Bounty Food Experiment

Bounty Food Experiment Post #4

By |February 2nd, 2015|

Easter potluck on the Bluff.

Easter potluck on the Bluff.

What are the flavors of our Lopez culture? What is our regional cuisine? These questions have been woven through this experience of eating only from our island. When I travel I seek out the tastes of those places; the dishes and flavors that spring from a people’s relationship to their land.

Our contemporary Lopez culture is so young; waves of immigrants from Europe, Scandinavia, the Midwest, California, Mexico. Although the Salish and Lummi nations have thousands of years of eating from these shores other than crab, clams, salmon in the smokehouse or venison on the fire little of their food ways have been maintained by current islanders. This new culture has had a little over a hundred years to form. The early settlers brought their milk cows, their lamb, planted the orchards and introduced new seeds. Betty Hastin, who was born and lived her life on the South end once told me the story of bringing zucchini seeds to the island. She lived in Seattle during World War Two and her neighbor was an old Italian man who gave her the seeds. After the war when she moved back to Lopez she brought them with her. Now it is hard to imagine summer without the abundance of zukes. How they suddenly get huge and by August everyone is giving them away.

David with a zuchini which got out of hand.

David with a zuchini which got out of hand.

I find myself doing experiments in my mind. If we were all eating from Lopez for generations (because I image that is what it takes for a regional cuisine to mature) what would our food look like? What would our staples be? What would we serve at celebratory feasts in the winter or in the summer? When a visitor arrived and sat down at our tables what would they notice? What would surprise them?

As I ask these questions I begin to question the questions themselves. The isolated self sufficient world that grew so many regional food cultures is not the world we live in. We live in a time of rapid change, of access to the foods and seeds of the world, season extending infrastructure and plant breeders who are shifting genetics of crops to work in our area. And as a community we are creating our identity. This creative question of how to have a local identity and be global citizens is being worked out by communities all over the USA. I think it is one of the underlaying appeals of the local food movement. It is a movement about belonging and caring for the land of one’s home. Each farm that grows a favored crop, each gardener saving seed over the years and sharing it, each recipe passed on, each request for that favorite dish again, each potluck on the beach is creating our food culture. I have become excited about what we can create together.

Nathan and David carving the pig head for a farm dinner.

Nathan and David carving the pig head for a farm dinner.

In this month in the middle of winter I have had an abundance of flavor. The base is meat. Seared or roasted so the rich brown of caramelization informs the dish. Stock from chicken, duck and pork that imparts a soft on the tongue comfort of marrow and collagen cooked down. Tomatoes roasted in the wood fired oven until their sugars balance perfectly the acidic base . Onions or shallots start so many dishes. Softening into their sweetness in hot lard. Apple cider syrup whose sugar opens to a mellow tang reminiscent of a balsamic reduction. And salt. We are surrounded by it.

Herbs began to fascinate me since I couldn’t just open up the spice drawer. I already used the rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, etc. that grow so faithfully here but was excited to find myself reaching of others. Dill seed. I love fresh dill in summer but in winter the little seeds sprinkled on grated carrot or sauted cabbage liven things up. Fennel seeds became another favorite. A pinch of whole seeds in a pork braise. Yum.

I worried about not having sugar at the start of this month but have found that there is so much sweetness. All the warmth of summer stored in the flesh of fruit, of squash, of tubers and grain. My tongue seemed to recognize and celebrate the complexity of flavors without the exclamation point of refined sugar taking over.

Ip Ssan Hong Chinese cabbage in the hoophouse.

Ip Ssan Hong Chinese cabbage in the hoophouse.

Many people have asked- what about vegetables? With our mild climate and season extending infrastructure we have the capacity to have greens all year round. It has been fantastic to have the hoophouse and that has allowed me to have lettuce (which I actually didn’t utilize as much as I thought because I couldn’t work out a dressing I liked due to no oil source that was liquid at room temperature), spinach, broccoli, Ip Ssam Hong Chinese cabbage (love this variety!), and corn salad. Kale and brussel sprouts survive out in the garden. Fruit is plentiful in the freezer and canned in the pantry. Apples are a little soft but one gets less picky when there is less to choose from.

There is an intimacy with decay one gets from eating from the land in January. The last hard freeze is visible in the brussel sprout cut in half. A line of brown where leaves succumbed to the cold. The delicata squash in the basket that suddenly softens and sports a white furry coat. In the onion bin I rustle through, squeezing for softening under paper skins. I cut out the dark spots out of my imperfect potatoes and the wireworm holes in the carrots. There are little slugs nestles in the base of the cabbage. I don’t really mind. We are all trying to eat. The slug, the mold, the vole, the human. There is plenty for me. I give what I don’t want to the wormbin, the chickens or pigs. Life is hungry.

My Swedish grandmother grew up on the south end of Lopez in the teens and twenties. She was raised on what they could grow and the abundance of a milk cow. Before it was an experiment, when it was just life. As a young woman she cooked at Norton’s Inn on Orcas and told me stories of starting the morning butchering the chickens for the evening meals. Later she was Mr. Moran’s personal chef at Rosario. When she died she left a freezer full of pies and we would take them out on Christmas or Thanksgiving. She stayed with us for years through the food she left. I still have a couple of jars of cherries canned back in the 80s. During this month of eating local I have thought of her. Of custards and cream. Of a well stocked “fruit room” and the taste of canned plums for breakfast. My earliest memories of garden are with her on Orcas in her Crow Valley garden (she moved there in her 20s, married and raised my Dad there on a 20 acre farm).

Sausage, Eggs, Potatoes with all Lopez made BBQ sauce, greens and Barn Owl Bakery's Lopez Loaf with plum jam.

Sausage, Eggs, Potatoes with all Lopez made BBQ sauce, greens and Barn Owl Bakery’s Lopez Loaf with plum jam.

What have I missed? That is the question that people are asking me this week. The first on the list (and this was a surprise!), oatmeal. I have been eating fabulous breakfasts of sausage or bacon and eggs, French toast or pancakes and I have yearned for the simplicity of oats. Ironically, they grow well here and were historically one of the island crops. And yes, I have missed my black tea in the morning and did cheat and get a single shot of espresso after I had rushed to the early ferry, forgotten all of my carefully packed food. David saved the day by speeding it down to me in the ferry line (I hadn’t even noticed I didn’t have it). As he passed in my cooler he said “just get a cup of coffee when you get to the mainland.” I figured it was good advice! The hardest part of the month was going to potlucks or parties and not being able to eat. I did not like the being the guest who was saying no. Who was not able to graciously eat the gifts that were offered. There a magic that happens when we all break bread together. When we eat the same things we share the same ground. Our bodies store bits of the same earth. And when the food we eat together comes from the land on which we live then we create a trilogy of belonging: earth, nourishment, community.

I welcome back the foods and flavors that I have not had for this month. In part out of recognition that I/we are citizens of this whole planet and those plants: olive, cacoa, coffee, tea, tumeric, cumin, ginger can hold the thread of our connection. What is the fabric that I am weaving with my food. I want the warp and weft to tie me to this place, this community but I also want threads of color and different texture. Threads from the jungle, the sugar maples, vineyards and other food communities.

Thank you to the Lopez Community Land Trust and the Lopez Locavores for putting the Bounty Food Experiment together. I look forward to reading further adventures in local eating!

Ribs

Bounty Food Experiment #3

By |January 19th, 2015|

Ducks

Slaughter

After cleaning up, when I was coming in to make dinner, the flock of mallards on the marsh rose together, arching across the sunset, only to land again with much scolding and worry. Overhead an eagle, graceful, silent, and intent, with talons lowered swooped down. It is so easy to identify with the ducks, fleeing the predator but I know that today I am more aligned with eagle. There is blood on the driveway, in the grass, on my pants and hands. We fed the seven pigs their last breakfast this morning and then ushered them one by one into the chute. It is fast- how life can end. I held a tub under the neck and caught the last heartbeats of blood. Startlingly red.

 

Pigs

Pigs are how I crossed the line from growing food to feed myself to growing food for others. Pigs are how I moved from buying 25 pound sacks of chicken feed from the Island Farm Center to1000 pound sacks of hog feed. Pigs are how I dipped my toe into being a “farmer”. I am an imposter but learning.

 

On Tuesday we slaughtered. It was the first time we had used the Island Grown Farmers Co-operative (IGFC) USDA approved mobile slaughter unit for hogs (David has used them in the past for beef cattle but that was before my time here on the farm). The truck and trailer rumbled in before dawn. Setting up right outside our front door due to its flatness, circular drive and proximity to the pigs. Our seven hogs were not enough to fill the unit so other farmers brought their animals, all sheep. Soon pickups and trailers lined up with their flocks huddled uncertain in the corners. A pesky ram was the exception and he bumped and butted the inside of the truck canopy.

 

IGFCHanging

 

Jim and William the IGFC guys deftly set up in the dark and got to work. They were graceful to watch in their bib raingear and butchers sheaths full of knives. A shorn black lamb was the first and a blind ewe the second.   Starting with the hind legs, working into the groin and down the belly the skin is parted from flesh. The whole coat comes off inside out with some tugging but surprising ease. Underneath the fascia is a web of differing density with the pink of muscle showing through. The lambs look so small without their wool.

IGFC

Outside the trailer the farmers stand in the growing light, sipping coffee and sharing tips about the best places to send sheepskins for tanning, the difficulties of drying hides in the winter. Offal is loaded into the tractor bucket and David takes trips up to the compost. Four sheep an hour. One by one the trailers leave empty. Finally, afternoon and time for the pigs. We go up to their pen and two by two they enter the chute, are stunned, bled and hung by the hind legs on the tractor bucket to be taken down to the trailer.

 

Pigs are fascinating creatures. Once they get used to you they do love a belly rub and will plop down and contentedly let you rub their soft undersides. They frolic too. With new pasture or wallow or when the air is right. Their little tails go in circles with delight. They love to be sprinkled and I would indulge them on hot days. They would tip their snouts up and mouth the water. Sometimes when they got bigger they would sleep outside in pigpiles. A row of four or five pigs spooning, each twitching to its own dream. And yes, they really love food and are not tidy eaters. There is shoving and competition at the trough and hurried gobbling when something extra tasty is available.

Stew

The day after the slaughter there is an emptiness on the farm. A quiet. There is nobody to feed in the morning. Nobody to eat the scraps from the days cooking. When I drive in there are no piggy shapes silhouetted against the evening sun. I miss them as I get the last roast from the spring batch out of the freezer. Somehow cooking and filling the house with the scent of meat browning brings the pigs home again. In the rich flavors of stew nestled with the tomatoes and squash they loved so much I let my appreciation wander back in time, remembering. And as I sell these hogs to others I am so glad that they are going to be appreciated, to be savored, to gather people around tables, fuel conversations and community.

 Treat

Our friend Isobel Davis came from the city to visit. She is an artist and accomplished cook among other talents. Neither of us follows recipes and we decided to call our style “improvisational cooking”. I shared how the constraints of the “Lopez Diet” has spurred my creativity. Even if I wanted to follow a recipe they do not fit the “what is on farm” pantry. Cooking becomes a rhythm, an evolution of one thing into another. We asked the question “what would an improvisational recipe look like?”.

A chicken. First it is roasted and the proud center of a dinner. The left over meat is picked from the bones and the carcass is put in a pot with water on the wood stove to cook down into broth. The next night the meat goes into something- soup, stirfry etc. The broth is strained, the bones are picked again for the dogs (and given to the pigs when they were still here). The broth gets cooked with beans and becomes another main course soup later in the week.

Isobel

Isobel gave me the biggest treat. We went off island for the day to pick up the pork. I had my lunch bags packed and my thermos of tea. I was prepared to want and I did. It is easy on the farm to just eat from Lopez but the mainland is associated with treats. With a latte or going out to lunch. Of getting some novel tastes. And this trip I had only my tiffin to look forward to. It was actually a fabulous lunch that would have cost a pretty penny at some smancy organic café. And lucky for me the treat came when we got home. Isobel had gone to town in our kitchen! There were a lovely dip of soisson vert beans cooked in duck broth with toasted Barn Owl Bakery Lopez Loaf to start, a roasted chicken, wheat berry pilaf, brusselsprouts, broccoli with garlic, and a celleraic salad with an apple cider dressing. And a bottle of Lopez Island Vineyards Madeleine Angevine (which was a treat after just having cider for days). It was all so good!

Improvisational Recipe for a Braise

In a Dutch oven sauté aliums (onion family) in a fat source until translucent and beginning to carmelize.

Add (if you want to go in this direction) carrots and celery, or peppers or mushrooms and saute on low heat until soft all the way through. Add some garlic at the end. Take all of that out of the pan and set aside.

Take your meat (usually a roast) and sear on all sides. Sear it until it browns and carmelizes but does not burn. When that is done put a cup or so of liquid (broth, wine, cider, beer, water, fruit juice) in the pan and deglaze the pan. Add the onions, etc. and enough liquid (more of the earlier list or tomatoes, plums, etc.) to go at least half way up meat.

Squash, potatoes and or soaked beans can be added to the liquid. Flavor with herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay, fennel, juniper, sage, oregano….. and salt.

Cover and put in the oven at 250-300 degrees for 4ish hours.

Greens such as cabbage, kale, collards or parsley can be added at the end if you would like!

BreakfastBreakfast

Walnut sourdough pancakes with Berkimire peaches and blueberries and apple cider syrup. On the side our bacon and sausage.

DinnerDinner

Meatloaf with our woodfired oven roasted tomato sauce, delicata squash with chicken stock and apple cider syrup, broccoli from the hoophouse, grated carrot salad with dill seed and Berta’s footlong white beans.

Desert

Desert

Warmed fresh goat ricotta, our raspberries, walnuts and apple cider syrup.

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Bounty Food Experiment #2

By |January 17th, 2015|

The first day of eating 100% from Lopez

I dreamt of a kitchen (mine but not- they way things are in dreams) and there were bowls of strange exotic fruits. I knew I could not eat them because they were not from Lopez.  I woke up less hungry than I feared.

Vera

It is frozen and clear. My day to milk Vera, the cow who lives down the road. Glass half gallon jars clink in my basket. I enjoy this morning routine: boil water, sterilize pails, put a flake of alfalfa in the bin, open the gate to let Vera into the corral. This morning the cold has turned the mud to hoof print craters. She shies from the uneven ground and with her udders swinging slowly crosses to the milkshed. I give her a nudge on the rump as she puts her nose in the headgate, drawn by the alfalfa even though she knows I will push the bar over and trap her there. She settles in to bites and chewing. I brush her down, murmuring about how pretty she is. Then sitting on the little plastic stool I take the rags out of the warm soapy water and wash her udders. I feel the milk let down and the fullness of her bags becomes a tauntness of skin. With the bucket positioned underneath I finally begin to milk. The squeeze of thumb against forefinger and then the full grip to push the milk out in a stream. At first a metallic zing and then froth builds as the bucket fills and the sound become smooth. I ease into the rhythm, my hands active as I rest my head against Vera’s warm and earthy flank, let my eyes wander out to the crisp morning.

When I am done I take the buckets in and strain the warm white into my jars. Milk for the week.

Vera

The Horse Drawn Farm Carrot

In the village and I didn’t pack any snacks. I duck into Blossom Grocery. Is there anything I could eat? Freezers, fridges, shelves and bins. And I find only a carrot. A pure, unadulterated Lopez carrot. Other than squash and frozen meat it is the only thing that is just from Lopez. Crisp, sweet and so satisfying. I wonder- why don’t I usually buy carrots for a snack on the run?

Salt

A Southwesterly throws waves against the tide in Cattle Pass. The Olympics are obscured with clouds. The dogs run ahead, circle back to make sure we are following and run ahead again with tails erect and wagging. I pull my hat further down over my ears as I pick my way down the rocks to the waters edge to fill my gallon jug.

Salt. I have not had it for days. Salt. Such a staple, traded for eons, the first preservative, the enhancer of flavors. Living on an island I am surrounded by it.

I fill a big stainless pan with my gallon of seawater and put it on the wood stove. Over the next day and a half of evaporating it condenses, transforms. Turns from clear liquid to white crystalline flakes. It is light and putting a bit on my tongue the sharp bite of sea and brine and salt expands into my palate. When I scrape out the pan I end up with a cup of salt. One gallon turns into one cup! When I sprinkle the flakes into my dishes, onto my eggs I am cooking with wind, waves and tide.

Salt

 

Abundance

The realization that I have grown more food than we can eat slowly dawns on me. Pumpkins are piled in the utility room, squash sit in a basket in the corner of the living room. Potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic are waiting in the barn. Our freezer is full of chickens, pork and beef we raised, berries from the island, old yogurt containers of stock (pork, chicken, salmon and duck), tomatoes roasted in the woodfired oven, pesto, bacon we cured and salmon. In the garden- brusselsprouts, kale and in the hoophouse- broccoli, lettuce, asian cabbages and spinach.   So much abundance, it is easy to cook. Easy to eat well.

 

Meals

Breakfast

FrenchToast

Barn Owl Bakery Lopez Loaf French Toast (eggs from the farm and Vera milk) with our preserved pears and apple cider syrup.

Lunchlunch

Chicken, bacon, red pepper (from Susan Bill’s greenhouse), shallot, black coat runner beans and a lacto fermented dill pickle on the side.

Dinner

Dinner

Lamb chop raised by Molly Bill with leeks, broccoli and carrots braised in chicken stock.

Tea

Tea

Mint and wild rose

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Bounty Food Experiment #1

By |January 1st, 2015|

ScaldFirst Post

I am the guest blogger for the month of January for the Bounty Food Experiment.  This is a project hosted by the Lopez Community Land Trust and the Lopez Locavores.  Each month a different Lopez resident eats local (with in their chosen parameters) and blogs about it.

 

How I got here

If I told you about my life through the food I have eaten, it would start with clams. Old memories of raingear on white shell beaches.  The sucking of mud on the shovel. Each one, a find, to drop with my child hands with a plunck into the bucket.  Later at dinner, hard little shells opening to soft bodies and the briney sweet on my tongue.  I grew up on a sailboat.

Moved to Lopez in 1979. There was venison on the fire at parties.  Old refrigerators in barns with glass gallon jars of milk and a little box to leave your payment in.  Abandoned orchards full of apples and plums.  There were crabpots to haul up and berries to pick.  There were giant ice cream cones at Richardson Store. Mom cooked. Dad cooked.  We ate well.

In college in Bellingham I purchased my first CSA share- working off part of the payment by helping on the farm.  It was balance to the rice, beans and cheap pasta.

Professional years in Seattle.  Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, sushi, Ethiopian, the flavors of the world. Shopping at the farmers markets and the PCC. Various gardens tucked into backyards. Forays into the parks in the spring to gather nettles.  Nettles my link to the wild.  I committed to the gathering, the steaming mounds of green drenched in butter.  I served them to friends.  I dried them.  I knew where they came from.  How they grew.

Lopez again.  Now an adult.  “I want to inhabit my food supply.” We buy squirming little piglets.  Chickens run about in the afternoon.  The garden expands into long efficient rows instead of the intermixed tumble I had been experimenting with.  We put up a hoophouse that bursts in summer with tomatoes and shelters the tender greens against our current cold.  I can. I dry. I freeze.  Squash is piled in the utility room.  Potatoes wait for stews in their boxes in the barn.

And now.  December 31st.  Filled with the sweets and treats of winter holidays.  I realize how my much I do inhabit my food supply.  I am drinking my last cup of tea.  I will miss this.  I am committing to eating food only from Lopez and its surrounding waters for the month of January.  The only exceptions will be salt or sugar which I have preserved things with this summer. Seems like a good way to start a new year.

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