Monday, May 31, 2010

Keeping it Simple and Easy with Eggs

Often the simplest foods taste best. And that's how it is with eggs, so don't add too many things when cooking eggs. Use the best eggs and savor the flavor.

Five years ago at the market, people lined up at Growing Things farm booth at the market for eggs. They sold out within half an hour. Now a number of farmers have eggs so there isn't such a pressure to get to the market early and the price has leaped from $4 to $8 (for duck eggs) from every farmer who sells eggs. The rising prices could be one reason many people are raising their own urban chickens.

In Edmonds, we can't raise chickens, and I don't want to raise chickens anyway, so I buy eggs--mostly from the market. (When I visit Nash's farm store or go to Bellingham's food co-op, I buy local eggs there for less than $5.)
First thing you notice about local eggs is they don't come in standard sizes. Some are giant and others tiny pullets. You can also buy duck eggs, and I hear they make great cakes, but duck eggs tend to sell out fast, hence the high price tag. I think chefs swoop in and buy many for their restaurants.

I'm not a fan of duck eggs and the kind of chicken eggs I like are the ones with the deep yellow yolks. My friend from France who grew up with vegetables from the garden and fresh eggs says the ones with bright yellow yolks are more vibrant and healthier. I love the color and River Farm has eggs with the deepest colored yolks at the market. When I asked Jerry (the farmer) why his eggs had the best color, he said maybe it was because part of their land is forested and the chickens forage there. Maybe the worms and grubs they eat there, help turn the yolks yellow.

My kitchen assistant appears to give his approval. I wouldn't leave the bowl with him for long.

Mom's old Joy of Cooking cookbook gives a recipe for scrambled eggs with sauteed onions, cream and a dash of paprika. I never use any of these additions because I love the subtle flavor of eggs. So, just scramble them up and serve (a sprinkle of salt is optional) with a side of whole grain toast and maybe a cup of coffee. (Hey Deborah Madison, this is what I eat when I eat alone!) If I had some salsa from Gathering Together Farm, I'd put a spoonful of that on top.

My assistant wishes he could have the whole meal deal but he'll settle for the crumbs.
I love eggs simply cooked. What's your favorite way to enjoy farm fresh eggs?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fremont Place Books, Salads and Carrots

I'll be at Fremont Place Books May 30th, this Sunday, at 300pm to talk about The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, share farmer stories and recipes. I'm bringing a treat from the book, but I'll surprise you with that one. I think I'll stop at the Fremont farmers' market before this event. Who knows what treats I'll find there?

I'm excited about sharing farmer stories that went into this "labor of love" cookbook. In the meantime, I'm refreshing my energy that gets sapped from shoe-leather book marketing by filling up on the luscious spring offerings from my garden and the market.
Check it out, gourmet salad from my own garden. I love edible flowers like these violas and Sky Nursery has a terrific supply. The pickles in this second photo are from Zoe's Favorites, a vendor I discovered at the Portland farmers' market. The tender greens are also from my garden, and the vinegar and oils are also from the market. This week JoanE from Rent's Due Ranch returns to the U-District Market, hopefully with her fantastic raspberry vinegar since my supply is dwindling. I'm including a bottle of her vinegar in a cookbook/local food basket for the silent auction at Food Lust, a farm dinner at Willie Green's Organic Farm on June 5.
Asparagus also adds a nice touch this time of year. I can't get enough of it and this week it's grilling time since I haven't grilled any yet this season. I think I'll also pick up some hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards and toast them for my salad feast options. I wish we had Rogue Creamery here because I love their blue cheeses. I have a tiny bit of their lavender cheese and that flavor combination is heavenly, too.

There isn't any particular recipe for success when making salads, just toss in whatever fresh vegetables you like; then add a drizzle of oil and vinegar. For garnish you can shave or crumble your favorite cheese or sprinkle spiced chopped hazelnuts or walnuts over the top.

Jeff Miller of Willie Green's Organic Farm was first at the U-District market with baby carrots this spring. How does he get his vegetables so sweet? I asked. "It's the soil," he replied with a shrug.

Whatever it is, I love these treasures so much I have to buy a bunch for the food hounds because I don't want to share.

It doesn't look like Finn wants to share either. He knows this is a four star (paws-up) vegetable.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

10 Things I Love about the Portland Farmers Market

Hungry for food treasures from Oregon, I went to the Portland farmers' market last Saturday. Our season lags about a month or so behind Portland and since we didn't have the usual farmers' market last weekend due to the annual U-District Street Fair, so I traveled to Portland--a local food lovers' paradise to check out their spring harvest offerings and connect with two farms featured in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook.
  • I love the first sweet strawberries of the season and though we have a few coming up in our garden, none have appeared at the U-district market yet.
  • I love the luxurious feel of the shade trees and walkways on the plaza at Portland State University.
  • I love Winter Green Farm in Noti. It's a biodynamic organic farm owned and run by three families and a great group of farmworkers who bring their seasonal harvest to market.
  • I love the abundant variety of pantry items available at this market--like tomato sauce with herbs from Winter Green Farm, pasta and enchilada sauce from Gathering Together Farm, and nuts, jams, breads and pastas. I also love the fresh salsa from Gathering Together Farm. Who can resist chips and fresh salsa at the market?

  • I love the crazy variety of foraged foods at this market, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, sea beans, sorrel, ramps, nettles and all kinds of mushrooms. Portland is truly a foraged food lovers' paradise.
  • I love Salvador Molly's tamales, the best tamales south of The Patty Pan Grill at Seattle farmers' markets.
  • Love the slow-food community feel of this market. You can sit under shade trees, relax and enjoy great food.
  • I love Rogue Creamery. Check out their cheese of the month---lavender cheddar. I have one friend who couldn't possibly pass that up. Rogue Creamery wins many awards for their cheeses and CaveMan Blue is winning raves this year. All I can say is "WOW!"
  • I love Freddy Guy's Hazelnuts. They bring hazelnut butter, hazelnut pancake mix and even wild rice--probably the only wild rice grown in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Most of all I love the fabulous market information booth. They have a lot of great local farm news and information. One flyer I picked up was a "Farmers Market Glossary of Terms" that listed terms like Certified Naturally Grown, Genetically Modified Organisms, No-Till, Transitional, artisan and dry-aged. They also sell fun "Port-land-i-vore" t-shirts and totes, for carrying all that great produce.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Friends and Foes in Garden, Field and Orchards

I gaze at these salmon carved from tree stumps at my writing group at Sheila Kelly's house in Ballard. Its a captivating picture--the salmon against the greenery with Puget Sound in the background. But lately I've been staring at these salmon a little more closely.

Look close--the biggest salmon's head is rotting away and you can see the gaping hole of nature taking it's course. While it's a sad to see this beautiful carving crumbling back to earth like totem poles in Alaska, I've been watching bumblebees flying in and out of their new home in the salmon's head.

These fuzzy, round easy-going pollinators fly like helicopters because of their big body size. Hardworking pollinators, bumblebees are troopers working in sun, breeze, and rain from dawn till dusk, early spring through fall. (Honey bees don't fly in rain and windy conditions.)

Sometimes bumblebees make their homes in rotten tree stump, living in small colonies of about 50 or so. These colonies only live for one season and only queen bumblebees overwinter to start another colony next season. The queen builds the nest and lays all the eggs.

Bumblebees are often more effective pollinators than honey bees. Bumblebees "buzz pollinate" going deep into a blossom, visiting flowers many times. Though they make honey, bumblebees don't store it like honey bee horders who continually produce more honey than they can use.

Bumblebees are often overlooked in news stories about pollinators because honey bees hog the limelight. Much has been written about keeping urban honey bee colonies lately. If you are interested in honey bees, urban beekeeping with honey bees and building your own local honey supplies, check out Amy Pennington's article in this month's edition of Edible Seattle.
While honey bees and native pollinators like bumblebees are hard at work boosting berry and soft summer fruit yields, a threat is lurking on the horizon. I read about it in

Ripe berries and soft fruits of summer attract fruit flies that can be annoying, but annoying is nothing compared to the new cowboy in town threatening berry and soft summer tree fruit harvests. A fruit fly called the Spotted Wing Drosophilia from Asia hitched a ride on some overripe fruit and well, you know what happens when fruit flies get together. . .

This little alien was never seen in the United States until recently and it has the potential to devastate future Northwest berry and soft tree fruit harvests.

The Spotted Wing Drosophilia is bigger than common fruit fly and it targets green or unripe fruit, depositing eggs on the soft fruit skin. These eggs burrow into the fruit and grow into larvae, destroying the fruit's texture when ripe.

"How would you know your fruit is infested?" I asked a gardening friend. "It would be all mushy," she replied wrinkling her nose at the thought of eating a mouthful of larvae. Tons of Northwest fruit can be ruined by these tiny pests. Right now, experts aren't sure how to deal with it, but conventional fruit growers have a solution.

How many different ways can you say new chemical pesticide?

My friend Bill Davis who works for WSU agriculture extension in Mount Vernon attended a seminar on this fruit pest, and now Bill is making vinegar traps to check for the Spotted Wing Drosophilia on fruit trees. Like all fruit flies, Spotted Wing Drosophilias are attracted to apple cider vinegar, so Bill got some clear large take out cups from a local coffee shop and poured apple cider vinegar in the bottom. Then he placed a strip of fly paper inside--half way in the cider vinegar. He snapped on the lid, put a wire on the top, and hung his apple cider vinegar trap near his raspberries and on plum trees. He has been checking his traps everyday and so far none of the fruit flies are the Spotted Wing variety. A farmer or gardener can also clean up their fields and trees by removing overripe fruit that mature flies feed on. You can remove blackberry bushes with unripe fruit around your garden.

These foreign troublemakers are most likely here to stay because of the sheer number of blackberry bushes we have growing wild in this state.

I'll be making some vinegar traps for my raspberry bushes this year.

Why does it seem like for every hopeful sign like bumblebees in a friend's yard there is a new opposing threat like fruit flies? Growing great Northwest fruit certainly isn't for sissies.

Badger and Finn with shameless product placement of The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook and Discover Cooking with Lavender by Kathy Gehrt. Also, read more about Alaskan totem poles in Voyages to Windward by Elsie Hulsizer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Finn's Cookies

So this is the biscotti I rescued after they slid off the plate and Finn gobbled two up so fast, I couldn't get a word out. The photo shoot was a bit tense because he obviously felt entitled to the remaining biscotti. It's crisp and so sweet and tasty. I love the flavor of Nash's flour.
This is Finn's meager reward for not eating all the biscotti on the plate.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mom's Favorite Cookbook and Hazelnut Biscotti

My mom was not great cook. Except for the best banana bread, and a few cookies, including biscotti making tasty savory foods eluded her. Aside from my dad's abundant fish dinners, I recall Mom's dry pork chops, stringy pot roast and leathery cube steak dinners.

Mom was absolutely delighted when Peg Bracken released The I Hate to Cookbook in 1960. "I love this book," Mom had said, "it's like it was written for me."

I never really looked at the I Hate to Cookbook until after Mom passed away, but I smiled the other day when I opened it, reread the introduction and thought about Mom:

"Some women it is said, like to cook.
This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day."

I like to think that Mom just never hit her stride in the kitchen, never really found what she truly loved cook beyond sweet recipes. Or maybe Mom was simply more interested in her flower garden, sewing projects, drawings, watercolors and Louis L'Amour westerns.

Anyway, thinking about Mom, on Saturday at the market, Patty said she'd wanted to get a plant in memory of Sam, so when I walked over to meet her at the Botanica Plant booth, I spotted this lovely exotic peony and thought of Mom's beautiful flower gardens. I got it and thought it was perfect and much better than baking one of Mom's favorite sweet recipes. But my kitchen assistant looked so sad I had to get out my cookbook and make hazelnut biscotti. His mood brightened considerably.

Mom's biscotti was so good, everyone always wanted seconds, and thirds. Mom had to hide the Italian cookies to save some for herself, but one dayI found her treasure trove stashed behind the pots and pans--the cookware Mom rebelled against. But these pots and pans were what I used the most in the kitchen when I was in high school when I cooked my many of my own vegetable-dominated dinners.

I can't remember Mom's exact biscotti recipe now, but the recipe in my cookbook evolved from Mom's recipe called Knish Cookies. I make it Northwest with the hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards and soft wheat flour from Nash's. The flour has less gluten than grocery store flour, but the flavor is so much better, it doesn't really matter that these recipes crumbled a little more than usual. Here's my recipe from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook:

Hazelnut Breakfast Biscotti

My mother always had a few biscotti with her morning coffee, so enjoy them first thing in the morning or save them for an afternoon treat. These twice-baked Italian cookies can be baked up to a day ahead the first time, then sliced and baked again.

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon each: baking powder and baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped

1 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and hazelnuts in a large bowl and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and blend in the eggs. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients, adding enough flour for a very stiff dough, if necessary.

4. Divide the dough in half and roll into 14-inch logs. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, flatten the tops of the logs, and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove the logs from the oven and let them cool completely.

5. After at least 1/2 hour has elapsed, reheat the oven to 325ºF. When the logs are cool, slice 1/2 inch thick at approximately a 45º angle. Lay flat on a baking sheet or pizza screen. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. If using a baking sheet, turn halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Store the biscotti in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Asparagus Bones

I love asparagus so much I buy it nearly every week in season. But I hate to share any with my kitchen assistant so it's lucky for me, Finn is crazy about asparagus "bones"-- the tough stalk ends that are usually tossed onto compost piles. He'll do anything for them, including another photo shoot. Though old Badger (our oldest basset hound) also loves asparagus "bones", Finn's sister Chloe (just adopted this year) didn't know what to make of this strange food at first.

Chloe didn't grow up eating apple cores or asparagus and broccoli stems. Much of what a dog eats, like humans, is learned from the rest of the pack. Finn had a great teacher--Abe who loved all fruits and vegetables so much, an orange being peeled could wake up him from a deep sleep. After Chloe observed Finn chow down, she now loves the green "bones" too.

If you have a chow hound at home these bones are perfect for low-calorie snacks, but first you have to teach your hound to eat them.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Plant Starts, Lavender Lemonade, and Cookies at Sky Nursery

Who would guess Sky Nursery is a food connection? But with the currant gardening and cooking local craze, Sky Nursery is doing a booming business. And now that Sky Nursery has a huge brand new greenhouse, they've upped their organic vegetable plant starts. They also have a cool seminar room where they offer free weekly seminars in the spring and fall. (If you click on the store link and check out the Web site, you can get a $5.00 store coupon.)

First off, I have to say that I love that Sky Nursery is a longtime customer of Rent's Due Ranch in Stanwood, just northwest of Everett. They've been buying Rent's Due plant starts for years. JoanE McIntyre from Rent's Due Ranch is one of my favorite summer farmers and I can't wait for her to return to the U-District Market. I heard a rumor earlier this season that one of Rent's Due greenhouses caved in after wicked storm, which is sad because plant starts is a big part of their farm business. JoanE and husband, Michael Shriver sell most of these starts to nurseries and PCC Natural Markets.

The variety of organic local kales, lettuce, beets, tomatoes, and other vegetables at Sky Nursery is simply amazing. You can't go there without coming out with at least one box full of these garden treasures.

After checking out the plant starts, I headed over to the seminar room where my friend Kathy Gehrt was presenting a workshop on container gardening and cooking with herbs. By the time I arrived, there were hardly any seats left. Lavender lemonade and chocolate chip cookies were on a table near the back of the event and both quickly disappeared as more and more people showed up. Kathy shared lots of gardening and cooking tips. Check out Kathy's blog for her herb gardening tips.
Here is Kathy's easy lavender lemonade recipe from Discover Cooking with Lavender:

Lavender Lemonade

1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup dried lavender buds or 1/2 cup fresh lavender blossoms
1 12-ounce can frozen lemonade
2 cups cold water

1. Add lavender buds or blossoms to boiling water and let mixture steep for 20 minutes.
2. Strain mixture to remove lavender buds or blossoms, then set aside the lavender infused water and let it cool to room temperature.
3. Add the frozen lemonade and 2 cups cold water to the cooled lavender-infused water.
4. Mix well and serve.

It's so easy to make and the added flavor of lavender is heavenly. Check out Kathy's book Discover Cooking with Lavender for more great tips and recipes and look for her events at nurseries and bookstores this summer. Many independent bookstores, gift stores and some nurseries are getting on the lavender bandwagon with this great little cookbook.

Check out my other blog for some great book marketing tips.