Ultimate Crispy Salmon

I missed you, farmers’ market!

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When my husband and I first moved to California, our weekends revolved around farmer’s markets.  If we couldn’t make it to the Foothill Farmers’ Market in Auburn on Saturday, we made sure to go to the Certified California-Grown Farmers’ Market in Sacramento on Sunday.  For the most part, we knew what produce was in season, and what we were planning on getting.  We made friends with the vendors, and were greeted with a hearty hello each visit.  It was fulfilling to be part of a community of growers who cared about their animals and land, the quality of food they produced, and the customers they were providing for.

Over time though, we weren’t able to dedicate as much time to farmers’ markets.  And since moving to Sacramento just a half-year ago, we’ve only made it out a handful of times.  However, my husband and I just moved to the Southside Park area of Sacramento late last month.  We are now only a few short blocks away from the Sunday Farmers’ Market, and we could not be more excited!  Our passion for shopping the local markets has been renewed!

After completing our move two weekends ago, we planned to head to the farmers market the very next weekend.  So, with much anticipation, and our canvas bags in tow, we headed out bright and early this past Sunday.  We were tickled pink to be able to walk there.  At first, I thought it was just me, but my husband commented how excited he was too.  We couldn’t wait to see what secret gems we would find – after all, it is fruit season!

We headed straight for The Little Fish Company and picked up some great looking fresh salmon, smoked salmon, and marinated poke.  We knew we wanted some peaches and nectarines from Twin Peaks Orchards, and blackberries from Hooverville Orchards, and after “window shopping” a bit, we also wound up with heirlooms tomatoes, summer squash, English peas, and cherry plums (super sweet, and equally as tart!!)

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With the salmon and peas, I knew exactly what was on the menu for dinner: Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Crispy Salmon.  We picked up some supplemental ingredients from Whole Foods (fresh herbs, lemon, watercress, Greek Gods yogurt in place of crème fraiche, and fresh assorted pearl onions – why not continue the “fresh” trend?), and I headed straight for the kitchen.

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After shelling the peas, I blanched them in boiling water for a minute or two, and then shocked them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further.  This is essentially the process that manufacturers follow before they freeze and package produce.  I did the same with the pearl onions to help loosen their skins for removal.  (FYI, go with frozen pearl onions.  Fresh is not really worth the hassle here!)

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As for the salmon, I saw Jaime Oliver grill salmon skin once, and have been eating it ever since.  So I usually cook the salmon skin-side-down first until the skin is nice and crispy.  Then I flip the salmon over to cook the other side, and remove the skin.  Once the salmon is done, I put the salmon skin back on the pan to get it even crispier. Yum!

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With those small substitutions, I pretty much followed the recipe in the link I provided earlier.  Here’s my version of Tyler Florence’s Salt and Pepper Salmon, Smashed Potatoes, Peas, and Pearl Onions, and Dill Crème Fraiche.

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Enjoy!

– Christine R.

Dog Beach, Dog Cake and Walks

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Our rescue greyhound Duncan turned five last Friday June 14th; he’s also dying. On May 28th we found out that he has bone cancer and will only make it another 1 to 2 months.

We first noticed something was amiss when we got back from Florida and saw him limping around. Our nanny (who is also a dog owner) agreed to watch Mocha and Duncan for us while we were away. We knew she’d taken both dogs to our local dog park while we were gone, so we figured his limp was from a tweak he’d suffered horsing around.

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When the third week was going by and the limp was anything but better, we decided it was time to take him in. My wife was hoping it wasn’t bone cancer, knowing that large breeds including greyhounds are susceptible to it. I figured it wasn’t cancer because Duncan is so young and the vet assumed the same when we dropped him off in the morning. Unfortunately by the end of the day with the results in hand our vet had to tell my wife over the phone that despite the very high percentages going in that this would not be cancer were the opposite for our boy.

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That same week we took him for a second opinion that confirmed the first. The second vet (like our own) also recommended against aggressive treatments like amputation. So we are giving Duncan 12 pain pills a day and 1 anti inflammatory. When his quality of life deteriorates to the point where he can’t get around even with pain pills we will put him down.

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All of the above is sad and unfortunate of course, but we are so thankful that Duncan managed to be one of the lucky greyhounds that makes it off the track still alive. As soon as these dogs stop winning races, their owners stop feeding them. Then they either perish, get shipped to Mexico for a second even sadder racing career, or are lucky enough to be picked up by one of multiple rescue organizations throughout the country. Our great big horse dog Duncan was in the latter camp!

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You would think the first picture in this post is of Duncan today with bone cancer, but it’s not. It was taken on the day we formally became his new owners. He’d been trucked from his track in Arizona (now closed for good) to Napa California. After a few weeks on a farm to readjust with other rescues, he went off to a foster home. This is where we picked him up. By this time he’d already gained a few pounds since he had left the track. In the photo he is 80.5 pounds, today he is 92!

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The rest of the pictures in this post are Duncan today. Despite the cancer I think he’s a very fortunate dog to have avoided Mexico or an earlier death and gotten to spend the past three years with us. When we first heard about his cancer we immediately wished we’d walked him every single day like we are supposed to. You have to live in the moment though so after briefly dwelling on this we went out and bought him some In N Out Burger. He loved it. He’s also been eating ground beef with rice regularly since his prognosis and even enjoyed his fifth birthday with some homemade doggy cake with peanut butter frosting (thanks grandma!).

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The weekend after his bad news we rented a mid size SUV so that we could take him and our expanded family to the dog beach in Santa Cruz. Duncan was there once before and it was his favorite bar none. He didn’t disappoint us on his return visit. Our gimpy couch potato ran up and down the beach chasing waves, birds and other dogs for a full 30 minutes; about 25 minutes longer than he runs at the normal dog park when he’s feeling great! He limped around a bit more the day after, but I don’t think he would have wished for anything different. Thanks for being part of our family Duncan. I’m glad Lolo got to meet you even though this picture is the only way she’ll be able to remember you.

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Lolo’s Dad

Blackberry Jam

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Last weekend I made blackberry jam and canned it! I had a blast and the jam is delicious. For me it was worth making despite the sugar because it reminds me of summers in Michigan at my Grandmother’s cottage. We traveled back almost every year when I was growing up and I loved walking through the woods out into the field with my Grandmother to help her collect wild dewberries (closely related to blackberries).

Back then that was the extent of my involvement in the jam making process. After returning to her cottage, I rushed back out to swim in the lake while my Grandmother spent time in the kitchen making batch after batch of jam. At the end of our visits she always gifted us a few jars of fresh Michigan jam to carry back with us to California.

Ever since I did a little reading about food preservation (motivated by our interview with Smokey Ridge Charcuterie), I knew I wanted to try canning. Since then I read the canning section in The Encyclopedia of Country Living, while at the same time bugging my wife to let me get some canning equipment. For Father’s Day she “surprised” me with twelve 8oz Ball canning jars and this Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set.

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I’m having fun making my way through Carla Emery’s book, but I’d recommend a simpler more focused book like the Joy of Cooking All About Canning & Preserving which I picked up at our library along with the Grapes of Wrath and a cookbook by Chez Panisse Cafe. And with all of that said the actual recipe I followed is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (after all my Grandmother never put ‘tart green apples’ in her berry jam, and I’m pretty sure apples and berries aren’t in season at the same time!)

Side Note: Jam is pretty much the easiest and safest canning you can do. The key with any canning is to make sure your recipe is reputable (you can check recipes out here) and that you don’t deviate from it. For example, the sugar in jam recipes is the preserver. If you skimp on the sugar you weaken the shelf life and increase chances for spoilage. Finally low acidic foods (not the case with jam) require a pressure canner and are much more dangerous if canned incorrectly (botulism can kill you). Canning is safe if you follow the recipes.

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 3 cups sugar (this is a ratio of 1.33, the USDA’s jam is a ratio of 1.5, but in the Fannie Farmer recipe the berry liquid is reduced before the sugar is added. By all means follow the USDA recipe linked above if you’d rather)
  • 4 8 oz Ball Jelly Jars with new lids (it’s OK to reuse rings)

Directions

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Sanitize your clean rings and jars (DO NOT BOIL THE LIDS) by boiling them for 10 mins in a large pot of water. Turn off the burner under the pot when the 10 mins are up, but leave everything in the hot water until it’s time to fill the jars. The pot should have a wire rack at the bottom to keep the jars from touching the very bottom of the pot (I tried to use an upside down cake tin with mixed results). The pot should be deep enough so that you have room for at least 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars when they are sitting on the rack (my 5 gallon pot for making homebrew beer was deep enough).

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Prepare your lids by letting them soak in a bowl of warm to hot tap water (very hot or boiling water ruins the seal).

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Wash and clean your berries. Discard any berries that don’t look fresh. Add your berries to a large pot (not your canning pot) and mash them with a potato masher. Simmer the berry mash for 15 minutes. Add your sugar and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil the berry and sugar mixture until it gets to 214°F on a candy thermometer. The thermometer is optional, but it’s also only $10 and will last a lifetime so I recommend taking the guess work out of it. Turn off the stove and skim off the foam from the top of the mixture.

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Using canning tongs (or regular tongs) remove the sanitized jars from the canning pot and set them on your counter. Insert your wide mouth canning funnel and pour the hot jam into your jars until the jam is 1/4″ from the very top of the jar. (The Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set has a nifty tool for measuring the head space for any canning recipe). Place a lid on top of the jar. Screw a ring on until it is comfortably snug but not overly tight, which prevents it from sealing. Set the jar aside and repeat using the rest of your jars, lids and rings until the mixture is all used up.

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Any left over partially filled jar (more than 1/4″ head space) should be placed in the fridge and used within a couple of months. The rest of the filled jars should be returned to the canning pot. Bring the pot back to a boil (add water if needed to get more than 1″ above the lids) and boil everything for another 10 minutes.

That’s all it takes. The next morning make yourself a piece of toast, butter it and spread on your homemade blackberry jam!

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Lolo’s Dad

Foraging Class from Slow Foods Sacramento

If you are interested in learning how to supplement your diet by foraging for edible plants throughout our local region, then you may be interested in this upcoming event from Slow Foods Sacramento. Heather Pier will spend the morning of Friday July 12th with 15 individuals showing the tricks of the trade. Tickets are limited and only $16 so sign up early. Says Heather “We believe humans can SUPPLEMENT their diet with some wild foraged foods – but should never be greedy since wild foods are first and foremost for the critters and wildlife – we simply nibble a bit and sustainably harvest wild foods in our local terroir.” You can register here.

Also last weekend was the Placer County fair, did anyone attend?

Brown Bag Monday: Seed Saving

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It used to be common no less than a one hundred and fifty years ago for farmers to still save and replant seeds from their most productive plants, their tastiest plants, their prettiest plants and so on. This technique had been passed on from generation to generation since agriculture was invented over 10,000 years ago; and it lead to the creation of over 7000 apple varieties alone by the 1800s.

Since that period the United States has gone from not having a commercial seed industry, to having the largest. In the process most farmers and home gardeners have lost the impetus, means, or skills to carry on the agricultural history of saving seeds.

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While the seed industry was getting larger other agricultural changes were occurring as well. Starting around the 1930s and rapidly increasing after World War II, farming and the food distribution system became more and more industrialized. With larger fields, abundant fertilizer, combine harvesters, trucks and factories; planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, packaging, distribution, and resale became faster, cheaper and easier. For the first time plant varieties were reduced to eliminate the hassle of different shapes and sizes and to select the varieties that held up best to travel. Fast forward several decades and we are at a point where “experts estimate that we have lost more than half of the world’s food varieties over the past century.

Today the global seed industry is dominated by just 6 main companies and a single one, Monsanto, rules the roost. Monsanto is famous for creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for corn, soy, cotton, sugar beet, and canola; that are all (among other things) immune to the herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup to Monsanto). Their marketing was clear, buy their seeds, spray their roundup, fertilize like normal, and you’re crop yields will be through the roof. And the marketing worked: “90% of maize, soybean, cotton, sugar beet, and canola planted in the United States are glyphosate-resistant“. What about the crop yields? Well the research is coming in and we are finding “that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn).

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Regardless of the safety of consuming the end products of GMO seeds (here’s the most pro Monsanto/GMO health article you’re likely to find these days), the lack of diversity and ongoing loss of plant varieties in itself is a major concern. Pinning the vast majority of the worlds calorie supply onto the hopes of fewer and fewer plant varieties means today’s food supply is at a greater risk to the effects of a single plant pandemic than ever before. Monsanto may know how to make insect resistant corn for today, but can they predict and be ahead of the corn earworm, corn borer, corn sap beetle, or corn root aphid mutations of tomorrow? And what about corn loving bacteria and fungi?

History may hold a few answers. The Irish potato famine is well known and lasted between 1845 and 1852. During it’s course nearly 1 million would lose their lives. The culprit, potato blight – a type of fungus, recently had its strain positively identified as HERB-1. Later in the same century European wine grapes started dying off from phylloera (an aphid like pest) accidentally brought back on American grape vines (which are resistant to the critters). “In France alone, total wine production fell from 84.5 million hectolitres in 1875 to only 23.4 million hectolitres in 1889.” The European wine grape industry was saved by grafting varietals onto a common phylloera resistant root stock. Even more recently a new strain of puccinia graminis (a wheat fungus that causes root rot) showed up in Uganda in 1999. UG99, as the strain is referred to, has now spread to many other African countries. UG99 causes up to 100% crop lost and could seriously jeopardize world wide wheat production if it spreads further.

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Seed saving organizations are trying to alleviate the risk we have placed on our global food supply by racing to save local varietals across the globe. One such organization in the United States is Seed Savers Exchange. Each year Seed Savers Exchange posts a seed exchange catalog to promote participatory conversation by getting saved seeds into the hands of gardeners and farmers across the country. In addition on  their farm outside of Decorah Iowa they grow and preserve the seeds of thousands of heirlooms that have been donated to them.

In their own words:

The strategies and tactics being employed by the agricultural biotechnology industry are diametrically opposed to our efforts to protect and share our garden heritage, and to increase the genetic diversity available to gardeners and farmers growing healthy food for their families. Seed Savers Exchange was one of the original signers of the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999:

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds.”

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Hopefully we will only need heirloom fruits and vegetables to alleviate our boredom from the tasteless, colorless varietals offered up by industrialized agriculture. Still, it’s reassuring to know that if we ever need them for more serious reasons then there are folks doing all they can to help make sure it remains a possibility.

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Lolo’s Dad

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

What’s Inside Your Chicken?

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In general, I prefer buying whole chickens over chicken parts. Per pound, they are less expensive than their choice part alternatives (i.e. chicken breasts), which can be useful in offsetting the cost of organic free-range birds. Separating a chicken yourself can save added convenience fees that a vendor might charge, and cooking it whole (read: in “bulk”) might leave leftovers for another day. To really get the most out of a bird though, think offal and stock.

Most whole chickens come with a package of offal inside the body cavity. This package, often referred to as “giblets”, contains the chicken neck, heart, gizzard, kidneys, and liver. Most people throw this package away, not knowing what else to do with it.  However, it’s a gold mind of vitamin-rich protein that comes virtually for free. With a little TLC, it could become a lovely meal or two.

I often save the giblets, as well other random parts (skin, wing tips, backs), until I have enough to make a meal. Since I had already accumulated several freezer bags full, I figured it was about time to make chicken stock (future post), chicken liver, and chicken chicharones.

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I had planned to make the classic liver and onions, but since my husband forgot to bring home onions from the store, I had to improvise. A good friend of mine had just gifted me a ton of freshly picked apricots from her family farm, Saeed Farms, in Yuba City. I figured they would pair well with the liver. Since liver can be bitter, a bit of sweetness would help to offset this.

I prepared the liver simply, seasoning it with salt and pepper, giving it a light dredge in flour, and a quick sauté in butter and grape seed oil. The apricots were sautéed in a little butter for just a few minutes until “melted”. If they are left on the heat too long, they will break down too much, leaving you with apricot sauce instead. I rounded out the meal with some steamed broccoli and a side salad.

To use up some chicken parts, I also decided to make chicken chicharones (crackling).  I threw some chicken skin in a skillet and let it render its fat on low heat until the skin was crisp, then threw some sea salt on it to finish.

Now, I will admit, I’m not the biggest fan of liver, but this meal was really tasty! The textures were fun as the creaminess of the liver melded into the soft apricots, contrasting the crunchiness of the chicharones. And the flavors were spot on too; the bitterness of the liver played off of the sweetness of the apricots, and the saltiness of the chicharones.

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Pretty good for an offal meal!

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken livers
  • ½ cup of flour
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 6 fresh apricots, seeded and halved
  • 2 tsp butter

Directions

Rinse the chicken livers, trim off excess fat, and cut into bite size pieces. Pat the pieces with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Season with salt and pepper. Melt the butter on medium heat, add the oil, and heat until just shimmering. (The butter will add flavor to the dish, and the oil will increase the smoking point so the butter doesn’t burn as easily.)  Dredge (lightly coat) the liver in flour, shaking off the excess, and sauté in butter and oil mixture for 2 minutes per side, until slightly pink in the center. Cooking too long will make the liver chalky in texture.

Melt the 2 teaspoons of butter on med-low heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, saute the apricots cut side down for 2 minutes. Flip to warm the other side, but do not leave on for too long as the fruit will break down.

Serve, eat, and enjoy!

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– Christine R.

New Farm Online Foodstand and DigIn!

Remember Dan from Humble Roots CSA? Check out the new project he helped create with other local Sacramento farmers called the “New Farm Online Foodstand“. Every Monday at noon the farmers in this group post their produce, meat or other goods that is ready and fresh that day. You have until Tuesday at noon to select the items you wish to purchase for that week. Then on Thursday you go and pick up your order from one of their three locations in Sacramento or West Sacramento!

Last night I purchased 2 loin chops, boysenberries, and a dozen eggs. I’m excited to pick them up this Thursday, maybe I’ll even get a chance to say ‘hi’ to Dan!

In other local happenings, check out the first DigIn! Dinner at the West Sacramento Farmers Market. Local chefs are going to join local celebrities (I almost put that in quotes) to host 100 guests to dinners made from local ingredients procured right from the Farmers Market. This is apparently going to recur the first Thursday of every month. Tickets run 40 dollars and they help fund local non-profits. The first dinner is this Thursday, June 6th. Hopefully there are still tickets left if you are interested.

Lolo’s Dad

Brown Bag Monday: What’s in Season?

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Other than meat, dairy and eggs, nearly everything we eat can trace its roots to an angiosperm aka “flowering plant“. Angiosperms are over 140,000 million years old, and their lineage traces back to a branch from gynosperms (seed producing plants that don’t wrap their seeds in fruits) over 200,000 million years ago. Since then they have exploded into between some 250,000 to 400,000 distinct species and have adapted to virtually any environment.

All angiosperms follow a distinct lifecycle: seed → germination → sprout → leaf → flower → fruit and then death (annuals) or repeat (perennials). Regardless of the parent plant’s survival or demise, the seeds of the next generation sit safely ensconced in the fruit that is the culmination of each growing seasons trials and tribulations.

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Barbara Kingsolver walks readers of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle through the life cycle of the “vegetannual” as a means “to recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year”. This helps you recognize what was likely flown, trucked, trained, or boated to your grocery store from thousands of miles away, even when the stores do their best to hide the seasons from us.

The vegetannual is a single plant that produces an entire seasons worth of food. The seed of the vegetannual will germinate shortly after the last frost when the ground begins to warm. From the germinated seed, a root shoots downward, two seed leaves pop and a true leave shoot sprouts upwards. Eventually sunlight awakens the chloroplasts in the true leaves, and from then on the seedling is on its own.

Now the leaves start to multiply and “spinach, kale, lettuce and chard (April – May)” are ready to be picked off the vegetannual. The leave heads continue to mature so next comes “cabbage, romaine, broccoli and cauliflower (May – June).” Flowers lead to fruit so early immature edible fruits are the next to the dinner plate: “snow peas, baby squash, cucumber (June), followed by green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes (July).” Next comes large “tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers (late July – August)”. Finally your mature hard fruits are ready, like melons, pumpkins and apples (August – September). Last are the root crops: potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and turnips (autumn – winter).

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If you can remember that the order of things is “leaves, buds, flowers/green fruits, ripe fruits, hard fruits”, then roots, and that each stage lasts for about a month or two beginning near April, then you’ll have a good idea what’s in season without having to read the fine print.

What are your favorite fruits or vegetables? If you haven’t been aware of their true season before, can you make a guess at what their season is now? How close were you?

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Last week we started to get snow peas from my first raised garden bed. After completing a third bed I jokingly referred to the first pea we took as our “500 dollar pea”. If I counted my time too and not just the material it would have been worth an even more exorbitant sum! As tasty as it was I am sure no one would pay that much for a pea, even a fresh local organic one! Luckily each snow pea I pick reduces the cost significantly. Now that I’ve picked 10 of them, each would have only been 50 dollars a piece; I’m almost willing to pay!

Lolo’s Dad

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Lengua Estofada (Smothered Beef Tongue)

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Today’s recipe post is a guest post. I met Christine five years ago in Philadelphia at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers college recruiting conference. I manged to sneak my way onto the interview team representing my firmware lab. Christine was set to graduate from The City College of New York with a degree in Computer Science.

A couple of months after I had returned to Sacramento my manager setup a set of onsite interviews for Christine and we flew her out from New York. The rest as you say is history. Christine has been in my lab now for 5 years.

In addition to her interests in engineering and technology, Christine has always enjoyed cooking. Recently she took a 22-week culinary course through The International Culinary Center (founded as The French Culinary Institute) in Campbell, CA. She is also a fan of the Slow Food movement like we are.

One area of our own cooking that I’d like to improve upon is our ability to use more parts from the animals we eat. As you will see this post is definitely inspiring to say the least! 

Thanks Christine, we look forward to more posts from you!

Lolo’s Dad

Slow Food – The Puerto Rican Way

In recent months, I have been drawn to offal. The amateur chef in me is learning not only to be more selective of the quality of meat I choose, but also less finicky about the cut of meat. It gets me to practice “nose to tail” cooking as best I can. So when a friend suggested a cooking day to learn more about my Puerto Rican heritage, I knew exactly what would be on the menu: beef tongue.

Beef Tongue = Offal. Offal = Slow Food. Slow Food = LOVE.

I had picked up a tongue a few weeks prior from Whole Foods, and though I had never cooked it before, I figured this was the perfect time to try my hand at it. Besides, I can find no better way to say, “Welcome to my home!” than a pot of stewed meat.

I found a recipe in my highly prized cookbook, Puerto Rican Cookery by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli (the English translation of her original cookbook, Cocina Criolla), and found a few other recipes to round out the meal.

Puerto Rican staples are harder to find here than in my native NYC, so I headed to La Superior SuperMercado in Natomas. What I found was disheartening: a virtually non-existent organic produce section, no sign of locality/seasonality, questionable meats obtained from who-knows-where, and high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and myriad of preservatives in all the well-known Puerto Rican staples. This is a far departure from the farmers’ market shopping I have grown to love here in the Sacramento area, but not surprising.

Working with the available selection, I purchased green plantains, yuca, salted cod, fresh farmer’s cheese made in-house, guava paste, and a variety of Malta (malt soda) from different countries. I was satisfied with my purchases, and rushed home to prepare.

I invited friends, and friends of friends over to my apartment, and set up the evening like a cooking class; everyone attending was going to help prepare the meal from start to finish. The only thing I had to prepare up front was the beef tongue, which needed to boil for a few hours to tenderize.

I was squeamish at first, but after a few minutes I was able to inspect the tongue, and feel its varying textures from the rough spiky taste buds at the tip, to the swirly, pad-like taste buds at the base of the tongue. I then put it in the pot to boil. After a few hours, it was time to remove its outer skin. This took a bit more work than anticipated, but I managed to get it off in one piece.

As evening time rolled around, the smells in my apartment were inviting, and I was so excited for my guests to arrive. Once they did, I put them right to work!  We spent a few hours cooking, which was intertwined with questions, story-telling, tons of laughter, and some snacking in between.  I could not have asked for a better time spent with friends.

We prepared tostones (fried green plantains) with garlic sauce, Spanish style chorizo (spicy cured sausage), bacalao (salted cod) salad with boiled yuca, and of course the beef tongue. Unfortunately, by the end of the night, we were too tired to even try the tongue! Though I did make sure that everyone went home with a piece of our delectable creation.

Note to self: don’t plan a slow food cooking night on a Monday!

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Lengua Estofada (Smothered Beef Tongue)

From Puerto Rican Cookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, Serves 8.

Ingredients

A (phase one ingredients)

  • 4-lb fresh beef tongue
  • Water – (measure by quarts to cover tongue freely)
  • Salt – (use 1 teaspoon salt for each quart of water)

B (phase two ingredients)

  • 4 peppercorns (whole black peppers)
  • 1 teaspoon whole dried oregano, crushed
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 quart (4 cups) water

C (optional ingredients)

  • 1 ½ cups sweet or dry wine (see Note)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 12 dry prunes, pitted
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 pound onions, peeled and slices
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

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1 – Scrub the tongue with a vegetable brush under warm running water.  Drain and dry.  Place in a large deep kettle.  Add water and salt included in A.

2 – Bring rapidly to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover kettle, and simmer for 2 hours.

3 – Remove tongue and plunge into cold water.  Remove from water and allow to cool slightly.  Trim off bone and gristle at thick end.  Peel tongue.

4 – Place tongue in a large caldero or heavy kettle.  Add ingredients included in B and bring rapidly to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the tongue is almost fork-tender.

5 – Add ingredients included in C and bring rapidly to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until tongue is fork-tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

6 – Remove tongue.  Boil sauce over moderate heat until sauce thickens to taste.

7 – Cut tongue in slices and arrange on a serving platter, garnished with potatoes.  Serve sauce in a deep dish.

Note:  Sweet wine imparts distinctive flavor to the recipe, but it can be replaced, according to taste, by Burgundy or any other good dry red wines.  Rest of ingredients included in C are optional.

– Christine R

Brown Bag Monday: Topsoil Health

Rothstein-Oklahoma-dust-storm

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection

the dirt crust broke and the dust formed. Every moving thing lifted the dust into the air: a walking man lifted a thin layer as high as his waist, and a wagon lifted the dust as high as the fence tops, and an automobile boiled a cloud behind it.” – The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Soil fertility is an immensely important characteristic of our life sustaining Earth, yet if you are like me you may think little of it. I vaguely recall reading and hearing in passing such subjects as “loss of topsoil” and “soil degradation” in the past, but I never sought out any data on the topic. Maybe gardening and reading The Grapes of Wrath for the Slow Food book club has made me more interested. Certainly anyone that lived through the dust bowl period and was impacted by it knows how critical healthy soil is to ways of life we might otherwise take for granted.

When the term soil fertility is mentioned usually it is the amount and quality of the A horizon aka “topsoil” that is being referred to. This is because topsoil is the first layer of real soil and contains the most richly broken down organic matter and microorganisms. This means earth worms and plant roots love it! While plant roots do penetrate the layers of soil beneath topsoil, they don’t get nearly as much of their nutrition from this depth. Furthermore most seeds can’t be planted very deep anyway so – no topsoil no produce.

There are two natural ways topsoil is lost; wind erosion and water erosion. Drought can speed up the effects of wind and water erosion but doesn’t really destroy soil by itself. On the flip side soil is naturally produced all the time. Organic matter that hits the earth is automatically transformed into soil by microorganisms and other critters. This process has a capacity to produce soil at around 1 to 2 inches every 100 years.¹ Lose more than 1 to 2 inches every 100 years and you are slowly eating away Earth’s capacity to provide us with healthy topsoil.

Now toss man into the equation and we speed up these natural methods. How? The primary cause is tilling or plowing. Traditional farming practices state that you till the ground at the end of the growing season to remove the dead plants and prepare fresh ground for next springs planting. But in between fall and spring you have winter’s rains and winds. Soil exposed with no roots to keep it in place is much more likely to be washed and blown away. The impact of tilling, along with lack of crop rotation and a few years of drought was the primary cause of the American dust bowl of the 30s that forced 2.5 million Americans to migrate west. 200,000 “settled” in California were they where greeted by the derogatory phrase Okie, terrible pay, and regular harassment by law enforcement and towns people that wanted the “undesirables” out of their country.²

Besides our ability to speed up erosion, we also created some of our very own soil degradation issues. There are many ways to list out the types of man made soil degradation, but basically you have salination (caused by the leaching of salts to the surface in dryland that is irrigated to raise crops), chemical (we dump toxins in the soil and then can’t grow anything there), and raising or lowering of the water table to unhealthy levels by poor irrigation practices. Here’s a link to an interesting map on the global impact of man’s effect on soil degradation (unfortunately from 1990 ).

The good news is that farmers certainly recognize the impacts of soil erosion and degradation and more and more of them are using no till or organic methods that treat the land much more naturally. In 1982 the United States lost 3.06 billion tons of soil on crop land due to erosion. In 2007 our crop land soil losses were down to 1.73 billion tons a year.³ Pretty significant progress but there are still quite a few green and red dots on this map, each of which represents 100,000 tons of soil loss above the natural soil loss tolerance rate.

Lolo’s Dad

¹ http://www.seattlepi.com/national/article/The-lowdown-on-topsoil-It-s-disappearing-1262214.php

² http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/dustbowl-mass-exodus-plains/

³ http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/nra/nri/?cid=stelprdb1041887