Category Archives: Local Produce

Pico de Gallo

The tomatoes are coming on strong. My CSA actually has a full box of green tomatoes that says “please take a bagful!” I’ve discovered that they redden up nicely in just a few days. Meanwhile, my tomato plants are bearing steadily.

My favorite salsa is fresh pico de gallo. Now that I am rich with tomatoes, I looked up the recipe and was very pleased that it is simply tomatoes, onions, chili and cilantro. My pepper plant is giving me chilies, as is my CSA, so I was in business. I had onions and cilantro from the farmers market. Into the mini-food processor, salt to taste, and it was fantastic. We made soft tacos and it was a heavenly meal. We’ll repeat that tonight.

New Recipes – Pesto, Eggplant, Polenta

I knew that a big part of the fun of joining a CSA farm would be in finding ways to use the produce. Unlike buying the same old thing at the market, I’d be forced to drag out my cookbooks and go online to find ways to use the different produce.

Polenta: I love polenta at nice restaurants, so I bought some Bob’s Red Mill polenta grits a few months ago. After looking at recipes where I’d have to stir for 40 minutes, I found a slow cooker polenta recipe instead. Voila – I made my first polenta. I discovered that using all milk was probably a mistake, as it carmelized. I still liked the flavor, but I’d do it with just water next time.

Pesto: I had a couple bunches of basil from my CSA subscription, so I decided it was time to make my own pesto. I really need a miniature Cuisinart as the big one is a pain to get out and clean afterwards. But it was dead simple to toss in the basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and cashews because I lacked other nuts. The result was as tasty as my favorite from the supermarket deli, for pennies rather than bucks. I have basil growing in a container, so this is something to keep making. My husband asked for it on pasta tomorrow night, and I have plenty left to use. We put a bit of pesto on the polenta for a nice condiment tonight.

Eggplant: I’ve never bought an eggplant, but I like them in Greek and Indian food. I got two small eggplants from my CSA this week. I roasted them on the grill as we cooked bratwurst, then skinned them, diced them, and cooked them with onions, tomatoes, my homegrown jalapeno and Indian spices as baigan bhurta. It turned out tasty and a bit spicier than I expected. My jalapenos haven’t been adding much heat before now.

We enjoyed a bottle of Cottonwood Winery ’06 Kira Skye Sauvignon Blanc with grilled pork loin, polenta and green beans. It was a lovely dinner. We bought the wine during the Dundee Hills Passport Weekend. The fruit iis from Yakima but the winery is in the Dundee, Oregon area. The wine was beautiful with the meal. Fruity, aromatic and just slightly sweet the way we like.

More tomatoes coming soon!

August Snack – Wild Blackberries

I’ve been making weekly cobblers with the blueberries and blackberries from my CSA farm, but you don’t have to look far for blackberries in this neck of the woods. I am fighting the good fight to keep them out of my backyard, and not organically. But there are neighbors who aren’t trying, and the wild blackberry brambles are now full of firm black fruit. I went out for a sunset walk this evening and took along a ziplock bag. I was headed for a big patch of blackberries along a Burton Road, but didn’t have to go that far. I found plenty of fruit along a path that will link a new neighborhood with Burton Road. I picked enough to add to the CSA fruit for my next cobbler.

Back at the apartments I rented in Cedar Hills and at Sylvan, we had huge banks of blackberries nearby and I would pick enough to make a large batch of jam. I don’t think I’ll get that enthusiastic this year. But I’ve always enjoyed walks in August and September that took us past blackberries for a warm jammy snack.

Ethnic Cooking with Local Ingredients

My CSA share included peas, cilantro, potatoes and eggs. This sent me immediately to the recipes I learned from my Indian cooking teacher, Sunita. I took lessons from her for about 10 years. I love just about any cuisine EXCEPT what my mom cooked. Why? Her people are of Dutch origin, and Dutch cooking is about the most boring meat-and-potatoes cuisine you could ever imagine. I love spices. Savory, pungent, hot, you name it. After college I signed up for cooking classes for Asian, Indian and even Ethiopian cuisine. Sunita’s recipes had the advantage of simplicity. She was a traditional Indian bride. Her husband was working in the US and came to India to find a bride. She met him once, approved of the match, and in the space of just a few days she had to learn to cook basic recipes her new husband would expect served when she moved to the US. As she went back to India on vacations, she learned to use more and varied spices.

I could never be a complete locavore, as there are things you just can’t grow in our climate – such a coffee and several spices. I would love to grow a small curry tree, as the true curry leaf is essential in the flavor of several Indian dishes. But they need a tropical climate, so I rely on Indian stores to bring them in from Florida. I had been shopping at Indian stores in Beaverton and Tigard, but was very happy to discover one only a mile from my new house in Vancouver. She had curry leaves and the naan bread I love to have with anda bhurji (eggs and potatoes).

First, I made aloo matar gobi with the local potatoes, peas, and cauliflower. I got the cauliflower at my CSA, but I believe she got it from elsewhere and labeled it as such. It was sitting in my refrigerator for three weeks as I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted to do with it. But this dish is delicious and requires a minimum of “foreign spices.”

Aloo Matar Gobi Recipe

Aloo Matar Gobi

I was very happy to start getting eggs from my CSA. One dish my friends all clamor for when we go for a weekend getaway is anda bhurji – spiced potatoes and eggs. It is essential to have curry leaves for this dish. I discovered in reading that I should be able to freeze the fresh leaves and they will retain some of their flavor. The flavor is released when you add them to the hot oil as you brown the cumin seeds and onions. I figure I may have to use more of the frozen leaves, but otherwise I’d be wasting most of the bag of leaves. They are like bay leaves and will keep for a couple of weeks just in the refrigerator. But my husband only relishes Indian dishes maybe once a month, so I am slower to use them when cooking for two. As for me, I could probably eat Indian food solid for…10 years maybe… Anda bhurji is very easy to make and I used the local potatoes, eggs, and cilantro. I leave out the onions when cooking for my husband as he can’t tolerate them. I used canned tomato sauce as my tomatoes are still green on the vine.

Anda Bhurji Recipe

Anda Bhurji

You may be able to see why my husband only wants these dishes once a month – they look almost identical. And in learning recipes from one teacher, the spices are similar in many ways.

Oregon City Farmers Market

On Saturday, I visited the Oregon City Farmers Market. I had first enjoyed the year-round volkssport walk from Willamette Falls Hospital with my walking buddy Nona and her four adorable dogs. We left the pooches at her house and went in search of local food. I found plenty of strawberries (local) and cherries (from Central Washington). For my purposes, Yakima Valley fruit was local enough and I bought a pint of Rainier cherries. At another booth, I bought local carrots and garlic stems. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the garlic stems, they seem best suited for adding to stir fry or soup. I think I might end up freezing them for future use. I also bought beets and a couple nice heads of hydroponic lettuce. Altogether, a very good shopping stop. As the season is gearing up, there is more produce selection.

Oregon City Farmers Market

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Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberries

I got this lovely bunch of strawberries from my CSA farm subscription. I knew they were picked by Brenda, the farmer, or her family. Not by laborers living in shacks or sleeping in their pickup trucks. Also, they are vine-ripened, not tasteless watery berries picked green for shipping and ripened with ethylene oxide. Each berry tasted DIFFERENT. Some were very sweet. Some were spicy. A wine connoisseur could analyze the hint of cinnamon and other notes. No need to chop these up and add sugar. They were made to be eaten one by one, savoring each one.

I am from the generation that picked strawberries. I grew up in the Dutch farming community around Verboort, Oregon. Our neighbors grew strawberries, pole beans, and cucumbers. In those days of the 60’s and 70’s, there was no lower age limit for agricultural work. My mom started taking us out to pick strawberries when I was 6. For the first couple of years I would earn just a few dollars a day. But by age 10, my sister and I were some of the top producers. I would earn more in a day of strawberry picking than my dad was making at his union factory job. We saved our money in our own bank savings accounts. We would use it to buy clothes and Christmas presents.

When I hear “child labor” I have difficulty in translating that into something negative. Yes, we worked out in the sun and sometimes the rain. But our bosses were our neighbors and most of their workforce were the children of their neighbors and cousins, almost all of them under age 16. Crew bosses in the field were usually the mothers of some of my schoolmates. Nobody was being forced to work, although they would “fire” some kids who threw berries and were disruptive. If you felt tired or hot or wet, you could go sit in the bus, or the crew bosses would arrange to take you home.

The alternative workforce was one the farmers hated to resort to. First, they would pick up day laborers in Portland. We called them “the winos.” This was an accurate, if impolite, label. The farmers did not mix the workforces. The locals would work one berry field while the day laborers were put in another field or as far from the locals as possible. The final resort was a work crew of “Mexicans,” seasonal migrant laborers from Mexico. When the age limit for working in the fields was established, many of the farmers turned to other crops. The difficulties of recruiting a crew and housing the migrant laborers was something they didn’t want to take on. Those who did would often end up on the evening news being cited for health violations or labor law violations.

Migrant labor conditions always looked to me like indentured servitude — a far cry from the mostly-happy kids who earned extra money picking strawberries. The nanny state destroyed a system that was working well for everyone and replaced it with a system prone to abuse and human suffering. Ours was a true “community supported agriculture” system. Family farms passed down the generations, with local people harvesting the crops.

One of the values of being a locavore is that those who harvest the crops are treated humanely. As a child laborer, I was treated humanely and amply rewarded for my labor. My take-home pay was paid by my production, not hourly. I was highly productive and it penciled out to more per hour than a union factory job at that time.

For a book that describes how strawberries are harvested today, I recommend: Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser. Knowing firsthand about harvesting strawberries, I choose not to eat strawberries I haven’t picked myself or bought from a small local farm. While most (if not all) other labor-intensive crops are also harvested by seasonal laborers, this is where I make my stand. I protest the destruction of wholesome community traditions in favor of a far more abusive system involving coyotes, company stores, inadequate housing, and work not suited for anybody over 5-foot tall.