Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Please Pass the Peas and Don't Forget About the Artichokes

Two big surprises this past weekend at the market were these amazing English peas grown at Rent's Due Ranch and artichokes, also from Rent's Due Ranch. Everything seems so big and luxurious from this farm, I can't help finding lots of great buys every week. Even Finn is impressed by the size of these pods.

Open a pea pod and the basset hounds will do anything for just one taste, and then another and another. So be sure to buy enough peas to satisfy everyone. At the market, I only loaded up one large bag, but my friend Patty stuffed two big bags. Now I wish I'd gotten more peas and so are the hounds.

Mostly I eat English peas like a snack, right from the pod. One important thing to remember is you must eat peas quickly or they begin to lose sugar, so don't toss them in the produce bin for later in the week and think your peas will taste the same as when they were picked. Fresh English peas are never very sweet when you find them in grocery stores, so visit a farmers' market for these sweet tasting gems. I think JoanE and Mike's secret at Rent's Due is their giant compost pile which is pure black gold for any plants grown there.

To select peas, look for pods that are vibrant green and big with peas. Buy them within a day of picking. Early and mid spring are usually the best times to look for shelling peas in the Northwest.

I never seem to generate recipes for peas because they're so good straight from pod to mouth and they often disappear long before I think about adding them to anything. And the dogs look so pathetic if they don't get just a few peas and then a few more. This week, I actually managed to save a few to add to a rice pilaf.

Another great find this week was artichokes. (Early in May a chef who teaches cooking classes at PCC Natural Markets insisted she was getting baby artichokes from Rent's Due Ranch for her local seasonal cooking classes in May. I don't know what she ended up using for her classes, but the weather is the boss when it comes to seasons and artichokes even in Oregon were late this year.) And since the season for artichokes in Washington is fairly short, hurry and get yours at the U-District market before they're gone. I got four small and two large.

I hate to say it, but no matter how many fancy recipes for artichokes come my way, I still like artichokes best cooked in a pressure cooker and served with lemon and aioli. For the small ones, JoanE says you can eat the entire artichoke, but don't drown them in some fancy sauce, you'll lose the subtle fresh flavor.

Tom usually pressure cooks artichokes at home. If you don't know about pressure cooking and want to try it with artichokes (which can take up to an hour on stove top) start with Lorna Sass's Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.

I wrote about artichokes for Marlene's Market and Deli in the July issue of The Sound Outlook where I have new monthly column called Take 5. Bok choy, Celery, Kohlrabi and Turnips are the other vegetables in my new column. Check the July issue of the newspaper on their Web site.

When choosing artichokes look for specimens that feel firm and have tight leaves. I like the big ones, but the little artichokes are so tender you can just peel some of the outer leaves off and eat the entire artichoke when cooked. I love to dip artichokes in a mixture of lemon juice and aioli with a little coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

I've been wondering how to work Rockridge Orchards Apple Cider into an artichoke recipe. Maybe I'll try braising the little artichokes in it today. And this coming 4th of July weekend, maybe I'll try grilling a few artichokes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shark

Shortly after Dad passed away in 2007, I found this drawing under a guest bed. It was wrapped in a dark brown paper. On the outside it said: "I'm betting on the hunter in the dark . . . There's no doubt we're talking The Shark!" At the bottom it said: "Double your take" and it was signed by Perry Hufffman, Dad's longtime diving buddy. Every Father's Day I take out the picture and think about Dad.

He was a rugged outdoorsman who learned the art of fly fishing as a boy at his father's cabin on the Frying Pan River in Colorado. In the winter, Dad went to a school for fatherless boys in Denver and when school was out for the sumer, he hitchhiked to that cabin. He told me he started doing this when he was nine. His mother dropped off groceries to see him through the summer and Dad learned fly fishing from a neighbor who took Dad under his wing. Dad perfected his fly fishing techniques and could catch trout in any stream when I was young. He often hiked to more remote rivers and I once went with him when I was older and remember watching Dad leap from rock to rock reeling in trout like a pro until he caught his limit.

When our family moved to California, Dad took up free diving off the coast and brought home fish, crab, scallops, abalone and occasionally lobster for dinner. I was sure the ocean was Dad's new treasure trove that would never go away. Freshly caught ocean fish was on our menu more than once a week, and there was always a stash of abalone in the freezer. Dad delighted in showing us how to pound the tough steaks with a meat mallet before Mom dipped the abalone in egg, breaded and fried it.

Even though I prefer vegetables over fish today, when I think about all the seafood Dad put on our table for dinners, I'm impressed. And I'm even more impressed that Dad's last dive was when he was 83. Finn is impressed by this display of wild abalone shells from dinners' past. For a fascinating comparison of abalone shells today, check out the sustainably farmed abalone in California.
A few days after Dad passed away his longtime diving buddy Perry Huffman stopped by to see my brother, sister and I as we cleaned Dad's house. Perry gazed at a large conch shell on a shelf and said, "I could tell you stories about your dad. . . ." That's how we heard the story of "The Shark."

Dad was in his 70s when he, Perry and another buddy went diving off the coast of Belize. Perry noticed a shark circling Dad, but as soon as he called to Dad, another shark had joined the first one. "They were swimming around and around him," Perry said. "I was nervous."

"Bring me my spear gun!" Dad called to Perry. So Perry grabbed Dad's spear gun and started swimming towards Dad. "What was he going to do with the speargun, kill the sharks?" Perry wondered. But suddenly as Perry got closer, the sharks suddenly swam away. "Your dad was the real thing," Perry said. "I'll miss him."

I never heard "The Shark" story while Dad was alive, but I'm glad Perry told us. Now when I think of Dad, I'm not surprised. An adventurous river and ocean forager, Dad packed a lot of fishing stories into his 87 years.

I often wonder now about the stories that got away, the ones we'll never know, and how many were hair-raising ones. When I gaze up at the stars now, I think about "the hunter in the dark." I hope he's catching his limit beyond the rainbow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'll Have What He's Having: Hospital Fare, Recovery, and A Great Book

I'd become used to eating from our local food basket, but "in life as in recovery, not all things are level and smooth." (Wisdom of the Last Farmer by David Mas Masamoto.)

Eggs from River Farm come from chickens that have access to all types of land, even the forest. Rich in nutrients, these eggs are health-giving. Even Finn finds it hard to stay away from them. But that's not the kind of eggs you get in the hospital.

On June 4, I had a great deal of pain and after a number of tests an emergency surgery, so Saturday morning, I found myself flat on my back in a hospital, reading the clear liquid hospital menu. I was destined to be okay but at the time I was wondering whether the apple juice I was about to order was from China. And how many pesticide residues it contained? Apples are on the top dirty dozen list of foods for pesticides. It doesn't matter where I end up, I'm always concerned about the purity and roots of my food.

When I graduated to the solid food menu, I was equally convinced nothing would be edible, but during a bout of hunger, and thinking food would make me feel better, I selected "Fluffy Scrambled Eggs."

At least Seattle isn't like Austin, Texas where a corn dog and curly fries were presented to my sister in the ICU. But I ask you: how many times have you seen eggs in a perfect yellow scoop? I imagined the chickens that gave rise to these "eggs", if they were real eggs. I shuddered at the factory conditions. And while the term "breakfast potatoes" had me picturing chunks of fresh roasted potatoes, the reality was far from my fantasy image.

The potatoes looked like a fast food product, something a person might clutch and eat in the car, something borrowed from McDonalds. On the menu, below "Room Service: excellence is always on the menu" it said "Presented by the Food and Nutrition Department." Really? If this is excellence, we're in trouble. At least this "picture of excellence" inspired me to get out of bed take a photo.

Notice the sad attempt at "presentation" with the slice of orange and squares of peppers (probably from Mexico, I thought.)

What really saved me in the hospital were well wishes from JoanE of Rent's Due Ranch, Apple Cider, the perfect gift from Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards, and visits from my wonderful friends Ed Haskins and Patty whose late husband Sam Fain had the exact hospital room shortly before he passed away. How brave of her to visit, probably flooded with Sam's memories yet never losing her sweet composure. Of course Tom came every day and even brought framed pictures of the dogs to keep me company for my three day stay.

Mostly, I was very sad to miss Food Lust, and had even suggested to the doctor that we wait till Monday for the surgery, but the doctor insisted surgery should done immediately. And since I was in a great deal of pain and the rather large ovarian mass had twisted, it needed to be removed. The doctor was 99 percent certain the mass was not cancerous, but still, I was thrilled when the final pathology report returned negative for cancer. That meant I could focus on getting better.

I'm generally the cook at home, so once I got home, on Monday, I focused on what's easy-to-make, tastes good and has super nutritious qualities to spur my recovery. One of my favorite soups is Turnip Greens Soup. Tom had gone to the market and had bought fresh spring turnips from Mair Farm-Taki. (Katsumi of Mair Farm-Taki is very kind, sells my book at the market and grows amazing Asian varieties of produce.)
So I made this favorite soup and guess who was way too eager food photos?

Another thing I've been able to do in this time of recovery is catch up on reading. Shortly before the "incident," a book arrived in the mail. It was Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies From the Land by David Mas Masumoto, a book I thought I'd ordered last February when The Last Farmer by Howard Kohn arrived.

Even if you aren't freshly released from the hospital, check out Wisdom of the Last Farmer by David Mas Masumoto. It's a fascinating memoir of Mas Masumoto's father and day-to-day life on the family farm after his father suffered a stroke. Each chapter reads more like a moving essay meant to be read again and again.

One of my favorites was "Hard Pan Economics." Mas Masumoto calls it the "official rock of our farm," and says, "I don't believe I will ever free myself from it's burdens." He goes into depth about the nature of hardpan, where it comes from, that it was formed in the time of dinosaurs, how it's resistant to shovels, and takes an explosive force to break it apart. He looks at hardpan from every angle, then also says that it will always be there and that "it's a symbol of survival for immigrant families who came to our valley to carve out a life for themselves."

At the chapter's end Mas Masamoto says, "Hardpan economics are the choices I made to take care of the land: opportunity costs--sacrificing potential wealth by staying in the valley. . . . A slow lesson for me, hardpan may be invisible at times, hiding just beneath the surface. To survive I must learn to live with it. Hardpan is not going away." It's a lesson for all of us to reach for something beyond our own interests and strive to add something good to the world.

For a great story, sure to bring smiles and tears, check out Wisdom of the Last Farmer.