Sunday, January 24, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: Banana Bread

I can't commit to being a total local foodie because a year without banana bread is just plain crazy.

Oh, I can do without bananas on a day-to-day basis. In 2008, I stopped eating them when I quit shopping at grocery stores for a year, but I caved near the end, and accepted bananas from a friend. I'd forgotten about my fall-winter baking rituals with the annual banana bread tribute to my mom when I'd started the year's experiment.

Every fall when my recipes for baked goodies come out, Mom's banana bread tops of the list. Just the aroma of sweet bananas wafting through the house makes the annual ritual of this recipe worthwhile.

When I spotted whole wheat flour at Nash's Organic Produce at the market, my thoughts returned to Mom's banana bread in an instant. "What kind of wheat flour is it?" I'd asked the woman working there. "It's got less gluten than hard wheat. It's better for muffins." Or maybe banana bread . . .

I knew that banana bread could show me just how Nash's flour stacked up to flours I'd relied on in the past. I never expected the local flour would exceed my wildest expectations.

I don't think Finn expected it either. The warm bread was so tempting, Finn couldn't face it. You can't see the quivering here, but the drool was about to begin. It was time to snap the picture, pronto, and move the bread to the safety zone.

Back to making the bread, I'll tell you this. I got out Mom's old cookbook and it flopped to this exact recipe. "The Best" is written in the margin. The dogeared pages have been that way for decades.

Local substitutions included: Nash's whole wheat flour, butter from Golden Glen Creamery, eggs from Dale Woodring's daughter, Katy and walnuts from Grouse Mountain Farm, in Chelan.

Banana Bread
While this recipe says “optional” when it comes to adding nuts, Mom loved them and I’ve never considered nuts optional in her recipe. Alas as usual I had no milk for this recipe, so I used less flour-- 1 7/8 cup flour to be exact. If you have the milk try it, but this recipe also works just fine without it. Vegans can also omit an egg and add about 1/4 cup more mashed bananas. Chocolate lovers can melt 1 to 2 ounces of chocolate and stir it into the bananas before adding. I’ve often considered adding lavender, but haven’t done it yet.

2 cups Nash's organic flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, beaten until light
3 tablespoons sour milk or buttermilk (optional)
2/3 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium bananas mashed with a fork)
1/2 cup broken nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º. Oil an 8 by 4-inch baking pan.

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. In another bowl cream butter and sugar together until light. Stir the beaten egg and mashed bananas together, then blend with the butter and sugar

Blend the banana mixture into the flour, in 3 parts alternately with sour milk. You may add the nuts, if desired.

Bake at 350º for approximately one hour. Put down your knife with butter. This bread is too good for that.

Look close and you can see the whole wheat. The flavor of Nash's whole wheat flour was sweet and the texture it created, perfect. The flavor reminded me of the times Mom added wheat germ to her bread. I loved it so much, I almost forgot to give Finn a taste.

What's your favorite baked guilty pleasure?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eat Feed: Autum Winter

Eat Feed Autumn Winter by Anne Bramley is the first cookbook I purchased in 2010 is and if this is any indication of the year ahead, it’s going to be a good one.

It was late when I got around to opening Anne's book so I took it to bed that night and stayed up too late thumbing through the recipes, with my post-it notes in hand. Though meat is included in this book, there are plenty of recipes suitable for vegetarians or vegans and I found ten recipes right away.

After studying the great food photos, I spent time with the book’s acknowledgments and introduction. Someone at my publishing company had told me last fall that not many people read introductions and I bet even fewer people spend time on acknowledgments, but it’s where I always look first. It's the best place to discover who the author is and what influences helped create this book.

I was touched by Anne's quirky confession that she'd been born during a blizzard. Ever since she can remember, Anne says she’s been crazy about autumn and winter, even to the point of getting impatient when summer doesn’t end on time. As the temperature drops, life slows down, busy schedules fade. The candle lit tables, inviting friends to the table and losing themselves in conversations and good food--it was such good story, I wanted to be included on her winter guest list.

Anne is like my mirror image because I’m so crazy about spring/summer that I load up on peaches and berries to freeze and dehydrate so I can have a summer all winter long. And by January rolls around, I’m hoping for an early spring.

Anne’s enthusiasm is contagious. I considered this winter season and realized I'm often at odds with and impatient about winter's end. As I read Anne’s recipes I recalled Mom’s long simmering stews and baked squashes and my grandmother’s apple pies with pie crusts diligently rolled while snowflakes fell.

If you want an uplifting way to begin the year, get this book. (I don’t get paid for or get any compensation for endorsements; my comments come from the heart.)

Here are my first recipe picks:

  • Indian Spiced Cauliflower
  • Wild Mushroom Toasts

  • Watercress and Apple Salad with Honey Vinaigrette

  • Honey-Ginger Carrot and Parsnip Latkes with Crème Fraîche

  • Orange Almond Cake

  • Beet Fries with Blue Cheese Sauce

  • Cranberry Tarts

  • North African Potato Salad

  • Meyer Lemon Tea Bread

  • Colcannon (a rustic Irish potato and cabbage dish)

Which recipe will I try first? I’m crazy for potato salad so I’ll make the North African Potato Salad this weekend after getting potatoes and onions from the market. The salad recipe lists cilantro, parsley and cured olives. I’m considering adding yams, squash or carrots for color and sweetness. After that I'll try the Meyer Lemon Tea Bread made with flour from wheat grown at Nash Huber's Organic Produce. Just a little bit of the Northwest flavor with those California Meyer lemons. What’s your winter pleasure?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter Salads: Coleslaw

When I spotted this wall of cabbage at the market Saturday at Nash's Organic Produce, I knew it was time for Coleslaw. Not just any coleslaw but my own coleslaw, just the way I like it. My recipe for this first appeared in a cooking class and later in my book Local Vegetarian Cooking.

When the book first came out in 2005, I hosted a Vegetarians of Washington dinner in February, and my recipes were prepared served. When I composed the menu with Coleslaw as the salad, the president of the organization struck it from the menu. When I asked why, he replied, "I think of coleslaw with the 4th of July. It's more of a summer food."

Tell that to Nash Huber and all the Northwest farmers who grow cabbage and sell it in the winter. People please visit a farmers' market and get to know our Northwest seasons before making menu calls on seasonal foods.

Finn likes the idea of coleslaw in January. Just as I was about to pick up the tray, he nearly took the red cabbage. Thankfully he knows the word "wait." The only problem with that command is it's often followed by "OK" and he takes the food.

I lured him away with the promise of something better. But really what could be better than coleslaw in January?

Here's a recipe from my book:


Cabbage lovers in the Northwest can rejoice because farm-fresh cabbage is available most of the year. And many locally grown cabbage varieties are tastier than cheap grocery store cabbage. For this recipe, I use traditionally made apple cider vinegar from Rockridge Orchards in Enumclaw, Washington. For ginger flavor variation, add ginger juice (squeezed from 1 tablespoon of grated ginger.) The lemons are Meyer lemons, which are in season right now.

1/2 cup aioli or mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon chopped bottled hot peppers (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 to 4 1/2 cups thinly shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup chopped dried fruit such as apricots, figs, or sour cherries

1. Whisk together the aioli or mayonnaise, vinegar, ketchup, hot peppers if desired, and salt in a small bowl. Toss the shredded apples with the lemon juice.
2. Combine the apples, cabbage, and dried fruit in a large bowl. Toss and mix well, and blend in the dressing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

40 farms, 201 Recipes and Countless Photo Rejects

Name droppers are so annoying, and now I've become one. After indexing all the people, farms and small towns, I realized every other page contained a farmer or farm name. These farm names were tucked in profiles, recipe headers and produce descriptions. Just how many farmers had I mentioned in 259 pages?

Twenty-one farm profiles, 40 farms mentioned, 201 recipes and a Northwest produce guide with 63 vegetables and 26 fruits. When I started this project, I'd wanted to create a cookbook with multiple uses. Some might like the recipes, some the profiles but the produce descriptions are something a person could refer to endlessly.

I also wanted this to be a book about farms and food not slick food photos. The publisher requested 50. I agreed before I bought a decent camera. I quickly learned, a good photograph wasn't just about clicking shutters, and when it came to getting 50 photos accepted, I begged and borrowed from farmers, beekeepers and friends for the rest. Luckily people came through and saved me.

Some of the "rejects" didn't make the final cut. I'll show you just a few.

The picture above was taken last winter near Skagit River, on the north side of Mount Vernon when the river had reached the top of its banks. I thought it was perfect at the time, now it looks lonely, a little sad.

This one below was cut when one editor thought too many dogs were in one chapter. Suzy Fry's dog, Zeus, made it in. But perhaps Buzz, this farm dog from Rent's Due Ranch on a giant compost pile wasn't exactly fodder for a cookbook.

Check out all the brown dirt behind Buzz--it's finished organic compost--the secret of Rent's Due Ranch's awesome produce. What I wouldn't give for just one truckload of this compost for my garden. Just gazing at this compost pile gets me thinking about the giant heads of cauliflower, crunchy romaine and succulent blueberries that show up from Rent's Due Ranch at the University District Market in the summer.

Another reject was this big bin at Rent's Due Ranch. The farm name looks like it's stamped over another farm's name. I love it because farmers make use of everything. The day I visited the farm, JoanE was braiding garlic to sell at the market and they were waiting for a produce pick up from PCC Natural Markets. JoanE told me PCC picks-up produce from them three a week during the summer.

This version of my book also includes Oregon farms and I drove to southern Oregon twice in the summer of 2008. What a kick it was just visiting farmers markets, sampling produce, looking for farmers to profile.

On the second trip, I visited Whistling Duck Farm near Grant's Pass. I found the farm from the Ashland Co-op produce department, and I met Mary Alionis at the Medford farmers' market. Vince and Mary Alionis partner with their neighbor Dr. Watson whose family took up beekeeping as a hobby. The bees spend time at Whistling Duck Farm, boosting the berry harvest in the summer. What's the beehive photo missing? A few bees maybe? I do think Josh Nettlebeck of Tahuya River Apiaries had better bee photos and I'm glad his were included.

Finally, these succulent huckleberries were also rejects. I recall standing in line for these and a very pregnant woman was in front of me. We traded stories, laughed, and both bought extra berries that day.

What inspires your photography?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Winter Gems: Seckel Pears

I found these Seckel pears recently from the Jerzy Boys at the University District farmers' market. I love these pears! The last time I got some was last fall from Michael and Liz at Grouse Mountain Farm. I don't know if these are the last from the Jerzy Boys but as soon as I spotted these pears, I knew they were the true gems of winter.

The pears are sweet but not cloying like a ripe Bartlett and the flesh is frim, like a Bosc, making it both creamy textured and sweet tasting. Named after an 18th century Pennsylvania farmer, Seckel pear trees are said to the only true American pears and were discovered growing wild. The farmers at Jerzy Boys said Seckels are used as the root stock for pear trees but Seckel pears are rarely allowed to grow on these root stocks. Instead the more well-known varieties are grafted on.

These late Seckels are the seasonal farewell to to some of the best pears in the Northwest. Eating them is better than a sunny day in January.

When I got home from the market, I filled this bowl. You wouldn't suspect such a simple act could be so riviting but these pears had Finn's complete attention.

I wanted to serve a few Seckels for dessert, and I had some North Star sour cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm already thawing in my refrigerator. So I decided to make cherry sauce to serve over wedges of the pears. I love the flavor of these cherries so I deliberately kept the ingredients to a minimum. Here's the easy sauce I made:

Sweet and Sour Cherry Sauce

Use only organic cornstarch because conventionally processed cornstarch comes from transgenic

corn plants. You could add some lemon or orange zest to this sauce. The cherries came from Grouse Mountain farm and the apple juice was processed at Rockridge Orchards. Serve this topping over fruit slices, sorbet, ice cream or cake.

2 cups pitted, frozen, thawed pie cherries

1/2 cup apple juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon organic cornstarch

Stir cherries, apple juice, sugar, and cornstarch together. Heat in a medium size saucepan for 10 to 15 minutes. Mixture will become clear and thick. Remove from heat and serve.

On the book front--I'm still slogging away at the index and proofing. Who knew all this was involved in a book? Anyway, I am the last one to proof and make corrections, until indexing and proofing is completed, I'm shooting for one or two more posts. I think the due date this time around is January 18th, so bear with me, I'm still here. Then I'll return to my previous three posts a week. This book has been a challenge to make my deadlines, but the end result will be much better for my attention to the details.