Monday, April 23, 2012

Grilled Elk to Start the Season

There's no better way to kick off the grilling season than with a nice piece of elk.  

A co-worker of mine regularly gets stocked up with game meat from family in Montana.  Knowing that I'd never eaten elk, he generously gave me a big chunk.

If you are going to eat red meat, elk is better for you than beef.  It is much leaner, has more minerals, and less calories.  Also, the elk meat I got was wild caught and butchered by hand so it did not participate in the industrial food system at all.

Going into it, I had no idea what would come out the other side.  I'd never eaten elk before.  I anticipated something like venison.  The guy at the wine shop said it was something like lamb.  My co-worker warned me to be careful cooking it because it was very very lean.   My wife was fearful that it would be too gamey.  My only consolation was that there's a pizza shop right around the corner from my house.

To prepare the mystery elk I went for very simple, preferring simple true flavors over elaborate layers. I wanted to do as much as possible on the grill as possible.  I focused on using seasonal vegetables from the farmer's market. I went with a mesquite wood fire because it seemed to fit the ingredients.  Elk is a wild animal, it deserves a real wood fire.

Elk meat
Purple and yellow heirloom carrots
New onions
Olive Oil, fresh thyme, sea salt, black pepper.

1.  Coarsely crack the black pepper with a mortar and pestle.
2.  Season the meat with fresh sea salt and the cracked black pepper.
3.  Grill the meat over a mesquite wood fire to medium.
4.  Rub with olive oil,  then grill the onions and asparagus.
5.  Roast the carrots in the oven with some olive oil and fresh thyme.

Maybe it was the combination of salt, pepper and smoke, but the meat had none of the gamey flavor that some people had warned me about.  It also wasn't lamb-y either.  In fact, it wasn't like any type of meat I could think of.  It tasted sort of like what I imagine brined beef would taste like.   In any case, it was delicious and we'll definitely be eating more elk in the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Lab Meat Local?

This is a little bit different than what I normally write about, but I thought I'd stretch out.  

I found this article a while ago and it got me thinking.

In Vitro Meat: Will 'Frankenfood' Save The Planet Or Just Gross Out Consumers?

There are lots of reasons not to eat meat. Some people object to the inhumane treatment of the animals. Some people want to avoid the higher cancer rates associated with red meat intake. Some people don't want to support the environmentally taxing production methods.

But what if all that was taken away? What if no animals were killed, the meat was actually filled with beneficial nutrients, and the environmental impact was basically eliminated? Sounds too good to be true? Well, not if you are willing to buy your meat from a meat lab. 

How many vegetarians would open up to a nice lab-burger? 

In some ways this reminds me of things like veggie-sausage and soy nuggets. All those vegetarian products designed to look and taste like meat products. They never really do taste like the real thing, but people still eat them because they contain almost none of the negative associations that so many people object to. This could be a whole new category of food. Cruelty-free meat. Almost like cubic zirconium--the cruelty free diamond. You could choose from veggie-dogs, lab-dogs, and hot dogs. Restaurants could have a "No Kill" option on their menu, similar to the vegetarian options sometimes given. Or they might call it something more positive like "Heart Healthy Meats"--the marketing departments will find a good name for it. Or it will just slip in as a supporting ingredient and we'll never even realize it. 

Think of all the beer you've drank lately. All the brewer's yeast required for that beer was grown in a lab. And the hops were probably designed in a lab too. Same with yeast and flour that was used to make the bread for the sandwich you might be eating for lunch today. Laboratory created.

What if you had a bowl of lentil soup and the chicken stock used as the broth for the soup was made from laboratory chicken meat? Could you tell the difference? Probably not. Would you care? Would you prefer it?

Either way, it doesn't surprise me that this is coming along. I have no doubt it will make it onto the shelves in the US (with no labels required) sooner or later. We already eat so many things that are dependent on laboratory creations.

Would laboratory meat be the antithesis of local food? What if it was meat cultivated in a local lab from indigenous species? It would certainly be a betrayal of the aesthetics of the local food movement, but possibly it could meet the principals of the local food movement better than most small farms today growing imported breeds of cows.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oregon Sea Salt Batch 4

I get home from work to find a snotty nosed toddler and a tired wife.  This on-again, off-again cold season just won't quit.  It's wearing us out.  For a while the baby is fine, then green snakes of snot start to make their way out of his nose.  Sick toddlers are whiny toddlers, all day.  Kim needs a break.

We decide to get out of the house for a hour and get dinner.  Take a breath.  Have a drink. Change the scenery.  We go to a small place down the street with an easy kids menu and good appetizers.  After corralling the kid for fifteen minutes, they bring the food.  It's good, but just a little bland.  I grab for the salt shaker and sprinkle.  What I get is the sharp tang of something that tastes mechanically-separated.  At least the change of scenery is nice.

The next day some friends invite us over for dinner.  It's been a long week and we're glad to see them.  The kids play.  The adults have a glass of wine.  We're talking about the curiosities of our kids and the confusions of parenthood.  We're talking about new music coming into town.  We're talking about living our lives.  We're sharing a table together.  We're enjoying the evening.  The meal is responsible.  The produce is as local as you can get this time of year.  Even the wine comes from a local vineyard.  The table salt, however, comes from anywhere but here and it has the tangy, mechanically-separated, iodine enriched taste.  It's salt designed to meet strict standards for crystal size and a consistent pour.  It's industrialize salt.  It's the standard on tables across the country.  It's something I only notice because I've become preoccupied with salt.  But these are not the thing to talk about at dinner.  We're were not invited over to talk critically about the table salt.  We are there to enjoy the evening, with our families, and share a table.  So, that's what we do.

"Table fellowship" is what Michael Pollan calls it.  Our time with friends, our connections around the table, the bonds we make eating together are more important that the moral hazards we create for ourselves through our judgments about the world.  When given a choice, take the responsible route.  When there isn't a choice that meets your standards, enjoy the time you have and the connection of a shared meal with the people you are enjoying it with.  In this line of thinking, a shared meal has deep roots and is part of our common human inheritance.  The importance of maintaining these ties and participating in the ritual, regardless of the food selection, is the stronger moral imperative.

It's late fall and we are spending a weekend at the beach with friends.  The weather is typical Oregon coast weather--raining, windy, cold.  The house we rented holds several families.  Everyone has kids.  The plan for the weekend is to get away from the city, to enjoy each others' company, to let the kids run wild (the couch is destroyed and converted into a pillow pit), and to cook meals together.

In the back of my car is the empty blue jug.  We're out of salt again which means I need to go to the ocean.  I bring this up and one brave volunteer comes along. We drive the 200 yards to the beach simply to save the work of carrying the full jug back.

Standing on the beach, the scene could hardly be worse.  The ocean is rough and gray.  The rain is coming down sideways.  We're standing in the cold sand, pants rolled up, staring at the water.  This sucks, we joke.  Let's get it over with.  I strip down to t-shirt and pants and wade out. The water is painfully cold. My feet go numb within an minute.  The waves roll in and splash up my body while I try to keep the jug submerged so it can fill. My hands are turning blue. My hair is dripping with rain. When the jug is full, I tighten the cap and carry it back to the beach.

The weight is magnified by the awkward shape of the jug so we take turns carrying it back over the sand dune and down the path to the car.  We laugh about how one 60 lbs jug of water takes both of us to carry.  We complain about the wind and rain.  We hurry as fast as we can back to the car.

Is this it? my friend asks. Yes, I say, now I just have to get it home and boil it down. I  thought there would be more to it, he says, it's actually pretty cool--thanks for letting me come a long.  Thanks for helping, I say.

We get back to the house.  The wood burning stove is hot and the whole house is warm.  Did you get what you needed? my wife asks.  Yeah, i did, I say.  The water is in the back of the car.

The warmth of the house is wonderful. I'm wet and salty and feel completely refreshed. I'll take this little scoop of the ocean home and reduce it down. It will make our food better. It will provide the sodium our cells need, from the most primal of sources. When it is gone, I will go back to the ocean to fill my jug again.

"A cloudy morning, I took 5 men and set out to the Sea to find the nearest place & make a way to prevent our men getting lost and find a place to make salt" wrote William Clark on December 8, 1805 when he set up a salt works on the Oregon coast at the place we now call Seaside. Clark knew the importance of salt. It not only seasoned their food, but also allowed them to preserve the meat for their long expedition across the country. Without salt cured meats, their long trip would not have been possible. In the end, Clark's salt works on the beach made 28 gallons of salt.  That salt made it possible for them to make the long journey  home. The salt was "excellent, fine, strong & white", said Clark.

We travel down to my mom's house and the problem comes up again. The little shaker is on the table. I want to enjoy the meal and not think about how many miles that little vial of salt has traveled. How much processing went into it.  How metallic the taste will be.  So I try not to.  The meal is good.  And the company is nice.  But awareness brings its own conflicts.

The next day we are eating at home. My toddler son is eating noodles and occasionally feeding the dog noodles. My daughter is looking sideways at the strips of porterhouse steak on her plate  and mostly eating everything else. We laugh about how much she used to like t-bone steak, when it was the only kind of meat she could name. This night we're having steak from cows raised on Mt. Hood and bought from a friend who had two cows slaughtered.  My wife has made a recipe out of Mark Bitterman's Salted. It's Porterhouse au Sel et Proivre.  We have roasted beets, edamame, and rice on the side.  A glass of wine too.  The black pepper is freshly crushed. The salt is excellent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Provider Profile: Jacobsen's Oregon Sea Salt

Some men reach a point in their life when they realize happiness is something you have to make for yourself.  It doesn't come in a box.  It isn't something milled and standardized. It's about making every bite something to remember.  It's about throwing away the little glass bottles and using your hands to grab what you need.  It's about sharing sustenance with friends and loved ones.  It's about pulling rock from the ocean because that is what you love to do.  It makes your life better.  It makes your loved ones' lives better.  In fact, everyone who is touched by it is better off.

Benjamin Jacobsen was certainly not an unhappy man.  Like almost everyone else in the modern world, he thought life was just fine.  That little shaker on the table was good enough.  Silver topped.  Iodine enriched.  A smooth and consistent pour.  Maybe his wife did not know the passion she would unleash that fateful night when she finally got Benjamin Jacobsen to try Sel Gris with his dinner.  Preposterous! thought Benjamin Jacobsen.  $7 for a tiny thing of salt.  Ridiculous!  Then he took one bite.

"It's so easily overlooked, but it makes all the difference in the world."

The difference between table salt and Sel Gris is important and recognizable.  That night became a turning point in his life.  It sparked a passion that would eventually become more than just an interest or a curiosity; it would become his work.

At first, he would seek out the fine salts.  Handmade salts.  Delicious exotic crystals.  The passion was started. He started carrying a little jar of salt in his suitcase on business trips.  He started bringing his own salt to restaurants.

Then he began making his own salt.

Soon he was taking the ocean with him.  Canoeing with friends he'd grab a gallon of water to bring home.  A beautiful day at the beach with his wife, and a gallon to bring home.  At a wedding party in La Paz, Mexico, and Benjamin Jacobsen is carrying a slice of the Sea of Cortez into the kitchen.

"It was amazing," says Benjamin of the salt he made in La Paz.  "It really does have a different taste. It's so much better than what you get normally."
  • Mexico
  • The San Juan Islands
  • 10 locations on the Washington coast.
  • 25 locations on the Oregon Coast.
  • it goes on...
Today, Benjamin Jacobsen is pulling rocks from the ocean.  He is sharing with friends.  He is making every bite better.  1000 gallons a week. 

"I want to make the best salts in North America, and we're well on our way to doing that."

Don't let the little bag fool you.  This is a salt you grab with your hands.  Crunch it in your mouth.  Taste a slice of the ocean, direct from Oregon and Jacobsen Salt.

Available in the spices area at New Seasons, among other places around Portland.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Survey Results: Local Food In Your Life

PLEASE NOTE:  If you'd like to be a part of the next Farming Portland food survey, sign up!  Even if I emailed you last time, I will need you to submit your email so I can have a valid list.

A couple weeks ago I published a local food survey.  I was curious to find out how much people spend, where they shop, and what their impressions are.  There were 124 responses from people all over the country.  The survey even went international with one response from Holland!

A big Thank You to everyone who completed the survey.  The results are interesting and have a couple surprises too.

Some General Observations
Labeling needs to be clear and understandable.  Sustainable food especially has to address this.  Most people have little idea where their food comes from and how it was produced.  When we think of the problems with over-fishing, this should be a top priority for food manufacturers.

Price is a problem.  I've often remarked that it is a mistake to position "local" food as a premium product because it limits the growth of the local food economy.  The survey results seem to support that.  Price is a strong factor when people shop.  People are only willing and able to spend so much (around $150 per week). If the prices at the store are too high for local, sustainable, and/or organic food, then most people choose not to buy those things.  If local is going to be everyday, it has to have everyday prices.  Same with organic and sustainable foods.

Food spending at $100-$150 per week remains consistent regardless of the type of store people shop at.  What does change is the number of people involved.  2 person households skew toward premium grocery stores while 4 person households skew toward standard grocery stores.  To me, this means cost is a stronger factor.

2 person and 4 person households in the survey ranked pretty similar when it came to their cooking styles. 78% of two person and 74% of 4 person households were likely to cook from scratch several times a week or practically every day.  This is interesting because it shows that the business of family life--kids, school, etc.--does not seem to be a hindrance to cooking from scratch.

72% of 2 person households reported that they enjoyed cooking while 39% also indicated that they had busy lives.  While 4 person households also reported that they enjoy cooking (62%),  the same percentage were also more likely to point out that their lives are busy and they need quick and easy meals.

Shopping Habits

What do people look for when they are shopping?  
  • 81% local
  • 79% organic
  • 69% seasonal
  • 64% fresh
  • 63% ripeness
  • 56% sustainable
  • 37% low sugar
  • 9% fat free

Where do people shop for their food?

  • Big Box Stores -- 63% never, 17% only for something special, 6% regarded it as standard
  • Discount Grocery -- 67% never, 6% standard
  • Normal Grocery Stores -- 51% standard, 12% never 
  • Premium Grocery -- 40% standard, 27% when they can, 23% for special items only
  • Specialty Stores -- 42% for special items, 24% never, 19% when they can, 6% said this was their standard
  • Farmers' Markets -- 61% when they can, 15% standard, 8% never
  • Clubs/CSA - 57% never, 13% standard, 12% not available
  • Stands and Carts -- 43% never, 37% when they can, 4% standard

Organic Food  
Most people appreciate organic food, but price and people's understanding of what organic really means are obstacles for this group.

71% had a positive disposition toward organic food.
50% were concerned about price.
7% expressed confusion or concern about what "organic" means and the certification process.

Organic food gets a bigger backlash than I had predicted.  7% were either confused about what "organic" means or openly complained about the certification process.  
  • "I think the certification process is a sham."
  • "the lowered organic standards now in effect concern me". 
  • "The term can be misleading. Many uncertified farms are offering better quality food than organic stuff you can get in a huge store. Practices are what counts."
  • "I don't think the certification is the last, or only word though."
  • "It is good but labeling can be misleading; organic is not always best"
  • "tough to know exactly what "organic" means - but it's better than processed"
  • "I'd like to know what food is truly organic and what just passes the checklist and can label it 'organic'."
Also, organic got the biggest ding for being overpriced.  50% of respondents remarked that the price of organic food as an issue.  Are producers price gouging for items labeled "organic"?  It's possible and people are noticing.  
  • "I would eat more if it wasn't so expensive."
  • "The cost of organic stands in my way. I am the only income, so I have to be careful with my budget. If I could afford it, I would everything organic."
  • "Expensive at times"
  • "We eat it all the time, but it bothers me that it costs so much more.  We still pay though."
  • "it's expensive but worth it."

Sustainably Produced Food 
This food label seems important, but not well understood or identified.

72% had a positive dispostion toward sustainable food
27% expressed concern about the price of sustainably produced  food
12% expressed confusion over sustainable food, especially identification and labeling.

Surprisingly, 1% more people had a positive disposition toward sustainable food than organic food.  However, 12% also had trouble understanding and/or identifying sustainable food at the grocery store. 
  • "Right now it feels like just a trendy catch phrase."
  • "unsure how to know/find"
  • "It's hard to find"
  • "Many products don't easily show on their packaging how they are produced.  If it were easier to tell that thing were sustainably produced, I'd be more likely to buy that product."
  • "Without set standards it is hard to verify it's truly sustainability"
  • "I don't know what to look for."
  • "Don't know if the food is sustainable."
  • "I may already buy sustainably produced food, but I am not sure. I wish there was a label for that."
  • "not quite sure how to know it since I shop at Fred Meyer"
  • "no label info that I know of."
  • "Another thing I just don't know how to find the information on and would love to know more."
Local Food  
Variety and availability were an issue for local food eaters.  Like "sustainable" food, price was an issue for some, but not to the same extent as organic food.

85% had a positive disposition toward local food. 
25% expressed difficulties finding local food.  
27% said price was an issue.  
15% said there was not enough variety
  • "Very short growing season"
  • "I'm really big on bananas, avocados and mangos...hard "
  • "Not always easy to achieve "
  • "I would love to eat local but I don't know where to get it"
  • "seasonal winter"
  • "no convient locations"
  • "I would like to try to eat more locally, but I tend to eat foods that are in season year round, and I want what I want."
  • "Not all nutritional needs can be filled local year round, thus seasonal."
  • "I would not limit myself to only local due to food preferences (eg. oranges, bananas, etc.)"
  • "Life just wouldn't be the same without lemons, mangoes and bananas."
  • "I'd get it if I they had local farmers markets (that are open year round) by my home or if I could easily go to Sauvie's Island more."
  • "We've had fresh, local food delivered to our house two different times.  Once was great, and once they shut down and kept all of our money.  I'm leery of doing that again."
  • "Accessibility is an issue. I need it in my store or at my door."
75% of respondents were from Oregon.  
7% were from California.    
The remaining 18% were from 11 other states and Holland (one response).

13% of responses were from households with only one person.
29% were from two person households.
23% were from three person households.
27% were from four person households.
5% were from five person households.
3% were from households with six or more people.

25% spend less than $100 per week on food.
42% spend $100 to $150 per week.
17% spend $150 to $200 per week.
12% spend $200 to $250 per week.
4% spend $250 or more on food every week.

68% of respondents said they enjoy cooking.
50% of respondents said their life was busy and they needed quick and easy meals.
9% said someone else cooks for them
9% of respondents said they don't like to cook.

46% cook from scratch practically everyday
28% cook from scratch a few times a week
19% cook from scratch when they have time on the weekend
2% said they cook from scratch only for special occasions.
5% said they could not remember the last time they cooked from scratch.

16% use coupons all the time.  57% rarely.  27% never.

85% had never participated in a food challenge.

78% of respondents look online for cooking ideas
61% of respondents collect cookbooks
48% of respondents talk to their friends about cooking ideas.
23% of respondents have a cooking app for ideas
3% of respondents belong to a cooking club

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Cheese Steak: Eating Local in Philadelphia

Don't forget to take the Local Food in Your Life survey. Results posted at the end of the month.

Last week I spent 24 hours in Philadelphia.  I've been unsure what to say about this experience.  On one hand, you have all the historical things.  Philadelphia is truly the birth place of our country.  The First Continental Congress.  The Declaration of Independence.  The home town of Benjamin Franklin.  George Washington had a house here.  In 1776, Philadelphia became the birth place of freedom and the American revolution.
Independence Hall

Not only is it the birth place of freedom, it is also the birth place of the maximum security prison.   In 1829--just 53 years after the cause of freedom and liberty was struck--construction was started on Eastern State Penitentiary.  This building would become the model for more than 300 subsequent penitentiaries around the world.  Ironically, the architect of the prison conceived of his vision for the prison while having dinner at Benjamin Franklin's house.
Guard tower outside cell block one.
Cell Block One.  Originally there were no doors.
The accommodations

There really is a statue of Rocky, and the "Rocky Steps" leading up to Philadelphia Art Museum are a tourist attraction unto themselves.  The statue of Rocky seemed silly to me at first, but after spending a day in Philly, it started to have a meaning.  I get the sense that this is a city that needed a modern hero.  There are so many statues of dead people who did amazing things in Philly a long time ago.  It is a city living in the shadow of itself.  It's an interesting juxtaposition to think of the modern hero Rocky in comparison to historical heavy weights Franklin and Washington.  One city--how times have changed.

The cheese steak is as much the local food as Rocky is the local hero.

This is the train-wreck of a cheese steak I got at the airport.
I ate four cheese steaks in my time in Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, none of them were from Geno's or Pat's.  Jim's on South street had a line around the block in the rain, so I decided to pass.  The cheese steak I got from George's in Reading Terminal was undoubtedly the best of the ones I did get.  But, they were all generally the same:

  • French roll
  • Shaved beef
  • Melted Cheese (either american, provolone or "sauce")
  • Onions and peppers are always optional

If you like a little gastronomy with your history, there is one place definitely worth checking out.  The City Tavern is the tavern that the founding fathers hung out in.  Now restored, they offer a colonial style menu, but more importantly they have Ales of the Revolution (from Yards Brewing who makes a mighty good IPA).  You can drink the beers that founded this country!

George Washington's Tavern Porter.  Based on a recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room of the NY Public Library.  Although it's labeled a Porter, seemed more like a CDA.

Thomas Jefferson's 1774 Tavern Ale.  Jefferson's original recipe. Apparently he was a home brewer.  This one seemed more like a smooth american style amber.  A bit of hops, some spruce flavors, with a clean finish.  

Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce.  Franklin's recipe actually written when he was in Paris.  Very smooth, almost like a cream ale. No hoppiness at all.  Vanilla and a hit of molasses.

Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Ale. A light ale that I assume has some connection to Hamilton.  Very light in color but hoppy--almost like a fresh hop ale.  I thought there was a hit of walnut flavors in there somehow.

If you have 24 hours in Philadelphia, here are some things to do:

View 24 Hours in Philly in a larger map

Saturday, February 11, 2012

6 Ways to Make Valentine's Day Local

Don't forget to take the Local Food in Your Life survey. Results posted at the end of the month.

Photo by Box Me Up and Ship Me Out

It starts off as a cliche:  I'm standing in the aisle at the grocery store, looking at a wall of imported foods.  I'm leaning over the case at the jewelry store, gazing at sparkly things from around the world.  I'm walking between the rows of flowers harvested thousands of miles away and flown in.

Everywhere we look, we're surrounded by wonderful things collected from around the world and transported directly into our neighborhoods.  Sometimes we don't even think about how many things and ingredients and components from other lands are included in our everyday life.  This valentine's day, I'm taking a moment to think about my buying choices, and trying to find a way to support my local economy by buying local.  Here are six ways you can make a difference and substitute a local item for something imported.

1.  Fruity Drinks
Eating out is maybe the most common way of celebrating Valentine's day with the one we love.  Those cocktails are filled with tropical fruits and liquors brought in from far away places.
Fruity Drink photo by Miss Peach
Local alternative:  Rogue beer.  The Chateau Rogue label of Rogue Brewery is 100% local ingredients and a perfect substitute for imported mixed fruity drinks.  Rogue pub in the Pearl has a good  supply.

2.  Flowers
Everyone gives flowers on Valentine's day.  Their bright colors light up any room.  It's too bad they are cut by impoverished child workers, flown around the hemisphere in a day, and trucked across the land to get to the store in time.

Local alternative.  Red Kale.  This colorful and hearty winter green is not only beautiful but edible.  Available wherever local veggies are sold.

3.  Chocolates
These sweet morsels are the classic gift to give to your sweety.  Unfortunately there is nothing local about the cacao and sugar needed to make these.

Local alternative:  Six cleaned trout. Locally and sustainably caught trout can be a great alternative to foreign mass-produced candy.  Ask Flying Fish Company what they have in stock.
Photo by Cobalt_grrl
4.  Jewelry
Although it is very common to make your partner's eyes shine with precious gems, jewelry is nearly always trucked in from somewhere far away where it was probably extracted from the ravaged ground of a destroyed ecosystem.

Local alternative: Raw oysters.  These little gems always say "I love you" and their legendary aphrodisiac qualities can give a little boost to the second half of your Valentine's day.  Yeowzers!  Check Eat to find great oysters in Portland.
Photo by mindync

Photo by Dyste's Grocery
5.  Perfume
Many people like giving and getting perfume on Valentine's day. Sometimes there is nothing better than dressing up and smelling good.  Unfortunately, these little bottles of scented chemicals are filled with unpronounceable tinctures from the corners of the earth.

Local alternative:  5 lbs. chuck roast.  What would be better than the down home aroma of a hearty stew simmering on the stove.  5 lbs. slab of locally raised red meat is just the thing you need.

6.  Lingerie
Although this is usually a gift for yourself rather than the other person, lingerie is something many people buy on Valentines' day for the loved one.  However, almost all lingerie is made from synthetic materials derived from petroleum products making this outfit not only imported, but a sure way to increase your carbon butt-print.

Local alternative:  A block of butter.  Just because it tastes better than polyester.  And it's spreadable.  Available from any of the local dairies, like Noris Dairy.
Hopefully this has been helpful.  Take a few minutes this year to find ways to make your Valentine's Day more local.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Farming Portland Survey and Favorite Sources Tab

The Farming Portland Food Survey
There are so many reasons not to eat local and sustainable.  I know that in my house, we've tried and failed many times to eat more local, to support our local food economy, and to eat less industrial food.  But the demands of work and life make the convenience of grocery stores undeniable. 

How does your family handle these challenges?  What resources do you rely on to feed your family?  Please take a couple minutes to fill out this 100% anonymous survey.  I'd love to learn more about how your family handles these challenges.  I'll post the results at the end of the month. 
    • 100% anonymous.
    • This survey should take less than 2 minutes of your time.
    • Check back later in the month to see the results..

Also, this week I am launching the:

The Farming Portland Favorite Oregon Sources Tab
This is something I've been thinking of creating for a long time.  There are so many really good sources for sustainable food here in the Portland area, but not everyone knows about them.  Because I've been asked many times what sources I like for this or that, a local resource page seemed like a good idea.  This won't be everything, just the things that I like.  I'll work on updating it as more things cross my path.

  • Links to responsible local sources
  • I'll be updating this over time with more information
  • Great vendors you might not have known about

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuna Balls

I'm standing on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park.  The ocean is dark grey and the wind coming over the water is cold.  The clouds are heavy and low; rain could come at any time.  This is what the Oregon coast is like most of the year.  It is not a soft, warm place for beach towels, bikinis, palm trees and coconut scented sunscreen.  It is a hard cold place where ancient volcanic flows meet icy currents from northern places.  The ocean is always dark and never warm.

Beach grass at Nehalem Bay State Park, looking toward Nehalem Bay.
We leave the beach and are heading back to Portland.  After spending a weekend renting  a house with some friends, I appreciated the break from routing but are looking forward to getting back to that routine with the baby.  The weeks upcoming responsibilities have already started pulling our thoughts back to home.  My wife and I are discussing the logistics for the next five days.  Our minds have left the beach, and it's time for our bodies to follow.

But the ocean is there, next to us, undeniable.  And I know that under the impenetrable surface lives a bounty of creatures.  These creatures are my connection to this place. The water is too cold to swim in.  The  cliffs are too steep to climb.  But the seafood is there to be savored.

We stop in Cannon Beach to get lunch on the way home.  The town is cedar shingles and narrow streets.  Now is the off-season and the day is rainy.  There are no lines; parking is easy. Surprisingly, good seafood restaurants are hard to find on the Oregon coast.  A generally slow economy combined with heavy dependence on tourism mean many places don't last a whole year.  The ones that do survive are generally low priced and moderate quality.  The harvest of the sea is captured and distributed to other places with stronger economies and stronger demand.

We stop at Ecola Seafood for lunch.  To our surprise we find a menu full of delicious ideas and a deli case stocked with fish and shellfish of all kinds--whole crab, salmon fillets, halibut steaks, shrimp cocktail, oysters.  Stacked in front of the case is something I'd never seen before--locally caught Oregon tuna in cans.

Fish Balls

In The Essential Mediterranean, Nancy Harmon Jenkins says the fish balls recipe comes from a little Sicilian fishing port of Porticello and that Franco Crivello serves them like tiny meat balls, rolled no bigger than marbles, as an appetizer.  The recipe is simple--make meat balls out of tuna and serve them with red sauce.  In her recipe she uses tuna steaks, then grinds them like ground meat.  Egg and bread crumbs hold things together just like a real meatball.  But I don't have tuna steaks, and I don't have time to drive across town to Flying Fish Co. to get responsibly caught local tuna.  Then I remember the cans.

Canned tuna, while probably not as good as fresh tuna, would probably work just fine in a pinch.  Luckily, I find some at New Season. Whole sections of tuna in a can.  7 oz of loin steak for $7.   Expensive.  This is the sames as $17 per pound of fish.  The pricing is not competitive, especially when Starkist is on the self below at a fraction of the cost.  But it is the only option for line-caught, local tuna.  And it is only half a mile from my house.  It will have to do.

Franco Crivello's Fish Balls
The recipe is very simple, basically make little meat balls out of fish.  If serving as an appetizer, make them marble sized.  If serving as a main dish, make them ping-pong ball size.  Make sure to add enough egg to get them to hold together.  I had to add an extra half an egg.

Oregon responsibly caught canned tuna
Grated Romano cheese
Italian parsley
Roast pine nuts
Black Currant
bread crumbs

Mix everything together to your liking and form into balls.  Saute the balls in vegetable oil until they are brown and the egg has set.

For the sauce, make a simple red sauce.  I don't like red sauce very much so mine is chunkier than they call for in the recipe.

Can of tomatoes (crushed or diced depending on your texture preferences)
White wine
Pinch of sugar

Saute the onions and garlic until soft, reduce the white wine, add tomatoes and spices.  Done.

How you serve this is up to you. I put it over rice for lack of imagination.  Overall the recipe is good. I would add more spices to the fish balls next time, more salt at least.  I left out the currants because I didn't have any and the pine nuts didn't really add much for me so they could stay out next time too. More cheese might be nice.  And the sauce needs more complexity.  But different and healthier than beef meat balls.  A fun thing to experiment with.