And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Life. That’s what has happened for the past 4 months.  Busy-ness. That’s how we roll in Port Townsend.  Fundraisers, dance parties, fundraiser dance parties, volunteer projects, short-term house-sitting jobs, restaurant work, complaining about the weather and trying to sneak a or two into the mix are all some of the excuses I’ve used to neglect this portion of my life.  Those, and the fact that there isn’t really a portion of my life that is farming right now (which was the original purpose of this blog.)  But I’ve been doing plenty of gardening, personal and community, and finally feel rested and ready to reinstate relating to you my reflections on different representations of farming.

This is my community garden.

This is what two straight weeks of sunshine will do for any garden in the Pacific Northwest

Known as Wayward Farm Community Garden, it is one of more than 25 community gardens that have emerged in Port Townsend’s community at large of 8,000.  In the past few years the initiative to create community food security (mainly influenced by this grassroots collective) has simultaneously raised people’s awareness about what a secure food economy and community looks like (thus, all the community gardens and the surge of support the Jefferson County Farmer’s Market has seen the past few years) and raised the bar on relationships between the growers and the eaters (our market was voted the Best Farmers’ Market in Washington state!)

Statistics show that Jefferson County is the county with the highest percentage of its food dollars going to local food.  Folks, that number is a resounding 4%.  Of all the counties in Washington state, none are spending more than 4% of their food-buying power to support local growers and cottage-industry entrepreneurs.

Scarlet runner beans; food and beauty

Now one caveat to take into consideration (especially in Port Townsend)

Blackberries and Scarlet Runners grow towards one another's trellises to create a tunnel

is the amount of community gardens, where money isn’t being used to buy food to eat, but rather to purchase seed, fertilizer and tools to grow our own food.  Those are dollars not accounted for that contribute just as much – if not more – to local food security.  Having an abundance of small farmers and local food producers is a great thing to support, but taking the growing power into your own hands, working your own plot of soil and harvesting a bounty you helped to create, that’s the definition of securing your own food.

And even with the year we’ve had here in the northwest corner of the country (until about two weeks ago our temperatures were topping out in the low 60’s and it has been recognized that this has been the chilliest, wettest year on record since weather records have been kept starting in the 1950’s!) the production capabilities of the earth here are bountiful.

Did you know that lettuce is a cut-and-come-again crop? The heads on the left were harvested last week and are re-growing their leaves.

Eating locally means kale, broccoli, peas, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, arugula, cilantro, lettuce, Asian greens, Swiss chard, potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, string beans, onions, garlic, strawberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, spinach, zucchini, raspberries, orach, cabbage, plums, apples, pears, celery, salad burnet, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, chives, artichokes, and even grains like spelt, triticale, rye, wheat and quinoa.  It also means raw Jersey milk (legal for sale in Washington), artisan cow and goat cheese, pastured lamb and beef, free-range chicken and ducks (and their eggs), beet, carrot and cucumber pickles, jam, hard cider and wine.  (If you have a greenhouse, or a cold frame for starts, it can also mean tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.)

I got lucky and found myself in a community garden that has been taken care of by its members. They have amended the soil, compost religiously, established some wonderful

Triple-bin compost system, some mulch and 'finished' manure

rows of perennial fruits (raspberries, strawberries, currants, blueberries and thornless blackberries) and play well together.  We consist of a landscaper, a dental assistant, a home-designing consultant, a computer whiz, a fiber artist, a full-time mom and her insect- and dump truck-loving 6 year old, a couple of retirees, a rowing club member and me.  Since we began turning under the winter cover crops back in April, we have seen at least 2 sowings come to bear in each of the 7 beds dedicated to annual veggies, with a third promising time to harvest before winter cover crops will again be sown.

We work together on Sunday afternoons and often bump into each other during the week as we stop by to harvest our suppers.  We have potlucked together a few times and some of us have found common interests bringing us together outside the parameters of the garden.  But mostly we all know that our reasons for joining a community garden, whether for human interaction, to learn about growing food, to celebrate good food or just to have a chance to work outside for a while, unite us when we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.

Calendula; a hardy annual, reseeds itself and proliferates when dead-headed

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SOLE Food Meets Soul Food: Hashbrowns

Growing up, hashbrowns equated to tater tots for me.  Specifically that bag out of the freezer from which we’d spill a good layer onto a cookie sheet and warm in the oven til they acquired a decent tan at which point they would accompany such meals as sloppy-joes, breakfast-for-supper or fish.  I don’t think I even had a hashbrown proper until some time in my teens – that is, if McDonald’s serves a ‘proper’ anything.  In fact, it may be that hash browns are a by-product of the popular French-fry; when the potatoes go through the fry-slicer, the little shredded bits and odds and ends need somewhere to go to.  We always just had our potatoes mashed (well ok, and as flakes out of a box for the most part), in fact, I don’t particularly love potatoes. 

I think potatoes are a great and reliable crop to plant and cultivate, it’s fascinating that there are over 4,000 different varities from all around the world, and one of the best dishes I’ve had as a dinner guest was a pan of olive oil and rosemary new potatoes.  Other than that, I could pretty much take them or leave them (sweet potatoes are an entirely different story – both for flavor reasons and the fact that they aren’t even remotely related.)

So where did this craving for hashbrowns come from?  Actually, from the fact that I had both a rutabaga (from Red Dog Farm – 4 miles away) and some Jerusalem artichokes (Nash’s Organic Produce – 30 miles away) waiting for me in the fridge.  Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) are usually compared to potatoes when being explained to people unfamiliar with this indigenous food, but that really doesn’t do justice to the ‘choke; they’re much more like a water chestnut when raw, crunchy and thin-skinned, and when cooked gain a sweetness and intensity of flavor that comes forward in a meal, rather than play a creamy but supporting role like potatoes do.  Not overpowering, but not demure either. Plus, because they’re a native food to our country, they are adapted to the climates nationwide and are one of the best foods to rely on during the winter – they can last all winter underground and are usually one of the only remaining fresh foods in the early spring when crops are being sown and last year’s food stock is becoming depleted.

Rutabagas, being in the brassica family, have a taste similar to cabbage and a texture similar to sauerkraut when shredded. They’re in season right now and are a good root vegetable to last you the winter, either in the ground covered with mulch, or root-cellared. Why not shred both together and create a neo-hashbrown? 

This was so quick to make – the longest part being grating by hand the two veggies.  They browned nicely and still maintained a pleasant crispy-ness while the flavor of the rutabaga really melded well with the eggs.  After offering a taste to my housemates, our minds immediately went to omelettes (of course made with the local eggs we get every week from Spring Rain Farm – 4 miles away); beside, or even in which they’d be wonderful.

Sounds a bit odd ball, but try it – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Neo Hash Browns
1 medium rutabaga
2 small or 1 medium Jerusalem artichoke
2 eggs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Grate/shred the veggies, beat 2 eggs and mix in along with salt and pepper for flavor.  Melt half the butter in a cast iron skillet.  When hot enough to sizzle a dash of water, scoop in half the mix and press into a pancake form to cover the bottom of the skillet.  Let cook for a good 5 minutes on one side before flipping in pieces to brown the other side, which will need about 2-3 minutes of cooking.  Fold onto a plate and melt the remaining butter and cook the rest of the hash browns.

Though the butter wasn’t local, it was organic and from a co-oped organization of farmers; with the eggs being from chickens I’ve helped raise, water, feed and house and the veggies coming from the farmer’s market, soul food can (and by definition should!) be SOLE food.

She Eats Seaweed by the Seashore

My family loves seafood. My father especially. Loves shrimp, scallops, any kind of fish, crab meat, lobster, and he really likes to compare clam chowders (vastly different dishes from New England to the Outer Banks.)  One of his favorite restaurant’s in town is so because they have all-you-can-eat oyster specials on Monday and Tuesday nights.  He also loves to fish and spend time at the family’s new beach house on Ocracoke Island.

Growing up, I remember not really liking the meals we had that consisted of shrimp and scallops at home.  And I didn’t really like the crab legs I would order at Joe’s Crab Shack or any of the other generic something-or-other-Bay seafood restaurants that were a favorite for Sunday lunches after church got out.  I really just went for the hushpuppies and the fun plastic bib and shell-crackers.  It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 years old that I realized the reason I didn’t like those meals was because I have an allergy to shellfish.  They make my mouth and throat itch incessantly for the rest of the day and night.  I don’t break out in hives and my passageways don’t close up on me, my mouth just annoyingly itches and I take to clicking my tongue in a way against the roof of my mouth that renders it similar to hard plastic by the end of the day.

I remember it took my Dad awhile to accept this.  He loves to share food and fellowship over food.  He loves being able to share things and common interests with my sister and me and I remember him asking if I didn’t just want to try some of his shrimp, or try a bite of the crab cake.  But once I finally sat down and explained to him that I thought I might be allergic to a component in the shellfish – iodine perhaps – and that it bothered my mouth every time, he accepted it.

It must have been an even harder blow a few years later when I declared I would never, ever eat fish again.  On a trip to Ocracoke he had caught some flounder and prepared it at the house for us for supper.  After 2 bites my mouth was filled with tiny little shards of jagged (if pliable) fish bones and I was completely taken aback and disgusted.  At that point in my life I must have been used to Long John Silver’s fish platters (where for me it was more about the cracklins of breadcrumbs at the bottom of the kid’s meal bag) or something. *Important note: to my memory my mother never served us those horror of horrors called Frozen Fish Sticks. Thank you, Mother.

So for a few years I went without eating any seafood whatsoever.  It must have been about the time that I became a vegetarian and donned fish an appropriate protein alternative, namely the very trendy wild caught Alaskan salmon that I began thinking of ordering fish again.  And it must have been about that time that my family discovered sushi.  My dad had been frequenting sushi restaurants some when he would go on business trips, and for heaven’s sake Asheville has some amazing sushi establishments.  It was even a place my sister (one of the world’s pickiest eaters) consented to going – now she’s a sashimi fiend.  My mom isn’t terribly fond of sushi itself, but she can usually find a nice rice dish or pad Thai for her meal.  But above all, the thing my dad and I like most is the seaweed salad that’s offered on the appetizer menu. 

I’ve never heard of my dad having food cravings, he doesn’t have an unusually large or active sweet tooth, he likes his meat and he’s been known to put away some good amounts of salt ‘n buttered popcorn.  But when dad wants seaweed salad, our family’s going out for sushi.

It’s a wonderful blend of sour, sweet, salty, green and meaty.  The fusion of rice vinegar, a tad pinch of sugar, some sesame seeds and the natural salty bitterness of the streaks of wakame itself (the most common type used in seaweed salads) lends itself to a deeply satisfying – if deeply stuck in between your teeth – dish.  I’ve made recipes of it at home, and they’ve been good, but we still prefer to go to a restaurant to get our seaweed salad fix.  It’s a great, healthy, tasty food item we can share together.  Many of my date nights with my father have been to the various sushi restaurants around town.

So I’m sure my dad would be very interested to hear about the latest wild forage on my travels.  Walking down the farmer’s market street last foggy, Saturday morning I came across what looked like branched-out horsetail sitting in a display basket.  When I inquired, the vendor told me it was Samphire, or more appropriately, Salicornia virginica; sea asparagus.  It’s wild-harvested off the coast of Vancouver Island, BC and in the surrounding waters (aka, here in Puget Sound.)  I bought about 1/4 lb worth (about 2 grabs of the hand) to take home and try my hand at it.

Market purchases. The Samphire is between the loaf of bread and the sweet corn

It’s a thick, vibrant green seaweed with stalks about 4 inches long and 1/4 inch thick in diameter, hence the tributary name to its landlocked cousin.  I’m told by the ether behind my laptop screen that it’s normally served in ‘fine dining establishments as an alternative to green vegetables, either fresh or sautéed.’  Also, that it pairs well with butter and garlic (um, what doesn’t?)  Nonetheless, Dad, this is not your normal seaweed salad.

It keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, I had it stored in the crisper for about 4 days before I pulled it out and plopped it into the steamer basket and let it go for about 20 minutes; it’s awfully salty and this is recommended in all the recipes I found for it.  Next I matchstick-ed some carrots and tossed them into the basket for about 8 minutes so they could get softened up a bit and meanwhile whipped up a dressing consisting of Dijon mustard, some rice vinegar, a HUGE clove of (local) garlic, some Bragg’s Amino Acids, a dollop of honey and some olive oil.  This I spooned over the (rinsed) seaweed and carrots in a bowl and immediately put the bowl into the fridge to chill the salad.

It was a great, meaty textured side dish and the only things I would have done differently were using not quite so large of a clove of garlic, and adding some toasted sesame seeds to the veggies. And with nary a sliver stuck between my teeth.

Now, how to get northwest Samphire seaweed to a southeast seafood aficionado of a father?

A Very Bay Day

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for berry season!

Yesterday I took a break from the farm (Highwater Farm) here in Mount Vernon to drive up to Bellingham for the day; a coastal town known for its progressive energy, local-centeredness and bike-friendly streets (I believe Bellingham was actually named most bike-friendly city in the US?)  It’s Saturday market – The Bellingham Depot Market – is by far the most hustling and bustling I’ve seen yet. 

The colors of summer

On a breezy, sun-soaked Saturday I found myself down by the bay amidst produce, textiles, flowers, garden art, hot food kiosks, herbal soaps and creams, specialty tea-blends, bakers, massage booths,  multiple buskers, and a healing henna tent.  Most all of the market was sheltered under permanent awning structures (much like the ones just outside of the Grove Arcade, for all my Asheville readers) except for one semi-indoor area with garage-type walls and windows and the 6 or 7 vendors with EZ-Ups.  And the entire market is run off of the solar panels beaming on the roof of the enclosed area and one of the awnings.

Interestingly, it doesn’t open until 10 in the morning, and goes until 3pm.  I guess with the amount of shaded space it provides, and the cool breeze the bay offers, the fruits and veggies can stand to show off (and survive wilt) a little later in the day.

Did you know that the original carrots were purple?

And there were some shows off! Just check out these tomatoes, yes tomatoes!

Striped Romans

And the Romanescu – what happens when a broccoli and a cauliflower get together.

I made my way through 2 chai tea samples, one (gluten-free, vegan, maple-sweetened) raspberry loaf slice, and samples of bison sausage, cinnamon-roasted almonds, fresh hazelnuts, beef jerky, Rainier cherries, pluot, and white peach before feeling the rumbles that told me it was lunch time.

Who wouldn't want to put money in this parking meter?

And now I know why Ethiopian food was voted Asheville’s most needed ethnic cuisine.  A seemingly simple dish of lentils, beets, carrots and cabbage was served forth on a injera-lined plate to take my senses to elevated and melodious heights.  The earthiness of the carrots and beets, the sweet-and-harsh of the cabbage, the nutty spiciness of the lentils and sweet-hot of the jalapeno chutney all married together in creamy matrimony with the underlying sourness of the injera to envelope it.  It goes down like a dream (and a finger on a recipe index.)

Injera is a traditional bread of Ethiopian food culture.  It’s made of fermented teff flour  (I’ve also heard sorghum flour) an African-native grain, and is thin and very spongy.  It’s supposed to be used in place of utensils to scoop the meal, it is placed underneath stews and signals the end of the meal once it’s eaten.
A mix-n-match fruit bag of cherries and pluots rounded out the market experience, and I pedaled off for a bayside scene and a quick West Coast dip before heading into town to experience………

…..the best creamy, vegan coconut ice cream I’ve ever had.  At one Mallard Ice Cream (Bellingham’s famous little shop of flavors; think curry, lemongrass and thyme, hibiscus-mint and you’re almost there) a scoop of Creatively Conceived and Concocted Coconut Cinnamon Spice Ice. Truly necessary for a full taste of Bellingham.

You can't not lick the bowl when it's creamy, vegan coconut ice cream!

The Fruit Basket of BC

The other day me and the other farm gals hopped in the car to make the 2 hour drive to a friend’s orchard for black cherry picking.  Hundreds of trees (plums, apples, peaches, pears and cherries) graced the gently sloping hillside just back of said friend’s produce stand/market in Kelowna, BC.

Picking buckets in tow (strapped to belts hanging over the shoulder or from the waist makes it easy to pick any small fruit/berry as it frees up both hands) we were given directions to strip the trees as much as we could and take as much as we wanted.

Coco - one of the other farm gals

70lbs of  cherries later (plus 5lbs of sour cherries for a pie) we headed back up to the stand and were told we could pay whatever we thought fair, something less than $2/lb was all the suggestion we got.  So emptying our collective pocket of $60 we transfered the fruit to the lugs we brought from the farm with visions of pies, jams, dried cherries and infused drinks dancing in our heads.

British Columbia has one of the longest and most reputable sweet cherry breeding programs around.  Van, the variety we picked, was introduced in 1944 at a station in Summerland BC, which has produced 22 other varieties as well, some for earlier ripening, some self-fertile (meaning you don’t have to buy 2 of the same variety of tree just to get cherries to fruit) some for later-frost hardiness.  The Van cherries are deep red, full-season cherries that can cross-pollinate lots of other varieties and since the trees themselves produce such a heavy abundance of fruit, each cherry is just a bit smaller than other trees that put all their efforts into bigger, but less cherries.

Pitted perfection!

Since they’ve come home with us, some have already been freezer jammed with Pomona’s Universal Pectin (a unique type of natural pectin that has you use calcium water to help in the setting which makes it possible for you to use less sugar or honey in the recipe, check it out!) some have been pitted and frozen and some have made it to the dehydrator.  I’m promised pie tomorrow by one other pie-smart farm gal and my share will be acompanying me in dried state for ease of toting around.

Missoula Mornin

And so my Montana expedition ends with the Missoula Farmers Markets.  That’s right, Markets.  Missoula boasts 3 Farmers Markets on Saturday mornings; all downtown, all within walking distance; each a little different.

The northern-most is a display of all produce vendors, with a few jams and jellies and a coffee kiosk thrown into the mix.  Radishes, baby carrots, rhubarb, cucumbers, lettuce, bok choy, napa cabbage, flowers, morels, tomato starts and a new and fascinating lettuce cultivar (to me, that is) known as Chinese Long Sword.  It is like a mix between celery and lettuce (alternatively known as “Celtuse“) and is traditionally eaten both raw and cooked.  It’s long stem would appear to be a bolted surrender, but the plant is naturally allowed to shoot up, the slender leaves (which resemble sword leaves) are harvested and then the stem itself is cut off near the base (much like harvesting asparagus) and, while super bitter to the raw taste, was very satisfying when sauteed a bit in olive oil and salt last night with my supper; I might try it in a pilaf next time to get a water chestnut-type crunch. 

If nothing else, it’s a great demonstration of utilizing the whole plant and stepping outside our comfort zone with a “new” food.  Some other things I recommend trying are the small green tops of thinned beets as a salad, any member of the Brassica family’s flowering tops, or the side leaves on the stem of a flower of broccoli.  And why not eat the side and top greens of the Brussel’s sprout plant?   Though one should find out about any possible toxicity of certain plants’ parts; carrot tops can be toxic as are the leaves of rhubarb or the leaves and stems of tomato plants.

A stone’s throw from the produce market, is the hustling and bustling market of the crafts people.  Handmade hats, baby booties, jewelry, wallets, recycled T-shirt skirts, wallets and fiber arts are all on display for 2 full city blocks and then some.  Along with a coffee kiosk and breakfast burrito/lemonade stand customers can re-fuel and continue strolling through and perhaps decide to visit the river market.

It is here that the music is lively, the crowd is jubilant and the vendors are calling out to you with samples galore.  Being more of a value-added market with things like curried-walnut-pesto, baked goods, flower pot arrangements, homemade sausages and mustard and organic soap and beauty products this is definitely the most busy crowd of the 3.  Once a month the Missoula Public Library even rents a booth and brings down an assortment of garden, cooking, health, activist, food politics and children’s books along with their computer system on laptops so that people can check out books from the library at the market! I LOVE this idea!  And their check-out timeline runs every 4 weeks, so that you can return your books either at the library or at the booth the next month when they’re back at the market.

In case it’s any question which market is my favorite, I also include a parting picture of the crowd of families, individuals, youngsters and oldie goldies eating together, hula-hooping, reading and relaxing in the green area between the market and the Clark Fork River.  A great way to spend your Saturday mornings supporting small farmers and businesses, eating locally and socializing with your fellow Missoulians.