Thursday, February 25, 2010

Checking Out of the Checkout Line: 5 Tips

Can you get all your food without shopping from the industrial food chain? Or is there something that you just can't live without?

I loved watching people sign up to try it on the 100 Mile Diet show on Planet Green. And though I did something similar in 2008, it wasn't the harsh, cold turkey,"Now you have to eat only local food" approach. For me, that idea seemed a little too Puritanical. I needed something more flexible. I needed some essentials before the year started. Is that like eating a hot fudge sundae before dieting?

I made one major shopping trip in March 2008. I bought what I considered indispensable "basics." I kept my original list, thinking I was going to write about it someday. Looks like someday has arrived. Gazing at the checkout receipt, I wondered about my indispensable food definition. Here are a few entries:
  • Shelled pecans
  • White truffle oil
  • Amy's frozen burgers
  • Coconut milk
  • Organic cashews
Really? I couldn't let go of any of those for one year?

For a year I shopped farmers’ markets, farm stores, and small-scale bakeries. When I visited family and friends in other cities, I stopped at farmers’ markets and searched for local foods. In Phoenix I got great salsa and I stuffed bags of grapefruits and oranges into my carry-on. In San Francisco, I bought jars of olive oil and almond butter and bags of rice. Then I dragged my heavy bags all over the city since we hadn't rented a car and were walking. In Austin, I found salsa to die for at the farmers' market. I bought two cases and shipped them home. I worried that my fresh Texas tomatoes might not make it home in my carry-on, but no one stopped me and unbelievably not one of the tomatoes got bruised. What a treat in early spring!

Over the year, I had a gift of 52 hours to spend any way I wanted. I was shocked when I realized that I'd wasted at least an hour in grocery stores every week. I'm amazed when I realize other food bloggers also spend a lot of time in grocery stores. I think we just like being around food.

I didn’t have to spend time writing obsessive grocery lists, perusing mostly useless ads, trolling grocery aisles, or standing in line with a loaded cart. I didn't even miss those impulsive buys that somehow just slipped into my cart each week. Well, maybe Theo's Chocolate. I had shopped in grocery stores up to four times a week.

I also discovered pantry staples at farmers' markets that I’d never paid attention to previously. Rockridge Orchards' vinegar, Gathering Together Farm's pickled jalapenos, Massa Organics almond butter are just a few things. Beans and grains are available as well as herbs, dried fruit, butter, jams, pickles and this year in Seattle--flour from Nash's Organic Produce.

At the markets, I made connections with farmers that I wouldn't have made without leaving the industrial food basket behind. I also discovered dried beans get pretty old and tough after a year, and packaged soy milk isn't worth the price.

I liked my freedom so much, I now stock up with pantry staples twice a year. If you want to check out of the dreary checkout line, here are a five tips I learned:

  1. Stock up twice a year, paying close attention to expiration dates. Typically mayonnaise, especially natural varieties, are only good for a few months, but mustard may be good for over a year.
  2. Purchase ten basic herbs or spices, and only buy enough that you can use in a year. You don't really need oddball spices like Cajun seasoning or the latest exotic curry blend.
  3. Read labels to find out where processed products come from. Even organic grocery stores stock bottled ginger from China or frozen organic juice concentrates from China and Brazil.
  4. Pay attention to what you eat throughout the year. How many pounds of beans or grains do you consume? In our house one vegetarian and one omnivore who is too lazy to cook most of the time go through 1 1/2 pounds of dry beans a month in winter and 1 pound a month in summer, and about 2 pounds of grains. (FYI: Store whole grains in the freezer for long term storage and use within 6 months.) Also what are your favorite condiments? Check the farmers' markets for options.
  5. When you shop in grocery stores buy only what you can't get locally and that you just can't live without. Meyer Lemons comes to mind. I can't really grow them where I live. I have a 10 item a month limit. I'm in and out of the grocery store in less than 15 minutes. My tiny post it note list typically includes, lemons, oranges, avocados, and sliced whole grain bread.

The one thing I totally can't live without is Mama Lil's Peppers . Howard Lev used to sell his fantastic peppers at the market. He contracts with eastern Washington farmers for the peppers, supervises all the pepper bottling and sold them at markets. He wore a wide brimmed panama hat and a shirt with with peppers on it. I used a lot of Mama Lil's Peppers in my cooking classes. But Howard grew tired of selling at markets and now you can only get these spicy gems in natural food stores or his Web site.

Funny thing about my pantry now--it's looking more and more local every year. Here are three of my pantry favorites. I think Finn would choose the almond butter.

What's in your pantry that you just can't live without?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cauliflower Power

When my brother from Rhode Island sent me a favorite vegetable recipe called Cauliflower Power, I'd said that I didn’t usually see cauliflower in the Pacific Northwest until summer. I’d forgotten all about Nash’s early spring cauliflower.

By the way, in a post about cauliflower last summer, I referred to cauliflower as a mutant flower. But former University of Washington botany professor Ed Haskins told me cauliflower is technically a mutant floral head (with multiple blossoms). However, any way you want to think about cauliflower, imagine my surprise when I spotted these beautiful specimens at Nash’s Organic Produce at the market--I couldn’t contain my excitement.

“It’s over-wintered,” Kia said. That means the plants grow slowly during winter and come spring, with the warmth of the sun, they mature. I bought more than I needed to make my brother’s recipe.

My kitchen assistant, Finn, would love to sample the goods, so after he inspected the ingredients, I got ready to make the recipe.

I had everything except:
Pine nuts
Golden raisins

First off, the anchovies had to go. Someone at Nash’s had suggested frying capers to substitute for anchovies. I’d just add a few more to the mix. As for the pine nuts, I don’t buy edible products from China, so they, too, were out. Also, no golden raisins lurking in the pantry, but I had a great idea for a substitution—dehydrated North Star cherries that I’d gotten fresh from Grouse Mountain Farm near Chelan.

I mentioned my brilliant cherry idea to Tom (Mr. Conventional Palate) and you should have seen his eyes go wide and jaw drop as if I’d said I was putting rabbit turds into the mix. I swear he was just about to say, “You can’t be serious,” so I quickly offered to put the cherries in my serving.

“No, no, that’s okay,” Mr. Conventional Palate, said trying to look to stifle his incredulity. “I’ll try it.” An aura of suspicion hung around his words.

I just have to say one more thing before I give you the recipe. I’d never considered cauliflower and pasta together in a recipe. The white on white—it needed some color for me beyond the red pepper flakes. So along with the cherries, I’d add some of Willie Green’s organic spinach—one of my favorites at the market right now.
Here’s the recipe:

Cauliflower Power

(Serves 4)

This recipe appears to have originated with Martha Stewart, but have to say my version with dried cherries is simply amazing. It has just the perfect tang to make me want more. Here are the original ingredients in case you’re inclined to follow a recipe as it’s written. To plump the raisins or cherries: pour 1/2 cup warm water over them for 30 minutes to an hour, then drain and use in recipe. Use a skillet with a lid because you need the pan a few times in this recipe. My substitutions follow the listed ingredients.

8 ounces farfalle (bowtie pasta)

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

1 medium head cauliflower, core removed, divided into 1/2 to 1-inch florets (4 to 6 cups)

1 tin flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped [or 1 tablespoon capers, sautéed]

3 tablespoons capers, drained

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup pine nuts [or 1 cup shredded cheese, hard cheeses like Parmesan work best]

1/2 cup golden raisins, plumped [or dried cherries]

[2 cups rinsed baby spinach]

1. Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, stir in the farfalle and cook on low boil until al dente. Drain and place a lid over the pasta until vegetables are done.

2. Heat a medium-large (12-inch) saucepan. Add olive oil and garlic. When the garlic has softened and lightly browned, add 1 tablespoon capers (if your aren’t adding anchovies.) Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add cauliflower and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook on medium. Stir frequently; the cauliflower will absorb most of the oil fairly quickly. Add anchovies here, if you want and as you cook they will break up and dissolve. When the pan begins to look dry, add the remaining capers.

3. Stir and add the white wine, turn up the heat and put the lid on for a few minutes, until cauliflower is fork tender. When the florets have softened, remove lid, and add pine nuts (if desired) and raisins (or cherries). Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

4. Add the drained farfalle and gently fold in. Sprinkle spinach over all and cover for a minute or until spinach wilts. Place everything in a large bowl, mix gently. Sprinkle grated cheese over each serving.

So what do you think? I asked Mr. Conventional Palate.

“Really good. You certainly can’t tell there are cherries in this.”

That’s exactly what I liked best too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Must Read for Every Local Food Junkie

The Last American Farmer by Howard Kohn is one of those books that lingers in your mind long after you've finished the last sentence.

I'm a local food junkie and I love food with story behind it--Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, Fairy Tail Eggplant, Nash's Famous Carrots--but compelling stories about farmers are the icing on the cake.

And to think I nearly returned this book because I thought I'd ordered a book with similar title.

But curiosity stopped me. I turned the book over and looked at the back cover and became intrigued. One endorsement by the Chicago Tribune said, "A stunning portrait. . . . Kohn went looking for one story--his father's--only to find his own." Another by the Washington Post Book World said, "details so gritty one can feel the soil between one's toes . . ." I wanted to dig in and see what this book was all about.

After the first page, I was hooked. The book opens with his father's fall from the farmhouse roof with only his grandchildren there to witness him fall flat on his back. But amazingly, with his elbow split open and his back hurt, he gets up and continues his day as if nothing happened. He drives his daughter-in-law to Detroit to retrieve another truck--a seven hour trip. And later that day, when his family finally convinces him to go to the hospital, doctors there discover this old farmer has fifteen fractures in his spine. Then the doctors realize that 12 of these fractures had already heeled, and they order Kohn's father to wear a back brace made of steel and canvas for six weeks. But in less than a week his father removed the brace and returned home. "You don't use your muscles, they turn to noodles," he had claimed.

I stayed up late reading and the big surprise is the ending and what Howard Kohn discovers about himself. I won't spoil the story for you but I'll give you a hint--it's a message we can all identify with. And isn't that what good stories are?

Kohn chose to leave the farm, to strike out on his own, make his own way in the world and leave the farm behind. As he tells about life on the farm and changes in farming, he uncovers truths about his own choices in life. And as readers we learn what it takes to be a farmer, a steward of the land in a world changed by global influences. In the end we're left to muse about our own roots, what we've left behind and the road we've traveled.

Foodies love a good food narratives, but the story about the farmer behind the food--that's the real story most of us are yearning for. Get this book.

Finn was snoozing long before I was finished. If he only appreciated a good story as much as a good apple pie . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mair Farm-Taki's Cherries and Nash's Flour

I discovered more pie cherries in my freezer. Not my favorite North Star cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm but the Montmorency variety from Mair Farm-Taki. These organic cherries are actually the $8 to $9.75 a pound cherries. This is because Katsumi brings them early in the season, when everyone is desperate for fresh cherries. (The organic cherries from Grouse Mountain are not as expensive--$6.00 a pound. This is true of many fruits and vegetables, if you wait a week or so before buying, the price often drops a bit. For pie cherries, I buy what I can as soon as I see them and Katsumi has such great produce, I like to buy from him.)

Like I mentioned in my last post, I had actually wanted to make a dessert for Tom, so with my thawing cherries in mind, I stopped at Nash’s farm booth at the market to get more Soft Wheat Flour. But like many seasonal things at the market—one week it’s in, the next it's out. On Nash's table they had Soft White Pastry Flour and I think Hard Red Wheat Flour. I had to choose the white flour.

With flour, keep in mind that soft means pastry and quick breads, hard means yeasted breads.
Kia said they sifted the germ and bran out because white flour makes better piecrusts and cakes. I’d rather use whole-wheat flour even though the baking results seemed slightly denser. It’s that wheat germ flavor I was crazy about. I figured they probably did this for chefs in highbrow restaurants since many farmers sell to local chefs. But I make my desserts at home and I loved the flecks of wheat and the fresh wheat germ--how cool is that? And I had doubts about the flavor. How would it be different? Even my kitchen assistant is curious.

I wanted something different than Upside-Down Cake so I considered these options:
I don’t recall ever making a pie cherry crisp, so that’s what I choose. There’s a basic recipe I love in one of my first cookbooks—The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (1971) by Jean Hewitt. I like this recipe even better than the one Mom gave me years ago. The recipe is called Apple Crunch and I often use variations of the ingredients to create my own recipes.

Pie Cherry Crisp

(Serves 4)
This dessert is all about the crispy topping and heavenly local fruit. You can adapt it to just about any seasonal fruit. I use less sugar in the fruit base so the cherries are flavorful and memorable. Maple syrup is the secret for making the top crispy in this recipe. If you want to make it dairy-free, use margarine.
1 cup Nash’s Soft White Pastry Flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 cups pie cherries (fresh or frozen)
Zest and Juice of 1 orange
3 tablespoons crushed kuzu root starch (or use 2 tablespoons arrowroot, or 1 tablespoon organic cornstarch)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats and baking soda. Blend well. Mix in brown sugar; then cut in butter with a pastry blender until well blended. Stir in maple syrup and set aside.

2. In a 1-quart casserole dish gently combine the cherries, juice, and kuzu. When these are well blended, place the topping over the cherries. Smooth and pat down. Bake for 50 minutes. Top will be browned and crispy. Let cool slightly before serving with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
A good kitchen assistant takes time to pose with anything, but I don't think that's Finn's favorite part.

This is what he really wants. Use this crisp recipe year-round for all your favorite fruits.

The flour wasn't as flavorful as the Soft Wheat Pastry Flour, and I still like wheat better than white, but the cherries, once again, were the real stars of this show. Go forth and create your bliss.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Valentine's Day Delight: North Star Cherry Upside Down Cake

For Valentine’s Day I always surprise Tom with an exquisite dessert. For the past few years, I’ve used pie cherries, grown and harvested by my friends Liz Eggers and Michael Hampel at Grouse Mountain Farm near Chelan.

Last July, I splurged on these treasures. They glimmer like jewels in the sun and the flavor is so perfect that I can’t imagine not buying them. So, in spite of the high price ($8 to $9.75 a pound last season) I stocked up and froze my favorites (North Stars).

The idea for this recipe sprang from a pineapple upside-down cake recipe plucked from Mom’s old recipe box. Though the card had several cooking stains on it, I can’t ever remember Mom making this cake. The recipe was a simple vanilla cake with baked fruit and as soon as I saw it, I thought that peaches or cherries, not pineapple, would enhance this cake. Who really likes canned pineapple anyway?

When I tried the cake with cherries, I was an instant convert. The flavors can only be described as heavenly--that tingly feeling that only perfect summer fruit delivers.

My cherries lose a little of the summer shine in the freezer but the taste is still complex with tart and sweet cherry tones zinging around my mouth.

This recipe comes from my book: The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. It's available for pre-order at Timber Press, a long-established Northwest publishing company. The book will be available for sale in May.

Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Pie cherries are the stars of this show. My favorites are North Star pie cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm near Chelan. This recipe is meant for fresh cherries, so when using frozen fruit, increase the arrowroot to 3 tablespoons. If you don’t have arrowroot, you can substitute 1 1/2 tablespoons organic cornstarch. If you don’t have Northwest pie cherries in your freezer, don’t try canned, these are so inferior they're barely worth mentioning. Instead, substitute frozen local berries and adjust the sweetener.

3 cups pie cherries, pitted
1/2 teaspoon chopped lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon arrowroot
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/3 cup milk, or vanilla soy milk
1 3/4 cup Nash’s Soft Winter Wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly oil a 9-inch cake pan. Combine cherries, lemon zest, sugar, arrowroot powder and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the liquid is clear and thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Mix the milk and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice together in a small bowl. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl. Cream the sugar and butter together in another bowl until soft and creamy. Add the egg and stir until creamy.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Stir in half of the milk, then add half of the egg-butter-sugar mixture. Repeat. The consistency should be on the thick side.
4. Place an even layer of cherries on the bottom of the fake pan. Spread the cake batter on top.
5. Bake until the cake lightly springs back when touched, about 40 minutes. Cool, then cut the cake and flip it over to serve.

North Star pie cherries dominated the scene in this recipe, but Nash's flour transformed a plain cake into a sweet caramelized delight. The edges were slightly crispy. If you don't have access to Nash's flour, get some wheat berries and grind your own wheat flour. You'll taste the difference freshly ground flour imparts right away.

This was all that was left for Finn. He's a little disappointed with one cherry for the kitchen assistant.

I made this dessert early because we had to sample it to see if it was good enough for Valentine's Day. Truth be told, I'm more fond of cherries than Tom and maybe this holiday is just an excuse for my cherry cake. Lucky for me, I discovered two more containers of these seasonal gems in my freezer. Get the candles out, I guess Tom will taste this sweet cake for Valentine's Day after all.

What’s your secret local food desire for Valentine’s Day?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Vegetable Gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

I collected pamphlets, ideas and plenty of gardening inspiration this past weekend at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. What compelled me to pay a prime-time admission fee for Tom and I was Pacific Magazine's "Foot Print Issue," featuring the show this year. Also, last year this show had been in financial trouble. And so many people had proclaimed that it could be the last show unless someone bought it. Sometimes miracles happen. This year the focus was on vegetable gardening--perfect timing, and so worth talking about.

My favorite display garden was “Crops for Clunkers" (above). Just a simple vegetable garden in an old pick up truck, with a chicken coop on the side of it. It looked easy to do, but so does good writing. And like good writing, not all gardening is easy or as easy on the wallet as many gardening advocates like Michaelle Obama proclaim. If you’re a beginner like me, you can pump a lot of money into the garden with the plant starts, basic tools, soil and amendments.

At the Seattle Tilth booth I learned about their popular spring edible plant sales and picked up a flyer for some sustainable landscape classes. I also got information about what we can plant right now:
Fava beans Peas

The highlight of our day was a seminar called Vegetable Gardening for Dummies by Charlie Nardozzi also the author of the book. He talked about the types of gardens. I like the one called a Square Food Garden; I saw plenty of these at the Natural Gardener in Austin, Texas last fall. That's where this picture comes from.

I love history and Charlie started the seminar talking about the "Victory Gardens" during World War II. Forty percent of our national food supply came from these gardens. I'm always thinking about eating locally and I'm convinced gardening at least some of our own food is the way to go. We'll cultivate some skills, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Well, at least in theory.

Charlie also highlighted the three billion dollars spent on gardens each year and how in 2009 there was a 10-20 percent increase in vegetable gardening. I have a hunch that three billion garden dollars can help boost our local economy. Plus it's the green thing to do.

The hand-out contained a list of the varieties of vegetables that do well in the Northwest, and I was enthused when I spotted Stupice tomatoes and Fairy Tale Eggplant on that list. For a moment I was lost in a memory of the Gathering Together Farm store in Philomath, Oregon where I’d enjoyed farm-fresh Caramelized Eggplant Soup and a salad with Stupice Tomatoes. I purchased these two vegetables and drove them home. It was great to know, I can try growing my own this year.

Charlie’s talk focused on what he called the 5 S’s. Here they are:
Sun (how much for various plants)
Soil (compost, cover crops)
Selection (what types of crops; heirloom versus hybrid)
Site (location)

Vegetable Gardening for Dummies is a great resource on any garden bookshelf.

Cascade Harvest Coalition was also at the show passing out information about CSAs and local farms.

I came home from the show with lots of ideas, for making some food connections from my own front yard. I'm already tooking forward to next year's show.

I’m going to try some Fairy Tale eggplant and maybe even Stupice tomatoes in my garden. What's in your garden plan this year?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Discover Cooking with Lavender

Lavender is the culinary herb of the decade, and Discover Cooking with Lavender: Fresh and Flavorful Recipes by Kathy Gehrt is an inspiring way to find out more about this trend-setting culinary herb.

I bought two of these beautiful books from Kathy, also my writing group friend and cooking confidant. One copy is for me and I’m sending the other book to my niece who also enjoys cookbooks that feature fresh local flavors. With beautiful photos and inviting recipes this book delivers plenty of ideas for fresh lavender, which comes into season for about a month, starting in mid July.

From lavender seasonings and delectable drinks to savory entrees and sweet desserts, this book is downright charming and one of the best parts is every recipe really works. I know because Kathy shared many of her sweet recipes with our writing group over this past year. One of my favorite recipes was Chocolate Lavender Kisses—the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. (Not one you'd want to share with your pooch though because chocolate is toxic to dogs.)
The cover and photos make this book irresistible for culinary artisans or budding chefs. Also, it’s a small book and is perfect for gifts. Who doesn’t have room on their kitchen bookshelf for this beautiful treasure?

I think Finn would rather I baked Lavender Spritz Cookies for this photo. Bet you can’t just buy one of these books.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Baking Marathon with Nash's Organic Soft Winter Wheat Flour

I’ve been on a baking binge, and my scale has been shouting for me to stop. And I would, but I’m compelled to use Nash’s Soft Winter Wheat Flour that I bought at the market. I’m investigating this local flour while it’s in season, but it may be just an excuse for holiday baking long after the holidays have ended.

Nash's flour is available at winter farmers’ markets in Seattle—University District (Saturdays), Ballard and West Seattle (Sundays). Look for four pound bags, which at first can seem daunting because not everyone knows exactly how many pounds they use per month, and it only has a 3-month shelf-life in the freezer.

Also, one bag costs $6.00. I was sure the price was on the high side until I checked the bulk bins at PCC Natural Markets and got sticker shock there too. Whole-wheat flour has leaped up to $1.15 a pound.

Four pounds of flour translates into

  • 14 cups of flour, which means

  • about 7 recipes

Soft wheat means a flour has less gluten, and hard wheat contains more gluten, making it the best choice for yeasted breads. Gluten is the protein in wheat that gives wheat products structure. Typically yeast breads demand more gluten (hard wheat) and pastries, cakes, biscuits, etc are lighter and turn out better with soft wheat (or whole-wheat pastry) flour.

Also, since Nash's flour is ground the day before it is sold, it contains more moisture than, say, King Authur’s flour. I had a hunch Nash's flour was heavier and had less gluten and my suspicions were confirmed when I took my sweet potato biscuits from the oven.

They looked more like puffy pancakes. Lucky for me that Finn acts as if every recipe was a winner, I caught caught him quietly wagging his tail, gazing at the biscuits (above).

Lemon-Pecan Biscotti was next and I added an additional cup of flour to the mix, but the two rolls flattened and flowed together when baked, instead of rising and standing alone. I lifted the twice-baked biscotti rolls from the baking sheet to cool. They were fragile and crispy and I knew slicing them wouldn’t be easy.

Many of the cookies crumbled. The crumbs can be used to top oatmeal, sprinkled over fresh fruit or coconut sorbet, or to make a cookie piecrust. A few biscotti burned and Finn’s eyes seemed to light up when I mentioned it. Maybe he’ll join me on a diet after this. (Fat chance.)

A piecrust was next on my baking agenda. While I made the biscotti, I put one together for a quiche, using an old Sunset Favorite Recipes book. The recipe listed 1 1/2 cups flour, so I increased that measurement to 2 cups. I was afraid with so little gluten, the crust might fall apart, but this crust was beautiful and the sweet fresh wheat flavor spurred me on.

I’d given a few cups of the flour to a number of people to see how other bakers experience this freshly ground flour. My friend Molly phoned and said, “You can really taste this flour. My muffins were amazing. I’ve saved you one.”

A cashier at PCC Markets used a few cups for a basic yeasted bread recipe said the flavor was fantastic, but the bread was slightly dense. (I was surprised she’d chosen a yeasted bread recipe and it turned out, so all I can say is try it and see for yourself.) Another friend phoned and said since tasting this flour she'd wondered if the ground flour in stores was all old flour. If you want to taste the fresh local difference yourself. In the meantime, these are my recommendations for using this local soft winter wheat:

· Store it in the freezer for a maximum of 3 months.
· Focus on quick breads, cookies, cakes, and pie crust recipes
· Add about 1/3 cmore flour to your recipe
· Add twice the amount of baking powder for a better rise

Molly and I are chipping in for another bag of flour, and I’m already considering another recipe and thinking about other baker friends who might like to try this local treasure.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Anne Bramley's Meyer Lemon Tea Bread with Northwest Flour

When my Internet connection was suddenly severed last Thusday, I was startled and wondered if I could exist in a non-connected world. But this break in my usual Internet activity led to delicious freshly baked breads, biscuits, pie crusts and cookies--all made with Northwest Washington flour, grown and processed less than 100 miles away.

After Banana Bread, Anne Bramley's Meyer Lemon Tea Bread was my second experiment with Nash's Soft Winter Wheat Flour.

I handed Tom a slice of the sweet loaf and watched him take a bite.

“It doesn’t taste any different to me,” he grumbled, when I grilled him about the flavor of Nash’s flour.

“Really? No different at all?” Why couldn’t he taste the subtle sweetness and the distinct caramelized texture of the grain? I was dismayed by his answer because I was certain that the flour had a sweet flavor and was so much better than bread made with stale ground flour from bulk bins at the natural foods store. It was so good I was giving away to baking friends to try.

My new local flour infatuation partly sprang from a Washington Tilth-sponsored farm walk I attended at Nash Huber’s farm in 2008. Eighty-five of us gathered near Nash’s packing shed early in the morning to learn about grain and seed production on Nash’s farm. We walked to test plots of wheat behind the shed and listened while Nash talked about growing and processing grain on his farm. He said he'd always used grain-based cover crops to build soil fertility on his farm, and now he was growing wheat for market with plans to grind it into flour and sell it to market shoppers. I felt like I had a front row seat to the first wheat crop in this century grown on the west side of the Cascades.

Soft Wheat Flour is new at the market this year. Just seeing it on Nash's table, took me back to that sunny day listening to Nash in his wheat field, watching the grains wave gently in the breeze.

Mom's Banana Bread was my first choice for baking, but I was certain that lemons would highlight the wheat flavor. And I was so excited about the prospect of using local wheat in another recipe, I woke up thinking about Meyer Lemon Tea Bread. At the gym, I told my friend Molly about this flour and my baking plans and she was so intrigued, she wanted to try the flour in her favorite muffin recipe.

I took a few cups of flour to Molly’s house, then went home to bake Anne Bramley’s Meyer Lemon Tea Bread.

Unless you’ve got your own lemon tree, Meyer lemons aren’t local, but this is their season, and PCC Markets had some great organic ones, which you need because the zest (outer peel) is also used in this recipe.

Then gather the remaining ingredients. Use as many local options as possible. Instead of buttermilk, you can get local milk and add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice stirred in to curdle it. I didn’t have milk so I used soymilk with a little vinegar added. Here is Anne’s recipe with Northwest options:

Meyer Lemon Tea Bread
2 cups Nash’s Organic Soft Winter Wheat
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup freshly squeezed Meyer Lemon Juice (4 to 5 lemons)
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup Golden Glen Creamery butter, melted
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons
1 large egg (Caity’s fresh eggs from the market)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and buttermilk.

3. In an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Beat in the egg. Add half of the lemon juice mixture, then half of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining lemon juice and then the remaining flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place loaf in the oven. [Let your kitchen assistant take care of the mixing bowl.]

4. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center. Cool 10 minutes before removing from the pan. [This is important because the cake is a bit dense and it might fall apart if you take it out earlier.] This bread can be made 1 day ahead.

The sweet slightly crispy caramelized edges surpassed my expectations. Even with the Meyer lemons, dominating the stage, I could still taste the flavor of this sweet flour carrying the loaf to perfection.

The only part I didn’t care for was the moment Finn stole my slice of bread. Despite their low slung bodies, Basset hounds can reach many things on kitchen counters. And when my back was turned for just a moment, Finn had the audacity to wolf down the slice before I’d even turned around. When I noticed the bread was missing Finn was gleefully licking the floor. Finn’s idea of slow food is if he’s too slow, he misses out.

Just remember to keep your muffins away from hungry puppies. As for me, I’m already wondering which recipe to try next.