Saturday, November 26, 2011

Browsing and foraging

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I read Jane Kramer’s New Yorker piece on foraging. It’s much in vogue at present; she quotes a blogger as naming this the era of the “I foraged with René Redzepi” piece.  Free, wild foods, the kind of eating that could keep you alive through a starvation winter, are used these days to create some of the trendiest, priciest meals going. People wait months for a reservation at Redzepi’s restaurant Noma to sample dishes made from ingredients their grandparents might have felt shamed to bring to the table. 

Just compare the photos and recipes in my friend Jenny Hahn’s recent Pacific Feast, a beautiful paean to the wild tastes of our coastal woods, beaches and waters with the looks and style of the Stalking the Wild Asparagus and other Euell Gibbons titles from the 1970s to see how foraging has moved from quirky and funky to quirky and chic. It’s an interesting evolution, and I’m curious what will happen next. 

Now, at least in the developed world, it’s the poor who eat the purchased, processed foods that used to be a sign of wealth, while the affluent head out in search of seaweed, barnacles, and tubers, and treasure each laborious step of their cleaning and cooking. 

In poorer societies, as traditional foods expert Elizabeth Luard points out to Kramer, adults may be reluctant to talk to visitors about the shoots and roots they use to vary a diet of limited staples. It’s a sign they can’t afford to eat whatever they might want. Children often make better information sources; they have the time to range through the countryside in search of edibles, and they do it for fun as well as from hunger. 

As a country kid, and also a bookish one, I roamed the woods behind our house with a copy of Erna Gunther’s Ethnobotany of Western Washington, where I learned that Makah women drank nettle tea during labor “to scare the baby out.” That didn’t seem applicable to a nine-year-old, but I tried the salmonberry shoots and fern fronds she listed before going back to the berries and mushrooms that provided the most taste and the most colorful adventures. 

In college, I hoped to impress a guy I liked by serving up a plate of wild berries—salmonberries, thimbleberries, salal, red huckleberries—with some woodruff-flavored wine. I think I was trying to recreate a scene from “Elvira Madison” (the romantic picnic part, not the murder/suicide that followed). It didn’t work, but since I later learned he was gay, I can’t really blame the meal. 

Dave Beck and Jimmy Hoffa
My next reading after the New Yorker was a folder of manuscript fragments from a novel my parents started in 1958 and never completed. It was based on the life of Dave Beck, the Teamster Union leader who came to grief and a term at the McNeil Island Penitentiary after famously pleading the Fifth Amendment 117 times in front of a Senate committee. Beck had moved to Seattle at the turn of the last century as a young boy and grew up poor. In the novel, he and the narrator spend the kind of childhood morning that Luard was talking about.

One morning in the late summer we got up early and went over the hill to Shilshole Bay, where thickets of evergreen blackberries grew near the shore. It was a bright, dewy morning. The scent of cedar was sharp and bitter in the morning air.  The distant splat of jumping fish came like music across the water. 

There was an Indian campground not far down the beach and the bushes and been well picked over down low. By leaning driftwood against the tangle of vines, however, we could walk up high enough to reach the dusty, popping ripe berries on the uppermost shoots, big as walnuts, sweet as honey. 

I was looking for more planks to pile against a promising climb in the eel grass of a low draw leading back from the bay I found the canoe. It was a dugout, the kind the river Indians used, seldom seen on salt water. It was short and flat-bottomed, with a narrow shovel nose and a wide, flat stern. There was a crack a third of the way down the right side but cedarbark fibers had been pounded into the breach. It had been lying in the draw a long time. Ferns grew from the dirt accumulated in the bottom. 

Drawn by my posture or my expression, Marc appeared at my side before I could call him. I looked from the boat to him and he nodded.

We fell on our knees and clawed out the accumulated dirt with our bare hands. We dragged her down to the beach and turned her over the scraped the soft wood of the bottom with a sharp rock to get rid of the muck that clung to her. We rubbed her down inside and out with fern and horsetails. Then we respectfully lifted her and carried her over the round, barnacled rocks and set her on the flat, cold water. 

She floated high. The water was flat calm and so clear we could see the barnacles waving their pale feelers in search of food.

Marc, deferring either to my local knowledge or foolhardiness, held her while I gingerly mounted her. She was unstable, rocking, it seemed, with my very breath, but she did not go over. 

I climbed out and ran along the beach looking for a paddle. I found a length of one-by-four worn smooth by the water and brought it back. She was steadier when in motion. I brought her back to the beach and somehow Marc got in without spilling us. 

I paddled north, staying close to the shore. Flotillas of jellyfish drifted past, their delicate edges pulsating languidly. Across the rock floor of the bay an occasional small sole darted and disappeared, or a crab race murderously on tiptoe after some unseen victim.  Enormous purple starfish hugged the rocks. Once a hair seal thrust his head from the water and studied us with quizzical spaniel eyes, then leaned back and slid backwards out of sight, like an old colonel slipping out of a rocking chair. 

We passed the spot where the Mukilteos camped on the beach, and farther on a run-down shack where somebody yelled at us that the dugout wasn’t safe. We kept yelling “What?” until we were safely out of earshot. Nobody came out after us. 

All through the long, gentle morning we worked north along the shore. Marc tried paddling but almost tipped us and gave me back the board. “I don’t swim so good,” he said, sitting very straight and tense. We ate the berries from the pail and when it was empty landed and filled it with water that dripped from a clay cliff, in which we carved our initials.

Shortly before noon we landed again to look for more berries. The tide was well out and as we dragged the dugout up the mud beach clams sent up little geysers about our feet. We found broken branches in the tide wrack and came back to dig. It was a good bed. Within an hour we had a big pile of clams, maybe two dozen. I went down the beach to some rocks to look for mussels; there weren’t any but I did find a couple of rocks covered with tiny limpets, the kind called Chinese Hats or Chinese Slippers. I brought them back, rocks and all. 

Marc had matches, kitchen matches, which he carried in a small bottle and sold for a penny apiece to men along his paper route who needed a light for their cigars or pipes. We found a cedar board and broke it by leaning it against a boulder and dropping big rocks on it. We scraped a hole with our fingers in a stretch of clay beach and filled the bottom with round, flat rocks and built a fire in the hole. When the cedar had burned out, we put the clams on top of the rocks, and set the rocks with the limpets in the middle, and piled kelp streamers on top, the way the Indians did. Then while the clams steamed we went berrying again.

There weren’t any blackberries but we found a bank covered with huckleberries. The berries are small and hard and they grow close to the branches between brittle green leaves. I showed Marc another trick my brothers had learned from the Indians around the lumber camps. We stripped the branches, leaves and all, into the berry pail until it was almost full, then we went back to the beach and found another cedar plank in the driftwood. We wet down the plank in the Sound, leaned it against a log, and rolled the berries down the board. The leaves struck on the hairy surface of the wood but the berries rolled on down. 

By the time we had finished culling the berries, the clams had steamed open and the limpets loosened their grip on the rocks. We mashed some of the berries between rocks and spread the tart mush on the shellfish, and found a level spot in the shade of a madrona. As we ate we looked out across the water, past the islands, to the purple barricade of the Olympics, sudden against a cloudless sky. The snow was almost gone from the mountains and they looked very near.    -- Murray and Rosa Morgan

I don't know if Beck actually any mornings as idyllic as that, but as a kid I also cooked clams and limpets in the sand at Harstine Island, and later learned from Jenny Hahn that kelp is a superior thickener for stew as well as a good moisturizer for steamed shellfish.  

 The correct huckleberry picking technique—whether to pick each tiny ripe fruit individually as I do or to strip the branches as the boys did and then clean and cull—is still a debate among my island friends. One of the 11 pies served up at Thanksgiving was huckleberry; I don’t know which method Sonja used, but the result was sensational.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Frankfurters take on new glamour..."

My mom had many cookbooks and even more clipped recipes—big paper bags and boxes full of recipes from newspapers, from can labels, from cream cheese packages, from friends….usually not from magazines because the New Yorker and I.F. Stone’s Weekly are short on cooking tips. They were stuffed into baskets in her bedroom, in various drawers of various dressers all over the house, sometimes mingled with the clippings on local transportation issues that she also saved obsessively. (How she would have loved to ride the Sounder train to Seattle.) I found many hundreds more in the attic after she died. It was hard to toss them in the recycle, but I but I knew I would never look through them all. And of course now we have the Internet, so a personal copy of an interesting recipe is not so important. I kept that ones that actually made it to the kitchen, so I can recreate her salmon mousse and Yule log cake, and I know from apprenticeship how to make her one-egg omelet, her peerless mushroom soups and beef stews.  

A crown roast of wieners
I also kept her New York Times Cookbook, The American Heritage Cookbook, the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and of course Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vols. 1 and 2. I already had a Joy of Cooking, though I mourn the loss, somewhere along the way, of her wartime edition with its many tips to deal with rationing. But up in the attic I found another tome I’d never heard of-- The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedia of Cooking and Homemaking, from 1940. This consists of 17 pamphlets, bound together on a metal comb, comprising more than 5000 recipes, plus menus and household tips, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, who got her start in the recipe business by teaching nutrition in immigrant settlement houses.

Since I’m old enough to remember as simply dinner (or school lunch) the retro foods people laugh about now, I had a pretty good idea what kind of recipes I’d find. We had lots of those elaborate Jello salads when I was a kid, the ones with cauliflower and carrot slices shimmering inside.  The Edgemont School cafeteria served up truly awful scalloped potatoes and beans with Vienna sausage. And I still fondly remember making and eating the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts that accompanied the martinis at New Year’s Eve.  I figured I knew about the fare promoted by “one of America’s foremost organizations devoted to the science of Better Cookery.” 

I was right about a lot of that. Some of the suggestions are mind-boggling, and I want to thank Mom right now for never bringing them to the table: “Frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic,” reads one photo caption. “Whole hard-cooked eggs in this jellied tuna loaf add a gay and decorative note,” is another. There is a whole section in the Snack chapter on “balls on picks,” including one called Burning Bush--cream cheese and chopped onion rolled in minced dried beef. (That one we may actually have had.) But as usually happens when we start feeling superior to our forebears, further study turned up complications. Though I might not want to make a frozen fruit salad topped with maraschino cherries,  I was surprised that it was to be served on a bed of chicory. Tossed salad suggestions included “lettuce, chicory, spinach, chives,” “watercress, dandelion greens, spring onions,” and “spinach, chervil, chopped onion, parsley.”

The vegetable section is full of varieties that we tend to think of as our own foodie discoveries, ferreted out from more authentic locales: salsify, kale, kohlrabi, fennel, collards, broccoli raab, dasheen, leeks, and more. There are five recipes just for salsify and several for cooked radishes. Desserts include persimmon meringue, ground cherry and elderberry pies, and avocado cranberry sherbet. 

The meat section shows how to debone and stuff a chicken, with photos that brought back the duck scene from “Julie and Julia,” minus the hysteria, as the Encyclopedia admits no qualms, only chipper uncomplaining efficiency whether the challenge is a freshly killed bird or an almost empty larder:  “A crown roast of wieners is an ideal solution for guest problems when the budget is low.”

"Use a skewer to pull out the tendons one at a time."
Furthermore, whatever cut you may be faced with, it’s got you covered: Maryland stuffed hog maw; beef heart with prune stuffing; calf brain rissoles; stuffed goose necks. It has a moose recipe, though I have to say that the one I’ve used (it’s Pot Roast with Hazelnut Barley in Winter Harvest) is better. It explains in the detail that I needed when we first did our own butchering, how to pluck and clean a chicken.  Should I really have been surprised that a generation where at least a quarter of the population had grown up on farms would know about dandelion greens or have the backbone to tackle a goose neck? 

What is strikingly lacking in the Encyclopedia is the array of spices, herbs, and other condiments we, or at least I, take for granted in cooking. Salt, pepper, parsley, occasionally celery seed—that’s about it, except for ginger and nutmeg in cookies. Ambitious hostesses evidently focused on elaborate presentations—carved vegetables, piped cream cheese decorations on aspic, diamond-shaped tea sandwiches—instead of on fusion flavors. 

Another thing missing is the sense of enjoyment in the kitchen that comes from Joy of Cooking and from Mastering the Art… There are no chatty introductions to the recipes, and the captions focus more on the satisfaction of a job well done than on the pleasures of  the table. From what I’ve read, Berolzheimer herself, though a formidable organizer and community activist, was not much of a cook. No doubt the tone also reflects the reality that her readers mostly had to cook three squares a day whether they liked it or not, being in the generation after household help was common but before box food and takeout were ubiquitous.

I’ve yet to cook from the book myself. I’ve been too engrossed just looking through it. But I’m going to hit the candy section this Christmas season to see if I can recreate my Great Aunt Gertrude’s divinity. (As Gertrude aged, her packaging got a bit sketchy.  We stopped eating her candy the year we found mothballs mixed in with the bonbons, and I’ve waited a long time to let that memory fade before trying my own.)

The Encyclopedia went through several more editions, though the Institute itself is long gone from its Chicago offices. I see that the 1988, and final, edition is in stock on Amazon. I don’t know what’s in that one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pear Squash Soup

This started out as a recipe on, developed by Leah Koenig. Hers suggests chicken stock and crème fraiche, and it was delicious that way.  I’ve been fiddling with it and am also happy with this vegan version. If you prefer to head in the other direction, I think this could be an example of the unknown (to me) omnivore’s advice about the original Moosewood Cookbook: “Take any recipe and just add some bacon.” 

I used the sugar loaf delicata variety pictured here. Any flavorful winter squash would be fine. Do keep in mind if you have delicatas that they, like acorn squash and most pumpkins, are the same species (Cucurbita pepo) as summer squash like zucchini. They don’t hold their flavor nearly as well as the Hokkaidos, butternuts, kabochas and their ilk. So if you have a harvest of both, use the delicatas first. 

It’s also easy to have too many pears this time of year, since they tend to ripen in a rush. This could be a good recipe to make in quantity and freeze, or have friends over for Soup Night.

I just figured this one out, so it is not in the Winter Harvest Cookbook. My friends and I have decided that at my current pace of a revised edition every 20 years, the 2030 Winter Harvest will be the Winter Puree Cookbook as we’ll mostly be in our 80s. This would fit right in, not that I intend to wait that long to make it again.

Pear and Squash Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups chopped onions or shallots (I used leeks and yellow onion)

A bout 2 cups baked winter squash.( I used the Sugar Loaf Delicata variety pictured)

About 2 cups ripe but still firm pears, peeled, cored, and chopped

About 1 cup chopped potato (Suit your taste on the peel. If you want a smoother purée, then peel it; if you like a bit more texture, just give the spud a scrub)

½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (the choice depends in part on how much you may want to cut the sweetness of the squash and pears)

4 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons miso (I used yellow miso)

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper

Maple syrup (optional)

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook 3 or 4 minutes until they are limp. Stir so they don’t stick. Add chopped potato, cook another 2 or 3 minutes, and add chopped pears for another few minutes. Onions should be soft. 

Add roasted squash, stir in thyme, add vinegar and stock, stir again, and bring to a simmer. Put miso in a small cup. Ladle out some stock and mix with the miso to liquefy. Add to the pot and simmer until potatoes and pears are completely cooked. 

Remove soup from heat and purée to taste. I used an immersion blender. Stir in salt, pepper, and paprika.

Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over each serving if you want.

Note: I nearly always roast squash no matter what the original recipe says. It’s a hassle to peel a winter squash, especially a ribby one like an acorn squash, and I like the caramelization that happens in roasting, as I’m not generally a fan of ultra-sweet vegetables.  Also, it’s much easier to deal with excess if it’s roasted. Just scoop it into a container and freeze it; that’s it. I also intend to try drying the roasted purée, an old treatment I saw somewhere. I'll report when I have more information.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Beet Goes On

I’ve been doing some editing and research for Binda Colebrook as she prepares the 5th edition of the estimable Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, (look for it next year from New Society Publishers) and she is paying me partly in produce. 

Among my takings was a big, really big Robuschka beet. Robuschkas are a rare variety, at least in the U.S.  A  bit of Googling did bring up dozens of references in German. A lot of people hate beets, and even those who like them often avoid the great big ones, fearing they will be woody and not sweet. But Robuschkas are known for consistent sweetness, and this one was bigger than a softball and firm and fine-grained all the way through. 

First we made borscht. It was wonderful. Here is my friend Gale Lawrence’s  recipe:
            Grate or chop in matchsticks:  beets and carrots
            Mince onions
            Sauté onions briefly in canola or other unflavorful oil.  Add a small amount of fennel seeds and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add grated beets and carrots and continue to sauté on low for 5-10 minutes to develop flavor.
            Add vegetable broth and simmer for 15 minutes or until beets are almost tender.  Add diced potatoes and/or chopped cabbage and cook an additional 10 minutes until soft.
            Add honey (not much if beet is very sweet), juice from 1/2 lemon and chopped beet greens. Cook about 10 minutes more.  Add salt, etc.
                Serve hot or cold with yogurt or sour cream and chopped parsley or dill.

We had it hot. Gale’s note was that this beet was so sweet that very little honey was needed to balance the flavor. It was delicious borscht, and we made a lot of it, but there was still more than half the beet remaining.

Next I cubed a bunch of it and roasted it along with onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. That was OK, a bit on the sweet side for my taste despite a liberal hand with the soy sauce. And there was still a hefty chunk of beet.

A few days later I made beet risotto, a suggestion that came originally from Mike DeArmand in Seattle (thanks, Mike!).  I used at least a cup of the grated beet, along with some of the greens and a couple of cheese ends—fontina and romano. It was bright magenta and really delicious. I ate it for dinner, and for lunch the next two days. And there was still lots more of that beet. I was beginning to think it had arrived from a fairy tale, along with the endless cup of mead and the love that never dies. Or maybe it has a sort of beet Midas touch; everything it encounters in the vegetable drawer turns to Robuschka.

I was getting ready to make a dessert for a potluck, my never-fail carrot/date bars from Winter Harvest, when I remembered that at least one of the other guests avoids gluten. So I switched from wheat flour to coconut flour. Coconut flour is great for folks who are allergic to gluten and/or tree nuts, as the coconut is a different botanical family as walnuts and their ilk.  But as a baking medium, it has the problem of being very dense and very dry. Dishes made with it tend to crumble and lack that moist lusciousness we want from our pastry treats. Enter, Robuschka. I grated in a hefty chunk of beet along with the carrots and dates. It was hit, but the beet remains.

I do have a recipe for a luscious beet/hazelnut/chocolate cake (Also in Winter Harvest, see below), but I’ve finally whittled my monster down below the necessary for that one. Instead I’m going to braise it with some red wine and a red onion my across-the-street neighbor gave me when I came over to buy eggs. And I’d better get on that, because today when I went out to get the next installment of my produce pay—leaf lettuce, spinach, lettuce, pears, chrysanthemums—I also got another Robuschka.

Robuschka beet seeds are available from Turtle Tree Seed:   Lutz Winterkeeper is another good variety for large, sweet beets

Nutella Pudding Cake
Rich, dark, moist, non-dairy, and gluten-free, this treat delivers one of my favorite flavor combos—chocolate and hazelnut—with the hidden surprise of beets, which provide the texture and tint of an old-fashioned velvet cake. It is a fine use for the great big, overwintered beet varieties, and a reminder that sugar beets used to be a major crop in the Pacific Northwest. It’s modified from a recipe by Elana Amsterdam, author of The Gluten Free, Almond Flour Cookbook and the Elana’s Pantry blog, Elana’s motto is “simplify, satisfy.” In this case you could probably add, “seduce,” rich and silky as it is.

2 ½ cups chopped, peeled beets
¾ cup agave syrup
½ cup water
4 eggs
½ cup light oil (canola or grapeseed)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup fine-ground hazelnuts (I use a coffee grinder)
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Pour the syrup in a medium saucepan, add the chopped beets, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until beets are soft, about 30 minutes. Purée the mixture until it’s as smooth as you can get it. Mix in the eggs, oil, and vanilla. Mix the nuts, cocoa, and salt, into a large bowl, add the beet mixture, and stir thoroughly.

Pour batter into a greased, 9-inch cake pan and bake until a knife in the center comes out clean—30-40 minutes. The sides will puff up a bit and the center will stay moist.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Catch of the Day

 Purple and white potatoes from the tub on the deck, sugar snap peas, new garlic, and a tiny golden beet from the alley beds, all harvested today and served up with a just a bit of salt and vinaigrette. Life is good!

The WSU website informs me that this hissing, stripy critter, which was deep in the potato tub until I unearthed it today, is a ten-lined June beetle.She's about 1 1/2 inches long. I know she's a she because she lacks the large feathery antenna ends that the males use to scent out female pheromones.

The larvae eat plant roots, but they are not numerous enough to be a problem, so I left her here in the lettuce after the photo op.

After and before: 
This shot of snap peas, (many) volunteer poppies, garlic, a calendula, and a bit of bindweed, was taken today. The one below is the same bed in April.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Believing It

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, by Lucille Clifton. Illustrations by Brinton Turkle
There’s a children’s book that was a favorite with my daughters and that I have now started reading to my granddaughter, called The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring. A little boy in, I’m guessing, Brooklyn named King Shabazz gets irritated with  the grownups’ talk about nesting birds and flowers and crops, things he has never seen, until he and his best friend Tony Polito take an unauthorized walk on their own to the next block. There they find a vacant lot with a fabulous-to-five-year-olds dead car….and some flowering weeds (“Crops!”) and a birds nest.  Tony’s big brother finds them out of bounds and they’re in lots of trouble, but they don’t care. Spring is here. 

I thought about King Shabazz and Tony yesterday while spreading compost and gathering the first “new growth” garden salad of the year: corn salad, kale tips, and tiny bits of lettuce and radicchio from two plants that mysteriously survived the hard freezes and torrents of the last couple of months, while my artichokes, rosemary, and even some of the leeks bit the dust  February-sown spinach is up outside, along with the first few chards and lettuce sprouts, and leeks and artichoke starts are thriving on my glassed in front porch. Granddaughter Hailey and I planted peas in a raised bed in the alley, her main job being to walk over the row to tamp it down. Parker the dog took a nap in a patch of sunlight. Although it will be a couple of months before I can figure to get most of my salads from my own yard, all this cheers me up. I admit to being tired of roots, and greens at the store are both expensive and travel weary, a dreary combination. 

Besides their existential pleasure, these “crops” make me feel self-reliant and sustainable, and that’s where reality threatens to intrude. Mostly I subscribe to the “every little bit helps” school of response to uncertain times. A Post-Carbon Future looms? I’ve got my peas, artichokes, and 50 heads of garlic on the way, and I can walk to the grocery store. Western Washington is overdue for an earthquake and tsunami that could rival the tragedy in Japan? I’ve got a windup radio under my bed and rain barrels full of water—I’m ready. Commuting solo in my car contributes to global warming –at least it’s a Prius, and I bought it used.  I recognize the magical thinking involved in these responses, but since I can’t personally create the societal and economic retooling it would take to meet a global challenge, I take some small steps, and teach people how to cook with local vegetables. Like most everyone else I know, at least people of my age, I do want a comfortable life as well as a useful one. I want to be, as I recently read in a beautiful eulogy that showed up on my Facebook, “worthy of rest” when my time comes. Plus I want to eat good food, get good haircuts, and go dancing a lot while I still can. 

Do small steps matter? In any revolution, and a drastic change in climate and fuel supply is likely to resemble (if not create) one, there comes a time when moderation gets swept away, for good or ill. Years ago my friend Marilyn memorably described the kind of 1970s style academic Marxist who was all for the revolution, unless it would interfere with tenure. I cringe a bit at being the kind of environmentalist who is all for sustainability unless it would interfere, for example, with my plans to jet off to our next international tour with the Kulshan Chorus.  Some of the wildly varying estimates for the carbon footprint of passenger jet travel put it at twice the use per mile of single occupant car travel, even allowing for hundreds of passengers on a flight. (One factor complicating the estimates I’m seeing debated on science blogs is that emissions produced at higher elevations have a stronger greenhouse effect.) Add that to the longer distances of most air travel and one would have to make a whole lot, a lifetime’s worth, of bike rides to the post office to offset one trip to Europe, let alone reduce  energy use. For people who don’t accept Peak Oil scenarios, that’s irrelevant as long as they can afford a ticket. For people like me, for whom the end of the carbon age seems plausible, and quite likely preferable to the alternative of stripping oil out of every fragile ecosystem under which it hides, it creates a dilemma. As long as I’m burning jet fuel at 30,000 feet to sing about peace, justice, and human understanding, does that make it ok? 

Presumably, the right thing to do is to start living a post-carbon life in advance of dire necessity. If this is what awaits our children and grandchildren, aren’t we more likely to get it right if we practice? And if I believe that living in tune with what the planet actually can provide its own rich satisfactions, I shouldn’t feel that staying home is a sacrifice.

It’s easy to way overthink the simplest things. The obsessively examined life, or diet, or political philosophy, can be a great big preachy bore, and most people won’t live a preachy bore of a life unless they have no choice. 

Meantime, spring is coming whether or not my carbon conscience is clean, and thank goodness for that. When I was a teenager, my dad was diagnosed with a cancer that was generally terminal. The next spring when he walked out to the “Druid’s grove” of trilliums in the woods behind our house, he promised himself he would see them the following year as well. Thirty-five years and many health scares later when he was finally too ill to make that short walk, I knew for sure that he wouldn’t be with us long; he died a few months later. Since I left home, everywhere I’ve had a patch of dirt I’ve planted trilliums from that grove. Once they get established they go on and on, so I assume they are fulfilling their own vows of renewal in the hills of Sonoma County, on the end of E. Yesler Way in Seattle, and on the border in Sumas, just as they were in my yard yesterday, when I pulled back some mulch and saw them unfolding. Like King and Tony, I may be in trouble but I believe in spring. 

For a much crisper take on some of these issues, written a couple of years back by someone younger, more energetic and with a stronger scientific background, here’s the “friendly neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix of Doom,” Sharon Astyk:

And for general inspiration about doing what we can where we are, Wendell Berry:
The question which must be addressed… is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious and exciting way different from all the others.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Onward and ForeWord with Winter Harvest

My good news of the morning: 
ForeWord Reviews is pleased to announce the 2010 Book of the Year Awards list of finalists. Representing more than 350 publishers, the finalists were selected from 1400 entries in 56 categories. These books are examples of independent publishing at its finest.
The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers selected from our readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor’s Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans this June.
Keeping in mind the standard used by booksellers and librarians for purchases/acquisitions, judges will take note of the following:
  • Editorial excellence
  • Intent of book met by author
  • Originality of subject matter
  • Accuracy
  • Author credentials
  • Professional packaging
I’m getting the impression this is sort of like Sundance for independent publishers, except -–as we would have to expect of a contest run by librarians--without the designer dresses, tabloid coverage, big money, and Robert Redford (though I’m sure Redford has the greatest respect for librarians).

Anyway, I’m thrilled that Winter Harvest is a finalist in the cooking category, and that gives me another chance to thank New Society Publishers and to say that Celeste Enriquez is the surely the world’s best illustrator of gnarly root vegetables. She can make celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes both recognizable and glamorous, and that is no easy feat.

Here's the list:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grow Northwest Magazine

The new issues has lots of good stuff, including a Winter Harvest review focusing on the earliest spring produce. Wonderful photos, CSA lists, chef and restaurant profiles, how to build a raised bed, and lots more.  Check it out:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New growth in the garden, holdovers in the kitchen

On Sunday, once the temperature reached the low 30s F, instead of the 11 degrees of a few days before, we got busy with the new potato barrels. Andrew cut 55-gallon food grade barrels from the fish processing plant in half and drilled holes in the bottom. Now I have four planters ready  for the fingerlings I'll be planting soon and the sweet potato slips that I intend to try one more time, come June. 

 Another happy sight, maybe not beautiful but a pleasure to see, is the garlic sprouting. Both the fall-planted cloves and the more recent plantings are charging forward. Thanks to my friend Bill Bowes, I have several new varieties to try although as usual I have faltered in my plans to keep close track of which type is which. Fortunately he also gave me a cheat sheet illustrating the subtle differences in leaf shape and growing habit, so all may not be lost.

Snowdrops and marsh marigolds are unfazed by the weather. So were the collards and kale, but they are not quite as photogenic.

 In the kitchen, I was looking at the final little kabocha squash from last year's garden. I also have some cabbage in the refrigerator and collards in the garden, plus a couple links of  frozen chicken sausage. So we'll have soup. The base recipe is in Winter Harvest, reprinted below. This version is going to get some potatoes too, since I have some that won't last much longer.

Basque Soup

Heat lard or olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan or soup pot. Add onion and brown. Add pumpkin, cabbage, beans, and garlic and cook briefly, stirring to coat the vegetables with oil. Add stock or water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook gently, covered, until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Adjust seasoning before serving.

1/4 cup lard or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 medium cabbage, sliced
1/2 pound dried haricot beans or navy
beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 quarts stock or water
salt and pepper

This is adapted from Elizabeth David’s book of Mediterranean food, a great sourcebook of traditional recipes (with traditionally vague measurements). You may substitute olive oil for the lard; it won’t taste the same, but it will be good. This soup has a robust flavor, as you’d expect, and with good bread and a salad, it makes a complete meal. Serves 6.