What month is it?

This week I came closer to being an official Californian. I finally transferred my car registration and got my California license plates. Better late than never! I attempted to get my California driver’s license, too, but I didn’t bring one essential piece of I.D. so I had to make a new appointment with the DMV in two weeks to complete the marathon. After that I can finally get other really important tasks out of the way such as my voter I.D. card and library card. There is a “tool” library here in Berkeley that I may not use until I get the my library card. I could use a leaf blower but I’m not buying one.

I’ve been amazed at the diverse local produce offerings so close to Thanksgiving Day. I picked up some pineapple guava (feijoas) and organic kiwi yesterday. Feijoas are a tropical fruit that is about the size of a kiwi but has a tart pineapple flavor with a mango-like texture and soft edible seeds. I made a fall fruit salad with (except the Costa Rican pineapple) fruit available now at the local farmers market including Asian pears, feijoas, kiwi and pomegranate seeds. What month is it, again?

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Last week I also picked up another Mystery Thursday vegetable box from Mariquita Farm, a mixed box of pastured pork cuts from Linda’s Tasty Pork and some wild-caught salmon fillets from her son who just got back from fishing in Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay. My freezer is filling up for winter and it makes me feel productive and prepared for winter. Although I’m wondering how prepared I’ll need to be if strawberries are available farmers market in November!

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The Mystery Thursday box from Mariquita Farm included:

  • Chard
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Red jalapenos
  • Leek
  • Arugula
  • Watercress
  • Kale
  • Eggplant
  • Chinese radishes
  • tomatoes
  • Green garlic

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At the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Downtown Berkeley, I picked up the following:

  • Feijoas
  • Broccolini
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Shittake mushrooms
  • Asian pears
  • Lettuce
  • Cilantro

This is what November produce looks like in northern California.

Thanksgiving 2014 – Giving Thanks and Thinking About Water

J and I visited the popular U-District Farmers Market in Seattle on Saturday to pick up the turkey I ordered in August from Skagit River Ranch. We’re nearing the end of the growing season for a lot of small farms around here, but I gathered most of the seasonal ingredients I wanted to round out a simple Thanksgiving dinner. Some of the farms, like Sol to Seed, were finishing up their market season on Saturday so I wanted to buy some extra storage items (i.e. onions, winter squash, dried beans) before farms took their winter break to prepare for seasonal floods. Just two days after visiting the farmers market, Sol to Seed posted a photo of flooding at their farm in the Snoqualmie Valley on their Facebook page. The flood season begins.

Last Thursday I attended the Focus on Farming conference at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds where I led a panel discussion about regional food hubs. The conference was smaller than in previous years but the depth of the presentations and speakers was immense, particularly on the topic of conservation, climate change and drought. Two highlights for me included a fascinating lunchtime keynote by Fred Kirschenmann (Leopold Center Distinguished Fellow and thought leader on sustainable agriculture and land ethics) and Chad Kruger, Director of the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources. Chad’s presentation introduced us to the Western Washington Climate Change Assessment. One of the toughest challenges predicted for our generation is water scarcity attributed to climate change. Evidence shows that there will be a significant increase in chronic droughts in the lower half of the United States within the next two decades. Droughts that will alter our current domestic agriculture production and thus alter distribution channels, food costs, etc. Although the pivot point of my work is to create market based solutions for agriculture businesses, climate change is ultimately why I work in local food systems.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we must work hard now to prepare our agriculture infrastructure (marketing, processing, warehousing, transportation) while we advocate for better and fairer environmental regulations to protect our natural resources and public health policies to ensure food access. We have to continue to make farming a more profitable venture for future farmers while at the same time increase the value of farmland and provide affordable access to farmland for future farmers. Agriculture has to prepare itself for inevitable future development as climate change refugees may likely overburden this region’s ability to produce food, water and shelter for all of its citizens.These shifts will exhaust the precious natural resources required for sustaining civilization as we know it. Northwest Washington was not prepared for the influx of people flocking to the region during the 1990’s tech boom, but we have to get serious about the challenges facing our foodshed and watershed in the not so distant future. Folks, there is a sense of urgency here.

If you want to learn more, here are a list of resources recommended by Fred Kirschenmann in his talk:

This year I am thankful for many things. I am a very lucky and blessed person.  For this post, I would like to say thanks to the farmers who feed me.
Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch.  She and her husband George raise pastured turkeys certified organic turkeys on their farm in Sedro-Woolley.  In fact, they supply most of the meat consumed in our home throughout the year. THANK YOU EIKO , GEORGE (and their daughter Nicole, too)!

Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch. She and her husband George raise pastured, certified organic turkeys on their farm in Sedro-Woolley. In fact, they supply most of the meat consumed in our home throughout the year. THANK YOU EIKO and GEORGE (and their daughter Nicole, too)!

Thank you Matt and Deanna of Sol to Seed Farm

Thank you Matt and Deanna of Sol to Seed Farm

Thank you Seattle Youth Garden Works / Seattle Tilth!

Thank you Seattle Youth Garden Works / Seattle Tilth

Thank you Tonnemaker Farms

Thank you Tonnemaker Farms

Cassius and Roxy can't wait for Thanksgiving

Cassius and Roxy can’t wait for Thanksgiving

Last thought here. I’ll be baking cornbread today while the turkey thaws. One of my favorite Thanksgiving foods is cornbread dressing. Last year, I compiled four family recipes for dressing from my mom, my sister Shawna and my cousin Janice. If you are looking for inspiration, check it out!

Recipe for “This Pizza”

Oh yeah. This Pizza. Skagit River Ranch uncured bacon, Yukon gold potato, and a mix of Gruyere and Cougar Gold cheeses with caramelized onions, garlic sautéed broccoli – all placed over a heavy cream base. Incredibly warm, rich and filling this pizza is best served with a green salad and an ice cold beverage. I was sipping a negroni cocktail while making it.

This Pizza

This Pizza

Pizza dough is very easy to make – it’s just flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water – but there are grab and go options for those who don’t want to bother with mixing dough at home. Mark Bittman has a reliable homemade dough recipe and local bakeries Grand Central Baking Co. and Essential Baking Co have reliably good pizza dough, as Whole Foods Market also sells pizza dough made with organic flour. Regardless of the origin of your dough, prepare your pizza dough hours before cooking to allow it to thaw and rise. There are gluten free options that would work really well, too. Check out this recipe at The Art of Gluten Free Baking.

Most of the fresh toppings I used were organic and sourced locally from farmers markets here in Seattle but can be found in most grocery stores that sell fresh foods. Gruyere cheese, cream and Yukon Gold potatoes can also be found at just about any grocery store these days. For those who live outside Washington state, you can order a tin of Cougar Gold Cheese and have it shipped. Skagit River Ranch bacon is available to locals only. While I believe that their bacon is far superior than anything I’ve ever tasted, you may substitute it with another uncured slab bacon or Canadian style uncured bacon. I strongly encourage sourcing your meat from local farms if possible. You’ll get a cleaner product and you’ll have the opportunity to learn how the animal was raised, slaughtered, etc. Farm direct meat is typically more expensive (because small farms are not subsidized by the government, you pay the real cost of production) but if you eat less meat in your overall diet, the quality of life will improve and the impact on your budget should balance out. I made This Pizza is a Friday night treat to celebrate the end of my summer vacation. Please don’t eat like this every day. It will kill you.

The recipe makes one 12 inch pizza and serves 4 adults (cut into 8 slices). I use a very worn 15 inch pizza stone to bake pizza but a regular cookie sheet can work just fine.

This Pizza

  • 1 prepared pizza dough (16 oz.)
  • 5 slices uncured Skagit River Ranch bacon
  • 1 large Yukon gold potato, boiled and sliced into wedges and lightly oiled and salted
  • 1/2 yellow or purple onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 5 broccoli spears, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 lb. Cougar Gold cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream (I used Organic Valley)

Preheat your oven to 500 F.

In large frying pan or saute pan, fry the bacon on medium heat until cooked through but not too brown. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside. Add the onion slices to the pan with the reserved bacon grease and saute on medium heat until caramelized. Transfer onions to a small bowl and set aside. In the same pan, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil and then add the sliced broccoli spears, a pinch of salt, red pepper flakes and minced garlic. Saute on medium heat until the broccoli begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Grate the cheeses using a food processor or cheese grater. Mix with your hand to combine and set aside. Arrange all of the toppings in a central work area in your kitchen where you will assemble your pizza.  This is your mis en place of boiled sliced potato, sauteed broccoli, caramelized onion, cooked bacon strips, shredded cheese and cream.)

Assuming you have prepared your dough according to instructions, it’s time to roll it out. On a hard flat surface (a wooden pastry cutting board works great), roll out your dough with a rolling pin or flatten using your hands. Once the dough is flattened out to about 15 inches round (or rectangle if using a cookie sheet), fold the dough in half, and then fold in half again and then transfer it to your pizza stone or cookie sheet. Unfold the dough carefully, pinching together any holes that may have been created during transfer. Use your rolling pin or hands to flatten again and reshape.

Now the fun part!  Assemble This Pizza.

Pour the cream into the center of the raw crust and then smear it thoroughly using the back of the spoon to coat. This is your base. Next sprinkle the cheese mixture to thoroughly cover the crust. Then place the salted oiled potato wedges in a spiral or circle around the pizza. Then sprinkle the caramelized onions over the top of the potatoes. Place the bacon strips on the pizza in the shape of a tire spoke. Lastly sprinkle the sauteed broccoli and remaining bits of garlic and red pepper flakes left in the pan, over the top. Finish the pizza preparation by pulling in about one inch of dough around the whole pizza to create an edge. This edge makes the pizza easy to handle for eating out of hand, and also helps prevent cheese leakage while cooking. This Pizza is not a very wet pizza so this last step is not required.

Using pot holders on both hands, place the raw pizza in the center of the hot oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Turn down the heat to 350 F and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the edges are dark golden brown and the broccoli and bacon are singed but not too burnt.  Carefully remove from the oven and set aside on a bread board or the pizza stone foundation.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes to cool and set before slicing. Slice with a sharp pizza cutter and serve warm.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

Farmers Market Finds: Best of the Summer Season

Yesterday I visited the Ballard Farmers Market to collect fresh groceries after returning from a weeklong visit to Texas. Last week was also National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 3-9) and the Farmers Market Coalition created this clever infographic showing the ways farmers market contribute to a healthy, local food economy. In my view August is the most exciting month to witness the diversity of summer produce from Washington state. With my lengthy shopping list in hand, here is what I ended up buying:

Cassius and Roxy stand with this week's farmers market finds.

Cassius and Roxy stand with this week’s farmers market finds.

Growing Things Farm (Carnation, WA)

  • Scallions
  • Squash Blossoms
  • Green Beans

Alvarez Organic Farm (Mabton, WA)

  • Peppers (padron, poblano chile and sweet yellow)
  • Sweet Corn
  • Watermelon
  • Eggplant

Gaia’s Harmony Farm (Snohomish, WA)

  • Raspberries

Collins Family Orchard (Selah, WA)

  • Peaches

Skagit River Ranch (Sedro-Woolley, WA)

  • Uncured Bacon

Stokesberry Farm (Olympia, WA)

  • Chicken Eggs

Marcel at Collins Family Orchard said this year’s peach harvest is the best it’s been in a long time, so I bought 12 pounds with no plan in mind. These are truly spectacular peaches. Some will be enjoyed out of hand, some will go into a fruit tart or pie, and the rest will be sliced and frozen. I’m glad I have another week of vacation to put them up!

This morning I made squash blossom and onion frittata and bacon for breakfast. This is similar to the quiche recipe I posted in 2010. This week’s meals will primarily be vegetarian in order to enjoy this seasonal harvest at it’s best. I’m really looking forward to sitting outside with a big, cold slice of watermelon.

It’s pretty hot in Seattle this week, so my homegrown tomatoes are finally bearing fruit. They’re sweet like candy.

Homegrown tomatoes picked yesterday

Homegrown tomatoes picked yesterday

 

I’m thankful to live near such an abundant food growing region. My life’s work is to help preserve farming close to home so that future generations can enjoy it. Wherever you live, go out and search for good food like this at your local farmers market. Support your local farms and enjoy.

CSA Week 17: Braised Cabbage with Cider

I was wrong. This is not the last week of Sol to Seed Farm’s 2013 CSA season. My CSA related postings will end next week. Here’s what I picked up today:

Cassius and Roxy are in disbelief about the tomatoes in this week's share.

Cassius and Roxy are in disbelief about the tomatoes in this week’s share.

 

  • Winter Squash (Buttercup (kabocha) and Butternut)
  • Bosc Pears
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Red Cabbage
  • Tomatoes (yes, tomatoes in October!)
  • Collards
  • Parsley
  • …and a free loaf of Multigrain Wheat Bread from Grand Central Baking Co.

I like this recipe for braised cabbage with cider. It’s based on Alton Brown’s recipe that I found online a few weeks ago. I barely tasted the caraway seeds so I suppose they can be an optional ingredient if you can’t find them. I added about a 1/4 of an onion in with the apples during the saute plus a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the braising liquid. This is a great side dish to pork chops or sausages.

Braised Cabbage with Cider
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and cubed (Granny Smith or any tart baking apple)
  • 1 pint unfiltered apple juice
  • 1/4 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4-teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 head of red cabbage, shredded
Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the apple and onion to the pan and cook until lightly browned. Increase the heat to high and add the apple juice, caraway seeds, salt, pepper and cabbage to the pan. Cover the pan and shake to toss the cabbage to coat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes.
Braised Cabbage with Cider and a Pork Chop with parsley garlic butter.

Braised cabbage with cider and a pork chop with a compound butter made with black mustard seed garlic and parsley.

CSA Week 16: Holy Trinity of Cajun Cooking

Cassius and Roxy with this week's CSA share.

Cassius and Roxy with this week’s CSA share.

It’s week sixteen (not 17 as I originally posted) of my Sol to Seed Farm CSA share, and in TWO weeks we’re done for the season.  I’m getting quite a nice collection of winter squash that I’m using as fall ornaments until I’m ready to cook them. This week’s box included:

Winter Squash
– Thelma Sanders Acorn
– Gold Nugget
Carrots
Onions
Potatoes
Red Russian Kale
Peppers
and a free Semolina Baguette from Grand Central Baking Co.
 

It’s been one week since I returned from a short trip to New Mexico where I ate my fill of Northern New Mexican food: green chile rellenos, sopapillas, rice and beans.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, I was craving the flavors of Louisiana, on the opposite side of Texas from New Mexico.  I had a green bell pepper left over from a previous CSA share and plenty of onions so I had 2 of the 3 ingredients for Louisiana’s “Holy Trinity” – a mixture of sauteed onions, bell peppers and celery – the base for many savory Cajun dishes such as Gumbo and Jambalaya. I had some chorizo from Link Lab Artisan Meats in the freezer but no tasso or andouille sausage, so I made a simple sausage and rice dish and it was delicious and satisfying.  This recipe isn’t authentic, but it satisfied a craving nonetheless. It was simple and quick to make using several ingredients from my CSA share and other pantry staples.  Nothing fancy here- this is just a good weeknight meal.

Cajun-Inspired Sausage and Rice

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 Bell or sweet peppers (green or yellow), halved, seeded, cored and diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. sausage (links or bulk) preferably andouille, tasso or chorizo ( I use Link Lab because they source humanely raised meats from local farms and maintain a small scale, very high quality, USDA inspected facility)
  • 1 cup white long grain rice
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sea salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Louisiana hot sauce such as Crystal, Red Devil or Tabasco

Heat oil in a large saute pan and add the sausage. Break up the links (if using) with the side of your spoon and keep moving the meat around the pan and cook until browned with some caramelization. Transfer the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Add the onions to the pan with the remaining oil and fry for about a minute until translucent. Then add the celery, peppers, garlic and carrots and stir to keep the ingredients from burning and cook until fork tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add the rice then stir to coat and slightly toast the grains. Add the thyme, bay leaf and cayenne pepper and the reserved sausage. Then add the broth, stir once and bring to a boil before lowering the heat and covering for about 25 minutes. Be careful not to scorch the rice.

Fluff the rice with a fork and taste for seasoning before adding salt and plenty of ground black pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the finished dish and stir to incorporate for color and serve with a green salad.  Be sure to keep some good quality Louisiana hot pepper sauce on hand for an extra piquant flavor.

Honestly, I’ve been craving Cajun and Creole food ever since my favorite food truck purveyor Matthew Lewis opened Where Ya At Matt?  He has delayed the opening of his new Restaurant Roux all year. Originally it was set to open last spring, then it was August and now it’s set to open this month and we’re still waiting…tick-tock.  I also follow food news from Poppy Tooker who just published her new book Louisiana Eats! Poppy has been on the talk show circuit doing cooking demos and making America drool. Enjoy!

CSA Week 15: Winter Squash

Last Wednesday I collected my fifteenth (not 16- apparently I lost count when I went out of town) Sol to Seed Farm CSA share from Grand Central Baking Co the day before leaving for a trip to see family and friends in New Mexico. That also meant that I didn’t cook at home until Sunday. Since then, I have roasted and stored the sweet peppers and am making a green chili stew with the remaining chilies, potatoes, onions and tomatillos. Instead of making kimchi, I may end up using the Napa in a quick stir-fry. Last week’s box included:

Potatoes – 2.5/lbs
Winter Squash – Red Kuri (kabocha)
Beets
Tomatillos – 1/lb
Onions
More Peppers!
– hot mix
– sweet mix
Napa Cabbage
…and a free loaf of Goldendale Wheat Bread
The dogs enduring a quick photo shoot before I head to the airport

The dogs enduring a quick photo shoot before I head to the airport

Correctly preparing and storing whole winter squash is misunderstood by even experienced cooks. Last year, a local hospital that I help with local food procurement (through the Farm to Table program), had to discard twenty large bags of raw, cubed winter squash because they missed the critical step of cooking it before freezing. Compared to summer squash, winter squash is tough on the outside to protect it from the elements, while the starchy interior “flesh” cells are weak. Freezing raw squash results in messy and inedible sludge when thawed, but summer squash can be frozen raw successfully. Always remember to bake or steam winter squash before freezing. The thawed pulp can be added to soups, pasta, baked goods and casseroles later.

If you plan to eat the squash this season, you’ll be pleased to know that winter squash keeps very well uncut, as long as it’s stored in a cool, dry environment. I’ve saved a few small pumpkins last year — Acorn and Delicata squash — for months unrefrigerated on my counter. Most winter squash have a very tough peel which make it difficult to cut, so please always use a very sharp knife and be very careful. Some varieties of winter squash have very thin (but still tough to cut raw) but edible peels, such as last week’s Delicata and Sugar Dumpling. For these squash varieties, it’s not necessary to peel the squash before cooking and eating. While there are recipes that call for raw winter squash, I am not a fan. I prefer winter squash roasted or braised.

Farmer Matt explained a little bit about the red kuri squash in his weekly email to CSA subscribers:

“The red kuri winter squash is typically thought of as a Japanese squash similar to kabocha, although not actually a kabocha – it is often referred to as hokkaido squash. They have an incredibly full, sweet flavor and the flesh is very dry. They are THE BEST soup squash in our humble opinion, however, are also wonderful when baked like a traditional table squash (salt, pepper and butter).”

A few nights ago I roasted the Sugar Dumpling squash from last week’s box and ate it as a side dish to pan-fried grass-fed, organic steak from Skagit River Ranch.  Again, the recipes I choose to share with readers on this blog are meant to be very simple and quick to prepare, so that cooks of all levels can feel comfortable executing for weeknight meals without a lot of fuss. Generally winter squash is high in carbohydrates so if you are adhering to a low-carb/low-sugar diet, you should eat sparingly. Winter squash is also high in Vitamin A and C, which the body needs a lot of in the winter time.

Roasted Sugar Dumpling Squash

Roasted Sugar Dumpling Squash

Cumin-Scented Sugar Dumpling (can also use Delicata the same way)

  • 1 Sugar Dumpling squash, cut in half, seeds removed and sliced in 1/2 inch wedges
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Arrange squash slices on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the slices then sprinkle the seasonings before tossing with clean hands to coat. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until browned but not burnt.  Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl.

Two more weeks of this year’s CSA!