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.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Creamy Delicata Squash and Curry Soup from Willie Green's Organic Farm

You can never have too many recipes for squash in the fall. And today when Jeff Miller from Willie Green's Organic Farm cooked up a pot of squash soup at the market, after one taste, I wanted his recipe. The lively flavors warmed my mouth with a curry zing. The warming flavors mingled with the squash. And under drizzly skies it was just the thing to tempt market shoppers.

Jeff rattles off easy recipes for everything he grows, but this is the first time that I remember Jeff sampling hot soups that feature his produce. I’m excited about a chef farmer showcasing his own recipes.

In the early 1980s, Jeff was a chef at Stars in San Francisco. One day he packed his bags and rode up to Washington on his motorcycle and became a farmer. (Read Jeff Miller's farmer profile in the revised edition of my book to be published by Timber Press spring 2010.)
Before the University District Market became official during the winter months, I subscribed to Jeff's winter CSAs when the fall market ended. Jeff always has great ideas for cooking up what he grows. And this season he's cooking up samples for market customers.
It's obvious when Jeff talks about food, he's talking about his passion. He can tell me when the collards are sweet because of the freezing weather or give me some ideas for rapini. When Jeff hands out a recipe, you can bet it's something good. I asked if could share this one.

This version lists chicken, and for those who prefer vegetarian, try sliced mushrooms for that meaty texture. Dry fry about a cup and a half of sliced mushrooms (porcini or portabello are best) over medium heat ( I use a cast iron skillet), stirring constantly until they squeak and then lose their moisture. Remove mushrooms from the heat and chop before adding to the soup. Then, use a vegetarian broth instead of a chicken broth.

Creamy Delicata Squash and Curry Soup by Jeff Miller at Willie Green's Organic Farm
(Serves 4 to 6)
Jeff says, “Vermont curry is a name brand that can be found in Asian markets. It’s one that I’ve found to have the best flavor. It is a yellow curry in a compressed type of brick. Break off pieces and add to your dish. It will dissolve in hot liquids.”

1/2 yellow onion—coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 delicata squash, cut in half and seeded
1 large Yukon Gold potato, small dice
1 chicken breast, small dice
4 cups chicken stock
Brown sugar to taste
Yellow curry to taste
Olive Oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash cavity side up on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, a small pat of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Bake uncovered until flesh can be pulled away from the skin.
2. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water over medium high heat until 3/4 done. Strain, cool and set aside.
3. In a 4-quart sauce pot, saute diced chicken breast in olive oil over high heat. Season with a little salt and pepper. When chicken is browned and caramelized, remove from pot and set aside.
4. Using the same pot saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Do not brown.
5. Add scooped delicata squash and chicken or vegetable stock to onion-garlic mixture and stir in (Vermont) curry to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Cool slightly, then place in a blender with ½ of the potatoes. Blend until smooth. Pour back into pot and add the remaining potatoes, chicken and coconut milk. 6. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

While I'm stocking up on some green tea at a local Asian market, I think I'll hunt down some of that Vermont curry Jeff mentioned. The only tweak I'm making with Jeff's soup is to add some of Jeff's amazing celery. It's got the best flavor, and if you haven't tasted Willie Green's celery, you must get to the market and look for before the season is over.

Jeff laughed and said he looked better in profile when I said I wanted to snap this photo.

"Next week I'm doing cannillini beans," Jeff called out as I was leaving his booth. I'm excited about his recipes, and next week is the perfect time to start gathering holiday treasures at the markets.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Comfort Food: A Good Book and Butternut Squash Soup

When I discovered Molly Wizenberg's wildly popular blog Orangette, I liked it so much I printed out pages and read her stories in bed at night. When I heard she had a book, A Homemade Life, I got on the waiting list at the library. When I finished it, I had to buy my own copy.

“You can tell a lot about somebody by their potato salad,” Molly said in the first chapter. That's when I was hooked. Apparently so were a lot of devoted blog readers. Molly weaves food and recipes into everyday stories about family, friends, death, coping and even romance.

I couldn't stop mentioning this book to my friends. With most food memoirs I skip the recipes and get on with the story, but I was so impressed with Molly's salads and soups, I had to stop and read every one.

I'm a sucker for anything that involves a vanilla bean. So Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean was the first recipe I tried.

"Make it exactly like she does," my friend Betty told me when I mentioned the intriguing squash recipe in Molly’s book. "Be a slave to the recipe. That way you'll know if it works."

I smiled. Tweaking recipes is irresistible for me. I dissect dishes and dream up recipes differently. Though substitutions are risky when baking, most other things can be altered to fit what's in my pantry without making a trip to the store. I scanned the recipe and deleted the cream. I didn't have any. What would make the soup creamy without the cream? I chose almond butter.

Butternut Squash Soup with a Vanilla Bean and Chocolate

Whoever thought chocolate would compliment soup? I got the idea from one of Molly's salads and the thought of sprinkling chocolate over squash soup just wouldn't leave. When buying the squash keep in mind, the size of butternut squash tends to be big, so get the smallest one and weigh it before making the soup. If you can't find butternut squash, use another variety, I'm sure other winter squash or pumpkin would work here. Pick any kind of organic sweet-tart apple you like such as golden delicious, jonagold or honey crisp. You can sprinkle old-fashioned bread croutons on for garnish but chocolate is exotic and delicious. Try it and see.

1 small butternut squash (about 2 cups cooked)

1 sweet-tart apple

3/4 cup apple cider

1 cup vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

1 vanilla bean, slit down the middle

2 tablespoons almond or hazelnut butter

2 cups water

Salt and pepper

Freshly grated chocolate or homemade croutons

1. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and bake at 350º for 45 minutes or until soft. While squash cooks, core and roughly chop the apple.

2. Place apple, apple cider, vegetable broth, bay leaf and vanilla in a medium size saucepan. Simmer for ten minutes or until apples are very tender. Remove vanilla bean and bay leaf.

3.When the squash is done, remove skin and place in a blender in small batches with the apple-vegetable broth mixture. Puree with the almond butter until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan with the vanilla bean and simmer on low for about ten minutes.

4. Serve with freshly grated chocolate or homemade croutons.

Molly Wizenberg and her husband Brandon Pettit opened Delancey, a pizzeria in Ballard that features hearth baked pizza made with a thin crust and fresh ingredients. The restaurant was listed in Pacific Northwest Magazine , in the Seattle Times last Sunday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Food finds in Skagit Valley: Rosabella's Garden Bakery and Skagit Valley Co-op

For a nostalgic autumn getaway, I head north to Rosabella's Garden Bakery at 8933 Farm to Market Road in Bow, Washington. Owned and run by Rose Ella Merritt, this barn-like farm store is like stepping into the past with aroma of freshly made apple pastries, cider doughnuts, and Rose's signature 5-pound apple pie. But the store wasn't always part of this farm's plan.

When foreign frozen juices from China and Brazil flooded the market in the 1990s and falling wholesale apple prices bit another chunk out of hard-earned profits, Rose Merritt didn't give up. This charming farm store was her idea for saving husband Allan Merritt's apple farm.

Allen Merritt grew up in Skagit Valley. He always knew he wanted to farm and says that when he was young, farms were everywhere. Farming in Skagit Valley was booming back then. Apple, berry, row crop and dairy farms defined Skagit Valley. Allen lived down the road from Judy Jensen who now helps run Golden Glen Creamery an artisan butter and cheese company that sustains her family's dairy farm. Rose Merritt said she traveled to other farms and learned what they were doing to help preserve their farms as wholesale food prices plummeted.

Once you pull into the lot and head towards the store, check out the variety of apples in baskets and bins on the old fashioned front porch before stepping inside. Once inside, I'm immediately transported back to the 1950s with the colorful green, orange and yellow Formica tables. Shelves and pantries are lined with pickled green tomatoes, country corn relish, quince jelly, gooseberry preserves and blackcurrant jam--most are products with the Rosabella's Garden Bakery label. The fragrance of home baked apple strudel, tarts, cider doughnuts wafts through the air.

I suddenly got a craving for pie when I spied Rose's 5 pound apple pie. It's almost too perfect to eat.

I couldn't resist trying one of Rose's apple tarts with steaming coffee. This day trip is the perfect ticket to cheer up the rainy day blahs. I browsed the store, checking out cards, cookbooks and gadgets. I bought Rosabella's jalapeno mustard, habanero salsa and a trio of berry and cherry preserves. I also got a couple bottles of Skagit Fresh sparkling blueberry juice.

Skagit Fresh, was started by Allen and three other local farmers as a way of selling more of their fresh fruit. Other flavors besides blueberry include: blackberry, strawberry and raspberry. The three farmer company launched their sparkling juices in 2008, right before the stock market collapsed and the country experienced one of the worst economic years since the Great Depression.

Sales for the sparkling juices are picking up, with store after local store carrying it. (Get it at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle and the Bellingham Co-op in Bellingham.) Allan says he's learned how big companies like Pepsi pay more money and get better shelf space. Skagit Valley Co-op in Mount Vernon also carries it. I stopped there before heading home.

Skagit Valley Co-op carries lots of local products--produce from Ralph's Greenhouse, Mother Flight Farm and Gibb's Organic Produce to local bakeries like like The Bread Farm that makes the best breads in Washington. I'm crazy about their Skagit Valley potato bread. You can also get local cheese like those made by Golden Glen Creamery. The co-op's deli is always busy, and if you want to do your holiday shopping in one stop, check out the mercantile department on the upper level for more local products, including my book.
The revised edition, published by Timber Press and due out in spring 2010, includes a profile of Allen and Rose's farm and store and includes Rose's Apple Crumble Pizza Pie, as well as long-time Skagit Valley Co-op mercantile manager Cheryl Harrison's Nut Cake recipes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stocking the local food pantry

Food from my pantry brings back memories of my visit to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers' market where I found Massa Organics rice and almond butter early in the morning and carried them around all day. But once I got these delicious treats home, I'd practically forgotten how heavy my bag had been. At the Gathering Together Farm (GTF) store in Philomath, Oregon, I bought enchilada and tomato leek marinara sauces, pickled jalapenos and blueberry jam, all canned by Sweet Creek Foods, a farm neighbor and local food processor, not far from GTF.

Wherever I go, I visit farmers' markets and farm stores where I learn about other small sustainable farms and gather local foods. Mostly I just can't resist trying what farmers are growing in different parts of the country. I've carried home Texas tomatoes in the fall and Arizona grapefruit in the winter, tucked in my carry-on luggage. Thankfully airline bag inspectors only give curious looks after examining the contents. I pack salsas, jams and vinegars between jeans, sweatshirts and socks and hope they make it home safely. Nothing has ever broken or gone missing.

Over the harvest season (summer through fall) my pantry fills up, without having to can anything myself. Oh, I know home canning can save money but my kitchen is about as big as a boat kitchen, I don't even have room for the giant pots and massive numbers of jars required for canning. Besides, I have fun looking for farm made salsas and jams.
Tom can’t resist opening the Gathering Together Farm blueberry spread and I like to cook beans in their enchilada sauce. The leek marinara sauce is perfect for pasta or pizza.

From the University District farmers' market farm vendors I buy fruit spreads, pickles, hazelnut oil and butter, vinegars, dried powdered onions, garlic, dehydrated spices, and pepper flakes. You can find more dried beans and different kinds of grains each year there. Nash's Farm from Sequim sells wheat and rye. Stoney Plains and Willie Greens Organic Farm offer dried beans.

The Alvaraz Family Farm sells a variety of organic beans at affordable prices, spring through fall. This farm sells at Pike Place Market, Columbia City and the Lake City farmers’ markets. I think the Alvaraz farm also sells their produce at the Ballard and possibly Lake Forest Park summer markets.

One word of caution with beans: don’t mistake dried beans for the fresh shell beans many farmers sell in the fall. Fresh shell beans deteriorate rapidly in storage. And before buying check bags of these fresh shell beans carefully looking for mold and bad spots before purchasing any. These beans get moldy quickly. Use fresh shell beans right away or store in the refrigerator for about four days. You could also freeze these shell beans for a few months or more
Another thing I look for to stock my pantry are my favorite dehydrated onions and garlic and raspberry vinegar from Rent's Due Ranch, dried mushrooms from Found and Foraged, dried nectarines, apricots and apples from Cliffside Orchards, and honey from Tahuya River Apiaries.

A few items from my pantry:

Left to right, top row: Holmquist Hazelnuts, Texas Pecans (from the Austin farmers' market), berry wine from Rockridge Orchards. Bottom row: Woodrings Parker Pickled Green Beans, Palasades, Colorado Organic Peach jam (from my summer vacation), Alvaraz Farm garbanzos, Rama Farm peaches, El Passo salsa (from Austin), Rockridge Orchards apple cider.

What's in your panty?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Evolution of a Recipe: Quince and Cherries Simmered in Raspberry Wine

Recipes are for sharing. So I wasn't really surprised when I got some quinces from my friends Molly and Bill, I also sampled a cooked quince recipe that Molly made. The quince half shimmered in an amber liquid and a tiny taste delivered the tart-sweet zing of quince followed by a bold ginger. Molly handed me the recipe, but since she had an appointment, I only had time to scribble the ingredients onto a scrap of paper. Here they are:

2 tablespoons butter
2 quinces
1 1/2 cups Sauternes
1/4 cup sugar
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 piece ginger
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

I’d neglected to write any instructions but how hard could it be? You could either simmer or bake the quince. I guessed she’d simmered the quince in the sweet wine and spices. I didn’t have any Sauternes, so I chose Rockridge Orchards raspberry wine from my pantry. I wavered for a moment between raspberry and tayberry, but the lighter tones of raspberry are like rays of sunshine when paired with the astringent tones of quince.

As for the herbs and spices, I couldn’t imagine bay leaf in this recipe, and I’ve learned if an ingredient doesn’t make sense, leave it out (unless you're baking). Molly hadn’t used it in her version either, although she had thought the recipe might be improved is she had added it. I wasn't convinced. In the end, with any recipe, you’re going to eat it, so go with what you know. So the bay leaf was cast off the island too. And with that, the cardamom and cinnamon were also deleted from the line-up. Nothing should compete with the flavor of raspberry wine. I left the vanilla in, but used a vanilla pod instead, and I reluctantly took the ginger out, only because I’d have to go shopping for it. As for salt-- was it even necessary? Or do we just add it to everything from habit?

With the list of ingredients whittled from 10 to 6, this is how I tweaked Molly's recipe:

Quince and Cherries Simmered in Raspberry Wine

· 2 tablespoons butter
· 2 quince, sliced
· 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
· 1 1/2 cup Rockridge Orchards raspberry wine
· 1/4 cup dried sour cherries (from Grouse Mountain Farm)
· 1 vanilla pod, sliced down the center

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then, reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until quince is very soft. Remove vanilla pod. Serve over vanilla ice cream, coconut sorbet or pound cake.

“It’s your recipe now,” Molly said when I told her about my tweaking. I never did discover where the original recipe came from, but I could seriously become addicted to this one. It’s even good first thing in the morning over steaming oatmeal.

Essential ingredients: quince, raspberry wine and coconut sorbet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quince and the last fruits of fall

Quince, pears, hearty kiwi, apples-- these are the backyard treasures I got from my friends Molly and Bill. I set my fruit in front of a great seasonal recipe inspiration--Local Bounty by Devra Gartenstein (2008). Then I waited for Finn to show up for the photo shoot.

The smooth-skinned, tiny hearty kiwis (red and green, left bowl) from Molly and Bill were mistaken for olives when I brought them to my writing group. Not many people have seen these tiny Northwest kiwis. Liz and Michael at Grouse Mountain Farm in Chelan, offer the green variety for sale at the University District farmers' market for a few weeks in late September or early October. Another farm vendor comes in, also for a few weeks with these hearty kiwis. These sweet-tart fruits are best eaten raw, and according to Dr. Oz "thin-skinned" fruits are best in the organic version.

As for quince, the citrus-like fragrance is so heavenly that in ancient times ripe quince perfumed rooms much like air freshener does today. But quince flavor is astringent. It's an acquired taste, if you didn't grow up with it. And I didn't.

I first tasted quince when I was at the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham a few years ago. A produce worker there enchanted me with stories about all the different kinds of quince one of their local farm vendors brought in. My lips puckered as I sampled it raw, but the store worker assured me that quince is best cooked. I can't resist a the new fruit, especially if it's local and organic.

I don't remember what recipe I made when I went home. Probably something safe like a quince-apple crisp, nothing cutting edge like quince paste for a first recipe. As I revised my cookbook this last year, I added Quince Paste by Lizz Eggers in the dessert section. Also, it occurred to me that many people don't have a clue about quince and it has such a long past.

Quince has been around for over 4,000 years and was first cultivated between the Tigrus and Euphrates Rivers in what is now northern Iraq. Romans preserved quince in honey and transformed quince into wine. Some sources raise the idea that it was quince not apples that Eve picked in the Garden of Eden.

Quince is a common food in other countries and has been for centuries. It is so popular in the Middle East, people eat it like an apple. But the bright yellow, tart, apple relative enjoyed only brief popularity here, until apples pushed quince out of the spotlight. It remained in the shadows for decades.

But in the Northwest today, quince is making a come back as a respected locally-grown "heirloom" fruit. It has a small bin of it's own and a full-page sign at PCC Natural Markets. Here, curious shoppers can read a quick update on this unique fruit--its history, varieties, selection and storage. The sign at PCC also said, once the fruit is ripe, use it quickly because it doesn't keep. This is important if you're planning on cooking your fragrant fruit. When brown spots appear on the outside, they go all the way through and the flesh becomes mealy.

Will the real quince please step forward? In this photo, quince (front) with a ripe golden delicious apple from Cliffside Orchards and a Newtown Pippin' from Molly and Bill's tree. I asked Bill if quince got the dreaded coddling moth or apple maggot that apple farmers fear and he said quince trees don't have that problem. Maybe it's an easier tree fruit for beginning Northwest gardeners. Check out Raintree Nursery's quince varieties.

Finn finally showed up. He takes the photo shoot seriously, but given a choice, he'd pick the bronze beauty--the Taylor's Gold pear-a creamy fleshed, perfectly sweet pear.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kale and Avocado Salad

I fell in love with kale in Austin, Texas. Okay, I'd liked kale before. How can you not like kale when everybody grows it in the Pacific Northwest? It's so hearty here. I love the way I can cast out seeds and it comes up easy as a weed and then sustains me all winter. I've made some good kale recipes over the years and my favorite was a kale dip in my book Local Vegetarian Cooking, but not even my favorite recipe could compare to the raw kale and avocado salad I discovered at Whole Foods in Austin.

The kale-avocado salad made me homesick for Pacific Northwest. The salad was just tender curly kale, lemon juice, olive oil and avocados were the main ingredients. So simple, yet was so mouthwatering good. I'm into minimalist recipes these days. I couldn't get enough of that salad, I went back time after time. If a salad can be a comfort food, this is it.

When I returned to Seattle, I stopped in Whole Foods in the University District and was surprised they didn't sell Kale-Avocado Salad at the Roosevelt Square store. "It's crazy," I'd remarked."Kale is the most ubiquitous crop at the farmers' market here in the winter."

I hold out some hope the store will see the value of a signature Northwest salad, but in the meantime, I created this easy recipe. Remember to remove the tough inner stem. I tried local yuzu for my first version, but Meyer lemon tastes better, so I chose an organic Meyer lemon. The avocado is a black Haas avocado and I added chopped, fresh, ripe Bosc pears. I was in heaven with every bite.

Serve this stellar salad on Thanksgiving and turn everyone into kale-lovers!

Kale-Avocado Salad
(Serves 4)
1 Meyer lemon
2 to 3 teaspoons honey
1 clove fresh garlic, pressed
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large avocado, peeled and diced
1 Bosc pear, stem and seeds removed and diced
1 bunch Tuscan kale, rinsed, tough stem removed, and sliced into ribbons

1. Zest and juice Meyer lemon. Strain seeds and in a medium mixing bowl, blend juice with honey, garlic, cayenne sea salt. Whisk in olive oil. Add avocado and pear. Stir gently.

2. Place the kale in a large serving bowl. Gently blend in dressing with avocado and pear. This salad is better, if allowed to marinate for an hour or more.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Farmers' Market Transitions

Winter transition at the University District farmers' maket is bittersweet. Fall pumpkins, yellow onions, apples, pears and vibrant hearty greens decorate market tables. Bright red and gold leaves bring smiles, and cool winds feel refreshing. Crackling leaves under my feet is seasonal music for my soul. It's fun to walk around the market and see pumpkin carvings.

Some farm booths like Rockridge Orchards expand in November. Wade brings in more produce. First thing in the morning he tempts me with a pear or apple slice or an arugula leaf. I'm crazy about the spicy arugula and peppery Osaka mustard greens. I'm growing some in my own yard this year, but I didn't plant nearly enough for the huge fresh salads we like every day, and slugs started eating it early on, but that's another story.

Other farm booths are packing up for the season. Halloween was JoanE McIntyre's last day. Rent's Due Ranch is a favorite stop for spring plant starts to fall vegetables. JoanE handed me a fortune cookie. She was dressed like a fortune teller, with her hair all wrapped in a red scarf, sparkles on her sweater and shiny beads around her neck.

This is Patty saying goodbye to JoanE at the market.

Romanesco calls out to me at Willie Green's Organic Farm. Jeff Miller is excited about the restaurant he's planning on opening at Willie Green's. His chef background shines through when he tells us the best way to cook Romanesco. Jeff doles out plenty of cooking inspiration with his produce. Jeff started this winter market before the Farmers' Market Alliance took it over a few years ago. I liked the market a lot when it was small and we could park right in the lot and bring our dogs if we wanted. The casual slow pace gave the market a small town feel, if only for a few months in winter. Now it's more formal and the no dog rule applies.

On rainy days lakes seem to form in the uneven lot. A person should wear boots, but I don't so my feet often get wet and cold. Also, granny baskets and wagons come in handy because you can't set your bags down or everything is soaking wet.

The best part of winter markets for me is that people take more time to visit, you can get to know farmers, and everyone loads up on the best the season has to offer.

When my main farmers' leave the market for the season, I frequent other farm booths. "You're a loyal customer," Wade said to me last week, when I'd whined about market squeezing more farm booths in to sell, some longtime farmers don't sell near the amount that they did last year. And it's not just the lousy economy. I'd never really thought about farmer loyalty much, but I guess he's right.

This Saturday is Grouse Mountain's last day. These apples from Liz and Michael at Grouse Mountain Farm in Chelan are some of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Growing Good Things To Eat In Texas

I was intrigued when I opened the fall issue of Edible Austin and read about Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas by Pamela Walker(2009 Texas A & M University Press). I initially thought it was a cookbook with farm profiles like mine Local Vegetarian Cooking (left), but the review said Walker's book contained 11 organic farm and ranch profiles. Curious, it didn't take me long to order a copy.

Overall, I found the book similar in scope to Fields that Dream by Jenny Kurzweil (2005 Fulcrum Publishing). Jenny gathered ideas for her farm stories from farmers who sold at the University District farmers' market in Seattle. She drove out and visited each farmer and the profile tells their stories of how they started their farms. Walker and her husband purchased a farm near Shulenburg (a hundred miles west of Houston). She was instrumental in opening a farmers' market in Schulenburg, near her own farm in Texas and said that she began wondering about other farmers' stories in the late 1990s. Walker got a list of farmers from the Texas Organic Farming and Gardening Association and had an initial list of 150 names. She eventually narrowed her choices to 24 farms and finally the 11 profiled in this book.

These are thumbnail sketches of the organic farm profiles in Walker's book:

South Texas Organics—citrus grower Dennis Holbrook in Mission, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico discovered how harsh chemical pesticides and fertilizers damaged humans and soils and how organic techniques nurtured them. South Texas Organics wholesales their produce across the United States and Canada, Europe and Japan.

Boggy Creek Farm—urban farmers Carol Ann Sayel and Larry Butler nurture their five-acre farm on the edge of east Austin. They wholesale vegetables to Whole Foods but make about 95 percent of their income from their farm store open on Saturdays and Wednesdays. A must-see local foodie tourist destination.

Tecolate Farm—“David Pitre and Katie Kraemer grow 150 vegetables on five to six acres of their certified organic, fifty-five acre farm . . .” says Pamala Walker. Just north of Austin, this farm has one of the first CSAs in Texas and has a waiting list of 300 or more each year.

Animal Farm—sixty miles west of Houston, Gita Vanwoerden grows organic vegetables on eight acres of her land. She sells her harvest to the best chefs in Houston and at farmers’ markets.

Home Sweet Farm, Brad and Jenny Stufflebeam owned a 22-acre farm about halfway between Austin and Houson and in 2008 they signed a lease for a 112-acre farm just five miles away where they’re restoring the soil and planting more organic crops.

Permian Sea Organics—55 miles west of Odessa in west Texas, Bart Reid raises shrimp in water as salty as sea water in the middle of the desert. The Reids don’t use chemicals or fishmeal and they were organic certified until USDA secretary Ann Veneman rescinded the aquaculture certification policy in 2004. According to Walker, the Reid's are still raising shrimp with organic techniques and they plan to expand when the national organic standards of aquaculture are established.

Rehoboth Ranch and Windy Meadows Farm—two certified organic farms just south of Oklahoma and about an hour away from Dallas that sell pasture raised meat. and

Ross Farm—west-central Texas just north of Austin, near Sonora, Betsy Ross raises pasture-grazed beef steers with rotational grazing methods.

Pure Luck Dairy—25 miles west of Austin. Amelia Sweethardt is a second generation dairy farmer who runs the farm with her father and sisters. They raise goats and make chevre.

Full Quiver Farm and Diary –50 miles southeast of Dallas, Mike and Debbie Sams and their nine children maintain Holstein and Holstein-Jersey cows and make cheese that they wholesale to natural food stores and sell at the Sunset farmers’ market in Austin.

I wish both books had included some recipes, but that's my food focus. I could always use some new inspiring ideas for foods. Books like Kurzweil 's and Walker's echo a hopeful promise for small-scale organic farmers. Look for Jenny Kurzweil's book, Fields that Dream at the University District farmers' market in Seattle. Check out Paula Walker's book in Austin at BookPeople--a very cool independent bookstore, or buy either book online at your favorite online retailer.