It’s That Time Again

Seed Dreams

 

Stay tuned for more terroir tracing in the days and weeks to come.  But for now, you should know a few things:

-Strawberries get SO HAPPY when you thin them every year
-It’s good to know people in a position of power when it comes to soil.  Free soil.  Like all the free soil I could bucket up and load in the back of my car.
-The first red buds are popping and the first rhubarb leaves are beginning to unfurl.
-The first home-grown salad of the year is eaten! (arugula+upland cress+baby carrots+homemade mayonnaise).

Thanks to everyone for sticking around during my absence.  Y’all should also know that Ethiopia hasn’t been as easy to attain as originally thought.  It’s still part of the plan.  It’s just going to take a bit more creativity, patience and agricultural equipping.  All of which I am totally OK with. Excited about, even.

So happy almost-Spring!

Advertisements

Ethiopian Terroir

The table is set for 17. The 24-month-old Southeast Indian baby wears a traditional African dress.  Mom and daughters have been cooking all afternoon.  Father and boys have been preparing the house and dining room, including fitting all twelve leaves onto the table.  I have just been through an 80’s music video marathon on YouTube and Boy George’s lyrics, “Lovin would be easy if your colors were like my dreams: red, gold and green, red, gold and green” are revolving around in my head as I seat myself before the Ethiopian flag-colored table runner.  Each end of the table is laden with flat wicker baskets piled high with rolls of injera, Ethiopia’s signature fermented flatbread, normally made out of teff flour.  No utensils are present, because we were all born with them at the end of our arms (this is where the injera comes in, you fold it and use it to scoop and sop up the stews, meats and veggies.

The night’s table is represented by Washington, California, North Carolina, Turkey, Yemen, India, New Zealand and of course, Ethiopia.  But this is just a typical evening meal for the Little’s, one of Port Townsend’s most prominent families.  They have been the recipients of 5 biological children, 9 adopted children (from Taiwan, Ethiopia, and India) with dozens more foster children moving through as well.

We begin the evening with a hand-held prayer then everyone begins to grab rolls of injera, laying them out flat on their plates before beginning to load up on all of the 8 different traditional dishes that have been prepared.  First there is the fit-fit, a cold salad of cucumber, tomato and pieces of injera (this is often served for breakfast in the country.)  Gomen is a dish of greens simmered down in garlic, onions and spices like jalopeno and nutmeg.  The different wats (stews) include misir (lentils), doro (chicken) and tibs (beef).  A dish of cabbage and carrots with turmeric, onions and other spices as well as a bowl of ground garbanzo beans cooked with hot water, tomato sauce and spices are also featured at the table.

A couple of key ingredients for cooking traditional Ethiopian food are the spice mixture berbere (think garam masala, but with 16 different spices! including nutmeg, cinnamon, black and white peppercorns, chili powder and turmeric), and niter kibeh, clarified butter infused with cloves, nutmeg, ginger, garlic and other spices.)  In order to make a wat, onions are first cooked in a small amount of water until softened, then the niter kibeh is added and then the berbere before any other ingredients in the stew.

Ethiopian style is family style and all the bowls were circuited around the table. Multiple times.  Conversation stemmed from topics such as the eggs in doro wat (whole eggs are hardboiled in the stew liquid, peeled and placed right back in), adoption stories, discussion of the Ethiopian government (a parliamentary republic), the pros and cons of foster parenting and the upcoming trip to Ethiopia that the mom is heading up as president of AAI (Adoption Advocates International) in February.

Father and son (Bob and Beshir)

And this is a great chance to segue into a subject that has been brewing in my life for a while.  The subject of going to Africa, most likely Ethiopia.  It began as an awareness, turned into a nudging, became an interest, evolved into a conviction and is on the road to becoming an action – all as the Lord is leading.

Port Townsend has a strong connection with Ethiopia (more than 4 families, including the Littles, have adopted children from Ethiopia, mostly through an agency about an hour west in Port Angeles.  Most of the adopting families have more than 12 kids.)  Many of the Ethiopian adoptees have returned to visit their native country to find their birth families and villages and to do work in the orphanage from which they were brought.  One family that I’ve gotten to be very close with, lived for over a decade in Ethiopia raising their 3 children and ministering to Somalians (Ethiopia is right next door to Somalia, both help comprise the Horn of Africa.) Through spending time with a lot of the kids in Young Life, a stirring in my heart has begun for Africa.

“Go. Go. Go.”

And I’ve never felt that stirring before. And so I’m going with it.  My favorite quote from a missions conference in Seattle I attended a couple of weeks is: “God can steer a car that’s moving more easily than one that’s parked.”  So without knowing which direction or path He will take me on, I’m starting to move forward.  Eating AMAZING food is just a perk, really.

Did you know?
-Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia (although there are 48 indigenous languages) and is comprised of 216 alphabet characters
Goorsha is an act of friendship in Ethiopia and is demonstrated when you break off a piece of injera, scoop up some wat and feed it to a friend.  The bigger the goorsha, the stronger the friendship.
-Ethiopia is the size of Texas
-It is the most populous landlocked country in the world
-Due to previous Italian occupancy, pasta and pizza are now commonplace in Ethiopia, as is hearing, “Ciao!” upon departing.
-Just as a lot of places in the US have problems with feral cats, so Ethiopia has a problem with wild dogs.
-This is where coffee originated
-The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar (not our Western, Gregorian one) and is about 8 years behind our date today, based on differing calculations of Jesus’s life.  They don’t have leap years.

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

Baharat: A Bit of Turkish Terroir

Who needs a spice grinder when you have a hammer?

It’s a lot more fun. Just try waiting until your housemate is gone before trying this recipe.

Working in a locally-owned cafe has many benefits.  Especially if the cafe is experimental with cuisines, flavors and combinations.  And if the cafe has some sort of totally obscure, random ethnic influence like, say, Turkish.

Olives. Paprika. Lentils. Coarse bulghar. Feta. Dill. Cilantro. Kofta and kebobs. Salted yogurt. Cacik.

Sounds quite Greek in spots, but is slightly, yet definitively Turkish. (And try not to get the two mixed up, or risk nationality offense; the Greeks and the Turks don’t have the most friendly relations, historically.)

And Turkey doesn’t get too much spotlight here in America, (except perhaps, for Turkish coffee) with only pockets of clustering Turks in places like Los Angeles, Miami and New York.  This makes it hard to find Turkish cook books, spices, imported foods and dish sets or cookery.

So I’ve had to really scrounge around, searching multiple places for recipes from Turkey, complete with its own cultural cooking style. (Though having Lavent (from Turkey) in the cafe is a leg-up on discovering these things.)

One of the great things about Turkish cuisine (as with a lot of other cuisines) is its heavy use of spices and herbs. Baharat (literally meaning ‘spices’) is sort of a Turkish counterpart to garam masala; heavy on the black pepper, with a mix of savory, pungent and bright flavors traditionally used to round out a perfect dish of lamb, beef or a soup.  And with this season’s farmers market starting up TOMORROW (!) I thought it the perfect time to make a batch of the stuff for experiments on dishes with fresh, local produce.

Baharat:

2p. black pepper
2p. cumin
1p. coriander seed
1p. dried mint
1p. cloves
1p. nutmeg
1p. green cardamom*
pinch of cinnamon

Mix all spices in a bowl and store in airtight container, away from light and heat for best flavor retention.

*Note on green cardamom: this is where the hammer comes into play.  When you buy cardamom in the pod, it keeps the flavorful seeds way fresher, but you have to crack open the green covering to get to them.  Simply press down on the pod with the back of a wooden spoon to split it open, scrape the seeds out and remove any chaff.  Gather all the seeds into a folded sheet of waxed paper (folded on all four sides is a good idea) and proceed to whack with a hammer until the seeds are pommeled into a coarse powder.
Store any unopened pods in the freezer for maximum shelf life. 

Sauerkraut: Make the Most of Your Veggies

There are many ways to preserve food and put it by: drying, aging, canning, pickling, root-cellaring, sugar-coating, submerging in vinegar or spirits and fermenting.  And while canning and drying just may be in the running for most popular ways to save food, by far the easiest and least implement-demanding is fermenting. No water-bath or pressure canner needed, no drying racks to assemble, no jars and new lids to acquire and it doesn’t take up a lot of space either.

Traditionally the foods used for fermenting were vegetables; their low sugar content doesn’t risk alcohol production like most fruits, and their water content responds to the addition of salt in certain proportions to render an environment hospitable to good bacteria, yet resistant to the harmful sort.  Sauerkraut immediately comes to mind when the term ‘fermenting’ is brought up, and while the age-old tradition of naturally fermenting sauerkraut is stilled used today, it should be noted that not all krauts today are made in the traditional way; anything that has been canned or jarred and is bought on a store shelf has been heated to such high temperatures that any good bacteria present are now dead, and many brands are only vinegar-flavored cabbage with added preservatives (like sodium benzoate.) Please, don’t buy mockraut.  Especially when it is so easy to make your own from scratch.  In its simplest form it is merely cabbage, salt, elbow grease and patience.

Though cabbage is the highlight of the sauerkraut ingredients, many other vegetables can come into play from beets and carrots to horseradish and juniper berries to onions and even seaweed!  (And though sauerkraut is of German-origin, many other fermented veggie combinations from other cultures exist; Spain’s ‘cortido’ and Korea’s ‘kimchi,’ each of which have their own twist on vegetable combinations.)

In his book, “Wild Fermentation,” Sandor Katz lists the basic sauerkraut recipe to be 5 pounds of cabbage to 3 tablespoons of salt; that’s about 2 large heads of tightly-wound cabbage to just under 1/4 cup of salt.  There are many variations of the cabbage:salt ratio, and often my recipe includes the term “eyeballing” (in the most scientific and tested form of the word, to be sure.)  Nonetheless, what the salt actually does for the ferment is draw the juices (water content) out of the cabbage and form a brine in which to let the cabbage sit for anywhere from 1-4 weeks or longer, so I often find myself sprinkling in a layer of salt, working with it a bit and adding a bit more later if I find the kraut isn’t becoming ‘juicy’ enough.

Using a pint jar filled with water to press down an unseen tupperware lid to keep the veggies submerged

So, while the basic idea for making sauerkraut is to finely chop/grate the heads of cabbage into a large bowl (*you don’t want to use a metal bowl for this) or ceramic crock, or a gallon-sized jar, toss in an amount of salt and pound, massage, work, crush, batter,  clobber, wallop, pummel and pulverize until the water is leaking out of the cabbage and starting to look like cabbage stew.  At this point you want to press as hard as you can to completely submerge the cabbage beneath the liquid (this is key: you want at least an inch of water sitting above the top of the cabbage.)  Adding weight to the top of the cabbage is also helpful; a plate that fits just inside the crock or bowl weighted with a water bottle is the simplest method, though I’ve used plastic molds, tupperware lids and even a mortar and pestle for weight.  Cover the jar/crock/bowl with a thin towel or layer of cheesecloth, just enough to keep the bugs out, rubber band it on and set the soon-to-be-kraut in a corner out of the way, perhaps a closet or lower kitchen cabinet (you don’t want a lot of temperature changes or direct sunlight.)

After about a week you can come back and there will probably be some frothy bubbles and white mold spores on the surface of the liquid (THESE ARE NOT HARMFUL) but to  preserve the image of your sauerkraut and encourage further good-fermenting, you can scrape off these bubbles and white areas with your fingers, a spoon or a cloth.  From here on out, it’s all a matter of taste.  Start tasting your kraut everyday to see how acidic you like the flavor; the longer it ferments, the stronger and more acidic it will become.  Once you like the flavor and intensity, simply transfer it to a jar (if not already in one), screw a lid on and place in a cool place like the refrigerator or a basement (or spring house or root cellar if you are so endowed.)

Easy as pie, which ironically, isn’t nearly as easy as sauerkraut.

Fermenting is a great place to experiment and try new combos and flavors! Some of my favorites have been:

Green cabbage and Granny Smith apples
Napa cabbage, hot peppers, carrots and garlic (a version of kimchi)
Carrots and jalapenos (that’s right, no cabbage in this one!)
Green cabbage, kelp and onions
Purple cabbage, beets, carrots and garlic
Turnips and onions (called sauerruben)
Daikon radishes

About 10 days ago I began a ‘Winter Harvest” kraut which includes cabbage, leeks, carrots, beets, parnsips, garlic and a couple of Brussels sprouts.  I skimmed off the foam and froth 4 days ago and will start tasting in a couple of days.

Making and eating sauerkraut is great not only because you’re filling your belly with good-for-you-bacteria (probiotics,) but you can stretch the life of fresh vegetables to last, well, nearly indefinitely.

 

Chai-Spice Parsnip Cake

Among all the winter vegetables there are, mostly of the root variety but some above-ground goodies (like cabbage, Brussel’s sprouts and the ubiquitous winter veggie, kale), some of my favorites have to be parsnips. I only discovered parsnips a couple of years ago and have fallen in love with their sweet, nutty I-am-so-not-a-carrot disposition.

They pair so well with spicy dishes like garam-masala stir-fries, crisped up and served with pinto beans and maple syrup, and as a delightful addition to root veggie roasts.  As a plant, they are freeze-hardy and can be harvested among the early spring vegetables that overwinter well – and actually taste better, sweeter after a good hard freeze or two.  Their greens are totally toxic, so consumption of them is not recommended.  And another surprising place they perform well in, is the starring role in a cake show.

As mentioned before, they are so-not-carrots, but deliver a deliciously nuttysweet taste and dense, moist texture as a cake, and since they pair so well with spices, (and since it’s my favorite winter warming tea) a Chai-Spiced Parsnip cake was soon to be born.

To make this a SOLE food meal and part of the Dark Days challenge, I used locally-milled flour from Bellingham’s Fairhaven Flour Mill (100% whole grain pastry flour), local parsnips from Nash’s Organic Produce, and local eggs from Solstice Farm B&B.

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
and a mix of spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg)
make up the dry mix

3 eggs
1 cup of honey

1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of strong-brewed chai tea
and 1 tsp. of vanilla
account for the wet ingredients

First, as with any butter cake, you cream the butter and sweetener til smooth and emollient.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat the heck out of it some more (but not to the ‘peaking’ point.)
After you’ve whisked the dry ingredients together, you then add them alternating with the chai tea til just mixed in and smooth. And of course, for the final touch (and whole point of the cake):

Take 2 cups of grated parsnips
and stir them in til incorporated.  Pour batter into a greased pan of your choice (I used a bundt pan, you could use a 5X8 loaf pan, or a square pan, or 9″ springform pan, but a 9X13 or a 10″ round would probably be too big for the batter.
Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes, depending on how thick your cake sits in the pan, til the edges are brown and the middle isn’t jiggly anymore.

Eating Through the Dark Days (and the pantry supply)

For the next installment of Dark Days’ cuisine (to catch you up, this is a challenge I’ve joined to cook a SOLE food meal each week from Dec – April – the hardest time to find local food, much less local sustainable organic and ethical food) here’s a way to eat squash that many people may not have heard of:

No, that’s not pasta, that’s spaghetti squash.  Just like any other winter squash, slice it in half, scoop out the seeds and pith, spread on some butter, salt and pepper and bake it up til soft in a hot oven.  Altogether unlike any other winter squash, if you use a fork to scrape down the length of the insides the fibers separate and fall off to drape your plate like freshly boiled spaghetti noodles (with a few clumps here and there……..)

As you may have noticed, the possibilities are almost limitless with pasta – much the same with these squash noodles.

I still had a good supply of 2009 produce that I had put up (dried, canned and frozen goods) and in wanting to use up some of this excess, I decided on some dried green beans and tomatoes.  Some fresh local leeks rounded out the dish (as did a good few gallops of California pinot noir) to provide a steaming hot plate of local veggies in a very unconventional presentation.

First I flash-sauteed the leeks in some of my local lard; once golden brown I poured in the red wine and let it simmer down with some local thyme and salt and pepper.  Meanwhile I had been rehydrating the tomatoes and beans in some of the wine and once plumped up the excess went into the simmering leek pan.  After the wine had reduced by about 3/4, I added the tomatoes and beans to cook up nice and creamy and all this was ladled on top of a plate of the scraped spaghetti squash “noodles” and made for a unique-tasting, economical (the squash is about $2 a pound and the other veggies were procured from the farm I worked on) winter Dark Day Delight.