Friday, December 24, 2010

A Whole Pig

I didn't kill the pig.

When you tell people you are going to butcher a pig, most people think that includes killing the pig.  But it doesn't.  Slaughtering the pig is the process of killing it, and that's handled by a USDA certified slaughter house.  Butchering the pig is the process of cutting it up.  Slaughtering is an efficient and mechanical process (when done right), but butchering is a creative process.

I'm getting ahead of myself...

Going Full Piggy
This all started because my family has been talking about getting a pig for a long time.  We already get whole chickens and have gotten a quarter of beef.  A pig seemed the next step. 

A few weeks ago my family did seven days 100% local. During that week we did not eat anything that was not sourced locally. The experience was interesting, fun, challenging, and enlightening. Some parts were easier than others and some were harder. One thing that came clear was that eating takes a certain amount of skill. It takes different skills than we normally work on in an everyday home kitchen. Cooking skills and presentation skills are nice--they create and refine the meal. But what we seldom work on are production skills. These production skills are normally left to other people, like butchers, and they add to the price of what we buy. The price of everything can be brought down if you learn to do some of the production yourself. Pound for pound, steaks cost more than a loin.  When price becomes an issue, as it can when eating locally sourced food, learning to buy big can help you spend smaller.

Through Foodbuzz, I found a local vendor, Eat Oregon First, that sells whole pigs.  Normally they sell to local Portland restaurants but they are starting to branch out into consumer direct sales.  So I gave them a call.

Here is the catch.  When you buy a hog from Eat Oregon First, you buy the whole hog.  And it comes whole, which is to say slaughtered but not butchered, because they normally sell to restaurants who employ talented chefs who know how to break down an animal (Eat Oregon First does sell amazing beef by the cut, but not pig). To take care of the butchering, I hired Tracey "Tray" Satterfield of the Portland Meat Collective.  She was my own personal butcher for the day, and she was awesome. (If you ever need of a personal butcher, contact Tray at

The Three C's -- From Country to Corpse to Cuisine
Let me digress for a minute.  When you look at it from the basest perspective, eating animals is all about killing something, cutting up the corpse into manageable pieces, cooking it, and eating it.  Most of us deal only with the last two parts of that sequence, but there is a lot that comes before.  With wild animals we leave the care and feeding to Mother Nature.  Domesticated animals are different.  With domestic animals, how they are raised and what they are fed is directly the responsibility of the farmer. 

Everything starts with how the animal is raised. 

Get A Life, Pig!
It is important to me that the meat I eat is raised "well".  What does "well" mean?  To be completely honest, I'm not sure. It's something I'm still working out.  But I do know that "well" begins with pigs having a life.  I understand that these are domesticated animals raised solely for the purpose of food production, but food is not just about meat in the same way meals are not just about eating.  A home is more than a house.  Family means something different than relatives. There is more to what we eat than what we eat, and how we approach the dinner plate has meaning.  For me, ethical meat eating begins with understanding where your meat comes from and how it lived before it became delicious.  Pastures are an important part of this.  Wind and rain too.  Mud and pigs go together in my book.  Knowing the name of the farmer that raised the animal you are going to eat is very important
This pig came from Payne Family Farm in Carlton, Oregon and was raised by Mark Payne.  I spoke with Mark Payne over the phone about his farm and his pigs (hence no pictures, sorry).

Mark Payne is a fourth generation Oregon farmer, located just outside McMinneville.  In the 60s, it became clear to the Payne family that,due to the changing realities of modern farming and agricultural economics, they had to move away from the diverse family farm and focus on something that could provide the volume.  The Paynes chose Pigs.  Mark believes in taking good care of his pigs--a decent life and decent death--while understanding that the economic realities of modern farming necessitate a certain amount of production volume.

Mark's pigs eat grain that is locally grown in the Tygh Valley in Eastern Oregon.  Through partnerships with Basque Ranch, Eat Oregon First, and Rogue Brewery, Payne Family Farm is able to be the final part of a completely locally sourced cycle of food production.  I'll have more about this in another post. It's really remarkable what these guys have put together.

Back To The Bloody Parts
When I arrived at the Eat Oregon First warehouse, the pig had already been delivered and Tray was just starting work. Half the beast was laid on the table in front of Tray.  The other half lay on a second table along with the head.  Tray was just beginning to make the first cuts.  

Cutting the side into portions was not nearly has hard as I thought it would be.  I'd seen the pig diagrams many time and even have a copy of Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game that describes very clearly how to process a whole animal.  However, looking at pictures and actually cutting an animal are different things.  I knew I didn't want to try to take this on my own.  Tray really made it all simpler.  She walked through the animal, showing me what the lines were, how to find them, where the divisions made sense.  Watching her make the cuts and comparing them to the drawings in the book brought it all together. 

Inside of a side of pork, head removed, before cutting.
Slowly, methodically, the pig carcass was turned into stacks of the most wonderful cuts of meat.  1.5 inch thick bone-in chops started piling up.  A Boston Butt was magically pulled from the animal along with its twin, the picnic ham.  We found bacon tucked in under a sheet of spare ribs.  Hams sat in a clustered huddle, hiding inside the legs.  Tray's cutting was so well placed, that we wasted almost nothing.  I was pressed to figure out what to use for sausage meat!

Cutting out the spare ribs.
Sirloin Chop

Wrapping was like a carnivore's Christmas. I was a ghoulish Santa, I driving home with a load of meaty presents.

Home Is Where The Heart Is, and the rib chops, and the...
Honestly, a whole pig is a lot of meat.  221 lbs. of meat in my case.  I filled both freezers and still had the head left over, sitting in the refrigerator, in a plastic bag.  This did not make my wife happy, and I was a little unsure what to do.  Everything was fresh so I knew it would hold in the refrigerator for a couple days.  But I needed to make a decision quick before I ended up with a rotten pig head in my refrigerator.

The answer came from Jane Grigson's book, Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery.  She has a simple pate recipe specifically for pig head.  Exactly what I was looking for!  Here is my modification to the recipe based on what I had on hand:

1.5 lbs. meat cut from the head (jowls)
0.5 lbs ground pork (I ground the trimmings and the heart together)
1 large egg
2 oz. Madeira
1 large onion
1 Tbs. flour
Salt and pepper and dried herbs

It was toward the end of the day that I took this recipe on.  I'd already ground up several pounds of trimmings and the heart for sausage meat.  I'd started a slab of bacon curing in the refrigerator (based on the instructions in Charcuterie).  My last task for the day was to deal with the head.  It couldn't wait.  The next day was garbage day and I didn't want to miss my chance to get rid of whatever was left over. 

I cut the ears off and gave them to my dogs. Then I got out my boning knife and started with the fatty cheeks because that seemed easiest.  Keeping the thin knife as close to the bones as possible, I peeled the meat away from the face, exposing the jawline and teeth and moving upward toward the cheek bones and the open eyes.  The tongue was in there; I could see left over food (or blackened blood) in the pig's teeth.  It had a distinct odor--not like rot or sour.  It had a strange smell like blood, fat, fresh meat, and bad breath all together.  It smelled in a way that was different than any of the other parts of the body.  Maybe it was the amount of glands that are in the head.  Maybe it was the tongue.  Either way, it made me take a step back and gather myself.  At this point I thought about skipping the head.  It seemed an unnecessary trouble--it was difficult cutting.  And the smell was getting stronger and making me sick.

Jonah was in his bouncy chair by the kitchen doorway watching the whole thing.  Kim and Hazel had gone Christmas shopping, so he stayed home with me.  He was smiling and bouncing and having a good time chewing on his hands and his toys and watching me trying to cut up a pig's head.  He was unaffected by the smell.  It didn't bother him at all.  He was having a great time doing his baby stuff right where he was.  I was the only one feeling sick.  I was making myself feel sick.   It was all mental.  Jonah wasn't sick, so why should I be?  After all, I choose to do this.  I requested this pig be killed for me.  He's not chomping on acorns and checking out the sows.  He's sitting in my freezers and in my refrigerator.  And his head is sitting, open eyed, on my cutting board, because this is what I wanted.  I had to finish what I'd started.  Throwing out a whole pig's head just because I didn't have the stomach to finish the job would have been...disrespectful.  Disrespectful to what I was learning.  Disrespectful to what I was trying to do.  And disrespectful to the pig.  That is not what I wanted this to be.

Pate. (colors adjusted a bit for poor lighting)
I gathered myself, stepped back up, and then the job became easier.  I had not use for the brains, so I didn't crack open the skull.  I've never liked head cheese either, so I didn't make that.  I got as much from the jowls as I could, took out the tongue, and went on to make my pate.

If you want to see pictures of the pig's head here are the links.  Warning: you might get grossed out.

Pig's head before.
Pig's head after. 

Over the next week, we had a dinner party for the solstice and the pate was well liked by everyone.  For that same party I did an 8-bone loin roast with a salt, garlic, and pepper rub that turned out great.  The bacon finished also.  The day was clear so I smoked it with hardwood outside, then cut it by hand and vacuum sealed half pound packages.

I'm working on a brown sugar glazed ham for Christmas dinner--it's brining in the refrigerator right now.  The Christmas ham--I guess I really was wrapping presents.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oregon Olive Oil Update feat. Red Ridge Farms

Harvest is here and Winter is just around the corner.  It had been a while since I looked into how the Oregon oil farms were doing. The trees have had a chance to root and grow all summer.  But winter is coming and winter has not been nice to Oregon olive oil in recent years. To find out how things are looking, I visited Red Ridge Farms in Dayton.

Drive an hour out of the city, and you can find Red Ridge Farms owned by the Durant family.  On a hill top, surrounded by Oregon wine country, step out of your car it almost feels like you've been transported to another place.  Manicured gravel pathways.  Herb gardens and green houses.  Fountains and teak patio sets from which you can survey olive orchards, clusters of birch, oak, and distant golden rows of autumn pinot vines under the pale autumn sky. 

Although the Durants have been Oregon wine pioneers since the early 70's, now it is the olive trees that are the hot topic. 

Arbequina olives.
Because of the cooler climate, most olive growers in Oregon are planting super high density Arbequina trees.  Although most olive trees thrive in warmer weather, this variety can withstand temperatures down into the 20s.  But even that may not be enough.  For the past two years Oregon winters have had cold snaps down into the single digits, and this has devastated the industry.  

"We lost about 60-65% of the Arbequina last year," says Paul Durant.  And that was not the worst of it. The Durants also planted a acres of Arbosana and Koroneiki.  Not quite as cold tolerant as the Arbequina, both of those crops took almost 100% losses.  The impact was great enough that the Durants have decided to move on from Arbosana.  The few bottles left in the gift shop from last year's harvest are all that is left.

The Koroneiki is another story.  After milling what little crop they harvest and combining with olives bought in California, the results were outstanding.  "We're thrilled with the Koroneiki this year," says Paul.  And I have to agree.  Koroneiki is a darker green Greek variety with a smooth and buttery richness that is outstanding on bread with a little salt. 

Fresh Oil and A Fresh Start?
 At the Olio Nuovo Festa this weekend, the excitement about the new oils was clear. The parking lot was full and the tasting room was bustling.  There was wine tasting of the Durant Vineyards Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Caterers set out bruschetta and crushed garlic with, of course, olive oil to drizzle over the top.   But the focus was the tasting tables featuring the three types of oil Red Ridge is producing this year--Arbequina, Koroneiki, and a Tuscan blend of three northern Italian olives which the Durants are experimenting with to replace the Arbosana. 

Fresh olive oil tastes really different than aged olive oil.  It is cloudy with fruit particulates that have not had time to settle.  In fact, all the oils had been pressed just a few days before the Festa started.  Having so much fruit still suspended in the oil gives the oil a heavier texture.  Low quality fresh oil tastes pungent, bitter, and burns your throat.  Good fresh oil catches you off guard with its penetrating flavor of herbs and black pepper.  Here again the Koroneiki was the favorite. 

It's because of its amazing flavor that the Durants replanted their Koroneiki orchard this year, even though it took devastating losses last year.  "We just like it that much," says Paul. 

Hopefully the excitement and good wishes of this year's Olio Nuovo Festa can hold back the harsh winter weather.  A third deep freeze in a row could be a catastrophe for Red Ridge Farm and the handful of other Oregon olive oil pioneers.  Like Red Ridge, all the other Oregon farms, such as Belle Ragazze, have been taking a heavy beating.  For a fledgling industry it is a lot to bear. But as more people and restaurants realize how good Oregon olive oil is,  the risks may all be worth while.
Fresh Tuscan Olive Oil

Sunday, November 14, 2010

7 Days 100% Local--Completed

We did it!

It wasn't easy, but we managed to get through 7 whole days of eating nothing but locally sourced food. 

It Was Good Stuff
For all of us, it was a fun family challenge that we all worked on together.   

My wife was happy that we ate everything we bought.  We had very little food waste.  We even ate the bread, although it was frustrating and coming out too dense.  My daughter thought the bread was better this way, and when toasted with a little butter, I think so too.

All of us recognized that our meals were more colorful than they typically are.  They were fresher.  They had less sweeteners and no refined sugar at all.  In fact, the only sweetener we used all week was honey.  This could get a little repetitive, but also it was healthier.

It was a learning experience.  Kim and I went out to some of the farms and were able to have more meaningful conversations with the vendors at the market because of it.  Learning about where your food actually comes from was interesting for all of us, even Hazel got into it. 

Would you like a side of eggs with that...and that...and that?
Sunday Breakfast--scrambled eggs with onions, Anaheim chilies and heirloom tomatoes on handmade tortillas.
Eggs became a central part of our daily diet.  So much so that we ate a total of 3 dozen eggs in 7 days (combined from Noris dairy and Sweet Briar Farms).  Their versatility made them really important.  Eggs scramble with vegetables for breakfast or poached on toast.  Hard boiled eggs are super portable and great for lunches on the go.  Eggs in egg noodle pasta. How did we use so many eggs...I don't even remember.  But by the end of the week, it was 36 eggs eaten.  We had anticipated that we would be relying on eggs more than normal, but none of us expected just how much.

How about some mushrooms with that...and that...and that?
This was more about finding a great deal than anything else.  Springwater farms was selling 6 lbs boxes of chantrelles for $25 at the farmer's market. Consequently, we had mushrooms with almost everything.  The nice thing about mushrooms is how versatile they are and how mildly flavored.  They go with meats, eggs, and vegetables.  They can be a side dish or sauced or the featured flavor.   Having something that could add a flavor layer when needed (especially since we had no spices) was really helpful.

School Lunch: Better than ever!
One thing that we thought would be a real sticking point was school lunch.  This was something that we thought a lot about over the weekend.  A normal sack lunch that we pack for my 4th grader is something like:
Everything except the apples and carrots were off the table.  What we came up with was basically this:
Building blocks for a new school lunch.
  • Hazelnut butter and Jelly sandwich (homemade hazelnut butter, our own jelly sweetened with honey, and homemade bread)
  • apple slices
  • hard boiled egg
  • carrot sticks
  • honey sticks
  • apple (or pear) cider
The verdict?  She liked it better that the original! Especially the bread. School lunch turned out to be easier than we thought.

Unexpected Local Gems
There were a few things that were really great.

Mint Tea from Seely Family Farm.  With no coffee, we were hoping to find some kind of warm morning drink when we ran into Seely family farm at the PSU farmer's market.  Mike and Candy were running their booth.  They are the nicest people you could meet and make some of the best mint tea I've ever had.  Their peppermint-spearmint blend got us through the week splendidly.  They don't have a website, so if you want to find out more about their tea, call 503-728-4603.

5 Grain Cereal from Gee Creek Farm (aka Gruel).  Although they mill several different kinds of hot cereals, we bought the 5 Grain Flourless mix for the week.  It comes in a 2 lbs bag for $4.  This oat, rye, brown rice, barley, and flax mix turned out to be one of our favorite things to eat.  I made a trip to the PSU market this past weekend just to get another bag. 

Scottish Wheat Flour from Eat Oregon First.  We used this flour to make pasta and were really happy with the results.  The texture stayed firm giving the noodles a good bite. I had low expectations because non-durum pasta usually comes out pretty soft, but this wheat was not.  I should have known it would be good when Scot, the owner, told me Pastaworks also buys his flour for their noodles.

The Hardest Parts
Overall, the week was a bit of a shock.  Being constantly faced with very limited food choices was easily the hardest part of all.  Going cold-turkey on any kind of modernized food was a bigger shift than we thought it would be.  No coffee. No chocolate.  No bananas. No pizza.  No ketchup or mustard (it is possible to make this yourself from local ingredients, more about that later). No black pepper or imported spices of any kind.  No prepared foods.  No eating out.  No convenience.  Everywhere you go there are restaurants and easy food--all of which we just had to ignore.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, we were gritting our teeth and forcing ourselves not to order pizza for dinner (which we didn't).

Take for instance, the bread.  Even though I though we had figured out how to make bread, it turned out very dense and generally not so great.  But we had to eat it.  It was all the bread we had.  There was no throwing it out and picking up a new loaf at the store while we worked out the kinks in the recipe.

Another example--I had a work meeting where the client wanted to take me out to lunch.  We went to a deli and they order the most amazing cheese steak sandwiches.  Oh my god they smelled good.  I sat and watched  knowing I had a sack lunch of carrot sticks, apple slices, and hard boiled egg in the car.  It was a killer. 

Local week was expensive.  It was shocking how expensive it was.  I understand why this kind of food is more expensive and what that cost represents, but it was still surprising just how much more expensive it turned out to be.  Truly local food is treated like gourmet food and given gourmet prices.  When you drop almost $200 at the farmer's market in one day for groceries for three people, it makes you think twice.  Granted some of those costs were recouped throughout the week because we had to eat home all the time. There are some remedies for this, but that is a matter for another post.

The Best Part, by far
Perhaps the thing that all of us recognized this past week was how eating 100% local brought us all together around the shared experience of food even more.  We normally eat dinner together as much as possible, but this time it was different.  All of us were interested in what dinner was going to be.  We could talk about making it, because almost everything we ate was made by us from scratch, even the hazelnut butter. We could talk about where it came from.  We could point out what we liked about it, complain about the lack of pepper and spices, and laugh about how many times we'd eaten the same ingredient over and over.  Kim said it was almost ceremonial the way we all came together around the food we were eating and preparing.  It gave every meal an extra, deeper dimension that we could all take part in, together.  That was the best part of the whole week.

A Run-Down of Our Week's Menu
Here is a quick summary of what we ate for the week.  I'm leaving out the flowery descriptions because we got a whole week to cover.  You'll see there are some themes.  You could call it repetitive, but really it's the local, seasonal reality.  With more planning and preparation it would be possible to branch out more, but this is what we ate.

Breakfast: 5 grain cereal with milk and honey. 
Lunch: Apples and hazelnut butter, hazel nut butter and jelly sandwich
Dinner: Braised SuDan Farms Lamb shoulder with white wine and chantrelle sauce and roast root vegetables
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with anaheim chiles, heirloom tomatoes and homemade tortillas.
Lunch: Apples with hazelnut butter and cheese quesadilla.
Dinner: Chantrelle soup with 5 grain bread.

Breakfast: 5 grain cereal
Dinner: Clams in white wine and butter.  Bread.  Chantrelle soup.

Breakfast: Poached eggs on toast
Lunch: hard boiled egg.  carrot sticks.  bread.
Dinner: Roasted Eliza Chicken.  Roasted root vegetables. Steamed Purple Califlower and broccoli, bread.

Breakfast: 5 grain cereal
Lunch: Hard boiled egg, apples with hazelnut butter,  salad with chicken on top
Dinner: Sweet Briar Farms Pork chops with creamed mushrooms.  Sauted broccoli and brussel sprouts.

Breakfast: Poached eggs on toast
Lunch: Hardboiled eggs and apples, cheese quesadilla
Dinner: Homemade pasta with pumpkin and chantrelles

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with onions, chiles, and cheddar cheese
Lunch: Hardboiled eggs and apples, leftover pasta
Dinner: Lamb Chops with chantrelles.  Roasted root vegetables.  Mashed potatoes.

Two Exceptions
There were two items that we did not 100% local source--cheese and olive oil.
We bought 2 kinds of cheese--an aged cheddar from Willamette Valley and a soft farm house style cheese from Fraga farms. Both are local companies that produce their own product using their own milk from animals they raise, but they also use salt and enzymes in the processing that are not local.

We also used olive oil from Red Ridge Farms.  This oil is primarily from olives grown in California and crushed at their mill outside McMinnville, Oregon.  They do grow and crush their own olives, but the volume is still very low and constitutes just a small percentage of the actual oil.  I included this because of my desire to support the fledgling olive oil industry in Oregon.  More about Red Ridge Farms in an upcoming post.

Otherwise, everything else we ate or drank for the entire week was as locally sourced as we could get it.   The grains came from a little further away than the other stuff.

Would We Do It Again?  Yes.
Even though we drooled our way past restaurants and longed for orange juice with breakfast, we would do it again.  With more planning and preparation, the 100% local diet could actually be workable.   Might be a great project for the spring.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

7 Days 100% Local--Starting Today

Today is the first day. We woke up to a new day, the start of a week of eating only local foods and local ingredients.  We woke up and realized we had nothing for breakfast--no eggs, no coffee and muffins, no tea, no bread, no bacon, no oatmeal, no pancakes.  Why was this a good idea?

What We're Doing and  Why
We are trying to go seven days eating only 100% locally sourced foods.  This does not mean locally produced foods, like artisan breads.  It means only foods that are grown here or are made from ingredients that are grown here.  

Local can be a subjective word.  Does it mean within 20 mile radius?  Within an hour's drive?  Within the Willamette Valley?  Within Oregon?  For us, it mostly means foods that are grown withing about an hour's drive.  Most of what we're getting is from the farmer's market and most of those farms are within an hour or 90 minutes drive.  There are some things that come from farther away.  Grains grow best east of the Cascades, so our bread and pasta will be regional (Oregon and Washington) but the yeast for the bread is from our own house. 

We are doing this because we want to know what it really means to eat truly local.  It is easy to say "eat local".  What most people seem to mean by that is choose something that looks great at the farmer's market, then they go home and surround it with all kinds of things from everywhere around the world.  Having a local star with a foreign cast can hardly be considered a truly local production.  If the local food movement is going to be anything more than a curiosity, it has to be able to provide all the pieces of the pie.  If the desire really is to move form industrial agri-business to small batch, local food culture, then that local food culture has to be able to meet the omnivorous needs of the people involved.  It is understood that this will require some bending on the part of the consumers involved, but how much bending?  And in what ways?  We live surrounded by grocery stores and restaurants and food carts that literally offer a world of edible delights.  Is there really any way that a strictly local, non-industrial, small batch food ideology can realistically compete with that?  When faced with such outlandish and comprehensive competition, can the ideas of the local food movement be anything more than a whim?

We're taking seven days out of our lives to find out for ourselves.

7 Day Local Food SWOT
SWOT (Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat) analysis is a device that is used by many types of business organizations to think through new projects.  It's a very useful tool that is intended to help the group consider things from several different angles. 

  • We're both pretty good cooks
  • We're familiar with using local ingredients
  • We're motivated
  • It's only seven days
  • We compulsively eat out.  We have food A.D.D.
  • Learning what eating local really takes, what the trade-offs are, and how/if it can be done.
  • Teaching my daughter about food
  • Eating healthier
  • Learning to be more creative with food
  • Learning how to be more purposeful with food
  • It's likely we'll shed a few pounds
  • 100% local food options are impossible to find on the menu of any restaurant, even the ones that bill themselves as local and seasonal.  
  • Coffee shops and social events = temptation
  • Can't run to the store if we forgot something
  • Limited food choices in Autumn might be too limiting
  • School lunches
  • Time limitations with the new baby
Things We Know Will Suck
Already, we know there are going to be some things that are tough to let go of.  Here is the current list:
  • NO coffee (and most teas)
  • NO scones, muffins or pastries
  • NO Cheerios, Cinnamon Life, or other cold cereals
  • NO fruit from other places
  • NO spices, including black pepper
  • NO beer
  • NO eating out in general, or at other peoples' houses

Here is a look in our refrigerator.  I took this yesterday just to get a glimpse of all the things that we will not be using.  Basically, we have to restock our food for the week. 

The Meal Plan
We don't really have a set menu for the week.  But we do have some ideas about what we'd like to eat and when we'll eat them.  

Breakfasts will mainly be eggs, toast, hot cereal, bacon, tea, milk, honey, yogurt (maybe).

Dinners will be mostly meat, veggies, soups, salads.  Maybe pasta one night if we have time.  Left-overs will be important.  Doing meals that will last 2 nights will be important.  Pot roast one night turns into lamb ravioli the next night.  Fritattas are quick on weeknights. Custards for desert make sense. 

Lunches are the hardest, especially when packing for an elementary school student.  Sandwiches go far here, hazel nut butter, jelly, fruits, hard boiled eggs, cheese, veggies, honey sticks.  

For drinks we're pretty much limited to water, milk, apple cider, and wine.  

Using all those components, I think we can swing a week of local only food.  We'll see.

Tonight will be braised boneless shoulder of lamb with roasted root vegetables.  I'll save the broth and use it for wild mushroom soup tomorrow. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Farm Profile: A Little Hope Farm -- Pasture Chickens and Heritage Turkeys

This post is about A Little Hope Farm in Sandy, Oregon.  I'm writing about this farm because we are getting our turkey for Thanksgiving from them.  We've also bought chickens from them in the past. 

The Basics
A Little Hope Farm is owned by Eliza Cannaday and Jeff Hlavac.  It's on five acres in Sandy, Oregon.  Eliza and Jeff live there and do all the work.  They have many animals, but raise Cornish Cross chickens and Bourbon Red turkeys for sale, one small flock at a time. 

The Chickens, the Turkeys, and...the Donkey?
Cornish Cross chickens are not a heritage breed.  I asked Eliza about this.  They'd tried heritage chickens in the past, but it didn't really work out. Americans have a clear idea of what chicken meat should taste like, and that is not how the heritage chickens tasted. "I don't think the American palette is ready for heritage chicken," she told me.  Although Cornish Cross are the most common meat breed of chicken you can buy, the chickens at A Little Hope are strictly pasture raised.  Never crammed into tight little cages--they sleep under the stars, walk around in the rain, eat all the fat earth worms they can find, and live their short 8 week life in about the most ethical conditions you could ever hope for a chicken to have. 

The turkeys have it just as good, if not better. 
The turkeys and the donkey--buddies. Well, sort of...
Bourbon Reds are a true heritage breed, and it shows.  They are about as close to a wild turkey as you can get in domestication.  The Broad-Breasted Whites you buy in the frozen meat case at the super market are descendants of this breed.  Bourbon Reds have not been altered to grow fast or get super-sized breast meat.  It takes about 7.5 months to raise a flock for slaughter.  Compare that to the 12 weeks it takes a normal supermarket bird and you can see that this is no get rich quick scheme.  Seven and a half months means these birds have been outside for most of the year.  They arrived with the spring rains, ate worms and grubs all summer long, took dirt baths on hot days in August, and are now fattening up for the coming winter.  They fly out of their pen to roost on top of the chick coop in the evening. They get chased back into their pen by Eliza in the morning.  Good times for turkeys.

This tom gets all the ladies to himself.
One other important feature of the Bourbon Red turkeys is that they can naturally breed. Because they aren't genetic mutants, they can still get to makin' babies when the mood is right. Ohhh-yeahhhh. 

A Little Hope for a Reason
There are so many good things about the farm that you should know, but one of the most important is the ethics they bring to farming.  It isn't just about humane treatment of the birds they are raising; it's also about humane treatment of the people in their lives.

"If you are lucky enough to have five acres, you have an opportunity and an obligation to grow for your community." 

Five acres is enough, says Eliza, that you can have a small farm with some diversity and enough room for the chickens and the turkeys and goats and donkey and human kids to roam around. 

Eliza and Jeff are strong believers in the benefits of diversified small farms over large mono-cultures.  Not only because small batch farming normally results in less sick animals, but also because it leads to more accountability.
Eliza getting some turkey eggs.  Yummy.

"Buy your meat from who fed it," Eliza says.  This is key to breaking the industrial system.  Even organic farming--if it is embedded in an industrial system--does not increase accountability between the consumer and the producer.  It is the industrialized systems themselves that create separation.  This includes large scale operations like Oregon Country Beef where you can have no idea who raised the meat you are eating.  You're required to put your trust in the system and not the people.  This can create loop-holes and gaps that perpetuate the disconnect and reduce the sense of accountability.

It is this sense of accountability--to the animals they raise, their community of neighbors, friends, and customers, the natural world they are a part of--that motivates Eliza and Jeff.

If you know the person you are buying from, if you see where they raised the animals and what it means to them to have a healthy product, then you are changing the way things are done, even just a little bit.

That is the little hope that this farm is built on.

To find out more about heritage turkeys or pastured chickens, call Eliza at 503-997-8308.

Normally every bird is sold well in advance, so place your orders early.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wild Yeast Bread

A couple weeks ago, my family decided that we would try to go seven days eating only local food.  This means that everything we eat for that week must be locally sourced (not just locally produced).  I wasn't sure how difficult this would be, but I knew it would  be a challenge.  In thinking through what would be required to do this, I quickly realized that one of the biggest hurdles would be grain products, especially bread.   We eat a lot of bread.  Somehow this had to be solved in advance.

I started with trying to find the simplest bread recipe I could.  I knew ingredients would be limited.  Richard Olney's white bread recipe (The French Menu Cookbook) seemed about as simple as you can get.

Dry yeast

Nothing could be simpler.  I make the Salt.  Flour can be sourced locally.  The only issue here was the dry yeast.  How do you find local yeast? 

The Yeast is the Key
Doing some research I found there are several types of yeast.  I won't go through all of them, but pretty much every bread recipe I found called for active dry yeast.  This is the most common stuff you find in the store.  I comes in little packets.  There is regular and quick rising.  It is easy to use, reliable, and quick.  But it is not local.

The only way to get around the active dry yeast issue I could think of was to find a recipe written before those little tin packets were around.  Bread's been made for thousands of years, but Fleischmann's has only been around for the past 140 years and Fleischmann's active dry yeast was a World War 2 invention (source). 

I had to go real old school.  Pre-war.  Pre-industrialized food.  I turned to Miss Tracy's New Cook Book, 1908 edition.  I found a whole bread section in his tiny book, and even through the pages are literally falling out of my ancient copy, there were several that could have worked very well.  The only problem was the Miss Tracy really likes to use "compressed yeast cake".  I have to admit, I had no idea what that was. Wikipedia gives a definition for compressed yeast.  The closest I could come up with that you can actually buy is fresh yeast.  But this is again, not local and I wasn't even sure if it was really the same thing.

So I went off the grid.  There had to be a way to make my own yeast.  The stuff is everywhere--like pollen or dust or any of the zillion other microbes that surround us all the time which we don't realize.  What I found was that making yeast is actually kinda simple and can be done with 100% local ingredients. I used these instructions which call for pineapple juice, but substituted some juice from local apples and called it good.  A week later, I had my yeast goop and was eager to test it out.

Let the Experiments Begin
Local wild yeast is traditionally what is used to make sour dough bread.  That is why San Francisco sour dough has it's own taste.  It's made with the yeast that is in the air in San Francisco.

Using the sour dough method from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I gave it a shot. Now, I suck at making bread. So I was not surprised when the first batch came out like a pair of 100% whole wheat bricks. 

In the the second batch I started working in some unbleached white flour but it still came out very very dense. 

Doing some reading I found that the dough needed to be kneeded a lot to break down the gluten.   White flour breaks down much quicker than whole wheat so if I increased the ratio of white flour to whole wheat it should get easier.  Peter Reinhart talks about the window pane test as a good way to tell when your dough is kneeded enough.
Dough making a window pane from The Way the Cookie Crumbles blog.

For the third recipe, I modified Reinhart's recipe for french bread by substituting the yeast goop for the packaged yeast as described in the book.  My lovely wife supervised (she's a much better baker than I am).  I kneeded the crap out of the dough. After making the new dough and yeast goop almost entirely out of white flour, the dough was finally able to pass the window pane test.  It rose very nicely.  We proofed it into loaves and baked it later that day. 

Not the most beautiful bread, but these were actually edible!  The crust was crusty.  The middle was chewy and had some air bubbles (see the top image).   We could cut through it without needing a hack saw.  Success!

And made with 100% local, wild yeast. 

I'm feeling much more confident in our ability to do the seven days local challenge.  Now that we can make 100% local bread, I think we're good to go!  Hopefully we can find some vegetables this late in the year...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

11 Images from the Market

A big storm is coming.

But before it gets here, we went to the PSU Farmer's Market today to pick up some veggies.  Baby in cart and camera in hand, we were thankful that the rain held out.  But we were really surprised by the colors!  The market was more vibrant than I'd seen it in a long time.  Everything is looking prime right now.

No recipe or cooking in this post. I just wanted to put up some images from the market in honor of fall and color and wonderful family mornings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quinault Rain Forest Mushroom Festival, with recipe

A giant Matsutake.

Let me just start out by saying that I think wild mushrooms are delicious, but had absolutely no clue how to collect them.  Every mushroom seemed like a poison mushroom to me and the thought of being able to identify and collect wild mushrooms without putting my own life at risk seemed crazy.  So, when I saw the listing for the Quinault Rain Forest Mushroom Festival it seemed like the perfect reason to get away for the weekend and learn something magical and delicious.

What a great way to spend the weekend.

This was the 8th year of the Quinault Mushroom Festival, held at the Lake Quinault Lodge.  The weather was the nicest anyone had ever seen.  Clear blue skies in the day.  Starry nights.  Dry enough for a bon-fire by the lake.  No cold wet breeze; just really really pleasant autumn days and nights--the kind we rarely ever see in the Pacific Northwest.

Not only was the weather perfect, but this also was the most popular year ever.  Mike, the festival host, told me that they usually get around 60 or so people at the festival.  This year was over 100.  That made for a couple crowded workshops, but not in a bad way. Sitting in a room full of people who are there because they want to learn about mushrooms and care about the environment that mushrooming depends on was a really great experience.  Most people were older.  Many were retired, I would guess.  And everyone was there to have a mellow good time.  No manic harvesters.  No dread-locked, dirt mongering forest hippies.  No college kids looking for magic mushrooms.  Everyone was considerate and good humored and really easy to get along with.  And the guides were really helpful.  They understood they were taking a bunch of noobs out into the woods and no question was too simple.

Here are some highlights:

The giant living mushroom table.

This thing was amazing. Every kind of mushroom you could imagine was there.  The table was about 20 feet long and had many many trays of mushrooms on it.  All the mushrooms were labeled.  Red meant poisonous.  Green meant edible.  Yellow meant...well, take your chances. They were all alive and had different stages of growth.

This was set up the entire time, right in the middle of the conference hall, so we could ask questions and look around as much as we wanted. 

This table is set up every year and is really remarkable.  At the end they let us pick any mushroom we wanted.

Dr. Trudell's Mushroom Class
Dr. Turdell teaches at the University of Washington and is a leading expert on mushrooms.  Although I missed the first night's class, the second day's class on mushroom identification was really interesting and helpful.

One particularly fun exercise was the hands-on mushroom identification.  We were all handed a clump of mushrooms and walked through how to identify the species using Mushroom Matchmaker.   
Using the program we walked through the steps of identifying these mushrooms:

Cap Shape: rounded
Gills: dark
Habitat: spruce trees (he told us)
Taste: Very Bitter (just take a tiny nibble)

Using the program we successfully identified these a Woodlover Mushrooms.   And they are POISONOUS.

That is why you taste the mushroom and not eat it.  Dr. Trudell assured us we would not die, but my tongue did tingle for about 30 minutes.

Cooking Mushrooms with Quinault Lodge Exec. Chef Patrick Norris

Chef Norris made a really yummy Wild Mushroom Tart for us.  Everyone really enjoyed it.  The Gruyere was a little sharp for my taste, but overall it was really good.  It's amazing how quickly these sorts of things can be put together by knowledgeable people.  It took him about 20 minutes to prepare it (not including cooking).

See below for recipe.

The rest of the weekend they had a special Mushroom Festival menu at the lodge.  I learned that wild mushrooms taste really good with duck confit.  Good to know for the next time I make duck confit.

Mushroom Hunting with Cliff
Cliff.  Mushroom Hunter.

Out of the three guided events, I chose to go with Cliff.  His emphasis was on finding edible mushrooms, not just study and identification.  This turned out to be a good idea.  For, although Cliff was outright pessimistic about our chances of finding anything, we found lots.  He knew that a smaller group is better and played down the situation.  With a group of 15, we all found several mushrooms and some people got some real prizes!  Although we went looking for Hedgehog mushrooms, we spent a good amount of time walking logging roads looking for Matsutake mushrooms.

For some reason, Matsutake mushrooms like to grow next to old gravel roads.  No one knows why. Maybe it's the sunlight, the breeze, the warmth?  Cliff has a theory that the mycelium sends up mushrooms next to roads because it is trying to spread spores past the "barrier" it has come to.  Dr. Trudell didn't think so...

We collected eight different species of edible mushrooms in all.  Each of us brought home at least 2 mushrooms, and some much more.

Cliff showing the correct way to uproot a Matsutake mushroom.

A rare Admirable Boletus.  This was a beautiful mushroom.  The top looked like powered chocolate.

Recipe for Wild Mushroom Tart with Gruyere

Sheet frozen puff pastry
2 large egg yolks
1.5 lbs wild mushrooms
3 Tbs olive oil
1 chopped clove garlic
1 tsp thyme
3/4 cup ricotta
2 Tbs creme fraiche
8oz julienne leeks
1/2 lbs gruyere, sliced (thin)
1 bunch scallions
salt and pepper

Oven at 400.

Roll out the pastry.  Brush with egg.
Saute mushrooms and vegetables and herbs
Mix ricotta, creme fraise and egg yolks. smear on pastry.
Put on the gruyere
Put on the mushrooms
Bake 25 minutes

Drizzle with balsamic if you want.

Important note when serving wild mushrooms (from Dr. Trudell):

1. Notify your guests that they will be eating wild mushrooms.
2. Use only one kind of mushroom
3. Keep a sample to take to the emergency room...just in case.