if you’re tired of greens

If you’re tired of greens and you know it, salad-spin, salad-spin!

If you’re tired of greens and you know it, salad-spin, salad-spin!

If you’re tired of greens and you know it and you’re trying to be a good little locavore and the whole damn state of Oregon is stuck in perpetual spring and it won’t get warm and your beans aren’t growing and your tomatoes are rotting on the vine and you’ve eaten more lettuce than an entire army of slugs and the greens still keep coming and coming, endlessly, leafily, inexorably, cruelly…

salad-spin, salad-spin!

I’ve grown so desperate, I even altered one of my oldest, dearest recipes to use up a braising mix of chard, kale, mustard greens and spinach. And the recipe? Green potstickers. Yes, potstickers. Who knew? I’ll post about it tomorrow when I have more time.

licking letters: meadowfoam honey

A certain famous architect tells a story about his childhood in a traditional Jewish family, a story that sits so well with me I just might curl up with it, some hot biscuits and butter and a cup of tea, all unctuous with clear, golden, musky honey.

To learn the Hebrew letters, the teachers traced them on paper with honey and let us lick them, he says, so we could learn how sweet the word was.

Those of us who write for a living know, instinctively, what those teachers meant. But isn’t there always time for another reminder? Make a date with some local honey. In the Willamette Valley, we have extraordinary varieties of honey. Poison oak honey is said to be an inoculant for encounters with the rash. Blueberry honey is fruity and clean. We have fireweed honey, madrone honey, and raspberry honey. Blackberry honey is ubiquitous, but if you ask me, it doesn’t taste like anything special, unfortunately. Certainly not like the best local honey of all, a Willamette Valley specialty: meadowfoam honey.

I made my acquaintance with meadowfoam honey out at Detering Orchards, a local u-pick farm that has an astounding range of fresh produce. The jars of honey were marked M/F, and being in gender studies and all, I wondered if that meant it was ok to eat if you were male or female, or a combination of both, so I asked.

“Meadowfoam honey,” was the response. “It tastes like toasted marshmallows.”

Now, being no great fan of marshmallows, I hesitated. I wanted my honey to taste like honey. But the adventurer in me couldn’t resist.

Meadowfoam is a plant that was introduced in the Willamette Valley in 1984, one of those new get-rich-quick crops that anticipates consumer demand for a trendy ingredient. Meadowfoam bears a pretty white and yellow flower that issues an oil that has fatty acids found good for skin and hair, so it is used in beauty products. Importantly for us, it’s a marsh plant, so it grows well in poorly drained soil.

It also makes some darned good honey. I don’t think “toasted marshmallows” is the best term to describe it; it’s more like caramelized custard, with a hint of burnt sugar. It’s a soft and very sweet taste and unlike any honey I’ve had. I’d imagine a honey cake would be delicious with meadowfoam honey, but I just eat it straight out of the jar on plain yogurt. Or lick it in alphabetic curlicues off a plate. Because I swear that when it coats my tongue, I can taste our valley. I learn more each time about just how sweet it is.

seascape strawberry fields forever

Always, no, sometimes think it’s me,
But, you know, I know when it’s a dream.
I think, er, no, I mean, er, yes, but it’s all wrong;
That is, I think I disagree..

Today was an alarming day at the Saturday Market. Hundreds of Eugeniuses wandering around blissfully, aimlessly, with sticky smiles and red hands. Everyone — everyone! — was holding at least a pint of the best strawberries in the world: Willamette Valley Seascapes. There was an odd quiet in the crowd, for we were all smitten and dazed and, dare I say it, high. Although some farms have had Seascapes out for a couple of weeks now, this was the first, wonderful week when the berries are gorgeously sunkissedly beautifully pumped full of sweet sunshine. And partook we did, a love fest in honor of the Bacchante-laureate weekend, the start of summer, and finally some normal June weather.

Vive strawberries! Vive June! Vive us!

most requested items at Lane County food banks

Have you ever wondered what donated foods in food drives might make the best choices for hungry folks in your area? As part of my Food Pantry Project volunteer training yesterday, we visited the splendid Food for Lane County facility, and saw the storehouse for all the efforts that they do on behalf of hunger relief. We discussed how the USDA and corporate donors historically supplied a great deal of the bulk grains, dried legumes, dried milk and cereals, but the souring economy has severely reduced those supplies. In short, we’re facing a food crisis and there’s quite a bit you can do.

I’m going to write a longer post on this topic as I start my volunteer work at local food banks sharing information about government commodity foods, but I wanted to send out a plea for the most requested items for individual donations to drop stations and during food drives:

  • peanut butter (shelf-stable (i.e., not “natural” like the one I pictured above) is best)
  • canned tunafish
  • canned fruits and vegetables (consider giving low-sugar and low-sodium versions)
  • canned meals, such as soups, beef stew or chili (consider giving low-sodium versions)
  • rice and pasta (consider giving brown rice and whole-grain pasta)

The above-listed items are the ones recommended by Food for Lane County. The instructors in my Food Pantry Project class also encouraged donations of instant oatmeal, dried soups, and legumes. And, as the summer goes on, if you have fresh produce from your harvest you’d like to donate, please contact Food for Lane County to discuss how to do this.

Basically, when you’re thinking about which foods to choose, consider the nutritional content of the food. Items that are shelf-stable with high protein content or enriched with vitamins are great. Canned meals can be eaten by people who don’t have a stove. If you donate something like a can of chili and a can of kidney beans, those items can be combined to stretch the meal even farther. Tuna can boost the protein in a rice casserole.

This area (and Oregon in general) has a significant diabetic population, so something else to keep in mind is the sugar content of donated foods. People do donate candy and soda, and there are many better options.

If you donate an expired or dented can of food, it isn’t necessarily destroyed. I’m not sure if this is the policy at all food banks, but I do know that some offer these products (after checking them carefully, of course) for voluntary pickup by patrons of the food bank.

If you donate a huge bag of say, oatmeal, food banks can portion it out and provide it in boxes in smaller bags. Food for Lane County also accepts bags and cans of pet food for local relief agencies for animals.

introducing the favalous fava bean!

Although the lingering chill has affected the hot weather crops, our cool weather ones are doing just fine! I continue on with sweet snowpeas, and the favas are happily ripening in other gardens.

Today, I am on assignment for my CSA, because their favas are finding their way into boxes for the next few weeks. Widely used in the Mediterranean and Middle East, favas are used in myriad ways both healthy and lovely. I’ve been looking at some beautiful recipes from Italy, Tunisia, Morocco and Japan. You can’t go wrong with preparing fresh beans and pureeing them with some olive oil and garlic for a wonderful dip, but there’s much, much more to try.

Fava beans, if they had an advertising campaign, would bill themselves as “Europe’s First Bean.” Thorngrove Table, an absolutely wonderful medieval food blog, featured their history in a post a few years ago. As with all ancient foodstuff, the fava bean is associated with otherworldly legends. Some cultures cast fava beans for divination (favomancy), and others plant them as magic beanstalks to reach up to a giant’s castle. Having planted mine as green manure in February, I missed the traditional day in Italy to plant them, November 2 (All Souls’ Day), which gave the title “beans of the dead” to the fava, and the other traditional day in Europe, Good Friday, seems a bit late. I also failed to plant them in the night, another superstition for good luck.

Favas were seen as both good and evil. On the dark side of the force, they were seen as the vessels that held the souls of the dead. Other mortal dangers include favism (a serious chemical intolerance of the bean that creates anemia in some people of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent) and, of course, the reputation they have as an accompaniment to human liver, with a nice Chianti. The pods are said to be toxic, and you should avoid eating the beans raw.

When the force is with them, favas have pretty little white and black flowers, and the young beans are tender and just as green as can be. The plants fix nitrogen in the garden via little nodules on the mature roots, so they’re not only pretty but great for your soil. You can eat the young plant tips sautéed with butter and garlic, the young beans as you would green beans, and the older beans shelled, which taste of the essence of spring.

Shelling fava beans involves a double commitment: first you need to remove them from their tough pods, then, after boiling the beans for 2-3 minutes, you need to remove the tender green innards from their waxy shell. But honestly, they’re worth it. And if you’d like to skip a step, you can buy the shelled beans frozen at Middle Eastern markets, but you’ll still need to remove the waxy shell after boiling them.

Some delicious ideas for the beans:

  • Lamb stew with favas and green almonds, eaten by Moroccan Jews in the spring – apparently the Israelites ate favas when they were slaves in Egypt, so they are a symbolic food at Passover;
  • Italians eat young favas with watercress and pecorino in a salad, or creamed with melted pecorino and cream (see recipe for the latter in The Silver Spoon Italian cookbook);
  • Japanese vegetarians puree the beans and serve them with thin slices of fried eggplant seasoned with soy;
  • Alice Waters has a quick, simple recipe for fried artichoke bottoms topped with freshly boiled, warm fava beans in Chez Panisse Vegetables;
  • Another recipe from The Silver Spoon is a lovely variation of fava puree – boil the shelled beans with small cubes of raw potato in vegetable stock, then mash together and serve with some olive oil.

But the most unusual and lovely one, in my view, is the most seasonal, too. Until sundown tonight, many Jews all over the world are celebrating Shavuot, a holiday that honors the Torah. It also coincides with the grain harvest in Israel, so it makes sense that North African Jews would celebrate with a traditional dish of buttered couscous topped with fava beans and sautéed onions. Claudia Roden has a great description of the classic recipe in her The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. The classic often includes powdered sugar or cinnamon and raisins, plus dairy drinks on the side, to symbolize “the land of milk and honey.” I decided to add a non-traditional ingredient to the dish, local fennel from our weekly market, to change and layer the flavors in a different way. It’s a delicious and beautiful side, perfect for everything from a vegetarian meal to fish to chicken.

Couscous Topped with Favas and Caramelized Fennel and Onion

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

1 cup quick-cooking couscous
5 T. salted butter, separated
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly and chopped
fronds from the fennel, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped sweet white onion or spring onions
at least 1 cup prepared fava beans (shelled twice)
salt and pepper

Shell and cook the fava beans: Remove the beans from the pod, then boil them for three minutes. Shock in cold water, then slip off the white, leathery skins. Set prepared beans aside in a bowl.

Prepare couscous according to the directions on the package, using 1 T. butter instead of olive oil. Keep covered and warm as you make the topping.

Fry the onions in 2 T. butter over medium heat until they are beginning to caramelize (color dark golden). Add fennel bulb (save fronds for serving) and continue to sautée until the fennel and onions have some dark brown caramelization. Add salt and pepper to taste, then fold in the prepared fava beans.

Just before serving, season the couscous with 2T. butter, cinnamon, and fennel fronds. Mound couscous into cone shape with flattened top on a platter, and crown the top with favas and fennel mixture. Serve warm.

in which summer may turn a blind eye to us, but we still bbq with abandon

We celebrated Retrogrouch’s birthday with an overcast, chilly BBQ yesterday. I lost track of how many glasses of local Riesling and Pinot Noir I drank, but it was ok, since it was local, so I knew I’d find my way home. I’m a little dazed this morning as a result, but I thought I’d present the menu. Yesterday was one of those golden cooking days, when you can’t make a mistake even if you try and deliciousness is shooting like lightning bolts from your fingers. Don’t tell me you don’t have these days, because I know you do.

Menu

Home-corned beef* with wholegrain mustard
Willamette Valley Cheese Company grape pomace gouda*
Ancient Heritage Dairy Adelle soft-washed cheese*
My dilly bean* pickles
Roasted scallops with home-preserved lemons
Country ribs marinated in citrus, cumin and oregano*
Long bean and new potato* salad with leeks*
Savoy cabbage blue cheese* hazelnut* coleslaw
Mesclun* salad with radishes*, radish sprouts*, snowpeas* and cucumbers
Sweet Cheeks Riesling*-macerated cantaloupe
Fruit tart from Eugene City Bakery
Metropol and Hideaway bakery bread
* local product

Perhaps the best dish was the Savoy cabbage coleslaw with blue cheese and hazelnuts. I don’t particularly like coleslaw, and mine always turns out badly. I have a great version that’s more carrots than cabbage, but this new variation is better — a coleslaw I’d gladly eat any day. The hazelnuts are crucial, and their freshness is paramount, so don’t substitute or skimp there.

Oregon Blue Cheese Hazelnut Coleslaw

(serves 8-10 as a side dish)

  • 1 small head savoy cabbage
  • 2 medium sized-shallots
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 3 green onions or 2 tender leek scapes
  • 1 cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1 c. Hellman’s mayo
  • 1/4 cider vinegar
  • 1 T. spicy brown mustard (Ploughman’s)
  • 1/2 t. ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup high quality, not too crumbly, blue cheese, such as Oregonzola

Shred cabbage finely and add to large bowl. Chop

green onions, green pepper, and shallots rather finely. Add to cabbage.

Chop hazelnuts in a food processor by pulsing briefly 3-4 times. You want there to be large pieces, but not as big as halves. Add to cabbage.

In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, vinegar, mustard, pepper. Chop or crumble blue cheese as much as possible, then stir into dressing, trying to dissolve all lumps. Add to cabbage, mix well.

Let sit for several hours in refrigerator before serving.

sigh.

Billy Mac’s is opening June 10. I’ve already posted about my fears that this will be the same old, same old: a Eugene restaurant that serves the same stuff that every other place in town serves. It looks like I was right. But tapas, you argue, they’re serving tapas. And I say TAPAS?! Why in the ethnic-food-diverse world? Has Eugene finally caught on to the Bay Area hot trend of…1999?

I’m sorry I’m preemptively bitter. But when I see that the McCallums are redecorating with family pictures to recreate a bit of Eugene gone by, I get really grumpy, rite quick. And last week’s Register-Guard headline, “El Vaquero back to its own ways,” didn’t help much. (Maybe that’s where they got the tapas idea.) The owners of El Vaquero decided not to sell and instead dump the expensive yuppie menu (good idea) and go back to the old menu (bad idea). Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, Eugene. There are more than two ways to skin a cat.

And since I’m bitter today, I’ll just make a brief comment about a restaurant owned by another group of locals who is trying to do the same old, same old with pizzas and pastas…or rather trying to make meals you can make at home and charge restaurant prices for them. We finally made it to Pasta Ravello. Good god. I haven’t had a meal that dreadful in a long time. The space is nice, but it ends there. Indifferent service, slow kitchen (on a night where we were one of two couples in the restaurant), a wine “special” that was a scant glass of the dregs of a bottle of their priciest wine, a pizza with sauce so sweet it was like candied tomatoes, a spaghetti and meatballs special that was large, boiled (??) grey, under-seasoned meatballs with no more than a third of a cup of sauce over a huge mound of pasta, and Caesar salad that was nothing short of revolting. Thank god they served a lemon with it; we squeezed it on top and pretended it was wilted greens. Unsalted. Peh.

New blood, Eugene Restaurant Powers-That-Be, new blood!