Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Look What the Stork Delivered!

When the package arrived, I took my time opening it. I was partly afraid it might not live up to what I'd expected and partly afraid of the amount of work I might have to do to promote it. Once I'd peeled off the brown paper wrapping, the cover picture totally won me over. Even my assistant was thrilled.

My kitchen assistant immediately gave the book four paws-up. But the truth is he was just buttering me up so I'd make a few recipes. After we cuddled with this new baby I flipped through the pages to get a good look. Timber Press really came through and did a great job.

The farmer profiles that I'd written brought back a flood of memories from my farm travels and farmer interviews in 2008. When I started my journey, an editor at Timber Press had suggested a profile of Ayers Creek Farm, in Gaston, Oregon, just a little south of Portland.

I hadn't heard of the farmer, Anthony Boutard , then, but apparently all of Portland already knew about Ayers Creek Farm because Anthony and his wife Carol have been supplying Portland chefs with great organic produce ever since Anthony and Carol started selling at the Hillsdale farmers' market in 2003. The Boutards grow amazing crops, focusing on quality over quantity. Ayers Creek has captured the attention of Oregon and Washington foodies and even well-know cookbook authors. (Check out Deborah Madison's essay about the Boutards in her newest book.)

Anthony told me he gets a lot of inspiration and ideas from agriculture texts from the 1800s. He told me that we don't give enough credit to farmers experiences in the past. Anthony also extensively researchs on the Internet for the perfect organic plant varieties to grow. And growing the best varieties pays off. Market shoppers love the quality and unique crops. Here is Anthony in his plum orchard.
The Boutards weren't the only farmers who brought amazing produce to markets. At the Corvallis farmers' market I discovered Denison Farms, an organic farm owned and farmed by Tom Denison and Elizabeth Kerle. Tom's family moved to Corvallis when Tom was in the 5th grade and Tom recalled wanting to be a farmer when he was in high school. Tom also researches vegetables and fruits varieties on the Internet to find the best varieties for the Northwest. On a busy farm day, Tom and Elizabeth took time out to share their farm's story and before I left, Tom gave me a basket of super sweet tomatoes.

If you visit the Corvallis farmers' market, check out Denison Farms booth.

At the First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis, I picked up information about Gathering Together Farm and suddenly recalled this was the farm name that farmer Nash Huber in Sequim, Washington had scrawled on a note for me when I'd asked him about Oregon farmers I might want to include.

Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, just west of Corvallis had a farm stand so that's where I headed, and once I got there, I was impressed. Farmers Sally Brewer and John Eveland's story spilled over into two profiles (one about the synergy of two farms working together and seed production, and one about farm restaurants.) Farmers' markets, CSA deliveries, farm store, restaurant, and seed processing right--one look at the cute farm store will make you wish you lived closer to this farm to visit on a regular basis.

I'd wanted to linger at this store, but I had to move on. In Ashland I visited the produce department of the food co-op where I found pictures of The Fry Family Farm and Whistling Duck Farm. I searched out both farmers at the Ashland and Medford farmers' markets. When I visited, Whistling Duck Farm, farmer Vince Alionis told me how growing conditions in southern Oregon are more like northern California than Portland or Seattle. "The land is like a jigsaw puzzle," he'd told me.

Every farmer in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook has a different story to tell. I never tire of hearing these stories, but soon I'd gathered so many farm stories that the big puzzle was how to fit everyone I'd spoken to into one book. One early editor said just make it simple--one farm per profile, but I really wanted to include everyone I'd interviewed.

Check out the book to find out how I did it. I have to confess I had some help smoothing the rough edges. Timber Press had introduced me to the most perfect editor, Lorraine Anderson, whose first book was Cooking with Sunshine: The Complete Guide to Solar Cooking. Lorraine has edited lots of Timber Press books and she lives fairly close to some of the farmers and one season had even gotten Denison Farms CSA. How perfect is that?

But now marketing reality has hit me. This new phase of book writing is a whole different story, so to save my sanity and chronicle my efforts to get media and bookstore attention in this new flood of local food books, I've created a separate blog for my marketing adventures.

With this new blog, I'm hoping to make some sense of our hyper-rushed, plugged-in, interconnected world, where everybody has a brand waving on their own flagpole. Tips, tricks, strategies and links will hopefully help other authors just starting this journey with their books.

This Food Connections blog will continue on--because I've got lots more ideas and food connections are too delicious to give up. Besides my Kitchen Assistant is already waiting for my next recipe.

Check out Whistling Duck Farm's vibrant produce at the Medford or Ashland farmers' market.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deborah Madison, Rhubarb, and Kitchen Assistants

Only a few cookbooks inspire me in unexpected ways and Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market (2010) by Deborah Madison is another gem to add to that list. Madison's recipes are treasure trove of inspiration for combining ingredients in new delicious ways. And it doesn't hurt that she's a local food advocate and a compelling food writer who has honed her cooking on local foods for decades.

Founder of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, Deborah Madison is a longtime market shopper, gardener, food writer and popular cookbook author. Her seasonally-infused food writing and flavor pairings have been a large influence in my kitchen over the years.

Nearly two decades ago in Madison's The Savory Way (1990), I discovered acidic flavors were the secret link shared by all salads. When Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997) came out, I turned to Deborah's comprehensive soup chapter for inspiration again and again. And when I got Local Flavors (2002) her simple seasonings and use of oils, citrus and vinegars, helped shape the flavors of local foods in my kitchen. Madison's newest book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts, is also a great kitchen reference that I will turn to again and again.

However, if you read this book before dozing off, you're likely to have sweet, delectable dreams.

I wanted to pick one of Deborah's recipes and write about it, but here's what happened. I had rhubarb on hand and after a quick glance at the recipes, I zeroed in on "Baked Rhubarb with Vanilla, Orange and Clove."

It was the vanilla that sucked me in. Here are the ingredients for Madison's recipe:

juice and zest of 1 orange
vanilla bean

The ingredients are combined and baked for 30 minutes, which Deborah says helps rhubarb maintain its shape.

I didn't feel like heating an oven just for a rhubarb dessert and I didn't have an orange, so I'd simmer instead of bake and add coconut milk to replace the orange. Here are my ingredients for the recipe:

4 cups rhubarb, washed cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
sugar, enough to sweeten (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
small can of coconut milk
2 vanilla beans
handful of dried North Star pie cherries

I slit the vanilla beans down the middle and simmered them in them for 5 minutes coconut milk and water (a can of milk, a can of water) to infuse the milk with vanilla. The delicate aroma of vanilla wafted through the kitchen as I added the sugar, rhubarb and pie cherries. The amount of sweetener depends on the cook, add what you like.

I simmered everything until rhubarb was soft. Some had fallen apart into a puree just like Deborah Madison had mentioned in her rhubarb information section. The flavors of vanilla, rhubarb and cherries mingling in a decadent coconut milk base--what's with the flavor of coconut? It's a good thing I really don't eat a lot of coconut milk much because I might seriously love it in everything.

I topped my dessert with coconut sorbet, because it just seemed right and I ate it warm--the tart tones of rhubarb, flavor of cherries and a blast of real vanilla tasted so good, I'm still dreaming about it. That's what you get when you go crazy and use two whole vanilla beans.

When I was finished I realized my rhubarb dessert wasn't exactly the trio of flavors of Madison's recipe, but like I said, her recipes inspire cooking in unexpected ways. And isn't that the true joy of cooking?

Who is your kitchen muse?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unique Farm Products from Rockridge Orchards

Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards has a reputation for bringing quirky crops and products to market. I've known Wade since 2005 and his unusual market offerings--bamboo shoots, hops, banana leaves, tea and his amazing line of cider, wine and vinegar--always keep me coming back for more. (I'm just sorry he didn't bring his hearty winter greens this year--I love the zippy, wake-up flavors of these.)

Anyway, last week I missed the market because of a writing retreat, so I was surprised when I read this blog about Rocksalmic vinegar. "Look what I missed in just a week!" I'd said to Tom. After reading the blog's post, I thought Wade was turning his Island grapes (a native Northwest variety) into balsamic vinegar since balsamic vinegar is made with gapes and the good stuff is aged in wooden barrels for years. But Wade's Rocksalmic vinegar, made with Washington apples, is even better than that.

I had two questions.

1. How did he make it?
Wade told me that fermented his traditionally made apple cider vinegar in French wooden casks for 7 years.

2. How could he keep the secret for so long?
One thing that plagues small-scale farmers is the need to move into unique markets so they can make top dollar for every product. (Every week it seems market manager Chris Curtis stops by and asks what's new.) When more farmers begin bringing similar products, sales fall off. Much as many people don't like to talk about it, farmers' have a bottom line that needs minding and farmers must think creatively to hold on to their sales and create their own trends. Farmers like writers must stand out in a crowd and get into the market ahead of other farmers, defining their farm brands.

Rocksalmic vinegar is the one in the skinny smaller bottle in the photo. It's the same size as Fini, one of my favorite balsamic vinegars (which looks deceptively larger in a short fat bottle with thick glass.) Marketing and packaging--people don't often realize the work that goes into that aspect of products.

Anyway, the price for the two, Fini and Rocksalmic, is about the same--$15.00 a bottle. While I was talking to Wade another farm vendor stopped and told Wade he should raise his price on his new vinegar. (Should farmers really encourage price gouging in front of market shoppers who may be in one or no-paycheck families these days?) But Wade is fair about his prices and knows $15.00 for high-quality vinegar is a fair price. Pricing products at the market fairly is one of the traits that I really appreciate about Wade Bennett.
Wade also brought some Sweet Strawberry wine and an awesome Blueberry Apple Cider vinegar. I couldn't resist any of these. I also got some of Wade's two varieties of rhubarb. The really red stalks are mild and the green stalk varieties are heirlooms with much more tartness. Seattle chefs are often the first to buy many of Wade's unique farm products, so be sure to look for Rockridge Orchards cider, wine, and exotic vinegars on high-end restaurant menus.

The asparagus wasn't from Wade but that is what Finn likes. And since everybody has their price for doing things, I offer asparagus and other fresh vegetables to Finn so he quickly hops on his bench and looks interested. Yes, that is his interested look.

These asparagus stalks came from Alm Hill Gardens. I thought about pairing asparagus and rhubarb because I have this fantastic recipe from Donna Weston, another forager who sells at the University District market. Then I remembered that Donna's asparagus-rhubarb recipe from my book also lists morels. These should appear at Found and Foraged or Wild Things (Donna's booth) any week now.
After giving Finn his obligatory asparagus stalk, Tom and I roasted the asparagus in olive oil at 325 for about 15 minutes, stirring it occasionally. Then we lightly sprinkled Fleur de Sel over the top, dusted with freshly ground pepper and drizzled Rocksalmic vinegar over it. That's the recipe, pure and simple. We both wanted more.

Finn gives asparagus and Rocksalmic vinegar four paws up. The vinegar could seriously be addicting. It's thick, slightly sweet and with the flavor of apples, yet it's reminiscent of the best balsamic vinegars with deep earthy tones vibrating and tingling. It's a truly unique farm market product and worth the price. You don't need much because it's so flavorful. If they offered awards for the most unique farm products, Wade would win every year. Wade you've done it again! Thank you!

What unique market products inspire your cooking?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Food Lust at Willie Greens Organic Farm

Sometimes an event sounds so inviting I dream up reasons for showing up. Food Lust at Willie Greens Organic Farm on June 5th, is one of those events.

By June 5th this is what the greens section at Willie Green's Organic Farm will look like. Farmers' lives can get crazy busy in June, so when my friend Devra suggested we visit a farm, Willie Greens was the farm I picked. I wanted to find out more about Food Lust and to see his farm.

I hadn't been to Jeff Miller's farm just outside of Monroe since I'd last updated his farm profile for my cookbook.

When I saw Jeff at the market recently, I asked how his farm was doing and he'd said, "It's unbelievable, Debra. The landscaping is amazing. You should come out and see it."

This is the fire pit that Jeff is building for farm weddings and receptions that can be held at his farm, starting this summer.

Jeff started Willie Green's Organic Farm about 14 years. He was once a professional chef working in 4 star restaurants in San Francisco. The story of how he became a Washington farmer fascinated me so I wrote about Willie Green's Organic Farm in my first book years ago. Then when I had updated his farm profile for the second edition and Jeff was so excited about his plans for a restaurant and bringing his farm-to-restaurant dream full-circle. I'd been wondering about the restaurant plan for some time.

Sadly his restaurant plans were out, due to unbelievably expensive building permits, raised foundation requirements because of flooding, which rarely happens in Monroe. There was also a requirement for 2 independent water sources. The rules and regulations concerning farmland are mind boggling and frustrating for farmers. But even in the mire of regulations farmers continually deal with, Jeff's optimism shines through the clouds.

"What can you do?" He shrugged.

Jeff bought a Raj tent and is now partnering with Herban Feast to host weddings and events at the farm. And Food Lust, is the first event on June 5. "Do you have your tickets yet?" he prodded.

I've never been to this event. For one thing the price tag for dinner $85.00, makes me pause because Tom has been unemployed since last fall and our budget has shrunk to the size of a small post-it note. Still, this annual auction event put on by Cascade Harvest Coalition supports a good cause. But as I consider the event, I imagine the flowers blooming, green fields and the scent of grilled vegetables with a hint of garlic wafts by as a breeze stirs. The sun is low in the sky and the fresh air feels delicious.

I'm thinking about taking part in Jeff's farm-to-fork dream come to life. I checked the menu and became intrigued by Crispy Quinoa Cakes, just another detail to add to my daydream. I didn't even get to the dessert option.

This event sounds truly delicious. I hope to see you there.

This pond was just a dry bed of rocks when I was here last. Jeff said it took three attempts to fill it with water. On warm summer days this must be paradise.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rhubarb: Everybody's Talking About It

The first rhubarb sighting has brought out the blog posts from one blogger to another and another. Even gardening bloggers are writing about it. By the way check out the gardening blog because it has an intriguing streudal that brings garden to table in a delicious way.

I didn't grow up with rhubarb; Mom never cooked with it, but in high school I discovered rhubarb when I worked at a pie shop and rhubarb pie was on the menu. I was sure rhubarb was something new and unique and was a little disappointed that it wasn't new, but it certainly was unique.

Rhubarb is vegetable classified as a fruit. The stalks are the only edible portion and the leaves are toxic, containing oxalic acid. Rhubarb leaves are toxic for dogs so it's best to grow rhubarb away from curious pets like my kitchen assistant. The sliced stems, like gooseberries, demand a bit of sugar to be palatable.

Washington rhubarb season is just beginning so I could only find rhubarb at Stoney Plains Organic Farm at the market. Only one vendor means the price will be high. It's $4.00 a pound now but that may come down as more farmers bring it to market. It's an easy plant to grow here, and starts go for $12.00, from Stoney Plains.

I admire market shoppers who load up on rhubarb, confidently piling it into baskets and bags. I'm challenged by rhubarb and I often ask what they're making. Last Saturday one woman with two full bags said she was making strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. "It's a James Beard recipe," she'd said. She also mentioned orange juice and zest. I imagined the three flavors wrapped around each other and tucked under a flaky crust.

In May, I'm making a Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp for a cooking class. I'd wanted to test this recipe but the problem is Washington strawberries are still a month away. Perhaps another fruit from my freezer would work.

Pie cherries and rhubarb intrigued me, so that's what I picked.
Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Crisp
Pie cherries and rhubarb--what an unbelievable flavor combination. I wanted to keep lingering over it for as long as I possibly could. My frozen pie cherries came from Mair Farm-Taki. I suggest if you want to try something really unbelievable this summer, try a dessert made with pie cherries and rhubarb. And why not add some lavender like my friend Kathy might do for hint of elegance.
Serves 4
3 cups pitted pie cherries
1 1/2 to 2 cups sliced rhubarb
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed culinary lavender buds
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1 cup unbleached flour or 1 1/2 cups Nash's Soft Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
2 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Combine the cherries, rhubarb, lavender buds, orange juice and arrowroot powder. Gently blend in a 2-quart casserole until well-combined.

2. Combine flour, oats, sugar and baking soda, mixing well. Cut butter into this mixture with a fork or pastry blender. Add maple syrup and mix well. This mixture will still feel a bit dry. Sprinkle it over the cherries and rhubarb. Pat down.

3. Bake for 50 minutes or until topping bubbles up and top is browned.

See his tail wagging. It's warm and he's sure he hit pay dirt with this one and I am so amazed at how perfect pie cherries and rhubarb taste together that I'm in food lust.

I'd hoped to have a dog party photo with Finn's sister (just adopted last month). I've been working with her on "Wait," but Finn wasn't having any of it. I didn't get why Chloe wouldn't join Finn on the bench when Tom said, "Your assistant is giving her the business."

Dogs don't care much about sharing the feast like we do and they really don't care who sees them behaving badly. Finn has quickly claimed both bowls as his. Imagine if people did this.

This is Chloe. She gets "Wait," but unlike Finn the poser, Chloe can't look at food directly without losing it. The drool, I mean. She's over the edge, a ton of drool lurks under that chin. One shake of her head and this fabulous dessert would seriously go to the dogs.