Monday, September 27, 2010

Dreams, Fairytales, and the Granville Island Farmers' Market

I'd always dreamed of running away for a weekend and staying in a magical place. It's an entertaining fantasy, but I've always filed that dream in the same folder as fairy tales from my childhood. Rational me says: "It costs too much." Or, "I can't justify getting away from my routines and schedules." And, " It's just too self indulgent."

When I was young, I liked fantasy. I believed in dreams and I grew up on Walt Disney stories. Cinderella was one of my favorites, but for me, it wasn't about any prince in the end because that was always a mystery--what happens beyond the happy ending anyway? What I really loved was the way the mice and birds stepped up and created that beautiful dress out of leaves and twigs. I also liked that Cinderella only had a limited amount of time for her fantasy. That makes it all the more precious.

This picture hung on my bedroom wall for years. Maybe that's why I love to dream and everybody should harbor at least a few fantasies.

Last Wedesday I visited Granville Island for a book event at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks. I booked a reservation for the closest place--the Granview Island Hotel. It was the first time I've ever spent time in a high-end hotel. (Dad was such a fan of Motel 6, I often find it hard to justify a hotel expense but this time I said why not go for it?)

So I checked into this amazing room, wheeled my bag up and the best part was the hotel was just a short walk to the Public Market, which is a bit like Pike Place Market--fresh produce, candy makers, bakeries and hot foods of all kinds. Walk in and you immediately catch scents of fresly picked flowers, yeasty cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, freshly brewed coffee,and farther down I inhaled the scent of smoked deli meats, herbal teas and hearth baked pizzas. It was hard to keep to the healthy vegan diet I'd mentioned in my other blog with so many temptations all around me.
I bought giant figs and fresh berries, but who could resist these Fraser Valley Blueberry scones--this is sweet temptations with a sense of place.

I couldn't help myself, I was overcome and had to have one. Every bite was worth it.

I sat outside, soaked up the last rays of summer and listened to one of the many talented local musicians playing familiar folk songs from the 60s. He was guitarist in an long coat and top hat with an amazing pitch-perfect voice. Children chased gulls and groups of people chatted over coffee, rolls and sandwiches. Later, I meandered around visiting shops in this artsy place-- a fun way to slow the pace and detach from our techno world for a few days.

After a few stunning sunny days, a cool misting rain refreshed washed over the Island on Thursday when I visited the farmers' market.

The Granville Island Farmers' Market is a tiny market with great local produce and the most beautiful artisan breads. I was tempted to buy some beautiful artichokes but I refrained and it's a good thing I did because U.S. Customs Agents would simply toss them in the garbage. I did purchase a few apples ( I wasn't thinking about Customs then) and of course I had to get 100 Mile Bread because all the ingredients were gathered within 100 miles.

I laughed at this clever sign. Nix v Hedden involved the tax collected on vegetables and apparently taxes on vegetables funded the U.S. government in the late 1800s.
The time came to say goodbye, end my little fantasy, and it wasn't easy. Check the scene each evening from my window.
As I checked out of the hotel, the desk clerk handed me the bill. I stared at it and as I perused the amount I felt my carriage turning into a pumpkin.

Then at the U.S. Border, the patrol officer gleefully confiscated my Canadian born apples and tossed them in the garbage. Hey, wait a minute why doesn't the Border Patrol have recycling and composting? It should be a crime to just throw apples that good in a landfill. I breathed a sigh of relief when she let me keep my 100 Mile Bread.

My assistant was thrilled too. This was the very best crusty artisan bread I've ever eaten and it came with blueberries and hazelnuts. Here's to dreams and memorable food!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pears and The Season for Giving

Northwest Pear Abundance
When I returned home from the Whatcom County Farm Tour last weekend I got a phone message from my gardening friends Molly and Bill who had a bumper crop of pears and wanted to know if I wanted a few. I think my cooking assistant would abandon me if I didn't take this offer so I jumped on it right away and drove over to their house.

When I got to there I was surprised when Bill handed me two full boxes of pears. On the left are Atlantic Queens and on the right are Orcas. I can't remember what the odd pear is in the middle but it was ripe so I ate it soon after this photo was taken. Sweet with a creamy Bosc-like texture only more creamy, the sweet tones and juice practically sparkled in my mouth. My assistant sulked when he didn't get a sample.

Bill helped me carry the boxes to the car and told me I must keep them cool.

Storing and ripening

Pears are one of the only fruits picked unripe and when they ripen it starts on the inside. A pear can quickly go from ripe to rotten so some farmers keep the pears in cooling rooms before they ripen. The best way to store them is in the refrigerator. Take a pear out and let it ripen on the counter, but be careful don't let it overripen. Feel them everyday around the stem--kind of like Hansel in the old Hansel and Grettle fairy tale.

"Feel around the stem," Bill said. "If it's soft, it's ready."

After he walked away I gazed at the full boxes and thought, even if I dehydrate a lot of them and let others ripen slowly, I still had more than we might eat. Today I'm loading up some bags of pears for my neighbors to share this sweet bounty.

Sharing the harvest
Many backyard gardeners who cultivate apples and pears are blessed with more than enough to share this year. In Bellingham, people harvest unused tree fruit for food banks. A new Northwest publication Grow Northwest featured an article about Small Potatoes, a local gleaning project that became administrated by the Bellingham Food Bank in 2009.

Small Potatoes Program Coordinator Max Morange said, "The response has been terrific. Food Bank supplies of fresh produce are often low at the beginning of the harvest season and at its end. . . The difference between a canned item and one that's been harvested hours before distribution is like that of night and day."

I searched to find other Northwest gleaning projects and one of those is in Southwest Seattle called glean it. Another organization in Seattle Lettuce Link is a program of Solid Ground. When I checked Portland for gleaners, I found this blog that listed Urban Gleaners, a very cool organization that picks up fresh food from orchards, fields, grocery stores and restaurants to deliver food to food banks.

You don't really need to call gleaners if you have overloaded fruit trees, but don't let the harvest go to waste when so many people could use more fresh fruits and vegetables. Why not share with neighbors or contact food banks to see if they'd like a donation.

Book Tour Notes
I'm headed to Portland this weekend for the Veg Fest, and of course I'll sneak in a farmers' market visit or two. I can't miss Ayers Creek grapes and Gathering Together Farm fresh salsa at Hillsdale Market on Sunday. On Sunday at 12:00pm, I'm putting together something a savory vegan creation from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. Next Wednesday I'll be in Vancouver BC at Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks where I'll host a cooking demo and serve up a fantastic vegetarian meal with recipes from my book. I've decided to stay at the Granville Island Hotel. I feel a little bad that my cooking assistant can't make either trip but frankly I can't wait.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whatcom County Farm Tour Weekend

I'm hungry for a sweet treat made with apples and I'm sure I'll find plenty at Bellewood Acres near Lynden, Washington this coming Saturday, September 11.

I'll be at Bellewood Acres for the Whatcom County Farm Tour (10 to 6pm), and unofficially as an apple buyer. I've never been on the Whatcom County Farm Tour. We lived at the south end of Lake Whatcom until 1982, and farm tours weren't offered then; and for a number of years, King County hosted farm tours. But I got a rude shock this year when Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards told me farm tours in King County were cancelled due to budget cuts. (Isn't that like cancelling the 4th of July? Where is Tom Douglas to keep this one going? And why isn't this on the local news channels?) Anyway, I'm heading up to Whatcom County to participate. Check out some of the farms if you're in the area.

Eleven farms are in the loop this year with tons of things to see, taste, and do. You can pet goats, tour a winery, exlore an orchards, and enjoy a berry sundae. I'll be there signing copies of my book and sharing recipes.

Get directions for bike or car and stop at Bellewood Acres because it's exciting to see how much Dorie and John Belisle have added and changed. One year it was the cider barn, another the kitchen and pastries were added to the line up. Life is never dull at this farm.

The Belisle's moved to Whatcom County from Florida and have been farming near Lynden since the early 1990s. I discovered their farm through the Bellingham Community Food Co-op after my first book was published. Then, I added Belisle's farming story to a profile I titled "Why Local Matters: Northwest Apples and Pears" for The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. Dorie also contributed some amazing photos for the book and many people who look at the book, turn it over, gaze at the photos of Bellewood Acres and ask, "Did you take these photos?" Dorie saved the day by contributing photos of their farm so I'd have enough photos for the book. The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook had lots of help from the farming community that the book celebrates. Check out more pictures of Bellewood Acres on this blog post. Or check out the Web site for Bellewood Acres and get a list of their apple varieties.

Besides watching the apples get sorted and juice being presed, I like hanging out learning about the farm, but my favorite part is selecting apples to take home.

My kitchen assistant claims he likes all varieties. He and his cohorts dispose of apple cores eagerly, but I love to savor apple slices slowly, plain or spread with almond butter. I let each variety parade across my taste buds, some types make my mouth pucker and others are dazzling and complex. I also like to add sliced or diced apples to sautes, soups, stews or stirred into in breads. Then of course there are the sweet desserts like apple pie, crisp or cobbler.

I got a very cool recipe for pear clafouti donated for my book from Jeanette Herman of Cliffside Orchards. Check it out. I think I'll try apple clafouti this year with cardamom and apples from Bellewood Acres, of course.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Hornet's Nest--Stories from Organic Northwest Farms

I'd never really given much thought to hornets until everyone started talking about The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet's Nest. Now I've notice an interest in hornets and wasps and their value on organic farms. Mary Kay from The Edmonds Bookshop showed me this hornet's nest on Dayton after I purchased a card featuring a similar nest.

Then, this past Saturday, Anthony Boutard of Ayer's Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon (a farm featured in my book) wrote about wasps--a little different than hornets, the variety of wasps that build papery nests. I had to share Anthony's story--a food connection of a sort that proves there's a fine line between fascinating and creepy, at least for those of us who are less comfortable with stinging insects.

Ecce Isodontia

Against the dark foliage of the Douglas firs, long yellow wisps of dry grass float by against the wind. The scene could, at a glance, be one of Miyazaki's haunting animations. The creature animating each piece of grass is called the "Grass-carrying Wasp." These thread-waisted wasps belong to the genus Isodontia, a taxon distinguished by the grass carrying habit. They are part of the larger Sphecid family which includes the mud daubers and digger wasps. The Sphecids are all solitary predators.

The grass-carriers use existing cavities to build their nests, and those cavities may be part of your house. On our house, they nest in the space between the corner-boards and the shiplap siding. For the fields, we have built boxes with hundreds of bamboo segments to provide nesting habitat for cavity nesting bees and wasps. We favor bamboo because each pole will have a range of cavity sizes, so we attract everything from the tiniest mason bee to relatively large wasps. They coexist happily. Bamboo is also more sanitary over time than the commonly used paper tubes, and it never gets soggy during the winter monsoons.

The female Isodontia constructs the nest by lining the cavity with grass, and then provisions it with young grasshoppers, katydids and crickets. The wasp injects venom into the prey and cradles the insect between its legs, grasps the antennae with its mandibles, then flies to the nest. She drags the insect into the hole, executes a U-turn, and comes out head first. A neat feat given the space constraints. Her wings are pretty ragged by the end of the season.

She lays her eggs among the prey, then plugs the nest with more grass. The grass is carried the same way as the prey, one end in the mandibles and the other end cradled in the legs. As the grass blade is several times longer than the wasp, it streams behind her.

The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the stored insects and then pupate over the winter, emerging next summer as adults. The last eggs laid grow into males and exit first, followed a week or so later by the females. Mason bees follow the same pattern. The males are smaller and built for the nuptial rites alone, while the larger female is left with all of the post-nuptial chores.

Hers is not easy work. As the wasp approaches the cavity, a yellow-jacket swoops down, hoping she will drop her prey. It hazes her whether she bears a cricket or a blade of grass, clearly unable to distinguish between her loads. At the nesting box, other smaller wasps scurry around. They may be "cuckoo types" that lay an egg on her prey in her absence, or parasitic wasps that feed upon the developing larvae themselves.

We seem to have at least two species nesting here. Some of the the nests are plugged neatly, looking just like the end of a factory-made cigarette. Other nests are plugged with the grass sticking out, Cheech Marin style. The wasps we see at the moment, with their reddish legs and wings, are probably the species Isodontia elegans. The adults are survive on nectar.

Like all other wasps, our grass carriers can inflict a painful sting. We live among a large number of wasps and bees on the farm, and the only one to sting us unprovoked is the domesticated honey bee. When nectar is short in late summer, honey bees become very aggressive. Over the course of the summer, we will be stung many times by the "gentle" honey bee. Other wasps and bees steer clear of us, and only attack when we actually disturb their nest.

Go visit Anthony and Carol Boutard at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market next Sunday and hear more fascinating wildlife stories from their organic farm.

Earlier this week, I saw hornets' nest, similar to the one in the photo above, in a pygmy goat barn at Whispering Winds Farm in Stanwood. As farmer Char Byde and I walked out to the orchard, she told me birds did a lot of damage to their organic apple crop this year. When she showed me a bird pecked apple, we spied a wasp taking advantage of the sweet apple juice. Nothing goes to waste on this cool organic farm.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Farm Stand, Market, Co-op, and Farm: Make "Eat Local Week" Every Week

Farm Stand, market, co-op and farm--there are many places to get locally-grown food in Washington and no matter what your income, you can afford to eat from the local food basket. If you're looking for deals, one of the best places to find them is on any practically any highway or backroad where you'll find some kind of farm stand or U-pick offering.

We stopped at this farm stand on Highway 20 when we drove home from Cascadian Home Farm. I was so excited because I had wanted to make a recipe from Argentina that called for about 6 ears of fresh corn and at Corn Sheba, a pay as you go farm stand, corn was practically a steal. Most corn at farmers' markets sells for 50 to 75 cents an ear, so we bought 10 ears at Corn Sheba. There was a chef from a restaurant loading up a big bag while we picked out our few dollars worth of sweet corn.

You can also find "must-haves" and deals at the farmers' market. In Bellingham at the Wednesday farmers' market behind Village Books, I got the most beautiful peppers and tomatoes. Though these tend to be on the pricy side, I also found a 2 pound bag of organic rye berries for only $4.00. How many people can you feed with this much rye? I'm excited about the culinary possibilities of this and I'm already dreaming about the many whole grain salads I can make.

After delivering a presentation about my book and browsing the market I had dinner at the Calaphon Cafe where I had an opportunity to talk with Laura Ridenour of Sustainable Connections and Laura Steiger from the Community Food Co-op. Laura Steiger asked how I'd found the farms in my book and I was happy to say I'd found many of the farms through food co-ops from Bellingham to Ashland. In fact, that's how I found Bellewood Acres, a lovely apple farm near Lynden, where I'll be on September 11 on the Whatcom County Farm Tour.

I visited the Cordatta food co-op (the Community Food Co-op's newest store) before I left for home on Thursday. The store is light with lots of space inside and lots of great produce buys. It also has a wonderful salad bar and deli. I bought some amaranth seeds grown by Greenheart Gardens on Lopez Island---I'll plant these next spring.

Next stop was Whispering Winds Farm in Stanwood--a 20-acre organic vegetable farm wedged between dairy farms. It is owned and farmed by Charlene and Doug Byde who started this farm in 2004. "I couldn't believe it when we found this place. We always had a garden," Char told me. The last place they had was 5 acres. This farm is a dream come true for Char and Doug.

I love these American flags waving in the wind at the end of the row crops. And check out this stevia plant. Char told me she tucked some stevia into her CSA boxes this past week. I didn't even know stevia was a plant you could grow in the Northwest. Every farm proivides an opportunity to learn something new.

Char does most of the farming now because Doug has a full time job, but Doug is an expert at fixing farm machinery and he made this cool alpaca tractor that they use to move the alpacas from field to field. Char keeps the alpacas for the wool that she has cleaned and uses to make into sweaters.

Char said was a difficult spring and some of their crops like corn didn't get planted because it was so damp and cold. I got to sample some of their apples and I brought home some great produce that my kitchen assistant discovered the minute I set my bags down.

Let's take a picture, I'd said and he was happy to oblige.

But my assistant is smarter than he looks. He demands a promise of a carrot or a few beans in exchange for striking a pose these days. Every assistant has his price and as prices go this is pittance.

While Finn has his eyes fixed on the beans and carrots, I'm crazy about the lettuce. Is this the Ozzie and Harriet lettuce of my childhood only 10 times better? I love it. We both give thanks to Whispering Winds Farm--a real gem in Skagit Valley.