Monday, August 31, 2009

Road Trip!

Olympia, Washington--the only place other than Portland that I've seriously considered living. It hasn't lured me away from my beloved city yet, but it's still a possibility. Also home to my dear friend Rob, who used to be my neighbor in Japan! Rob and I share a love of edible plants and a love of making things, so when we're together, we always talk gardens, share seeds, cook a lot, and do an art project like letterpress printing or making paper.

This weekend was a perfect example. We made spectacular zucchini bread with squash from Rob's sister, and then we spent the day making beautiful paper from scraps and ends of art paper I'd been saving up, and then we planted a bed of salad greens, and then I got to look through Rob's seeds and take home some kale plants too.

My girlfriend Theresa and I also took a hike right in the city and found it amazingly forestlike, complete with red huckleberries, my new obsession! I only just learned to identify them and tried them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and so I am still enchanted by them. Here I am picking and eating!

And here is the recipe for the zucchini bread we made:

I adapted it from this recipe, making changes to suit each of our desires. I wanted nuts and no cinnamon. Rob wanted ginger, and Theresa likes whole wheat. And all of us wanted to use as much zucchini as possible.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread!

You will need:

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons more to sprinkle on top
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (see directions below)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped or broken walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil two loaf pans.

If your walnuts aren't toasted yet, you can toast them in the oven while you're getting everything else ready. About ten minutes should do it, on a baking sheet. Let your nose tell you...when they snell good, they're ready. Be careful not to let them burn, which can happen quickly! Then let them cool.

First, grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. You will need about half of a baseball-bat-sized zucchini or one to two medium sized ones. Once you have a good pile grated, start taking handfuls of it and squeeze them out over the sink, getting out as much liquid as possible. This is important, so please don't skip this step. Put the dry handfuls into a measuring cup. Keep grating, squeezing, and measuring until you have two packed cups of squeezed-dry zucchini.

You'll need two bowls, one for wet ingredients, one for dry. In one bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda, ginger, and pepper, and give this mixture a good stir to get everything evenly distributed. In the other, whisk together the 1 1/4 cups sugar, eggs, yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir gently until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir just a tiny bit more to distribute them evenly. Don't overmix or you will have tough bread!

Pour the batter into the two load pans, sprinkle each loaf with a tablespoon of the reserved sugar to make a crispy sweet topping (trust me, you will be glad you did this!) and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer poked into the middle of a loaf comes out with just a few moist crumbs on it. Start checking at 50 minutes and don't panic if it takes 70.

Let the bread cook in the pan for at least ten minutes before you try turning it out onto a cooking rack, seriously. If you try to do it instantly the loaf will break into pieces and you'll be sad.

You may want to make a double recipe, because even though this makes two loaves, five people managed to finish both of them between breakfast and dinner in one day. We could have used two more, plus we sure had enough zucchini.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eat More Salad

Remember Michael Pollan and how he said we should all eat more greens? Well, I'm doing my best, but I would really rather eat more ice cream. But anyway, my CSA is helping a lot by giving me weekly piles of non-lettuce greens (my dirty secret: I don't like lettuce much). The past two weeks we've had these mild, crisp mustards with juicy white stems. They look like giant mizuna. Here's a pretty salad I made with those greens, carrots, cucumbers from my trip to Hood River, marigold petals, and backyard tomatoes. I've got a lot of chervil and parsley right now too, so those are in there as well.

If you've come over in the past week, I've probably made you look at The HerbFarm Cookbook, which I have out from the library. In case I haven't seen you since I checked it out, I'll take this opportunity to shove it into your virtual hands. Here! Don't you want to try Marjoram Cornbread? How about Roasted Beet, Dill, and Frisee Salad? Black Bean Soup with Apple? Well, I do, and if you make any of these things, feel free to invite me over for dinner.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Being a Gardener

Hooray, I planted today! Theresa is concerned, I think, about my choices...she said "You just keep planting salad!". It's true. I know that greens are going to grow quickly and that they'll survive the first part of winter so that we can have fall salads. I don't have the same confidence about anything else--difficulties with the supposedly easy beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, and carrots in the past have made me wary. Next month I can start planting garlic, which is always successful, but it's not quite time yet.

So, today's plantings:
Small rows of mache, arugula, and swiss chard
A small patch of assorted carrots and radishes (wish me luck--our soil is heavy, plus it is probably too late for fall carrots)
A patch of mixed greens including red kale, spicy microgreens, and Asian vegetable salad mix

And today's harvest:
A big bowl of cherry tomatoes
A large bunch of parsley
Chives (they're getting scraggly so I'm trimming them way back)
The last few sad scallions from my spring planting, some of which turned into little bulb onions

I think it's about time to make Parsley Pesto Beetza, a good way to use up all the produce we have. It's a kind of involved recipe, but I'll try and post it when I have a picture of it to share.

Who has a good idea of what to do with chives? I usually chop a few in salads, and my friend Fionn taught me to make mashed potatoes with a whole bunch of scallions in them, and I bet they would be just as good with chives instead. But aside from that, I haven't been doing much with them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hood River Ho!

Last weekend I met a friend of a friend who I've been hearing about forever. He lives with his wife and two nearly grown daughters on 20 stunning acres of forest near Hood River, with a creek, using only solar and hydroelectric power. He's got a swimming hole, ahuge vegetable garden, and a couple of small orchards, using only an acre or two of the land for his house and food plants. He gave me lots of inspiration and this piece of advice: "If you're a gardener, you should be planting. If you're not planting something every few weeks, you can't call yourself a gardener." This year I've been doing pretty well with planting every few weeks, planning for parts of my garden to become open for new plants. Mainly what this means is that I've been well supplied with salad greens continuously since early summer! Right now I have insane amounts of chervil and a plentiful supply of mild and spicy mustards. Coming soon, Gai Lan, Tatsoi, and wild arugula. Plus my CSA share has lettuces and greens most weeks, so I'm required to eat as much salad as possible. The one pictured here was my breakfast a few days ago. Although really, if I had my way, I would eat an egg and a carbohydrate for breakfast every day.

Egg on toast, egg and cheese on a fresh-baked biscuit, fried rice, and egg-and-onion donburi over rice are some of my favorites. Here is Agatha, Theresa's chicken and a frequent provider of my breakfast egg. I'm making an effort to eat more vegetables at breakfast, and a recipe I've had my eye on for a while now is salad with hot cubes of roasted potatoes mixed in like croutons, and a poached egg on top. Doesn't that sound good?

It's peach season at Sauvie Island Farms and I've been a couple of times in the past two my boss went and brought me back some more peaches! I believe that this week is the last week for peaches, so if you haven't picked yours yet, get out there, now! Only $1.00 per pound, and each peach weighs about a pound, so the picking couldn't be easier. At this very moment Christine's food dehydrator is humming away making some sweet dried peach slices for me to enjoy in my winter oatmeal. And also some fruit far I've made blackberry, plum, and grape using the glut of apples and pears that I keep picking up off the street, not to mention the ones I brought home from volunteering with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. I also made a couple of kinds of summer fruit jam--the really good one is Five Stone Fruits, with peach, nectarine, apricot, pluot, and plum. Theresa made watercolor painted labels for them that I love. It's going to be hard to give them away (or even to eat them) when they're so pretty!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Harvest

I planted an incredible number of tomato plants this summer--a half-dozen cherry tomato plants that I bought, plus another eight or ten that came up on their own, and then three more plants that my housemates brought home. My hope was to grow more cherry tomatoes than I could use--pints every day! Well, we're not quite there yet, but I hope that the heaviest harvests are yet to come. For now we're getting a good handful or two every day.

I wanted to be able to make those pretty salads from the food magazines with many colors and shapes of tomato, so I'm growing red, orange, yellow, green, white, and black tomatoes in round, plum, grape, and pear shapes. Mexico Midget is the one with the least appropriate name, but it is great. I planted it last year and this year several babies came up on their own. They are very early, prolific producers of tiny round red tomatoes. Then there's Sungold, a hybrid orange cherry tomato of incredible, tropical tasting sweetness. Snow White is another hybrid, with pale peachy-yellow, mild flavored tomatoes. Then we have a couple of yellow currants, or at least that's what I think they are--neither of them came with a tag. Green Grape is kind of a disappointment, with only a few fruits, but they're pleasantly yellow-green, crisp, and tangy when ripe. Black Plum is having a little trouble with blossom-end rot but is still making tons of two-inch long, dark-colored and deep-flavored tomatoes. Sugar Snack is another red cherry, which makes 18-inch long trellises of the glossiest plump red tomatoes, like a perfect garden magazine photo. And then we have a yellow pear and a few unknown varieties of full sized tomatoes.

This is the first year that I've ever harvested more than one squash from my garden. Our yard is shady and so squash plants succumb to powdery mildew really quickly and get sick and die usually after producing one single squash. I credit Theresa because she planted the squash this year. These two crooknecks were picked on the same day--my largest ever squash harvest! That plus the many squash I've been getting in my farm share has pushed me to try new squash preparations...after I went through all my favorites. The best new recipe I've come up with is yellow squash pickles, which I like to call...


Enough yellow squash to fill a quart jar, about 2-3 medium crooknecks or small zucchini
1/2 medium sweet onion, white or red (red will make the pickles pinkish)
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered

1 tablespoon pure salt (not iodized), such as pickling salt
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon each of yellow mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and celery seeds
a few whole peppercorns
a shake of red pepper flakes or a few rings of fresh hot pepper, optional

Special equipment:
A tempered glass quart jar with a lid (a canning jar)

Thinly slice the squash, about 1/8 inch thick. Leave the necks in rounds, but if the squash bodies are very fat, halve or quarter them before slicing. Thinly slice the onion as well. Toss the squash and onion together and pack the mixture into the quart jar, tucking the garlic in too.

Then, combine all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil in a saucepan or microwave, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Taste and add more salt or sugar if desired. Pour hot vinegar syrup over the squash in the jar, put the lid on, and press the squash down, making sure it's completely covered with the liquid. (If it isn't, let it sit and check again in an hour; the squash will release a lot of water. Just make sure the squash is covered in pickling liquid after the first hour, or any exposed parts will spoil.) Put the jar in the fridge for at least two hours or up to a month. The sweet, salty, sour, and spice-infused pickles are delicious on a veggie burger, with hot rice, or as a snack. These pickles keep decently in the fridge for quite a while, but do try to eat them all within a month, and if you ever see mold growing in the jar, throw the rest of the pickles away.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Local Food Challenge--September 2009!

My friend Dina told me yesterday that I should start a food blog. Maybe she just wants me to stop talking about food in other contexts. But this seemed like a good time to start, since it's harvest season like crazy in Portland, I am doing food preservation of some kind almost every day, AND I'm gearing up for my second annual personal Local Food Challenge. My girlfriend and I chose September, the easiest possible month to subsist entirely on locally produced and processed food. With a few exceptions (selected after doing a hard-core local diet last September that wasn't very much fun), all of our food will come from Oregon or Washington.

These are the exceptions: salt and spices, lemon and vinegar (although I did start a batch of homemade apple cider vinegar a week ago), cooking oils (we primarily use olive oil from California), chocolate, coffee (only for Theresa, not for me!), and sugar only for use in food preservation.

Want to join us? All you have to do is decide to eat only local foods next month! Pick out a few things you can't live without to make it easy. Then get all your groceries from the many Farmer's Markets, People's co-op, New Seasons, your backyard, and your CSA. Once you figure out the big stuff, like where to get your grains and protein, it takes no work at all. My hints to you, if you live in Portland, Oregon: Shepherd's Grain flour, which is outstandingly delicious, is grown and processed in Washington, and you can buy it at People's, Pastaworks, and the Sellwood farmer's market. People's also carries locally grown and fantastic black beans, farro, dried cranberries, dried Ranier cherries, and nuts. And Freddy Guy's has local hazelnuts and wild rice.

Coming soon: pictures.