever. Questions suddenly surfaced. Do I list places like Corvallis, Rogue River and Bellingham. Answer: Yes. Do I spell out "See also" in italics like the Timber Press author guide? No, but underline each "see also." My questions continued until the staff took off for the holiday. I puzzled over the pages the manuscript being different from the proof, so which was correct? The proofs only came by hard copy.

When I spent much of the morning on apples, Irealized you can get the important points of a book by counting the number of times a word appears within the pages. Apples are an important Northwest crop, apple juice and apple cider also appear in lots of Northwest recipes. The first (beekeepers and bees) and second farm profile (Apple growers) reaffirm the importance of apples.

I must say, sweat equity and selling my soul for just about nothing may have paid off this time.

Since it seemed such a grind (and right before the holiday) searching for nouns all day, I rewarded myself at the end of the day by getting out my newest cookbook: Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka.

I had ordered this book as a holiday gift to myself. And the minute I opened it, I fell in love with it. So many recipes and so much detail. On the front of the book is a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation, and inside over 600 pages all about vegetables! From the unusual lotus root and hearts of palm to everyday potatoes, this book is a dream come true for vegetable enthusiasts everywhere. I bet you could even find something to please a meat-and-potatoes cousin from Kansas or Nebraska.

My favorite vegetable of the season, celery root lists these intriguing recipes:

  • Celery Root Salad

  • Celery Root, Smoked Mozzarella and Prosciutto Salad

  • Celery Root Remoulade

  • Cream of Celery Root Soup

  • Pureed Celery Root with Apples

  • Celery Root Puree

  • Gratin of Celery Root

It's as though this book was written for farmers' market shoppers everywhere. You buy something bring it home and have a number of options, all in this one book. A bonus is most of the recipes are vegetarian and many can be transformed into vegan versions. I love the uniqueness of recipes like Beet Ice Cream. She turns the vegetable world upside down! On the same page, Kafka writes, "While beets may seem to be odd for dessert--they are certainly unusual--a little reflection will remind us that sugar beets are grown for extracting sugar. Ordinary beets are still very sweet and their color is spectacular." I'd never really thought about it but they are the color of garnets and the way they sparkle cry out for dessert.

Vegetable Love isn't just a cookbook. it's an invitation to the wide world of vegetables and as we peruse the recipes our ideas about vegetables are transformed. Reading Vegetable Love is a great gift to myself at the end of the day looking for apples to zucchinis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book of the Year: The End of Food

The End of Food by Paul Roberts (2008, Houghton-Mifflin) is a compelling look at our food supply. Well researched and documented, Roberts explores every angle of our modern food system, revealing massive problems with global supplies and where this system is headed. Roberts' narrative drives stories that are heavy with details, covering such topics as:

  • The inertia of the industrial food system and how farm subsidies support this failing system

  • Externalities and the true cost of cheap food

  • The lobbying power of large agricultural operations

  • The increasing incidence of food-borne illnesses and the obesity epidemic

  • Counting on consistent crops as some growing regions rack up record doughts

  • Rising middle classes all over the world adopting meat-based diets

This is a must read, in-depth look into the myriad problems of our food system. You won't be able to put it down.

In the end, Roberts suggestions for these problems include:

  • Lobby Congress to change farm bills and remove subsidies from large-scale commodities like wheat, soybeans and corn.

  • Demand more government funding for sustainable and organic farm methods.

  • Urge school boards to improve school lunches with fresh local and regional foods.

  • Build regional food systems

Get this book as a gift for yourself this season. Read it, and give thanks for our local squash, potatoes, apples, kale, and every other Northwest vegetable or fruit that graces our plates.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hazelnut Butter Cookies

When I was young, Mom had two killer recipes—banana bread and peanut butter cookies. These two baked recipes were perfect just the way they were written in The Joy of Cooking, her standard cookbook. For years, I never altered either recipe; both offered just the right amount of sugar, not too cloying like most bakery versions.

Unlike all the other recipes I continually tinkered with, I carefully measured ingredients and mixed them exactly as the recipe dictated year after year—until this year.

I toyed with substituting hazelnut butter for peanut butter for weeks before I finally got some at the market. This recipe was going local with Holmquist Orchards’ Hazelnut Butter, Golden Glen Creamery Butter and an egg from the Bad Bunny Farm on Vashon. I suppose I could have struggled to find local flour too, but I'm not really a die hard locavore who sources every ingredient locally, and I was in a hurry to test out my cookie idea. Here’s the recipe, I adapted from The Joy of Cooking with my substitutions:

Hazelnut Butter Cookies
(Makes 50 to 60 cookies)
These cookies are seriously addictive with their compelling sweet nutty flavor. Holmquist Orchards sells their tasty hazelnut butter at many Seattle farmers’ markets during summer months. Check Pike Place Market or Holmquist Orchards website for winter months.

1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
1 cup hazelnut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour and baking soda together in a small mixing bowl. In another bowl blend white and brown sugar and butter, mashing together until creamy.

2. Stir beaten egg into the butter-sugar mixture. Then mix in hazelnut butter and vanilla. Blend the wet and dry ingredients together.

3. Scoop a small amount of dough into your hand and roll into a ball. Place on the baking sheet. Fill the baking sheet with these cookie dough balls. When done, dip a fork into water and flatten the cookies with the fork tines in a criss-cross fashion. When cookies are all flattened, bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned on tops and bottoms.

Finn as usual, struggles to be good. I’m sure he’d take a lump of coal any day in exchange for this plate of cookies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vashon Island, Five Flavors, and Use It Up Soup

I joined writing group friends for the Vashon Island Studio Art Tour last weekend. As we rode the early ferry, I started thinking about the usual Northwest local foods, I might have scored at the market this week--Brussels sprouts, squash, kale and of course some crusty Tall Grass Bakery bread.

In Vashon, we stopped for coffee and I noticed the familiar canvas market tents next door. Before going on the art tour, I grabbed a bag and we headed to the market.

The Vashon Island farmers’ market isn't a year-round market like the ones in Seattle, and this late in the year this market seemed very small town. It reminded me of the market in Forks where I’d stopped years ago, but that market was so small I don't even recall seeing any farmers there, only local artisans. Apparently the Vashon summer farmers' market is quite different. The regular farmers market is closed for the year and this annual art tour is a special occasion when some farm vendors return.

I bought eggs from the Bad Bunny Farm, and I also got some squash, onions and shallots--no kale or greens here now. Suddenly I realized that I now take the year-round markets in Seattle for granted. How quickly we get used to the way things are when they suit us. In winter I get hearty greens, Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots available at year-round markets -- Ballard, West Seattle and the University District.

Anyway, our market visit didn’t take long, then we headed to the studios, which are scattered around Vashon. One of my favorites was right in town-- Pam Ingalls. Her oil paintings sparkled with earth tones, light and reflections. I loved the rustic feel of the paintings and some depicted simple kitchen images— a shiny toaster and a cube of butter or a peanut butter jar, a honey bear and an empty bread plate. A great gift for any chef--if only I had a bigger kitchen for an actual painting.

Immersed in art for the day, it wasn’t until I returned home that I realized I my meager farmers’ market purchases wouldn't see me through the week.

I rarely shop at grocery stores (maybe more on that topic later), but this was going to be a creative cooking week as I used up stray produce, plus pantry and frozen items that I keep for these kinds of challenging weeks.

As I rummaged through my refrigerator, I thought about my mother as I selected candidates for our meal.

Mom always added old leftover cooked vegetables that no one wanted to casseroles, soups, and meatloaves. As a child, I was suspicious of green beans in meatloaf; and week-old creamed corn just wasn’t right, tossed as an afterthought into the stew. Whenever we asked how old an ingredient from some covered container was, Mom shrugged her shoulders and casually replied, "I just had to use it up." I was always on guard because Mom incorporated old ingredients almost randomly and it rarely improved whatever she made.

Luckily I had more than enough fresh produce left to make something good, but I couldn't let it go another day or I might really become my mother, so I used as much as I could. I just had to figure out the flavors of this vegetable stew.

Five Flavors
Years ago a Chinese chef from Vancouver told me the palate senses five flavors:


"Put these together in a meal and it works," he'd said. I always remember that when putting an impromptu dish together. These flavors are definitely notes to keep in mind when creating dishes.

This recipe is dedicated to Mom whose watercolors and pastels were way better than her cooking!

Use it Up Winter Vegetable Stew
This recipe uses lots of vegetables—about 12--but don’t let that discourage you. Use less if you want, just cut back on the amount of water. Also the amount of coconut milk is small and this soup could take a larger can, if you have it. And it doesn't matter if your apple is slightly mealy because the apple imparts a tang that marries the flavors. If you don’t have an apple, use lemon juice. The herbs, garlic and bay leaf came from Stoney Plains Farm, Rent's Due Ranch and Rockridge Orchards. The sweet potato was leftover from a recipe article that I wrote recently for Vegetarian Journal. I froze the corn last summer and the celery-- I was lucky to have some left for this soup.

1 cup diced shallots
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 peeled, chopped sweet potato
5-once can coconut milk
3 to 4 cups water
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium turnips, chopped
1 cup cubed delicata squash
1 peeled and cored apple
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 to 1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's pepper
2 cups frozen corn
3 to 4 leaves kale, thinly sliced
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt to taste
Your favorite cheese, grated (optional)

1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and olive oil. Stir and cook over medium low heat until golden—about 15 minutes.

2. While shallots caramelize, in a large pot, combine coconut milk sweet potato, water, celery, turnips, delicata squash, apple, bay leaf, basil and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and simmer until vegetables begin to soften.—10 to 15 minutes. The cooking time depends on how large the vegetables are cut.

3.Add corn, kale, and white beans. Cook for ten more minutes or until kale is tender, then salt to taste. Garnish with the shallots and your favorite farmstead cheese, if desired. Serve with Beechers Cheese Crackers or your favorite crusty artisan bread.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sowing Seeds of Gratitude

Whistling Duck Farm, Grants Pass, Oregon

The Earth sustains 75 billion tons of life. An interactive network of water, rock, soil and air, everything that lives is connected to every thing else. Is the Earth on your gift list this season?

Gifts to the earth don't require deep pockets, just that we make pro-planet choices and work to preserve our landscapes for future generations. What are the most important things we can do?

I posed this question to local farmers. It wasn’t surprising that “Purchase food from local farmers,” was the most popular response. Joan E McIntyre from Rent’s Due Ranch in Stanwood, Washington, summed it up: “Spend more money of local food than entertainment.”

Bees at Whistling Duck Farm

Americans spend big bucks for a concert or sporting event and, though recreational shoppers are checking out discount and thrift stores now, many are reluctant to part with a dollar more per pound for local, organic apples.

People want to buy food with a social conscience at Wal-Mart prices,” said Wade Bennett from Rockridge Orchards in Enumclaw.“Get to know your farmer,” Bennett added. “The next phase is hiring your own farmers!”
The more impersonal and distant the corporate world becomes, the more we crave personal connections. We pay mechanics, personal trainers, massage therapists and even life coaches generous living wages, why not farmers?

According to the American Farm Bureau, one U.S. farmer feeds 129 people. Connecting the apple we purchase to the farmer who grew it is essential in making the leap from buying industrialized, factory food that robs the environment to supporting a sustainable food system.

And sustainable farmers are earth-stewards who outwit pests and endure weather challenges to conjure food from the soil. These farmers help maintain our waterways, encourage native pollinators and support migratory birds and predatory insects that keep pests in check.

While a Wal-Mart receipt might feel like a bargain when less money leaves your wallet, the deal struck at the cash register obscures the effects these purchases have on landscapes in our own backyard. The true costs of industrial factory farms are reflected on the receipt because “externalities” are costs absorbed by others.

“Our costs are in the present, but our accountability extends into the future,” said Steve Phillips from Port Madison Farm on Bainbridge Island. “Live your live as an example for those who follow.”

“Make fewer trips to the grocery store, said Dorie Belisle of Bellewood Acres in Lynden.

“Drive your car to a bus stop,” added Blake Johnston of Growing Things in Carnation.

Gifts to the planet don’t come in fancy packages, but they fill our lives with a sense of purpose—a connection to our farming neighbors and the place we live. When we buy heirloom apples from a local farmer, ditch the car and take a bus, or plan a spring garden to attract bees and influence others, we change the planet’s future one action at a time.

“Practice what you preach,” said Liz Eggers of Grouse Mountain Farm.

Over a decade ago a study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that 82.5 million people feed birds in their backyards. When that many people can dip into their wallets consistently to feed birds, consider the possibilities if millions more people adopted habits that continually nourished the planet and sustained local farmers.

And isn’t there a good feeling when you can proudly tell your family or guests that dinner came from a sustainable farm just a few miles away?

Sow a few seeds of your own this year with gifts from local farms. Buy your family a CSA subscription for next spring or shop farmers’ markets and farm stores for edible gifts like hazelnut butter, cheese, fruit preserves and dried fruits.

These are a few farms in the Northwest who offer CSAs. Check them out for spring farm shares.

The Fry Family Farm in Talent, Oregon

Denison Farms in Corvallis, Oregon

Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, Oregon

Wille Greens Organic Farm in Monroe, Washington

Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim, Washington

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What to do With too Much Kale

I arrived home today hungry after only eating a few cookies at my writing group. I wondered what I could eat that could be made quickly? And what vegetables need to be used? I checked the produce in the refrigerator and discovered my abundant kale from Saturday already wilting because someone (well, me actually) had left it exposed and not in the vegetable bin. I'd gotten a lot of kale to make Kale and Avocado Salad because I'm so hooked on it, I eat it almost every day.

Anyway, enough salad dreams, my kale salad was out, but could the kale be salvaged?

I'd braise it in olive oil, I decided. About 5 minutes into it, I added some of Wade Bennett's Stone Quarry Wine, a pinch of pepper and some garlic and covered it. Ten minutes later, the brilliant green kale looked beautiful on the plate, but when I took a bit and started chewing, I felt like a cow, munching and munching. I don't think that tough kale ever broke down. It was like tough weeds. Still, I wasn't ready to feed the compost heap, so I put it in a saucepan, covered it with water and simmered it for about 10 minutes.

Then I blended it, added a tablespoon of my favorite almond butter and a little hot green salsa. Then I blended some more. It probably would have been nice with grated cheese, or crushed tortilla chips but I was too hungry to care. Dinner can be easy when hunger calls.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cranberries: Sparkling Gems of Winter

One of my favorite getaways is the Washington Long Beach Peninsula, where a third of the nation's cranberries are grown. Visit the Cranberry Museum, take a bog tour or dine at local restaurants and savor cranberry pancakes, toppings, ice cream and even cranberry fudge. Everywhere you look you're reminded of cranberries. . . . I wrote that in an article for Vegetarian Journal nearly ten years ago.

I still love the sparkling garnet color and sassy tart taste of cranberries this time of year. Native to North America, cranberries grew wild in bogs from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, in New Jersey, Michigan and on the west coasts of Washington and Oregon. Native Americans tended the bogs, hand weeding and harvesting the small red berries. Early settlers called them "crane-berries" because during one stage of growth, the cranberry bud hooks downward resembling a crane's head. Later the name was shortened from "crane-berry" to cranberry.

I couldn't resist the cranberries at Found and Foraged and I bought them without thinking about what I was going to make, but once I got home, I had a few ideas.

Another article from Vegetarian Journal called Awesome Autumn Desserts from the Past in 2001, had a recipe for an old fashioned simmered fruit dessert with dumplings called a "slump." My idea was to take the simmered fruit from that recipe, top it with a pie crust and bake it in the oven.

It would be a super easy dessert. I had a frozen pie crust I'd gotten from PCC Natural Markets and all I had to do was adjust the amount of arrowroot. But it wouldn't be a slump, so I called it a cobbler.

Here is my revised recipe:


(Serves 6)
Cranberries and raspberries were simply meant to be together. This time of year, I harvest cranberries from my freezer. I got them last summer at the market at Rent’s Due Ranch.
1 9-inch frozen pie crust, thawed
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups frozen raspberries
1/3 cup orange juice or juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup sugar1/4 cup arrowroot 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine cranberries, raspberries, orange juice, sugar, arrowroot, and Grand Marnier, if desired, in a heavy skillet. Mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes.

  2. While berries cook, gently tip the pie crust from the shell, patch any broken pieces together.

  3. Pour cranberry-raspberry filling in a souffle or casserole dish. Roll pie crust over a rolling pin and carefully place over the berries. Patch any pieces together and crimp the edges like a pie. Make a few slashes in the crust and place on a baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes or until top is browned and the filling is bubbling up. As an option, you can butter the top and sprinkle with sugar in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

  4. Let cobbler cool slightly before serving with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
This version had great flavor but was not as thick inside as I'd hoped. Arrowroot isn't quite the same as cornstarch in recipes and it takes about twice as much to thicken desserts. Next time I make it, I think I'll try 3 tablespoons organic cornstarch instead of arrowroot .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brussels sprouts: Good Things in Small Packages

The best time to buy and enjoy Northwest Brussels sprouts is after the first frost. Like kale and collards, Brussels sprouts turn sweeter in cold weather. Unfortunately 98 percent of the commercial crops in the United States are grown and harvested in California where winters are mild. These warmer weather Brussels sprouts never attain the sweetness of local varieties that get hit by frost in fall and winter. The majority of the Brussels sprouts harvested from commercial crops are frozen.

I had never seen or tasted frozen or fresh Brussels sprouts until I was a teenager. When I found them in the frozen vegetable section, Mom wasn't interested, so I spent my own money for bitter tasting specimens that didn't win me over.

When I got a winter CSA from Willie Green’s Organic Farm one year, I tasted my first fresh Northwest grown Brussels sprouts. After that I was hooked. Iwanted to know more about these curious little cabbage relatives.

In The Whole Foods Companion, Dianne Onstead says Brussels sprouts are believed to have evolved from a variety of Savoy cabbage and is one of the few vegetables that evolved in northern Europe. They were initially cultivated around Belgium, in the late 1700s; and Elizabeth Schneider in Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini says that Thomas Jefferson was one of the first major Brussels sprouts cultivators in this country.

Today a number of Northwest farmers grow organic Brussels sprouts. I got mine (above) last Saturday at Whistling Train Farm in Kent. Nash 's Organic Produce from Sequim had a mountain of them, and their display looked so perfect and inviting. I bought loose Brussels sprouts for Patty at Willie Green's from Monroe, where I also bought celery, spinach, carrots and onions. Jeff' Miller's Brussels sprouts looked as good as I remember them from last year and I wanted to get more but these vegetables aren't keepers. They don't keep as long as savoy and green cabbages in the refrigerator.

Seeing all the Brussels sprouts at the market made me miss my old dog Hunter, who passed away a few years ago. She used to check under booths for stray produce and loved this time of year. To her, a raw Brussels sprouts was a real treasure.

Although Hunter wasn't really picky about her vegetables, Brussels sprouts are perfect when you buy them fresh, and favor bright green, smaller compact heads. Once the heads get large they can be tough, and when the leaves are loose, inside leaves begin to decay so when you cut open the sprout, you can see it going bad.

Once you've got your treasures home, if you have a dog like Finn, you'll have to put the Brussels sprouts away. Like Hunter, Finn likes Brussels sprouts raw.

Occasionally I find recipes for raw sprouts like the one I saw in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook that called for hot water, olive oil, Parmesan and Romano cheese and black pepper. The cheese water and oil get whisked together and tossed with washed, halved Brussels sprouts. But most recipes involved roasting, steaming, stir-frying or sauteing. I decided to check and see what recipes were out there on local food blogs since this is Brussels sprouts season, and I found this one for an Asian flavor and this one for rich almost decadent flavor.

Finn's produce inspection--Brussels sprouts, radicchio and carrots.

If you aren't sure what to do with Brussels sprouts or want something easy to make, I offer this simple recipe from my cookbook,THE NORTHWEST VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK: 200 INSPIRED RECIPES THAT CELEBRATE LOCAL FLAVORS, available from Timber Press in sping 2010:

Lemon Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4
Be patient and wait until it gets really cold for good Brussels sprouts. The secret is to sample as they cook and don't over or undercook them. Simple lemon and a dash of agave nectar or honey enhances sweet nutty-tasting Brussels sprouts without detracting from their sweet nutty flavor. If you want a lemon substitute, try raspberry vinegar or if you froze red or pink currants from last summer, add about a quarter of a cup during the last few minutes of cooking.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 or more teaspoons honey or agave nectar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Steam the Brussels sprouts in a saucepan until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. While the Brussels sprouts cook, combine the butter, lemon juice, and honey or agave nectar. Toss with the Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

A golden delicious apple, Lemon Brussels Sprouts and cranberry rice with carrots.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Celery: Learning to Love an Old Nemisis

These days at the market, I eagerly scan familiar farm vendors for the best celery. But I wasn't always this enthusiastic about celery.

In fact, I resented celery when I was young. This boring, party-stopping vegetable was nothing more than a crunchy distraction in my potato salad and an unwelcome offering on appetizer plates. Even in my Thanksgiving stuffing, celery seemed like an intruder. As a teenager I once forced myself to eat the pale green vegetable because a friend said celery had negative calories. It had negative flavor too.

But when I discovered celery's gnarly cousin, celeriac, at the market, at Willie Green's Organic Farm, I fell in love--vegetable love. After carefully peeling the hairy root, I steamed and mashed it with potatoes. The first bite left me hooked on this homely root. It imparted hints of celery and parley flavors and mingled with warm oozy potatoes,it was the comfort dish I'd always dreamed about. (For this celeriac and potato recipe check out my recent article about roots and greens "Beyond Spinach and Potatoes" for Marlene's Sound Outlook .) Celeriac easily earned a spot in my market bag, but I still wasn't sold on the stalks. Not until I discovered the most amazing thing about celery a few years ago.

It was a stressful year. My dad suddenly passed away, my favorite old basset hound died and I lost I job I'd had for 16 years. And as if that wasn't enough, my blood pressure went up. Besides exercise and cutting out salt, I looked for some natural remedies to lower my numbers.

Then one day, celery waltzed into my life. I'd picked up a copy of Michael Murray's The Encyclopedia of Healing with Whole Foods (2005 Atria Books) and read that celery was beneficial in reducing blood pressure. Murray said, "Just four celery ribs consumed daily could reduce blood pressure up to to 14 percent." The action on blood pressure is a result of a coumarin compound called 3-n-butyl phthalide (3nB). This compound apparently also lowers cholesterol. Celeriac or celery root (below) also contains this blood pressure lowering compound.

Lucky me, I read about about the benefits of celery in the fall, just when Northwest celery was in season. I bought some from Jeff Miller at Willie Green's at the market and started munching. The flavor was more assertive than the tame stringy tasteless grocery store celery. And on a long drive to California to deal with my dad's house I munched through an entire head of celery. My dad had always told me to eat crisp apples when driving to stay alert, but celery works just as well.

When I checked my blood pressure after I'd eaten copious quantities for week , the numbers were in the low normal range. They stayed there and my only question was how much would I have to continue consuming year round to keep my blood pressure low?

Gnarly celeriac roots pictured below.

Turns out, a lot less than you'd think. I sometimes go a month or so without consuming any, but mostly I eat small amounts on a fairly consistent basis. I like it best like my apples --with a drizzle of almond butter from my favorite organic California farm.

Dedicated local Northwest foodies should try it with hazelnut butter.

Now celeriac and celery are weekly market purchases. (Celeriac offers the same component for reducing blood pressure.) I add stalk celery to Waldorf and shredded carrot salads; I simmer celery in soups and stir it into braised vegetables. The stalks of market celery can sometimes be tough but the assertive celery flavor from market farmers is always amazing in cooked recipes and it's well worth the price.

The variety sold in grocery stores is called Pascal celery. It's cheaper than local varieties and is grown mostly in California, Florida and Texas. Pascal celery has a long-standing reputation for harvesting ease, transportability and shelf life and its mild flavor has also been a draw for grocery store shoppers. But I opt for more flavor and I always support locally grown when it is in season. Sadly, celery goes out of season in the Northwest during winter, spring and summer.

In these "off-seasons," I buy organic celery because The Environmental Working Group lists celery as one of the top pesticide laden foods, describing it as thin-skinned and difficult to wash off the numerous toxic farm chemicals. And who needs toxic farm chemicals added to an otherwise healthy diet plan?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Finn Discovers My Autumn Market Food Finds

Once again I went overboard at the market, so I thought I'd take a picture of some of my bounty. But as you can see, Finn is also curious about my food finds of the week.

It didn't take food hound long to get a closer look. He's got a nose for the sweet carrots I got from Stoney Plains Organic Farm in Tenino (near Olympia). But he's also fond of the radishes that I got there, too.

The celery and Tuscan kale come from Willie Green's Organic Farm. I found the celeriac and fennel at Whistling Train Farm.

I bought the cranberries at Foraged and Found Foods and was curious if these were wild cranberries since Christina Choi and Jeremy Faber are foragers. They gather them in an old overgrown bog in Grayland on the coast.
Cranberries are graded by their color--the darker the berry, the more desirable and these look like grade A cranberries. I added some to Mom's banana bread recipe (comfort food from the past), and I plan on making a raspberry-cranberry cobbler with a few more cups of cranberries. The rest of the tart berries will go into grain salads and maybe I'll freeze some for color, tang and sparkle later.

Finn scored more than one radish and I gave him a carrot because I always get two bunches--one for us and one for the hounds who love the sweet orange treats. However, Finn declined my offer of a cranberry. I've finally discovered a food he doesn't like.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pear Clafouti from Jeanette Herman of Cliffside Orchards

Last Saturday was the last week of the season at the market for Cliffside Orchards. I've purchased Jeanette and Jeff Herman's apples and pears for years. I included Cliffside Orchards in my revised cookbook, now called THE NORTHWEST VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK: 200 INSPIRED RECIPES THAT CELEBRATE LOCAL FLAVORS. This Northwest cookbook will be published by Timber Press in Spring 2010.

Some of the farmers profiled in my book contributed recipes, and Jeanette's Pear Clafouti is so good, I made it for our Thanksgiving brunch. It starts with one simple Northwest ingredient--pears.

Pear Clafouti

I've made this recipe so many times, I love to experiment with it. Jeanette used Bartlett pears, but I'm a Bosc pear fan, so that's what I used. I couldn't find my 10-inch cake pan so I made it in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. And since I didn't have any milk on hand, I substituted organic soymilk. Also, I tried a vanilla bean this time, cutting it lengthwise and scraping out the vanilla into the soymilk. Then I heated the soymilk and vanilla slightly before using so the vanilla infused the milk.
4 ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and cut in half

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

3/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon brandy (optional

Pinch of salt

Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter a 9 or 10-inch round pan.

2. Lay pears cut side down in pan.

3. Combine the eggs and sugar in a medium mixing bowl and beat until foamy and thick. Add the flour and continue to mix until s smooth batter forms. Add the milk, vanilla and brandy, if desired. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and mix well.

4. Pour the mixture over the pears and bake 30 minutes or until browned. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and add a dollop of ice cream, whipped cream or sorbet.
Eaten warm, the pears melted in my mouth. I didn't need lemon sorbet but it added a visual contrast and the sweet hot clafouti and cold tangy sorbet was a sweet-tart delight.

If any Clafouti is left over, it's also good the next day. As you can see (below), refrigeration changes the texture but there's something exotic about the vanilla-infused cool, firm sweet dish that makes me want one bite after another. If you used a vanilla bean like I did, don't mind the dark speckles, it's just vanilla.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winter Gardening Isn't for Wimps

Last summer when lettuce came up abundantly, I vowed to start a fall garden. I'd been considering it long before Michelle Obama's White House garden. But it didn't help much that the First Lady made it look so easy there wasn't even a trace of garden dirt on her pink pants and matching cardigan.

I knew fall would be a little cooler, but with less insects, it was the perfect time to start a garden, or so I thought. We tested our soil and I tilled in lime and compost. Then I planted seedlings and waited for my fall abundance. Pacific Northwest rain and gray fall days were the farthest thing from my mind and when the rain started my tiny spinach simply quit growing. It dawned on me that low levels of light and cold weather could be a problem.

“Take the starts out of containers and put them in the garden,” my gardening coach told me. But it seemed like too much trouble, so I didn’t follow her advice. Soon everything I'd planted in containers was stunted and waterlogged. Container plants, I learned were actually in a zone colder than regular garden soil, but still I left them. There's probably a time for pure optimism without action, but this wasn't one of them.

The frisée (above) also looked spindly, but it's weed-like appearance didn't prepare me for the super-bitter, rubbery leaves that seemed resistant to breaking down when chewed. I couldn't imagine inflicting this unfortunate salad green on dinner guests. And my Osaka mustard greens I'd been so excited about had attracted a tiny breed of cold weather slugs that chewed big holes in the baby leaves.

“Beer traps,” Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards told me when I showed him a chewed up leaf. “That’s the best thing for the slugs.”

Okay, if growing our own food supply was as easy as donning a coordinated pink pants outfit, we'd all probably be doing it.

It's about time to review a few books, and here are two that I’m gleaning gardening advice from this fall:

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Soloman (Sasquatch Books, 6th edition 2007)

This is a regional gardening classic gives essential advice about what grows here, plant growth rates, weeds, fertilizers and containers (a section I hadn't consulted). Soloman talks about maritime micro climates and the problems with winter gardening. Mulching, composting, dry gardening and drip systems are also covered. In chapter 9, "How to Grow It," Soloman takes gardening readers through the variety of vegetables, when to plant the seeds, set out seedlings and how to deal with insects and diseases. The book's approach is organic using compost and building healthy soil with organic matter.

Check Soloman's book out at your favorite bookseller or library, and as I've learned, it's best to read this before you plan your garden, not when you suddenly need help. On Amazon, look below the reviews and you'll find gardening forums, that will help answer common Northwest garden questions. The only drawback is that the book doesn't cover fruit, but the next book does.

Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting, by R.J. Ruppenthal (2008, Chelsea Green)

I recently ordered this book from Real Goods and was surprised that the book contained more than gardening basics and tips. It's also a primer on fruit and vegetable gardening with some urban food survivalist strategies like how to make yogurt, kiefer and fermented foods, food foraging, cultivating mushrooms and raising honeybees and chickens. The last chapter is called "Survival During Resource Shortages." In this post Katrina world, it's worth it to look at all of our food alternatives when it comes to our immediate food supply. Much of the Northwest is in a natural disaster zone and it's prudent to prepare for disruptions in our food or water supply. This book also has a resource list of where to get tools, soil amendments and various supplies.

My plan is to read more about Northwest gardening before planting in the spring.

From my fall garden, these tiny magenta lettuce heads looked stunning in in our salad bowls, but they didn't have any tenderness because they were nothing but old vegetables that never reached their full potential.

Overwatering, cold weather and container gardening produced these stunted lettuce heads from my beginner's garden in the Pacific Northwest. The roots clung feriously to the earth and the leaves were tough enough to resist the cold.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's on your list today?

The Cascade Harvest Coalition is sponsoring an"Eat Local Challenge," with volunteers soliciting long-time market shoppers to take the “Eat Local” challenge for Thanksgiving. They must realize most market shoppers at this time of year already eat locally every day. So the idea appears to be a measure of how many people support local agriculture.

So far they’re close to 4,000 pledges. I signed a card because law makers listen to large groups. And local food shoppers have morphed into a significant food shopping group in the Pacific Northwest.Whether my food comes from Washington or California, I like to meet farmers and learn about their farming techniques. Seeing the farm is always a bonus. Every farm has a story--a unique history and influence on this planet. Is the farm working on a chemical-laden short term plan that bankrupts the earth or a long-term plan that feeds the soil and nourishes the earth?

Here are some foods from my Thanksgiving dinner list:

Organic apples and pears from Grouse Mountain (Chelan), Cliffside Orchards (Kettle Falls) and the Merritt Farm (Skagit Valley)

Organic celery, kale, romanesco, and delicata squash from Willie Green’s Organic Farm (Monroe)

Organic red onions, shallots, garlic raspberry vinegar and potatoes from Rent’s Due Ranch (Stanwood)

Organic Brussels sprouts from Nash Huber’s Organic Produce (Sequim)

Organic Garbanzos from Alvarez Farm (Mabton)

Organic Rice from Massa Organics (Chico, California)

Organic Eggs from Hi Q in Sedro Wolley

Mild Gouda from Appel Farms in Ferndale

Smoky Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery (Central Point, Oregon)

Wine and cider from Rockridge Orchards (Enumclaw)

A number of places sell pastured local meat. Check out Jo Robinson's Eat Wild Website for producers.

Have a delicious holiday!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three cheers for Golden Delicious apples

"We've got to think of another name for these apples," said Jeanette Herman,of Cliffside Orchards, when I bought a dozen large Golden Delicious apples last weekend at the market.

In the midst of all Rubinettes, Pink Ladies and Honey Crisps, it sounds a bit crazy, but I'm a Golden Delicious fan. I became a convert just a few years ago at the farmers' market when I sampled them from Cliffside Orchards and they were so different from the tasteless Golden Delicious apples of my youth. I wanted to know more about these apples.

Listed at one website as one of the most important varieties of apples in the 20th century, the Golden Delicious was introduced in the late 1800s and became the breeding stock for many of our currant popular varieties.

Golden Delicious offspring include:

  • Ambrosia

  • Elstar

  • Estivale

  • Gala

  • Greensleeves

  • Jonagold

  • Pink Lady

  • Rubinette

  • Saturn

  • Sunrise

  • Honeycrisp (a distant descendant)

A tender skin and a short shelf life is possibly the reason that most of the Golden Delicious apples sold conventionally are picked green and lack any flavor development of a ripe Golden Delicious. These apples also grow more easily on the dry east side of the Cascades that our maritime climate on the west side, but Jonagold (a relative), grows well on this side and I can taste the Golden tones in this more local relative.

Jeanette says Goldens make the best pies, and she always recommends them. I've made my share of pies, and Golden Delicious is the best way to go, but my favorite way to enjoy these seasonal treasures is drizzled with hazelnut or almond butter

Finn gives four paws up for this tempting breakfast.

In my search for news about Goldens, I was surprised to discover Golden Delicious apples are the state fruit of West Virginia. Check out their annual Golden Delicious apple festival, it looks like fun.